Friday, September 21, 2018

Dancing Highlife in Memphis, Obruni Style

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 1:35 PM

Obruni Dance Band & the Mama Africa Dancers - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Obruni Dance Band & the Mama Africa Dancers
One night this summer, with some time to kill, I dropped in to the Wiseacre Brewing Company on Broad Avenue. Walking across the parking lot, I heard grooves not often played in our neck of the woods, and opening the door to the bar, the music suddenly springing into the night, only confirmed that we weren't in West Tennessee anymore. It had to be West Africa.

Filling the room were the sounds of an ace Ghanian highlife band. The band was collaborating that night with dancers who sang along with many of the classic highlife numbers. Hypnotic, joyous guitar arpeggios shimmered over fiercely syncopated beats — this was the real deal! But scanning the players, I saw only familiar faces from other combos around town.

The Obruni Dance Band is indeed comprised of local talent. And, given that many American fans have had African music on their radars since the 1960s, it shouldn't come as a surprise that enough Memphis musicians were big enough fans to eventually create their own band. Here, along with a slideshow using Jamie Harmon's images of the show I chanced upon that night in July, are the details of how that happened. I asked Obruni's founder and lead singer, Adam Holton, about the origins of his interest and what his vision for the group might be.
Adam Holton & the Obruni Dance Band - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Adam Holton & the Obruni Dance Band

Memphis Flyer: How did you first get into highlife music, and how deep did you go with it?

Adam Holton: I’m from Memphis and I first learned about highlife and other types of Afro-pop when I was in school at University of Colorado, Boulder. There was an ethnomusicology professor from Ghana named Kwasi Ampene who had a “West African Highlife Ensemble”. I went to see a performance of theirs, and I was blown away by this huge ensemble of 20+ musicians, dancers, and drummers playing this infectious dance music with killer bass lines! I joined the group the next semester and stayed in the group under Kwasi’s leadership until after I graduated. I traveled with Kwasi to Ghana as a part of a study abroad program, and got to sit in a few times at clubs in Accra. I also took some bass lessons from Ralph Karikari, a killer highlife bassist and guitarist who is famous for his role in Dr. K. Gyasi’s Noble Kings band.

It sounds like Boulder must have quite an Afro-pop scene.

The West African Highlife Ensemble would invite guest artists each year for a big performance, and through these special performances I got to back up some heavy hitters including Mac Tontoh of Osibisa, Okyerema Asante, and Paa Kow. Paa Kow is a drum prodigy who was playing professionally before he was a teenager, and he and I started the By All Means Band together in Colorado, playing Afro-funk-fusion. We eventually moved to Memphis in 2007 and played here for a little more than a year before breaking up.

Where did you go from there?

I went in other musical directions with other musical projects (Mister Adams, Big Barton) just following my muse where it wanted to go. Some time in 2016 (about seven or eight years after the band broke up), I kind of looked up and realized that this music that I had devoted many years of my life to learning and playing was no longer a part of my life, and I missed it terribly! No one in town was really doing the Afro-pop thing, so I decided to start a new band. Initially, I tried to find any West African musicians who might be in the area, but to date I haven’t had any success with that. So I just started calling on players who had some world music experience or who have jazz backgrounds and can really play just about anything you throw at them.

Obruni means foreigner in the Akan language of Twi. As a white American in Ghana, you’re kind of a sore thumb, so strangers will playfully call you Obruni as you pass them in the street or markets. I decided to name the band Obruni Dance Band because I figured American audiences wouldn’t know what it meant, and I thought that it would be kind of an inside joke to Ghanaians who would immediately know that the band wasn’t from Ghana. Highlife bands are often really large by comparison to rock bands, which translates to a lot of concentrated human energy during performances. The band started with five members (Logan Hanna, Stephen Chopek, Felix Hernandez, Gerald Stephens, and myself), but we have since added Victor Sawyer and Jawaun Crawford on trombone and trumpet.

So does the band mainly play classic highlife music, or do you write originals in that style?

Right now Obruni plays about 50/50 original music versus covers. We are somewhat limited in the covers that we can do because I am by no means a fluent Twi speaker, and so I mostly focus on songs that are sung in pidgin English. Sometimes, I take a popular rock song, and give it a heavy highlife makeover so that pretty much no one would ever recognize it. We do songs by The Beatles, Nirvana, Dire Straits, and Warren Zevon alongside songs by Osibisa, Prince Nico Mbarga, The Sweet Talks, and George Darko.
See events listed below to discover two ways to hear the Obruni Dance Band this weekend.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Memphis Music Initiative: Chic New Space Remakes Fire House into Musical Hub

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 4:10 PM

Today marks a turning point for the Memphis Music Initiative (MMI), now in its fourth year of nurturing musical skills and development in the city. It's the grand opening of the organization's new space, the newly refurbished fire house at the corner of B.B. King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. As the staff flitted around us, preparing for today's festivities, Amber Hamilton, MMI's Chief Operations and Strategy Officer, showed off the new offices.
Amber Hamilton - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Amber Hamilton
It's a beautiful, light-filled space, cleanly modern, but with details from the building's original design still intact. Construction on the fire house at198 Doctor M.L.K. Jr Ave. was begun in 1923. It ultimately served other uses after being retired from public service, including Chips Moman's studio. The MMI staff all recognize the storied history of the place.
Darren Isom - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Darren Isom
Darren Isom, MMI's executive director, feels the building "at the corner of King and King," is perfectly situated for MMI's mission, combining "social justice with musical genius."  It's also "musically agnostic" and inclusive, he says, befitting it's hub-like location. The MMI's 33 fellows teach at 49 schools throughout the city, and a downtown location is accessible to the whole of Memphis.

