Friday, April 22, 2016

Remembering Rufus Thomas and Prince at the New Daisy

Thank you for a funky time.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 2:39 PM

Prince, not at the New Daisy
  • Prince, not at the New Daisy
Pictures or it didn't happen. Isn't that what they say these days? But mobile phones didn't have cameras in 1997. And even if they did have cameras back then, I didn't own a mobile, and wouldn't for another five years. I didn't own a camera either, and the phone I answered that sweaty August morning was attached to the wall of my townhouse in the Greenlaw neighborhood, which was three years away from its rechristening as Uptown. My friend Kelly was calling because she had news she thought I'd want to know. 

"PRINCE IS PLAYING A SECRET CONCERT AT THE NEW DAISY TONIGHT OMG!," she said. Well, she didn't say "OMG." Nobody said OMG back then. But that was the gist.

Kelly didn't have details. She didn't know when it would happen, or how much it would cost. She wasn't  100% sure it was even happening, or if Prince was really playing a second show or just hanging out while someone else played. But she was 99% sure something involving Prince was happening, which was good enough for me since he was definitely playing a concert at the Bass Pro Shop formerly known as the Pyramid, and the last time Kelly was 99% sure about something the two of us went to the Peabody Hotel, called the front desk from a pay phone, asked for Tom Waits' room, and Tom answered. So, as far as I was concerned, Prince was absolutely playing the New Daisy at some point in the next 24-hours, and I was going to go stand in front of the theater so I could be the first person in the door. There was only one problem: My mom was in town for a rare visit. 
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Time for an aside: There will be plenty of tributes in the days and weeks to come, where people attest to the genius of Prince Rodgers Nelson, who changed ideas about music, sex, and masculinity every bit as much David Bowie, and brought race, and sonic segregation to the mix. I'm not going to do that here, because if you're reading this, you already know. But "Sexy Motherfucker," was playing on the jukebox at Wolf's Corner (now American Apparel) the night the 500 lb woman fell down. She'd been having a good time (like the rest of us) and shaking that ass (like the rest of us), and then that ass shook (and cleared) the dance floor. This is that kind of story. 

"Go," my mom said, without hesitation or even a hint of mom guilt. She already had a 20-dollar bill rolled up, and was sneaking it in my hand. See, my mom stalked Bob Dylan in New York in the 1960's. She says she wasn't stalking anybody, she just knew all the coffee houses where Dylan hung out to stare at his boots, and sometimes she'd go stare at him. I say "semantics." Either way, when it comes to musically cool moms, she makes Starlord's look like a poser. She grew up in Motown, collected records, and met musicians. She's got stories about Freddy and the Dreamers and introduced me to the Nashville Teens and tons of great garage bands. When other moms were using the TV as a baby sitter, she gave me a stack of Federal singles and a record player and didn't say, "sit still." Now she was giving me Prince — and a little spending money just in case I needed something. "Here you go, honey. Have a good time."

All that remains is the memory of a grin so big it threatened to crack my face. And a similar memory of so many other people wearing the same dopy expression.
And so it came to pass, my wife Charlotte, (who was still my girlfriend Charlotte) and I, left mom at home and headed toward Beale St. where we stood and waited for hours for something that might not happen. We weren't the first to arrive, but we were among the first. We certainly weren't the last, and over the course of the day the crowd outside the Daisy swelled into a mob. Then the mob grew into an impatient crush, pushing at times against the theater doors. It was pretty clear everybody wasn't getting in.

I'd never "camped out" for tickets before. But this was different. It was important. Charlotte and I had both grown up in small towns in the 1980's, without a lot of access to any new music other than what was being played on increasingly corporate radio stations. It's almost impossible to explain to anybody who's grown up with the internet, and instant access to everything, just how fresh the opening guitar lick of "When Doves Cry" sounded, as it squalled through the speakers of my cheap SoundDesign boom box. 

Lots of songs have stopped me in my tracks. But only twice in my life has a new song I heard on a top 40 radio station made me stop everything I was doing and give it my full attention. "When Doves Cry," is the least interesting story, but it's the only one I'm telling. I was in my bedroom doing homework when it played on KQ101, a station out of Russellville, KY. The other song was, "Little Red Corvette."

It was late when the line outside the New Daisy finally started moving.  I don't remember what time it was, but the sun was down. People who were tired of standing cheered because it was really happening. We were all about to see Prince tear a club to pieces.

