Music Notes

by Mark Jordan

Taking Stock of Bluestock
If the crowds were an indication, the first annual Bluestock was a great success. Granted, downtown itself was particularly packed last Saturday, with the throngs from the Elton John concert, Phantom of the Opera, and the next day’s Oilers game jockeying for room on the chilly streets. But Beale Street and Bluestock were particularly busy, with the event being the place to go after your concert or whatever was over.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUESTOCK

Hi Records legend Otis Clay per-forming at the Hard Rock Cafe for Bluestock.


Most club owners described it as their best November night ever. One club that was especially busy was B.B. King’s, which had the hot young guitar-slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd as its headliner. The line out of B.B.’s stretched all the way to Blues City Cafe across the street, and at one point the wait to get inside was rumored to be two hours. But while we’re glad the club owners had a good night during a traditionally dead time, we hope they can see through their euphoria enough to realize that part of their success lay in booking big-name entertainment.
There were a lot of great acts besides Shepherd, however. And though the Malaco revue and Junior Kimbrough were no-shows, audiences could still enjoy the likes of Denise LaSalle at Elvis Presley’s Memphis and, at the Hard Rock Cafe, the awesome Hi Records revue featuring Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, and the Hi Rhythm Section. Plus there was the thrill of discovering new, emerging artists like the winner of the International Blues Talent Competition, Chris Cameron from Fort Smith, Arkansas, or the extraordinary Houston bluesman by way of Japan, Richard Johnston.
But Bluestock was about more than the bar scene. All during the day Saturday, organizers presented a program of educational panels and sessions. There was a Blues Camp for schoolchildren, mentoring sessions where struggling artists and industry people could pick the brains of industry professionals.
“The thing about Bluestock is that it can be helpful if it remains current and timely,” said Harry Duncan, a San Francisco-based producer, promoter, radio host, manager, and harmonica player whose credits include working with Otis Clay, the Neville Brothers, and Boz Scaggs.
Duncan took part in several mentoring sessions and thinks they should be an integral part of Bluestock’s future: “I really think Bluestock, as it grows and as it matures, can provide a much-needed vehicle for not only exposing deserving blues, soul, R&B, and, hopefully, gospel artists to a receptive audience but also as an international and professional base for serious discussion and work on the blues.”
Next year’s Bluestock (the street has already been reserved) should benefit greatly from a lot more lead time; this first one was literally slapped together in just a few months, from inception to execution. Already there is talk of adding another day, and there are definite plans to expand the scope to include a greater variety of blues and R&B-based acts like the Neville Brothers and bluesy alt-rockers like Morphine and Jon Spencer.

Charting Their Courses
It’s been far too long since a Memphis artist made a dent in the music charts. (We’re not sure, but we think you’d have to go back to Al Green, who last charted in 1988, hitting number 9 with his and Annie Lennox’s remake of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart.”) So, it was joyous news indeed a couple of weeks ago when Memphis made its long overdue return to the Billboard 200. In the November 22nd issue of Billboard, Memphis rappers Three 6 Mafia debuted at number 18 on the R&B chart and came in at an impressive 40 on the Top 200 chart of all records sold across the country. If you want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, check out the Mafia this Friday at the New Daisy with special guests Stoned at the Moment and Clinched Fist.

New Stuff In the Bins
Though he’s best known as the guitarist in the North Carolina swing outfit the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jim “Jas.” Mathus is a Mississippi boy, born and raised. In fact, he was partly raised by the daughter of the legendary Delta bluesman Charley Patton, Rosetta. Now, it don’t get much more Mississippi than that. Well, Mathus recently returned to his roots in Clarksdale to record a tribute album to Patton, whose proceeds will go to help Rosetta pay some medical costs. Jas. Mathus And His Knock-Down Society Play Songs For Rosetta is a reverential take on Patton’s blues, featuring a lineup that includes the DDT boys: Luther and Cody Dickinson and Paul Taylor.
And now for something completely different. Besides being a horn player for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Robert G. Patterson is an accomplished composer of contemporary orchestral music. His new CD Prisms is the product of his work with the Rhodes College faculty woodwind quintet. An admittedly derivative work, the compositions on Prisms are explorations of the various woodwind styles of composers like Stravinsky and Debussy filtered through Patterson’s own style. We don’t claim to know a lot about classical music, but Patterson’s work shows tremendous skill and makes for provocative listening to even our dumb ears.
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Music

