As more than one voter who helped Greg Cartwright's Reigning Sound run away with the Third Annual Memphis Flyer Local Music Poll remarked, the band's name is prophetic: Their brand of soulful garage-rock really has become one of pop music's reigning sounds over the past couple of years.
Anointing Cartwright as a leading figure in this new wave of old-fashioned rock-and-roll bands is not merely a result of voters with local-music blinders: The Reigning Sound are arguably Cartwright's most accomplished distillation of his myriad musical influences, but it was his previous bands -- the Compulsive Gamblers and the Oblivians -- that set the stage for the current rock landscape, spurring on megaselling followers such as the Hives and the White Stripes in much the same way that '80s Amerindie bands like the Meat Puppets and Hüsker Dü paved the way for Nirvana.
And where Nirvana turned their fans on to the Meat Puppets, the Hives have been doing the same for their heroes, taking the Reigning Sound along as an opening act on a West Coast tour last year. (The Sound was offered the entire tour but declined. "We all have day jobs," Cartwright explains.) The Hives also covered Cartwright's Compulsive Gamblers' number "Stop and Think It Over" on a recent compilation. Hives lead singer Pelle Almqvist even told Rolling Stone earlier this year that Time Bomb High School was his favorite record of 2002.
This connection was further strengthened in recent weeks when the Reigning Sound made their first overseas appearances, touring Sweden and Norway in April, playing some shows with the Hives and playing a few festivals.
You might think that connection would result in a little major-label attention for Cartwright and Co., and you'd be right --to an extent. The band's stint opening for the Hives prompted several majors to sniff around the band, but so far nothing has come of it.
"We'd have A&R guys calling us and asking for a copy of the record, and [my attitude was] you work for a major label, you've got an expense account. Walk down to the record store and buy it," Cartwright says. "Or they'd be asking to be put on the guest list at shows. What's the cover? Seven dollars? I'd love to be on a big label and sell more records to more people, but I'd [have to be] making the same records, and I'm not gonna bend over backward for it."
If anything, the Reigning Sound seem like a band too established and too comfortable in their skin to worry much about becoming rock stars. After years in rowdier outfits ("The Gamblers were a rock-and-roll bar band. The crowd tended to be people who were drinking a lot, like we were doing then," Cartwright says), Cartwright was looking for something different with the Reigning Sound.
"After having been involved with such a close-knit set of musicians, I thought I've got to get out of this; it's a dead end. I really wanted to work with people who weren't connected to the same crowd, who weren't necessarily rock-and-roll lifestyle kind of people," he says.
Cartwright wanted a new mix of collaborators and he found them in his Reigning Sound bandmates: Drummer Greg Roberson had recently moved back to Memphis from L.A. and hadn't played with anyone locally in a while. Bassist Jeremy Scott had moved to Memphis from Philadelphia (where he was a guitarist, switching to bass for the Reigning Sound). Scott is also a good singer, allowing doo-wop fanatic Cartwright to explore vocal harmonies he couldn't in previous bands. Rounding out the lineup is guitarist/keyboard player Alex Greene, an old hand on the Memphis scene who had recently returned to Memphis after living in Belize.
The band's seemingly untoppable sophomore record comes off as something of an homage to the city's teen-band garage-rock scene of the '60s, with several covers from that period. The record coincided with local fan Ron Hall's Shangri-La-published scene history, though Cartwight says there was no direct connection between the two projects. "I knew he'd been working on that and we'd regularly swap singles, but I'd always been a fan of that stuff and had done those songs in live sets for years," Cartwright says. "I just thought it would be fun to represent that stuff for people who hadn't heard it."
The Reigning Sound's next, untitled record (Cartwright considered a recent headline from a Commercial Appeal medical advice column -- "PILL-POPPING MOM ONLY TAKING WHAT SHE NEEDS TO GET BY" --but has since scrapped the idea) will likely be a little different, featuring Reigning Sound-style covers of a couple of soul gems: Sam & Dave's "You Got Me Hummin'" and Hank Ballard's "Get It." The record was completed recently at Easley-McCain Studio and is set for release this fall on In the Red, the same label that put out Time Bomb High School.
