In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Seattle was home to a thriving and innovative soul scene. Although it seems unlikely that it would have ever grown to rival soul meccas like Detroit, Memphis, Philly, or Muscle Shoals, local disc jockeys at KYAC, the city's only black radio station, kept the locally produced wax spinning and the nightclubs packed. Seattle soul was even beginning to attract some national attention when disco seized the spotlight and the bottom fell out.
Director Jennifer Maas' loving documentary Wheedle's Groove — named after a lurking instrumental that was in turn named for a former Seattle Supersonics' mascot, the Wheedle — was inspired by an obscurity obsessed audiophile named DJ Mr. Supreme , who started collecting Seattle soul after discovering a single called "Bold Soul Sister" by a group called A Black on White Affair in a cheap used-record bin.
Wheedle's Groove by Annakonda
DJ Mr. Supreme shared highlights from his collection with like-minded music fans at Seattle's Light In The Attic record label who in turn assembled a first-rate collection of songs for a comprehensive CD also called Wheedle's Groove. They also tracked down many of the original band members and convinced them to reunite for the the CD release party in the summer of 2004. Maas' film is built around interviews with and performances by artists who participated in that unique multi-racial and multi-generational event.
Here's a sampling of songs by some of the best artists featured in Maas' documentary.
The first full day for the Indie Memphis Film Festival has been thrown for a bit of a loop as the series of free screenings at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park have been cancelled due to weather concerns. The screenings — Elvis Presley's "’68 Comeback" special and The Big Lebowski will still go on, but maybe not on the original rain date of next Friday. We'll let you know when the event has been rescheduled.
The Memphis Music at SXSW documentary that was supposed to screen in between Elvis and Lebowski has been moved onto the schedule at the Brooks Museum Saturday at 3:15 p.m., replacing a planned sneak preview for the shot-in-Memphis MTV web series Savage County.
The Shell cancellations will probably send more viewers over to Studio on the Square, where a packed lineup awaits. Our picks for the day, all screenings at Studio on the Square unless otherwise noted:
Pick of the Day: Alexander the Last (7:45 p.m.)
The countdown pace picks up as I'm going to start posting them three at a time:
What I wrote in 2002:
It's fitting that, after Eminem, the artist that British MC Mike "The Streets" Skinner has been most compared with is Trainspotting novelist Irvine Welsh, because the shockingly assured debut album from this 23-year-old one-man-band is pop music of tangible literary value. Original Pirate Material is a breathlessly detailed ethnography of British flat-rat culture, but its greatness lies not just in how observant Skinner's reports are but also how modest and good-hearted, how the guy-talk of "Don't Mug Yourself" is matched by the romantic regret of "It's Too Late," how the menacing nightlife vision of "Geezers Need Excitement" and substance abuse of "Too Much Brandy" are balanced against the wistful nostalgia of the rave remembrance "Weak Become Heroes."
Song Sample: "Let's Push Things Forward"
Single: "Smells Like Booty" — Freelance Hellraiser (2002)
Nirvana meets Destiny's Child in a mash-up masterpiece.
When I talked with Swanberg last week, he had a lot of interesting things to say, more than I had room for in the paper this week. So here's a pretty long excerpt from our conversation, for those interested in going more in-depth on this emerging filmmaker:
Flyer: Before we get into Alexander the Last, let's go over a few other topics. You're involved in several films screening at the festival, but you're also doing a workshop. What's your plan for that?
Joe Swanberg: The workshop is about working with non-professional actors, which I think is becoming more and more common — people making movies with their friends or other people they're casting not through traditional avenues. I just really wanted to do a workshop that would hopefully be helpful and relevant to what I'm seeing going on right now. The idea is that I'll talk a little bit about my experiences and maybe I'll show some of my work. But I also really want to demonstrate some of the techniques I've picked up and actually work with some people so that everybody can come away with a little bit of an idea of the good and bad things about working with non-professionals.
How did you think the Open Five shoot went?
I thought it was great. I had a blast being down there. It was a good small crew of people I really liked working with. I would do that in a second.
Have you seen any of the finished product?
No, I got a chance to see [actors] Jake [Rabinbach] and Shannon [Esper] again because we shot one more scene in New York. And I've talked to [director] Andrew [Nenninger, aka "Kentucker Audley"] since the shoot. But I'm excited to check it out.
Memphis Flyer: That Evening Sun is the second time you’ve made a movie based on material by author William Gay.
Scott Teems: I made a short film as part of the process of getting That Evening Sun made. I had optioned the short story [Gay’s “I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down”] in 2005, and I wrote the script and we spent about a year and a half trying to get something going with it. We were having a tough time getting people excited about it — no one wanted to make a movie about an 80-year-old Tennessee farmer. I can’t imagine why that’s not commercially viable.
[Producer] Terence Berry and I decided to make a short that was indicative of this world [to help with funding]. But I wanted it to be its own thing. I had read “A Death in the Woods,” and it fit a short film. Gay was a big supporter of what we were trying to do and was an advocate for the project. I made “A Death in the Woods” saying, This is me making this kind of movie on very limited resources.
Chris Davis and Greg Akers, respectively, have features on these films in our festival coverage in this week's paper, which you can find all over town in print or here. In addition, Davis goes more in depth with Robert King here.
Look for much more on the festival in this space later today and throughout the week, including our own daily guide to festival screenings each morning, starting tomorrow.
Memphis Flyer: You seem to have changed so much since you started shooting war zones 15 years ago. When you watch yourself is it like watching fiction?
