Friday, January 18, 2019

Listen Up: Bailey Bigger

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2019 at 9:06 AM

  • Michael Donahue
  • Bailey Bigger

Bailey Bigger wrote her first hit song - “Best Small Town” - when she was 12.

It was a hit in her home town of Marion, Arkansas.

“There’s still a music video that my brother made for it on YouTube,” she says. “It’s about Marion. It blew up in Marion. And I became ‘the little girl that sings,’ I would get gigs at Big John’s Shake Shack. That’s a local spot. So, everyone was there.”

Bigger, 18, currently is working on her second EP. The recording, which is slated to be released in April, is on the Blue Tom Records label at University of Memphis, where Bigger is in the music business program. She recorded her first EP, “Closer to Home,” at singer/songwriter/producer Drew Erwin’s studio, ‘The Cabin.”

The late John Denver was why Bigger begged her parents to let her take guitar lessons when she was nine years old. “I would listen to John Denver all the time. Like ‘Rocky Mountain High’ and all that. And I was like, ‘I want to play this!”

When her guitar teacher asked her what she wanted to play at her first guitar recital, Bigger said, “I want to play my song. I don’t want to play any one else’s song.’

She played “The Field,” one of her originals.

“I guess I’ve never really doubted who I was. I think music had a lot to do with that. It gave me an identity at an early age. And it was something to do that just came naturally to me. Like I didn’t really have to work at it. It felt like a part of me already.”

She liked to listen to music by country singers, including Brad Paisley. “He would do instrumental hymns on his albums. He did ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ for just the guitar. I thought that was so beautiful.”

Her singing notoriety began after she wrote “Best SmalL Town.” “They had me play it at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and they adopted it as Marion’s theme song. They put it on the website and stuff. I was officially known as ‘the musician.’ Like, ‘Bailey. She’s the singer.’ And I loved that.”

Her favorite line in the songs is, “Everybody knows everybody and you’re living in a fantasy. And I can't get away with anything 'cause somebody's always watching me."

Bigger, who describes her voice as a “front porch voice,” recalls a competition she was in when she was 15. “In Nashville outside of Franklin at the Puckett’s Grocery in Leiper’s Fork. I remember one of the judges came up to my parents afterwards and said, ‘Have you ever put her in voice lessons?’ And they said, ‘No.’ And she said, “Good. Don’t.’”

She began playing gigs through her friendship with singer/songwriter/sound engineer Kris Acklen, who originally got her to open for him at his show at Otherlands Coffee Shop.

Bigger played mostly originals, including “Winter Wheat,” which was about her first boyfriend. She met him her first year of high school and they dated for about a year. “He worked on his dad’s farm. So, when we met, he was working on the Winter wheat. And then when we broke up, he was starting to harvest again. So, basically, it’s a metaphor for how feelings change and crops change. It’s still one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.”

Bigger, now a student at University of Memphis, met Mark Parsell, who does a monthly Songwriter’s Night at South Main Sounds. He got her gigs at the Green Beetle, Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts and the Farmer’s Market.

She went to Erwin’s show after reading about him on the Memphis Flyer website. “I Love You Goodbye,” the most popular song on the “Closer to Home” EP, is about a guy Bigger fell in love with. “We worked on a farm together in Arkansas back in this past Fall. He was there for about two months and then he moved to South Carolina for another job.”

“Wildflower” is about her “first summer love. We worked at a summer camp together. We’re still friends, though. He goes to UT Knoxville. He called me his wildflower. He’s a forestry major. He always played ‘Wildflowers’ by Tom Petty.

A recurrent theme in some of her songs is “the love you kind of had to leave behind, but didn’t go away.”

She entered “Wildflower” in an online competition sponsored by the Memphis Songwriters Association and was selected as one of eight finalists who were invited to perform their song live at Galloway Methodist Church.

The song won the Memphis Songwriters Association “Memphis Best Song of the Year” in 2017.

U of M music professor Ben Yonas was one of the judges. “That’s how he noticed me and was like, ‘Come to U of M.’”

Bigger was looking at Middle Tennessee State University, Belmont University and Appalachian State University, but she chose U of M. “I feel like the music scene here is very authentic and very raw. And we have so much history and so much culture and soul. I feel like I could stand out here better than I could in Nashville because Memphis is on the rise.”

Music is all encompassing at this point. In addition to writing and recording her music, Bigger performs several times a month around town. “I never really thought about anything else. I feel like once I started doing it and making money off of it, I was like, ‘Well, this is it.’ It’s not a hobby anymore. It’s my life.”

And, she says, “I don’t have a plan B.”

To see where Bailey Bigger will next be performing, go to

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Dirty Streets & Tora Tora Bring Riffs to Minglewood

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2018 at 10:32 AM

  • Chris Neely
  • Tora Tora
Two of Memphis’ heaviest blues-inspired rock bands are set to perform at Minglewood Hall this Saturday, December 29th. The Dirty Streets will open for Tora Tora, and there is sure to be wah pedal aplenty at this last Saturday-night concert of the year.

Both bands recently recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Service on Madison, and Tora Tora are gearing up to release a new album, Bastards of Beale (Frontiers Records), their first new recording in years. “The last studio album we did for a label was in ’94, when we were on A&M Records,” guitarist Keith Douglas says. “We felt like we picked up right where we left off.” That was the band’s third record, their last on A&M, Revolution Day, which the label shelved for years. Tora Tora eventually released the album themselves on FnA Records, “a small label out of Nashville,” in 2011. “Right around that time, in the early ’90s, when grunge hit, record companies shed a lot of their rock bands,” Douglas says. “We got shown the door with everybody else.” It’s not as though that was the end of the story for Tora Tora, though, and Douglas doesn’t sound bitter or critical as he references the end of that chapter for the band. 
  • Chris Neely
  • Tora Tora

The new album’s title refers to the band themselves. As a hard rock band that often performed in the blues-centric venues of Beale Street, they were something of an anomaly. But the members of Tora Tora have a long history with the blues — it clearly informs their sound, even if they don’t play the straight-up 12-bar variety  — and they have a long history with Beale. “We were hanging out down there before we were old enough to be in bars,” Douglas says, explaining that, even as friends before the formation of Tora Tora, he, Anthony Corder, Patrick Francis, and John Patterson would hang around Beale, soaking up the music. It’s a time-honored Memphis tradition — loaf around Beale taking in the music and the raucous energy. “That was in our blood from when we were kids,” Douglas says, but he also admits to other influences, name-checking Tom Petty and Styx. But the lessons learned on Beale never seem far from Douglas’ mind. “Lights up the River,” from Bastards of Beale, is a blues performer’s perspective on Memphis, a rural musician determined to play his way to the bright lights of Beale. “A lot of it is about Memphis,” Douglas says of the new record.

Though Douglas points out that much of returning to write and record with Tora Tora has felt comfortably familiar, the recording process was something of a break from tradition. The band, as was standard operating procedure for bands signed to major labels at the time, spent long hours, even weeks, in the studio, and usually did most of their tracking at Memphis’ Ardent Studios. Bastards of Beale, though, was recorded in a much shorter period of “six or seven days” at Sam Phillips. There was some continuity to the sessions, though; Tora Tora brought on Jeff Powell, who has been producing and mixing records for 30 years, and whom they worked with before at Ardent.

“We’ve got a lot of history with Ardent,” Douglas says. For a performer who has played on major label tours, Douglas shows a fondness and familiarity with the city that’s been his band’s home base, and talking about Ardent sparks some memories — like when Tora Tora performed at the Levitt Shell in 2015 as part of “Press Play: A Tribute Concert to John Fry and John Hampton.”