These days, when Cartwright isn't working with his band or handling production chores for other bands (he helped produce the Porch Ghouls' recent major-label debut, Bluff City Ruckus), he spends his time hanging out in his newish Cooper-Young store, Legba Records. Cartwright is a record geek of enormous proportions and tremendous taste -- as anyone might gather from hearing a Reigning Sound record. Hanging out at Legba is a bit like finding oneself transported into the record-store scenes from High Fidelity, except the atmosphere is kinder and more laid-back.
On a recent Friday afternoon, just before the band headed out for their European minitour, Cartwright took time out from helping employee (and fellow local musician) Tim Prudhomme put together a new screen door for the store to discuss his favorite record-hunting haunts (Frayser -- "That's where all the rockabilly guys lived"), new finds (Blue Peter -- an obscure Canadian power-pop group from the late '70s), and the unique and persistent musical connection between Memphis, New Orleans, and Detroit (Cartwright offers a concise and eloquent analysis tying together jug bands, trade routes, and migrant workers).
In between helping Prudhomme with the door and fielding questions from this reporter, he finds time to attend to customers, turning one browser on to an early Alice Cooper record and gently chiding another who brings in a crate of records to sell --"So, you decided you didn't like Jessi Colter anymore?" and "Hey, you're trying to sell me records you know aren't any good!"
But everything stops when Hall makes an unexpected appearance, new find in hand. Cartwright takes a look at Hall's latest discovery, his body spins around, and he gasps, "Geez Louise!" It's another Memphis garage-band record from the '60s, but this time something no one's ever seen -- a full album, a live record from a Millington band called (could I make this up?) Tight Little Unit. The album was recorded live (could I make this up?) at the 11th Frame Lounge at Liberty Lanes Bowling Alley. Cartwright explains that it's a record the band presumably had pressed to sell at gigs they'd play around the naval base. It contains covers of hits of the day, such as "Dancing in the Streets" and "Summertime." But it also, oddly, contains a cover of a song by one of their local contemporaries, "I Don't Believe," by the Guilloteens. This is a song that the Reigning Sound covered on Time Bomb High School, but Cartwright has never heard this version. He races to the store record player and puts it on. The ongoing interview is suddenly forgotten, and this writer wouldn't have it any other way.
Next local gig:
The Hi-Tone Café, with
Mr. Airplane Man
Saturday, May 10th
Still the closest this town will ever get to duplicating the glory that was the Memphis teen-band scene of 1964-66. Better than the Gentrys and the Breakers and almost as good as Tommy Burke and the Counts. Greg Cartwright has a neat record shop in the form of Legba Records, but he lets too many gray-haired coots (like myself) hang out there. -- Ross Johnson
Carrying on where the Oblivians left off, these guys get the crowd moving during their raucous live shows. Part garage, part punk, but all rock-and-roll, the Reigning Sound make music that the Strokes and Hives can only dream about. They should be and usually are given credit for helping with the current garage-rock resurgence. -- Todd Dudley
No artist active in the Memphis scene today has proven him- or herself as able and willing to grow as Greg Cartwright. The songwriting is great and the band's execution is flawless, putting on some of the best live shows I've ever seen. I'll always love the Oblivians, but the Sound are just what I need for this stage of my life -- rockin', yet complex and subtle when they have to be. -- Chris McCoy
Their name couldn't be more appropriate given the recent explosion of bands on both the local and national scenes whose "sound" compares favorably to the '60s garage-band inspired (but hardly retro) style of Greg Cartwright's latest outfit. Speaking of style, allow me to nominate "Reptile Style" from Time Bomb High School as song of the year. What in less capable hands could simply be a "woman as snake-in-the-grass" genre exercise here becomes a tormented tale of casual sex, betrayal, and bitterness of almost biblical proportions.
-- Eddie Hankins
Not just "still good," but better. Releasing that gem of an album helped.
-- Andrew Earles
Along with friend and former Oblivian bandmate Jack Yarber, Greg Cartwright can take some credit for the current garage-rock phenomenon. Between fronting the Reigning Sound, running Legba Records, and producing bands like Mr. Airplane Man and the Porch Ghouls at Easley-McCain, Cartwright is a one-man rock-and-roll machine.
-- Andria Lisle
Not only is every band [Greg Cartwright] has ever played in been great, [he] is constantly bringing cool bands to Memphis to play.
