Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Picture Perfect Moments from the 2019 Ameripolitan Music Awards

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 5:23 PM

Looking back on last week's Ameripolitan Music Awards in Memphis can make you dizzy, with the clamor of one hot band after another, and fans and performers alike dressed to the nines. By way of announcing this year's winners, we present a whole slew of postcard moments snapped by inimitable Amurica photographer Jamie Harmon. And it's clear that the "-politan" in the festival's name means it's a universe where folks with one eye on the past can still throw some unexpected curve balls into the future.

And now...


Honky Tonk Female:  Whitney Rose
Honky Tonk Male:  Jesse Daniel
Honky Tonk Group:  Two Tons of Steel

Western Swing Female:  Grace Adele
Western Swing Male:  Justin Trevino
Western Swing Group:  Big Cedar Fever

Rockabilly Female:  Tammi Savoy
Rockabilly Male:  Jimmy Dale Richardson
Rockabilly Group:  The Delta Bombers

Outlaw Female:  Summer Dean
Outlaw Male:  Ray Wylie Hubbard
Outlaw Group:  Mike & the Moonpies

Ameripolitan DJ:  Woody Adkins The Real Deal Country Show, KOPN 89.5
Ameripolitan Venue:  Roberts Western World, Nashville, TN
Ameripolitan Festival:  Rockin Race, Malaga Spain
Ameripolitan Musician:  Deke Dickerson

2019 Keeper of the Key:  Larry Collins

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Musical Memorial Planned Sunday For Swain Schaefer

Posted By on Sat, Mar 2, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Memphis native and journeyman musician Frederick Swain Schaefer passed away at his Nashville home on February 16, at the age of 70. Though his playing never made him a household name, he was beloved by many in the Memphis and Nashville music communities, and was one of those players who made the local rock, country and soul scenes hum. Many of his colleagues will gather on Sunday, March 3 at Huey's Midtown to pay their respects and play music in his honor. 
  • courtesy Swain Schaefer Memorial Page
  • Swain Schaefer
Schaefer began his life in music with one foot in the big band era, having studied piano with Memphis bandleader and music store owner Berl Olswanger. But as a teen, he quickly jumped into the rock 'n' roll game, playing bass with the Scepters. By 1965, only a year after they'd formed, the group was in Royal Studios recording their first single. The A side, their version of Bobby Emmons' "Little Girls Were Made to Love," took off with regional DJs. As Ron Hall writes in Playing for a Piece of the Door, the single "did extremely well in the tri-state area and made the guys local celebrities." 

But the B side, written by Scepters guitarist John Wulff, offers more surprises:  
Schaefer played with other groups from the same era, keeping his keyboard skills sharp with combos like the Memphis Blazers. His multi-instrumentalist talents culminated in his short tenure as the Box Tops' bassist, starting in heavy touring year of 1969, when Alex Chilton and Gary Talley were the only original members left. Indeed, Schaefer was in London with the group when Chilton's disenchantment with their management came to a head, partly due to a travesty of tour planning that left them stranded there with no gigs. Yet, as related in Holly George-Warren's Chilton biography, when the singer announced he would leave the group while in London, Schaefer threatened "to beat him up and put him in the hospital." 
click image The Memphis Blazers, ca. 1967, with Swain Schaefer on organ
  • The Memphis Blazers, ca. 1967, with Swain Schaefer on organ

Such incidents notwithstanding, after the inevitable collapse of the Box Tops, Schaefer was a regular visitor to Ardent Studios, often with Chilton, in those pre-Big Star days. "Alex and I'd get loaded and go into Ardent," Schaefer told George-Warren. "I'd play organ, and he'd play piano. He liked Scott Joplin and played a couple Joplin tunes like 'The Entertainer' pretty well."

