Thursday, August 29, 2002

Highs and Lows

Outgoing county mayor Jim Rout looks back on his 30 years in government.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Jim Rout won't say yet where he's going, but he's happy to talk about where he's been in 30 years of county government.

Rout leaves office at the end of August, having completed two terms as mayor of Shelby County plus stints as a county commissioner and county coroner.

"I don't anticipate being on the ballot again," said Rout, who turned 60 in June. He's headed for a job in the private sector but doesn't want to disclose his plans until the end of this week. He announced his retirement last year. In an informal meeting with Flyer reporters this spring, he said his -- at that time --prospective new employer was not anyone or anything that would pose a potential conflict to him as mayor.

Rout came to the mayor's office in 1994 as a commissioner known for happily immersing himself in the details of county government. He has spent most of the last two years, however, dealing with former corporate CEOs Pitt Hyde and Ron Terry on the NBA arena and Shelby Farms.

Friends say the long hours have taken a toll on him, and Rout doesn't disagree.

"No question, it has been a tougher period," he said. "When you work as long as we all did on the arena or as long as Ron Terry and I did for almost two years only to see [the Shelby Farms proposal] go down the tubes, sure, it is not as much fun. It's always more fun when you first start. That's why you see a lot of entrepreneurs move on after four or five years."

The failure of the Shelby Farms proposal, which Rout thinks will resurface next year, was the low point of his mayoral career, he said. He blamed "bad timing," although the proposed $20 million infusion of private money into the park failed to catch fire at the grassroots level, allowing several commissioners to safely change their yeas to nays.

The highlight is no surprise either.

"Less than two years ago, no one would have thought we would have an NBA team, a new arena under construction, and Jerry West living here," said Rout. Controversy be damned, "you've either gotta be big-league or bush-league."

The enthusiasm of Rout, a Pyramid opponent, for the publicly funded arena has to run a close second to Gov. Don Sundquist's support of a state income tax when some diehard Republicans talk about betrayals. But where Sundquist foundered, Rout succeeded, with the help of Hyde and Memphis mayor Willie Herenton as well as the commission and city council.

Rout and Herenton had "a little brouhaha" over toy towns in Rout's first term, but "we've gotten in rhythm" in the last few years. Yes, and Memphis has been having a little humidity lately. The conflict highlighted all of the fundamental problems with split government, suburban versus urban interests, and school funding which are still around five years later, despite the efforts of two special committees to resolve them. There was no open warfare, but there was no resolution either. Rout predicts there will be single-source funding for schools within the next two years. You might want to take some of that action if you run into him.

Rout and his family know firsthand the suburban growth that is putting pressure on politicians to come up with something. They moved from Parkway Village and Fox Meadows to the Richwood subdivision in southeast Shelby County 13 years ago when it was still uncrowded, even rural in places. Today, it is surrounded by new schools and homes, and by the end of this year, it is supposed to be annexed by the city of Memphis.

"Sprawl is a fact of life," he said. "We probably didn't do as well as we should have to attach appropriate fees or requirements on new development as it applies to schools. This is America, and people are going to live where they want to live. Maybe we need to tweak what we require to do development there."

Rout won his first election in 1972 (as coroner), but he traces his political involvement to 1967, when he helped organize his Parkway Village neighborhood in opposition to a plan to build 2,400 apartments on a site that would become the Mall of Memphis instead. He sold memberships to the upstart Cottonwood Civic Club for $3 by going door to door. When they needed a president, somebody said, "Jim, you've been real active. You run for it."

In a somewhat similar way, that's what happened again in 1994 when good old Jim got the nod from the Republicans by a two-to-one margin to run for mayor then prevailed in a six-candidate free-for-all general election. Democrats got their act together after that and started having primaries themselves. But then, Republicans like Rout and Sundquist started occasionally acting like Democrats and supporting new taxes and public subsidies to pro-sports teams, and the lines blurred again. Mayor-elect A C Wharton, a Democrat, comes into office by the same three-to-two margin as Rout did in 1994.

"It's been good. I've had a great run," Rout said. "I don't mean it as a reflection on anyone else, but there will never be, at least for a long time, a campaign like 1994, when we were able to win the primary two-to-one and the general 60-40 against six opponents."

At least not for Shelby County Republicans.