“We miss John Hampton and John Fry both,” Douglas says. “[Hampton] was so great for us. He helped us develop.” Douglas remembers Hampton sometimes turning up at the band’s rehearsals, making suggestions. Douglas goes on, mentioning a long list of Memphis musicians, vocalists, producers, and engineers he’s worked with over the years.
But for all the history in the rear-view mirror, Tora Tora have big plans for the new year. The group already has some concerts lined up in Texas, and Bastards of Beale will be released on February 22, 2019. Douglas says the band plans to mix in some new songs at Saturday night’s concert, but fans should expect to hear a lot of Tora Tora’s classic material.

The Dirty Streets - BOB BAYNE
  • Bob Bayne
  • The Dirty Streets
The Dirty Streets will open the concert at Minglewood for Tora Tora. It’s a tasteful pairing: two bands on the rougher, rawer side of rock, with a heaping dose of blues in their backgrounds but with a willingness to experiment and embrace other genres. Both bands have a flair for energetic performance, and the Dirty Streets also recently recorded an album at Sam Phillips.

While Tora Tora’s new album is as yet unreleased, the Dirty Streets self-released their fifth album, Distractions, in September of this year. It’s a strong showing from a band that has steadily grown and evolved since their first outing, Portrait of a Man.

Their first record was released in 2009, shortly before I first saw the Streets perform, their rumbling Fender amps crammed between shelves of vinyl in Shangri-la Records. Portrait of a Man was recorded at the Hi-Tone over a holiday weekend, when the bar was closed. Andrew “Buck” McCalla engineered the album. The sessions went well, but the recorder ate the files, forcing the band to wait for another holiday before re-recording the entire album in another marathon two-day session, with McCalla again behind the soundboard.
“We’ve never recorded an album without at least one major malfunction,” frontman and guitarist Justin Toland says. “We’re five albums in, and now I just expect things to go wrong.” 

Toland reels off a list of irrecoverable files, blown amps, and guitar solos lost to studio gremlins, chuckling as he does so. The singer and guitarist has the air of someone who’s learned not to try to force a sound or idea. Rather, Toland has a performer’s grace, ready to roll with whatever the gremlins throw at him. “It’s all about funneling that tension,” Toland elaborates, saying he and bandmates Thomas Storz and Andrew Denham have learned to channel frustration back into the performance. Those time-honed skills are evident on the self-released new album, which is brimming with ready-to-cut-loose energy.
“We’ve always had crazy strict deadlines,” Toland says, continuing on the theme of past recordings, but, he says, the Streets decided not to rush Distractions. “We took our time on this one,” Toland says, describing a relationship the band has built with producer Matt Qualls over the course of a (so far) three-album collaboration.

Toland says Qualls came on board on their third album, Blades of Grass, which was when the band began to focus more on production, adding layers of instrumental tracks. That process of layering helped build the Dirty Streets sound — beefy guitar riffs that vibrate the listener’s skull like buzzsaws. The collaboration continued through the Streets’ stellar fourth release, Whitehorse, and into 2018’s Distractions. The result is a full-bodied sound that bolsters the Streets’ natural talent for raw energy without detracting from the immediacy of the songs; the tracks on Distractions sound no less live for the extra production. Rather, the tasteful work by engineer Wesley Graham, Qualls, and the boys in the band only serves to help capture the ear-ringing, bone-shaking roar that is a live performance by these psychedelic blues-rockers.

And there will be more Dirty Streets concerts to come in 2019. Toland says the band plans to tour in the spring to support the record. In the meantime, the next time Memphians can catch the band is at Minglewood Hall, this Saturday.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Get Yer Nog On With These Rare Memphis Christmas Tracks

Posted By on Mon, Dec 24, 2018 at 12:13 PM

Christmas music is a hallowed tradition, especially in a city built on music. And there are plenty of chart-topping yuletide tracks that have emerged from Memphis studios, like Elvis' "Blue Christmas", or the entire album by Booker T. & the MGs, In the Christmas Spirit. Such masterpieces get plenty of airplay, and, in the case of the MGs, tribute concerts recreating the entire album live (thanks to that masterful tribute band, the MDs).

But there are plenty of neglected gems, twinkling like ornaments at the back of the tree. Let's see what surprises we may find behind the tinsel... 
And hey! Look who we found hanging out back there — Elvis! "Mother Nature wears a bridal gown," sings the King. Hmm...who's the lucky fella? Sounds like it might be Santa, for this is from Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas. Bassist Norbert Putnam writes evocatively about recording this album in his recent book, Music Lessons, Vol. 1. True, the Bluff City doesn't get snow very often, but a fella can dream, can't he?

And of course, we all know Carla Thomas' brilliant "Gee Whiz, It's Christmas," don't we? Most Memphibians do, and here are some paying tribute to the original in miniature. Yes, it's the Memphis Ukulele Band, bringing a wonderfully earnest version with a well-crafted arrangement. The key line, "Oh by the way, it's snowing," always gets me, as I imagine silent flurries sweeping past the Stax marquee.
Speaking of Stax, there were plenty of holiday tracks cut there. When the late bassist Duck Dunn toured the newly rebuilt Stax building one summer, he remarked how strange and welcome it was to finally have air conditioning in the museum. It's hard to imagine that, through all those years of hits, they were cutting tracks in the Memphis swelter without climate control. Pioneers! It gives one renewed admiration for the MGs. Just imagine them recording their holiday masterpiece there in the summer of 1966.

And while we're visiting Stax (which may have been the most Christmassy label in the city's history), let's tip our hat to this answer song, of sorts. Everyone's dreaming of a White Christmas, yada yada yada. Let's appreciate a Black Christmas too, while we're at it. Yes, let a thousand alternative Christmasses proliferate! Moon Records was all about "alternative," back in the day. They were the other rockabilly label named after a celestial orb, and the label's queen and CEO was Cordell Jackson. Here's her shout-out to those who celebrate the season with bongos and jazz cigarettes. I'm still waiting for an actual be-bop interpretation of this song.  And, since we know how scary jazz can be for some folks, here's Cordell once again, bringing Christmas rock to the world:
Speaking of alternative, the decades following Moon Records' heyday have been more and more about the growth of once-underground cultures. The beatniks have taken over, and alt-rock is king. Nowadays, we have thousands of slightly tweaked visions of sugar plums. Heck, even I have dabbled in the genre, and both Reigning Sound and Big Ass Truck were early adopters of Christmas motifs. Here's a gem from BAT's own Robby Grant, whose band Vending Machine has a long track record of holiday cheer. On this latest addition to his ever-growing Christmas "album," he recruits several other Grants. And they're not the only family band this season. Just get a load of this offering from the Burks family, who could go pro at any minute. Note to other Memphis parents: we need to step up our game!
This is just the tip of the Memphis alt-Christmas iceberg, of course. Some years ago, underground champions Makeshift Music released an entire album of holiday music from the city's back alleys and hidden corners. Here's one that conjures the disarming frankness and intimacy of the Magnetic Fields, but with a Bluff City angle. Yes, it's Tommy and Trace Bateman. And here's another from this intriguing compilation. Time to rock the holidays with the True Sons of Thunder! And another, because doesn't Christmas make you want to hear some Joy Division or Bauhaus?
It turns out there are plenty of noirish, sci-fi takes on the season, including Robert Traxler's mashup of samples and electronic noise from this year's Memphis Concrète holiday event at the Hi Tone. Keeping that icy holiday sheen going, we peruse Soundcloud, where New Memphis Colorways keeps things human in the face of all the tech that capitalism can muster:
This year, in honor of these yeoman musicians' indefatigable commitment to gigging, even on Christmas Day, here's the latest from the Sheiks' secret holiday studios. It brings to mind the goofy songs/skits the Beatles would visit upon their fans "at the end of every year." And now I must go finish my holiday shopping: It's time to "wrap up" this blog. Yes, plenty of gems were left out, but I hope this has only marked the beginning of your Christmas journey. Check out the Easter Egg links in the text above for more, and if you really want to get raunchy (I don't, not at this hour), you can groove to Indo G's "Santa's Ho House" from 2002. (Pro tip: the album also features such hits as "Frosty the Blowman" and "All I Want for Christmas is my Charges Dropped"). But how can we quit before hearing one of the greatest, most hypnotic Christmas blues ever cut in the Bluff City? Here's Jessie Mae Hemphill bringing things back home, and back down to earth: 

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

RIP Ace: Diving Deep Into the Ace Cannon Style

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2018 at 11:54 AM

Ace Cannon
  • Ace Cannon

This Thursday, at the age of 84, the legendary saxophonist Johnny "Ace" Cannon, Jr. passed away in Calhoun City, Mississippi, where he settled in his fifties and very near his place of birth. But he grew up and defined his style in Memphis, and both the man and his distinctive playing on records for the Hi and Fernwood labels will be forever associated with this city.

