Memphis lost one its brightest, most eclectic female stars last weekÑCordell Jackson, a lady who out-punkrocked them all with her octogenarian Hagstrom attack. She even kicked Brian SetzerÕs ass, admittedly not a difficult thing to do. With the loss of Ms. Jackson as well as MemphisÕ first lady of soul Estelle Axton in February, it has not been a good year for the ladies who helped create the mystery and magic of Memphis music (Where are the made-for-tv movies or Biography specials on Estelle Axton and Cordell Jackson? Certainly Ms. Axton was one of the most influential females in popular music of the 20th centuryÉbut I digress). This is not an obituary; Cordell Jackson had a great life and a great run, especially as inspiration to a current generation of roots rockers in the 1990s. This is a wake-up call! Memphis has lost too many stars in the last ten yearsÉRufus Thomas, Fred Ford, Sam Phillips, Junior Kimbrough, Othar Turner, Son Thomas, Charlie Feathers, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and many others (Only the enigmatic Jerry Lee Lewis, who has definitely made a deal at the crossroads, is still sitting by the pool playing the piano) to not take notice.
Do something today for Memphis musicians--those famous and those not yet so. Your gesture can be small or big. Book a Memphis band for your next bbq, party, or wedding. Take a Memphis musician to lunch, as Jim Dickinson likes to say. If you work at a radio station, play their music (on the air!). If you work at Memphis Convention and VisitorÕs Bureau, start promoting current acts like South Filthy, Lucero, and Half-Acre Gunroom in your brochures before they get Dolly Parton-sized. If you work at the Memphis Arts Council, open up your vast budgets to current Memphis Music, which is an art and should be treated like other branches of the arts. If you work at or own a hotel, have a Memphis band play your cocktail hourÑa good portion of your guests have come to hear the Memphis Sound. If you drive a cab, play Memphis music for your fares. If you work at the City Council, continue to honor heroes like Willie Mitchell by naming a street after them; people come from the ends of the earth to have their picture taken on Willie Mitchell Blvd. If you are a mayor, next time you give a billionaire from out of town a monopoly concert business and a free $250 million corporate headquarters, make sure you put in the contract that he has to hire Memphis musicians to be the opening act at all of his events.
Make Memphis musicians feel important and used (in the commercial sense) while they are alive. Do not wait until they are gone. Do not wait on the Memphis Music Commission to come to the rescue. And do not look at these actions like charity. Look at them as an investment in Memphis. People come from all over the world to this city for its music and music heritage. They buy meals from your restaurants, shop in your t-shirt shops or antique stores, ride on your trollies, rent your cars, sleep in your hotels, and buy airline tickets from your travel agents. Musicians have taken a pay cut to live in Memphis and spread the goodwill of Memphis all over the world. If you want to have Memphis music icons in the next generation and if you want this music heritage (i.e. this commerce) to continue, you have to create a musical atmosphere that is more conducive than a subsistence gig once a month.