Garage rock, part trois: Later this month (Saturday, August 30th, to be exact), local entrepreneur Sherman Willmott is releasing a 17-track compilation titled A History of Memphis Garage Rock: The 90s. Cooler than a K-Tel collection -- and right up there with Rhino's Nuggets box -- this third installment in Willmott's garage-rock reissue series (parts one and two covered the '50s through early '70s) solidifies Memphis' position on the national scene.
"I was tired of seeing overhyped garage bands come through town that couldn't hold a candle to the great Memphis bands we've had for the past 15 years," Willmott explains. "I thought it was time to spread the word on [musicians like] Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, Jack Yarber, and Greg Cartwright."
"Fifteen years ago, I didn't know much about garage rock," Willmott admits. "But after surviving the renaissance of independent music in the '90s, I've come to broaden my horizons. Seeing what's popular on a national level, I realized that what we had here was superior to any other regional scene. It's one of those situations where you don't know what you have until it's gone."
Willmott's indie music shop, Shangri-La Records, was a big part of the local scene. "At the very least, Shangri-La gave any band an outlet to distribute their music -- and get paid for it," he says, adding that "of course, the first tip of the hat should go to Alex Chilton and Tav Falco. Tav, especially, led people to discover things that are already here."
Willmott's favorite '90s garage band, '68 Comeback, was directly influenced by Falco's Panther Burns. "When their three-guitar attack kicked in, it cronked my head," he says. "It's like going from mono to stereo then on to the next level."
'68 Comeback's "Paper Boy Blues" is included on the sampler, alongside other Evans gems from stints in The Gibson Bros. and Monsieur La Fong. Both Yarber and Cartwright are well-represented with cuts from The Compulsive Gamblers and The Oblivians, as well as Yarber's solo work (as Jack Oblivian) and Cartwright's own Greg & the Tip-Tops. Rounding out the collection are songs from Impala, Lorette Velvette, The Grundies, Snakehips, and The Satyrs, alongside a never-released track from Eric Friedl (Oblivians' guitarist and proprietor of Goner Records) and James Arthur's collaborative AAAA New Memphis Leggs. Finally, although Oxford's Neckbones and New Orleans stalwarts The Royal Pendletons and their erstwhile time-keeper King Louie Bankston aren't exactly locals, their contributions to the Memphis garage scene earned them a valid place on this comp.
"So many bands have taken advantage of the affordable Memphis sound," Willmott says, pointing to The White Stripes and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which both recorded at Easley-McCain Studios, "but that's not my point. From a quality standpoint, the Memphis bands blow away most of the garage bands currently hyped on major labels. If you didn't hear it the first time, here's a nice package for you to check out."
The Hi-Tone CafÇ will host a CD-release party for A History of Memphis Garage Rock: The '90s on Saturday, August 30th, with 11 bands -- including '68 Comeback, Impala, the Compulsive Gamblers, Greg & the Tip-Tops, the Cool Jerks, King Louie, and the Royal Pendletons. The Baron of Love, aka frequent Flyer contributor Ross Johnson, who penned the liner notes for the disc, is scheduled to emcee.
Because many of the groups have broken up, rumors are flying around town as to which musicians are expected to show up. But Willmott is not fazed. "I don't know who's playing. That's the excitement," he says. "Jeff managed to pull off five different versions of '68 Comeback; Greg Cartwright, Ross Johnson, Nick Diablo, and Jeff Bouck are still around, so there's enough guys around to fill out the band. There's a thread going through this music, with just a handful of guys forming the cornerstone."
Women who rock: Don't miss the estrogen-fueled program scheduled for the Hi-Tone this Friday, August 15th. The show, masterminded by scenesters Lacey Fitzgerald and Krissy Woods, will feature DJ sets from the duo, as well as performances by Melissa Dunn and The Ultracats.
"I'm a girl on the fringe," Dunn, the guitar-playing niece of Stax great Duck Dunn, says with a laugh. "I started playing music because I thought I was gonna get all the boys!" Although the artist/musician didn't start composing songs until she was well into her 20s, she spent the next decade touring Europe with Lorette Velvette, fronted her own group, Kretzer, and sang back-up on Sonic Youth's "Little Trouble Girl." Although she released a song on Makeshift Records last year, Dunn hopes "for posterity's sake" to document her latest combo, which features Sami Qreini on drums and Harlan T. Bobo on lap steel.
"In Memphis, you have the ability to be creative and do the shows you want to," Fitzgerald says. "The venues are so open to ideas like DJ nights and fashion shows. It's nice how real the people are -- everything seems accepted here."
Although neither she nor Woods have DJed before, they're both looking forward to the event. "I've been scheduled to DJ three times, but someone else always takes over the turntables or the party ends before I can get up there," Fitzgerald laughs. "But Krissy and I are always making mix tapes for people, and DJing is the same thing. We'll be playing dance music, punk, and old new wave. No pretenses, no snobbery, just fun music."
"I don't know why we stopped playing," says Lori Gienapp of the recently reformed Ultracats. "Bo Graham asked us to play a party at the Buccaneer, so we thought, why not? And we fell back into it." Gienapp says that she and bandmate Alicja Trout also plan to take the duo into the studio. "We're gonna record with Andy Saunders and get something going with that," she says, adding that the project will eventually be released on Lamar Records, a coalition of Gienapp, Saunders, Jared McStay, Stuart Sikes, Brian McKay, Tripp Lamkins, and Jerome Brock.
Congrats to The Gamble Brothers, who were the grand prize winners of Disc Makers' 2003 Southeast Region Independent Music World Series, held late last month in Nashville. "We went in with the intention of having fun -- hopefully winning, but also to check out a possible venue," Al Gamble modestly reports. "It's nice to get all these great prizes, but also the timing is right; On September 9th we're releasing Back To The Bottom on Archer Records, and [winning] will help us get exposure outside Memphis."
Although the band has yet to collect all their prizes, they did come home with a Fender Stratocaster guitar, a Fender bass, and a handful of Shure microphones. "We're actually gonna donate the guitar and maybe a few other things to the Save the Music program," Gamble explains. What's next for the group? A trip to New York for an outdoors Lincoln Center gig later this month, and, hopefully, some Triple-A radio play. Go to GambleBrothersBand.com for more news.
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