Rufus
  • Rufus
Words like "magic" are overused, but there was alchemy involved in what happened next. Miracles were wrought. Wearing shiny lavender jammies Prince owned the stage, running through songs like "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "Baby I'm a Star," and "1999." He covered James Brown, Parliament, and the Staples singers. The highlight of the show, however, was when Prince — always the biggest star in the room— introduced his special guest: 80-year-old Stax royalty, Rufus Thomas, who made his supremely groovy appearance in shorts and knee socks. Then the unflappable Purple one proceeded to nerd the hell out, saying he didn't want his time on stage with Rufus to end.

There was conflict too. And drama! Thomas, who was grooving along with the band, didn't seem to be clear as to what was expected from him. When Prince encouraged him to cut loose and freestyle, he balked: "Oh no." There was a back and forth. Something was said about "nursery rhymes," and then, with increasing confidence, the two men started improvising together. I wish I could tell you what was said and sung, but the details have slipped (or were possibly sipped) away. All that remains is the memory of a grin so big it threatened to crack my face. And a similar memory of so many other people wearing the same dopy expression.
So, about "
Caption story: I was not quite 16 when Purple Rain hit movie theaters. That meant I was unable to see an R-rated film without my parents. So I bought a ticket for Meatballs 2 and snuck in. To this day I've still never seen Meatballs 2.
  • Caption story: I was not quite 16 when Purple Rain hit movie theaters. That meant I was unable to see an R-rated film without my parents. So I bought a ticket for Meatballs 2 and snuck in. To this day I've still never seen Meatballs 2.
Little Red Corvette." I heard it for the first time on my first ever "parking" date with an older woman (she was 16). Now that sounds like a lie because "Little Red Corvette" is a song about  riding around and "parking" with an experienced (ahem) driver. This isn't a teen bragging story though, because nothing happened. Some kissing almost happened, I guess, but before it could really happen I turned up the radio, and said I wanted to listen. To the whole song. In silence. And that's when I learned  you're not supposed to ignore your date, especially if she has the drivers license and the car. Cue Floyd Cramer.

I really wasn't going to tell the parking story because it sounds too perfect to be true. But I needed a way to wrap this memory up, and sometimes the universe gives you weird little gifts. Sometimes it's "Little Red Corvette" on a first date. Sometimes you find yourself front and center for something amazing nobody else will ever get to see. Like the night the 500 lb woman fell down while dancing to the jukebox at Wolf's Corner. Or the time Prince and Rufus Thomas got funky together on Beale St.

I've got no pictures, but I swear to God, Wendy, and Lisa too, it happened. You'll just have to believe me, and and the few hundred other people lucky enough to be there. 

And that's really all I have to say about that. Goodnight, sweet Prince. Rest in Purple. And if you think about it, say hey to Rufus.  
 
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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Funny or Die Makes Tennessee's Anti-Gay Tourism Commercial

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 10:25 AM

BOOM!
  • BOOM!
Funny or Die has responded to a raft of anti-gay legislation sweeping through through the South by overdubbing actual tourism commercials with the real message these states are sending to tourists, business interests, and pretty much everybody.

So welcome to Tennessee where, "You can ride a horse without worrying a gay guy ls looking at your butt," and "Tiptoe across humanity to relive a time when people were unequal."


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Former Memphian David Gest is Dead at 62

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 12:42 PM

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David Gest is dead. The American producer, and the former Mr. Liza Minnelli who became a British reality TV star, was found dead Tuesday morning in his room at the Four Seasons hotel in Canary Wharf, London. He was 62.

Gest is one of those special people who is primarily famous for being famous. He had been friends with Michael Jackson, and was still technically married to Liza when he took up residence not a stone's throw from the Flyer's Tennessee St. offices. Before jumping across the pond to try his hand at shows like "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" Guest lived in Memphis' South Bluffs community, and was often seen puttering about Downtown, or chowing down on fried chicken at Gus's. He could also be seen in Midtown, East Memphis, and other parts of the city where, in spite of a professed desire for anonymity, his face was blown up larger than life, and split into two halves on billboards promoting the man and his various initiatives.  