-- Mike Smith
The guy is a genius. -- Kevin Cubbins
While the last few months were somewhat tumultuous for these country rockers -- guitarist Brian Venable quit the group in December, while his replacement, Steve Selvidge, left two months later -- things seem to be settling down. "Todd Gill started with us just a week before we played South by Southwest," bassist John Stubblefield remembers. "We threw him right in; he did 16 shows with us in 17 days, and things were fine."
Lucero had a blast at the Austin, Texas, music conference. "We played four shows at SXSW," Stubblefield says. "Our last gig was at a BMX company called Terrible One. We played on a big bike ramp. It was like playing in a swimming pool, so we like to say we capped off SXSW by playing in the deep end," he quips, adding that the Memphis Music Commission-sponsored barbecue at the MADJACK Records party was "really awesome. We'd been there for four days, and we were broke. I had 25 cents in my pocket," Stubblefield says with a laugh, "so the free food was great!"
The band is getting ready to record their third album,although Stubblefield demurs when asked for details. "We've been steadily writing songs," he says, "and we've got a dozen or more tunes that we could lay down at any moment." This summer, Lucero will be playing the festival circuit, heading to the Midwest in June and then to the Northeast in July. While he's looking forward to the respite from a steamy Memphis summer, Stub-blefield says the band is most enthusiastic about a pair of gigs closer to home. "We're headlining a show at the Batesville [Arkansas] Motor Speedway in June. Batesville is one of our biggest markets," he says. "We went there over Christmas without expecting much, but we had 500 people at our first show there."
And the other show? "We're playing a wrestling match at the Old Daisy Theatre on Beale Street," Stubblefield says, explaining that Pat Cox, an old hand on the Memphis punk scene who's now a professional grappler, organized the show. "There'll be three matches -- with thumbtacks and glass and all that stuff -- and three bands," he says gleefully. "What's the big tie between rock-and-roll and wrestling? Well, it's all fixed!" -- Andria Lisle
Lucero's Tennessee [is like] Neil Young meets Nirvana. Great melodies, great lyrics, great playing, great vocals: a totally un-self-conscious foray into the murky waters of alternative country (whatever that is). -- Lisa Lumb
I had seen [Lucero's] first public show at Barristers years ago. They only had an eight-song set, with a couple of songs they could barely get through, and you could tell even then that Lucero was going to be really special. I don't like to describe music or compare bands. I just have to say I like what they do. It's unique and real. When you hear their records or see this band live, you just want to come back and do it again. They've gained some great personnel and lost some. I think they are on the verge of becoming a significant and influential band.
-- James Manning
With the release of Tennessee and the addition of Todd Gill, Lucero could and should garner much success in the future. Ben Nichols writes songs that tug at your heartstrings. Already playing to packed venues where everyone sings along and the girls scream louder than at a Britney Spears concert, these guys are what's great about Memphis music.
-- Todd Dudley
They played over 200 gigs last year and seem on pace to do the same this year. They got plenty of press at South by Southwest and their shows are regularly packed. A lot of people liked Tennessee, their last album, but I didn't think it was as good or varied as the first one. Song after song of the same tempo gets old to me. But they are the most visible representative of the scene right now, and I for one would much rather be represented by a Frank Sinatra look-alike with a chain-smoking voice than by Saliva. Their founding guitarist [Brian Venable] recently quit, so it remains to be seen whether they can take it in a new direction as opposed to just resting on their laurels and descending into some kind of ego vortex. For all our sakes, I hope they can. -- Chris McCoy
Not much fun to listen to, but they sure can pack a bar. One of the only bands to regularly incite dancing and hollering. -- Kerry Vaughan
I think these guys have the best chance of really breaking out in the next year. Their live show is hot, and it is just a matter of time before they are huge. -- Mike Smith
The sound of Midtown for the past few years. -- Kevin Cubbins
"This is a really good time for Memphis music," North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson enthuses. "We pulled into Columbus, Ohio, for a gig recently, and both the Bloodthirsty Lovers and Lucero had write-ups in the local paper for upcoming shows. Then we realized that Saliva was playing a gig at the theater down the street. It makes me feel less homesick to realize that most of my friends are on the road too," he says.