The main goal was to create a space conducive to the fellows, students, and staff hanging out. Community, after all, is what MMI is about, says Isom. "It's not just for 'leaders' or career musicians. Even those who go on to other things are part of the creative economy."

Tonight will be filled with music (and much good conversation, one imagines), not to mention food and drink. There will be performances by many of MMI's Music Engagement Teaching Fellows, partner school ensembles, MMI Works youth and more (see below for the line-up).

Parking is free in the FedEx Forum media lot, the gated parking lot at the south corner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue and B.B. King Blvd. There will also be food trucks aplenty: Polar Tropical Shaved Ice & Sweet Treats, Primal Flames Grill and Pablo's Cuisine & Grill.

Ribbon Cutting 5:15 PM
Stax Music Academy 5:30 PM
Young Actors Guild 6:00 PM
Frayser Mass Band 6:30 PM
Harmonic South String Orchestra 6:50 PM
Trap Jazz 7:05 PM
Lucky 7 Brass Band 19:30

Perfecting Gifts, Inc. 5:30 PM

Calvin Barnes 5:15 PM
Soulsville Choir 6:00 PM
Memphis Jazz Workshop 6:15 PM

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Memphis Music Hall of Fame Announces 2018 Inductees

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 5:40 PM

Eddie Floyd
  • Eddie Floyd

The Memphis Music Hall of Fame
just announced this year's inductees, who officially enter the ranks of honorees at the induction ceremony this November. The Hall of Fame, a nonprofit set up in 2012 and administered by the  Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum, now celebrates the works of over seventy artists or groups, and shows no signs of lacking local talent for future recognition.

This year's inductees are, as usual, giants in their respective genres. We pay tribute to them here with clips of them working their magic onstage. Towering over them all is the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who died just last month. She will be paid a special tribute in November's ceremony, as the Hall of Fame honors a legend who called Memphis her birthplace.

Another soul giant, Eddie Floyd, will also be inducted this year. The writer and hit performer behind "Knock on Wood" and many other Stax hits, Floyd's songs were interpreted by nearly every Stax artist. Naturally, not a year has gone by without at least one artist from the label being inducted.

O'Landa Draper
, the Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and director of the Associates Choir, was considered one of the top gospel artists of the 1990s. He too will join the ranks of honorees this year. Though not born in Memphis, Draper moved to Memphis at the age of 13 and attended Overton High School and the University of Memphis.

At today's announcement event, there was some light-hearted discussion of whether Draper could be honored in the same program as fellow 2018 inductees, 8 Ball & MJG. They will be, we were assured, but the musical numbers won't be juxtaposed. The rap duo are on a roll lately, ramping up their live appearances and continuing to drop new albums. (See our recent profile of them below).

In keeping with the Hall of Fame's tradition of inducting groups as well as solo artists, the Box Tops were also added this year. With Big Star having been inducted in 2014, this makes for two groups associated with Alex Chilton getting the nod. Could he be recognized as a solo artist in his own right one day? In any case, the announcement also named checked original members Danny Smythe, Bill Cunningham, and Gary Talley, as well as 1968 additions Rick Allen and Thomas Boggs. The fabulous guitar in this video clip was not mentioned by name.

Another group, arguably far more groundbreaking than the Box Tops, was also recognized: The Rock and Roll Trio, responsible for the groundbreaking "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and other rockabilly masterpieces. Driven by the savvy guitar attack of Paul Burlison, brothers and Memphis natives Dorsey and Johnny Burnette took the world by storm, once upon a time. Here they are from 1956.

And finally, another legend from the first days of Elvis, who most certainly has not left the building, is George Klein, the pioneering DJ and rock 'n' roll television host who was critical to giving regional bands exposure via his programming. He was also an early friend to the King, and had the honor of inducting Elvis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He'll be honored with the other performers above (for he, in his own way, was an artist as well) at the induction ceremony, scheduled for November 1st at the Cannon Center. Here's George sharing a strange moment with the great Sam Phillips.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Repercussions: Aftermath of Continuum Festival Continues To Inspire

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 9:36 AM

  • Jamie Harmon
Like the audience, performers from the recent Continuum Music Festival at Crosstown Arts are still reeling from the power of the music they brought to life, and the promise of partnerships they were a part of. Not since the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's legendary Opus One series, which featured MSO members backing rock bands, singer-songwriters, and rappers alike, has genre-hopping occurred on such a scale in the Bluff City.

Many of the festival's performing artists are remarking on its game-changing nature. "Continuum was a beautiful platform to explore the boundaries of sound," says Siphne Aaye of the duo Artistik Approach.

"I did some things I’ve never done before in my life and pushed my performance into a realm of cerebral art that was just as exhilarating as It was challenging," commented rising producer IMAKEMADBEATS of the Unapologetic collective.

And Brandon Quarles of Chicago's ~Nois Saxophone Quartet enthused that "The Continuum Music Festival was adventurously curated and offered intriguing and engaging events to audiences from all walks of life. Incredible things are happening in Memphis and Crosstown Arts is leading the charge with its one-of-a-kind facility and creative vision."

Here we present indelible images by Jamie Harmon and Ben Rednour, capturing those two charmed evenings in the former Sears Tower, which was reverberating with many a novel vibration. Thanks to the tribute to avant garde composer John Cage, the sounds were on the unique side. Unless the Sears potted plant department once hosted an impromptu chamber concert, it was surely the first time cacti were listened to so intently; and though one can imagine multiple radios blaring in Electronics, Aisle 4, way back when, they surely were never coordinated as dynamically as when one ad hoc group performed Cage's "Imaginary Landscape No. 4 for 12 Radios."