From there, Schaefer built a life around music, rubbing shoulders with a number of greats. Here's a song he co-wrote with Dan Penn, featured on Irma Thomas' album My Heart's In Memphis - The Songs Of Dan Penn, released in 2000.  
Indeed, Schaefer's writing and arranging skills earned as much respect as his playing. As The Daily Memphian's H. Scott Prosterman writes:

Schaefer co-wrote the song "Happy Holidays" on Alabama's double platinum 1985 "Christmas" album. Among the Memphis and Nashville musicians Schaefer worked with over the years were Delbert McClinton, Ronnie Millsap, Don Nix and Sid Selvidge. He collaborated with Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Griffin and John Paul David, and performed with Tony Joe White, Levon Helm, The Pointer Sisters, and with Ed Bruce on Austin City Limits. He was a member of the bands Wind Mill and Brother Love.

Jimmy Crosthwait, a bandmate and surviving member of Mudboy and the Neutrons, created marionette shows at Memphis' Pink Palace Museum with Schaefer's help. "Swain and I worked together recording the music and narration of several productions that I performed through many of those years," Crosthwait said. "He did so without monetary compensation, and for very little recognition."

A service was held Monday at the Church of Hope in Nashville, where Schaefer was the organist and musical director. In Memphis, a musical tribute hosted by Jimmy Crosthwait and Jimmy Newman will take place at Huey's Midtown, on Sunday, March 3, 3-7 p.m. 

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

This Year's Beale Street Music Festival Lineup Announced

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 9:41 AM

Khalid - ROLEXX
  • RoLexx
  • Khalid
The lineup of the 2019 Beale Street Music Festival, scheduled for May 3rd-5th at Tom Lee Park, has been announced, featuring headliners from the worlds of rock, alternative, R&B, hip hop, indie, pop, and blues.That includes some old favorites like the Dave Matthews Band, The Killers, G-Eazy, Charlie Wilson, Shinedown, and Gary Clark Jr. But some relatively new names also top the bill, including Khalid (nominated for five Grammys, but shut out of a win) and OneRepublic. And if you know Cardi B mostly from viral videos, now's your chance to see her prove her mettle as a performer, as she did at Sunday night's Grammy performance (where she was the first female to receive Best Rap Album).

“The Beale Street Music Festival saw more than 102,000 in Tom Lee Park last year...We wanted to offer an even bigger lineup in 2019 as our city celebrates its bicentennial,” said Memphis in May President and CEO James L. Holt.

Other artists featured this year include India.Arie, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Lord Huron, Flogging Molly, 6lack, Trippie Redd, Chvrches, Lil Dicky, Good Charlotte, Big Boi, Dirty Heads, In This Moment, Simple Plan, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Moon Taxi, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Coin and more. St. Paul and the Broken Bones, with local City Champ Al Gamble on keys, will be a highlight for many.

  • Travis Whiteside
  • Moneybagg Yo
As always, one standout feature of the festival is its commitment to local talent, with a full forty percent of the performers coming from Memphis and the surrounding area. Rappers MoneyBagg Yo, Blocboy JB and NLE Choppa will make an appearance, as will Healy, Saving Abel, and Muck Sticky. Local talent will range from rising star Liz Brasher to veteran songwriter John Kilzer and the Scars
Liz Brasher
  • Liz Brasher

Yet some fans may just want to stay planted in the Coca-Cola Blues Tent. Any appearance from Stax legend William Bell is a must-see, but the unique takes on local roots brought by acts as diverse as Southern Avenue, Super Chikan, and Barbara Blue are also a delight. Ghost Town Blues Band, Will Tucker, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Terry “Harmonica” BeanBrandon Santini, Gracie Curran and the High Falutin’ Band, Fuzzy Jeffries, Deak Harp & Quicksand, Sam Joyner, and Linear Smith will further round out the blues tent, and the greatest may be the soul-jarring delta vibes of Blind Mississippi Morris
Blind Mississippi Morris
  • Blind Mississippi Morris

Tickets can be purchased through and are sold now through April 19 as three-day passes for just $135, or single-day tickets for $55. A limited number of VIP passes are also available at for $649, providing access to exclusive viewing platforms, private “comfort station” restrooms, and light snacks and drinks (including limited alcoholic beverages) for all three days.