On November 20, 2006, the Flyer received a transcontinental phone call from the London Sun, a daily Rupert-Murdoch-owned tabloid that was looking to hire a fearless reporter who could get to the bottom of a hot story that was taking Europe by storm. Longtime Flyer columnist and reporter John Branston took the call but not the job. According to a blog post Branston wrote later that same morning, the Sun wanted someone to visit Gest's house to confirm a story he'd shared with the British media about a maid he kept on staff in Memphis named "Vagina Semen" — a name that was later revised to the slightly less graphic "Vaginika Semen." The Sun needed confirmation.

When reality TV gets real.
  • When reality TV gets real.
"We are so NOT making this up," Branston wrote. "Stay tuned."

Memphis has known its share of eccentrics, but few have been more wondered about than Gest, who upon growing weary of his life in big cities (and the tabloids), tried to escape all the notoriety by moving to our sleepy little river town where he fancied buying, "a very small, intimate luxury hotel with a ballroom on the top of it," but never did. 

In 2004, after weeks of trying to score an interview for an article about him and a charitable event he was planning, Gest told me to meet him at the Peabody Hotel. He kept me waiting for an uncomfortably long time, but he did show up eventually, and we chatted over a plate of batter-fried veggies and cheese.

Here's the original Q&A from Dec. 3, 2004.

The Two Faces of David Gest

"There's another David Gest, and I'd really like to meet him. The one you read about is fascinating, wild, weird, and wonderful, and I don't really think of myself in any of those ways. I never intended to be a personality. I went for years [behind the scenes] as a producer. Then [I produced] Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary] special. That's when I fell in love and everything changed. Things changed after my wedding and after my life with Liza."

— David Gest, at The Peabody, November 29, 2004

He's on a diet and he's had cosmetic surgery. He's good friends with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson (who has had cosmetic surgery, is probably not on a diet, but has other troubles with which to contend). He's married to Liza Minnelli (whose diets, surgeries, and other troubles are well-known), but they are separated and suing one another. He says she got raging drunk and beat him to the point of disability. She says he swindled her knock-kneed.

These are the things you already know about music producer David Gest, if you know anything about him at all. And since these stories have been blown out in the supermarket rags and on tabloid TV, there's really no point in repeating any of it, now is there?

Gest lives in Memphis now, on the south side of downtown near the river. And he wants to make sure that every Memphian who is hungry, cold, old, infirm, lonely, or down on his luck has a nice dinner waiting for them at various Memphis restaurants on Christmas Day. He's promised participating restaurants money up front and is willing to fund it out of his own pockets. But he'd prefer to pay for the whole shebang by way of a star-studded shindig at the Cannon Center: David Gest's All-Star Holiday Extravaganza.

"So I'm only bringing 40 or 50 artists to town," Gest says, countering criticisms that many of the celebrities he's used to promote the event won't be attending. "Who else is bringing four?"

And who else is offering a free Christmas dinner to anybody who shows up and says "I'm David's Gest" at Corky's, Gus', Willie Moore's, the High Point Café, Westy's, Precious Cargo, Neely's, or Ray's? Whether you love to hate him or hate to love him, David Gest is in the house. He's roaming downtown Memphis, performing random acts of kindness, offering up the moon and determined to deliver some stars.

Flyer: Where were you and what were you doing when it occurred to you that you would be moving to Memphis?

David Gest: I was living in Hawaii and suffering from a brain concussion, and somehow I just dreamed about living on the Mississippi River. I always had an affinity for Memphis. It was something that I felt like I needed at this time in my life — to be away from the paparazzi and not to be someone who's always in the tabloids. I wanted to buy a home that was facing the river, and I did. In my life I've learned you've got to go with your gut. I wanted to live in the South. I felt that I could go to Memphis and make records and do things. I can always fly to L.A. or to New York. And I like living in a small town. It agrees with me.

But what was the specific allure of Memphis?

I was — I think — 17 and I was a journalist when I first came here. It was 1971, and I came to Memphis for a rock-and-roll writers' convention. Everybody got to go to Stax and to Hi Studios. There was a big reception at the Holiday Inn Rivermont, which was the hotel back then. You'd see Rufus Thomas walking around in hot-pants promoting "The Funky Chicken." You'd see all the great Memphis artists there. And all of this had a really strong effect on me, so I kept coming back. About two years later, I was offered the job of national public relations director for London Records. I was supposed to be 21, but I'd just turned 19. I lied about my age. I had a thick, thick Afro that went down to my butt and a moustache and a beard, so I looked older. You know when you're a kid you always want to look older. Then you get old and you want to look much younger. When you get to my age — which is 51 — you start to go, Unh-unh.

