Sunday, July 23, 2017

Circa Survive Rekindles Magic At Growlers

Posted By on Sun, Jul 23, 2017 at 9:45 AM

A post shared by Paige Ellens (@pay_jellens) on

From existing as the dojo where Elvis Presley practiced karate to the venue where Elvis Costello and The Imposters filmed a live performance when The Hi-Tone called the address home, 1911 Poplar Ave has stood as a sanctuary for both acclaimed artists and local musicians. After The Hi-Tone changed locations, however, the magic of that room fell away as the rebranded Sports Junction struggled to find footing.

But when Circa Survive took the stage Saturday evening at Growlers, the venue's latest rebranding, the allure of the space was tangible — it felt just as it did the last time I caught a show there years ago. Growlers was the perfect stop for Circa Survive, too, who are spending the off-days of a larger tour with AFI and Citizen playing club dates. The last time they played Memphis was a near sold out show at The New Daisy in 2014. To see them on a small stage, not long after they announced their sixth studio album, was one of those rare experiences that don't often arise.

"Somebody told me this was Elvis' old karate studio," Anthony Green said as the band took the stage. "Me and my buddy went to Graceland today. We found a trap door and rummaged through all of Elvis' shit."

Local band Jadewick opened the show. It's hard imagining another Memphis band that would have fit the bill better than they did. Having only seen them play on floors or in living rooms, they took to the stage well. The band reveled in the frills of a room more suited to handle their dynamic and the nuances that get lost against the walls at a house show.
  • Briana Wade — Jadewick
If you haven't stepped into Growlers yet — do so. At the beginning of this month, the venue hosted Spiral Stairs, or singer and guitarist Scott Kannberg of Pavement. The magnetism of 1911 Poplar Avenue is just as present as it's ever been. Hopefully Growler's coming shows continue to do it justice.

Friday, July 21, 2017

WYPL brings you the Memphis Sound

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 8:32 AM

I recently stopped by the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library to see a local legend at work. No, it wasn't some superhero librarian working the stacks. I was down in the basement, where George Klein was celebrating the taping of his 150th episode of Memphis Sounds on WYPL, the library's broadcast wing (channel 18 on local cable, 89.3 on your FM dial, and streaming on the internet).

Klein was every bit the professional and in very fine fettle as he wrapped up the broadcast. Of course, he's an old hand at such things, having started in television with 1964's Talent Party, not to mention his years of DJ'ing before that. He recounted to me how he first persuaded Talent Party's producers to integrate the show. “They said, 'Okay, we'll do it. But you've got to get a big star to start with. I called Fats Domino, who was an old friend, and he agreed. He insisted that I personally pick him up at the airport. So as we were on our way to the station, he tells me to stop at a liquor store. I told him, 'Fats, you know that's against FCC rules to drink on the show.' He said, 'I know George, but here's what we'll do. You get me a little paper cup and I'll keep it down on the floor while I'm playing, and then I can take a little sip now and then'.”

Once he'd hosted Fats, it was an easy matter to get James Brown and many other great African-American artists on the show, which was on the air until 1973.

But while Klein was one of the first to take the Memphis Sound to the airwaves via WYPL, he's now being joined by other DJ's on the station's radio channel. Every night of the week is dedicated to a different aspect of Memphis music, drawing on the library's deep archive of local artists' output. There are shows on Memphis music of the 60s, the 70s, gospel, soul, Sun Records, and current sounds. And with the radio programs live-streamed online, WYPL is taking these sounds around the globe.

“Honestly it all comes from the upgrades we've done in the last two years,” says station manager Tommy Warren. “The city of Memphis has put in a lot of upgrades. You can do so much more with the latest computer software; we're actually able to do more with the same amount of staff.

“The Memphis music programming promotes the Memphis music collection that we have here in the library. Over the last few years while we've been doing that, I've had my two radio producers working on those shows, but with all the equipment upgrades and reevaluating what we do, we decided that the Memphis music programming is now what we need to focus on as far as building up. And that's where we've started having people come in and start volunteer hosting these shows. And we've gotten really good feedback in the short amount of time we've been doing it. And I think the streaming of the shows has a lot to do with it. Everybody knows how much people love Memphis music. We look at ourselves as a marketing branch for both the library and the city of Memphis.”

But Warren adds that the daytime programming of live readings of current magazines and newspapers, a public service for the vision and reading impaired, is still important to the station. “We have readings 365 days a year. People overlook the significance of that program, until you need that program. The audience that we have for that depends on our programming more than other radio audiences do.”

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Secret Service rides again

Posted By on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 8:54 PM

Roughly a decade ago, the Secret Service – a hard-rocking pop quartet featuring singer/guitarist Justice Naczycz, guitarist Steve Selvidge, bassist Mark Edgar Stuart, and drummer John Argroves – were one of the biggest and busiest bands in Memphis. But after riding high on the success of 2006’s The Service Is Spectacular, the group inexplicably broke up in 2009, leaving behind a well of unfinished material, much of which has been lost to history.

“We did a reunion at Neil’s in 2011, and could only remember two of the new songs – ‘Teenage Mustache’ and ‘Outsiders,’” says Naczycz. “We tried to record them a couple of times, but it never worked out.”

When the Secret Service re-united last year to open for the Subteens at the Levitt Shell, the band played those two songs again. This time, they caught the ear of Misspent Records co-founder John Miller, who proposed recording a new single with the band on the spot.

