COMMENTARY: Mo' Better Boogie 

The first documented instance of a recording company moseying on down south to Memphis to record the Memphis Sound occurred when Victor Records came to cut the Memphis Jug Band almost 80 years ago at the Ellis Auditorium in February, 1927.  (That's according to blues historian and University of Memphis music professor Dr. David Evans.)  Since then, Memphis as a city has had one of the strongest recording careers in the whole industry of recorded music. 

Sam Phillips' success really inspired others to come to Memphis to record, including:  Los Angeles' Bihari brothers, who opened up Meteor Records on Chelsea in the early '50s; Jerry Wexler and his crew of Atlantic clients who first recorded at Stax Records in the early '60s and then at American after Stax refused his business; and Larry Uttal, whose Bell Records cut dozens of pop and soul hits at American in the '60s and early '70s.  Today, Memphis studios continue to have national and international recording stars come to guzzle the heady stuff in our vineyard.

One of the most surprising clients of recent note comes straight outta The O.C. Peter Gallagher, he of the beetle brows.  Gallagher, long a Broadway star and more recently the father on the wildly  popular The O.C., came to Memphis this past June to soak up the Memphis Sound at Ardent Records. He hung with Stax vets Steve Cropper and arranger Lester Snell, along with 3rd-generation soul stars of Joss Stone's band.  Another testimonial to the great musicians and studios that Memphis continues to have.

 

How did this session come about?  Apparently Gallagher sang Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up on Me" on The O.C. last fall and an enterprising producer, Mike Mangini (also Joss Stone's producer), came up with the idea of cutting Gallagher doing a whole record of soul covers and classics.  Mangini brought Stone's band to town and partnered them up with a couple of Memphis soul legends, producing what will soon be out as a dual disc (a disc with video on one side; music on the other) as well as a CD.  The CD  is 7 Days in Memphis.  The dual disc features video of Gallagher cruising around Memphis musing on his career, as well as on Solomon Burke, on Memphis soul, and why he is singing soul music.

 

The music itself is solid Memphis soul -- with  input from Betty Wright as well as some of Memphis' finest players.  While many critics will dismiss the idea of an actor having a singing career (even though Gallagher has sung on stage for years), the bigger point of all this, for Memphis at least, is that the big shots know where to come to get the authentic soul sounds:  Memphis studios with Memphis musicians (Another film star, Steven Seagal,  is also one who knows a good thing in Memphis when he hears it -- having announced last week that he is doing a blues record in Memphis). 

Astonishingly,  the Memphis Sound will probably be featured some time this fall on one of TV's hottest teenie-bopper show -- more proof of  the staying power of Memphis soul.  Surely, the idea of having a hit record promoted by a hit TV show crossed Mangini's mind when booking the sessions; it's something any major record label would die for in these difficult days of record sales.  The O.C. has been breaking indie rock bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie.  Will they be able to sell soul music to this group of kids?  7 Days in Memphis comes out next week on Epic. It's not easy getting Steve Cropper back to Memphis for a recording session.  Let's hope there are more to come.

 

Secret Stuff:
Did one of the members of the White Stripes cut music for a commercial in a Memphis studio for an unnamed product in an unnamed country this summer?  Is there a major positive announcement forthcoming for an historical outdoor mid-town Memphis amphitheater?

 

 

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