Expect to see much more of Tara McManus and Margaret Garrett around town: The Boston-based duo, better known as Mr. Airplane Man, are hoping to relocate to Memphis this winter. "We almost moved to Memphis in the mid-'90s," McManus, calling from the road, explains. "We were on our way to San Francisco, and we passed through town. Memphis is amazing," she says, citing such local musicians as Greg Cartwright, Jack Yarber, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, and Tav Falco, alongside the Fat Possum label and, of course, Howlin' Wolf, as her band's biggest influences.
"We are really obsessed with Wolf," says McManus, Mr. Airplane Man's drummer. "In Boston, we used to go see Mark Sandman play. He turned us on to Wolf. He'd just go into these different worlds when he'd play Delta blues. Wolf's Chess records really blow my mind -- 'Moanin' at Midnight,' 'No Place to Go' -- all those super-reverb Hubert Sumlin guitar parts."
McManus and Garrett (vocals and guitar) started on the streets playing for change in Cambridge during the day while honing their talent on the Boston pub scene at night. In 1999, the alt-weekly Boston Phoenix voted Mr. Airplane Man "Best New Local Act."
A series of coincidences returned their focus to Memphis. "A friend made us a tape for a road trip that was all '68 Comeback music," McManus says. "Then we came south to check out the Fat Possum stuff and met Shawn Cripps. He introduced us to Jeffrey Evans, who came to our next Memphis show along with Nick Ray and Jack Yarber. We were terrified to play in front of them," McManus says with a laugh.
Soon after, Mr. Airplane Man recorded their first full-length, Red Lite, at Evans' home studio. The album, a trashy amalgamation of originals and covers of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Black Cat Bone," caught the ear of producer Jim Diamond, who invited the girls to come record at his Detroit studio. "We mixed that record [Moanin'] in Memphis, at Easley-McCain Studio, with Greg Cartwright," McManus says, adding that Mr. Airplane Man returned to Easley-McCain again to record their third album, C'Mon DJ, with Cartwright producing. Look for it to hit the stores in January.
In the meantime, the girls have been on the road touring with the likes of the Strokes and the White Stripes. Their favorite gig, however, was earlier this year, when they played a benefit for Othar Turner's family, staged in New York by filmmaker Dan Rose and fanzine editor Adam Lore. And last month, Mr. Airplane Man took Cripps' group, The Limes, on a jaunt down the East Coast.
Now the girls are wrapping up a cross-country tour then packing their bags for Memphis. "It's getting to be completely impossible to live in Boston," McManus sighs. "Everyone is working so much. There's no time for hanging out. Memphis seems more affordable and more social. Being able to see all these great Memphis bands all the time would make me so happy!"
Garrett is coming to stay, while, for now at least, McManus will be here on a temporary basis. "I don't know what to do," she says. "I really wanna move, but my boyfriend is in Boston and I can't convince him to come."
Look for Mr. Airplane Man at the Hi-Tone CafÇ on Saturday, October 25th, with The Demolition Doll Rods and The Husbands.
Shawn Cripps, meanwhile, just finished recording his own album at Easley-McCain. "I got a job working at the St. Jude golf tournament last summer. It's the one time a year that a guy like me has $2,500 in his pocket," the Limes frontman explains. "Last year, I squandered it the day I got paid, but this year I decided to put it into something more tangible."
Backed by Jeffrey Evans on guitar, Harlan T. Bobo on bass, and Nick Ray and Paul Buchignani on drums, Cripps recorded 15 songs over a three-day period. "We cut five hours a day with no playbacks," Cripps says. "Then I took a month off to scrutinize the rough mixes before going back into the studio for minor changes."
Like the girls in Mr. Airplane Man, he credits Evans for musical inspiration. "I don't have a good feel for doing solos, and I've ripped Jeff off so much over the years that I thought the best thing I could do was get him on the record," Cripps quips. "At one time, I had all the money to pay for the album, but I lost it in a poker game," he adds sheepishly. "I'm getting kind of antsy, so I'm shopping it to different labels, like In the Red, Drag City, and Sympathy for the Record Industry."
You can e-mail Local Beat at email@example.com.