Co-organizer Jenny Davis was especially delighted at the reception Cage's music received."Cage is regarded as one of the most influential of 20th century composers, especially in regards to experimental music, but also in the realms of dance, visual art, and poetry," she says. "Though Continuum is a primarily a music festival, it also features collaborations between different artist disciplines and musical genres, so Cage seemed like a perfect composer to showcase. His philosophy that sounds of all kinds have value simply as they are is a welcome reminder to us all to be more open to our experiences, to put our preferences and biases aside, and consider the world around us with a new perspective."

If you missed it, flip through these intriguing photos and imagine what was, and what might be in years to come.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Listen Up: Wine Witch

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 6:03 PM

Wes Brown and David Shull of Wine Witch - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Wes Brown and David Shull of Wine Witch

David Shull got serious about guitar after someone heard him play and said, “David sucks.”

He was in the eighth grade at the time.

“I swear to God that has been a driving force,” says Shull. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to suck.’”

About the same time he was told he sucks at guitar, Shull discovered Wolfmother. “Everything I’d been listening to before that just seemed really contrived. I had never heard anything like that. It was kind of Led Zeppelin-y. It was like old school rock, but with this new feel and this power behind it. You know. Just driving. You want to bang your head to it.”

Shull, 26, now is guitar/vocalist with drummer Wes Brown, 21, in Wine Witch.

Brown says he was “always that annoying kid that wanted to play music.”

He chose drums as his instrument. “I had that energy and those rhythms in my head.”

Slipknot, Rage Against the Machine, and System of a Down were among Brown’s favorite bands.

He dated Shull’s sister for a time, but he didn’t know Shull. “The first time I met him I was scared,” he says. “She warned me. She said, ‘He might have to feel you out a little but don’t worry if he’s a dick.’”

“I kind of was known for being a fucking protective brother,” Shull says.

Brown was nervous when he knew he had to meet Shull one night at LBOE. “I knew I was going to have to come meet my new girlfriend’s scary older brother who I’d heard all the horror stories about. Like if I say one wrong thing I might get a quick uppercut to the jaw.”

So, Brown just “played it cool.”

“We were cool,” Shull says.

Brown was surprised when Shull called him to jam after he stopped dating his sister. “I thought I did so horrible because I hadn’t really been playing as much as I needed to and I hadn’t been playing with other people,” Brown says. “I had like half of my drum kit and I was just trying to make something happen. I didn’t think it went well at all. I thought, ‘He’s never going to hit me up again. I blew it.’”

“I knew he was good,” Shull says.

Shull was in another band when he approached Brown about starting another project. “I was like, ‘Yo, man. Why don’t we do something on the side? I’ve got all this music that we’re not going to use and I want to play it. It can be a little heavier. Something’s that going to be just fucking fun to do.’”

Brown liked Shull’s music. “Just the driving force of it,” he says. “I’m always more into hard hitting, rhythmic stuff. I like melodies that are good. He can write a really damn catchy melody and hook. He just writes good songs. I’ve known people who could listen to a Jimi Hendrix song or just an insanely difficult song to play and and play it note for note. But they can’t write their own music. He’s always writing. Always coming up with stuff. Just stuff that is genuinely catchy. My parents like it. That’s catchy.”

“My biggest influences are like Queens of the Stone Age and all of Josh Homme’s projects,” Shull says. “Because he falls in this place where it’s driving. It’s heavy. It’s not your regular rock. It’s something between metal and rock. Something that falls and sinks.”

Shull and Brown played their first show as “Amberlamps.”

Shull wasn’t a fan of that name. “I thought it was too memey,” he says.

“The first thing you learn about a two piece band is there’s a lot of empty space,” Shull says. “And every mistake you make is amplified a thousand fold because there’s only two dudes to look at. So, if you fuck up, they’re going to know it.”

Their first show together also was the first show Brown ever played. “Ever played ever,” he says. ‘So, I had the first show jitters bad.”

Shull came up with the idea of the two of them covering their faces that night to conceal their identities. “I was like, ‘It’ll be cool, man. I’ll wear this bandana on my face.”

He wanted Brown to wear a ski mask. “I was like, ‘Get a ski mask, dude. Wear a ski mask. It’ll be cool, man.’”

Brown brought a ski mask, but it wasn't what Shull wanted. “It had this little bill on it. And I was like, ‘That doesn’t look intimidating! 

It looks like you got back from the mountains."

He thought it looked like Brown had been snow skiing. "

I was going for more like robbing a bank kind of vibe. We missed the mark on that, really.”

Shull ended up discarding his bandanna. “He - like halfway through the first song - got too hot and just ripped that shit off his face anyway,” Brown says.

“I couldn’t breath behind it,” Shull says.

“You couldn’t sing,” Brown says.

And their music? “Everyone said it was alright,” Shull says. “A big struggle for us has been gear. I’ve borrowed amps. I’ve used shitty amps. I’ve had amps go out on me. I just got a new bass amp."

“Well, after that first show I pretty much was like, ‘I don’t like the name ‘Amberlamps.’ Fuck that,’” Brown says.

As Wine Witch, they began opening up for a lot of bands passing through town on the way to perform at South by Southwest. “They’re looking on Facebook like, ‘Who can play these last minute shows,’” Shull says. “So, I just started jumping on them. I think we played three in a week that month.”

“And we learned a lot at every show,” Brown says.

They’ve been developing a following. A boost was when a couple from Richmond, Va., passed through Memphis on their honeymoon. They Googled to find out what bands were playing that night, found Wine Witch, and listened to one of its videos on YouTube.

“We didn’t even know there was a video on YouTube,” Shull says.

“They came to see us and they were so stoked on it,” Brown says. “Just to know that those two people were so stoked on it.”

“It’s been little things like that,’ Shull says.

