Friday, August 28, 2009

Hidden Histories: Turner Family Picnic, Plus Blues Marker Unveiling

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 11:33 AM

As Michael Flanagan noted in this week's edition of the Memphis Flyer, one of the Mid-South's most unique traditions, the Turner Family Picnic, is slated for Gravel Springs, a rural outpost near Senatobia, Miss., this weekend.

And at 11 a.m. on Saturday in nearby Como, Turner family patriarch Otha Turner will be posthumously honored with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

Admission to blues guitarist Kenny Brown’s Hill Country Picnic, held in July, provided funds to help erect the marker for Turner, who died in 2003. “I listened to Otha from the time I was six years old, so it was nice to be able to help him out,” says Brown, who considers part of his mission to be a living link to the late fife-and-drum musician and other gone-but-not-forgotten performers like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

Fife-and-drum music isn't exactly analogous with most Mississippi blues music.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Indie Memphis Approaches Fundraising Goal, Holds "Thank You" Screening

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 11:58 AM

What a difference six months makes. This spring, Indie Memphis, the local arts non-profit best known for its annual Indie Memphis Film Festival, seemed to be in trouble.

Indie Memphis director Erik Jambor
  • Indie Memphis director Erik Jambor
At the premiere of his Memphis-themed MTV series $5 Cover this spring, director Craig Brewer sounded an alarm, imploring audiences at every screening to support Indie Memphis or risk losing it after the faltering economy had cost the festival some previously promised funding.

Fortunately, the local arts community answered the call, and now Indie Memphis will open its 12th annual festival — held October 8-15, primarily at Malco's Studio on the Square — in better shape than ever.

Brewer held his $5 Cover premiere as an Indie Memphis fundraiser, which netted more than $12,000 for the organization, and soon after an anonymous challenge grant was issued via ArtsMemphis that required Indie Memphis to raise $20,000 by June 30th. The successful launch of a new individual membership program helped the organization surpass that goal by $16,000. Now, according to Indie Memphis executive director Erik Jambor, the organization is only about $14,000 away from meeting its year-end fundraising goal of $80,000.

"It's all about long-term sustainability, so that the institution lives on regardless what happens with Les or me," Jambor says. "There's needs to be a funding structure. Our member base allowed us to do that.

As a thank you to members — and as an enticement to potential members — Indie Memphis is holding a "members only" screening of Humpday on Monday, August 31st at Studio on the Square.

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Levitt Shell Fall Schedule

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 11:21 AM

The Lee Boys bring their sacred-steel sound to the Levitt Shell Friday, September 25th.
  • The Lee Boys bring their sacred-steel sound to the Levitt Shell Friday, September 25th.
The fall schedule for the Levitt Shell Concert Series is out and it looks like the same enticing blend American roots and international music the Shell has graced the city with in its first two seasons. And it's free!

The fall season will run from September 3rd through October 4th, with five concerts each weekend from Thursday through Sunday.

Among the highlights:

September 11th: Local jazz/blues/soul/pop organ man Charlie Wood will celebrate the release of his latest album, Flutter and Wow, in which he mixes original songs with covers from such songwriters as Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and Paul Simon.

September 19th: Farmer Jason, which is the musical alter ego of Jason Ringenberg, the former leader of ’80s alt-country pioneers Jason & the Scorchers, will perform a kids' concert.

September 25th: Sacred steel ensemble The Lee Boys will sanctify the Shell with their searing blend of blues and gospel.

October 1st: Grammy-nominated Canadian group The Duhks bring their unique blend of bluegrass, rock, and roots jazz to the stage.

For a full schedule, go here.

Memphis Named 6th Best Live Music City.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 10:43 AM

The Society of American Travel Writers has proclaimed Memphis North America's 6th best live music city, just behind a Top 5 of: New Orleans, New York, Austin, Nashville (boo!), and Chicago. Hey, at least Memphis beat out Branson, which mysteriously ended up at #9.

It's unclear from the cited comments on the SATW's web site, however, if many of its voters actually ventured beyond Beale Street in gauging Memphis' live-music offerings:

“Barbecue and blues, blues and barbecue. Memphis is a foot-tapping, sensory delight.” John H. Ostdick, freelance travel writer

“Doesn’t get any better than Memphis, Beale St. and barbecue, wow, what a concerto. Plus the ghost of old Elvis is always hanging around somewhere, munching on a fried banana and peanut butter sandwich and strumming his guitar.” Rich Browne, host, Barbecue America

Also this otherwise meaningless list is a good excuse to post a favorite bit of live Memphis music video, from a recent Gonerfest:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Remembering Jim Dickinson

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 1:01 PM

I've said goodbye to a lot of cultural heavyweights and big personal influences over the last few years: Otha Turner, Ike Turner, Rev. Gatemouth Moore, Ernest Withers. I've also been mourning my father, who died in 2007. Now I've got yet another name to add to the list.

Now I have to ponder a Memphis without Jim Dickinson in it. He could be fierce — he once described producing as "pushing a band off a cliff and taking a picture as they crash to the ground" — and he was often unrepentant in his declarations about other producers and fellow musicians. Yet he was also a link to the wild-and-wooly mid-20th century river town that Robert Gordon so aptly documented in It Came From Memphis — a world I'll never know, save through the moments captured on studio tape.