“(The show) reminded me how much fun the Secret Service had been live. They always went full-tilt,” says Miller. “After talking with Justice and Steve and realizing there were a couple of live staples that had never been released, it all came together pretty easily. Chaney (Nichols, Misspent co-founder) and I are excited to get another shot of Memphis rock and roll out there.”

This Friday, the Secret Service will unveil the long-awaited new single (available on 7” vinyl and in digital formats) for “Teenage Mustache” b/w “Outsiders” at a release party at Minglewood Hall’s 1884 Lounge. But from there, the future of the band remains to be seen.

“Things are up in the air, we haven’t really talked about it,” says Naczycz. “If the band is excited, I’d love for us to play more. I’d hoped to. But we haven’t really discussed it except for jokes.”

The Secret Service 7” release party
w/ James and the Ultrasounds
Friday, August 21, 10 p.m. All-ages
$7 advanced/$10 day of show/$15 for ticket & vinyl

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Lineup for Halloran Centre's On Stage Music Series Announced

Vaneese Thomas, Marty Stuart, Mandy Gonzalaz, JD Souther, More...

Posted By on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Halloran Center Veep Ron Jewell gets excited. He gets excited talking about the night he saw newgrass mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush play the Grand Ol' Opry: "He must have hit those strings 10,000 times!" He gets excited talking about Hamilton star Mandy Gonzalez: "She's leaving the stage after performing in Hamilton, doing a show here, then flying back to New York for the matinee!" He even gets excited about presenting acts without much name recognition: "I don't know how many people know the Muddy Magnolias now, but people are going to know them!" Mostly, he gets excited about booking acts that will sound great in the Halloran Centre's intimate, acoustically sophisticated theater space.

Speaking of which, today, the Halloran Centre shared Jewell's lineup for the second annual On Stage at the Halloran Centre music series. The list includes marquee names like country super trouper Marty Stuart, and Eagles songwriter JD Souther alongside emerging acts like the Muddy Magnolias and the A cappella group Naturally 7.

"There's no theme," Jewell says of a season bookended by tributes Memphis soul and James Taylor and Carol King.

And then he gets excited and offers one that's as good as any "Memphians love music."


A Tribute to the Women of Soul
 Friday, September 8, 2017 7:30 p.m.
JD Souther
  • JD Souther

An Evening with JD SOUTHER
Singing hits made famous by the Eagles
Saturday, September 23, 2017 7:30 pm


Contemporary crooner, pop and piano payer drawing from a variety of styles.
Friday, October 13, 2017 7:30 pm
Marty Stuart
  • Marty Stuart


Legendary country sideman turned star and storyteller supreme.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 7:30 pm
Muddy Magnolias
  • Muddy Magnolias


Rock and soul duo.
Saturday, January 13, 2018 7:30 pm
Mandy Gonzalez
  • Mandy Gonzalez


Star of Hamilton and in the Heights, straight from Broadway.
January 19, 2018 7:30 pm
Naturally 7
  • Naturally 7

An Evening with NATURALLY 7
A capella
Saturday, February 3, 2018 7:30 pm
Raul Midon
  • Raul Midon

Guitar virtuoso, vocalist, mouth trumpet.
Friday, March 2, 2018 7:30 pm
Sam Bush
  • Sam Bush


Newgrass All-Father, mandolin virtuoso.
Saturday, March 24, 2018 7:30 pm
Jim Witter
  • Jim Witter

Fire & Rain
Celebrating the Era of James Taylor & Carole King
Saturday, April 20, 2018 7:30 pm

Tickets are on sale now. Series packages are available for purchase through the Orpheum box office. Single tickets can be purchased online at the official Orpheum Theatre website,, the Orpheum Box Office (901.525.3000), and Ticketmaster.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Masqueraders Got Talent!

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 6:01 PM

The Masqueraders
  • The Masqueraders
Some readers may recognize the Masqueraders from their many years on Beale Street, often at the Blues City Café, sometimes playing with only a keyboard to back up their sublime harmonies. Others with a historical bent may recognize them as featured artists on rare and collectible singles from the La Beat, Wand, Bell, AGP, and Hi record labels, stretching back over 50 years. You might also know their background harmonies on albums by the Box Tops and Isaac Hayes, and even an LP of their own on Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul imprint.

Either way, you may have done a double take if you happened to see them two weeks ago on NBC's America's Got Talent! It was heartening to see them playing before the huge studio audience, not to mention the millions tuning in on their televisions and devices. I'll let you be the judge, but for once I tend to agree with the celebrity panel: they killed it!

Note that with the judges behind them all the way, they will advance to the "Judge Cuts" rounds, which begin on Tuesday, July 18th. Tune in to see how they fare, and we'll keep reporting if and when they advance through future performances.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

MEMPHO: Your New Music Festival

Posted By on Fri, Jul 7, 2017 at 4:55 PM

Booker T. Jones
  • Booker T. Jones
And just like that, out of the blue, we discover the inauguration of a new music festival here in Memphis. Dubbed MEMPHO , it carries the tag line "Music. Food. Nature." Slated for October 6 & 7 at Shelby Farms Park, it promises to offer generous portions of all three elements.