Cannon, backed by Bill Black's Combo, catapulted to fame in 1961 with "Tuff," his first single on Hi Records, which peaked at #17 on the U.S. pop charts, #3 on the R&B charts. With that first shot across the bow, he defined a style that served him well for over half a century. He continued playing sax (and golfing) right up to the end.

Local reed man extraordinaire Jim Spake has a few thoughts on Cannon's influence and sound. "My mom had the Tuff album. She had that and the Boots Randolph record with 'Yakety Sax' on it. I guess 'Yakety Sax' was her John Coltrane, and 'Tuff' was her Cannonball. But Ace Cannon was seriously the first saxophone I probably ever heard on the old hi-fi at home. I think simplicity was his thing. He wasn't trying to be something he wasn't. He just played the song. That's what people liked about him, you know? And he came out of that whole Bill Black thing."

Indeed, it was Hi co-founder and Bill Black's Combo producer Joe Cuoghi who nicknamed Cannon "Ace," but his influence didn't stop there. As detailed in Jimmy McDonough's Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green (still the best source on Hi's pre-Green history), Cuoghi played a large role in defining the style of the combo, Hi's first hit makers. Sometimes against the band's better judgement, he would strip the arrangement down to the basics, and slow the tempo so plenty of space hung in the mix. You can hear his influence for yourself on this hit from 1960. 
This was the sound of the combo and Hi Records just before Johnny Cannon, Jr showed up and replaced saxophonist Martin Wills. Bare bones and more than a little wacky, the combo's sound was a perfect match for the player they'd come to call Ace.  But while Bill Black's Combo reigned on both the pop and the R&B charts for a time, Cannon's own musical upbringing was decidedly more country.

Speaking to George Klein on WYPL TV-18 about his early days, Cannon recalled his first experiences as a performer. "I started playing when I was ten years old. With my father [Johnny Cannon, Sr.]. He played guitar and fiddle. Remember [renowned local DJ] Joe Manuel? They used to have a group called “Joe, Slim & Johnny - the Yodeling Cabbies”. They were all cab drivers. And I was singing at the time instead of playing the horn. And then [my father] picked me up and told me, 'Anything you wanna play at school, I'll get ya one.' ... The only saxophone they had was an old baritone saxophone that was twice the size that I was. Then I found out they made different sizes! I told him I wanted to play alto, and we took it out in the back seat of the car, and I played "Beer Barrel Polka."

Playing with various groups, including (according to this anonymous bio) Buck ‘Sniffy’ Turner & his Buckaroos, Clyde Leoppard and the Snearly Ranch Boys, and Billy Lee Riley’s Little Green Men, Cannon's tastes and influences expanded. "Earl Bostic was my favorite," he told Klein. Yet, to create what would become an R&B hit, he reached way back to a country blues his father had likely played, "Columbus Stockade Blues."
 As Cannon recalls, "Me and Johnny [Bernero] was messing around with a tune called 'Cattywampus.' It was the old 'Columbus Stockade Blues,' and we changed it to 'Cattywampus,' and we got Bill Justis to do it. After they had a hit on 'Raunchy,' he put out 'Cattywampus.'"  Just hearing the Bill Justis record is an object lesson on the Hi Records sound, and its perfect fit with Cannon's style. Whereas "Cattywampus" is crowded with band members all playing full-on, that same song, as "Tuff," became a study in restraint. Describing Cuoghi's production methods at Hi's Royal Studios, Cannon told McDonough, "He'd be right there in that engineerin' room, and if I got off the track just a little bit, tryin' to play Earl Bostic, a little jazz, he'd say, 'Stop the tape, stop the tape — tell him to stick to the melody!' I was his favorite artist, and he wasn't afraid to tell nobody, either." 

As Spake explains, the simplicity is the key. "They didn't dress things up, Bill Black. When I play 'Tuff' live, I like to play it like the record. I ain't trying to bring nothin' new to 'Tuff.' If you listen to it, it's the dumbest song in the world, but it's great. Much Memphis shit is like that, you know? Like 'Last Night.'"

He explains further, "They just play the melody, AABA BA. Done. You know, it's probably two and a half minutes long, if that. And there's no solos, you know? There's no improvisation. It's just playing the melody with feel. I think more people could learn from that." 

Brilliant as "Tuff" and his many other Hi Records tracks were, many now know the name Ace Cannon from another source. As Klein remarks, "I remember I used to see those TV commercials for you and Al Hirt late at night." Spake, too, remembers them with some amusement.

"There were these TV commercials for Ace Cannon," he recalls. "Gee, I wish I could see one now. Ace Cannon Plays the Hits, or whatever. You know those cheesy local commercials, where the titles are scrolling by? And you hear him play six beats of any given song. I remember one was 'The Beautiful Blue Danube.' And he would go da da dee da dahhh, dut dut, dut dut. You're supposed to go up an octave at the end. And he wouldn't make the octave. Like, why go to the extra trouble? Keep it simple."    They say television and radio signals from decades ago were beamed into space and will continue into the cosmos indefinitely. If so, let's close by imagining both "Tuff" and those latter-day commercials speeding along through the galaxy, scrolling into infinity, carrying Ace's message to any who will listen: "Keep it simple."

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Guitar Great Calvin Newborn Passes Away Suddenly

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2018 at 10:55 AM

  • Christian Patterson
  • Calvin Newborn

Calvin Edwin Newborn, phenomenal jazz and blues guitarist, son of bandleader Phineas Newborn, Sr. and Mama Rose Newborn, brother of pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., passed away at his home in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, December 1st, from respiratory failure. He was 85. The Whiteville, Tenn. native lived and played in Memphis for much of his life, when not on the road, but moved to Jacksonville in 1999.

The Newborn family band, led by drummer Phineas, Sr., was renowned in the Mid-South and beyond in the 1940s and 50s, and gave the brothers, Phineas, Jr. and Calvin, their first experience on stage. Beyond that and early work on his brother's solo albums, Calvin went on to work with many legendary artists: Earl Hines, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Forrest, Wild Bill Davis, Al Grey, Freddie Roach, Booker Little, George Coleman, Frank Strozier, Louis Smith, Sun Ra, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Hank Crawford, and David "Fathead" Newman.

For many years, he could be heard regularly in Memphis, often with Herman Green's Green Machine. He was a teacher and mentor to countless local musicians. 
The back cover of the album New Born: a musical giant has moved on.
  • The back cover of the album New Born: a musical giant has moved on.

His daughter, Jadene King, spoke to the Flyer Sunday about his recent life in Florida. “It's been an extremely tough time because it was not expected,” she noted. “He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from the years and years and years of smoking and drinking, and just living the jazz life, but he'd been sober and clean for over 35 years, and he was doing very, very well. Just in the end of October, the beginning of November, his oxygen levels just weren't what they needed to be, but it wasn't anything that impacted him. He just went from not having oxygen to wearing a little Inogen [portable oxygen] machine. And then toward the end of the month, that stopped giving him the levels that needed, and here we are.”