Although it was mastered more than two months ago, the Allstars have put off the release of their third album, Polaris, until September 7th. "Tone-Cool is still our record company, but ATO/BMG bought the rights to our distribution," Dickinson explains. "We couldn't be happier. We met the ATO team, and it's gonna be a good run," he says expectantly.
"We've been playing a majority of the songs [off Polaris] live," Dickinson says. "On our second record, I was trying to write modern blues -- real Mississippi poetry. But Garry [Burnside, an occasional member of the band] taught me to write from the heart, keep things simple and honest so people can relate. This album is about life and girls," he says with a chuckle, "so hopefully everybody can feel it."
"With Dwayne Burnside in the band for two years now, the band has become a collaborative effort," Dickinson says. He shies away from the blues-band image that has pigeonholed the Allstars in years past, calling Polaris "a definite modern Southern rock statement. We're taking things day by day," Dickinson concludes. "Our mantra on the road is 'Keep your shit together, and be ready to rise to the occasion at any moment.'" -- AL
Next local gig:
The Beale Street Music
Festival, Budweiser Stage,
Sunday, May 4th
We all know by now what kind of talent they bring to the table, but what is so special is their unselfishness, always willing to help an up-and-coming band or a fallen hero. It's just so nice to see this kind of respect toward the men and women that made this area the musical dynamo that it is. Othar Turner is smiling down on your integrity, boys.
-- Brent Harding
This is simply a great band, steeped in Memphis tradition and the blues. They were impressive when they were teenagers, way back in the DDT days. They have the ultimate respect of their peers and they never fail to make their fans happy. They have built a fan base that will be with them for a lifelong career. -- James Manning
Just keep getting bigger and better. And Luther is rapidly becoming a guitar monster to be reckoned with. -- Steve Walker
Even though they're becoming the vets of this poll, the Allstars are still vital to the local scene. Each of their albums receives more attention nationally than the last one. -- Julie Etheridge
I suppose they should be on everyone's list considering all the attention they get. What's cool about NMAS is they've packaged this area's boogie-blues sound/feel with a jam-band groove that doesn't sound packaged. The material they do, and their sensitivity to it, will give them staying power. -- Jay Sheffield
North Memphis has spoken, and, once again, Saliva makes the poll with a hefty number of votes. But they won't be around to bask in the glory: These homegrown superstars are touring all summer long, as headliners in May and June, then as openers for the Aerosmith and Kiss tour slated for July.
It's been a busy year for Saliva. Frontman Josey Scott was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Song category for "Hero," his duet with Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, though he lost out to Coldplay. Scott has also become a ubiquitous presence in the rock press, dispensing romantic advice and dropping knowledge in magazines such as Spin and Revolver. Currently in heavy rotation: "Rest in Pieces," co-written by James Michael and Mötley Crüe legend Nikki Sixx.
But rest assured that the band hasn't forgotten their roots. "[Memphis music is] part of my culture and heritage," Scott told Guitar World in an interview this spring. "I had aunts and uncles listening to that music while they fried catfish in the kitchen when I was 7 years old. It was all an indelible part of my life and education." -- AL
The Library, in Oxford, Mississippi
Friday, May 9th
It's sad that Memphis' most commercially successful band since Big Star is named after a bodily fluid. But as Jay "Jay Jay" Reatard said, "Memphis is not Midtown."
-- Doug Golonka
Nü metal is a birth defect of a genre that should have been aborted. I mean that in a nice way. I'd like to see Saliva give a leg up to some of their Memphis metal brethren. I hope they explode (literally, not famewise just kidding). -- Chris Walker
I have worked around these guys since they were literally children, and I've got my fingers crossed that they grab the brass ring. A gold record, Grammy nominations, American Music Award nominations, appearances on around 30 (THIRTY) movie soundtracks: They represent the biggest impact by Memphis musicians in almost 30 years. I can tell you firsthand that Saliva got there by talent, hard work, musical taste, and professionalism. Every member has a real desire to be a musician and an entertainer. These are qualities that very, very few bands from the underground to the stadium acts can put in one package. -- James Manning
In a rock world where being a fun, charismatic lead singer seems to be a dying art, Josey Scott is a godsend. It's more than appropriate that these guys have landed the opening slot on this summer's Kiss/Aerosmith tour: Saliva was born to play arenas, not all-day outdoor nü-metal fests. -- Steve Walker
Love 'em or hate 'em, Josey Scott and the guys are still bringing attention to the city that reaches past the critics.
