Friday, March 27, 2020

Listen Up: Tony Holiday

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 1:37 PM

Tony Holiday
  • Tony Holiday

Tony Holiday just released his first single, “It’s Gonna Take Some Time,” from his debut album, Soul Service, but the album’s release-date party has been postponed because of the COVID-19 virus.

For now, the 37-year-old blues harpist says he’s “staying inside, spending time with family. Trying to stay inside and do the thing.”

He’s happy doing “the thing” in Memphis.

Born in South Jordan, Utah, Holiday moved to Memphis about two years ago.

“I love Memphis,” he says. “Absolutely. I had been here. Played Rum Boogie on tour coming through and things like that.

“I know one thing: I was given some advice not to gig in this town when I first got here. Get to know the town instead of just showing up swinging.”

So, he didn’t get out and play clubs right off the bat. He loved all the great music, but, he says, “I was very poor ‘cause I took that advice. I wasn’t gigging. I didn’t have any money.”

He managed to eat. “I found in Memphis you can get two pieces of chicken, beans, and a piece of cornbread for two bucks at the Cash Saver by my house in Midtown at the time.”

He and his music partner, Landon Stone, “found all the great music at Wild Bill’s.”

That was all he needed for a while. “Between good music and cheap Southern food, I fell in love with Memphis right off the bat.”

Growing up in Utah, drawing cartoons and playing football and baseball were his passions. He also liked to listen to music. “I was always captivated by the country songs that my grandparents listened to. Like George Jones. Marty Robbins. Marty Robbins was big. Johnny Paycheck was big. And Willy and Waylon.”

Listening to those songs bring back great memories, Holiday says. “These songs painted big pictures in my head. It was like going into a movie or something. Like going to a little scene in my head when I’d hear these country songs. They were so well written.”

Recordings weren’t scarce at his home. “My mom was a big fan of the library. And she used to bring home music from the library. When I was 12 or 13, she brought home — for whatever reason — a B. B. King and Bobby Bland record. I think it was a B. B. King record and Bobby was just on it. That changed my life. Time stopped. And then all the clocks stopped on the wall.”

Why? “I could never tell you. Music brings a lot of colors to me. I see a lot of colors when I play and listen to it. Whatever it was, I can’t describe that sound when you hear that for the first time. The only thing I can think to describe it is fireworks and a massive color explosion.”

As for King, he says, “I just remember when I heard B. B. King, it was like, man, I could just relate to it a lot. Not the stories. I’ve nothing in common with B. B. King, really, but somehow through his music he finds a place for common ground for you. B. B. King did that. I just felt welcome.”

Holiday’s mom bought a guitar for him when he was 15. “There wasn’t any YouTube or anything. I taught myself. I just listened to records. And playing with them. I started out listening and playing with Doc Watson records.

”It’s funny. My grand pop plays guitar and my dad plays. And whenever we would pick with certain friends, I think some of the country singers would get mad at me for bending the strings, the notes, all crazy. Doc Watson was doing that. What I liked about him so much was he was kind of meeting everybody in the middle of country and blues.”

When he was 24, Holiday began playing guitar in his first band, Blueroot.

Tony Holiday and the Velvetones with Holiday on guitar and vocals was his next group. “We toured the whole country, coast to coast, for five years.”

Putting a name on their music style isn’t easy, Holiday says. “They might call it country blues or blues rock. It wasn’t traditional. Man, we toured a lot. We opened for a lot of people. Willie Nelson. Steve Miller.”

His stage attire fit the part. “I had a kick ass cowboy hat. And mutton chops that grew up from my mustache to my chops like Duane Allman. Slacks and pearl snap shirts. And always cowboy boots back then.”

In addition to touring, Holiday also moved to different places. “I was just skipping around meeting people and checking out different scenes and stuff.”

Another life changer occurred after Holiday had moved back to Utah. “I was basically living at this barbecue place and working there. I was cutting meat and they had live music. This sound came from the stage and I dropped everything. I’ll never forget. I sneaked down the hallway. I had on this apron covered with blood from cutting meat. I was trying to be elusive. Customers were in there. And there was a young clean-shaven John Nemeth singing and playing the harmonica.”

That did it. “The very next day I put my guitar up for sale and I went and bought as many harmónicas as I could get. And that’s where I am now. That was the day the music changed for me. The day I was able to see.”

And, he says, “I knew instantly I could speak through it.”

He bought a bunch of Marine band harmónicas in different keys. He learned to play the harmonica by listening to records and watching Adam Gussow and Ronnie Shellist on YouTube. “Just watching their videos.”

Tony Holiday
  • Tony Holiday

Holiday was signed to Vizztone Records and he put out his first album, Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions in 2018. In addition to himself and Stone, also included on the critically-acclaimed album, which was nominated for best live recording of the year in 2019 by Blues Blast magazine, are Charlie Musselwhite, Bob Corritore, and John Primer. Holiday wanted to make the record so they could “bring blues back to the porch. It’s a place families used to — at the end of the day — cool off and get to know each other and play music together.

“I play on every track. But I feature those people coast-to-coast, porch-to-porch. That was my first record, really.”

It was Nemeth, who influenced Holiday to move to Memphis. “We were on his porch smoking some cigars and he said, ‘You’ve got to move to Memphis because there’s nothing cooler than a Memphis groove.”

Five months after Holiday moved to Memphis, he met Ori Naftaly of the Southern Avenue band. “He reached out to me. I got a message from him basically, ‘Welcome to Memphis.’ And that he’s watched what I was doing for a while. And if I was into the idea, he’d like to produce me. I said, ‘Yes.’ He was so awesome to work with.”

Naftaly produced Soul Service, which is Holiday’s debut solo album. The album includes a song, “Day Dates Turn into Night Dates,” which Holiday co-wrote with Nemeth.


Holiday and Naftaly co-wrote the single, “It’s Gonna Take Some Time.”