Calvin Newborn
  • Calvin Newborn
Now, she faces the daunting task of honoring his memory. “I'm trying to go through a million pictures to try and get the program printed. 'Cos I really want it to be something that's like a tribute," she said. "I want it to be like a keepsake for everyone. So I'm gonna take a lot of time, to make sure I can list every award daddy's received — oh my God! —and which ones I really need to highlight. And then all of these millions of pictures of his life, trying to figure out which ones are the best. I know in the past, when I've had to do anything on daddy, I would usually go to daddy. He was an amazing historian, and his mind was extremely sharp and keen up to the day he left, so I have never had to research or do anything, I just asked daddy. And he was a living, breathing book, on his and my uncle Phineas' life. But I will do my best. I'll probably have to pull out As Quiet As It's Kept!, his book, and then Robert Gordon did a book, Memphis Rent Party, where he did a really good job of pulling in information about daddy.”

Listen to this performance of "A Frame for the Blues" as played by Calvin Newborn, Herman Green, Tony Thomas, and Tom Lonardo, at the Levitt Shell in 2010:

The following services are scheduled in Jacksonville, Florida:
Wake: Friday, Dec. 7, 5-7 pm, Phillips Mortuary (4815 Avenue B);
Memorial Service: The Citadel Church (1057 Arlington Road), Saturday, Dec. 8, 11 am.
Spencer's Designer Florist

Look for the Memphis Flyer's special tribute to Calvin Newborn's life in two weeks.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Elvis Costello Rattles the Orpheum Theatre

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Some 14 years ago, Elvis Costello endeared himself to many Memphians while in Mississippi to record The Delivery Man. Of course, his fans were already legion here, but this was when he had time to kill, and he killed it with many locals. I was a lucky hanger-on backstage at the old Hi-Tone, when the late, great B.B. Cunningham met with him and recalled their first encounter many years earlier. "Of course," said Cunningham, "we were both a little skinnier back then..." 

"Oh that's all right, though," said Costello, beating his chest a little, "we're just getting up to fighting weight now!" It struck me then that this icon of gangly nerds the world over was actually pretty tough; I could easily picture him holding his own in a scrap down 'round the pub.

I thought of those days as he took to the stage with the Imposters once again last Monday night. The band threw us off briefly, with a feint in the direction of canned rhythm tracks as they took the stage; but soon they launched into a ferocious "This Year's Girl" and it was clear that the Imposters were fully engaged. And Elvis was clearly up to fighting weight, looking more nonchalant than in previous shows, but entirely committed once he approached the mic.

From the start, it was clear that the band (with Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee on background vocals, Davey Faragher on bass, Steve Nieve on keys, and Pete Thomas on drums) would need every ounce of tenacity they had to overcome the audio mix. As many touring musicians know, live sound engineers are often fixated on the kick drum, and this night was a classic example. It was so loud and boomy that it muddied every other sound on stage, even to the point of obscuring the actual bass notes. This was a sticking point for many music-savvy Memphians, as I discovered in the days the followed. One man was escorted out of the hall for shouting at the sound engineer. Another claimed he was nearly moved to violence over it, noting the hundreds of dollars he and his wife had spent on a gala "date night" that, for them, was compromised.

But the band rose above the atrocious mix with road-seasoned professionalism, and Elvis' vocals punched through the booming crud of low frequencies. Though the machine-gun lyrics of some of his earlier songs were a challenge to keep up with, Costello never phoned it in. Every word was loaded with nuanced meanings, even more so than in his brutal youth.

Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, with Costello for some 40 years now, were also all-in. Nieve, surrounded with every conceivable keyboard, as if to compensate for his early years with only a Vox Continental organ, made his entire armory sparkle. "Clubland" shone with his brilliant piano work in a Cuban vein. All eras of music were up for grabs with this band.

This was especially clear when Costello stepped over to a vintage (looking) microphone for the quieter, slower ballads, somehow evoking his own father's tenure with the Joe Loss Orchestra. As Elvis the Storyteller emerged, many of these tunes were set up with a preamble of sorts. "Imagine a woman sitting there, wrapped in the fur of another animal..." he said before launching into "Don't Look Now," one of many he's penned with Burt Bacharach. "Sometimes you have to put people up on a pedestal, just to see them more clearly," he said, adding, "until, like a Confederate General, they come tumbling down." As an appreciative gasp of recognition went through the crowd, he quipped with faux coyness, "Aw, I didn't mean anything by it!"

Bacharach loomed large over the night, partly because the ballads were so strong, unhampered by the kick drum. But also because old songs were transformed in his image. As the band vamped in a quieter mode, Elvis freestyled lyrics from "The Look of Love," before launching into "Photographs Can Lie," another collaboration between the two. This in turn colored "Temptation," a number from Get Happy! that has aged well.

That was nothing compared to the next transformation. "I wrote this when I was 26," Elvis explained with a smile. "The world wasn't ready for it then, but I think I can safely say, you've all caught up. It's written on every tortured line on your faces." (Or something to that effect.) And then a somber reading of Imperial Bedroom's "Tears Before Bedtime" emerged, with a stately, quiet power.

The set, ranging from such moments to ravers from his back catalog, was a roller coaster. The background singers, Kuroi and Lee, were phenomenal, especially on the ballads. To these ears, they may have been too much of a good thing on old rockers like "Mystery Dance," the essence of which lives in its stark raggedness. One longtime fan was more dismissive. "Elvis Costello and Dawn!" he quipped; but others were deeply moved by their powerful voices, which even graced the classic "Alison" with gospel-like melisma.

Such quibbles aside, Costello & company whipped the crowd into a frenzy by the night's end, pulling everyone out of their seats with set-closer "Pump It Up," and keeping them aloft through a generous 10-song encore that culminated in a rousing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." "Thank you! We love you!" Elvis shouted. "Both individually and as a group!"

Set List:
This Year's Girl
Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?
Don't Look Now
Burnt Sugar is So Bitter
Green Shirt
The Look of Love/Photographs Can Lie
Tears Before Bedtime
Moods for Moderns
Why Won't Heaven Help Me?
Either Side of the Same Town
Watching the Detectives
Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
He's Given Me Things
Mystery Dance
Waiting for the End of the World
Beyond Belief
Pump It Up

Every Day I Write the Book
The Judgement
I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down
High Fidelity
Unwanted Number
Suspect My Tears
(I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea
Mr. and Mrs. Hush
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, & Understanding

See the show via the eye of Jamie Harmon, in the slideshow below:

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Monday, November 19, 2018

In Memoriam: Patrick Mathé of New Rose & Last Call Records

Posted By on Mon, Nov 19, 2018 at 3:36 PM

Today, the French journal Libération reports that Patrick Mathé, co-founder of New Rose Records and Last Call Records, has died. The details are not available at this time. He was 69.
Patrick Mathé
  • Patrick Mathé
The importance of both labels to Memphis music, and underground music in general, can scarcely be overstated. After working to import punk music to France, starting in 1976, Mathé opened the New Rose record store in Paris in 1980. Soon after, he and partner Louis Thévenon started the label of the same name.

Their first release, the Saints' Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow, set the tone for a long track record of soulful garage rock, alternative, and punk music. Many Memphis-associated artists were eventually released on the label, including Alex Chilton, Tav Falco & His Unapproachable Panther Burns, the Hellcats, and the Country Rockers. Chilton, after releasing two Eps on Big Time, shored up his career revival in the mid-’80s with High Priest, Black List, and Clichés on New Rose. The label also released such Chilton-produced gems as the Gories' I Know You Fine But How You Doin'? and Les Lolitas' Fusée D'Amour.

Even renegade country groups like the Country Rockers or Our Favorite Band, some of the first artists recorded by Memphis' Doug Easley (who would doubtless be rejected by today's gatekeepers of Americana), were welcomed by New Rose, as were many other unclassifiable combos. Many of them were featured on compilations like the multi-band Everyday is a Holly Day, a tribute to Buddy Holly, as well as on albums under their own names. 