Wine Witch, which plays about three shows a month, recently played its first out-of-town show at Santos in New Orleans. They’d like to play out of town shows at least once a month.

They’ve also thought about adding a third member to the band. “I’d be able to do more on the guitar,” Shull says. “Instead of being the driving melody with guitar I could actually do a little bit more filling in. Lead stuff. And see how it goes.”

“We toyed with the idea of maybe doing a revolving door thing and jamming with one person one week on keys and background vocals and playing a show with them,” Brown says.

There is one advantage to being a two-person band, Shull said. The money. “You only have to split it with between two people. Fifty bucks between four guys is like, ‘Oh, cool. Gas money.’ But with two guys it’s like, ‘Hey, now. We’re going out tonight.’”

Wine Witch will play with Pink Suede and Geist at 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at 1884 Lounge at Minglewood Hall at 1555 Madison Avenue. Admission: $10.

Wine Witch also will play with Regulus and Late Night Cardigan at 8 p.m. Sept. 10 at Sounds Good Memphis, 831 Cooper. Admission: $6.

Wes Brown and David Shull of Wine Witch - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Wes Brown and David Shull of Wine Witch

September Brings Cool Outdoor Music Galore

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 2:12 PM

On good nights, the cool air of autumn is already whistling in. And other tones are floating in the air as well, with the fall outdoor concert season, already underway, really hitting its stride this weekend. Not only do we still have the Delta Fair & Music Festival, this weekend will see the launch of the fall season's River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheater and the Levitt Shell Orion Free Music Concert Series.

Of course, it all pales before tonight and tomorrow's International Goat Days in Millington. There will be a classic "battle of the bands" and other live music, along with other family fair goats! Meanwhile, if you really want to see dancing in the streets, check out the Orange Mound Parade, this Saturday morning at 8:00, where marching bands give it their all  from Melrose High School to the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. It's the grandest preamble that the Southern Heritage Classic could hope for. 
Memphis Pride Fest
  • Memphis Pride Fest
Other fairs and parades ensue through the month, culminating in the 15th Annual Memphis Pride Fest, sure to bring a host of bands out to Tom Lee Park. For even more music with that street carnival flair, check out the diverse lineup of the Mid South Fair, September 20-30, now held at Landers Center in Southaven.
Los Kumbia Brothers
  • Los Kumbia Brothers
This year's fair boasts a special celebration of Latino music, presented by Radio Ambiente, with six bands playing from noon til 10:00. And let's not forget Memphis legends 8 Ball and MJG. That show, like most others, comes free with your fair admission.  

Meta and the Cornerstones
  • Meta and the Cornerstones
Meanwhile, back to the present, the weekend is exploding with sit-down outdoor shows. Not long ago, we gave you a rundown of the full fall lineup at the queen of outdoor venues, the Levitt Shell. If you missed last night's Devon Gilfillian, there's still time to plan on this weekend's especially international sounds, with Havana's Orquesta Akokán tonight and the Afro-pop/reggae/soul blend of Meta and the Cornerstones tomorrow. Reba Russell closes down the weekend on Sunday.

Earlier that day, there's even more music, including a special pop-up sunset jazz event at Court Square with the Bill Hurd Jazz Ensemble. Meanwhile, the River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheater, aside from being smartly curated, also boasts one of the most beautiful vistas of any outdoor music experience. Perched on the steps of an amphitheater in the style of Ancient Greece, you gaze on shores of the city and the hyper-reality of our gigantic metallic pyramid.

Harlan T. Bobo
  • Harlan T. Bobo
Both of the artists jump-starting the River Series season on Sunday, Harlan T. Bobo and Paul Taylor, evoke the city very specifically in their music. Bobo, who recently captivated an audience at the Memphis Music Mansion, might even sing his instant classic, "Must Be in Memphis," as the city floats out in the night; and Taylor may treat audiences to his new, and very groovy, Old Forest Loop music. The River series then continues with Cameron Bethany & Kid Maestro on September 23, and Teardrop City and the Limes on October 14.

Elsewhere around the city, the Live at the Garden series continues tonight, with the big, rich tones of Big & Rich echoing through the sublime environs of the Memphis Botanic Garden. Although that show will mark the end of the summer series, look for CMT Music Award winners Dan + Shay with special guest Michael Ray at the end of the month.

Of course, Midtowners are already readying for next weekend's Cooper-Young Festival, and the event's three stages will feature some choice performers. Highlights on the main stage include FreeWorld with the legendary Dr. Herman Green, followed by Fuzzie Jefferies. The other stages are great ways to check out the many and diverse sounds coming out of Memphis these days, from Laramie to the Switchblade Kid to the current
kings of Memphis hardcore, Negro Terror.
Negro Terror at Our Scene United - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Negro Terror at Our Scene United

And finally, we can't forget Gonerfest 15. While much of the music will happen in clubs around town, the festival does offer some choice opportunities for open air listening. Indeed, it's bookended with performances at the Cooper-Young Gazebo, with D.M. Bob on Thursday, Sept. 27, and R.L. Boyce on Sunday, September 30. And, as usual, both the Murphy's Bar interior and patio will be hopping with far out sounds all afternoon on September 29, culminating with a show by Robyn Hitchcock.
Robyn Hitchcock - LAURA E. PARTAIN
  • Laura E. Partain
  • Robyn Hitchcock

Fast on the heels of Gonerfest, of course, we'll wake up and it'll be October. Check the Flyer that week for a special report on the Mempho Music Festival, which will play host to the likes of Beck, Post Malone, Phoenix, Nas, and Janelle Monáe. But heck, that's a whole month away. For now, dust off your camping chairs, pack your coolers, break out the bug spray, and get ready. The nights grow cool and the musical creatures are coming out to play.