Local Beat

Local Beat

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2002 at 4:00 AM

No rest for the musicians: Labor Day weekend has traditionally been a great time for local bands to strut their stuff, and this year is no exception. As always, there's way too much to choose from, but here (in no particular order) are some of the top picks for the weekend:

The Center for Southern Folklore's 15th annual Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, which kicks off on Friday, August 30th, has become a destination for music aficionados around the world. Most importantly, the festival is free, which makes it an event the entire city can appreciate. So head downtown this weekend and help celebrate the men and women whose art and music make this region special. The 2002 highlights are sure to include Sun rockabilly alumni Billy Lee Riley, Smoochy Smith, Sonny Burgess, and Eddie Bond, Stax stars Carla and Marvell Thomas, gospel giants The Spirit Of Memphis, The Vance Ensemble, and The Sensational Six, and bluesmen such as the indomitable Rev. Gatemouth Moore, Mose Vinson, and local faves The Fieldstones. Here's the tentative schedule:

Friday, Aug. 30th. Inside the Center: Gospel Harmony, 7 p.m.; the Daddy Mack Blues Band, 8 p.m.; Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, 10 p.m. Trolley Stage (on Main Street): the Tearjerkers, 9:15 p.m.; the Reigning Sound, 10:15 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 31st. Inside the Center: Di Anne Price & Her Boyfriends, 2 p.m.; Keith Brown, 3 p.m.; the Vance Ensemble, 4 p.m.; Billy Gibson & David Bowen, 5 p.m.; Rev. Gatemouth Moore and Calvin Newborn, 6 p.m.; the Eddie Bond Revue, 7 p.m.; the Orange Mound Jazz Messengers, 8 p.m.; Blind Mississippi Morris, 9 p.m.; Ace Cannon, 10 p.m. Trolley Stage: Jimmy Crosthwait, 4:15 p.m.; the Memphis Drivers, 6:15 p.m.; Becc Lester & Hank Sable, 7:15 p.m.; the Bluff City Backsliders, 8:15 p.m.; the Kattawar Brothers, 9:15 p.m.; Exodus, 10:15 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 1st. Inside the Center: Old Man Johnson & the Cooter River Jass Band, 2 p.m.; the Fieldstones with Mose Vinson, 4 p.m.; Smoochy Smith & W.S. Holland, 5 p.m.; Koleinu Klezmer Revue, 6 p.m.; Los Cantadores, 7 p.m.; Billy Lee Riley, 9 p.m.; Carla Thomas, 10 p.m. Trolley Stage: Jimmy Crosthwait, 3:15 p.m.; Carol Plunk, 4:15 p.m.; John Sinclair, 5:15 p.m.; Spirit Of Memphis Quartet, 6:15 p.m.; John Kilzer, 7:15 p.m.; the Sensational Six, 8:15 p.m.; Jason D. Williams, 9:15 p.m. Call 525-FOLK for more info.

Between sets on Saturday, head over to Shangri-La Records for a preview of the bands on A History Of Garage & Frat Bands In Memphis Vol. 2. The CD encompasses the paler side of the Memphis Sound, circa '60 to '75, as compiled by local garage-rock historian Ron Hall. The Village Sound -- who recorded at Stax in '68 -- will perform "Sally's Got a Good Thing," and The Merits will sing "Please, Please Little Girl" a cappella, while The Reigning Sound will back Mike Ladd of The Breakers ("Don't Send Me No Flowers" is gonna be "a trip," Hall promises). Lawson & Four More and other groups will also perform. But will the Frayser Flash and the Los Angeles Smog Division make appearances? "Nobody knew what to think of LASD," Hall tells me. "They were a wild group, with strobes and liquid lights on stage. And their sound was totally alien to this area." He calls their single, the Jim Dickinson-produced '60s opus "Blue Green" (a bonus track on this CD), "the holy grail" of Memphis psychedelic rock. Strap on your goggles -- the party starts at 2 p.m.

On Sunday afternoon, the Dickinson clan is planning a party of its own. A reprise of last summer's All American Jamboree, this free concert at The Raoul Wallenberg Shell in Overton Park will feature The North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Burnside Exploration, and three members of Mudboy & The Neutrons -- Jim Dickinson, Jimmy Crosthwait, and Sid Selvidge. They'll start shakin' at 2:30 p.m.