In the 90s, New Rose was put on ice, as Mathé launched Last Call Records with much the same aesthetic as its predecessor. Perhaps that label's greatest achievement, subjectively speaking, was the brilliant Cubist Blues, an improvised album by Alex Chilton, Ben Vaughn, and Alan Vega, released in 1996. It also re-released many older New Rose titles, and continued to operate well into the 21st Century. As Vaughn wrote in a Facebook post today, “He was the first true 'bon vivant' I ever met. A great music man. He will definitely be missed.”

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Huge Lineup Of Memphis Musicians Come Together To Benefit Saxophone Legend Dr. Herman Green

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 9:56 AM

  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Herman Green
Octogenarian saxophone legend Dr. Herman Green is one of Memphis' most loved and respected musicians. Some recent health problems have left him in a bad spot, so his friends have organized a concert to help him out. And Dr. Green has a lot of friends.

This Saturday, November 10th, beginning at 3 p.m. and running until the wee hours of Sunday, Rum Boogie Cafe will be packed wall to wall with some prime Memphis talent, thanks to his friend and longtime bandmate in Freeworld, Richard Cushing, and Memphis Blues Society board member Mark E. Caldwell. Just check out this mind boggling, two-stage lineup: 

Blues Hall

3:00 – 3:25 p.m.: Southern Avenue
3:35 – 4:00 p.m.: Blind Mississippi Morris
4:10 – 4:35 p.m.: Brad Webb & Friends
4:45 – 5:10 p.m.: Papa Don McMinn’s Blues Babies
5:20 – 5:45 p.m.: Tlaxica & Pope
5:55 – 6:25 p.m.: Mojo Medicine Machine
6:35 – 7:00 p.m.: Eric Hughes Band (w/ Mick Kolassa)
7:10 – 7:35 p.m.: Booker Brown
7:45 – 8:10 p.m.: Outer Ring
8:20 – 8:50 p.m.: Mark “Muleman” Massey
9:00 – 9:30 p.m.: Vince Johnson & Plantation Allstars
9:40 – 10:05 p.m.: Lizzard Kings
10:15 – 11:00 p.m.: Chinese Connection Dub Embassy
11:15 – 1:00 a.m.: Sister Lucille

Rum Boogie Café

3:00 – 3:25 p.m.: Billy Gibson Duo
3:35 – 4:00 p.m.: Barbara Blue Band
4:10 – 4:35 p.m.: Mighty Souls Brass Band
4:45 – 5:10 p.m.: Robert Nighthawk & Wampus Cats
5:20 – 5:45 p.m.: Jack Rowell & Royal Blues Band
5:55 – 6:25 p.m.: Delta Project
6:35 – 7:00 p.m.: Ghost Town Blues Band
7:10 – 7:35 p.m.: Devil Train
7:45 – 8:10 p.m.: Earl “The Pearl” Banks
8:20 – 8:50 p.m.m: Ross Rice
9:00 – 9:30 p.m.: The Temprees
9:40 – 10:05 p.m.: FreeWorld (w/ Ms. Zeno & Al Corte)
10:15 – 11:00 p.m.: FreeWorld (w/ Ross Rice)
11:15 – 1:00 a.m.: FreeWorld (w/ Dr. Herman Green)

If you can't find something you like in there, I don't know if I can help you. If you can't make the show, but still want to help out the good doctor, you can contribute to the GoFundMe drive at this link.

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Friday, November 2, 2018

The Dreamers’ Field Chronicles Hopeful Band, Premieres at Indie Memphis 2018

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 5:36 AM

The Field People - NOAM STOLERMAN
  • Noam Stolerman
  • The Field People
Israeli band the Field People, a rock-and-roll three-piece made up of Aviv Lavi, Yogev Hiller and Evyatar Baumer, never got a break back home, so they moved to London to pursue a dream. It was as much about freedom as about music. Their name even pokes a bit of fun at their humble origins: “The Field People,” as in farm boys straight outta the kibbutz. The Field People found, if not fame, then at least a more welcoming reception in London, and a month after they landed, fellow Israeli artist and former classmate and then-film student Noam Stolerman joined the trio to record their progress. Whether they made it big or collapsed under the weight of their hopes and expectations, Stolerman would be there to get it all on tape. Stolerman’s chronicle of his friends’ shot at stardom became The Dreamers’ Field, screening Sunday, November 4th, and Thursday, November 8th at Indie Memphis Film Festival.

“In Israel, you get the feeling that everyone who doesn’t come from Tel Aviv comes from
a really small town,” Stolerman says. “The main reason I wanted to make this film is that these guys feel like they don’t belong. And everybody gets that feeling sometimes.” Stolerman says he felt simpatico with the Field People. He understood the desire to be bigger than one’s origins, to dream a way out of their current circumstances. But, unlike his musically inclined friends, Stolerman says he lacked the courage to pack it all up and just go. That is, until the Field People gave him a reason to throw caution to the wind. “I’m going to go with these guys and live their dream,” Stolerman says. If they succeeded, well, maybe that meant he could as well. If not, then at least he would be there to capture the experience.

“I know one of them from high school. He’s a really good friend,” Stolerman says of his
longtime friend and Field People drummer Aviv Lavi. Stolerman says he remembers Lavi talking rapturously about his band, almost the way a soon-to-be-betrothed man might talk about the woman of his dreams. Stolerman remembers Lavi saying, “This is it. This is the one. This could be my big break and my ticket out of the kibbutz and out of Israel.” And that sentiment may be the key to understanding both the Field People and The Dreamers’ Field. Both the band and the film about them are products of a desire for something more, a hope for escape from the everyday.

“This is not a film about music; this is a film about people,” Stolerman says, laughing as
he admits that even he falls into the trap of calling his character-driven documentary a
rockumentary. “They used music as a form of escape. [They’re like] lost souls. Sure, the music brought them together, but if it wasn’t music, it would have been something else.” Stolerman remembers feeling alienated, even while attending the Minshar Film School in Tel Aviv. The longing for something more, perhaps the most universal of feelings, propelled first the Field People and then Stolerman almost 5,000 miles from home. With challenges and uncertainty as their only guarantees, they took the leap. And there were certainly challenges.

“I had an incident with the police in London,” Stolerman says, laughing. The director was
filming without a permit in the London Underground when he was detained by the police. He describes being held for an uncomfortable amount of time, being questioned, and finally being released on the condition that he would never film in the Tube again. The director returned later that day to finish filming the scene. Stolerman shot almost the entire film himself, and did most of the editing. With almost no funding and only himself to rely on, every hour of footage was valuable. “It’s the most indie, guerrilla film making you can imagine,” Stolerman says, describing a ’70s punk ethos, where attitude and heart are valued over technical proficiency. That attitude is equally descriptive of both the film itself and the band. “I saw people say, ‘This is not that good. They’re not great musicians, but they have heart.’”

And speaking of heart: “The heart of the film lies in the second half,” Stolerman says.
“They’re starting to lose their way, and they’re having a really hard time living with it.”
Stolerman, who faced financial and legal challenges as well as the challenges inherent in being separated from his family for so long, remembers asking himself, “Why am I holding this camera? Who’s going to watch this?” But Stolerman’s fears were for naught. In addition to two showings at Indie Memphis 2018, The Dreamers’ Field was selected for a screening earlier this year at Solo Positivo Film Festival in Šibenik, Croatia. Stolerman, whose short film “Yehoshua” has also been shown in international film festivals, is building his own field of dreams — a little bit at a time and through sheer force of will.

The Dreamers’ Field screens as part of Indie Memphis Film Festival, with its U.S. premiere, with director Noam Stolerman in attendance, at Studio on the Square, Sunday, November 4th, with an encore presentation at Ridgeway Cinema Grill, Thursday, November 8th, at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Juanita Stein's Songs of Self-Reliance in the #MeToo Moment

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 7:33 PM

Juanita Stein
  • Juanita Stein
Sometimes music lovers are afforded a chance to catch something special, to see a star on the rise before fame forces us to share them with everyone who has a pair of ears and a Spotify account. And this Sunday at Railgarten, discerning Bluff City music fans have a chance to see Juanita Stein before the singer/songwriter gets too big to justify a Sunday show at a Midtown venue.

