Music Notes

edited by Mark Jordan

School House Rock
Mixed in with the “Studio Coolio: Plaster Magic for the Uninhibited” and the “Young at Art” classes that are part of the Memphis College of Art’s Community Education series this spring is “Strictly Memphis: A Thirty Year History of Memphis Music.”
Taught by Wilhelm “Willi” Gutt, a.k.a. Catman, host of WEVL’s Red Hot and Rockin’ radio show and curator of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and Nona Bolin, professor of philosophy at MCA, the course spans the early days of Sun Records to the death of Stax. The class isn’t just another textbook read-along; course materials will include the best-known Memphis sounds from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and more obscure artists like disco queen Anita Wood, plus unreleased studio sessions and video footage.
And it’s more than professorial lectures, too; celebrity guests are expected to visit the class to deliver their personal perspectives. Bolin says they are considering four or five guests, and though she wouldn’t reveal names, she says that “Willi has quite a list of connections.”
The class will run Tuesdays, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., from February 10th to March 31st (no class March 17th). The sessions will meet at MCA, with a trip to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. The 7-week course, limited to 15 or 16 students, costs $200. Call the Memphis College of Art for more information. – Lauren Mutter

A Welcome Return
Last Wednesday night saw the return to Memphis of Those Bastard Souls, the Grifters side project that has grown up around Dave Shouse’s pseudonymous 1996 solo-record Twentieth Century Chemical. Various lineups that were put together to support the record have toured sporadically since its release but have only come to town once: a late ’96 Barristers show that too few people saw.
Last week’s show at the P&H kicked off a two-week tour that follows the band’s work on a demo at Easley with a lineup that includes Dambuilders’ violinist Joan Wasser and members of the late Jeff Buckley’s backing band. A healthy weeknight crowd turned out to see the band run through a good portion of Twentieth Century, some new material, and “Spaced Out” from the Grifters’ latest, Full Blown Possession. The show left little doubt that the Souls’ next record is something that should be hotly anticipated. Unlike Twentieth Century, which was recorded almost entirely by Shouse, the follow-up will include the whole band, which did the impossible by improving on an already excellent record. Wasser’s playing lends the band’s sound a determined and haunting lilt, wrapped around beautifully Bowie-esque hooks, complete – at times – with baritone sax. The Souls, in other words, have a sound so thick you could cut it with a knife. Hopefully it won’t be another year before they return. – Jim Hanas