That was when you started doing PR for Al Green.

Yes, I did public relations and career guidance for Al Green. [He] was the biggest thing at the time. I did the publicity campaign for [Ann Peebles' hit] "I Can't Stand the Rain." You know, I was the one who had John Lennon come to the Troubadour [an L.A. club where Peebles was performing] on the night he wore the Kotex on his forehead. He was really drunk, and he was screaming, "Annie, baby, I love you! Annie, baby, I wanna, I wanna " And then he asked the waitress, "Do you know who I am?" And she said, "You're an asshole with a Kotex on your forehead." They kicked him out of the Troubadour that night. But he loved "I Can't Stand the Rain." It was his favorite record.

How often were you in Memphis back then?

I'd be here every three to four months. I'd fly in and work with Quiet Elegance, or maybe Ace Cannon, and others. I gave a party in 1977. It was called "Moonlight on the Mississippi in Memphis." It was a party on a riverboat for the Doobie Brothers. Jerry Lee Lewis was there and Rufus Thomas, Ann Peebles, Carla Thomas, the Memphis Horns. It seemed like everybody was on that boat, and it was a jam all night.

Is it true that you recently gave an elderly woman who was shopping at the MIFA thrift store $100 to buy a coat?


Yes. I loved this lady's face. She was 70 or 80. The sweetest little woman you've ever seen. She came up to me and she said, "I love you." And I said, "Well, I love you." She'd seen me on Larry King a few times, and she said, "I think it's wonderful what you're doing for the community." And so I asked her what she was doing, and she said, "I'm buying a coat." I said, "Let me buy you a coat." I went in with her to shop, but she couldn't find the right coat, so I said, "Here's a hundred dollars. Go buy yourself something." She was sweet. I have no idea what her name was.

When you moved to Memphis did you know that you would be producing a celebrity gala and trying to provide Christmas dinner for 100,000 disadvantaged people?

No. In fact, when I moved here, I'd decided that I really wasn't well enough to start working again. Then one day I saw this man on the street and he said he had no food and he needed $7 for shelter. He said, "I've got no place to go not even for Christmas." I asked, "What do you do on Christmas?" and he said, "I beg for food."

I thought, I'm going to put on a show. I'll call my friends and put together a concert so that on that one day a year people can eat for free. [Even with the benefit concert] it's probably going to cost me money to feed all of these people. I'll underwrite it. What's important is seeing results.

Is Memphis now your home or is it just a pit-stop?

Home. I'm going to buy a hotel. I'm in the process of buying a property and building a very small, intimate luxury hotel with a ballroom on the top of it. It's something I want to do with some of my friends. With all these artists coming in because of the FedExForum, there's a need for something like that here.

Have Memphians encouraged your plans to feed 100,000 people on Christmas, or have they been cynical?

A little bit of both. Some people are jealous. Some people would like to see me not succeed. But I will succeed regardless of any obstacles. I will thrive. People can say what they want, but the doubters are going to see this happen in Memphis.

There was recently news that many of the artists scheduled to perform at the benefit concert wouldn't actually attend. How many have confirmed?

Tons have confirmed. It's going to be phenomenal. We're going to have the full band from Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary special. And to give you some idea [of what's in store], Kim Weston, who had a hit with "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)" in the '60s is going to sing that song with the Doobie Brothers who also had a hit with it in the '70s. They are going to be accompanied by a 200-member gospel choir. It's really going to be phenomenal."
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Monday, April 11, 2016

Vintage Radio Ad for Green Beetle & Frank's Liquor Store: "Old Crow Boogie"

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 3:31 PM

"Now looka-here, here's what you got to do. Do me this personal little favor. Stop by Frank's cut-rate liquor store, and get you a fifth of Old Crow, and go right next door to The Green Beetle, sit down and relax yourself, take plenty of time, and drink that fifth of Old Crow."
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These vintage radio spots from the days before liquor-by-the-drink was legal in Memphis, aren't newly discovered. But they're new to me so I thought I'd share.
Both encourage folks to visit a jumping little joint called the Green Beetle, which is still going strong on South Main. 

