Something Old, Something New
This Lois Lane doesnt need a superman to make her music fly up the charts.
by Matt Hanks
f you havent heard Lois Lanes single Chinese Checkers either you dont get out much, you dont own a radio, or both. The song has been a staple on K-97 for close to a year now, but youre just as likely to hear it on the tape deck in an aerobics class, an office building, or a hair salon. Though it has received limited, tightly regional distribution, Chinese Checkers has climbed as high as #82 on the Billboard singles chart. It is, by even the most conservative reckoning, a bona fide local phenomenon. And its happening right before our very eyes.
Lanes ability to juggle currency with familiarity is probably her strongest asset, and in terms of pre-millennial trendspotting, its fashionable to the nines. In a city that tends to view its music in the past tense, revisionism is proving to be one of the few sure bets left. Just ask Puff Daddy. Like all of his hits, Chinese Checkers is the perfect elixir for a pop landscape straddled between a rich past and an uncertain future.
Lane is a native Memphian. She grew up singing in Mallory Heights Baptist Church and listening to Al Green and the Bar-Kays.
Ive always been into music, she recalls. Ive been singing anything and everything since I was a little kid. I think I was around 11 when I started rapping. At first I would just rap along to songs on the radio, but pretty soon I decided to try my hand at writing.
Fast forward 15 or so years to Bills Twilight nightclub on North Parkway Chinese Checkers ground zero.
A friend of mine, Mixmaster Lee, he told me about this dance people were doing there, and he wanted me to check it out. He asked me to come up with some lyrics and go into the studio to cut the track. We put it off for a couple of months, but we finally got it together.
Lane and Lee took their newly recorded version of Chinese Checkers back to Bills Twilight and the crowd loved it. Lee smelled a hit. He got in touch with his friend James Alexander (that would be the same James Alexander who helped found the Bar-Kays 32 years ago, and whose music Lane adored as a child).
Lee invited James out to [Bills Twilight] one night, Lane says. As soon as they put on Chinese Checkers everybody was just runnin to the [dance] floor.
Lane cracks a rare smile, James told Lee, Yeah, I think we can do something with this.
Alexander was so impressed that he founded his own imprint, JEA Music, to release the Chinese Checkers single, and began booking gigs for her throughout the South. Lanes life hasnt been the same since. She gave up her job as a telemarketer and began filling her days with radio spots, record-store appearances, and small-town touring.
You hear a lot of talk in the music biz about grass-roots promotional tactics, but Lane doesnt care much for semantics. She just wants to be successful, and shell supply her talent wherever theres a demand for it.
Lanes efforts are paying off handsomely. Alexander reports that the Chinese Checkers single has sold more than 15,000 copies just within the Memphis city limits, and though this month marks the first anniversary of its release, its still selling several hundred copies a week.
Theres plenty of gangsta rap in Memphis, Alexander says. But Lois does more dance-oriented music, and shes the only one in town that I can think of whos doing that. That type of music has the potential to appeal to everybody; young, old, black, white everybody.
In Lanes future, aside from continued touring, Alexander confirms there are plans for a Chinese Checkers instructional dance video, so that we can teach really lame people like me how to do it.
As for Lane, shes looking forward to getting back into the studio and exploring some of her other talents.
I dont just rap. I also sing, and Im working on a few things more in that direction. I want to be as versatile as possible. Im really anxious to take things to another level.
by Mark Jordan
MAMAs To Recognize Their Musical Children
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the reward of a thing well done is to have done it. But, you know, Emerson didnt rock. And he also didnt live in an age so saturated with music that sometimes even the most gifted voices go unheard.
That is why the Memphis Music Association, in conjunction with The Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Flyer, is proud to announce the first annual Memphis Area Music Awards.
Nicknamed the MAMAs (our sincerest apologies to the Memphis Acoustic Music Association), the MAMAs will present awards for best area recordings made between August 1, 1997, and July 31, 1998. Divided into categories by genre (jazz, rock, blues, etc.), the nominees will be selected by committees made up of local music industry professionals and supporters. The public will then get to vote for their favorites using a special ballot that will run in the September 17th and 24th issues of the Flyer and September 18th and 25th editions of the CAs Playbook.
The winners will be announced in a ceremony at the New Daisy Theatre on Wednesday, November 4th. All proceeds from the awards ceremony will go to benefit Play It Again Memphis, a program that supplies needy children with used and refurbished musical instruments.
The MAMAs are sponsored by: Ticketmaster, Coors/Crown Distributing, the New Daisy Theatre, the Hard Rock Cafe, Blues City Cafe, and Rum Boogie Cafe.
Any bands wanting to submit recordings for consideration should send them to:
The Memphis Area Music Awards
Be sure to include a contact phone number and certification of when the recording was released. You dont have to send in a copy of your recording to be considered for an award, but the nominating committees will be working from a list of releases featured in the CA and the Flyer and sold through the Cats record-store chain. So, if your recording hasnt been featured in any of those places, you may want to play it safe and send in a copy. n
The Memphis Area Music Awards: Who and Why
The Memphis Music Association, organizers of the Memphis Area Music Awards, was formed earlier this year specifically to create these awards. Its members include the CAs music editor Bill Ellis, the Blues Foundations Pat Mitchell, music promoter Larry Bell, Ardent Studios promotions director Terron Shoemaker, Baker Yates of Cats Music, Flyer promotions director Molly Zanone, and yours truly.
Given that local musicians already receive recognition through the local chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Premier Player Awards, it is fair to ask: Why do we need another awards show?
It is the thinking (at least in part) of the MMA that, for all the great work it does, NARAS is basically a club and its Premier Player Awards essentially recognize those members or similarly anointed types. If you are in a new band, unless youve made serious waves nationwide, like Big Ass Truck and Garrison Starr, or have members who are long-established members of the music community, youre probably not going to get an invite to the Premier Players.
Furthermore, because of its agreement with the national NARAS office, the organizers of the annual Grammy Awards, the local NARAS chapter cant recognize artists for their recorded work. That, with the small voting bodys already established, conservative tastes, means that awards often go to artists who have done little or sometimes nothing locally during the past year. When Peter Hyrka a great musician but one who hasnt lived in Memphis in years and rarely returns continues to win the Premier String Award over musicians who have played and recorded here constantly, something is wrong with your award process.
Its important to note that it is not the goal of the MAMAs to supplant the Premier Player Awards but to supplement them. It is our hope to give some recognition to those artists who slip by NARAS. Since this is our first year, we dont know how well or even if we will succeed.
Ultimately, though, success lies with you the readers of the CA and the Flyer and the supporters of local music. You are the ones who will cast the final votes. And, hopefully, youll be the ones to turn out on November 4th. Mark Jordan
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