Keep your dancing shoes on: Director Dan Rose, who's here screening a final cut of Wayne County Rambling, his feature-length road-trip movie, hopes the entire town will turn out for one helluva party Sunday night at Young Avenue Deli. Voudoun practitioners Fan Fan & Minokan Société will start things off with a salutation to Papa Legba around 10 p.m.; afterward, the crowd can boogie to the sounds of Detroit madmen The Dirtbombs and legendary bluesman Eddie Kirkland. The show will be a sort of homecoming for the Jamaican-born Kirkland, who toured with Otis Redding's band in the '60s and recorded "The Hawg" for Stax in '63. The MGs backed him on that venture, but Sunday's performance will feature the ever-versatile Reigning Sound. Here's hoping that Memphis musicians Ron Easley, Tav Falco, Lorette Velvette, Othar Turner, and Cordell Jackson -- who all have roles in the film -- will also be on hand for the celebration.

Andria Lisle covers local music news and notes each week in Local Beat. You can e-mail her at localbeat@memphisflyer.com.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Block Heads

How to build a neighborhood by really trying.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2002 at 4:00 AM

hat do Wonder Bread, Sun Studio, and ArtFarm Gallery have in common? They are on the edge, the edge of downtown. But they're also in the Edge, a new name for an old neighborhood, reaching from Linden to Jefferson Avenues and from Danny Thomas Boulevard to I-240, and the name of a newly formed community association. It's downtown but not really. Midtown too but not really.

"This neighborhood has been somewhat of a no-man's-land between Midtown and downtown, and we want to bridge that gap between the Medical Center and the river," says Michael Todd. Todd serves as president of the Edge Community Association and owns property in the area.

On Saturday, the association will hold its first Edgefest, featuring live music, art exhibits, an Elvis play by Sleeping Cat Studio, and a walking tour through the neighborhood.

"This neighborhood is unique because it's a mixed-use area, and we have a lot of grassroots-type businesses here," says Will McGown, vice president of the Edge and a furniture maker with a studio on Monroe.

Mixed-use means the Edge is not only art galleries, restaurants, and retail stores but also an industrial zone with businesses such as Wonder Bread, the auto-body shop A.S. Martin & Sons (in operation for more than 100 years), and Murdock Printing Company. Those businesses were skeptical when the artist group connected to ArtFarm Gallery wanted to establish a neighborhood association about four years ago.

"The commercial businesses were afraid that this area would become solely an artist community. But we don't want them to leave. We want to embrace the community as it is," Todd says.

Chris Martin of A.S. Martin & Sons, an inactive member of the association, says that there were concerns at first. "This area is not absolutely artist-dominated. I could name four other body shops that are located in the Edge area," Martin says.

Plans for a neighborhood association took hold about two years ago, an outgrowth of ArtFarm and Neighborhood Watch meetings. "I guess people realized that this neighborhood was up for the next big push in development. Downtown is running out of space, and we didn't want to see the historic houses torn down for just another Home Depot or a shopping mall. We wanted to control our own destiny," Todd says.

Controlling their own destiny and having a say about what's happening in the community are often how neighborhood associations get started. Today, Memphis has 350 associations registered with the Center For Neighborhoods, an agency that provides training, technical assistance, and information to community associations and help to communities that want to establish an association. According to Vernua Hanrahan, the center's coordinator, people usually get together in a block club first, and several clubs will form a neighborhood association later.

Every community can start a neighborhood association, and every neighborhood association will be recognized as such even if it's not registered as a nonprofit. It's about citizen participation, not IRS designation.

Right now, commercial businesses in the "Edge district" are still hesitant to take an active role. Kudzu's Deli & Bar, ArtFarm, Sleeping Cat Studio, Marshall Arts, and McGown Studio are playing the lead.

"We would like to see everybody involved," McGown says. But getting everybody involved is often a sluggish process. The Edge doesn't charge any membership fees, which encourages more people to be part of the community association. If money is needed for projects such as Edgefest, the association will try to raise the money or get members to donate services. Todd, who sees himself as mediator between the artist and the business communities, estimates that, at this point, the Edge has 50 members, 15 of whom are very active.

But this is not a one- or two-man show. Important decisions that will affect the whole neighborhood are discussed and voted on. Because a newsletter hasn't been established yet, neighbors, no matter if they are part of the association or not, are informed through e-mail or by word of mouth.

The Edge's first success came when the Memphis Medical District master plan was introduced. Initially, the plan called for major development in the Edge community, until the association voiced its concerns and the plans were changed to be more in accordance with the community's vision.

"The hardest part for us right now is to build our own identity. It takes a lot of volunteer work and community commitment to get this thing going," Todd says. Edgefest is the first big step toward this goal.