-- Julie Etheridge
More than 100 people crowded around the TV at the Young Avenue Deli last month to catch Southaven's own pop idol Cory Branan on Late Night with David Letterman. His performance was worth staying up for -- a pop-eyed Branan fronted a team of A-list players (guitarist Steve Selvidge, bassist Mark Stuart, and drummer John Argroves) on -- you guessed it -- the radio hit "Miss Ferguson." ("It's the only song the band knows," Branan claims.)
"We had a good time jumping around and acting like assholes," Branan recalls. "What surprised me was that we did the song seven times in rehearsal, but live they didn't cut to Paul [Schaeffer, Letterman's music director] on the four-bar break. I walked over to Steve to do the double-guitar Lynyrd Skynyrd bit, then when I saw the monitor I thought, Oh my God, we look so cheesy! It was so ridiculous and rock-star-like. People say I looked nervous, but I ask them, 'Have you ever seen one of my shows?' I always freak out like that," Branan says.
But success hasn't spoiled him yet: "I don't mean to be all cute about it, but I don't think about this stuff. I never asked for any of it," he emphasizes. "I know what it's worth: The Letterman thing was so fucking cool, but it's gone as soon as it happens. All that stuff is superfluous to what I do, which is make music," Branan insists.
In early fall, Branan will be heading to Manchester, England, where he'll be recording his sophomore album for MADJACK Records, with Henry Alton (Primal Scream) and Jeff Powell co-producing. "I have 130 new songs ready to go," Branan says, "and I'm like, Let's go! I'm way overdue for a new record, but I don't want to rush things," he muses. "I'm gonna be doing this for the rest of my life." -- AL
Next local gig:
The Beale Street Music
Festival, Budweiser Stage,
Saturday, May 3rd
Well, he's gone Hollywood. Personally, I prefer him playing drunk on his back at the Hi-Tone. He's a superb storyteller and songwriter. -- Doug Golonka
I have not heard many people put so much of themselves into a song. He's a great songwriter and haunting, plaintive singer. I agree with those comparing him to John Prine and Tom Waits. He's getting an unprecedented amount of attention, and he deserves it.
-- James Manning
Also not fun to listen to, but he seems poised to break onto the national scene. Hell, he was on Letterman; maybe I should vote for his agent instead.
-- Kerry Vaughan
With his recent appearance on David Letterman and his "exposure" in Rolling Stone, we will be hearing a lot more from this talented singer-songwriter over the coming year. -- Lyndsi Potts
A year ago, I compared this Midtown rock-and-roll combo to the Modern Lovers, but as Viva L'American Death Ray Music frontman Nicholas Ray points out, the description no longer fits. "It was an overused comparison," he says, "one that doesn't apply any more." As Ray explains, the band's current sound has been refined over the last year as musicians in the group have come and gone.
"The new stuff we've been writing didn't need all the accoutrements of a five-piece band," Ray says, noting that it's "easier and cheaper now" to operate as a trio. Without the chiming chords of keyboardist Brendan Lee Spengler, the music is "more herky-jerky," says Ray, as evidenced on the band's latest, A New Commotion A Delicate Tension (And the Exquisite Corpse of Mr. Jimmy), out now on the Misprint Records label.