“It’s about this singer that died a couple of years ago, Mike Ledbetter. I had just done a video vocal lesson with him the Sunday before he died. I wrote it for his music partner, Monster Mike Welch, because I knew it was going to take a lot of time for him to get through that.”

The album was set to be released April 24th at 3rd & Court Diner. “Because of the COVID-19, the release got set to July 10th.”

So, how is Holiday spending quarantine? “I’m writing my next album. I’m calling a lot of friends. Doing a lot of video calls with family and friends. Just checking in with everybody.”

And, he says, he’s hanging out with his wife, Camille, and their daughter. “Spending a lot of time playing The Floor is Lava and building forts with my three-year-old, Bonnie Rae Holiday. We play this game where we pretend the floor is lava, so we have to put pillows on the floor and run around. We’re bare-footin' around here.”

Look for the single here.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Director Seeks Dancers/Singers for Music Video for John Kilzer’s “It”

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 2:57 PM

Almost exactly a year after John Kilzer’s death at 62 last March, award-winning Memphis director/producer/editor Laura Jean Hocking is seeking friends and fans of Kilzer to appear in a music video for his song “It” from 2019’s Scars — all from the safety of their own homes.

Kilzer, the former University of Memphis basketball player who later created a music career and a beloved ministry at St. John’s United Methodist Church, died Tuesday, March 12th, 2019, before Hocking could finish a series of music videos they had discussed.

“This will be my fourth Kilzer video I have directed,” Hocking says. “This was actually one of the first songs I wanted to do a video for off of Scars. After ‘Hello Heart,’ I had come up with a concept for the ‘It’ video that Kilzer had liked, but we obviously never got to make it.”

John Kilzer
  • John Kilzer

For the video, Hocking is recruiting dancers, singers, and Memphis musicians and artists who, she hopes, will film themselves dancing or singing along to “It.”

The method of music video-making is particularly suitable to life in the midst of the soft quarantine to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Dancers can safely participate while observing social distancing guidelines — and still manage to come together via the connectivity offered by music.

“I like the idea of a bunch of different people contributing to the whole piece, creating some connection especially now when we are all so separated,” Hocking explains.

Laura Jean Hocking
  • Laura Jean Hocking

“Love is light, love is strong, love is right here in this song,” Kilzer sings on “It.” The song is warmly optimistic, a balm in these uncertain times.

Though minor chords and a progression that walks the melody down the scale give the song a gravitas that seems to acknowledge the challenges inherent in embracing love, Kilzer’s lyrics are an affirmation of love’s power.

That spirit is lifted up by simple, elegant instrumentation, lighthearted piano runs, and even, at one point, a whistled melody. Life can be challenging, the song seems to say, but love gives us the strength to face those challenges with courage and grace.

“I’ve often said that Kilzer sounds great whether unaccompanied or with a full band backing him,” says Ward Archer, founder of Archer Records and Music+Arts Studio, where Scars was recorded. “In this instance, ‘It’ arrived fully formed via his iPhone with just John playing the ukulele, which I didn’t know he played. It’s classic Kilzer. Less is more.”

Ward Archer
  • Ward Archer

“It all goes back to love,” Hocking adds. “I hope if people don’t want to lip-sync, they can dance with their kids or their cat or just by themselves and express some love for life. The world is upside down right now; it’s hard to conceptualize what the other side of this might look like, and it’s scary. Hopefully, the opportunity to ham it up and dance around will be good medicine.”

  • Scars

“I also want to add that if there are any local musicians/artists who would like to participate, we’d love to link to their website/Bandcamp/etc. in the credits,” Hocking says. “It’s really important to me that we all lift each other up right now.”

Hocking has some helpful suggestions for those ready to dance or sing along for the video.

“Set up your phone in landscape mode (that’s sideways, or horizontal),” she says. “Open your camera app and record video. Rehearse it a couple times. Lip-sync to part or all of the song. Dance by yourself, dance with your kids, dance with your pet!” Her last piece of advice is perhaps the most vital: “These are difficult times; let loose and have some fun!”

Submissions should be uploaded to

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stax Online Archive Goes Live With "Deep Cuts" Project

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 4:24 PM

  • Courtesy Stax Museum of American Soul Music
  • Stax concert poster
If you've binge-watched too many movies and television series during this stay-at-home time, and have done every jigsaw puzzle in the house, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music might just have the solution for the social distancing doldrums. As of now, their massive digitized archive is online, free for perusing.
  • Courtesy Stax Museum of American Soul Music
  • Stax trade ad
Though I personally feel that visiting the Stax Museum is an essential service, I realize that I'm in the minority, and, like most businesses these days, it's not open to the public. But never fear, you can still crank up your Stax albums on the stereo and page through the many gems that the museum has diligently preserved.

The Grammy Museum Foundation has assisted with the new online project, known as Deep Cuts: Rare Items from the Stax Archives. The visual materials are broken down into categories of album cover art, posters and other artwork, children's books, trade ads, the "Gettin' It All Together" catalog from 1969, and the "Stax Fax" magazines produced by the company between 1968 and 1970.

  • Courtesy Stax Museum of American Soul Music
  • Stax Fax newsletter
Of particular interest is the "Gettin' It All Together" catalog, which features the 27 LPs released during Stax Records' "Soul Explosion," the massive sales summit at Memphis' Rivermont Hotel in May, 1969. This was important both as a promotional stunt and as a morale-enhancing victory lap. By 1968, the entire Stax Records catalog from previous years was claimed by Atlantic Records, and the Memphis label was forced to reinvent itself with all new material. This richly illustrated program features album cover art and other information about the fresh wave of records released in the year that ensued.

Now fans can relive that pivotal moment in soul music history and more, via this generous online project. It's just one of many ways to keep yourself occupied during these quiet days, and really, there's no better respite from that gnawing coronavirus anxiety than the solid soul music of Stax Records. 