While visiting Memphis in the 1970's musician and record collector Walter Salwitz found an acetate recording labeled, "The Old Crow Boogie" in a thrift store. It only cost a dime so he bought it and took it home but didn't listen to it for years. When he finally gave the disc a spin he was inspired and both recordings are included on Shake That Mess, a 1999 CD released by Salwitz's band the Dynatones

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The radio spot embedded above appeared at the end of "Memphis Women & Fried Chicken."

A second spot, "Green Beetle Lounge," got its own track. And for good reasons too. Apparently the Beetle jumped so hard it could ruin your career as a preacher!


Enjoy. 

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Comedy is Hard: The Night I Attempted Stand-Up at the P&H Cafe

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 4:30 AM

Did you know I'm "Eskimo Brothers" with Patton Oswalt? Well, comedy "Eskimo Brothers" anyway. It's true, see?

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Go ahead, be jealous. 



I spent about a month working on this week's cover story about Memphis' emerging comedy scene. I visited a lot of shows and open mics, and talked to a lot of comics. And then, one terrifying Thursday night at the P&H Cafe, I even attempted a stand-up set. All I can say about the experience is this: I've been an actor, an emcee, a TV personality, a performance artist, a public speaker, and a honky tonk singer, but never in all my years on stage and in front of cameras, has my heart pounded harder than it did that night. That's what I get for wanting to know what it feels like to stand in the glaring spotlight, trying to make jaded Memphians laugh.



Tommy Oler, who hosts open mic at the P&H tried to warn me off. He said I should maybe try Dru's or RockHouse Live first, and work my way up.  "P&H is a monster for new comics," he said. "It's actually the biggest and best open mic in the state, but it's also the meanest. I know cause I've been to, and done every one."

Actual comic Kyle Kordsmeier working out at the P&H.
  • Actual comic Kyle Kordsmeier working out at the P&H.



P&H audiences don't really turn on you— or at least the ones I've experienced don't. They just turn to one another and start talking. When a comic is dying on stage the room gets loud with chatter. I told Tommy I didn't think I had time to develop a set and hone it. I just wanted to go up cold for 5-minutes, with no prepared material, and the tougher the room, the better. Reluctantly, like I might be marching off to slaughter, Tommy put me on the list right behind Benny Elbows, and just in front of Richard Douglas Jones— two quality comics. Talk about a recipe for a shit sandwich. I wanted to be funny, of course, but this was the kind of research where flopping big could be every bit as edifying. And boy was I set up to flop.



There's nothing scarier than knowing that you're on in 5-minutes, and you've got nothing prepared. I figured it was probably best to tell true-ish stories and I hoped I'd seen enough standup over the years to know how to introduce and frame the material. 



"And now, I'd like to introduce Memphis Flyer writer Chris Davis," Tommy said. Clapping happened, and the pressure was on.



"So I received a letter just a couple of days ago," I said. "A reader wanted to know how many blowjobs I have to give my bosses every week just to keep my job."



Laughter.



"Have to?"



Laughter.



"That's more of a perk than an obligation, isn't it? I like my performance reviews. It beats making up a bunch of bullshit about where I see myself in the next five years, don't you think?"


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That part went well, so I decided to stick with work stories for a while. I talked about the Elton John impersonator I'd spoken to earlier that week. And about the person impersonating the Elton John impersonator. When I ran out of work stories I talked a bit about the time in my life where it seemed like I couldn't go anywhere without discovering a dildo of unknown origin: "A lot of people find a dildo of unknown origin and are like, 'EEEWWWWWWWW!' I'm like, 'I need to show this to somebody!'"



Not everything got a big laugh, but nothing really bombed either, and a couple of comics even gave me the business afterward, swearing it couldn't have been my first set, and encouraging me to keep it up. The collegiality felt good, but I was done.



Yeah, it's fun being funny. When you're in the middle of a room and everybody's doubled up because of something you just said, the laughter kicks like a drug. And when the laughter's gone your cells get junk sick and crave more. It's easy to see how people get hooked on the stuff, which is one reason why it's probably best to leave funny business to the professionals. Besides, now that Patton Oswalt's consummated the relationship by liking one of my Tweets, I can die comically satisfied. 


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And speaking of professionals, it's Memphis Comedy Festival weekend. Go see some. 

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