"That title is a double reference," Ray says. "It's named for a friend of mine I bump into when wandering around the country -- and then, of course, there's the Stones' reference in 'You Can't Always Get What You Want.'" What can we expect from the current lineup (Ray on guitar and vocals, bassist Harlan T. Bobo, and drummer Jeff Bouck)? A tour of the East Coast later this month, followed by a new album this summer. -- AL
Next local gig:
The Hi-Tone Café, with the Lost
Sounds · Wednesday, May 21st
Forget the Strokes -- these guys are the standard-bearers of garage rock! From Nick's stage presence to Harlan T. Bobo's stare, these guys have the look and sound for bigger and better things. -- Doug Golonka
I would consciously miss this band during their first year or two, but something clicked to make them Memphis' best alternative to, well, every other band in town. -- Andrew Earles
A consistently good live band, making better records every time out. -- Jared McStay
I know better, but there are moments of unreason when I think that "Hip Hugger Suit(E)" may be the best song ever recorded in Memphis. It's like a lost cut off Lou Reed's Transformer with its hypnotic midway-style organ and honking sax. Listening to it turns the whole world into a Max Fleischer cartoon where the dogs wear black leather and Betty Boop has fangs. -- Chris Davis
Five years after the breakup of the Grifters, we find guitarist Scott Taylor masquerading as bluesy ax grinder Slim Electro in the Porch Ghouls, bassist Tripp Lamkins anchoring pop groovers the Paper Plates, and drummer Stan Gallimore staying at home and raising a family. Former frontman David Shouse, it seems, is the one apple that's fallen closest to the tree, as he continues to churn out a carefully blended amalgamation of glam rock and indie rock as the leader of the Bloodthirsty Lovers.
Not that the Bloodthirsty Lovers are a Grifters rip-off. Far from it. To understand the evolution, you'd do well to check out the two albums Shouse released with Those Bastard Souls, the band he fronted in the interim. That group floundered under contractual problems with their label V2, and, Shouse explains on his Web site, the Bloodthirsty Lovers "was [his] rehab stint out of the numbing world of major-label sickness."
The band's eponymous debut, available locally for the past year, was picked up by indie label French Kiss Records in February. That record is largely a Shouse solo project, but the Lovers' forthcoming sophomore effort will feature Shouse's current bandmates Paul Taylor and Tom Krupski as well. -- AL
Next local gig:
The Hi-Tone Café
Friday, May 16th
Straddling the line between electronica and guitar rock, the Lovers have crafted a unique sound that brings packed houses wherever they play. David Shouse shows why he has earned his place as one of the most creative musical talents in Memphis. Having been through the corporate machine a couple of times, with the Grifters and Those Bastard Souls, it seems like Shouse [and Co.] are just a band having fun, experimenting with different styles and building a loyal following in the process.
-- Todd Dudley
Bringing together the lo-fi sounds of '90s Memphis and 21st-century electronica with nearly always stunning results, both live and on disc. -- Eddie Hankins
So much has been said of David Shouse's musical pilgrimage that I'd need to buy a big thesaurus to come up with anything new to add. If you're looking for music that has nothing to do with the blues tradition and everything to do with the existential living end, you're in luck.
-- Dan Ball
If 2001 was about the breakthrough for blues hope Richard Johnston, this past year has been more about consolidation. Johnston rode the success of his debut album, the proudly self-released Foot Hill Stomp, and the continued fallout from his head-turning win at the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge to a surprising second-place finish in last year's Flyer poll.
No longer the new kid on the block, Johnston has nevertheless established himself as a rising blues star rather than a fluke. His status as a desired attraction on the blues festival circuit has been solidified (upcoming dates include Belgium and France). His embrace by the blues community has been further confirmed by Foot Hill Stomp's nomination for Best New Artist Debut at this month's Handy Awards (where Johnston will compete with the more widely celebrated Robert Randolph and Precious Bryant, among others). And his status as preserver of his beloved hill-country blues has been illustrated by Foot Hill Stomp helping to restart the previously dormant career of duet partner and area blues matriarch Jessie Mae Hemphill.
And through it all, Johnston still finds time to ply his trade out on Beale --in the street, not in the clubs. --CH
Next local gig:
The Beale Street Music
Festival, Blues Tent, 9:20 p.m.
Saturday, May 3rd
Richard Johnston is the hardest worker in the industry and leaves everything on the stage. -- Dennis Brooks
His independent spirit is what keeps him on my list year after year. [Johnston's] talent and passion are awe-inspiring and his connection to his audience is what fuels his career and will ensure the growth of his fan base. That way, 10 records from now, he will still be able to sell his art and keep his profits. -- Wayne Leeloy
I think [Johnston] is a national treasure just waiting to happen. He's a captivating live performer and his music is the real deal. The best part is, when he's not on the festival circuit, you can see him for free right out on the Beale Street sidewalk on any given weekend; which may not sound so special until you see him sell around 100 albums a night -- always more than the headline act playing the 1,000-seat venue right behind him. -- James Manning
The most talented solo performer in town, Richard Johnston's gritty, unpolished approach to the blues is a welcome change from the slick performances that are all too familiar. -- Julie Etheridge
"The new record did even better than I thought it would," Jim Dickinson says by phone from his Zebra Ranch studio in north Mississippi. He's talking about Free Beer Tomorrow, his first album in three decades, which was released last October. "I got some radio play, which I never expected," Dickinson says. "We also got some great press, but I anticipated that, based on friendships and curiosity from my not having been in the marketplace for some time."