Handy Nominees Announced

Luther Allison

The nominees for the 19th annual W.C. Handy Awards were announced last week, with the late Luther Allison receiving the most nominations with six. Allison, who died last August, was nominated for best blues song, contemporary blues album, guitarist, contemporary male artist, and band-of-the-year honors. Allison also received a nod in the Handy’s top category, Blues Entertainer of the Year, which he has won the past two years.
The complete list of nominees:
Entertainer of the Year: Luther Allison, Ruth Brown, B.B. King, Rod Piazza, and Bobby Rush.
Band of the Year: the B.B. King Orchestra, Joe Louis Walker & the Bosstalkers, the Luther Allison & James Solberg Band, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, Roomful of Blues, and the Holmes Brothers.
Contemporary Blues – Male Artist of the Year: Luther Allison, Charlie Musselwhite, Rod Piazza, Joe Louis Walker, and Smokey Wilson.
Contemporary Blues – Female Artist of the Year: Marcia Ball, Deborah Coleman, Debbie Davis, Sista Monica, Koko Taylor, and Toni Lynn Washington.
Soul/Blues – Male Artist of the Year: Johnny Adams, Mighty Sam McClain, Little Milton, Bobby Rush, and Johnny Taylor.
Soul/Blues – Female Artist of the Year: Ruth Brown, Denise LaSalle, Ann Peebles, Irma Thomas, and Lavelle White.
Traditional Blues – Male Artist of the Year: Carey Bell, R.L. Burnside, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Corey Harris, and Smoky Pryor.
Traditional Blues – Female Artist of the Year: Rory Block, Tracy Nelson, Ann Rabson, Annie Raines, and Shelia Wilcoxson.
Acoustic Blues – Artist of the Year: Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Heart, Keb’ Mo’, Kelly Joe Phelps, and Philadelphia Jerry Ricks.
Best New Blues Artist: Chico Banks, Chris Beard, Super Chikan, Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones, and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones.
Best Guitarist: Luther Allison, Ronnie Earl, Anson Funderburgh, Big Jack Johnson, Duke Robillard, and Joe Louis Walker.
Best Harmonica Player: Carey Bell, James Cotton, Sam Myers, Charlie Musselwhite, and Rod Piazza.
Best Keyboardist: Marcia Ball, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Johnnie Johnson, David Maxwell, Pinetop Perkins, Honey Piazza.
Best Bassist: Sister Sarah Brown, Aaron Burton, Johnny B. Gayden, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and Willie Kent.
Best Drummer: Ray “Killer” Allison, Jimi Bott, Sam Carr, Sam Lay, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.
Best Instumentalist – Other: Clarence “Gatemouth” Moore (violin), Kaz Kazanof (saxophone), Sonny Rhodes (lapsteel guitar), Roomful of Blues (horn section), and Eddie Shaw (saxophone).
Contemporary Blues Album of the Year: Luther Allison’s Reckless, Long John Hunter’s Swingin’ From The Rafters, Rod Piazza’s Tough & Tender, Joe Louis Walker’s Great Guitars, and Smokey Wilson’s The Man From Mars.
Soul/Blues Album of the Year: Johnny Adams’ One Foot In The Blues, Ruth Brown’s R + B = Ruth Brown, Solomon Burke’s The Definition of Soul, King Ernest’s King Of Hearts, Bobby Rush’s Lovin’ A Big Fat Woman, Mighty Joe Young’s Might Man, and the Holmes Brothers’ Promised Land.
Traditional Blues album of the Year: Carey Bell’s Good Luck Man, Corey Harris’ Fish Ain’t Bitin’, the Jellyroll King’s Off Yonder Wall, Snooky Pryor’s Mind Your Own Business, and Ann Rabson’s Music Makin’ Mama.
Comeback Blues Album of the Year: Jimmy Burns’ Leavin’ Here Walkin’, King Ernest’s King Of Hearts, Eddie King’s Another Cow Is Dead, the Jellyroll Kings’ Off Yonder Wall, Philadelphia Jerry Ricks’ Deep In The Well, and Freddie Roulette’s Back In Chicago.
Acoustic Blues Album of the Year: Ann Rabson’s Music Makin’ Mama, Corey Harris’ Fish Ain’t Bitin’, John Mooney’s Dealin’ With The Devil, Kelly Joe Phelps’ Roll Away Stone, and Philadelphia Jerry Ricks’ Deep In The Well.
Reissue Blues Album of the Year: R.L. Burnside’s Acoustic Stories, James Harman’s Extra Napkins, Jesse Mae Hemphill’s Feelin’ Good, Mississippi Fred McDowell’s The First Recordings, and Jimmy Rogers’ The Complete Chess Recordings.
Blues Song of the Year: Eddie Clearwater’s “Don’t Take My Blues,” Jimmy Burns’ “Leavin’ Here Walkin’,” Joe Louis Walker’s “Low Down Dirty Blues,” Luther Allison’s “Livin’ In The House Of Blues,” and Smokey Wilson’s “The Man From Mars.”
The Blues Foundation will present the Handy Awards Thursday, April 30th in a ceremony at The Orpheum.
n – Mark Jordan


Local Boys Done Good

The Flyer’s former music editor helps write a different chapter in the history of Sun Records.