The former front woman and lead singer/rhythm guitarist of Howling Bells, Stein is
carving out a name for herself as a solo artist with those rare qualities, subtlety and taste.
Hot on the heels of her solo debut record, America, Stein recently released her sophomore album, Until the Lights Fade, on Handwritten Records/Nude Records.
Juanita Stein
  • Juanita Stein

Stein’s music embraces simple arrangements and twangy guitars, with the bass and drums hot in the mix. The result feels authentic and emotional. “Forgiver,” the first single from her new album, stands as an example of the immediacy the songwriter harnesses by eschewing a big production. And it’s fitting that Stein has, upon embarking on her solo career, adopted a direct approach. A mother of two young girls, Stein has spoken about the influence the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have had on her songwriting of late. Though Stein hails originally from Australia (she has since relocated to the U.K.), the issues coming to light in America right now are, to some extent, universal. On Until the Lights Fade, she tackles such issues with grace, singing about the point when forgiveness becomes foolish, about agency and self-reliance and compromise — and the tension between those ideas.

Later in her tour, after a three-night run in Brooklyn, Stein is set to play a handful of
European festivals, and she opens for the Killers in Finland and Luxembourg. It’s safe to say that the indie-rocker is blowing up. The Sunday afternoon concert at Railgarten provides a chance for an intimate show with a star on the rise. Don’t miss out.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Madjack Records: 20 Years of Homespun Magic

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2018 at 1:01 PM

  • Pawtuckets
In the early ’90s Mark Edgar Stuart, then a college student on an orchestra scholarship, picked up a copy of the Flyer, read an ad, and joined a band. “I was reading the Memphis Flyer one day, and there was an ad in the classifieds, ‘bass player wanted,’” Stuart says. “I never in a million years would I have answered a bass player wanted ad, except it said ‘influences — the Band and Blue Mountain.’” Stuart, who had expected to see a list of cheesy metal bands, says his interest was piqued. The ’90s alt-country movement hadn’t really gotten off the ground yet, but Blue Mountain was making some waves in Oxford — and of course Stuart knew the Band. “I called the number” Stuart says. “I wasn’t even interested in being in a band. It’s just one of those serendipitous things.” Thus began the career of the Pawtuckets, who will reunite after 18 years this Saturday to headline the Madjack Records 20th anniversary concert at Railgarten.

The beginnings of the Pawtuckets are relevant (beyond providing proof of the merits of regularly checking out the Flyer) because the Pawtuckets, and Stuart, are inextricably tied to the history of Madjack Records.

“Around 1998, with our second record, [Rest of Our Days], we decided to start a record label,” Stuart says. “It didn’t really mean much at the time. … It was just a vehicle to put out the Pawtuckets record.” With Stuart on bass and Kevin Cubbins handling guitar and pedal steel duties, the Pawtuckets were helmed by the dual songwriting talents of guitarist Mark McKinney and pianist/guitarist Andy Grooms. Percussion was handled by a rotating cast of drummers. “McKinney had a dog named Madison, and Andy Grooms had a dog named Jackpot,” Stuart remembers. “So we said let’s just name the label Madjack after the two dogs.”
Mark Edgar Stuart - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Mark Edgar Stuart
Though Stuart confesses to being more interested, at the time, in playing bass and drinking beer than in business, he says McKinney had bigger ideas and took a more serious interest in Madjack. Before too long, Madjack had signed Cory Branan and Lucero, a band the Pawtuckets often shared bills with. Co-owner Ronny Russell joined the Madjack scene to help McKinney with the business side of things. Says Stuart, “It just sprouted wings after that.”
  • Joshua Black-Wilkins
  • Cory Branan

Eventually the Pawtuckets disbanded, but Madjack soldiered on. The label continued to grow and to represent Memphis talent, through the CD boom, after the advent of the downloadable mp3, into the age of online streaming. “We definitely had to evolve,” Russell says. And still Madjack has signed Memphis artists like James and the Ultrasounds, Susan Marshall, and Jana Misener, up to and including Stuart’s recently released third album, Mad at Love, recorded in part at Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic Recording studio in Memphis and in part with Bruce Watson of Fat Possum in Mississippi.
Susan Marshall
  • Susan Marshall
 Stuart, who began his Memphis music career playing upright bass in an orchestra pit, has transformed again in the past few years with the growth of an unexpected singer/songwriter career. “I just started the singer/songwriter thing about six years ago,” Stuart says. “Up until that point I was just a bass player. I played for the Pawtuckets and Cory [Branan], Alvin Youngblood Hart, and just whoever needed a bass player,” Stuart says, listing an impressive curriculum vitae. He adds two more Memphis heavy hitters: Jack Oblivian and John Paul Keith.

“If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be doing what I’m doing now, I would have told you you were crazy,” Stuart says. “Then in about 2011, I got cancer and lost my dad and it just inspired me to try to do something different.” Stuart says he felt like he had something to write about and a more mature viewpoint to bring to his craft. Around this time, with his 2013 debut solo LP, Blues for Lou, Stuart first pinged my radar. I remember hearing “Remote Control” on the radio, and pulling over to the side of the road to listen. I imagine I’m not the only one who’s been so affected by Stuart’s powerful songwriting. Stuart will perform his solo material at the anniversary show in two sets — a full band set and a stripped-down songwriter set — as well as joining Jana Misener and Krista Wroten-Combest and the Pawtuckets on bass. 

James & the Ultrasounds
  • James & the Ultrasounds
“I never thought [the Pawtuckets] would get back together, but this seemed like the perfect moment,” Stuart says of the Pawtuckets reunion show set to close out the festivities at the Madjack anniversary shindig Saturday. “We haven’t played together since 2000, and we haven’t played with the original drummer since 1998, so it has been 20 years since we played with the original lineup.” With the Pawtuckets reunion concert and brand-new and soon-to-be-released albums from several of the artists in the Madjack arsenal, the anniversary show should present a mix of old and new sounds from the Memphis label.

Madjack Records celebrates 20 years at Railgarten Saturday, October 20th, at 1 p.m. Free.

Wampus Cats - Outdoor Stage - 1:00 - 2:00p
Jed Zimmerman - Outdoor Stage - 2:00 - 2:45p
Corduroy & the Cottonwoods - Pong Bar - 2:45 - 3:30p
Keith Sykes - Outdoor Stage - 3:00 - 3:45p
Delta Joe Sanders - Pong Bar - 3:45 - 4:30p
Mark Edgar Stuart (solo) - Outdoor Stage - 4:00 - 4:45p
Rob Jungklas - Pong Bar - 4:45 - 5:30p
James & the Ultrasounds - Outdoor Stage - 5:00 - 5:45p
Eric & Andy - Pong Bar - 5:45 - 6:30p
Susan Marshall - Outdoor Stage - 6:00 - 6:45p
TN Boltsmokers - Pong Bar - 6:30 - 7:15p
McKenna Bray - Outdoor Stage - 6:45 - 7:30p
Mark Edgar Stuart (band) - Pong Bar - 7:45 - 8:45p
Jana & Krista of Memphis Dawls - Outdoor Stage - 8:00 - 8:45p
Cory Branan - Outdoor Stage - 9:00 - 10:00p
Pawtuckets - Pong Bar - 10:00 - 11:00p

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Kelley Anderson & the Crystal Shrine Play Shangri-La's 30th Anniversary

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2018 at 5:08 PM

It's fitting that this Thursday's celebration of Shangri-La Records' 30th Anniversary, at the Levitt Shell, will feature an artist whose first glimpse of Memphis was in the store itself. Kelley Anderson was a key player in the Nashville folk/country/punk group Those Darlins, starting about a decade ago, and, having first played here on Shangri-La's porch, felt such a strong affinity for Memphis that she ended up moving here permanently. In recent years, she's been known for the country/western/rock/pop sounds of her group, the Crystal Shrine. I asked her a bit about the evolution of the group, and where they're headed musically.