Monday, February 4, 2019

IMAKEMADBEATS Wows an Inspired TEDx Conference

Posted By on Mon, Feb 4, 2019 at 2:49 PM

  • Gabbie Duffie
When the TEDx Memphis team, who work with TED to set up locally-focused TED Conferences, planned this year's roster of speakers, it's no surprise that one of them turned out to be James Dukes, aka IMAKEMADBEATS. For years, we've chronicled the work he and Unapologetic, the collective he founded, have done in and around the city. Creating great music is what they're best known for, though they also have fingers in the worlds of apparel, journalism, and more. With Unapologetic's brand gaining wider attention, purely out of gumption and productivity, it's clear that they're a perfect fit for the TED aesthetic.

  • Gabbie Duffie
And yet, as Dukes himself explained, he never imagined he'd be embraced as a public speaker. Indeed, this observation formed the basis of his talk last Saturday at the Crosstown Theater. "I'm nervous as hell," he began. "But I'm gonna do this anyway. How does a black man wearing a mask, who's spent most of his life stuttering, mumbling, suffering from high levels of social anxiety, end up on a TEDx stage, talking to hundreds of people? Maybe thousands via the internet?"

What followed was his life in a nutshell, a troubled childhood that nonetheless taught him the power of hard work and empathy for others. And ultimately, those roots led him to the epiphany he communicated to the TEDx audience that day: that such empathy can in fact empower one's self to greater achievements.

If empathy is not what listeners are used to hearing from the Memphis trap music that's conquering the world now, it's understandable. But dig deeper into hip hop's diversity, and you'll see the genre is rife with literary character studies, from Schooly D, L.L. Cool J,  De La Soul, and Busta Rhymes, to Kendrick Lamar, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize. All are artists building from their empathy.

Many of Saturday's talks were focused on the power of unique visions and unorthodox approaches (this is TED, after all). The unique insight Dukes offered was how deeply intertwined our individuality is with empathy and the needs of others. It was an observation in which his own collective and the Memphis music scene in general, known for over half a century as oddballs, can take great pride. 

To be sure, Dukes had the support of his crew to make the sense of community palpable. As emcee Eric Barnes introduced Dukes, who should appear onstage but Unapologetic singer Cameron Bethany came instead. Sitting at the back of the stage, he began by singing "No matter what you go through... be you."  Dukes himself appeared a moment later, setting up a sample board that he would use to underscore points in his talk. He might say the word "alienation" and then trigger it as an echoed kernel of meaning that reverberated over the speech that followed.

Such theatricality was a new approach for this longtime fan of TED Talks. Indeed, while TED Talks are often punctuated by visual cues on a slideshow screen, Duke's presentation, though sporting a few visual markers, brought a more sonic orientation to the proceedings, which in turn, through the amorphous, immersive qualities of sound, drove home his points about nurturing individuality in a nest of social interdependence. 
  • Gabbie Duffie

This was further emphasized when Aaron James and A Weirdo From Memphis (AWFM) also joined Dukes onstage, sitting unassumingly on stools, silently dramatizing certain moments from Duke's life, or simply bearing witness to his words. When James removed his shirt, you could say that TEDx had been officially "DisrupTEDx," as Duke's T-shirt proclaimed. At that moment, the audience could viscerally feel the vulnerability that Dukes was speaking of, best expressed in some of his closing thoughts on the how pursuing your uniqueness can feed the needs of others:

"Framing it as for someone else gives me purpose, and I can't let that person down. Secrets don't start movements. Uncovering them does. Someone is waiting on you to be you. Extremely you. Awkwardly you. Effortlessly you. Vulnerably you. Unapologetically you."