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Classic Pimpin: 8Ball & MJG Bring It All Back Home

Posted By on Sat, Sep 1, 2018 at 7:02 PM

The distance between Orange Mound and Midtown is mere blocks, but the Railgarten appearance by Memphis rap duo 8Ball & MJG, slated to take place Sunday, September 2, is more of a metaphysical journey. Just two weeks ago, Premro “8Ball” Smith and Marlon Jermaine Goodwin celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of their nine-song studio debut Comin’ Out Hard, a funky, bluesy hip hop masterpiece.

Recorded in Houston, Texas by producer Tony Draper, Comin’ Out Hard is a lyrical marvel: On it, the MCs drop one juxtaposition after another: In one verse, they rap about running drugs on the corner and in the next, they’re ruling high school talent shows. There was truth to their lyrics, but there was also a lot of fantasy. The song “Armed Robbery,” MJG explained to me during an interview in 2007, is “a broke motherfucker’s fantasy, to be able to rob a bank and get away with it.” Laid over the hook from Lalo Schrifin’s “Mission: Impossible Theme,” the riveting story-song helped solidify 8Ball & MJG’s legacy on the top tier of Memphis rappers, right alongside the city’s other heavy-hitters, Three 6 Mafia.

While the members of Triple 6 covered more ground, 8Ball & MJG rapped specifically about Orange Mound, the first Black neighborhood in the U.S. to be built by Blacks, established on the site of the former Deaderick Plantation in the 1890s. 8Ball was raised by his mother on Lamar Circle and was bussed to Ridgeway Middle School, where he met MJG. The two attended Middle College High School, and, in their downtime, hung out at a pool hall across the street from the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. MJG grew up a few blocks away, on Sample Street, where he absorbed the country music his grandmother loved alongside the jazz and R&B his father preferred. Each had formidable talent, but together, they gelled into a single unit that left lesser MCs in the dust.

Their music transcended the boundaries of Park Avenue and East Parkway, reaching audiences of all races around the world. Today, 8Ball & MJG don’t just serve as the prototypes for classic southern rap music: they are often rapped about, with their names popping up in the lyrics on songs like E-40’s “Record Haters.” Even National Public Radio has sung their praises, devoting a 2014 segment of “Morning Edition” to the group. Now, 8Ball & MJG are putting the finishing touches on a film biopic, also titled Comin’ Out Hard, written, produced and directed by the Superwoman Squad, a multicultural collective of creative women and female entrepreneurs. The duo is releasing a new live album, Classic Pimpin, this fall. They’re also slated to make an appearance at Atlanta’s A3C Musical Festival in October.

8Ball & MJG’s Railgarten concert, which also includes performances by Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, Unapologetic’s Weird Maestro, and DJ Witnesse, caps off a loose series of local appearances, including 901Fest in May and a listening party held at Memphis Slim House last February. Next, the duo hits the road for a fall tour, which includes stops in Birmingham, AL, Grand Prairie, TX, and DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The Railgarten show is slated to take place on the outdoor stage, with the first act appearing at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flyer Exclusive: First Look at New Johnny Cash Statue

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2018 at 11:48 AM

Artist Mike McCarthy contemplates sharing his Cash with the world. - DAN BALL
  • Dan Ball
  • Artist Mike McCarthy contemplates sharing his Cash with the world.
Mark Lovell, who has partnered with Darrin Hillis in running the Delta Fair since it began in 2007, has a soft spot for Johnny Cash. This year, the fair will host a Johnny Cash Family Reunion. But that's not the half of it: Lovell is also the current owner of the former Galloway United Methodist Church on Cooper and Walker. The fact that the building witnessed Cash's first ever performance with band mates Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, in 1954, is not lost on him.

Indeed, since early 2017, preparations have been made for a larger-than-life statue of Cash to be erected on or near the church grounds. Local auteur Mike McCarthy, who is as adept with clay as he is with paper, pen, and celluloid, has recently completed the work, which occupied a place of honor in his living room as he worked on it for over a year.

Johnny Cash - LEIGH WIENER
  • Leigh Wiener
  • Johnny Cash
“While I am no longer involved in the daily goings-on of Legacy Memphis (the non-profit I co-founded),” says McCarthy, “I believe there is an effort to unveil the statue, perhaps as early as November, in front of the new apartment building between Stone Soup and Galloway United Methodist Church.”

Most of Midtown has been abuzz about the work since McCarthy was contracted to create the work last June. Here, at long last, the Memphis Flyer presents an exclusive preview of McCarthy's work: the clay form from which a bronze statue has already been cast by the local Lugar Foundry. The work is based on a period-appropriate photo of Cash, from early in his career. Of course, the bronze version won't sport those red buttons, which McCarthy lovingly lifted from one of his late mother's dresses.

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The Johnny Cash Family Reunion: Delta Fair Honors the Man in Black

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2018 at 11:03 AM

Johnny Cash - LEIGH WIENER
  • Leigh Wiener
  • Johnny Cash
Imagine, if you can, that you've never heard of Johnny Cash.

It's nigh impossible, especially here in Memphis, where he lived for years while recording his first hits. As with Elvis, Nashville lays claim to him, too, but really, he's everywhere. Yet now and then you may meet a stranger who's just learning of the legend.

Brian Oxley was just such a stranger. His father, a Marine in World War II, was so moved by the atomic devastation he witnessed in Japan that he settled there permanently to raise a family and assist in the country's reconstruction. He also did well for himself, getting in on a growing business called ServiceMaster. Cut to the 21st Century, when Oxley, having grown up in Asia all his life, found himself in a Chicago record shop. “Who's that?” he asked the clerk, pointing to a photo on the wall.