Over the last several months, Dickinson has been hard at work as a producer -- the credits on Sid Selvidge's recent Archer Records release A Little Bit of Rain and the upcoming John Eddie album on Lost Highway (Who the Hell Is John Eddie?) attest to that. "The star on the John Eddie record is this guitarist from Nashville named Kenny Vaughn," Dickinson raves. "He used to play with Lucinda [Williams]. He's a fabulous player, smooth and cool in the studio."
But what about his solo career? "It's hard for me to play when my band's on the road," he laments, referring to his sons Luther and Cody Dickinson, hard at work with the North Mississippi Allstars. "That's the trouble with recording with my kids; I really can't play the music without 'em. But I may do some solo stuff this summer, my old coffeehouse act."
"When I cut an album, I do it as a recording artist," Dickinson explains, "but when I play on stage I do the same thing I've done for 40 years. I used to do the songs I knew, but now I just play the songs I remember." Even so, he's looking forward to his Memphis in May appearance this weekend, when he'll be backed by Luther and Cody and former Flying Burrito Brother Chris Ethridge. "We've played together in certain amalgamations for years," Dickinson notes. "He's the one who introduced me to [Ry] Cooder." -- AL
Next local gig:
The Beale Street Music
Festival, Blues Tent,
6:05 p.m., Sunday, May 4th
Best local album of the past year: Free Beer Tomorrow -- Jim Dickinson, cuz it took him 30 years to make a second solo record; cuz he makes getting old seem kinda cool; cuz it sounds great. I don't believe that Jim has tasted beer in decades, though. -- Ross Johnson
The family that has ties from the Burnsides to Mudhoney. Doing a good thing the right way and sharing it with everyone. -- Gary Crump
A joke was going around that the balloting for the Premier Player Awards ought to have a "Best Dickinson" category to keep the family from dominating the other categories. A Memphis music icon, gifted as a producer, performer, writer, and, obviously, dad.
-- Jay Sheffield
Like an old oak tree, he has reached pinnacles that others only dream of but has remained faithful to his deep roots and made manifest great fruits.
-- Pam McGaha
Chad "Chase" Weekley, 25, and Luke "Red Eye Jedi" Sexton, 28, joined forces under the moniker Memphix a few years ago, putting out several excellent 7-inches of funky, DJ Shadowesque sound collages (search out Red Eye Jedi's "Homegrown" especially); hosting some stellar, if not always well-attended local hip-hop shows; spinning all over town, most recently at their Thursday night Inner Sounds gig at the Hi-Tone Café; and making a considerable name for themselves in the global underground hip-hop and turntable community.
But in the coming year, Weekley and Sexton (with Chicago-based partner Dante Carfagna and local cohort DJ Armis) seem poised to break through the rather conservative genre-grid of Memphis music --blues, alt-country, garage rock, metal, and Southern rap --to become a major force in an entirely new way. The group's CD "demo" of obscure black rock and funk 45s, Chains + Black Exhaust, has been an underground sensation, so much so that it's scheduled for an above-board release in January. And Memphix will drop its full-length debut this summer with Carfagna's Jeux de Ficelle. -- CH
Next local gig:
The Hi-Tone Café, with Lee Fields & Sugarman 3
Monday, May 5th
Known internationally for their DJ and producing expertise. Spreading historic sounds of Memphis to young ears worldwide.
-- Katherine Sage
Obscurities (the Fabulous Fugitives), rarities (the Sweet and Innocent), and forgotten treasures (Smithstonian, the Memphians): This DJ team knows more about Memphis soul music than anyone else around.
-- Andria Lisle
Serious record collectors: These guys are known worldwide; it's time their hometown gives it up for them.
-- Andrew McCalla