Judging by the furor surrounding the missteps of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission, it might seem impossible to get local musicians to agree on anything. Proving that there's always an exception to the rule, however, the city's players have recently banded together to honor their own with several worthwhile projects.
Last Monday, producer Willie Mitchell was all smiles when the city unveiled a street sign renaming a stretch of South Lauderdale Street -- running from McLemore Avenue to South Parkway -- "Willie Mitchell Boulevard." With the assistance of Phil Trenary (Pinnacle Airlines CEO and chairman of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission), Mitchell's family hosted an early-evening street party that featured dozens of politicians (it is election season, isn't it?), musicians, and other local luminaries. Congressman Harold Ford Jr. emceed the event.
"Uncle Willie will not only live and breathe, but [he will also] work on this street," Ford said, before Mayor Willie Herenton praised the producer, saying, "Thank God for Willie Mitchell [and] the legacy that will live and live and live on."
Mitchell was given a key to the city and a proclamation declaring September 20th Willie Mitchell Day. Afterward, EMI Records' Tom Cartwright presented gold, platinum, and double platinum awards to Mitchell for his work.
"So many things have happened tonight that I'm really dizzy," the 76-year-old producer said when he finally got a chance to speak. "We made a lot of good records, but I couldn't have made 'em without the musicians," he said, nodding to Teenie and Leroy Hodges, Skip Pitts, Jim Spake, and his own stepson, Archie Mitchell, who -- along with the Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes back-up singers and Al Green -- ended the party with a performance of "Let's Stay Together."
On Sunday, October 3rd, another group of Memphis musicians -- led by FreeWorld bassist Richard Cushing -- is hosting a memorial for promoter Doyce Hodum at Overton Park Shell. "I knew Doyce for 19 years. He was the cool big brother I never had. I even met my wife through him," explains Cushing. "Even though he wasn't a musician, he loved and supported the local music scene."
Hodum was last seen alive in Cooper-Young on the night of August 22nd. Early the next morning, his body was discovered in front of his house on North Watkins. He had been shot to death.
"Doyce had an external family -- all Memphis musicians," Cushing says. "None of us had a chance to say goodbye. We found out [about his murder] via the news, which was so shocking. He was such a peaceful, giving person to die in such a violent and unexplained way. It's haunting me."
So, as a "labor of love," Cushing has organized the Doyce Hodum Memorial Jam, which will start at 1 p.m. and is scheduled to run well into the night. Kaleidoscope, Yamagata, The Minivan Blues Band, Herman Green & the Green Machine, The Willie Waldman Project, The Dickinson Family, and FreeWorld are all scheduled to perform.
The event is free, but Cushing promises to pass a bucket for donations. "We've already taken care of his headstone through [Recording Academy program] MusiCares, but we want to raise some money for his two kids," he says. "It seems like the right thing to do."
Husband-and-wife team Jim and Mary Lindsay Dickinson have joined forces for a CD benefiting the Friends for Our Riverfront group. Save Our Riverfront! features 10 tracks, including Reba Russell's incendiary "Gonna Move to Mississippi," Susan Marshall's breathtaking "October Song," and Sid Selvidge's sentimental "Miss the Mississippi and You." Of course, the Dickinsons' own family -- in the form of a solo offering from Jim, sons Luther and Cody's North Mississippi Allstars, and Mudboy & the Neutrons -- also made hefty contributions.
"It all started last February, when John Pritchard and Hite McLean wrote 'Save Our View,'" Mary Lindsay Dickinson, the project's compiler, explains. "Virginia, Hite's wife [a descendent of John Overton, who originally owned the riverfront property, and president of the Friends group] came to me and asked, 'Do you suppose we could make a tape?' We talked to Jack Holder at Sounds Unreel, and he said he'd donate his studio.
"People bent over backward to help," Mary Lindsay Dickinson says. "All of the artists donated their money and time by giving us their master tapes. Even the man at the manufacturing plant donated part of the printing cost. The fat cats are only interested in making money, but we want to save the land."
Save Our Riverfront! is available at area stores and via the Dickinsons' Web site, ZebraRanch.com. •