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Monday, March 23, 2020

"Virtual Music Festival" To Raise Funds For Memphis Musicians

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 5:36 PM

With social distancing as the new normal, countless musicians have taken to the internet, staging live video concerts of all kinds on multiple social media platforms. How did players manage a century ago, during the Spanish Flu pandemic? Now, at last, people have cause to be less snarky and more appreciative of online interactions, and musicians especially so.
Southern Avenue - DAVID MCCLISTER
  • David McClister
  • Southern Avenue
This week, the concept of the live-streamed music concert is being ramped up to festival-like heights, thanks to the efforts of the Memphis Music Hub, a division of Memphis Tourism, who have collaborated with I Love Memphis and Music Export Memphis to coordinate the Get Live! Memphis event. Scheduled to take place from March 26 –March 28, the series serves as a fundraiser for Music Export Memphis' COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

Over the course of those days, viewers need only log on to Facebook to view live-streamed performances by nearly a dozen of Memphis' finest musicians, including headliners MonoNeon, Ben Nichols of Lucero, Grammy-nominated band Southern Avenue, and producer IMAKEMADBEATS. 
  • Justin Fox Burks

“This is the time to give back to the Memphis music community that has given so much to our city’s cultural identity,” says Music Specialist Jayne Ellen White of the Memphis Music Hub. “Our music has brought such joy to so many and now is the time to speak to the world through our universal language: music.”

Ben Nichols
  • Ben Nichols

“Our local musicians play an integral part of the Memphis destination’s identity as a live music city,” says Kevin Kane, President and CEO of Memphis Tourism. “Their talents not only keep Memphis’ music scene vibrant but, now more than ever, they are able to share those talents to lift up, not only our local community but also a world of music fans. As people around the world connect with us during this virtual musical festival, these outstanding artists will have an opportunity to not only share their talents with new audiences, but also share messages of hope.”

  • Justin Fox Burks
  • MonoNeon

To view the festival performances, viewers need only visit the Get Live! Memphis event page on Facebook and the various performers will connect their feeds at the appointed times. The festival schedule is:

Thursday, March 26th
7:00: MonoNeon

Friday, March 27th, 8PM - 10PM
8:00: D’Monet
9:00: Louise Page
9:30: Southern Avenue

Saturday, March 28th, 8PM - 10PM
8:00: Brandon Kinder of The Wealthy West
8:30: Doll McCoy & Derek Brassel
9:00: Cameron Bethany
9:30: Ben Nichols of Lucero
  • Toonky Berry

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Friday, March 20, 2020

The Arts and the Pandemic: Who Will We Become?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 10:44 AM

My brain, like many others, is exploding, but I need to share this.

Early in my time leading Opera Memphis, I was in a multi-week workshop run by the Assisi Foundation. I was one of only a handful of non-social service organization people. One of the questions we all needed to answer was "what would happen if your organization closed." This was mainly to find out who might have overlapping or redundant services, so maybe wasn't relevant to an arts organization. However, the question has never left me. I ask it to myself often, moreso in times like these. I could answer, "We are the only opera company for hours in any direction, so our closing would leave Memphis without opera." I, and many of my friends, would say that is a terrible thing. Maybe it is. I fear that far more people might never even notice we were gone.

This is turning into one of the most challenging times in decades for so many people, parts of society, segments of the economy, etc. I do not mean to imply that opera (or any live art) has it worse than restaurants or churches or hospitals; that is not my point. My point is that every single person who loves or makes opera must now answer the question: What difference did our shows make in their absence? Beyond the walls of the opera house, who has suffered when the curtain didn't rise? And are we comfortable if that number, as I think it may be for many of us, is very, very small?

This is a time for all of us to think creatively, but most importantly to ask ourselves: Who are we without performances? What role can we play, or must we play in this crisis, and in our communities?

I say this not to preach but to remind myself that how we act in the next few months, or longer, will likely have more impact on the field of opera than any full decade before now. We all now have a chance to embrace the change that is going to be necessary; to view it as an opportunity, not a tragedy. I have no idea what opera will look like in 5 months or five years, nor does anyone. But I know it will be here for as long as people have ears and souls. I never worry about opera disappearing. I do worry that if we spend too much time fighting against change, we allow ourselves to be Blockbuster instead of Netflix; Sears instead of Amazon.

My job at Opera Memphis is to do everything in my power to ensure we are Netflix, and I intend to do so.

This week we started asking for folks who are cooped up by the coronavirus to email us at We are going to drive our van and flatbed trailer to where they are, and sing to as many of them as possible. Will an outdoor performance on a trailer that just last month was hauling hay in Mississippi be the same as a show on the stage of GPAC, the Orpheum or POTS? Nope. Not even close. But again, not the point. The point is that when times like these arise, we cannot respond by worrying about what will become of the old way of doing things.

We need to remember that this is Memphis. We invent things. We innovate things. We export music to the world. We don't mope. We don't wallow. We grit, we grind, and we get on with the work of making something amazing. Whether that something is for 2 people on a Vollintine-Evergreen porch, or for thousands at the Levitt Shell, I have no idea. Frankly, I don't care. If I know that there is one more person out there we can reach, who will hear our music and feel? That is something worth trying. Worth getting up for every morning. And so I shall.

Stay safe everyone, and #keepthemusicgoing.

Ned Canty has been general director of Opera Memphis since 2010.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Programs Ramp Up To Assist Musicians Losing Work Due To COVID-19

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2020 at 5:53 PM

  • Courtesy Blues City Cafe
For musicians, the brave new world we all face in the shadow of COVID-19 is especially difficult. As a recent NPR story notes, "almost at once, it seemed like the entire March calendars of musicians across the country were wiped clean. Within hours Wednesday, thousands of dollars in expected income vanished."

While many are exploring live-streamed concerts and the tips they can provide, for many players the funds from these events are too little, too late.

But there are signs of hope for these artists, often from very local institutions who realize that if Memphis is to remain a music city, something, or someone, has got to give.

Yesterday Music Export Memphis, a nonprofit that has assisted so many touring acts based here, announced that it was launching fundraising for a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. While details of how financial assistance will be administered are still being worked out, the program is now taking donations, in anticipation of an ever-escalating need in the weeks and months to come.