Dukes concluded his talk, and the applause was thunderous, the cheers ecstatic. I guarantee that every audience member exited out into the world more ready to be their own bad self, and get on with something big.

Watch this page for a link to TEDx Memphis' video of his entire presentation, when available in the near future. 
  • Gabbie Duffie

Friday, February 1, 2019

Cirque du Soleil's Corteo : Old World Circus Melodies Take Flight

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 12:44 PM

Thirty-five years after its inception, most Americans are so familiar with the work of Cirque du Soleil that it's become a cliche. Which is surprising, given the troupe's penchant for constant reinvention. Moreover, the cliche doesn't account for the broad diversity of musical genres used in their various productions. Last night's Memphis premiere of Cirque du Soleil's Corteo was a reminder of just how powerful their music can be.

If any Cirque music is famous, it is the soundtrack to their Beatles tribute, Love. which relied on Giles Martin's startlingly imaginative mash ups of familiar Beatles tracks. Naturally, that music was all pre-recorded. So casual theatergoers (arena-goers?) might not be anticipating the power of Corteo's live band.

The show is ostensibly a cross between a circus and a funeral, beginning with our protagonist Mauro lying in repose on his deathbed, or perhaps dreaming of that moment. If Mauro was a clown in life, here he is bereft of greasepaint or costumes, rising from the bed in his plain suit to wistfully guide us through kinetic tableaux from his life. There is no narrative as such; rather, we take a tour through moments of his youth rather like the globe-trotting vignettes of The Nutcracker.  And, like that classical chestnut, an air of slightly threadbare Old World pageantry permeates every scene. 

The same aesthetic colors the music. While much of Cirque music tends toward a fantasy/futurist/New Age vibe, Corteo's sounds, to their credit, are more grounded in Old World earthiness. Much of the lyrics are Italian, with sprinklings of Spanish, Portugese, and French (and a bit of English dialogue and joke-cracking). The somewhat nostalgic sounds are carried off with aplomb by the live band in the wings.

And the band lives in a plurality of wings, not an orchestra pit. The two-sided stage, set down in the center of the FedEx Forum, has band members tucked into four corners: the drummer here, the singer and accordionist there, here the bass, there the horns. That they can stay so perfectly in sync is surely a miracle of click-track sorcery, yet the unabashedly sentimental music flows like water, or tears. 
It can range from intimate nostalgia to grandiose operatic melodies. Yes, there's more than a hint of Broadway here, but the chief departure from the music of European salon and folk idioms comes when the Cirque composers show their true postmodern colors, with bits of Brazilian samba and even Tibetan harmonic bowls making an appearance. 
Mozart meets Tibetan bowls in a scene from  Corteo
  • Mozart meets Tibetan bowls in a scene from Corteo
Some of the most surprising musicianship comes from the onstage performers. This goes beyond moments when, say, the drummer leaps from behind his alcove to play a snare alongside the acrobats and dancers, underscoring their every feat. Mauro himself appears in one scene playing a tuba. The recurring White Clown character, it turns out, is also a consummate violinist; and the ringmaster is revealed as a virtuoso whistler of Mozart. Most alarmingly, the woman who twines herself in hanging fabrics, making death-defying drops and rolls, is, through her athletic breathing, singing the entire time.

In the end, this is show music, of course, and much of it serves to accentuate the movement, which remains the star attraction. Yet this can be rather powerful, when the band swells to every sudden lifting of angels in flight. Furthermore, accompanying mid-air twirls and hairs'-breadth escapes from danger may be one of the best uses of prog rock imaginable.

Finally, if you're contemplating making this a family outing, I should note that our freshly minted 15-year-old, more accustomed to the cool, guarded sounds of Lorde, thoroughly enjoyed this Old World melody-laden musical experience. 

