The 70 or so folks who ventured out to the Shawn Cripps benefit at The Hi-Tone CafÇ last Thursday were treated to a nice surprise: an hour-long set from The Reigning Sound, which performed after Monsieur Jeffrey Evans and The Tearjerkers. Sure, the crowd was small, but those in attendance filled the dance floor for songs like "Stormy Weather" and "You're So Strange." Backstage, the scene was just as jubilant, as filmmaker Mike McCarthy held court alongside Reigning Sound frontman Greg Cartwright and lead Tearjerker Jack Yarber.
"The world doesn't know what it's got with guys like Greg and Jack," enthuses Greg Roberson, the Reigning Sound's drummer. "Greg's a star. I'm just happy to be in a band with him."
But wait a minute. Roberson's speaking about his band in the present tense. Didn't the Reigning Sound break up? "I think [Cartwright] just had a moment," Roberson says with a laugh. "'I'm moving. I have a new baby. I have a van note.' He decided to call it quits, but then he really missed playing."
The facts are these: Last month, Cartwright closed Legba Records, his vinyl and CD shop, and, with wife and baby in tow, moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Now, he's leading the band long-distance, but, Roberson explains, "it's no big deal."
"This is [Cartwright's] band," he insists. "It's not a collaboration. He writes all the songs and picks all the covers. He does all the business too. It's all his vision. He just lets us play. It works because everyone -- Greg, me, and Jeremy [Scott, the band's bassist] -- knows the parameters. And I can put out my own records and write songs with other outlets," he adds, citing The Shazam and Her Majesty's Buzz, as well as songwriting partners Mark Akin and Lamar Sorrento.
It's certain that Larry Hardy, In the Red Records owner, is also breathing a sigh of relief. He put out the Reigning Sound's first two albums, and, on April 26th, he's releasing their third record, Too Much Guitar. He also has the band scheduled to take part in his showcase at the South By Southwest festival in March.
"I didn't want to shaft Larry," Cartwright explains. He's calling from the label's Los Angeles office, where, in a few hours, he's due to meet songwriting legend Jackie DeShannon, with whom he'll collarborate on lyrics and music for an upcoming album by The Detroit Cobras, which will also be released by In the Red. "Basically, the new record was already done," Cartwright says, "so we're gonna get out and support it. But," he cautions, "this is a last hurrah."
Cartwright expects to make the nine-hour commute from Asheville to Memphis a few more times over the next few months then settle down in his new home. He's already playing with The Labiators, an Asheville group, and, he says, "it's beautiful up here."
"Memphis will always be my hometown," he adds. "It's been such a big part of my life and my music, so it was tough to leave. I miss mundane things like street corners and the unique characters. Now I'm gonna have to see if this long-distance love affair can work out," he says with a laugh.
Look for the Reigning Sound at the Hi-Tone CafÇ Monday, February 23rd. The gig will be a warm-up for their performance at Little Steven's Underground Garage Live! show at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom, where the Reigning Sound are headlining alongside The Romantics, The Fondas, The Chesterfield Kings, and Cobra Verde.
Meanwhile, the former site of Legba Records has been rented by Cartwright's former Oblivians bandmate Eric Friedl and Zac Ives. The two plan to open their own vinyl and CD shop, Goner Records, later this month.
"We'd been talking about doing something, and when I found out that Greg was leaving, it seemed like everything fell into place," Ives says. While they're starting with entirely new stock, "Greg helped us facilitate the lease, and Jeannine McLane and Carol Oswald have been helping us paint and get the space ready for business," Ives says.
The storefront is a logical extension of Friedl's long-running Goner Web site and mail-order business, which can be found at Goner-Records.com. His specialty -- "small labels that no one could find anywhere" -- will be the store's focus, along with an emphasis on new vinyl.
Cartwright couldn't be more pleased. "I'm so glad," he says. "Memphis is big enough for a few record stores. At Legba, we'd developed a good clientele by helping customers search for particular records, and, if anything, Eric is even better at that than me. He can turn people on to new things and guide them to different sounds. That's a true talent, and he does it better than anyone. This is an exciting opportunity for Memphis music fans."