Memphis Flyer: It seems you'll have a bigger version of the band than ever at Thursday's show, with Jana Misener and Krista Wroten Combest on cello and violin, Jesse Davis on guitar, Seth Moody on keyboards, Andrew Geraci on bass, and drummer Matthew Berry. Is this a new lineup for the Crystal Shrine?

Kelley Anderson - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Kelley Anderson

Kelley Anderson: It's not really a new lineup. The rock band that plays with me, I've played with them quite a bit, as well as with Jana and Krista. But this show is the first opportunity to finally put the whole band together: to have the rock band with strings added, and to have a little bit wider instrumentation. Because I have a really good rapport and history playing with Seth and Jesse. Those are my bros. And the same with Krista and Jana. We did the Harbor Town Amphitheater fund-raiser for the Montessori School last March, and we did that as a trio, and we've performed a couple other times as a trio. And then more recently, I've added Andrew Geraci and Matthew Berry as my consistent bass and drums.

This Levitt Shell show has been really instrumental in helping pull together some of those loose ends and really inspire me to get all of it together. I've been really focused on writing, and really focused on the music, and making art music, and not as much on delivery, or marketing, or publicity. You know, all of that business. It's so cool that Shangri-La asked me to play for their 30th anniversary, because one of the first shows that I ever played in Memphis was on the porch there. It may have been the first show Those Darlins played in Memphis, on the porch at Shangri-La. And that was 10 years ago. So I'm super proud of them for keeping everything running. I firmly believe in the importance of having a local record store in your community, and the ways the store supports the community and the way the community supports the store. It's an integral part of the music community in Memphis. I'm super proud of all the work that Jared McStay and John Miller and crew are doing over there.
Crystal Shrine as a trio, with (l-r) Jana Misener, Kelley Anderson, & Krista Wroten Combest. - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Crystal Shrine as a trio, with (l-r) Jana Misener, Kelley Anderson, & Krista Wroten Combest.

You've been working with the Crystal Shrine for some time now. Has the sound evolved in new directions with all these players?

I'm exploring a lot of similar themes, such as redemption and guilt, oppression and liberation, salvation, grace, forgiveness. I've been recording some music over at High Low, so I've got some new stuff in the works. But no rush to get a ton of it out there. I just got two of the mixes mastered, and I've got the new track "Benny" uploaded to my Bandcamp site. All proceeds from the track go to Youth Empowerment through Arts & Humanities (YEAH!), an organization I founded in 2006 to amplify the voices of young people. It's the organization that provides the Southern Girls Rock 'n' Roll Camp.

I also do more experimental pieces, like this take on the folk song "Worried Man Blues." I loop the song on a nylon folk guitar and layer harmonies and manipulate the song using a 4-track and pedals. I performed it at Marshall Arts and my friend sent a video he took with his iPhone. Then I manipulated the video to reiterate the time travel aspect and duality of past/present idea I was trying to work out through the audio.

I'm just writing songs, and whatever the song needs is the instrumentation. I'm thinking of it kinda song first. It's got kind of a Southern psychedelic vibe to it. Kind of Spaghetti Western, like Morricone. I'm really interested in film and making music for films, and also using a lot of visual elements with music. In fact, film maker Brian Pera and I have a residency at Crosstown Arts starting next fall. We'll be using some of this material that I'm currently recording, and working on images and video pieces to go with it.

So was it a conscious decision on your part to move away from the sound of Those Darlings?

Not as much the sound of Those Darlins, because I still have all of those same influences. Everything from traditional country music to psychedelic rock 'n' roll to noise music and experimental forms of music. It was more a conscious decision to move away from the industry. Nashville's very much a music industry town, and Memphis is a music town. And I really wanted to explore music as an artist, and not think of it so commercially.

It's been useful for me to disentangle the two, and not think about commercial viability or how it's gonna get marketed, or any of that. Ultimately, I'd love for people to hear it, and use those opportunities in any way I can to support other aspects of the community, or lift up voices that are marginalized. And I think when you're not as focused on it commercially, sometimes that can allow you to do that more.

And Memphis has been really receptive and wonderful. There are lots of weirdos and people doing outsider art and music here. And I appreciate that energy and that undercurrent. And the amount of support that everyone has provided. There's so many opportunities to collaborate with people. More projects than you ever would possibly have time for. 

Those Darlins
  • Those Darlins

Part of that goes back to ten years ago, and Those Darlins playing in Memphis. I mean, Memphis really embraced us, whereas Nashville was just confused by us. So this really felt like a second home, and at times like a first home for us and for our music and for our vibe and energy. I recall always feeling very accepted here, and have been in love with Memphis for a long time. And so, getting to actually reside here and work and collaborate with other people in the Memphis music community has been a real blessing.

It's really special and an honor to collaborate with Krista and Jana. They're exceptional musicians in their own right. But the ultimate goal was always to bring it together under one roof, and have this larger instrumentation. This is the first gig opportunity that has provided the stage and the resources that would accommodate that size of a group. That band lineup doesn't really work at Bar DKDC, you know? And I can't say enough about Shangri-La sponsoring and underwriting the show and making those resources available.

I'm also very grateful to the Memphis music community, and to the Levitt Shell and people who have revitalized that space, and people that support live music there. And Shangri-La is a big part of that community. It's all very connected for me. And I'm very grateful to get to play on the same stage that so many historical, amazing musical acts have performed on. That's a real treat and a real honor.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

TsuShiMaMiRe: The Best Japanese Band You've Never Heard Of

Posted By on Tue, Oct 9, 2018 at 1:53 PM

There is a long history of punk, tweaked pop, and no-wave music from Japan, and such bands are beloved in the Bluff City, to which hundreds of Guitar Wolf fans can attest. Shonen Knife is much loved also, going back to their shared gig with the Country Rockers at Maxwell's in the early '90s.

But I must confess, I've only just learned of TsuShiMaMiRe, and they may just be my new favorite band. Memphis should pay attention to them. Like Shonen Knife, they are a trio of women with a diehard DIY attitude, but their similarities with that band should not be overstated. While Shonen Knife played shambling, yet peppy, pop songs with amateurish gusto, TsuShiMaMiRe pack considerably more wallop.

Where the rhythms of Shonen Knife were pleasantly clunky, TsuShiMaMiRe rock hard. Their blasts of guitar distortion sync up with the bass and drums like a sledgehammer. Beyond that, there are myriad subtle touches that distinguish them from other screaming punk purists. Dynamic breakdowns give you a breather, only to crack your skull seconds later. On top of this, they layer some actual singing, eschewing de rigueur hoarse screaming for simple but effective melodies (and yes, screaming!). It's an irresistible combination. If the Buzzcocks had been women who relied on bigger walls of noise guitar riffs than were imaginable in the '70s, the result might be TsuShiMaMiRe.

But don't take my word for it. Check out this video and see if you can resist heading down to the Hi Tone tonight. Arrive early to hear A Thousand Lights (with the Memphis Flyer's Chris McCoy), the city's latest and best Stooges-inspired band, who made their well-received debut opening for My Life With Thrill Kill Kult in Nashville this past April.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Captured! By Robots Brings True Metal Machine Music to Murphy's

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 1:16 PM

Jay Vance wishes he was made of steel. At least that's the implication of his adopted stage name, Jbot. But maybe that's the Stockholm Syndrome talking. Just look at the photo: He's obviously not in his happy place, having been captured by robots and all. But when Captured! By Robots play, who cares? We need only experience the beautiful music they make together.

