With the Memphis Music Foundation recently adding staff and expanding its programming in the form of the Memphis Music Resource Center and an alliance of local music-related businesses coming together in the form of Music Memphis (see Music Feature, page 26), the long-maligned Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission would seem to be in danger of further slipping off the city's musical radar.
But the lone governmental arm of the local music community made its own bit of news last week with the arrival of its latest executive director, Johnnie Walker.
Walker, a longtime music-industry executive, is a Mississippi native who got her break in Memphis radio before being hired by Russell Simmons in 1990 to work for his Def Jam label. Walker worked her way up to senior vice president of promotions for the Def Jam Music Group but left the company earlier this decade to become head of urban promotion for DreamWorks Records. Walker is also the founder of the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment.
Walker was hired to lead the music commission this past summer and made her debut last week at a monthly commission meeting that was reportedly sparsely attended (by commissioners). Whether Walker's tenure will revive an organization that has lost relevancy in recent years or be more of the same remains to be seen.
This will be a good weekend for local folk music fans. Louisiana-born, Nashville-based folk singer Kate Campbell, who brings a decidedly "grit-lit" sensibility to her work, makes a semiregular appearance at the Center for Southern Folklore this weekend. Campbell, whose latest album, Save the Day, is a collection of songs inspired by literary works and historical icons from To Kill a Mockingbird to Henry Ford, plays the center Saturday, November 22nd, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $25.
The next night, the Memphis Acoustic Music Association returns for its first concert in six months when it hosts British guitarist and folk singer Martin Simpson at the Pink Palace Mansion Theatre. Simpson is touring the U.S. for the first time in five years and will be stopping at the Pink Place for a 7 p.m. show Sunday, November 23rd. Tickets are $20 and are available at Otherlands Coffee Bar and Davis-Kidd Booksellers.
Speaking of Otherlands, the Midtown venue will be hosting a fund-raiser concert for the Memphis-based Folk Alliance Friday, November 21st, with The Dan Montgomery Three, Deering & Down, and Marissa Lynae.
Congratulations are in order to a couple of Memphians who will be recipients of the Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive award. The awards will be given as part of the International Blues Challenge weekend in February, but winners were announced this month and included local documentarian Willy Bearden in the "Film, Television, and Video" category and Betsie Brown in the "Publicist" category.
Brown works with roots acts of all stripes via her Blind Raccoon company and has a couple of clients making news right now. Memphis musician Kim Richardson recently won the singer-songwriter contest at the Ozark Folk Festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Richardson has a new album out, True North, and will next perform locally alongside Susan Marshall and Reba Russell at Otherlands on December 6th.
Additionally, area blues stalwarts Billy Gibson and Super Chikan recently traveled to Spitzbergen, Norway, to perform at the Dark Season Blues Festival.
Local rockers Lucero have been quiet since signing to major-label Universal earlier this year and celebrating with their second-annual Lucero Family Picnic. With guitarist Brian Venable celebrating the birth of his first son, frontman Ben Nichols has taken the opportunity to record his solo debut, The Last Pale Light in the West.
A seven-track "mini LP," The Last Pale Light in the West was recorded with occasional Lucero sidemen Rick Steff and Todd Beene and features songs inspired by the Cormac McCarthy novel Blood Meridian. The album will be released in January on the band's own Liberty & Lament label. But you can get it early — meaning now — via the band's website, LuceroMusic.com, either in hard-copy form or as an instant MP3 download. Nichols has also recorded a cover of Johnny Cash's "Delia's Gone" for All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, now available on Anchorless Records.
The concert will be in a battle-of-the-bands format, according to a press release about the show:
The contest begins at 9pm, with each band performing a 20 min set. The audience and a few "celebrity" judges will determine the top-two bands to move on to the second round. Those bands will perform another 20 minute set, and the overall winner will once again be determined by applause/judges. The winning band will perform one final set to close the evening.