First of all, the music: It is a stellar lineup by any standards. Headliners include GRAMMY Award™ winning artists Cage The Elephant and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, GRAMMY-nominated Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, as well as Cold War Kids, Bishop Briggs, Robert Randolph and The Family Band, and Hard Working Americans.  On the local tip, Stax artists old and new will be performing as well, with Southern Avenue in the Friday lineup and Saturday featuring a special tribute to the music of Memphis, including Steve Cropper & Friends back to back with Booker T Presents: A Stax Revue and a Journey thru Soul, Blues, and R&B.
Of course, the presence of the city's thriving food truck scene will be a given. With a name like MEMPHO, we can't help imagining that some down home "Pho" from the thriving Memphis Vietnamese community will be there; and naturally there will be a healthy representation of BBQ. As for "nature," we know that Shelby Farms Park has plenty of that. But how will it figure into the festival?

Chuck Leavell, erstwhile keyboardist for the Allman Brothers Band and the Rolling Stones, and founder of the Mother Nature Network (MNN), said; “As a special advisor to MEMPHO, I’m proud to help bring one of the greatest musical cities in the world a new kind of music festival. The setting is spectacular and the talent line-up is top notch with a combination of great new artists and some established fan favorites. As an environmentalist, I’m also very pleased that everyone involved has a high sensitivity to keeping the event clean and green, and in harmony with nature.”

This will be a welcome improvement on the ecologically backward approach of so many music festivals, which often do not even include recycling. Here's hoping that promoter Big River Presents, founded by Memphis native Diego Winegardner, will take environmental concerns to the next level, especially with MEMPHO set in an area known for its bird and animal habitats.

Very soon, interested parties will be able to buy tickets, with a variety of package options:

Limited “Early Bird” Pre-Sale on Thursday, July 13th at 10 A.M. CST

Friday “Early Bird” General Admission Tickets: $35.00
Saturday “Early Bird” General Admission Tickets: $40.00
Two-day “Early Bird” General Admission Tickets: $69.00
Single Day VIP Package: $150.00
Two-Day VIP Package: $200.00
Early Bird pricing while supplies last, plus applicable ticketing fees

Tickets on-sale Friday, July 14th at 10 A.M. CST

Friday General Admission Tickets: $40.00
Saturday General Admission Tickets: $50.00
Two-day General Admission Tickets: $79.00
Single Day VIP Package: $150.00
Two-Day VIP Package: $200.00
Tier 1 pricing while supplies last, plus applicable ticketing fees
For more information, see:

And just to get fired up for October and its lovely autumnal breezes, here's the latest video from Cage the Elephant, just released today:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Herman Green: Then & Now

Posted By on Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 3:49 PM

Herman Green in 1984 - PAUL DAGYS
  • Paul Dagys
  • Herman Green in 1984
After last week's cover story on Dr. Herman Green, we realized that Memphis Magazine had featured him over three decades ago. It's telling that he has carried on here in his hometown ever since. One notable similarity: it was just as hard to make a living playing jazz in Memphis back then. 

But it's worth a read just to learn more telling details about making it, or not,  in the jazz scene of 1950's New York. Green's perseverance paid off. By now, it's little wonder that he has received the Lifetime Music Achievement Award at the 13th annual W.C. Handy Heritage Awards, and multiple Premier Player awards (as a saxophonist and a teacher) from the local chapter of The Recording Academy.

With decades of performances and recognition under his belt, you would think you could find more of Green's work on record. But the only documentation of his solo jazz career here in Memphis, backed up by The Green Machine, exists on two CDs: Who is Herman Green? and Inspirations: Family and Friends, both on private labels from the mid-1990s. Tracks from both are included on The Best of the Green Machine, Vol. 1, released by Green Machine Enterprises in 2011, but even that is hard to track down. Ask for it at your local record shop, and happy record hunting!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Action-packed weekend awaits!

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 4:14 PM

Don Bryant - C. MATT WHITE
  • C. Matt White
  • Don Bryant
The Memphis music scene surely has its ups and downs, like any city, but sometimes a weekend slate of shows appears that promises one grand-slam band after another, and one is left stunned by the sheer quantity of good music being produced in this city. Here's a subjective overview of some dynamite LIVE performances you should check out, not mentioned elsewhere in our music column or the Steppin' Out or After Dark sections. Get up offa that thing! "That thing" being your sofa, where you'll be tempted to sit with your device of choice while all this swirls around you.

Don Bryant at the Levitt Shell (Free): Don Bryant, soul singer extraordinaire and writer of many great songs for other artists, including wife Ann Peebles, doesn't play his hometown that often. He'll be backed by the Bo-Keys and members of the Hi Rhythm Section – truly a Wrecking Crew of our own, here and now in Memphis. Take a blanket, some mosquito repellent, and get outside. (7:30 pm)

Tony Manard CD release party at 831 S. Cooper (Donations accepted): Many bands, finding their favorite clubs booked months in advance now (I told you Memphis was hopping), are experimenting with new, alternative venues. This space is the hallowed ground of our beloved Black Lodge Video, which hosted many a throw-down in its heyday, and now can be rented for parties such as this. Tony is a songwriter and guitarist who you've seen in many a Memphis band, most recently the Low Life Leakers super group at the fundraiser for the Victims of the Bowling Green Massacre. His "Know Why" CD has a host of local greats playing behind him, and most of them will be at this show. Jeremy Scott will play a solo set as opener. (8 pm)

The Margins at Murphy's: Perhaps the city's best kept secret, the Margins rock minimalist guitar textures and intriguing rhythms for a unique blend that recalls early Wire. They'll be joined by genre-benders Los Psychosis and that perennial favorite, one man show Johnny Lowebow. (9 pm)