“That's President Jimmy Carter,” was the reply.

“No, the other guy.”

“What, you've never heard of Johnny Cash?” said the clerk. Presidents come and go, but Cash is forever. He promptly loaded Oxley up with a few choice CDs, and a new obsession was born.

Indeed, as Darrin Hillis, one of the organizers behind the upcoming Delta Fair & Music Festival, puts it, “Brian, within a year, had purchased Mama Cash's house in Hendersonville, because that's where Johnny spent his last days.” Not long after, he also purchased the Cash family's rural retreat near Dickson, Tennessee, and the little country grocery store down the road for good measure. Both are being developed as pilgrimage destinations for true Johnny Cash devotees. And they are legion.

Hillis tells the tale by way of explaining the unique performances he and mastermind Mark Lovell have booked for the fair, running from August 31st - September 9th at Agricenter International. They'll feature dozens of performers, but local Cash fans are rejoicing at a special tribute planned for September 2nd: the Johnny Cash Family Reunion.

Hillis further explains, “I got involved because Fluke Holland, Johnny Cash's drummer for his entire 37 years of touring, is a buddy of mine. So I called him about getting everybody together that's still playing music.

"Next thing you know, we got this thing cooking. Thomas Gabriel is just amazing, he's Johnny's first grandson, and Mark Alan Cash, that's another nephew. The Oxley family has brought them out.

"And then you've got Roy Cash who's here in town. A lot of people don't know about him. He's a war hero. That dude went out to San Diego about a year ago and met with all the fighter pilots from Vietnam. They were trying to kill each other way back when, but they went to some Navy base out there and made amends. Roy will be there. And Dan Oxley [Brian's brother] is a world class trumpet player. Hopefully he'll play on 'Ring of Fire'."

They'll play plenty of Johnny's tunes, of course, but there will be non-musical delights as well.

“They're gonna do all kinds of songs, even some new ones they've written. Then they'll have an all-family singalong, where everyone will participate. And Cindy Cash might come and tell some stories. Also, Brian bought the 'One Piece at a Time' Cadillac. Back in the 70s, a guy built that car for Johnny [based on the hit song]. And he absolutely loved it. That's the car he drove, apparently. So that'll be there at the show.”

But what of you, dear reader? Have you heard the Man in Black? On the off chance that you haven't, you'd best get to listening. One place to start would be the recent album from England's Charly Records.Late last year, they remastered the Sun Records tracks that put Cash on the map, which still stand as some of his finest work. Even longtime fans will appreciate the care that has gone into this fine slab of vinyl, now clearer than ever, sporting both hits and lesser-known gems like “Straight A's in Love” and “Luther Played the Boogie”. 
The latest, best collection of Johnny Cash on Sun.
  • The latest, best collection of Johnny Cash on Sun.

And by all means, get out to the Delta Fair and Music Festival to hear the music of Johnny Cash by those who knew him best. The man himself may be gone, but his legacy will cast a shadow for a thousand years.

The Delta Fair and Music Festival, at the Agricenter (7777 Walnut Grove Rd.), will feature local, regional, and national acts every night from August 31st - September 9th. As with all good fairs, there will be livestock.

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Jose Feliciano Plays Unannounced Memphis Gig

Posted By on Sat, Aug 18, 2018 at 10:01 AM

  • Bruce VanWyngarden
  • Jose Feliciano at Bar DKDC
Jose Feliciano played Memphis Friday night — at the tiny Bar DKDC in Cooper-Young.

You didn't hear about it? That's because it was about as undercover a gig as could be imagined. As Feliciano told a jammed house who'd either stumbled into the place or heard about the gig on social media in the prior couple of hours: He was in town for some Elvis Week activities and decided he wanted to play somewhere in Memphis.

He told his friend, Memphis musician Greg Roberson, of his wishes, and Roberson called Karen Carrier, owner of Bar DKDC, to see if something could be worked out. A couple of local bands had to be bumped to a little later time-slot, but the good news is that now they can say Jose Feliciano opened for them. 

Feliciano was relaxed and genial — engaging with the crowd and playing covers by Ray Charles, Elvis, Bill Withers, and many others, including his seminal version of "Light My Fire" by the Doors. 

After about an hour of music and stories, the 73-year-old legend decreed that his left hand was tired and he was going to call it a night.

The dozens of fans packed into Bar DKDC called it a hell of a night. And no, he didn't play "Feliz Navidad."

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Gillian Welch Wows GPAC

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 4:30 PM

  • Jamie Harmon
An audience sat in rapt attention Thursday evening as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings presented the austere songs and sublime harmonies they've perfected over the past couple decades. And if they were well rehearsed and precise in their playing, the night still benefitted from the couple's easygoing looseness.  After a confident opening singing "Scarlet Town," they suffered a false start on their second number, "Ruination Day (Part 2)," with Rawlings insisting on tuning up again. With their vintage instruments, this was to prove a recurring theme of the night. But Welch took it all in stride.

She took on a faraway look in her eye as Rawlings tuned up. "Way off in the distance," she quipped, "you see professionalism, out on the horizon." And while the pair's humility, dedication, and sensitivity were always felt, once such banter was over, they locked down with breathtaking unity.

Their axes of choice, with Welch on a warm, big-sounding vintage Gibson (or banjo) and Rawlings on what appeared to be a pre-WWII parlor guitar, complemented each other perfectly, as the tinnier sound of Rawlings' guitar meshed with Welch's rhythmic strums.

And of course, there were the harmonies. Local songwriter Cory Branan noted after the show that "they sounded like blood relations," and indeed, the blend they achieve is reminiscent of many country sibling groups of the past.