Robert King: Parts of it I wish were fictional. Being a documentary, it's not. That's where I was in that time period. It makes me cringe a little. I kind of want to cover up my ears and close my eyes. I'm no different than any other aspiring journalist going into the industry. I was full of ideals and dreams and willing to set goals. One positive thing its that I was capable of setting high goals.
As the countdown continues, a Memphis savant makes the cut, while a pair of cranky roots-rockers get angry and eloquent:
It seems odd to champion this intensely musical garage-rock masterwork as the year's best local record, when, in fact, it's one of the best records of the year, period, probably the second-best album to emerge from the newly revived garage-rock scene after the White Stripes' White Blood Cells. What separates the Reigning Sound from almost every other band in their little corner of the world isn't just that frontman Greg Cartwright has been doing this for a decade (and Time Bomb High School is a more impressive achievement than anything he did in much-loved previous bands the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers). It's that the band's musical command seems to be on a higher plane: Time Bomb High School is an album concocted out of record-shop dust, built on a love of an era's worth of musical culture, one in which echoes of great records past rattle in the crevices. And unlike so much of the backward-gazing in local music culture, it's a testament to pop music, not folk music. For those who worship at the altar of the rotating, three-minute epiphany, Time Bomb High School is a Sunday kind of love indeed.
Song Sample: "She's Bored With You"
Yep, after the first leg of the Shattered Records Tour, Jay Reatard's valiant rhythm section — Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes — have apparently walked. After a brief hiatus, the tour picks back up in Seattle next Thursday, and continues down the West Coast and to Europe through mid-November. No word yet on who will be filling in.
H1N1 talk is amping up in Memphis.
Locally, three kids have died after being diagnosed with the virus.
And yesterday, 100 employees at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center lined up to become the first in the nation to be vaccinated, via nasal spray, against the virus.
Now Memphis rapper Sir Vince is on the case with this catchy, yet wholly informational ditty:
For more on H1N1, check out the website for the Tennessee Department of Health.
Lucero's major-label debut, 1372 Overton Park, hits the shelves today. The album, recorded at Ardent Studios with British producer Ted Hutt, adds a horn section to the band's ever-evolving classic-rock sound. Lucero will head out this weekend on a two-month national tour dubbed "Lucero's Ramblin' Roadshow & Memphis Revue" with a shifting combo of local openers. Memphians will get a sneak peak when the band plays a free concert at the Levitt Shell this Thursday night, starting at 7 p.m., with openers the Juke Joint Duo and Amy LaVere.
Look for more on Lucero's new album and tour in this week's Flyer. Until then, check out this video for the 1372 Overton Park song "Goodbye Again":
The countdown moves into the 30s with genre runners-up in the album slots, a Memphis single, and the best band of the ’90s greeting a new decade with aplomb.
My second favorite indie-rap album of the aughts. From my ’05 year-end piece:
This two-MCs-and-one-DJ Boston group is not your typical indie-rap outfit. Lyrically, they're neither obscure nor overtly confessional; musically, they're a return to hip-hop's head-bobbing basics. They're more a cross between late-'80s political rap (Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions) and smoother early-'90s boho hip-hop (Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest). Black Dialogue has a little less musical juice than the former but a worldview that's more grounded and more expansive. Funniest song of the year: "Career Finders," which offers job counseling for gangsta rappers.
Song Sample: "Black Dialogue"
Athens indie rocker Matthew Houck, who records under the moniker Phosphorescent, went the concept route for his fourth and latest album, To Willie, a straightforward collection of Willie Nelson covers. (The album's title is a reference to Nelson's own Lefty Frizzell covers album, To Lefty, From Willie.)
The album isn't great, but it's good — respectful, effective covers of lots of terrific Willie Nelson songs, some hit singles but most not well-known to casual fans. (No "Blues Eyes Crying in the Rain" or "On the Road Again" here.) Houck doesn't sound self-conscious playing these songs or too proud of himself for doing so. He just sounds like he's enjoying borrowing from one of the great American songwriters. Phosphorescent plays the Hi-Tone Cafe tonight. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10.
Here's Phosphorescent playing the Nelson standard "Reasons to Quit":
The first fifth of my countdown concludes with a quartet of albums and singles that include the first — but far from last — Kanye West appearance.
From my ’04 year-end piece:
This is just the kind of high-concept reclamation project (see all those Johnny Cash/Rick Rubin records or Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up On Me) so consistently and predictably overrated that I found myself underrating it until a late-year round of re-listening reminded me how grand it really is. Lynn's all-new songs are shockingly, uniformly excellent (tell me "Family Tree" isn't the equal of "Fist City" or "You're Not Woman Enough To Take My Man"), but Jack White deserves equal billing for his genius production. With Lynn a better singer than Meg White or Holly Golightly and a better songwriter than Jack himself, Van Lear Rose might be a better lovestruck mash-note follow-up to the White Stripes' White Blood Cells than Elephant was.
Song Sample: "Family Tree"
When Gonerfest Six started last week, everyone wondered if the Red Sneakers would return, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.
They showed up this week instead, pulling off a move reminiscent of W.C. Handy's arduous journey to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair — a year too soon.
The Red Sneakers' mistake is Memphis' gain: Tonight, the duo play Nocturnal (located at 1588 Madison Ave) with Digital Leather and Sector Zero. Doors open at 9 p.m.; admission is $5. If you go, be sure to stroll across the street to Murphy's where River City Tanlines are playing a free show.