As a journalist, I considered myself incredibly lucky to be able to call up Dickinson and quiz him on any number of topics. He was a raconteur who yielded hours of commentary that I plied into articles for the Memphis Flyer, MOJO, and more. He could provide the technicolor details on legendary Aretha Franklin and Rolling Stones sessions in Muscle Shoals, and educate me about relative unknowns like Chicago radio personality Two Ton Baker the Music Maker and Bill Harris, the bandleader on The Jack Benny Show. His gravelly voice would hypnotize me as he spun yarns about the buffalo trails which evolved into modern-day Union Avenue, or meticulously detailed the size of the jar of pickled pigs feet that Aretha once dropped on a hotel lobby floor.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Movies List: PG-13 Action

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 11:20 AM

Last Tuesday, Chris Vernon invited me back on his show to fill in for a vacationing Chris Herrington and do a "Movies" list. (My second week to do so.) Based on what was big at the box office at the time, G.I. Joe, I presented the list "Top 5 PG-13 Action Movies."

As defined by the Motion Picture Association of America (who better to define it?), PG-13 is: "Some material may be inappropriate for children." And, specifically: “There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence.”

One caveat: NO comic-book movies. I could've had three or four action-based PG-13 comic-book movies on the list, and it didn't seem fair, since G.I. Joe isn't a comic-book movie. So there.

Top 5 PG-13 Action Movies:

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Jim Dickinson 1941-2009

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 1:29 PM

One of the unfortunate byproducts of a city having such an illustrious music heritage is losing so many of the people who forged that history. Memphis is too accustomed to bidding farewell to greatness. In the past decade alone, the city has said goodbye to titans such as Sam Phillips, Rufus Thomas, and Isaac Hayes, among too many others. Just a couple of weeks ago, rockabilly firebrand Billy Lee Riley passed on. And now Jim Dickinson, the beloved musician, producer, and unofficial cultural historian, who died in his sleep Saturday, August 15th, while recuperating from heart surgery. Dickinson was 67.

Maybe Dickinson's shadow doesn't loom as large over pop history as Phillips, Thomas, and Hayes, but in many ways his loss feels even heavier locally because his importance wasn't just historical but intensely current.

Dickinson was fortunate enough to walk in the footprints of giants, witnessing the final days of many of Memphis' blues and jugband greats, whose sound and spirit he was instrumental in keeping alive for subsequent generations. He got his own start in the city's active mid-Sixties garage-band scene, recording at Sun during the label's waning days and went on to be a signature figure in the city's emerging alternative scene via his own Mudboy & the Neutrons and his production work on Big Star's Third. Through the years, he contributed as a producer or sideman to many classic recordings, among them the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers, the Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me, and Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind.

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Mad Men, Season Three Premiere

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 8:37 AM

First of all, all you Mad Men freaks need to chill. Mad Men is not the best show in TV history, a'ight? It's merely the finest show by scads to be found today in the 999 channels cable upchucks on my TV screen every minute of the day. With merely 27 episodes under its belt, it's far too soon to place Mad Men in the pantheon of all-time greats. Maybe next week.

That said, Mad Men is back, of course, and its serving up more of the same — an early 1960s stew of love, infidelity, style, social and cultural growing pains, smoke, and gin — which is a good thing.

Its look at people whose lives are geared toward creating artifice, inside a fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency, is a perfect setup for examining the truth behind the lies of that most image-conscious and romanticized era. By both undermining and exploiting the look of the time, the show gets to have its cake and eat it too. Mad Men looks as great as anything on TV.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Elvis Week: From Elvis In Memphis 40th Anniversary Edition

Posted By on Sat, Aug 15, 2009 at 9:20 PM

RCA/Legacy reissued From Elvis in Memphis just in time for Elvis Week. The 40th anniversary double-CD edition features 36 tracks recorded at American Sound Studio, which was located at 827 North Thomas Street, just past the intersection at Chelsea.

Midtown-based husband-and-wife writing team Robert Gordon and Tara McAdams collaborated on the liner notes for the reissue, tapping into Elvis' psyche and documenting the dynamics of Memphis' burgeoning studio scene in the late 1960s.

This afternoon, I sat down for a brief interview with McAdams, author of Elvis Handbook and numerous articles about Memphis, music, and pop culture.

Flyer: Who was Elvis when he walked into the door at American Sound Studio?

McAdams: He was someone who, at the first part of the session, was very comfortable in not trying. Resting on his laurels, like any poor kid would have, and getting away with very little. But at the same time, I think that the act of the '68 Comeback re-energized him. It gave him enough confidence to be able to be scared again, and i think he was scared when he walked into American. It's like he was nervous and arrogant at the same time. Elvis had a lot of respect for the people in that room. They made him try.