The Blues Foundation is another local nonprofit that is stepping up its community assistance, with a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for Blues Musicians. As the foundation announced that its upcoming Blues Music Awards will pivot to become a series of online events, "they are asking those who have purchased 2020 BMA tickets and/or Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony tickets to convert those purchases to donations to be applied directly to this Emergency Relief Fund. Ticket purchasers will also be offered the option for a refund of their ticket purchases or to apply those purchases to next year's events." Noting that The Blues Hall of Fame Museum is closed for the time being, they add that they "will continue to accept phone calls and respond to emails throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic."

On a national level, other efforts have sprung into action. The Recording Academy®, which oversees the Grammy Awards, and has a strong chapter based in Memphis, has operated the MusiCares® foundation for some time. It typically offers medical relief to musicians caught off guard without insurance or other niceties of salaried jobs, but has now begun a COVID-19 Relief Fund

And Bandcamp, where so many independent artists offer their recorded wares (or files), made this announcement on Tuesday:

To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets....Still, we consider this just a starting point.

So get online tomorrow and purchase those singles, EPs, albums, and downloads. Your spending will go directly into the pockets of musicians in need. And if you have the means, consider donating to some of the initiatives above. For a musician, it could make all the difference. 

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Dozen Drinking Songs From Memphis, For A Blessed St. Paddy's Day Night

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2020 at 6:58 PM

In honor of St. Patrick, COVID-19, and social distancing (who says you can't have it all?), The Memphis Flyer presents a collection of drinking songs, be it stay-at-home or down-the-street. Because we know, all official words of caution notwithstanding, many of us will be out there today, fighting the good fight and drinking the good drink. And, believe it or not, it turns out that many a Memphis native knows a thing or two about drinking. Who knew? Here, in no particular order, are some tunes to inspire the raising of the wrist in these troubled times...

And, of course, to get drunk, you have to have something to drink. Here, Memphian Todd Snider waxes poetic about that very process, which takes on added significance when just running to the grocery is fraught with danger.

Thanks, Todd. That'll come in mighty handy, especially if there's a beer drinkin' woman in the house.

Memphis Minnie was by all accounts one such a woman, and though we doubt that the CDC embraces drinking in excess, Memphis Minnie seems downright celebratory about the prospect.

But let's not limit ourselves, shall we? Back to Memphis Slim, who seemed to understand the importance of expanding your palate.
For Carl Perkins, who famously played shows and recorded tracks with his favorite family member, Old Grand-Dad, close at hand, the key to having a real Southern good time was revealed when our hero "reached in his pocket and he flashed a quart."

Jerry Lee Lewis, ever the Renaissance Man, prefers something a little more sophisticated.

Jackie Brenston, who with his Delta Cats (and Ike Turner) invented rock 'n' roll and distorted guitar along the way, liked to live dangerously: "Going around the corner and get a fifth, everybody in my car's gonna take a little nip...boozin' and cruisin' along!" We KNOW the CDC doesn't recommend any of that.

Mr. Brenston was such a pro-active promoter of libations that he could have been the protagonist of this song by none other than Jack Oblivian, singing with a latter day version of the Compulsive Gamblers (full disclosure: I played organ on this track, and I was drinking at the time...but that free alcohol was my only financial stake in the recording.)

Harlan T. Bobo seems compelled to drink, even if he drops hints that it's not always the healthiest choice:
And we drank for the party
And we drank through the night
We drank for a rescue
We drank for goodbyes
Drank for an uncertain future
Drank for a slippery past
Drank as though each swallow were the last

Of course, as Harlan well knows, drinking and lost romance can only lead to one thing, a state of mind that Charlie Rich knows well:

If you get carried away, that drink might become your whole life. Here, Chan Marshall of Cat Power, who used an all star band of Memphis players while recording the track, contemplates life in the environs of The Lamplighter. Meh, it could be worse...

But, get carried away, and that beer joint becomes something else altogether. Let's let Dan Penn take us home with some observations on his favorite drinking establishment.

We'll leave you on that sad note, ever hopeful that, by listening long and hard to these message songs, your drinking becomes more transcendent than co-dependent, and, whether you practice social distancing or not, you may reach an epiphany about the good Saint Patrick tonight, wherever you may be. 

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Memphis Punk Godfathers The Modifiers Honored With Memorial Show at The Hi Tone on Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2020 at 1:51 PM

The Modifiers' Bob Holmes (lower left), Milford Thompson (center), and Dave Catching (upper right) circa 1983.
  • The Modifiers' Bob Holmes (lower left), Milford Thompson (center), and Dave Catching (upper right) circa 1983.
Ask anyone on the scene in the early 1980s, and they will tell you The Modifiers was the best Memphis punk band you've never heard of. Founded by Bob Holmes and Milford Thompson, their shows at the Antenna club were unpredictable, and awesome. They were live legends, but despite flirting with numerous record labels, their pioneering punk music never got the national recognition it deserved.

Front man Milford Thompson died of a heart attack in the 1990s, and guitarist Dave Catching went on to be a founding member of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal. Co-founder Bob Holmes, who was one of the greatest guitarists this city ever produced, returned to Memphis and lived here in obscurity until passing away from cancer just days after the Antenna historical marker was unveiled on Madison Avenue in October, 2019.

J.D. Reager, whose father John Paul Reager was The Modifiers on again, off again bassist, has organized a tribute show in honor of the legendary band for Saturday, March 7th at the Hi Tone. Among the performers will be Panther Burns drummer and noted raconteur Ross Johnson playing with Richard James; Billie Dove, featuring Memphis guitarist Jim Duckworth, who was also a Modifier (there were a lot of people in the Modifiers over the years); The River City Tanlines; Tape Deck; a Modifiers tribute set; and finally J.D. Reager and the Cold Blooded Three.