The musicians featured in this staging of Corteo include:

BAND LEADER - Roger HEWETT (United Kingdom)
VIOLIN - Stéphane ALLARD (Canada)
SAX/KEYBOARD 2 – Philippe POIRIER (Canada)
DRUMS/PERCUSSION – Alexandre REIS (Brazil)

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Cream Of The Crop: 39th Annual Blues Music Awards Nominees Announced

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 3:36 PM

2018 solo International Blues Challenge winner Kevin B.F. Burt is now a BMA nominee - TOM DAVIS
  • Tom Davis
  • 2018 solo International Blues Challenge winner Kevin B.F. Burt is now a BMA nominee
The blues, in all its permutations, can be polarizing in Memphis. Many have built their lives around the genre; others are at best indifferent. Alicja Trout, on the Lost Sounds' album Black Wave, expressed a punk's frustration with the style: "This city's filled with reasons to kill/But everybody wants to play the blues."

But the blues as an artistic approach has a staying power that cuts across mere genre. The much-beloved Oblivians made their name, in part, as creators of their own blues/punk hybrid. Meanwhile, rapper Al Kapone and singer Barbara Blue are pioneering a hybrid of blues and rap on their song, "Fish in Dirty H2O." The blues also permeates the two greatest historical legacies of the city, Sun and Stax. And it continues to draw thousands to Memphis.

Standing amid this constant destruction and rebuilding of the form is the Blues Foundation, which can function as a kind of corrective to the whims of the market and its hunger for novelty. Although contemporary blues bands can draw huge crowds in places, they often toil in a kind of parallel universe, with little media attention. And attending the Foundation's gala Blues Music Awards (BMAs) can indeed feel like a alternate reality, with entirely new rules of glamour and achievement. This may explain the deep familial feeling one experiences at the ceremonies. 

This month, the Blues Foundation announced the nominees for the spring's awards event, honoring artists and releases from November 1, 2017 to October 31, 2018. This year, the prestigious Blue Music Awards will honor achievements in 26 categories, including two new ones: Blues Rock Artist of the Year and Instrumentalist: Vocals.

Winners will be announced at the 39th Annual Blues Music Awards, scheduled for May 10th at the Cook Convention Center. Any Blues Foundation member, even those just joining now, can vote on the categories. It's a rare opportunity to participate in a uniquely global community (of 4,000 individual members and 200 affiliated local blues societies, representing another 50,000 fans and professionals around the world). And the vista of faces at the BMAs is indeed international. Moreover, every nominee not only attends the Awards show, but also performs at it – making for an unforgettable evening for blues fans.

Click here or scroll down for the complete list of nominees.

The 39th Annual Blues Music Awards, Thursday, May 10th at 7 p.m. at Memphis’ Cook Convention Center. Individual tickets are $150 per person; Regular Tables for 10 are $1,500 and Premium Tables for 10 are $1,800 each. All tickets can now be purchased  as of January 9th. The Blues Foundation’s hotel block of rooms at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown also opened for reservations on January 9th.

Major funding for the Blues Music Awards is provided by ArtsMemphis and Tennessee Arts Commission. The 39th BMAs are also sponsored by AutoZone, BMI, Ditty TV, First Tennessee Foundation, Gibson Foundation, and Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

40th Blues Music Award Nominees

Acoustic Album:
A Woman's Soul, Rory Block
Black Cowboys, Dom Flemons
Global Griot, Eric Bibb
Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, Joe Louis Walker/Bruce Katz/Giles Robson
Wish The World Away, Ben Rice

Acoustic Artist:
Ben Rice
Guy Davis
Hadden Sayers
Harrison Kennedy
Rory Block

Album of the Year:
America's Child, Shemekia Copeland
The High Cost Of Low Living, The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling
Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, Joe Louis Walker/Bruce Katz/Giles Robson
Rough Cut, Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager
Why Did You have To Go, Anthony Geraci

B.B. King Entertainer:
Beth Hart
Bobby Rush
Lil' Ed Williams
Michael Ledbetter
Sugaray Rayford

