COMMENTARY: SOME POST-TURKEY DAY TIDBITS 

COMMENTARY: SOME POST-TURKEY DAY TIDBITS

No matter how you slice it, Memphis music has had many things to be thankful for in 2004. A few that came in the cornucopia this year.

1) 50th Anniversary of the Birth of Rock ‘N Roll Campaign

The most talked about music promotional campaign ever by the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, it came off surprisingly well despite the arbitrariness of the whole plan. In the minds of musical historians, the backfiring potential of this campaign to define when rock ‘n roll actually began was definitely there. Certain media made minor mentions of other possible dates for rock ‘n roll’s origination, but for the most part, media outlets accepted the date of July 5, 1954, at face value and ran with the story. CNN even covered the concert at Sun Studios, proving that if you provide a newsworthy music event, the media will come sans bribes.

What it means: The positive media Memphis, Sun Studio, Graceland, Rock ‘N Soul Museum, and other Memphis music attractions received will increase visitations to Memphis for the next three or four years. The positive marketing for Memphis regionally, nationally, and internationally does not pay off over night since vacations have to be planned, but there will be a nice bump for Memphis in the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd year of rock ‘n roll. The trick is to continue to provide live music worthy of these new fans of Memphis music who will be coming to town for the first time.

An added bonus for this campaign was seeing the lesser-known players from the early days of rock ‘n roll--Billy Lee Riley, DJ Fontana, Sonny Burgess, and especially Scotty Moore--get their day in the Sun, making it all the more worthwhile. Kudos to Sun Studio for pulling off a super event, one which we have heard and hope will be an annual concert.

2) Rolling Stone Ranks Memphis High on Top 500 Songs & Top 500 Lps of All Time

According to this year’s Rolling Stone lists, Memphis artists, labels, or studios cut 5.5% of the best lps of all time (6% if you include Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson as Memphis area artists!) and 8% of the top 500 songs of all time. These numbers are phenomenal for any one city’s music heritage.

What it means: With such mainstream popular music media recognition, Memphis is reaffirmed as one the principal music and recording centers of the world. Only New York, London, Los Angeles, and, possibly Nashville can compete with the above music pedigree.

3) Elvis Costello Heads South for 2004

Not only did Elvis Costello cut his new record down in Oxford, he chose Memphis’ Hi Tone to flesh out his new material in four intimate concerts in the spring. Having a blast at the mid-town haunt, he chose to return to Memphis and the Hi Tone for his live DVD shoot in September with Emmylou Harris.

What it means: Memphis still has the mojo soul that international superstars (Tito Jackson?) continue to seek out. As an added bonus, the Hi Tone will have its cool logo behind Costello on thousands of dvds as well as live on the BBC, where the show is slated to premiere. (Hi Tone could be a great place to start a live from Memphis tv show a la Live at Bluebird Café)

4) Hustle and Flow, First Major Hipster Movie Since Mystery Train, Shoots in Memphis

Movies reflect and refract trends in popular music. Repo Man brought punk rock into the mass media, The Blues Brothers taught a new generation about the Memphis Sound, and Craig Brewer’s hip hop struggle opus could do the same for Memphis’ most underground sounds.

What it means: If Craig Brewer’s first major film is half as good as expected, Memphis Crunk could be next year’s national hip hop rage

.5) Unknown Artists Continue to Come Out Memphis with Excellent Records

Memphis artists continue to boil over the side of the pot. Harlan T. Bobo, Half-Acre Gunroom, and the Bo-Keys (amongst others) all released stellar home-cooked records.

What it means: The well seems to be deep right now--much deeper than just the North Mississippi All-Stars and Lucero. Most cities would die just to have one of these bands, and Memphis has a whole slew of others coming on.

6) Willie Mitchell Blvd. Christened

Mr. Mitchell, who follows only Elvis in number of gold records earned in Memphis, finally got some local recognition with his street naming in front of his Royal Recording.

What it means: Memphis is recognizing who it has while they are alive. A turning point?

7) Al Green/Jerry Lee Lewis/Big Star All Resurface in Famous Memphis Studios

The Memphis Sound, with these three big acts all well-represented in the previously mentioned Rolling Stone Top 500 lists, returned to the studios that made them famous: Royal, Sam Phillips, and Ardent.

What it means: More Memphis music spread thickly nationally in 2005

.8) The Man in Black Gets the Hollywood Treatment in Memphis

While it’s great that Johnny Cash has been given the full Hollywood effect with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, we hope they do better than the Great Balls of Fire debacle of 1989. It could be that the ‘50s legends are so much larger than life that they do not translate to the silver screen. Why not just re-release some great Johnny Cash documentary footage?

What it means: More young fans for the greatest country singer of the 20th century.

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