In 2012, the documentary I directed about the Antenna club and the vibrant music scene which sprang up around it premiered at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. It had a successful festival run, but a commercial release of Antenna has been repeatedly delayed by music rights issues. With the help of J.D. Reager, we managed to convince Bob Holmes, who had become something of a recluse, to do an interview for the film. For three hours, he regaled us with some of the wildest Memphis music stories I have ever had the good fortune to hear. In order to honor the passing of a Memphis musical genius, I have uploaded the Modifiers segments from Antenna to YouTube and present it here for the first time since 2012.

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Guitar Legend Marc Ribot Coming to The Green Room

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 10:14 AM

Marc Ribot
  • Marc Ribot
Guitarist Marc Ribot has worked with everybody. He started out in the early 70s in the garage band scene in his native New Jersey. He studied classical guitar and composition with his mentor Frantz Casseus, moved to New York, and became an early member of saxophonist John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, the long-running avante garde jazz ensemble. In 1985, he was tapped by Tom Waits to play on his seminal Rain Dogs album. Ribot’s role in creating Waits' strange soundscapes (that’s his furtive solo amidst the junky groove of “Clap Hands”) attracted the attention of producers and players alike, and he’s been in demand ever since. He’s picked for Elvis Costello, Elton John, and played on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ 2008 Grammy-winning album Raising Sand. He’s helped out Neko Case, Diana Krall, and Marianne Faithful. He’s grooved with alt rocker Cibo Matto, New Orleans legend Allan Toussaint, and the Cuban son ensemble Sierra Maestra. He’s improvised with bebop piano pioneer McCoy Tyner and accompanied Alan Ginsberg. He’s a regular in the studios of super producer T-Bone Burnett’s studio and New York free jazz madman John Zorn. And that’s just scratching the surface.

I caught up with Ribot on the phone while he was getting on the bus with bandmates to drive to a gig in Seattle. I asked the consummate collaborator what makes a good musical collaboration. “You know, that’s a good question,” he says. “It’s very mysterious. I don't know that you ever know until after the fact. I can sit down with somebody I've never met, and we don't speak a word of a language in common, and it can be a great collaboration. I can sit down with somebody who has a wonderful voice or plays wonderfully, and who I agree with on every single thing in the world, and it could be terrible.

“I don't think I've ever played in Memphis to my memory, but I did go to Memphis because I had to go. You can't be a musician and not go to Memphis!” he says.

Ribot recalls a trip to the Bluff City in the 1980s. “We drove through Memphis, so I stopped in to visit Rufus Thomas,” he says. “I was in this group the Real Tones, and we were the house band for a soul revival that was mostly Stax/Volt based. We backed up Rufus and Carla Thomas, Syl Johnson, and Otis Clay and Soloman Burke. We had a couple of week-long runs with Rufus at this club called Tramps in New York. I had his number, so I called and asked if I could come over. Carla was not home, but Rufus showed me his pictures of him with Elvis. It was great…Basically, everybody who was playing in the Stax/Volt rhythm section was a huge inspiration to me — Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, the whole crew.”

When Ribot plays the Green Room in Crosstown Arts on Saturday, March 7th, it won’t be as a collaborator. He’s recorded and released 25 albums of his own in the last 40 years, most recently the 2018 Songs of Resistance 1942-2018. A passion project inspired by the 2016 election, Songs of Resistance features a cast of collaborators that include Waits and Steve Earle performing songs inspired by political movements of the last century. Ribot paid for the recording out of his own pocket. “I was so deep in the hole after all that that I had to fire my shrink, which was actually a really bad idea,” he laughs. “I had the idea with this record that I wanted it to be based on the idea of a popular front. In other words, when something comes along that really, seriously threatens democracy, everybody has to pull together against it. Like in World War II, it wasn’t just liberals who joined the Army. It was everybody. Roosevelt sat down with both Stalin and Churchill, who was very conservative in a lot of ways…I wanted that to be the politics of the record. I didn’t include on the record stuff that I had known for years that were labor songs. There’s a lot of great stuff from the I.W.W. songbook. Those are not really a part of that…I also wanted this to be about the United States. I didn’t call friends who were English or Canadian or from a lot of different countries. The singers are all from the U.S., and I wanted them to be in English. I translated ‘Bella Ciao,’ which is a song from the Italian resistance…The way we do ‘Bella Ciao’ is like a ballad, but the original is more like a march. It’s something you sing at a soccer rally. I changed the vibe considerably. I wanted it to make sense in the current situation.”

Marc Ribot plays The Green Room at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 7th.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

When Ameripolitan Lets Its Hair Down: Unforgettable Images From Hernando's

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 12:24 PM

James Intveld joined Dale Watson and band during the Saturday afternoon show. - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • James Intveld joined Dale Watson and band during the Saturday afternoon show.
The Ameripolitan Music Awards celebrated its seventh annual ceremony on Monday, capping a weekend of shows and activities that included the grand reopening of The World Famous Hernando’s Hide-A-Way, now graced with a new historical marker. None other than Tanya Tucker made a surprise appearance at Hernando’s, where she sang “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “I’ll Fly Away,” backed by Dale Watson and His Lone Stars, with guest pianist Jason D. Williams.

At the awards ceremony, hosted by Big Sandy (of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys), guitar pioneer Duane Eddy received the Master Award, and drummer J.M. Van Eaton (who played on Sun Records tracks by Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Billy Lee Riley) received the Founder of the Sound Award from Jerry Phillips (son of Sam Phillips). Phillips poignantly said, “If J.M. Van Eaton hadn’t played on all those records, I’m not sure my father would have had the success he had.”