At times, Rawlings would sing lead, trotting out songs from his Dave Rawlings Machine solo project. After they sang one such number, "Midnight Train," Welch commented that "That's as rambunctious as we get. Now we're gonna bring you all way down." And with that, they launched into the curiously tormented "The Way It Will Be."

A few more songs in, and they had the crowd on their feet with "Elvis Presley Blues." Until then, I hadn't realized how appropriate it was to hear them play during "death week." But as soon as they played the song, I felt it, and so did the audience, who gave the pair a standing ovation. "That's the most an audience ever got that song," Welch enthused.

After ten songs, there was a short intermission, followed by another set. One treat of their live show, as distinct from the records, is that Rawlings becomes gradually more unhinged in his playing as the evening wears on. While he takes some fine solos on their released recordings, his live playing becomes more exploratory, at times reminiscent of a veteran jazz musician in its venturesome quality.

At one point, Rawlings took over all instrumental duties with his banjo in hand, giving Welch little to do except sing, hambone, and dance a little jig that came off as homespun clogging.

Though Welch hasn't released any original material under her own name for some seven years, it mattered little to this audience, a veritable who's who of Memphis musical talent. Welch's songs are built to last: the spare, suggestive lyrics all share a classicism, even when singing of contemporary concerns like the girl who "put a needle in her arm," and the music suggests classic country and bluegrass, but always with a twist.

The classics are never far away from her songs, of course, and it was wholly appropriate when Welch and Rawlings finished up with a rousing "I'll Fly Away," the chestnut inspiring the typically reticent Memphis crowd to sing along with abandon (and harmonies). It was a heartfelt night for performers and audience alike.

Check out the slideshow from last night's show, with photos by Jamie Harmon.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Listen Up: Cruelty of the Heavens

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 6:17 PM

Cruelty of the Heavens - JOSH OWENS
  • Josh Owens
  • Cruelty of the Heavens

Thank Carl Jung for the band name “Cruelty of the Heavens.”

It was part of a long passage in Jung's book about Abraxas, a gnostic deity, says Jared Filsinger, bass player/back-up vocalist in the band that includes singer/guitarist Neal Bledsoe and drummer Sam Davidson.

The name was perfect because they now mix “melody with melancholy," Filsinger says. “Neal writes all the lyrics and we write the music together. And a lot of times it will be melodic. Pretty guitar parts and stuff like that. But there’s always going to be some minors thrown in. And then his lyrics a lot of times are dark. So, it’s that merging of two emotions.”

Filsinger, Bledsoe and Davidson were together in two other bands: The West Bound and Chaos Order, which were a “heavier, fast kind of band,” Bledsoe says. “We had six records. We were doing two EPs a year. I mean, it was insane. Naturally, you just get jaded and burnt out and just tired of the certain thing you’ve been doing for a long time.”

The new music wasn’t really a departure as far as their musical tastes. “We grew up listening to stuff like this. All three of us listen to stuff like this on a daily basis. More than we do the heavier stuff. Jared’s a huge fan of The Replacements. Then there’s a band called Superdrag, that we love a lot. The bigger bands like Nirvana.”

“Soundgarden,” Filsinger says.

“To me, it’s like post punk mixed with '90s alternative, so, it’s almost like some elements of The Cure and Joy Division with The Replacements and Nirvana somewhere in between that,” Bledsoe says.

It’s “just a breath of fresh air being able to write this kind of stuff and not be screaming into a microphone.”

“For me, personally, it’s like the band I wanted to be in but I didn’t know it all along,” Filsinger says.

They changed their musical direction when they took a break from Chaos Order in early 2016. “We’d been so militant for all those years,” Bledsoe says. “Doing two EPs a year. Then we would do at least two videos for each of those two EPs. So, we’re just like, ‘Let’s take a breather for a second now. Let’s be humans now.’”

They said they were going to take a break, but, Bledsoe says, “taking a break” meant taking a break from writing their heavier material to writing their more melodic songs.

In 2015, Bledsoe and Filsinger wrote “1995,” which was about the death of Bledsoe’s dad. That song was more melodic that their Chaos Order material. “That was the first song that Neal and I had written together,” Filsinger says. “And it showed us we could write a different style of music with him on guitar and me on bass.”

The band members didn’t intend to form a new band when they took the break. “We planned on just doing Chaos Order, but in that break Neal and I got together and we each had songs that weren’t heavy and we jammed with Sam,” Filsinger says.

“We decided we’re going to do the record and not tell anybody who’s in the band and release it and that be it,” Davidson says. “That was the plan, but five songs turned into 10 and we said, ‘Man, this feels right.’ We kept both going for a while, but now it’s just this band.”

Bledsoe tested their new music by giving a recording of it to his friend, who’s in a hardcore band in St. Louis. But he didn’t tell him the members of Chaos Order were the musicians. “If you said, ‘Hey, this is my band. Tell me what you think,’ automatically they’re doing to be partial with you,” Bledsoe says.

His friend liked it.

How did their Chaos Order fans like this change? “Some of them were kind of like, ‘Uh, I didn’t think you guys were capable of doing this kind of stuff,’” Davidson says. “But it was surprising that a lot of people came over like they really liked it. It was kind of like, ‘If these guys can play this type of stuff (and) be passionate about it, then it’s OK for me to like it.”

They released their album, “Grow Up and See” in November, 2016 and their EP, “Somewhere Between Paranoia and Depression” last year.

Songs include “The Magician,” which Filsinger describes as a “dysfunctional love story,” and “Entoptic Phenomenon,” which Bledsoe describes as a “coming-of-age record.”

“I think we can be a lot more honest in this band,” Davidson says. “Not that we weren’t honest in the other bands, but when you’re playing heavy music, people kind of expect a certain content. And when you’re doing something new that is like this, when you want to write about something emotional, you can do that without thinking, ‘I wonder how this is going to be?’ WIth metal, they’re expecting certain topics, Just like dark stuff.”