Sweat Fest 3 at the Hi Tone (Free): Shangri-La Records have created a mini-fest of their own in recent years, celebrating the sheer audacity of surviving another Memphis summer. A gaggle of groups always plays, often some of their best shows, because they know record buyers are the best listeners. This year's Sweatfest will make summer more survivable than ever, as it's being held inside the Hi Tone rather than the store parking lot. But never fear! Crates upon crates of records will be toted by the Shangri-La minions into the club, so the deals can be had by all. This is the lineup:
5:30 pm: YESSE YAVIS

NOTS Homecoming at Bar DKDC: The NOTS have just completed a tour of Europe. This band, already incendiary, have surely benefited from what all bands know as Post-tour Peak Performance Potential. If you liked them already, or even if you were just NOTS-curious, this is a must:  they will surely be firing on all cylinders with this triumphant return. (10:30 pm)

Snowglobe at the Harbert Avenue Porch Show (Donations accepted):  This venerable group make a rare appearance at what has become an annual tradition. Since 2012, Robert Jethro Wyatt has been the curator of performances on his front porch, complete with free beer. And he knows how to pick 'em: members of Snowglobe have gone out into the world seeking their fortunes since they formed in the 1990s. So it's a special treat for fans to see them reunited. Did we ever imagine we would be nostalgic for the 90s? Well, we are. (6 pm)

Jack Oblivian at Bar DKDC: What more can be said of Jack O? Have they named a drink after him yet? He's a seasoned observer of humanity in his witty, bristling songs, no matter what band is backing him. Now with longtime comrades-in-arms The Sheiks, he's playing old favorites and material from last year's stunning "The Lone Ranger of Love" . A new project by Graham Winchester and Seth Moody, Turnstyles, will be opening the set, so arrive early for something fresh on the scene. (10 pm)

Spiral Stairs talks Pavement, Memphis, & how kids are funner

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 1:57 PM

This Saturday, Growlers will host a bona fide indie-rock icon when Spiral Stairs – aka Scott Kannberg, singer/guitarist in Pavement and Preston School of Industry – rolls through town in support of his latest record, Doris and the Daggers. The show will also be a homecoming of sorts for two Memphis musicians – Snowglobe members Tim Regan and Luke White, who have been playing in Spiral Stairs’ band on this tour. Spiral Stairs spoke to the Flyer from the road this week about his new album, Pavement reunions, working with Regan and White, and more.

The Memphis Flyer: It’s been eight years since your last album, The Real Feel. What have you been up to?
Spiral Stairs: I met a girl from Australia. Got married, moved to Oz. Had a kid. Tended a veggie patch, mowed my lawn. Life stuff. Moved to LA, drove around a lot. Made up some great songs. Oh, and Pavement reunited!

What inspired you to finally get back in the studio?
I was ready again. It takes me awhile. I meant to do it earlier but the kid was funner. And I wanted to be prepared.

There seem to be a lot of new wave elements - rhythms, synths, chunky guitars - on this record.  Where does that influence come from?

I grew up on new wave. Devo was the first band I saw live in 1980. Also I did a bit of production with Kelley Stoltz, who is so new wave it hurts. He did most of those sounds.

What made you decide to start using the name Spiral Stairs?
I did The Real Feel under the Spiral name in 2009. It felt like the time for a change. New players and a new vibe. Older and wiser.

How did you get hooked up with Tim and Luke? What do you like about playing with those guys?
Lovely gentlemen, and sick musos. Tim runs Nine Mile, which put out the record, and tries to manage me at times - which he does an amazing job considering all the stuff he does. I don't see how he has the time to sleep. Luke came highly recommended and has some licks. Now I want him to start doing more kicks!

Looking back on the Pavement reunions, how do you think they went?  Is it something you would want to do again?

Yes. Of course! It was so fun and amazing to see how our band made people happy! Hopefully in a couple years!

How much of your back catalog are you playing on this tour?  Should folks expect to hear Preston School of Industry and Pavement songs?

We try to do it all! Lots of Pavement for sure! Those songs are really fun to play!

What do you remember about recording Wowee Zowee (1995 Pavement album) at Easley-McCain?  Did y'all have a good time in Memphis?
Soul Food! Easley’s was great, such a good vibe. And Doug and Davis were the best! I can't wait to go back to Payne’s. I wish the Grifters and Guided By Voices would play again!

Spiral Stairs will appear at Growlers on Saturday, July 1 at 9 p.m. with special guests BOINK and Carson McHone. Admission is $10.

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A Herman Green playlist

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 12:17 PM

B.B. King with Herman Green
  • B.B. King with Herman Green

We were honored to present the life and achievements of Dr. Herman Green in this week's cover story. Here we present a playlist to accompany Dr. Green's life in music. While much of his work was never recorded, such as his years leading the house band at the the legendary Blackhawk jazz club, a few snippets here and there can give us an idea of his milieu. But before we jump into Dr. Green's accomplishments, let's go way back to his roots: the W.C. Handy band, of which Green's father, Herman Washington, Sr., was a member. While we don't know if Washington was on this recording, here's a taste of that Handy sound:

Cut to 1945, and a 15-year-old Herman Green begins playing with Rufus Thomas, Jr. on Beale Street. Those rowdy talent shows and revues weren't recorded, but a few short years later, Rufus made some recordings at Sun Studios, with his young protege on sax, and those were released on Chess Records. No doubt Thomas' sound had become a little more 'modern' by then, but these are some fine blues and R&B sides:

Shortly after starting on Beale Street, Rufus Thomas recommended Green to a young, aspiring blues man named Riley B. King when he was putting together a band. B.B. King  and Green played together for years, until Green joined up with a "bally troupe" and took to the road. After Green left Memphis, King began a recording career that would make him an international star. Here are his first recordings.