In another Memphis-related development, Goner Records recording artist Bloodshot Bill won the award for Best Rockabilly Male. Here he is playing bass and singing "Gone, Gone, Gone" with his fellow nominees:

2020 Ameripolitan Music Award winners

Western swing Female - Georgia Parker
Western swing Male - Dave Stuckey
Western swing group - The Farmer & Adele
Honky Tonk Female - Sarah Vista
Honky Tonk Male - Charley Crockett
Honky Tonk Group - Country Side of Harmonica Sam
Master Award - Duane Eddy
Founder of the Sound - J.M. Van Eaton
Musician - Sean Mencher
Venue - Dukes Indy
Festival - Bristol Rhythm & Roots (Bristol, TN)
DJ - Eddie White (Cosmic Cowboy Café 2RRR 88.5FM, Sydney, Australia)
Rockabilly Female - Laura Palmer (of Laura Palmer & Screamin’ Rebel Angels)
Rockabilly Male - Bloodshot Bill
Rockabilly Group - The Lustre Kings

The end of the show served as an impromptu tribute to Carl Perkins, with the 2020 Rockabilly Male nominees, Shaun Young, Bloodshot Bill, Jittery Jack, and Eddie Clendening, all performing Perkins’ “Gone, Gone, Gone” together, followed by a grand finale with Watson, Tammi Savoy, Jim Heather, Jerry Phillips, Jittery Jeff, Dave Stuckey, Nick 13, Laura Palmer, and more singing Perkins’ “Boppin’ the Blues.”

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

That 70s Revolution: The Potent Global Force of Soul Music, Screened at Stax

Posted By on Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 11:05 AM

James Brown at the Zaire 74 festival
  • James Brown at the Zaire 74 festival
Like many, I was stunned by the 1996 documentary, When We Were Kings. Though I never followed boxing, the film's recreation of the political context of a much-hyped 1974 match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, the "Rumble in the Jungle," was so compellingly crafted that the fight became much more than just a fight. Ali represented an unapologetically radical vision of African American pride and resistance, while Foreman seemed to unconsciously channel more regressive politics. It was no surprise when the film won an Oscar, though the recent prospect of a musical based on the movie may stretch one's credulity somewhat.

Part of the film focused on the concurrent Zaire 74 music festival in Kinshasa. Like the fight, it was organized by promoter Don King, and featured many luminaries of both American and African soul music. And yet the lean, effective editing of When We Were Kings offered only a small sampling of the music that was going down, a tantalizing glimpse of the global reach of American soul, as it came to honor the ancestral lands of so many of its heroes.

Enter a parallel documentary of sorts, over a decade later: Soul Power, a full serving of brilliant performances by the likes of James Brown ("Soul Power"), The J.B.'s ("Cold Sweat"), The Spinners ("One of a Kind"), OK Jazz featuring Franco, Bill Withers ("Hope She'll Be Happier"), Miriam Makeba ("Qongqothwane" a.k.a. "The Click Song"), B.B. King ("The Thrill Is Gone"), Pembe Dance Troupe, The Crusaders ("Put It Where You Want It"), Fania All-Stars featuring Celia Cruz, Danny "Big Black" Rey, Afrisa featuring Tabu Ley Rochereau, and Manu Dibango.
To do justice to the enormity of this cultural mashup, one must see both films, and, with some of the non-musical interviews interspersed in Soul Power, there is a bit of overlap. But, to be sure, Soul Power puts the music front and center.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that the Stax Museum of American Soul Music will be screening the film free of charge, with free popcorn to boot, this coming Monday, February 24th. While no Stax artists are featured in the film, the museum is living up to its name as a cultural clearing house for all kinds of soul. And it helps put the accomplishments of Stax in context, as echoes of the 1972 Wattstax concert in Los Angeles can be seen in the politically charged gathering: like Wattstax, it was a show of strength by the performers and the audience alike. Soul Power, indeed. 

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Beale Street Music Festival: Memphis in May Reels in Global, Local Stars

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 2:35 PM

Lil Wayne - NABIL
  • Nabil
  • Lil Wayne
Back in December, Memphis in May announced a few of the headliners for this year's Beale Street Music Festival. Today, we know the rest of the story.

In addition to previously announced acts such as The Lumineers, Lil Wayne, The Avett Brothers, and Memphis’ own Three 6 Mafia, the lineup is now even more sure to have something for everyone:  Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, The 1975, DaBaby, 311, Deftones, Leon Bridges, Lindsey Buckingham, Louis the Child, Nelly, Portugal. The Man, Brittany Howard, Liam Gallagher, and rappers Moneybagg Yo, Young Dolph and Al Kapone.
The Lumineers
  • The Lumineers
Those last three are not the only performers with deep Memphis connections. “Of course, Beale Street Music Festival always prominently features Memphis artists," says James L. Holt, President and CEO of Memphis in May, "and this year is no exception, with Mavis Staples, Project Pat, Lil Wyte, Amy LaVere, and many more.”
Mavis Staples - MYRIAM SANTOS
  • Myriam Santos
  • Mavis Staples

Other acts familiar to many music fans include: Of Monsters and Men, AJR, Rival Sons, Billy Strings, Manchester Orchestra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Glorious Sons, Patty Griffin (winner of the 2020 Grammy for Best Folk Album), Waka Flocka Flame, Dirty Honey, Duke Deuce, Reignwolf, Toosii, Beabadoobee, Crobot, and Lil Migo.

The festival's international exposure is especially pronounced, with the lineup also featuring two mega-stars from Ghana, the country to be honored during this year's Memphis in May celebrations. The rapper Sarkodie has been recognized twice as Africa’s Artist of the Year and named to MTV’s and BET’s lists of top African rap artists, while Stonebwoy was named 2019’s Best Male Artist at the African Entertainment Awards.
  • Sarkodie

Meanwhile, the Beale Street Music Festival once again lives up to its namesake, the home of the blues, with appearances by Keb Mo (winner of the 2020 Grammy for Best Americana Album), Bobby Rush, and Taj Mahal, along with Janiva Magness, Don Bryant & the Bo-Keys, Trigger Hippy, Kenny Brown, Lisa Mills, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Sue Foley, Blind Mississippi Morris, Hurricane Ruth, Kelly Hunt, Richard Johnston, Earl “the Pearl” Banks, Memphissippi Sound, and Australia’s Blues Music Award winners, Kings and Associates.

