A NIGHT OF HEROES: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' Memphis Heroes Awards, held at The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts last Tuesday, proved to be a smash hit for both the honorees and the crowd of 1,000-plus in attendance. From Sam the Sham to Knox and Jerry Phillips, Little Milton Campbell, and Josey Scott, dozens of hometown musicians were on hand to applaud Memphis "heroes" Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana, and Bill Black; Big Star; Ike Turner; and Louisianan Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
Seventies-era cult-music faves Big Star were the first to take the stage, after special guest Mike Mills of R.E.M. lauded the group. While drummer Jody Stephens and David Bell (brother of Big Star's late guitarist/songwriter Chris Bell) made brief speeches, the famously eccentric Alex Chilton, who co-founded the group, remained backstage until it was time to perform. Then Chilton joined Stephens, guitarist/vocalist Jon Auer, and bassist/vocalist Ken Stringfellow (Auer and Stringfellow, of The Posies, are permanent substitutes for Bell and former Big Star bassist Andy Hummel, respectively) for versions of "I Am the Cosmos" and "In the Street," which brought the crowd to its feet.
Moore and Fontana performed next, honored -- along with the late Black -- as Elvis Presley's original bandmates. California bluesman Joe Louis Walker joined the group for a version of "Mystery Train," which sounded cluttered -- due, probably, to the competition between the six-man band (three guitars, stand-up bass, piano, and drums) for solos. A manic Ronnie McDowell took Walker's place to sing "That's All Right," then, hamming it up unnecessarily for "Heartbreak Hotel," McDowell brought out the Jordanaires for delicious takes on "Don't Be Cruel" and "How Great Thou Art."
But it was Turner, clad in a white and pink sequined coat, who stole the show: "I can't say anything but thank you," Turner said, uncharacteristically tearing up before bringing out his mentor, pianist Pinetop Perkins, to a standing ovation. Perkins hijacked the next half-hour, then he was interrupted by a fire that threatened the main stage curtain. Eventually, Turner sat at the piano for a thundering version of "Rocket 88" (Little Milton provided the vocals, while Teenie Hodges played guitar), then Turner leapt across stage to grab his guitar. He looked like a little kid at Christmas -- absolutely ecstatic. Vocalist Audrey Madison, who sang "Proud Mary" with Turner, brought down the house, noting that "Ike never does anything nice and easy. He does it nice and rough." --AL
LEGENDS IN THE MAKING: Memphis rapper Mario Mims, aka Yo Gotti, announced that he signed with TVT Records -- home of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz -- last Wednesday. "It was an easy choice," Gotti said, explaining that the label distributed his last album, 2003's Life. "A lot of people think Life is the first one, but we went through [local distributor] Select-O-Hits for two albums," he continued. "I'm here to take Memphis to the next level."
"We've chosen TVT [based] on their success with Lil Jon and The Ying Yang Twins," added Peppa Williams, Yo Gotti's manager. "Now, when the tracks get laid, we have the structure to get large and get paid."
Meanwhile, Koch Records is readying jailed rapper Turk's new album, Penitentiary Chances, which drops nationally on April 27th. Turk, a New Orleans-based rapper who is currently held at 201 Poplar on attempted murder of a Shelby County deputy sheriff, managed to check in via a brief phone call last week. "I be straight. I'll be home in a minute," he said. "Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you've gotta change your people, places, and things."
Surprisingly, he said, "I got love for Memphis. Even though this situation happened, I got my life back. People look at it like a bad situation, [but] it's gonna turn out positive for me. This ain't nothing but a rehab for me. It's a learning experience." --AL
A huge weekend at the Hi-Tone Café was capped Sunday night with a record-release party from The Reigning Sound, who celebrated their ace new record, Too Much Guitar!, which hits the racks nationally next week. Despite some technical difficulties that had the first couple of attempts at the soul-rock rave-up "Your Love Is a Fine Thing" sounding like a Velvet Underground drone, Greg Cartwright & Co. soldiered through a typically joyous set. The crowd was surprisingly sparse, but you can probably chalk that up to it being a Sunday and to post-Elvis Costello letdown. The club was packed for four sold-out shows Friday and Saturday night by the onetime pub-rock-turned-punk icon.
On the first show Friday night, Costello opened with a rousing take on his classic "Radio, Radio," an indictment of corporate media every bit as relevant now as it was in 1978. He then barreled into "You Belong to Me." After that, Costello spent the bulk of the hour-and-a-half set testing out new material, a laudable strategy in theory if a little disappointing for fans of his late-'70s/early-'80s heyday, though he did play "(I Don't Wanna Go To) Chelsea" and "Clubland." --CH