Herman Green didn't make these sessions, but these sides, recorded by Sam Phillips, give you a taste of how he sounded in 1949. As King told Blues Access magazine, "My very first recordings [in 1949] were for a company out of Nashville called Bullet, the Bullet Record Transcription company," King recalls. "I had horns that very first session. I had Phineas Newborn on piano; his father played drums, and his brother, Calvin, played guitar with me. I had Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch on tenor sax, his brother, Thomas Branch, on trumpet, and a lady trombone player."

The Phineas Newborn, Sr., band was a fixture on the local scene back then, all of them close associates of Herman Green. Here's the sound of Memphis, ca. 1949, and that lady on trombone sure can blow!

While the above sessions were going down, Herman Green was very likely touring the East Coast and Canada. When he'd had enough of that, he landed in New York for a spell. Practically as soon as he arrived, he attended a jam session at Birdland hosted by Sonny Stitt and Art Blakey. Here's a Sonny Stitt record from 1950. Although Green never recorded with Stitt, this is a taste of what he walked into when he visited Birdland for the first time:

After leaving New York, being drafted into service in Korea, and finally returning stateside, Herman Green settled in as leader of the house band at the Blackhawk. No recordings (that we know of) exist of this period of Herman's life, but here's a taste of Miles Davis and his touring band (not including the house band or Herman) playing that legendary club a few years later. Soak in the murmur of the crowd, the sound of the room, and you can almost taste the cocktails and smell the smoke.

By the late fifties, Green had joined Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra. Fortunately, we do have some of their performances from his time on record. Here are a couple from 1960-61, live at the Metropole in New York. Herman Green is listed in the orchestra credits. Is that him taking those sizzling sax solos?

By the end of the sixties, Green had left Lionel Hampton and settled back in Memphis for good. Playing many sessions in the hopping recording scene back then, he also quietly pursued his love of jazz. You can find some CD's of his band, The Green Machine, though little of it exists on YouTube. But here's a little gem of Green and colleagues blowing on Monk's "Round Midnight". An informal, loose session, it captures what happens when jazz players just want to play, for whoever may show up:

By 1987, Herman Green had helped to found the band Freeworld, and he's been playing with them ever since. Here's a tune he wrote and recorded with them in 1996, from the album You Are Here. That's Green on flute.

Green still plays Beale Street every week with Freeworld. We'll wrap things up with a little taste of how it sounds when he steps up to the mic. It's a bit stunning to think that he could have been playing this very song when he first stepped on a Memphis stage in 1945. And it would have been every bit as bawdy...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Stax Music Academy to play Levitt Shell, European tour

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 1:07 PM

Duck Dunn's pipe
  • Duck Dunn's pipe
Yesterday I stopped by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music for the thousandth time. It never gets old; it is, as Steve Cropper once said of working there, “like going to church.” This time around, I focused on the little things that I may have passed by earlier. Duck Dunn's pipe, the marked-up tape box for a Mar-Keys session, Al Jackson, Jr.'s “peace-sign bootjack to remove his boots after a day of studio sessions.” And then there were the current exhibits: Hit the Road, Stax! Wayne Jackson and the 1967 Stax/Volt European Tour (through Sept. 30), A Century of Funk: Rufus Thomas at 100 (through Aug. 31), and the most stunning, Portraits in Soul: Rare Images from the API Archive. This last exhibit, featuring gallery-quality prints of Stax artists' publicity shots, most in stunning color, will end on Labor Day, so get there while you can.
Sam & Dave publicity photo, from "Portraits in Soul" exhibit. - BILL CARRIER, API PHOTOGRAPHERS
  • Bill Carrier, API Photographers
  • Sam & Dave publicity photo, from "Portraits in Soul" exhibit.

But what's most sanctified about the reborn Stax complex is that it's not just a museum. I also stopped in to see where the Stax Music Academy summer students have been rehearsing, next door in the Soulsville Charter School gymnasium. At the time, they were taking a well-deserved break, shooting hoop and singing karaoke, but even then it was clear that these young people shared a powerful camaraderie. This year's Summer Music Experience included the usual in-depth instruction in Stax history, vocals, instrumentals, marketing, audio engineering, songwriting, and choreography, as provided by the Stax Music Academy staff. Students also attended intensive sessions with multi-instrumentalist, keyboardist extraordinaire, and producer Booker T. Jones. As a grand finale for the summer program, they will light up the Levitt Shell this weekend, presenting such classics as Isaac Hayes' “Theme from Shaft,” Shirley Brown's “Woman to Woman,” and two dozen other Stax songs.
Stax Music Academy students at the Levitt Shell, 2015
  • Stax Music Academy students at the Levitt Shell, 2015

Finally, on July 7, a select group of twelve students will embark on the Stax Music Academy European Tour, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the original overseas tour by the Stax/Volt Revue. In 1967, this tour represented an epiphany for many of the label's artists, as they witnessed sold out shows across England and the continent. When the artists returned home, they had a new sense of their music's appeal and importance, propelling them to even greater heights in the years to come. Following in their footsteps, the academy students (with funding by the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development) will open for Stax legend Mavis Staples on July 17th in Bristol, England at Colston Hall (one of the original 1967 tour venues), and open for Stax icon and recent GRAMMY winner William Bell on July 21st at the Sage Gateshead Americana Festival in Sage/Newcastle, England. Be assured that the students of today's reborn Stax will return to Memphis on a note of inspiration, much as their forerunners did half a century ago.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