The Beale Street Music Festival opens to the public at 5 pm on Friday, May 1st and runs through Sunday, May 3rd. Tickets can be purchased through and are sold now through April 19th as three-day passes for $145 or single-day tickets for $55 (limited quantities). A limited number of VIP passes are also available at for $699.

The 2020 Beale Street Music Festival is sponsored by Bud Light, Terminix, and Monster Energy.

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Friday, February 7, 2020

Blues Going Global: The International Blues Challenge Brings It All Home

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 2:54 PM

Hector Anchondo, double-winner at this year's International Blues Challenge - TOM DAVIS
  • Tom Davis
  • Hector Anchondo, double-winner at this year's International Blues Challenge
It's been a heady time for Memphis and the blues lately. The city and the music are nearly synonymous, not only due to our storied past but for the ongoing love we collectively show the art form. Naturally, Memphis is home to The Blues Foundation, and aside from every spring's Blues Music Awards (scheduled for May 7th), the nonprofit's shining (and most music-filled) moment is the International Blues Challenge (IBC).

The importance — and global reach — of the IBC couldn't have been underscored more with the Memphis-based Southern Avenue still riding high from their Grammy nomination. Although Gary Clark, Jr., ultimately won the title of Best Contemporary Blues Album, the nomination alone was yet another notch in the belt of a band whose story has gone hand in hand with the IBC.

Guitarist Ori Naftaly first came here from his native Israel for the IBC in 2013, and getting to the semi-finals that year was enough to convince him to stay. Two years later, he founded Southern Avenue, and by 2016 they'd made it to the IBC finals. It wasn't long before they were signed to the newly revived Stax Records and were the toast of the town. The Grammy nomination for their second album, Keep On, only furthers that trajectory.

This past Saturday's final competition and award cermony served as a capstone to IBC events sprinkled through the preceding week. At the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards ceremony, Peter Astrup, Rob Bowman, Janice Johnston, and Kathleen Lawton were recognized, as were the Cali Blues and Folk Festival in Colombia, the Jimiway Blues Festival in Poland, Hal & Mal's Restaurant, the Jus' Blues Music Foundation and the Kentuckiana Blues Society.

Other events included a screening of the classic documentary, Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads, a keynote panel on “Blues Women: Creators, Conductors, and Catalysts,” and the workshop, “Leading Your Own Career with Bobby Rush.” Additionally, the Blues Hall of Fame opened its new Women of the Blues exhibit along with hosting a Janiva Magness book signing and a panel discussion addressing “Music Across Borders.”
  • Tom Davis
  • HOROJO Trio
The cumulative event, of course, was the International Blues Challenge finals, which took place at the Orpheum Theatre. The HOROJO Trio, representing the Ottawa Blues Society, left Memphis with a first-place finish in the Band Division. JW Jones (the “Jo” in HOROJO) took home the Gibson Guitar Award for Best Band Guitarist. Hector Anchondo, from the Blues Society of Omaha, triumphed in the Solo/Duo Division as well as earning the Memphis Cigar Box Award as the Best Solo/Duo Guitarist.

Felix Slim picked up the Lee Oskar Harmonica Award for the Best Harmonica Player, while finishing second to Anchondo in the Solo/Duo category. Anchondo and Slim are both former finalists who now have won an IBC award. 
Felix Slim - RICK NATION
  • Rick Nation
  • Felix Slim
This year’s winners also underscore the international aspect of the IBC. Slim, after becoming one of Spain’s leading blues men, spent several years living in Greece being influenced by its music before moving to New York City. And placing second to the Canada-based HOROJO Trio was the Jose Ramirez Band, which is led by Ramirez who was a major blues star in his native Costa Rica before relocating to America.

Meanwhile, Anchondo's Latino background makes for a cross-cultural blues sound. While Latino contributions to the blues reach back to what Jelly Roll Morton called the “Spanish tinge” in pre-war New Orleans jazz, or old records like 1949's “Muy Sabroso Blues” by Lalo Guerrero, Anchondo's double-win was a strong affirmation of a cultural side of the blues that many sleep on. And, of course, it was a strong showing from Nebraska's thriving blues scene. 

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Wilco to Play Levitt Shell in First Fundraiser of the Year

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2020 at 2:37 PM

  • Wilco
The band Wilco has longstanding ties to the Bluff City, reaching back to their 1994 debut, A.M., recorded at Easley-McCain Studio.

Even then, in their alt-country days, they displayed a reliable knack for both classic songwriting and sonic experimentation: a perfect fit with that renowned Memphis studio in its heyday. That such a spirit has remained and evolved with the band over the course of 10 subsequent studio albums is a testament to their collective restlessness with indie-pop conventions.

While the group has seen personnel changes over that time — a stable lineup featuring Nels Cline, Mikael Jorgensen, Glenn Kotche, Patrick Sansone, John Stirratt, and, of course, singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy — it has endured since 2004. Now, in the wake of a marked ramping-up of Jeff Tweedy solo albums, they're touring to support 2019's Ode to Joy, which strikes a middle ground between the solo Tweedy's more stripped-down approach and the wider sonic palette of previous Wilco albums.

Mellotron Variations at the Solid Sound Festival, 2019 (L-R, Pat Sansone, Robby Grant, Jonathan Kirkscey)
  • Mellotron Variations at the Solid Sound Festival, 2019 (L-R, Pat Sansone, Robby Grant, Jonathan Kirkscey)

The band's spirit of sonic exploration has lately infused the most recent Memphis/Wilco cross-pollination, in the form of the Mellotron Variations group, an ensemble of Mellotron players founded here by Robby Grant and Jonathan Kirkscey, which has grown to include John Medeski and Wilco's Pat Sansone. The group's concerts and rehearsals have made Sansone a more regular visitor from his home in Nashville, and when they played Wilco's Solid Sound Festival in Massachusetts last year, the sympatico between Wilco and Memphis' flair for the unconventional was sealed.