by Mark Jordan

[“Bear Cat”] was a big song. The first hit with a Sun label on it. I made maybe five, six hundred dollars off of it. Sam made a bit more than that. But Sam [Phillips] wouldn’t hardly tell anyone I made the first record for him that got a hit until about three years ago. They’d put us on panels together and he never did mention it. But I’d always come back and say, “Sam didn’t tell you that I made the first record.”
He was an arrogant bastard. He is today. Back then he had a big car, it was maybe a foreign car, a Bentley, and he’d boast about the money he made that got him his car. I said, “Yeah, but if it hadn’t been for me, he wouldn’t have had that car.”
– Rufus Thomas, from Sun Records: An Oral History

With his own parking space on his own downtown street off Beale where he can park his own big car, Thomas needn’t worry about his place in music history, especially now that he’s got his account of Sun’s first hit down for the record.
Written by former Flyer music editor John Floyd, Sun Records: An Oral History is one of the first releases in a new series of music books from Avon Books called For the Record. Edited by respected music journalist Dave Marsh – a former Rolling Stone editor and current music reviewer for Playboy and the author of biographies on the Who and Bruce Springsteen – the series attempts to tell the music stories “untold and half-told” through the artists’ own words, often using lengthy quotes with little or no editing.

Part of Avon Book’s For the Record series and written by the Flyer’s former music editor John Floyd, Sun Records: An Oral History tells the stories of 13 artists and producers who worked at the legendary label. Another title in the series chronicles the career of Stax duo Sam and Dave.

It is no small tribute to Memphis that two of the first three titles in the series involve the city’s rich musical heritage. The first For The Record book was Sam and Dave: An Oral History by Marsh and Sam Moore, who with his late partner Dave Prater made up one half of the legendary Stax duo.
Unlike the Sam and Dave book, which is told entirely from Moore’s perspective, Floyd’s book on Sun tells the story of the legendary label through the voices of 13 artists who were intimately involved in the label’s progression.
“I set out with a list of maybe 30 or 40 people – pretty much everyone who was still alive – and then set about trying to find them,” says Floyd. “Some of them were really easy, like Billy Lee Riley. … Some people just weren’t interested, like Sonny Burgess; he just didn’t care about it. He said that in the past – and this is something that Riley also said – he felt two things: These hot-shit writers come to their houses and pump them for information and then go back to New York and make a million dollars on the book and they don’t make a penny. Also, Burgess and all these guys feel like they’ve been misquoted by all these writers. I don’t know if that’s true. At this point everyone’s memory is somewhat clouded.”
While not the definitive book on Sun (for that, Floyd recommends Colin Escott’s Good Rockin’ Tonight, which he says was “pretty much in my hand the entire time I was writing and researching my little thing”), Sun Records: An Oral History is an excellent supplement to the accepted history, full of entertaining stories and unique perspectives from many who were intimately connected with the label. Among the 13 people Floyd ultimately interviewed for the book are the well-known personalities Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Scotty Moore, Jim Dickinson, producers Roland Janes and Jack Clement, and Billy Lee Riley, as well as lesser-known Sun artists Rayburn Anthony, Johnny Powers, W.S. Holland, Quinton Claunch, and Malcolm Yelvington.
“Obviously, with people like Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash not in there, it leaves something to be desired,” Floyd says. “Marsh wasn’t really concerned about not getting those people.… He just kind of wanted to let the people you could get to talk go on at greater length, and since you’re not editing the quotes or paraphrasing, you hopefully get a feel for how they talk, how they tell stories or the inflections they use.”
The book traces Sun’s progression from a money-making lark started by former deejay Sam Phillips to a pioneering blues label to the cradle of rock to its decline in the early ’60s as a failing studio suffering the neglect of an owner who has gone on to bigger business opportunities.
Looking back, Floyd realizes some readers may believe he was too hard on Phillips’ role in the decline of Sun. “It’s just frustrating that Phillips didn’t seem interested in carrying on the legacy,” he says. “It would have been nice if he had been able to continue the amazing work he did for nine or 10 years. But really it doesn’t matter. What he did do was plenty. It’s like Carl Perkins. You know the guy had a very brief period of greatness, but when your brief period of greatness is that fucking great, you can retire; you’ve done plenty. You’ve done more than the average man or woman can do. Take a seat. Have a beer.”


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