Band of the Year:
Anthony Geraci & The Boston Blues All-Stars
Larkin Poe
Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
Nick Moss Band
Welch-Ledbetter Connection

Best Emerging Artist Album:
Burn Me Alive, Heather Newman
Free, Amanda Fish
Heartland And Soul, Kevin Burt
Tough As Love, Lindsay Beaver
Wish The World Away, Ben Rice

Blues Rock Album:
The Big Bad Blues, Billy F Gibbons
High Desert Heat, Too Slim and the Taildraggers
Live At The '62 Center, Albert Cummings
Poor Until Payday, The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
Winning Hand, Tinsley Ellis

Blues Rock Artist:
Billy F Gibbons
Eric Gales
J.P. Soars
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Tinsley Ellis

Contemporary Blues Album:
America's Child, Shemekia Copeland
Belle Of The West, Samantha Fish
Chicago Plays The Stones, The Living History Band
Hold On, Kirk Fletcher
Wild Again, The Proven Ones

Contemporary Blues Female Artist:
Beth Hart
Danielle Nicole
Samantha Fish
Shemekia Copeland
Vanessa Collier

Contemporary Blues Male Artist:
Kenny Neal
Rick Estrin
Ronnie Baker Brooks
Selwyn Birchwood
Toronzo Cannon

Instrumentalist – Bass:
Danielle Nicole
Michael "Mudcat" Ward
Patrick Rynn
Scot Sutherland
Willie J. Campbell

Instrumentalist – Drums:
Cedric Burnside
Jimi Bott
June Core
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist – Guitar:
Anson Funderburgh
Christoffer "Kid" Andersen
Laura Chavez
Monster Mike Welch
Ronnie Earl

Instrumentalist – Harmonica:
Billy Branch
Bob Corritore
Dennis Gruenling
Kim Wilson
Mark Hummel

Instrumentalist – Horn:
Doug James
Jimmy Carpenter
Kaz Kazzanof
Mindi Abair
Nancy Wright
Vanessa Collier

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player (Instrumentalist – Piano):
Anthony Geraci
Bruce Katz
Jim Pugh
Marcia Ball
Mike Finnigan

Instrumentalist – Vocals:
Beth Hart
Danielle Nicole
Janiva Magness
Michael Ledbetter
Shemekia Copeland

Song of the Year:
“Ain't Got Time For Hate,” written by John Hahn and Will Kimbrough
“Angelina, Angelina,” written by Anthony Geraci
“Cognac,” written by Buddy Guy, Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming
“No Mercy In This Land,” written by Ben Harper
“The Ice Queen,” written by Sue Foley

Soul Blues Album:
Back In Business, Frank Bey
Every Soul's A Star, Dave Keller
I'm Still Around, Johnny Rawls
Love Makes A Woman, The Knickerbocker All-Stars
Reckoning, Billy Price

Soul Blues Female Artist:
Annika Chambers
Barbara Blue
Candi Staton
Thornetta Davis
Whitney Shay

Soul Blues Male Artist:
Frank Bey
Johnny Rawls
Sugaray Rayford
Wee Willie Walker
William Bell

Traditional Blues Album:
The Blues Is Alive And Well, Buddy Guy
The High Cost of Low Living, Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling
The Luckiest Man, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
Tribute to Carey Bell, Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty
Why Did You Have To Go, Anthony Geraci

Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female Artist):
Fiona Boyes
Lindsay Beaver
Ruthie Foster
Sue Foley
Trudy Lynn

Traditional Blues Male Artist:
Anthony Geraci
Cedric Burnside
James Harman
Lurrie Bell
Nick Moss

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Vocal Duo Jackopierce Celebrates Thirty Years of Harmonies

