Deep in the recesses of Ardent Studios last week, a half-dozen musicians sat, instruments in hand, to watch scenes from Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan, currently slated for a November release. Scott Bomar, the film's music supervisor, alternated between the studio floor and the control room, where engineers John Hampton and Kevin Houston and studio assistant Curry Weber kept the audio reels rolling, syncing music with the movie.
Sunday, Bomar began the process at his own Electraphonic Studio, laying down piano and guitar tracks, along with a rhythm track from tympani player Ed Murray.
Monday, North Mississippi Allstars Luther and Cody Dickinson -- who flew in, mid-tour, from North Carolina -- joined their father, Jim Dickinson, Memphis-raised harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite, and Rising Star drummer Otha Andre Turner at the Madison Avenue studio to cut the film's score, arranged by Bomar and trumpeter Marc Franklin.
Tuesday, string players Roy Brewer, Jonathan Kirkscey, and Jonathan Wires augmented the bluesy score with violin, bass, and cello. Wednesday, Bomar, Franklin, and Houston worked to finish the tracks, which will be mixed at a later date.
Inside Ardent's Studio A (where Jack White's group The Raconteurs recently recorded their debut album), Midtown Memphis faded away whenever the projector was running. On a giant screen, scantily clad actress Christina Ricci, portraying Rae, one of the film's protagonists, railed against and cursed actor Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Laz, her reluctant savior, as Bomar led the group through the dynamics of the production.
A sharp-eyed Brewer, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, watched approvingly from the control room, occasionally emerging into the studio to help guide the process.
Black Snake Moan marks the second collaboration for the duo. In 2004, Bomar recorded the score to Hustle & Flow with his band The Bo-Keys, who lent that project an updated Stax sound.
"It was great. I've had the most fun in my career doing movie scores," Jim Dickinson commented a few days later. Favorably comparing the job to similar projects he's done with Ry Cooder over the years, he added, "Bomar and Brewer brought the elements that come together only in Memphis -- a sound created by a gumbo of old black guys and punk-rock art students." Dickinson continued, "There's chaos underneath that initial blues element that Cooder couldn't do if his life was in jeopardy."
Taylor's Music, located at the corner of Madison Avenue and Evergreen Street, might look the same from the curb, but inside, big changes have taken place: On Saturday, April 1st, musicians Mark Stuart and John Argroves -- the rhythm section behind local groups Jed & Kelley, the Lights, and the Secret Service -- purchased the business from longtime owner Mike Taylor. Since then, they've been busy restocking inventory, ordering strings, cords, and other accessories, and getting a handle on the used-instrument marketplace.
"I've been shopping with Mike since I was a kid, and, back in January he offered me the business," explains Stuart. "I got John involved, and it was on."
"Every time we went on tour together, we'd walk into a little instrument shop and think, this is what we should be doing," Argroves says. "A few years ago we toyed with the idea, but we pushed it out of our minds. Since deciding to buy Taylor's, we've both had some sleepless nights, but it was too good of a deal to turn down, and we knew we couldn't pass up the opportunity."
After deciding to keep Taylor's name on the storefront, they raided their own homes for new stock.
"When John and I were on the road touring with Alvin Youngblood Hart full-time, we hit plenty of pawn shops across the country," Stuart recalls. "I brought six of my guitars into the store, and John's put a lot of equipment in here. Alvin's helped out with his handmade pedals, the old amplifiers he finds on the road, and a few guitars.
"This store," he says, "is about the local scene. It's always been a place to come in and hang out. Our inventory is like that too. We don't have rows of shiny, fresh-from-the-factory guitars. We're eclectic, which is the way I see most local musicians."