Stellar Funk

New Orleans’ Galactic work to help keep the Southern groove thang alive and well.

by Mark Jordan

In the ’60 and ’70s, two bands from Memphis and New Orleans duked it out for tightest, funkiest band honors. Actually, there was no real rivalry between Memphis’ Booker T. & the MG’s and New Orleans’ the Meters, but the two bands were undeniable counterparts. Both were the studio soul bands nonpareil in their respective cities. And though both occasionally featured vocals, they were both primarily known for their ensemble instrumental prowess.
The one key difference between the two may have been in the way they approached their distinct but irresistibly thick grooves: Booker T. & the MG’s usually stuck to the deceptively simple, lazy backbeat that many say typifies the Memphis sound, while the Meters employed the syncopated, second-line rhythms that characterize so much of New Orleans music.

Galactic
Barristers
Saturday, December 6th

Booker T. & the MG’s and the Meters still pop up to play in various forms to this day, something which, along with their recorded work, has gone a long way toward spreading their influence across a new generation of funk bands. In particular, there are two young groups out right now that could be called the Booker T or the Meters of their generations.
Memphis’ Big Ass Truck is a clear descendant of Booker T. and the MG’s, though still apt to launch into some lengthy jams and more than willing to throw some alternative rock and Memphis hip-hop into the mix.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans another young group of musicians, Galactic, is taking the Meters legacy to new heights.
Galactic and B.A.T. have more in common than being young and funky. Original Galactic guitarist Rob Gowen is a Memphian who used to play in a band with B.A.T. drummer Robert Barnett. And the two groups have teamed up for shows here and in N.O.
“They used to come down here and open for us in New Orleans, and we’ve been up maybe once or twice to open for them in Memphis,” says Galactic drummer Stanton Moore.
Besides Moore, Galactic also includes keyboardist Rich Vogel, guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurlo, a succession of horn players, and vocalist Theryl deClouet, a 30-year veteran of the New Orleans jazz scene who gives his much younger bandmates a sense of their music’s history and an experienced voice in business matters.
“The great thing about Theryl is he can look back and say, ‘Yeah, I remember when I was all excited about that, but here’s what going to really happen,” Moore says. “He instructs us without being too preachy.”
Formed in 1994, Galactic is just the latest in a long tradition of bands that have taken the myriad sounds of the Big Easy – Caribbean, Latin, blues, jazz, Native American, Cajun – and turned them into their own recipe for funk.
“We’ve been trying to digest and understand what’s been done before us, and now we’re trying to do our own take on the history of groove music and funk,” Moore says. “We’re trying to incorporate every kind of music we can find and bring it into the realm of Galactic. … We never really play any reggae, but you can hear Latin and Caribbean influences in there. A lot of those influences, we try to make more subtle. We try to make more of a gumbo out of it, so that you can’t actually discern the individual ingredients.”
The band’s debut album, Coolin’ Off, was released in 1996 and won raves from several national publications, including Billboard, which called the band “a sensuous, swampy, and plenty-tight source of pan-cultural acid jazz like only the Crescent City could supply.”
Despite its warm reception, the members weren’t happy with the production on Coolin’ Off and instead are much more excited about the batch of recordings they are currently shopping to a number of interested record labels.
“A lot of people like [Coolin’ Off], but we always thought we could do better. And this new record has really given us the opportunity to grow,” Moore says. “We felt like the energy that the band has live wasn’t captured on the first record like it is on the new one.”
And make no mistake, it is as a live band that Galactic has made its reputation. The band has rightfully earned a number of high-profile opening slots with some of their idols, including Maceo Parker, the Meters, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood. In addition, they’ve gotten to jam with members of Widespread Panic and Fishbone.
“We really get off on the groove,” Moore says about the band’s guiding principle. “As long as that’s happening, it doesn’t matter what else is going on onstage, everything will be all right.”
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