'From Memphis to the Mersey' forges trans-Atlantic bonds

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 6:08 PM

Memphis & Liverpool on the board of the Cotton Exchange - THE COTTON MUSEUM
  • The Cotton Museum
  • Memphis & Liverpool on the board of the Cotton Exchange
Memphis has long figured in the musical imagination of Liverpool, England. One need only visit the Cotton Museum on Front Street to see the more fiduciary connections, as commodities made their way from the Mississippi shores to British ports for hundreds of years. But with the bills of sale went less mercantile influences, including songs and eventually records carried by seamen between such ports of call. The Beatles, especially George Harrison, were famously obsessed with Carl Perkins, Elvis, and other giants of Sun Records; they also nearly recorded Revolver at Stax Records, hoping to adopt the snap and crackle of the drums captured on McLemore Avenue.

But this fascination ran both ways. Nearly every guitar group springing out of Memphis was spurred on by the Beatles and other Merseyside groups. Certainly the Beatles loomed large over classic records by Tommy Burke and the Counts and, later, Big Star. Within the span of three years, Bobby Whitlock moved from recording handclaps during Stax sessions to contributing nearly all of the organ heard on Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

Thus, it's appropriate that these deep, soulful connections be recognized in a new program for songwriters called “From Memphis to the Mersey,” arising from a partnership between the local Memphis Music Exchange and Liverpool's Monkey Mind Productions. Described as “a songwriters’ exchange that will select two emerging artists from each city for an immersive cultural and creative experience on both sides of the ocean,” the program invites songsmiths to submit their work for consideration. They must be at least 21 and not currently signed to a label.

The lucky four judged most promising will work with Grammy-winning Stax legend William Bell and jazz singer/producer Susan Marshall from Memphis, and with Garry Christian and Joey Ankrah of The Christians, a Liverpool group that scored chart-toppers in the 80s and 90s. This August, spending three days in each city working with such legends, the winning contestants will gain a deeper insight into their craft and into the commonalities of their shared history. Each city visit will culminate in the songwriters presenting their work in concert.
Paul McCartney & Carl Perkins
  • Paul McCartney & Carl Perkins
“Hands across the water (water)/Heads across the sky!”, as Paul McCartney famously sang in “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Now's the chance, thanks to these nonprofits and the support of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau and Arts Council England, to reach out and make that connection more real than ever.

Interested parties should apply at the link below by 6 pm, Monday, July 26.

Me and Leah set to celebrate debut CD

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 12:39 PM

This week, the folk-pop duo Me and Leah will release its debut album – a sparse and beautiful 9-song, self-titled effort – on the digital label American Grapefruit.

Me and Leah is a new endeavor for Memphis music mainstay Jeff Hulett, who trades in the highly orchestrated grandiosity of previous projects like Snowglobe and Glorie for an understated presentation of some of his best material to date, collected from his various projects over the years. His partner-in-crime, local musician and artist Leah Keys, provides a perfect backdrop for his earnest songwriting and voice with a plucky banjo and ethereal vocals.

“We couldn't be happier. It represents what we do live. No frills with this album - it is what it is and we are excited to release it,” says Hulett. “We are both big fans of short and simple songs. Songs that have good lyrics and get to the point, but are also catchy and memorable. This record clocks in at 30 minutes. It's a good cooking dinner album.”

The album was recorded and mixed entirely in one day – April Fool’s Day, no less – at High/Low Recording under the watchful eyes of house engineers Toby Vest and Pete Matthews.

“Toby and Pete ran point and really helped us realize the vision we had,” says Hulett. “Recording was very comfortable. It was Leah's first go in a studio so I was a little nervous going in, but she was a total champ and killed it. Recording with just two people is so much more manageable.”

To celebrate the release, Me and Leah is throwing a party at the Amurica space in Crosstown this Friday, June 23 at 7 p.m. sharp. The excellent Jana Jana (Jana Misener from the Memphis Dawls) will open the show, and the $10 admission charge includes a free copy of the Me and Leah album on CD.

As for the band’s future, Hulett looks forward to a time when he and Keys might expand their songwriting partnership (“We are starting to write more songs together now,” he says), and even the direction of the band itself. But for now, the duo is dedicated to simply promoting its fine debut as a two-piece.

“It's not something we are focused on now, but I can't help but hear some of these songs with bass and drums and maybe some Whittemore (John, local lead guitarist),” says Hulett.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Belvedere Chamber Music Festival brings classical performers and composers from around the globe.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 11:06 AM

People the world over associate the Bluff City with the sounds of rock-and-roll, the blues, jazz, Stax-flavored soul, and Goner’s brand of garage-punk. Classical music rarely gets a mention in that list — despite the accomplished Memphis Symphony Orchestra (see Chris McCoy’s cover story below), the PRIZM Ensemble (see Alex Greene’s June 15th column), and others. The Luna Nova Ensemble is another hidden gem for the music lover in search of something a little more refined.

Luna Nova Music is celebrating the 11th annual Belvedere Chamber Music Festival at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church June 21st-24th. The festival will include performances of works by Bach, Bartok, Martinů, and Ravel, as well as original compositions by three composers selected from the 189 entrants to the Luna Nova student composition contest.

