Music Notes

by Mark Jordan

New Stuff In The Bins

It may be a tired cliche, but Memphis may very well be the home of the blues. And lest you think all that means is that Memphis has more cheesy blues show bands than any other city, there are three new, very different, local blues releases out now that prove just how vital and varied the Memphis blues scene really is.

Acoustic, Delta-style blues seems to be making a comeback these days, with artists like Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb’ Mo’, Kelly Joe Phelps, and “Philadelphia” Jerry Ricks suddenly being some of the hottest names on the blues circuit. One name that should join theirs soon is that of Memphian Keith Brown, who has become a consistent presence in area clubs.

Brown’s first CD, Walking On Muddy Waters: Mississippi Blues In The Garonne Country, was recorded while on tour in France. (The unusual CD package, by the way, is a French cheese container.) Though he sounds a little young (whatever that means; hell, young people get the blues, too), Brown, nevertheless, turns in strong and respectful versions of songs by such Delta legends as Robert Johnson, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and, of course, Muddy Waters. And the one original song on the disk, a 10-year-old lament on poverty called “Busted” and performed here with Vincent Bucher, shows Brown holds promise as a writer as well.

Currently, Walking On Muddy Waters is an import-only release available at the Center for Southern Folklore or at any of Brown’s gigs, but hopefully someone stateside will have the good sense to release it locally and maybe set down this very promising artist for another session as well.

On Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band’s first full-length CD, Everybody Hollerin’ Goat, producer Luther Dickinson gives listeners not just an important archival recording of a vanishing musical form but a surprisingly grooving and enjoyable disc, too.

From Tate County, Mississippi, Turner has been playing fife-and-drum music for about 74 of his 90 years. In particular, he plays an American rural version of the traditional European military music, injected with the blues and played in a loose, improvisational style.

For years, Turner’s been a staple of the area’s county “picnics,” weekend-long affairs where the whole community gathers to eat goat and pork, drink beer, and dance. And it is exactly this sense of community, celebration, and tradition that producer Dickinson – working from field recordings by himself, Robert Gordon, Kevin Houston, and Bruce Watson – captures on this important and fun CD.

Dickinson helps mine another blues vein on the new single from his band, the North Mississippi All-Stars. “My Babe” b/w “.44 Blues” (by Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, respectively) find the All-Stars stripped down to the lean and mean trio of Dickinson on guitar, little brother Cody on drums, and the musical find of the decade, Chris Chew on bass. And while the lovely flourishes of singer Kelley Hurt and occasional saxophonist Jim Spake are missed, if you like your blues raw, simple, and deeply grooving, you’re going to love this lineup.

Finally, Memphis-based Ecko Records has just released Rufus Live, a record of Rufus Thomas’ successful Centennial Park concerts during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Though it clocks in at just under 58 minutes, this disc has only five songs; it is padded out with plenty of Rufus’ trademark patter and humor, including a funny and sweet interplay with an audience member. If you’re going to own just one or two Rufus Thomas CDs, however, this isn’t going to be one of them – too few songs and not the best versions we’ve heard of the ones that are there. (For a good general Thomas record, we suggest the original Walking The Dog or the Carla Thomas/Rufus compilation Chronicle, instead.) But if you’re a fan and a completist, Rufus Live holds some great spontaneous, live moments, features a great band that includes Thomas’ son Marvell, Michael Toles on guitar, and Jim Spake and Scott Thompson on the horns, and is a document of a definite career highlight. n


I Love The Blues

Di Anne Price turns her mother’s love into raucous, good time, barrelhouse blues.

by Lydialyle Gibson

he may not know it, but Di Anne Price’s devotion to the blues is scarcely distinguishable from her devotion to her mother.

“My mom is a wonderful lyricist, and I do a lot of her songs when I’m performing,” says Price, over the din of happy hour at Wang’s Mandarin House, where her cool voice and barrelling blues piano had lingered like a spell until Michael Bolton on the radio jarred the air. “I just love her. She’s been a lyricist, for, well, all my life and long before I came into the world. She’s talented. I’m not talented.”

Di Anne Price and the Uptown All-Stars

Yet Price is a woman who learned to play piano and the blues when she was 4 years old. She started playing it for money when she was 5 or 6, made her first tape when she was 9 and has recorded several others since then. In fact, she hasn’t gone a week in the 42 years since without a musical paycheck.

“Both my parents were very much into the music, and so if I hadn’t wanted to do it, I wouldn’t have had a choice,” she says. “But I always wanted to do it. And I guess I don’t play any better now than I ever did, but I love it. I don’t know of anything I would want to do other than this.”

Born and raised in Memphis, Price works 9 to 5 as a social director at a nursing home. But most nights of the week she can be found playing and singing in bars and restaurants or special events around town, sometimes with, sometimes without, her band, the Uptown All-Stars or “the fellas,” as she calls them.

This Friday, Price will be playing at the Center for Southern Folklore, joining 11 other female performers in Lady Sings the Blues, a breast-cancer fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.

Though she is not a huge international star, Price thinks she’s had a good career, and like everything else about her, her success is inextricably bound up with her mother.

“My mom decided when I was a little person that I needed to learn how to read,” she says, “because I claimed that I loved music so much.”

To Price, “reading” means reading notes, and she speaks of her mother and music in a long, slow rubato, itself almost a song. “I would wake up in the middle of the night as a little person, and I would sit straight up in the bed, and I would want to play the piano,” she says. “And my mom, she would be ready to go with me. And we would go and play piano all night long. We had a big ol’ ramblin’ two-story house, and downstairs it was cold and dark. I would put on my clothes – my trousers, my socks, my shoes, my muffler, my coat, and my gloves. I can play with my gloves on. … This was in the middle of the night. My mother, she never said she was too tired, she never said, ‘This is not the right time.’ She never said that.”

Price’s music, barrelhouse piano and “good times” blues, harkens back to the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, and she takes as her models everyone from Fats Waller to Memphis Minnie to Tony Bennett. Her songwriting mother is in there, too. Price describes her own voice as “a throwback to another time. It’s smoky, it’s sultry, it makes you think of Jack Daniel’s and bars.”

“The first song I ever learned was the blues,” she says. “My mother asked me, she said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Yes’um.’ I always had the blues. I love the blues. I love the blues. But the blues don’t make me sad. I’ve often thought – and, of course, my mother wrote a song for me – what would have become of me if it hadn’t been for the blues? I love the blues. The pitfalls that the blues tells of, I didn’t fall in that because of the blues. It says, ‘Don’t do this,’ ‘Don’t do that.’ So I didn’t.”

But ever since she was a little girl, the blues was more than an accidental lesson in social behavior. “It’s a sustenance, a warmth that engulfs me,” Price says. “It takes me where I need to go.”

It’s something she wants to share with the world. Price recalls the time when she used to bring her kittens to her choir rehearsal at church so they could hear the music. “When I was at home, they always sang with me. So I would stick them down in my purse, and they would go with me. But one night I was at choir rehearsal, and they got out, got down under the choir stand. As the choir was singing, they were singing, too. I had to send a couple of kids down under to get the cats out. There we were in the middle of a sermon, you know, with the cats singing as loud as the choir. And my minister told me, he said, ‘This is the last time. This is the last time.’”

So for Price, the performance this Friday offers not only the opportunity to “have an impact on people’s awareness about breast cancer and its effects,” but also the chance to share her music. In a moment of silence, she reverts to her refrain, “I love the blues. You know, when I’m in a bar, smoke-filled, you can smell the Jack Daniel’s all around, and I’m singing something that’s right just for the moment, that’s working just for that moment, and people are really listening, that’s everything I need.” n


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