Satanic rituals,” Bledsoe says. “Satanic. Deal with the fucking devil.”

“With this one, if you want to write a song about a girl, you can,” Davidson says. “It’s like we can be completely sincere and who gives a shit if some hardcore tough guy doesn’t like it?”

Cruelty of the Heavens will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 at Meddlesome Brewing Company, 7750 Trinity Road, No. 114 in Cordova. No admission charge.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Pure Memphis Music Series Announces Fall Lineup

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 8:59 AM

Harlan T. Bobo
  • Harlan T. Bobo

Ask anyone who attended a concert in the last Pure Memphis Music Series at Old Dominick Distillery, and you'll surely hear what a singular experience it was. The casual vibe and attention to acoustics lends performances a living room-like intimacy, except that this living room has a bar. Seeing Jim Lauderdale there in February was gripping and a little hallucinatory, as when he emerged from behind the curtain in his purple yin/yang jumpsuit. Though he was scant feet away, he so inhabited the songs, and caught the light so perfectly that he glowed like some portal to another dimension.

So it's good to discover the series' new lineup for this fall. With the success of the first season, the series is introducing two season ticket options this fall.  A standard season ticket – $100 – gets you into all six shows (discount of $20 off single ticket), while a VIP season ticket – $125 – gets you into all six shows with reserved seating and one cocktail included per show. Single tickets are $20 for every show.

Perhaps the most laudable new development is the introduction of a nonprofit co-host for each show, who’ll receive $5 from every ticket sold and a percentage of cocktail sales for the night.

Harlan T. Bobo
  • Harlan T. Bobo

August 23rd – Harlan T. Bobo with co-host Memphis Slim House

Alanna Royale
  • Alanna Royale

September 13th – Alanna Royale with co-host Memphis Songwriters’ Association

Tia Henderson
  • Tia Henderson

September 27th – Tia ‘Songbird’ Henderson with co-host The CLTV 

Liz Brasher
  • Liz Brasher

October 11th – Liz Brasher with co-host Soulsville Foundation

Dale Watson - SARAH WILSON
  • Sarah Wilson
  • Dale Watson

October 25th – Dale Watson with co-host Beale Street Caravan 

The Wealthy West
  • The Wealthy West

November 8th – The Wealthy West with co-host The Consortium MMT  

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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Erin Rae, On the Verge of Big Things, Plays the Music Mansion

Posted By on Sat, Aug 4, 2018 at 11:38 AM

Erin Rae
  • Erin Rae
Erin Rae McKaskle now hails from Nashville, though she's a Jackson, Tennessee native and was born in Memphis. Small wonder that she gravitated to Music City, given her easy and natural way with a tune. And small wonder that she's now on the cusp  of much greater recognition. Her show at the Memphis Music Mansion may be our last chance to see her in such an intimate setting.

With so many singer/songwriters unconsciously internalizing the vocal mannerisms of the time, morphing their voices into a common denominator of the current trends (can you say "vocal fry"?), Erin Rae presents a disarming, unaffected frankness, and that is her greatest strength. The final product, as on her recent album Putting On Airs (Single Lock Records), is light and breezy, yet cut with the gravitas of her plainspoken lyrics and delivery.

"Love Like Before" reads like a prosaic list of the features of a new apartment, but suggests an inner turmoil and longing beneath the low key observations. The kicker comes at the end, "Been sitting right here and I could not find/Love that I knew before," made all the more powerful by the unadorned lyrics preceding it.

The new album, recorded at Refuge Studios, a former monastery in Wisconsin, offers plenty of air. The spare adornments, such as tasteful pedal steel, piano, organ, or even Mellotron, never detract from the front-and-center acoustic guitar that grounds her voice, yet add a dreamy quality to the affair. You can hear the consummate blend on the official video for "June Bug":

Her band will be with her, giving listeners a chance to hear those ethereal, spot-on arrangements from the record come to life. For those chasing that perfect blend of sincerity and craftsmanship, this show is not to be missed.  

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Friday, July 27, 2018

J.D. Westmoreland Celebrates Royal Records Release

Posted By on Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 10:39 AM

  • Paul Chandler Moulton
  • J.D. Westmoreland

Shangri-La Records continues its tradition of remaining absolutely undaunted in the face of the Memphis heat. This Friday, they'll host an early evening show by J.D. Westmoreland, who's celebrating the vinyl release of a single he cut at Royal Studios. It's one of a handful of releases by the new Royal Records label, and, as such, it's an interesting statement of eclecticism by the new imprint.

Westmoreland, perhaps best known as a member of the popular "Gypsy-Jazz-Bluegrass-Skiffle" group Devil Train, is revealing his skills as a singer/songwriter of late. The single, which is already available online, has a laid back vibe that brings to mind early ’70s Dylan, with his unhurried vocals layered over a soul shuffle tinged with pedal steel ("Birds of Paradigm") or sprightly, uptempo folk ("Can't Seem to Get it Right").

As Westmoreland says, "For this particular project I wanted more of a clean, simple production so that the songs could really express the story. Both these songs deal with the ambiguity of love and circumstance. I wanted to crystallize emotions in a simple format – kind of a bright way of looking at darkness.”

On the A-side, it's especially encouraging to hear the warm electric piano tones of Royal coloring the country/soul saunter of Westmoreland's writing. Somehow, in this age of chaos, the marriage of homespun poetry and funky urban grooves does the soul good. A perfect choice for a vinyl release, and an intriguing new twist from Royal.
"Birds of Paradigm" single
  • "Birds of Paradigm" single

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