Patricia Gray, Ph.D., is the executive director of Luna Nova Music. Gray has been a musician her whole life and once taught in the music department at Rhodes College, after which she began working with the music tech division of the Associated Colleges of the South, a consortium of colleges like Rhodes. “That was a springboard,” Gray says. “That’s where Luna Nova came from, because I was working with a lot of composers and performers of new music who were from small colleges, and they didn’t all have the support that they would like to have. So we were able to blend a lot of resources from a number of institutions and build an ensemble and build a concert series and create a lot of wonderful networking between really talented people. That just started with a bang.”

Gray couldn’t help but notice that students, talented though they might be, did not always have access to the funds, technology, or professional performers necessary to lay down a high-quality recording of their compositions. And it’s exactly that kind of recording that a student bound for post-graduate studies or a career in recording or performance would need. Gray and her husband Robert Patterson found a void in the music community, and they set about filling it.

Luna Nova was initially funded by a Mellon Grant, but when the grant ran out, Gray and Patterson kept the ball rolling. They established Luna Nova as a private 501(c)(3), and with the help of Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, they began the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival to showcase the composing talents of students worldwide and the performance abilities of local and national classical musicians. “Since we’ve been independent in Memphis, it’s been worldwide,” Gray says. “We’ve had people from France and Italy and Australia and China.”

This year marks the 11th anniversary of the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival, and once again, Luna Nova has partnered with the Beethoven Club, a group of local musicians dedicated to the promotion and sustenance of classical music, to put on the international student composition contest. The winners of this year’s contest are Alex Burtzos from New York, Brendan McMullen from Seattle, and Jack Frerer from Australia. (Fun fact: Burtzos is the founder and president of ICEBERG New Music collective, a group that has been working with Memphis’ own Blueshift Ensemble during a residency at Crosstown Arts this week, see below.) Each of the three composers boasts a list of impressive bona fides, and each will have a piece performed in this year's festival.

The performers will be John McMurtery (flute), Gregory Maytan (violin), Nobuko Igarashi (clarinet), Craig Hultgren (cello), Paul Murray (baritone), Perry Mears (piano), Daniel Gilbert (violin), Tomaz Robak (piano), Jonathan Kirkscey (cello), Marisa Polesky (violin), Jenny Davis (flute), Brian Ray (piano), Robert Patterson (horn), Mark Volker (guitar), and Michelle Vigneau (oboe).

The Belvedere Chamber Music Festival will be presented at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on June 21-24, 2017. Evening concerts start at 7:30 and are free and open to the public. Afternoon concerts are Thursday and Friday at 3:00.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Listen Up: Seth Walker

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 7:09 PM

Seth Walker, center, with, from left,  Stephen Crump, Tim Van Eaton, Vinnie Longoria and Devin Matthews - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Seth Walker, center, with, from left, Stephen Crump, Tim Van Eaton, Vinnie Longoria and Devin Matthews
  • Michael Donahue
  • Justin Rimer

Seth Walker constantly moved when he played centerfield in a pair of cleats on the baseball field.

He never dreamed he’d one day be performing his original country songs in a pair of cowboy boots on stage.

A lot of things Walker, 28, never thought about five years ago now are realities.

“I never thought my album would go to No. 20 on the iTunes chart,” he said. “It’s kind of been almost too fast. We’ve opened up for seven people who are on national radio.”

Walker and his band’s show sold out the last time they played at The Bluff. The line stretched down the block, he said. “I had no idea it was going to lead to something so big.”

Growing up in Memphis, baseball was Walker’s passion. “I played in high school at Christian Brothers. Then I went and played at Northwest Mississippi in college and Lee University.”

He picked up the guitar in high school, but he wasn’t serious about it. “I got like two chords down. I tried, but I just wasn’t dedicated enough to learn it. And then playing baseball all the time - that pretty much took over my whole life.”

Walker’s dream of a baseball career suddenly came to an end. “Right before the draft my senior year I decided to go play basketball with some friends. I tore my patella tendon in my knee. I was going up for a layup and somebody undercut me. I just remember my kneecap being up there. And I had to have surgery the next day. They told me that I probably wouldn’t play baseball again for a long time. I was 22.”

Baseball was his life. “I went into a really bad depression after that ‘cause I thought I was going to do that for the rest of my life. I just got real down. I couldn’t move for a month and a half or two months. I was just watching ‘Criminal Minds’ on the couch for a while. Scared the hell out of me and depressed me even more. It probably wasn’t a good show to watch.”

He picked up a copy of Tim Tebow’s “Through My Eyes.” “It really inspired me to get up off the couch and go to physical therapy. Just the fact that the guy is a winner. His passion for everything that he does. His mental strength. Nobody’s better than him. And he’s going to outwork you no matter what. It just got me off my butt.”

Walker’s brother, Brad, invited him to play in the youth choir at church. Walker showed Brad how to play a couple of chords back in high school.

Walker began selling insurance and was successful at it. “I started coaching at Southwest (Community College). I did that for a year, but it was interfering with my insurance job, so I had to stop.”

In addition to the church group, Walker played guitar and sang “just with friends. Actually, it took me quite a while to sing in front of that many people. It’d just be a bunch of our friends drinking at the pool. Just messing around on the guitar.”