I'd be interested to know if Elvis got that his retinue, his entourage, was so off-putting and ridiculous, so self-indulgent. With the situation at American, he was able to go into a room with people that he respected, that he could expect some real feedback from. He had proven that he could still sing, still perform, but he hadn't been in a recording studio with real material for a long time. It was a real challenge. I'm sure he was worried about what the fuck he was doing there, instead of just sitting at home watching TV.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Naked Justin Timberlake: Your Semi-Regular JT Fix

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 2:25 PM

Will Justin Timberlake be playing Twiki in a big-screen Battlestar?
  • Will Justin Timberlake be playing Twiki in a big-screen Battlestar? — a trusted name in news if ever there was — has this celebrity nougat up:

"Director Bryan Singer heads home after meeting with Justin Timberlake at West Hollywood’s Cafe Med on Thursday afternoon (August 13). Yesterday, it was announced that Singer will direct and produce the silver screen reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Is it possible that Singer met with Timberlake to hire him for Battlestar? Or perhaps they’re working on another film together?"

Battlestar Galactica is, of course, the sci-fi action series that I've never seen, based on a 1970s show that I have vaguely fond memories of. Twiki was in that one, right? Or am I thinking or Lorne Greene? Always get those two confused.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Elvis Week: Meet Cousin Edie Hand

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 7:59 PM


See Minnie Mae Hood Presley, above, serving biscuits to her son Vernon and her grandson Elvis?

Well, Minnie Mae's niece, Alice, was the grandmother of Alabama-based actress, advertising executive, and book author Edie Hand.

Got that?

Starting tomorrow, Hand, Joe Meador, and Ronnie McDowell, co-authors of The Genuine Elvis: Photos and Untold Stories about the King, will be signing copies of their new book all over town.

Flyer: What was it like, as a relative of Elvis, to actually visit Graceland when he was alive?

Hand: Well, we were down-home people. I can still hear my grandmother, Alice, and his grandmother, Minnie Mae, dipping snuff and telling stories. Ghost stories were a big thing! They'd be laughing and high on life. When I came to Graceland, I would always bring the black gum toothbrushes for them to dip their snuff in from my grandparents' sawmill farm in Russellville, Alabama. My Aunt Nash Pritchet, Vernon's youngest sister, was an Assembly of God minister who had a daughter my age, Karen. I got to be good friends with [Elvis' scarves-and-water man] Charlie Hodge, and [Elvis' step-brother] Rick Stanley.

What was the reaction on your side of the family when Vernon Presley was arrested and sent to the penitentiary at Parchman?

People were much more tight-lipped back then. You didn’t talk about your problems, you didn’t have Oprah. My grandmother would say things like, "They’re having a bad time," but not a lot was said about it. It was one of those things — you do strange things in bad times, and Vernon did it for survival.

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CNN: Ferguson-Free?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 12:33 PM

TVNewser reported this week that CNN will no longer book talk radio hosts on the news network. Among others whose radio faces might disappear from your boob tube: Memphis' own Ben Ferguson.

From the report: "In his morning editorial meeting today, CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein asked his show producers to avoid booking talk radio hosts. 'Complex issues require world class reporting,' Klein is quoted as saying, adding that talk radio hosts too often add to the noise, and that what they say is 'all too predictable.'

But this means other talk radio hosts who appear regularly on CNN, probably won't in the near future including names like Stephanie Miller, Michael Medved, and Ben Ferguson."

Remember this?

Good times.

And one to grow on:

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pee-wee Herman's Hollywood Comeback

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Has it really been 20 years since Paul Reubens — busted in 1991 after allegedly showing his little pee-wee at a Sarasota, Florida, porno theater — hung up his grey Pee-wee Herman suit?

I was a huge fan back in the 1980s, from the time that Pee-wee appeared on HBO through the debut of his Saturday morning children's show on CBS. I still do the "Tequila" dance and joke about the basement in the Alamo.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Watch the Beale Street Flippers Tonight

Posted on Tue, Aug 11, 2009 at 4:57 PM

Their airborne acrobatics astonished the celebrity judges in the troupes last appearance on the reality variety show several weeks ago. Tonight, theyre competing for a spot in the semi-finals. Americas Got Talent airs at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Check out this clip of their last performance on the show.

Elvis Week: Ronnie McDowell Q&A

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Since Elvis left the building for good in August 1977, tribute artist, painter, and songwriter Ronnie McDowell, a native of Fountain Head, Tennessee, has served up his version of the King's voice in 12 movies and one Twilight Zone episode. This month, McDowell adds a new credit to his resume: The Genuine Elvis: Photos and Untold Stories about the King, a book he co-authored with Edie Hand and Joe Meador. I caught up with McDowell yesterday, as he packed his bags for a series of booksignings, including stops at Graceland on Friday afternoon and at Bookstar on Saturday.

Flyer: How long did it take you to write your first hit record, "The King Is Gone?"

McDowell: At 2:22 in the afternoon on August 16, I was sitting in my Camaro and every station on the air was saying, "Elvis Presley has passed away." Fifteen miles down the road, I had the spoken part of the song written. That was my soul talking. I took it to the radio stations two days later on a big ol' acetate. I had eight acetates made for $2,800 and I wrote a hot check! I took the single to Nashville, and that night I was on the Grand Ole Opry.

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