But building an identity in this neighborhood could be a very delicate issue. Artists are drawn to the Edge because studio space is extremely cheap. Improving the community, renovating buildings, and attracting more businesses will naturally increase the rent. What then?

"We are not trying to become another Cooper-Young, and we are not trying to get rich. We are trying to build a neighborhood," Todd says.

Edgefest, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, August 17th.

Local Boy Makes Out

Not that you can see it.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Chris Hardwick says that he will never, ever go on a blind date.

"I think blind dates in general are really shitty," says the hometown boy and host of Shipmates, a syndicated dating show. "If you're going to set up 10 couples, even if you try really hard for it to work out, nine of them are not going to work out."

On Shipmates a sort of reality-TV version of The Love Boat couples are fixed up for a three-day, two-night date aboard a cruise ship. It could be paradise on the high seas, but if things start to go wrong, that cruise ship could start looking like a prison.

"It's interesting to do it over a three-day period. On a lot of dating shows, they go out one time. I think people tend to be a bit more polite and cordial because they're only spending a few hours together," says Hardwick. "When people spend days trapped on a ship, they tend to be a little more honest in their assessment of the date. Shipmates actually delves deeper into a really horrible part of human behavior, but it's great for television."

Hardwick is the son of professional bowler Billy Hardwick, the owner of Billy Hardwick's All Star Lanes on White Station Road. As the host of Shipmates, Hardwick watches the edited footage and then makes wise-ass comments about the dates, the daters, and the situation in general. Given the possibility of getting stuck on a blind date from hell for 72 hours and the likelihood of public humiliation, it's amazing that anyone would go on Shipmates. But as the proliferation of Blind Date, The Fifth Wheel, Elimidate, and the many other dating shows evinces, people will do anything for love. Or to get on TV.

For Shipmates, possible daters have to fill out a lengthy questionnaire that Hardwick likens to a creepy cult personality quiz. Daters have to include their profession, what they look for in a match, and even answer questions that seem to make no sense at all, such as "Describe a time when you had to assert yourself" and "What animal do you HATE?"

"If we did the show in Los Angeles, it would be a lot of actors wanting to be on television, but we do it out of the East Coast," says Hardwick. "I think it really is just people who want to go on a cruise that's free, have fun, and try to get into someone's pants that they've never met before."

Free cruise? Where do we sign up? We mean that it's no wonder Hardwick is a little wary of blind dates. The former co-host of MTV's Singled Out has noticed some weird reoccurring patterns happening between the daters on the show. For example, women on the show keep thinking the guys they're being set up with are gay, but maybe the presumably gay guy doesn't know it yet. And then there's the weird thing where guys, presumably not the gay ones, keep throwing water in their dates' faces.

In one of the upcoming episodes, the girl thinks her date is gay. After hearing this for a few days, the guy tells her he took two girls up to his room the night before. Then, on the last day, the two make a bet to see who can make out with someone else first. Big surprise, the girl wins easily then immediately makes out with a second stranger before turning to make out with her own date.

"Our show is much more of a nature show, like something you'd see on the Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel," says Hardwick. "You get to see how people interact in different social situations."

Apparently, they make out. With other people. Actually, although the show does try to find people who are compatible, the success rate is not high. But, as they say, there are a lot of fish on a cruise ship.

"Even the couples who hate each other usually give it until the second day to see if it goes any better," says Hardwick. "By the third day, they'll just say, 'You know what? It's not working out. Let's go our own ways,' and then they go off and do other things."

Unfortunately, not many people in Memphis have been able to learn about human behavior from Shipmates. The show, which airs on all top 50 national markets but one, can only be seen in Memphis on Direct TV Channel 381's feed from the CBS station in Los Angeles.

"I always feel stupid when I go back to visit my dad and I see people I've known for years. They'll go, 'What are you doing now?' 'Oh, I'm doing Shipmates.' 'Oh, where's that on?' 'Nowhere you can see it.' It would be nice if I could get the show on in my own hometown," says Hardwick. Maybe he'll get a little more recognition in theaters: He's in House Of 1000 Corpses, which was written and directed by Rob Zombie and is due out this fall. He's also in Terminator 3, due out next July, so stay tuned.

And since most of you can't see the show, we asked Hardwick for some dating advice. His take from all his vicarious dating experience: "Masturbation is a really viable sexual outlet."