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 10:05 AM

Jack O'Neill and Cary Pierce  of Jackopierce
  • Jack O'Neill and Cary Pierce of Jackopierce
Jackopierce, the duo made up of equal parts Jack O’Neill and Cary Pierce, the two songwriters behind the hits “Vineyard” and “Three of Us in a Boat,” quietly celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2018. They made a big to-do over their 25th anniversary, a landmark date few bands ever hit, with a sold-out run of concerts and the release of a live album, Live 25. The 30th-anniversary celebrations were put on the back burner, though, because Jackopierce was too busy moving forward to keep an eye on the rear-view, still touring and preparing a new album, Feel This Good, released in May of last year on Foreverything Music. The duo are now on the road in support of that album, with a stop in Memphis at Lafayette’s Music Room this Thursday at 8 p.m.

Though ostensibly not an anniversary album, Feel This Good celebrates the long history of Jackopierce with tried and true elements: pristine mixes, clear harmonies, a few inside jokes, and cleanly intertwining acoustic guitars that have become the duo’s trademark. Even the album’s title track began as an inside joke between Pierce, O’Neill, and some of the staff at a venue Jackopierce performs at. “‘Every day should feel this good’ is a thing they say,” Pierce explains. “It’s a fun slogan.”

Pierce and O’Neill began tracking the album in Nashville, and Pierce did much of the preliminary mixing at his home studio in Texas. “I produced the last few studio records,” Pierce says. “In the five years we weren’t together, I produced a lot of records.” Jackopierce split, briefly, from 1997 to 2002, though both Pierce and O’Neill stayed involved in the music scene. Feel This Good includes reworkings of original tunes by both Pierce and O’Neill. Pierce reminisces about O’Neill’s contributions without a hint of ego, displaying an easy working relationship that’s been tended and grown over 30 years of
playing together. “Jack and I are like brothers,” Pierce says. “We love writing songs and telling and sharing stories.”

Jackopierce re-recorded one of Pierce’s old solo compositions, “Speed,” for the new album. A demo version of the song was a huge hit on streaming services, prompting Pierce to wonder what they could do with a fully produced version of the song. “It was a minor hit, but a hit for me, my God,” Pierce says of the demo, explaining “Speed” is a “pretty intense break-up song.” It’s about trying to find the energy and willpower to achieve escape velocity, Pierce explains, before adding that he’s not looking to wreck any healthy relationships. “I’m not saying, ‘hey, jump out,’ but I hope it’s a wake-up call.” If, he
explains, a wake-up call is what’s needed.

Also revived for the new album was “Still House Hollow,” a song from O’Neill’s 2002 release, Halfway Round the World. “I wanted to sing on it,” Pierce says, before marveling at the vocal takes co-producer John Fields got out of O’Neill — mostly by stepping back and letting O’Neill do his thing, pushing himself to reach for a higher range. “Jack is a huge Bob Dylan fan, a huge [Tom] Petty fan,” Pierce says, before taking the next logical step and mentioning the Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup made up of Dylan, Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne. Pierce says he saw Jeff Lynne perform recently and that the Wilburys, Lynne, and Electric Light Orchestra were all influences on Feel This Good.
Jack O'Neill and Cary Pierce  of Jackopierce
  • Jack O'Neill and Cary Pierce of Jackopierce
Producer John Fields came on board when Pierce sent some of the mixes for what was to become Feel This Good to him for an opinion. “He’s a monster player and a monster L.A. producer,” Pierce says. The timing couldn’t have been better — Fields had just moved back to Minneapolis from L.A. and was happy to work on a new project with an old friend. Pierce and O’Neill decamped to Minneapolis to finish the record they had begun tracking in Nashville. “It was a treat to get away from our daily lives.”

Speaking of getting away, Jackopierce name-checks Memphis in the title track of the new album. The band has played the Bluff City before, both at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park and at Beale Street Music Festival. “One of my favorite shows of all time was Memphis in May,” Pierce says. “We were the second-to-last band, before Dave Matthews.” 

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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