Thus, Wilco's upcoming performance at the Levitt Shell on April 14th (just announced Tuesday) has a certain resonance with the Memphis music scene. Part of the Shell Yeah! Benefit Concert Series held at the iconic outdoor stage every year, this will precede the Shell's regular Summer Orion Free Music Concert Series as a rare ticketed event — one of four this year — designed to raise funds for the many free concerts staged by the Levitt Shell.

Shell Yeah! Presents Wilco, Levitt Shell, Tuesday, April 14. 8:00 pm. Tickets on pre-sale February 5, public sale February 7.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

New Memphis Colorways: A Man, A Band, A Plan

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2020 at 9:23 AM

Paul Taylor, aka New Memphis Colorways
  • Paul Taylor, aka New Memphis Colorways
Memphians not hip to specific personnel in the local music scene may have seen the name New Memphis Colorways pop up in their feeds from time to time, and wondered just what that could be. A man? A band? A plan? [Panama? - ed.]

Actually, it's all three. First of all, it's the man otherwise known as Paul Taylor, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who grew up in the midst of many Memphis music luminaries, including his own father, legendary singer and guitarist Pat Taylor. “And I learned most of my songcraft from Richard Orange,” Taylor adds. “He was very much a second dad to me.”

Orange, of course, first came to Memphis as leader of the band Zuider Zee, whose recent release of archival material from 1972-74, Zeenith, was dubbed one of 2018's best reissues by Rolling Stone magazine. That's especially relevant because echoes of that era, albeit with some serious reconfiguring, are all over New Memphis Colorway's new album, The Music Stands., to be celebrated at a release party on Friday, January 31 at The Green Room at Crosstown Concourse. It will simultaneously become available on all streaming services.

"The first two tracks are my weird modern take on Memphis power pop," says Taylor, "and then it shifts to songwriter/acoustic mode for a couple songs, and then a couple of art rock instrumentals. Then the last song is a reflective ballad."

While it's easy to lay claim to the territory first mapped out by Big Star, Zuider Zee, or the Hot Dogs back in the day, the proof comes as soon as the proverbial needle drops. (Someone please put this out on vinyl!) "Impossible Goals" revs up like the Clash, then hits you with unexpected riffs and the kind of unaffected, straight-arrow singing you might have thought was extinct.

One astounding feat is the way Taylor's voice has hints of Alex Chilton, even as his songwriting has more echoes of Chris Bell. And yet the music also could sit comfortably next to much later touchstones, like the Posies, in all its unexpected harmonic and rhythmic turns.

"I don't want to be super-referential to the past," notes Taylor. "I hold in my head, daily, the Sam Phillips quote, ‘If you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything at all.’ I do make study of older music, and I think it's critical that you learn it note for note. I'm transcribing jazz solos or learning Steve Cropper or Teenie Hodges or Reggie Young, or the drumming of Gene Chrisman and Al Jackson Jr. These are my heroes. But I don't deliberately set about making music that shows that off. At the end of the day, I try to throw that away and just let the songs come out."

And come out they do, as some notable musicians, having heard advance tracks, have remarked on.

"Paul Taylor's new record, under the nom de plume New Memphis Colorways, is like looking through a glass phosphorescently. Truly an artist of wizardry, sailing uncharted waters of sound, colour and light. An otherworldly adventure in melodic transcendence. Not to be missed." - Richard Orange

Okay, that was from his "second dad" and mentor. But other songwriters have weighed in as well. Chuck Prophet, with whom Taylor has worked extensively in the past, said, “Paul has really come into his own here. Although the songs are deceptively simple, there’s a world inside each track. These little musical creations are killer. They will creep up on you. They’ll reach out and grab you. It’s all very soulful. And a little magical too. Kinda proggy. Kind of indie. And utterly impossible to describe. I dig it.”

And one of Memphis' more literary songwriters, Cory Branan, had this to say: “Paul’s out of his damn mind. He conjures more original musical ideas in 12 bars than most musicians do with entire albums. The Music Stands. finds him, as always, accessing strangenesses and welding the unexpected with a singular vision.”

One striking thing about the record is that it doesn't sound, like so many records, like the product of tinkering. It has the impact of a full-on rock band. Which would seem to answer the second query as to what exactly New Memphis Colorways is. But if you assumed it was a band from, say 1979, playing on these tracks, you'd be wrong. Nearly all the instruments were played by Taylor. New Memphis Colorways is a band in a man.

"I grew up listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren and a lot of Prince, and people like that who made records where they played everything. It's what I've been doing since I was literally seven years old, when my dad was helping me four-track songs, so it seemed like a natural thing for me to do. The next record I make, I would hopefully play an acoustic guitar and hire a band around me, and do it live, like a lot of Memphis records that I love were. This one is more of a D.I.Y. affair, which is fun."

Nevertheless, the album release show will have a full band. "I have musicians that are just incredible," says Taylor. "Hopefully we'll be playing more shows."

Add that to a long list of releases, projects and entities with which Taylor is associated, much of which he releases on his own label, the Owl Jackson Jr. Record Company. "New Memphis Colorways is my brand," Taylor clarifies. "And it's all encompassing. Anybody who knows me knows I do a bunch of different things. The EP I released previously [Old Forest Loop] was drastically different from this, and the next one will probably be drastically different." Still other eclectic expressions come in the form of an album of experimental instrumentals that exist only under the hashtag #nmcvignettes, and an even earlier online release, The Old Forest Trail.

The diversity of these varied projects is a delight in its own right, and ultimately shows that, at heart, New Memphis Colorways is a plan. "I'm a huge fan of skateboard art and graphic design in general," explains Taylor. "If you were to release a skateboard, it might have different color combinations and variations on the same graphic: colorways. The whole concept of New Memphis Colorways is that it's new combinations of ideas." In this newest work, one finds the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of the ’70s alive and well, and definitely kicking. It's an approach that suits New Memphis Colorways just fine.

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