Friday, August 9, 2002

The Big Thaw

A tax windfall awaits Mayor-elect Wharton in hard times.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Jackie Welch and Karl Schledwitz, a pair of political kingmakers, were having lunch together the day after the election at a deli on Germantown Parkway, the epicenter of the suburban sprawl that Welch Realty helped create.

Their main man, A C Wharton, had won his race, as did Sheriff-elect Mark Luttrell and some Shelby County Commission candidates they supported. All in all, it had been a successful election by their lights. But there was a tone of caution as well as self-congratulation in their conversation.

Now that the election was over, they wondered, why exactly would anyone want to be county mayor or sheriff anyway? So many problems, so few solutions. Or, as Welch put it, "the county's broke and you can't raise taxes anymore."

No money? Not exactly. Insiders know there is always money for government, even without touching politically off-limits sources such as the wealth in Memphis Light Gas & Water and Shelby Farms or the waste in new but underused city high schools. And the insiders always know where to look.

In A C Wharton's first term as mayor, in fact, the city and county will reap a windfall of several million dollars in new tax money from a single source: tax freezes that expire in the next four years. The details are a little complicated, but to put it in layman's terms, it's a little like the Memphis Grizzlies getting Pau Gasol off the disabled list.

In 1979, the Center City Commission (CCC) gave out the first of, to date, 199 downtown property-tax freezes. The freezes, usually for 10 to 25 years with some extensions, were an incentive to develop and rehabilitate a blighted downtown. Another agency, the Industrial Development Board of Memphis and Shelby County, has also granted 15-year property tax freezes to hundreds of businesses outside of downtown since 1987.

Thanks in part to the incentives -- as well as public projects like The Pyramid, the new arena, AutoZone Park, and the trolley and private developments like Harbor Town, Peabody Place, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital -- downtown is in better shape today. Coincidentally, several tax-exempt properties are due to come back on the tax rolls next year, including such big names as the Rivermark Apartments, the attractive building on the South Bluff that was a Holiday Inn long, long ago.

The difference between its subsidized tax payment this year and the garden- variety property taxes it will begin paying next year is $82,576, or about two teachers' salaries. And the Rivermark, because it was a going concern when its freeze was granted in 1987, has been paying much more in taxes than its downtown neighbors. In 2003, One Memphis Place, the black glass tower formerly known as "One Empty Place" before federal government office leases saved its bacon, throws away its crutches and starts paying an additional $162,998 in taxes each year.

Jim Street, chief financial officer for the CCC, says tax freezes on 14 downtown projects are scheduled to expire by 2005. The bigger windfall will come from the Industrial Development Board, where more than 100 freezes are scheduled to expire by the end of 2006.

Add them all up and, pretty soon, you're talking about some real money. At the Flyer's request, Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson compiled a list of all properties due to come off the dole in the next four years. The grand total in additional taxes starting in 2007: approximately $7.3 million a year. Patterson said he expects heavy pressure to extend the freezes or divert the money to special projects and districts instead of letting it go into the general fund.

Complicated? Yes. But the things that can be done by a supposedly broke county by tinkering with taxes and fees are wonders to behold. The Grizzlies debate showed how to painlessly build a $250 million arena without recourse to property taxes. The CCC says $2 billion has been invested downtown and another $2 billion is needed. Whatever, downtown is hardly the blighted area it was 20 years ago.

Tax freezes are subsidized by taxpayers who don't get a break, even if they too live or do business in blighted areas. Developers and their tax lawyers are acutely aware of their ins and outs. Uptown, the ongoing development north of St. Jude by Henry Turley and Jack Belz (both board members of Contemporary Media, the parent company of the Flyer), is being financed in part by the windfall tax increase from formerly subsidized properties as well as increased taxes from new growth in the North Memphis area and Harbor Town.

The financing mechanism is known as a TIF, or tax-increment financing. Depending on the success of Uptown, there could be more TIFs -- in fact there has been talk of turning all of downtown into a gigantic TIF. A TIF that counted new taxes from expired tax freezes as growth instead of the bookkeeping change they are would be worthy of the boys at Enron and Arthur Andersen.

Inclusiveness and consistency were two of the notable qualities of A C Wharton's recent campaign and his career as private attorney and public defender. He got 62 percent of the vote by doing well in precincts from the inner city to the suburbs. As mayor of Shelby County, he'll have a say over the size of the coming tax windfall, where and how it gets spent, and which projects and neighborhoods stand on their own.

