Backstage at the 2007 Recording Academy Honors, hosted by the Memphis chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences on September 7th, a veritable who's who of Memphis and New Orleans legends rubbed shoulders and posed for photo ops.
Original MGs bassist Lewis Steinberg joined his replacement, Donald "Duck" Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper, and organist Booker T. Jones, who stood alongside producers Willie Mitchell and Knox Phillips, soul singer Irma Thomas, and songwriting team Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
The night belonged to Phillips, Thomas, Mitchell, and the MGs, who were feted by a full house of industry vets, including Ardent Records founder John Fry, former Stax executive Al Bell, authors Peter Guralnick and Robert Gordon, and musicians such as Aaron Neville, Angie Stone, Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, and John Prine.
"I feel like I see my future," murmured a gleeful Al Kapone, president of the Recording Academy's Memphis chapter, upon meeting Jones.
A star-studded concert began minutes later, when Stone — fronting a band that included saxophonists Kirk Whalum and Jim Spake, trumpeters Marc Franklin and Scott Thompson, guitarist Skip Pitts, drummer Steve Potts, organist Marvell Thomas, and back-up vocalist Susan Marshall — launched into a cover of Al Green's "I'm Still in Love With You."
"Had tonight's honorees chosen another profession, the world would be a very different, less musical place," mused Jon Hornyak, the Recording Academy's senior executive director, before adding, "These honorees created the soundtrack of my generation."
Although the evening featured plenty of surprises, such as a duet between Thomas and Neville and the MGs' impromptu performance of "Time Is Tight," the most poignant moments came during Phillips' speech, delivered just after Prine's heartfelt salute, a rendition of "How Lucky Can One Man Get," which was originally cut — with Phillips at the control board — at Sam Phillips' Recording Studio nearly three decades ago.
"What's not to love about all that?" a garrulous Phillips wondered, citing what he described as "Memphis music moments."
"When you receive an award like this, you begin to look at your whole life. I remember seeing Ike Turner and Howlin' Wolf in the recording studio when I was 6 years old. When I was 11 years old, Elvis hugged me and said, 'Stay with me, Knox, stay with me.' I remember Bob Dylan knocking on the door."
Crediting his father, the late Sam Phillips, for introducing him to "human beings of every stripe and dimension," he declared, "Who else can say today that they had the 'Rocket 88' tour bus in their driveway on Vinton Avenue? For me, it all seemed normal, [but] deeper than the oddness was the idea that what Ike Turner and Howlin' Wolf were doing was greater than anything else — that they deserved the keys to the city of Memphis and the musical kingdom for what they'd done."
Of the city's vibrant music history, which thrived despite segregation, Phillips noted, "Even though Beale Street and the Peabody hotel are blocks apart, they might've been worlds away.
"Music is the greatest form of communication that exists," he said, channeling his father's well-known fervor. "It can knock down every wall, break through every barrier, and humble any person. This honor comes from a community in which I've always believed."
Next time you're walking down Beale Street, keep your eyes peeled for the brass musical note in front of Blues City Café, which honors 77-year-old Dr. Herman Green. The indefatigable sax man, who currently plays with FreeWorld, cut his teeth on Beale Street in the '40s, when he played in Phineas Newborn Sr.'s band and with a then-unknown B.B. King.
Also new to the Beale Street Walk of Fame: a brass note honoring the late Pete Pedersen, the Chicago-born harmonica player who relocated to Memphis in 1969.
A longtime employee of the Tanner ad firm, Pedersen co-founded Peter Buck Productions, a Midtown-based company that produced commercials and jingles, and promoted a World Harmonica Federation convention in Memphis.
Mark your calendars: This Friday, September 14th, Midtown faves Giant Bear are serving up a free happy-hour performance at Shangri-La Records. Richard James & the Special Riders are slated to perform the following week, on September 21st. As always, store merchandise is discounted 20 percent from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, call 274-1916 or go to Shangri.com.
Also on the books: Sid Selvidge's annual Memphis Acoustic Music Association concert, scheduled for Otherlands on Saturday, September 15th, at 8 p.m., is guaranteed to be a sell-out. Tickets, while they last, are $15; for more info, visit MAMAMusic.org.