Walker made an insurance call at Coffee in the Attic, a Covington coffee shop. “I went in there to get their business and asked the guy, ‘Do you all have live music?’ My buddy’s like, ‘Man, you should play here.’”

He played one Saturday night. “And that’s how it all started.”

Walker played in front of about 20 people at church, but performing at the coffee shop was a different story. “There were like over 100. I couldn’t even put the capo on my guitar I was so nervous. And I was singing every song so fast. I sang the first song in a minute and a half and it’s a three and a half minute song. Thomas Rhett’s ‘Take You Home.’ It probably sounded like a rap song when I was singing it.”

The crowd reaction was phenomenal.. “I broke the fire code. That was pretty cool. People standing on the bar. There was just too many people in that one place.’

Walker was hooked. “I just wanted to do it again, so I played at the old Dan McGuinness (Pub) on Spottswood. And I just kept playing. Kept developing that following.”

He decided to record a single. “I’d always wanted to put out a song. It was like a dream. Nobody else had done it around here. None of my friends had.”

Walker thought, “I don’t care if it sucks or not, I still want to do it.”

A buddy introduced him to Justin Rimer, co-owner of Crosstrax Studio and a veteran member of bands, including 12 Stones and Breaking Point. Walker recorded “Whiskey and a Dirt Road,” which he and his brother wrote, at Crosstrax. “I spent all my birthday money - 1,400 bucks.”

The song is about “seeing a girl at the bar,” Walker said. “ It could be anywhere. And just not having the nerve to talk to her. Then downing a couple of drinks and talking to her. And just riding backroads. Something we do in Covington.”

Rimer was impressed the first time he heard Walker. “I was like, ‘Man, there’s something going on with this guy,’” he said. “His voice is unique in a world where the country voices are very cliche. And I could see he was very eager. He was humble to a world he didn’t know anything about.

“We did this one song, ‘Whiskey and a Dirt Road,’ and we put it out on social media. And, literally, the next show he played sold out. In any town it’s hard, but it’s especially hard in Memphis. Especially when there’s no air play. There was nothing but a social media presence. And the show sold out.

“When you see something like that it’s like, ‘Wait a second. Something’s going on. People are attracted to this guy. They’re attracted to his music and they want to come out and see him.’ And that’s a rarity these days.”

He and Rimer began hanging out, Walker said. ““He actually became one of my really good friends after ‘Whiskey and a Dirt Road,’” he said. “We would go to (TJ) Mulligan’s on Trinity and hang out. One day he invited me: ‘Hey, I want to talk to you about some things.’”

“I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to start a record label for you and I’m going to sign you,’” Rimer said. “So, I literally started Crosstrax Records for him. And he’s my only artist.”

“I told him, ‘Man, I’m not scared to perform. If you want to do this, it’s on you,’” Walker said. “And we did.”

Said Rimer: “We recorded over the last year, working on different songs. And a month and a half ago we released the EP, 'Seth Walker: Volume 1.' With no radio airplay within 15 hours we were No. 20 on the iTunes country chart.

“Memphis doesn’t have a country guy like this that all of a sudden people are reacting to. You can’t make up sales numbers. And you can’t make up when you’re selling out concerts. It’s a real reaction, man. People are flocking to this guy.”

Walker hand selected the musicians for his band.

He met guitarist/backup vocalist Devin Matthews, 25, on Instagram. They played their first gig together as a duo at the old Double J Smokehouse and Saloon off South Main.

“Somebody taught me to read tabs,” Matthews said. “I never could read music. From then on I’d just figure it out. I played rock music for a really long time. I went through a really bad breakup and I was really depressed. Country. That’s what I fell in love with.”

Walker invited bass player Tim Van Eaton, 24, to play in his band after he heard him play in another band.

Van Eaton, grandson of J. M. Van Eaton, who played drums with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, acquired the nickname “Three Finger Timmy” after he accidentally stuck his pocketknife into one of his fingers three hours before their first show with a full band and an audience of 800 people. He got 12 stitches in his finger and was back before soundcheck. “I ended up playing the whole gig,” Van Eaton said.

Guitarist Vinnie Longoria, 20, began playing drums before he switched to guitar. His father David Longoria, a touring drummer in the ‘80s and ‘90s, played in several bands, including Roxy Blue, L. A. Guns and Slaughter.

Country wasn’t Vinnie’s first music choice. “I was a metal guitar player and rock guitar player,” he said.

His metal guitar style works in a country band, Vinnie said. “It makes it really full and colorful.”
Drummer Stephen Crump, 26, also comes from a musical family. “My cousin is Larry McCoy and he writes with Thomas Rhett in Nashville,” he said.

“I grew up in church, so most of the guys that I play with are gospel musicians,” Crump said. “My style is not rock and country. I have a very fast right foot. I don’t double bass pedal it. All my feels are very tasty. It’s not rock music at all. When most of these guys around here hear me play, they’re like, ‘I haven’t heard that in a country band. That’s different.’”

For now, Walker and his band are concentrating on performing. The band wants to eventually put out a full-length album.

Asked whether he’d pick baseball over music as a career, Walker said, “I’ve gotten to play baseball in front of 10,000 people and that’s amazing. But there’s no high like what we’ve done. Just played in front of huge crowds. Singing. I mean, it’s pretty cool. When they’re singing a song that we’ve done on the album.”

Seth Walker and his band will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday June 17 at The Bluff at 535 South Highland. Tickets: $10. Call: (901) 454-7771.

Seth Walker 'Nope' from Michael Donahue on Vimeo.


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