Mr. It

From suits to jumpsuits, Elvis always had a look.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY THE BERNARD J. LANSKY COLLECTION
“No sooner had he hit the store than that three-way mirror was his,” recalls Elvis’ outfitter, Bernard Lansky.
Elvis, for all the gold records, was probably just as well known for gold lamé. That and other fashion statements he made over the years. Remember the turned-up collar, the tight pants, the sideburns, the scarves? And who could ever forget those jumpsuits?

"He always wanted to be different," says Bernard Lansky of the Lansky Brothers store on Beale, which outfitted the young musician. "He was made for it. With Elvis, we always brought in something different that would make him look real sharp: the no-back-pocket pants, the pants with inverted pleats or stitches on the side."

The story, by now, is legendary. Lansky's catered to the rhythm-and-blues crowd at the time; Lansky met Elvis during his days as an usher at Loews theater downtown. "He would always come by and look in our windows, and I noticed him and invited him in," Lansky says. "He told me, 'I don't have any money now, but when I get rich, I'm going to buy you out.' I said, 'Don't buy me out, just buy from me.'"

Elvis made good on his word, having Lansky's outfit him in the early days and then telling everyone exactly where he had gotten his threads.

"No sooner had he hit the store than that three-way mirror was his," says Lansky. "He'd be in front of it, asking, 'How's this look?' I'd say, 'Sharp, Elvis. Real sharp.' He was the belle of the ball." Whatever he wore, others soon followed.

Lansky says that he made Elvis his first gold-lamé outfit. The king also had a penchant for sequins, velour, and, again, anything different. He wanted to be his own person with his own look.

"There were very few things he would turn down," says Lansky. "I had an idea that he would look good in pink and black. That was one of my ideas. I put him in a pink coat and a black pair of pants -- he was sharp. Everyone else was wearing white and black, and I pushed that pink on him and it blew their minds. It was dynamite."

Later on, as Elvis made his move to celluloid, he began wearing clothes designed for him by Bill Belew and suits by Nudie. The legendary jumpsuits -- which were worn with a cape and a flashy belt -- were the brainchild of Belew.

Does anybody have Elvis' sense of style today? People can copy Elvis' style, says Hal Lansky, Bernard's son and co-owner of Lansky's at The Peabody, but there isn't anybody who has "it" like Elvis did.

"Nobody comes close to the King," says Hal Lansky. "Everybody tries to emulate him, but nobody comes close." With the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death, Hal Lansky says that a lot of Elvis fans and impersonators will swarm Lansky's, most of them doing their best "Elvis." Some, he says, even bring their wives and girlfriends dressed up like Priscilla.

"People will be coming from all over the world who eat, sleep, and breathe Elvis. They all think they look like him, but I think they all look like each other," says Hal Lansky. "They have the sideburns. They'll dye their hair black. They'll wear the TCB necklace. But Elvis just had a style of his own."

Sometimes, these Elvii, from China to Tel Aviv, even try to curl the lip, but Hal says they just can't capture the way Elvis used to do it. There are some performers around Memphis who Hal thinks have an Elvis vibe -- the Dempseys and the Alexander Band-- but no one really has "it."

Lest you think Elvis -- or Elvis style -- has left the building for good, Bernard may have good news: that '50s-era Elvis look is coming back. It won't be in the same patterns and fabrics, but it'll be in the similar cuts and patterns.

"The style always changes, but it's nothing new," says Bernard. "It's always coming back to the same thing."

"What would Elvis wear in 2003? We're working on it," adds Bernard.

Fair warning: The word "lamé" was mentioned.

Thursday, August 1, 2002

Local Beat

Local Beat

Posted By on Thu, Aug 1, 2002 at 4:00 AM

If an album's normal gestation period were nine months, you'd have to wonder what kind of kinkiness was going on in the Memphis music scene last November. In addition to the Reigning Sound's latest, Time Bomb High School, there are new releases from Viva L'American Death Ray Music, Davey & the Cool Jerks, Timothy Prudhomme, and Yamagata all hitting the racks this week.

Viva L'American Death Ray Music, the band formerly known as American Death Ray (and, before that, simply Death Ray), have just released their second full-length of the year, Smash Radio Hits. Eight songs of New York-inspired funk and grind, Smash Radio Hits is a far-superior product than their debut, sonically and stylistically. On tunes like "Miss America (What Goes On)" and "Baby Lightning," the band sounds like an updated Modern Lovers -- fun and just a little freaky.