They'll be playing Murphy's tonight, and you can hear their trademark speed metal and grindcore for yourself. Lest you think this is a joke, I quote the band's official bio:

"Captured! By Robots released its first album in 1997, and over the past two decades, Jbot has fine-tuned his metallic bandmates GTRBOT666 and DRMBOT0110 to the point of mechanized perfection. The method to the madness is derived from a series of computers which activate air valves that allow compressed air to pour through in controlled bursts. Those blasts push and pull the mechanical fingers that hit guitar frets and sticks that crash into snare drums. Pneumatics also power the robots' movement, giving them a disturbingly human sway."

In short, this human, in an attempt to make his own band, created the robots. Instead of following him, they revolted, and now force him to travel the world with them, performing music and making him contemplate the inferiority of the human race.

Still I wanted to hear the human angle on all this. I contacted Jbot to see how the music reflects his heart, his soul.

Memphis Flyer: Hello Jay! I couldn't ask this of a robot, but how are you feeling?
Jbot: I'm having a very bad morning. Hope you're doing better than me.

But you're doing what you love!
All the music is played by the bots. They're total dicks.

But they sound like the perfect band mates. You can just turn them off.
Twenty years touring with a robot band has taught me a few things. Most importantly that the human race as a whole is totally f*%ked, and we ALL deserve to be wiped off the Earth like the scum that we are.

At this point, I slowly backed away from the computer and ran out of the house. Clearly he's internalized the robots' message. Perhaps he thinks he is one of them. Let's find out if there's any humanity left in this band. Indeed, human drummers who are game can go toe to toe with DRMBOT0110 in a live competition. And did I mention that the openers will be the River City Tanlines and the Hosoi Bros? Not to be missed!


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Monday, October 1, 2018

Gonerfest 15: Saturday & Sunday

Posted By on Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 1:03 PM

For this time-worn punter, nearly 12 hours of straight rocking out can seem intimidating, but in hindsight my Goner-rific day zipped by without a hitch. The daytime action, of course, is at Murphy's Bar. Typically, I make straight for the outdoor stage, but the eerie pop sounds of Pscience stopped me in my tracks. Blending what could be classic big beat sixties tunes with odd harmonics and noise, this group, who only just had their first show earlier this month, has certainly hit upon a good psonic compound in their New Orleans-based laboratory.
Negro Terror - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Negro Terror
Then Negro Terror appeared outside, and we heard a whole other kind of eerie. Their chords of doom revving up, the trio was perhaps the most cathartic band of the festival, as they directly addressed the ugly elephants in the room: recent stress over the the rise of fascist groups, and violence in the city. Singer Omar Higgins started with a dedication to Phil Trenary, the beloved president of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce who was recently murdered. "Phil came to our shows. He understood the message," said Higgins, before launching into raging hardcore riffage. He also reflected the general rage over the recent shooting of Martavious Banks by Memphis police officers, with the anthem, "All Cops Are Bastards (ACAB)." Higgins then dedicated their cover of Detain's "Capital Punishment" to rapists, and quoted General Patton on the importance of killing Nazis. "Nazis!" Higgins called out, his hand raised in salute, until it became a thumbs-down. "Raus!!"

  • Michael Donahue
  • Exek
One longtime Gonerfest-goer commented later, "It's been good to hear so many political songs at this Gonerfest. They usually have such apolitical punk, and the apathy always bugged me."

But those in search of escape rather than confrontation didn't have to wait long, for soon Australia's Exek took the stage with a subtler sound. They betrayed no emotion as they earnestly led the crowd down a hypnotic spiral, sounding like the love child of Stereolab and early Wire. Propelling it all was a powerful bass and drums that at times recalled Sly and Robbie, sans any hint of white reggae. A fascinating blend.

  • Alex Greene
  • Exek

Then, even the most sedentary fans piled in to the bar's smokey interior for one of the festival's most anticipated shows, A Weirdo From Memphis (AWFM), backed up by the Unapologetic crew. DJ'd platters and a live band meshed seamlessly as AWFM proved his freestyle mettle, laced with satisfying expletives that caught the mood perfectly.

AWFM with fellow Unapologetics and Crockett Hall (far left). - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • AWFM with fellow Unapologetics and Crockett Hall (far left).

Then it was back outside to hear the afternoon's closer, Robyn Hitchcock. Given that all of his previous Memphis appearances, going back to 1990, were solo, this show, featuring a crack East Nashville band that included Wilco's Pat Sansone on bass, arrived with heightened expectations. And they delivered, as the combo never missed a beat amid the jangling 6- and 12-string guitars, vocal harmonies, and driving Brit-pop beats. As with his old bands, the Soft Boys and the Egyptians, Hitchcock's surreal lyrics cruised effortlessly above the delicate, yet pulsing, rock sounds.

Recalling his first Memphis show, 28 years ago, Hitchcock then tried to imagine what the world would be that many years hence. "No doubt they'll be releasing the iPhone 21 around then. I may be gone, but I'll live on in an app, so my ego can have the last laugh. You'll be able to have the app compose songs exactly as I would. Or you'll be able to mix and match songwriters, so it'll compose in the style of, say, me, Tom Petty, and Joni Mitchell."

The fading day echoed with many such flights of verbal fancy, in a wide-ranging set that included the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You" and the Egyptians' "Element of LIght" and "Listening to the Higsons." They echoed up and down Madison Avenue as darkness fell, and all the little Goners readied themselves for the night.

Robyn Hitchcock - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Robyn Hitchcock

NOTS as portrayed on Gonerfest 15 poster. - GONER
  • Goner
  • NOTS as portrayed on Gonerfest 15 poster.

Not being quite ready for a long night myself, and being a teetotalling tea head, I supped some strong brew and victuals, missing out on Oh Boland and Amyl & the Sniffers, alas. Arriving at the Hi Tone as the NOTS played, I took some considerable hometown pride in the audience's rave reaction to what the Goner program guide calls the city's "synth/guitar squiggle punkers." They did not disappoint, though it was tough to wedge into the packed room.

And then came a blast from the past, the fabulous Neckbones, once rightly hailed as rock's saviors some 20 years ago. Newly reunited, they were in true form as they pummeled the crowd with what can only be called maximum R&B, old school rock-and-roll grooves amped up to 11, attacked with genuine ferocity by the Oxford, MS, quartet. Tyler Keith channeled a Southern preacher with his between-song rants, and drummer Forrest Hewes yelled out his gratitude for the audience's frenzy in flurries of swear words.

Neckbones - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Neckbones

After that, Melbourne's Deaf Wish, in the unenviable position of following the Neckbones, rose to the occasion with their thorny post-rock rock. There was plenty of noise and wiry, dissonant guitar, but the driving rhythms rocked hard, befitting a band just wrapping up a month long tour. They seemed elated to be ending their U.S. venture on such a Goner note. 
Carbonas - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Carbonas
And so the night's endgame began, as the Carbonas, who gained much love in their prime over a decade ago, took the stage in their one-night-only, Goner-fueled reunion. Time seemed meaningless as they immediately regained all the chemistry that dissipated when they broke up. Though drummer Dave Rahn's shirt implored us to "Kill the Carbonas For Rock and Roll," it was the group that killed it on this night. A friend and neighbor confessed between songs that "this group helped me survive grad school," and even this fan from back in the day was not disappointed. Nor was the still-packed house, all sporting happy faces as they filed out. 
R.L. Boyce
  • R.L. Boyce

For some, the night raged on, of course. Eric Oblivian, not content to co-manage the festival, play with the Oblivians, and oversee the Murphy's show with a child on his back, played Saturday night's/Sunday morning's after party with his old outfit, the AAAA New Memphis Legs. And then came Sunday at the Cooper-Young gazebo, featuring R.L. Boyce and Lightnin' Malcom, as festival-goers bid adieu to their comrades until next year (?), or made plans to convene at Bar DKDC that night, to the groovy, basement-dredged sounds of Memphis' own Hot Tub Eric. Farewell, Gonerfest 15, and many happy returns!

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