Flyer InteractiveMusic

Sweet Sound Of Success

The Iguanas slither up to audiences with an enticing gumbo of musical styles.

by Mark Jordan

o state the obvious, New Orleans is a different place. Different from any place anywhere. Southern by geography, European by appearance, Caribbean by attitude, it has characteristics of all these locales but resembles none of them. The rhythms of life in the Crescent City are not quite in sync with the rest of the country’s — sometimes slower, sometimes faster, frequently jagged, even backward. This is a city where French is still spoken on the streets, where it’s safer to drink the margaritas than the water, and where, under the Napoleonic Code, you are considered guilty until proven innocent.

So where else could a band such as the Iguanas develop and flourish? Whereas the rest of the music industry puts a premium on youth, throwing out the old in favor of the new with the regularity of a fashion maven, in New Orleans audiences seem to like their musicians matured like a fine wine. It is as if, innately understanding that you need to live life to sing about it, they don’t trust any guitarist under 30.

Well, the middle-aged members of the Iguanas have no fear of being carded, but otherwise this quintet has all the funky energy of a band of young Turks combined with the nuanced musicianship that only comes with experience. In the best tradition of the Neville Brothers and their friends the subdudes (like them, New Orleans transplants) the Iguanas are a genre-defying group, mixing rock, Tex-Mex, salsa, and funk into something that is … well, the Iguanas.

The group formed 10 years ago when guitarist Ron Hodges and sax player Joe Carbal moved to New Orleans on the urging of the subdudes. For years the band struggled on the bar circuit, honing their sound and adding new influences as their whim and audiences demanded. This pastiche of musical styles crystallized into something uniquely Iguanas when the band solidified its lineup in the early ’90s, adding Derek Huston on second horn, René Coman on keyboards, and Memphian Doug Garrison on drums. (Garrison, whom you may remember from his long association with a number of bands that played at the North End in the late ’80s and early ’90s, first teamed up with Coman to form the Alex Chilton’s rhythm section.)

The group plays about 200 shows a year, and, as Rich Collins of New Orleans’ Gambit Weekly recounted in a recent story, over the years they have had more than their share of road adventures:

“They were nearly sucked under a tractor trailer after their van blew a tire on a remote stretch of Alabama highway. While trying to make a show in Canada, they were detained by a cranky customs agent who wanted them to pay a tariff on the T-shirts they planned to sell. Once, when their van broke down in a small Louisiana town, the guys were directed to a ‘no tell’ motel and had to decline the town sheriff’s offer to provide them with some ‘companions’ for the evening.”

Back in New Orleans, however, the band was building a solid fan base that one night included Bruce Springsteen, who jumped on stage to play a version of “Ain’t That A Shame” with the band. Another famous fan was Jimmy Buffett, who upon hearing the group play in 1993 signed them to his nascent Margaritaville label. The Iguanas recorded three albums for Margaritaville — The Iguanas, Nuevo Boogaloo, and Super Ball — before band and label parted ways in 1996.

Thanks to their tenure on Margaritaville, however, the Iguanas became a favorite of movie and television producers, with songs popping up on the soundtracks to the films Phenomenon, Jimmy Hollywood, Fools Rush In, and Under The Moon and the television series Homicide.

The Iguanas have been touring nonstop since leaving Margaritaville, and have just now made the return to disc with Sugar Town, a collection of 11 originals released just last week. Tracks like the album opener “Captured” and “Love Terrifies Me” may remind some of Kiko-era Los Lobos, while “La Llanta Se Me Ponchó” is a completely traditional Latin tune, a genre that gets a slight techno updating on “Si Amanece Nos Vamos.” “Born Again Devil” and “You Killed My Buzz” are radio-ready rockers, while “Dear Walter,” with its kitschy chorus, is bound to sink its hook into your brain. The Tex-Mex influence pops up on “La Guerra Felix.” “The Latin Kings” and “Arrimate” are a sort of Latin jazz-rock fusion. And New Orleans’ long-under-recognized R&B sound can be sampled on “Fire & Gasoline.”

As a whole, Sugar Town is a bowl filled with different exotic candies, each going down sweet and tasty.

The Moment of Truth

Bands often ask us how to get into The Memphis Flyer. The answer is: Ask. In our regular Moment of Truth column, the Flyer’s music writers will review any local band that asks them to come out to their show.

Here’s the deal: Call us up and tell us where your band is playing. Each week we’ll pick a gig to send one of our music writers to see. The next week he or she will write a short critique complete with picture from the show. If we don’t get around to your band the first time, just call us before your next gig, and we’ll be there. The only qualifications for consideration are that your group live within the Flyer’s distribution area, which extends as far as south as Oxford, Mississippi, and that you play at least 50 percent original music.

So, to schedule your band’s Moment of Truth call Jim Hanas (575-9408) or Mark Jordan (575-9441) today.

Music Notes

by Mark Jordan

Fest Set

Officials with Memphis in May announced the lineup for the 1999 Beale Street Music Festival last week, promising “something for everyone” — so long as no one wants country or contemporary R&B.