Jack Yarber, on the other hand, prefers the simpler things in life. Yarber produces some wailin' chords on Davey & The Cool Jerks' debut, Cleaned a Lot Of Plates In Memphis, which, like Smash Radio Hits, is available from Sympathy For the Record Industry. But similarities end there: Davey & the Cool Jerks (Dave Boyer, Forrest Hewes, Yarber, and Scott Rogers) play solid, straightforward rock-and-roll that hearkens back to the days of Boyer and Hewes' stint in the Neckbones. Look for CD-release parties from both Davey & the Cool Jerks and Viva L'American Death Ray Music later this month.

Meanwhile, Fuck frontman Timothy Prudhomme has a new CD out on Smells Like Records. With the Hole Dug, recorded over the past year at Easley-McCain Studios, features a stellar lineup, including studio owners Doug Easley and Davis McCain, the Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright and Alex Greene, and former Memphian Megan Reilly. It's a gentle album full of understated, majestic melodies, Prudhomme's whispered vocals drawing you in deep. Prudhomme rarely plays live, so make plans now to catch him Friday, August 9th, at the Hi-Tone with Dearest Darlin'.

Leave it to Yamagata to kick it up a few notches. Connect, their second album, fuses hard rock and jazz into a funky new hybrid that lends itself well to the jam-band scene. Drawing from such disparate influences as Pink Floyd and the Beastie Boys, Connect is sure to take Yamagata to new heights. You can connect with the group yourself at their CD-release party Friday, August 2nd, at the Lounge.

The Center For Southern Folklore is also hosting a party this weekend -- a birthday celebration for blues pianist Mose Vinson, who turns 85 on Saturday, August 3rd. Best known for his accompaniment on James Cotton's 1954 Sun sessions, Vinson has been a Memphis piano institution for more than half a century. He got his start in church, playing the ivories at morning services. After a chance meeting with Sunnyland Slim, Vinson moved to Memphis from Mississippi in 1932. He became a fixture on Beale Street, playing local juke joints and parties before hooking up with Sun producer Sam Phillips in the early '50s.

After cutting some sides of his own (unreleased until the 1980s), Vinson continued on the juke-joint circuit, occasionally doing session work (Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" benefited from Vinson's piano rolls), until he disappeared from the scene in the late '60s. In the early '80s, the pianist established himself as the resident barrelhouse star of the Center For Southern Folklore. Vinson will blow out his candles at 8 p.m.

Ready for a road trip? Put the top down and cruise over to Monticello, Mississippi (just south of Jackson), this weekend for the 4th Annual Montipaloosa Music Festival. An event similar to the Bonnaroo Music Festival recently held in Manchester, Tennessee, the Montipaloosa promises 46 jam bands on three stages for the three-day event. Headliners include regional favorites The North Mississippi Allstars, The Charlie Mars Band, Ingram Hill, and The Kudzu Kings. More than 5,000 fans are expected to converge on Atwood Water Park (located on Highway 84 East) for the weekend, where RVs and tents are welcome. Alcohol is allowed at the festival, but it's BYOB. Montipaloosa kicks off at 3:30 p.m. Friday, August 2nd. Ticket prices are $20 for a day or $30 for a weekend pass. See Montipaloosa.com for more information.

recently, the city lost another great musician: Bluesman Manuel Gales, aka Little Jimmy King, died on Friday, July 19th, of an apparent heart attack. He was just 34 years old. Memphis-born and -raised, Gales frequently performed with his brothers Eric and Eugene and toured for six years with blues great Albert King, who adopted the left-handed guitarist as his protégé.

After Albert's death, Gales reinvented himself as Little Jimmy King in homage to both Albert and fellow southpaw Jimi Hendrix. He also took on Albert's searing, soul-blues guitar style, recording four albums for Rounder Records' Bullseye Blues label. Gales' last release, Live At Monterey, captures him at the top of his game: Tracks like Willie Mitchell's "Living In the Danger Zone" and "It Ain't the Same No Mo" burn with natural aplomb. Gruff and self-assured, Gales rips through the latter like a red-hot tommy gun on its last round of ammo. Touted by contemporary blues fans as the successor to Albert King's throne, Gales will certainly be missed.

Andria Lisle covers local music news and notes each week in Local Beat. You can e-mail her at localbeat@memphisflyer.com.

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