But the BSMF does have such mainstream rock acts as the Goo Goo Dolls, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Sheryl Crow topping a roster with an otherwise strong local character. Two of the city’s legendary record labels will be represented. Stax artists Booker T. & the MGs and Eddie Floyd as well as Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett, who recorded some of his biggest hits with Stax musicians, are all scheduled to appear. And on Saturday there will be a reunion of Sun Records artists, with performances by Malcolm Yelvington and a Billy Lee Riley-led supergroup featuring Sonny Burgess, Paul Burlison, and James Van Eaton.

Another famous name from Memphis’ music past will take the stage Friday when Big Star, the highly influential pop-rock combo that recorded for the Ardent label in the ’70s, reunites.

This year also marks a return to the familiar festival-grounds set-up. The giant $70,000 IMAG video screens introduced at last year’s controversial, money-losing festival are gone and the two main stages are back at either end of Tom Lee Park. Unfortunately, the dreaded coupon system of concession sales is also back, though organizers hope to offset this news with a drop in beer prices from $4 to $3.

“We’re going back to the classic recipe that made the 1997 Beale Street Music Festival so successful,” said MIM executive director Jim Holt, referring to the year the festival drew more than 113,000 people downtown.

The premier event of the month-long Memphis in May festival, the BSMF will be held in Tom Lee Park May 7th through 9th. Tickets are now on sale at all area Ticketmaster outlets. Individual day tickets are $14 now, $19 beginning May 7th. A $36 three-day pass is available until April 30th.

Performers at the 1999 Beale Street Music Festival are:

Friday, May 7th — Bernard Allison, Ami Ali, the Bar-Kays, Big Star, Booker T. & the MGs, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Fastball, Galactic, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jimmy Thackeray & the Drivers, the junkyardmen, Los Lobos, Peter Frampton, Reba Russell, Rusted Root, Sammy Hagar, Skillet, Tommy Castro.

Saturday, May 8th — Ami Ali, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Billy Lee Riley, Burlap To Cashmere, Cheap Trick, Corey Harris, Dr. John, FreeWorld, Fuel, G. Love & Special Sauce, Guitar Shorty, Hootie & the Blowfish, John Mohead, Jonny Lang, KoKo Taylor, Lois Lane, Mason Ruffner, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Orquestra Caliente, R.L. Burnside, the Riverbluff Clan, Robin Trower, Susan Tedeschi, Tinsley Ellis, Wilson Pickett.

Sunday, May 9th — Alvin Youngblood Hart, Ami Ali, the Associates, Better Than Ezra, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Clarence Carter, Collective Soul, Eddie “the Chief” Clearwater, James Cotton, Jimmy D. Lane, Kansas, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Kirk Whalum, Leftover Salmon, Marcia Ball, moe., Sheryl Crow, Tony Lanier & the Triple Dose Band, the Williams Brothers.

Did You Hear That?

As part of their ongoing series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the magnetic tape recorder, producers from National Public Radio will be in town this week searching for eyewitnesses (or earwitnesses) to a couple of unique chapters in audio-recording history that played themselves out in Memphis.

Representatives of Lost & Found Sound, a public-radio series that traces the history of the recording medium, will be in town starting this Sunday, March 28th. They are looking for anyone with personal knowledge of WHER, the nation’s first all-woman radio station begun in Memphis in 1955, or the location recordings of Sam Phillips and R.A. Coleman, who separately in the ’50s hired their recording services out to document events such as weddings, funerals, graduations, pageants, etc.

Specifically, they are looking for anyone with stories to tell and with materials — especially old recordings (78s, cassettes, reel-to-reel and wire recordings) — related to the subjects. Any such materials will be dubbed on the spot and returned the same day.

Producers are holding an open call for participants on Thursday, April 1st at Sun Studio from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. They also can be contacted at 527-9772 between March 28th and April 1st or by leaving a message any time at 948-9437.

Lost & Found Sound airs locally on WKNO-FM 91.1 every Friday afternoon during the All Things Considered slot from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The episodes featuring WHER, Phillips, and Coleman are expected to run sometime in June.

New Stuff In The Bins

New national releases of note this week:

Radio Favorites Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys (High Tone) — A six-song EP from the torchbearers of Western Swing.

Pistolero Frank Black & the Catholics (spinArt) — The return of the former Pixies frontman.

Give Yourself A Hand Crash Test Dummies (Arista)

Recommended For Airplay David Allan Coe (Lucky Dog)

Live Government Mule (Capricorn) — Recorded at the Warren Haynes-led Southern-jam trio’s New Year’s Eve gig at the Roxy in Atlanta.

Sammy Hagar Red Voodoo (MCA)

Sugartown The Iguanas (Koch)

Ten Year Night Lucy Kaplansky (Red House) — Second album from he former clinical psychologist and Shawn Colvin duet partner. With Jennifer Kimball, John Gorka, Richard Shindell, Duke Levine, and Larry Campbell.

Graveland The King (Ark 21) — From Northern Ireland comes this long-awaited release from postal worker and Elvis “channeler” James Brown (aka the King). Covering the work of other dead musicians, the album features such songs as Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” performed in the apparently very imitable Elvis style.

My Midnight Steve Wynn (Zero Hour) — The Dream Syndicate frontman teams with Pere Ubu’s Tony Maimone and Come’s Chris Brokaw.

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