Friday, May 24, 2019

Misti Rae Holton Sings In Her Garden

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2019 at 12:41 PM

mistirae.jpg
It's summer, so that means flowers. Misti Rae Holton is passionate about her garden, and she likes to share it. Since May 15th, her photographs and painting of her gardening obsession have hung at Midtown Crossing Grill. "In my garden, I am both queen and servant," she says.

This Sunday at 4 p.m., she will play her music in the space where her show Queen and Servant hangs at Midtown Crossing. If you're looking for some Memorial Day Sunday chill out opportunity, she's got you covered. Here's a video of Misti Rae at Otherlands a few years back, to give you a taste.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

A Weirdo From Memphis Performs A Very Red Show

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 9:02 AM

A Weirdo From Memphis - CATHERINE PATTON
  • Catherine Patton
  • A Weirdo From Memphis

A Weirdo From Memphis (AWFM, to the brevity cravers) has played on a lot of bills, from the Unapologetic Stuntarious series to opening for 8-Ball. After the release of his new solo EP, “You Goin To Jail Now," The Collective asked him to do a show for their Decibel series at The CMPLX. “I don’t think I realized I hadn’t done a solo show until I got offered this. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never done this before!”




What intrigued AWFM was the total creative freedom The Collective allowed.” I don’t have to have a traditional stage. I can jump off ladders or randomly eat shit. I’m going to be taking full advantage of the entire room. I’m really excited to invite people to my world for one night. I think it’s a good thing I haven’t done one of these shows, because I’ve been doing a good job of making a name for myself, so this show will be really packed. I think me from three years ago looking now would just pass out from excitement at seeing how many people are scheduled to come through.”



A Very Red Show will be the live debut of songs from the new record “I’ve never performed the majority of it in person before, at least not in Memphis.”

This will not be your ordinary hip hop performance. AWFM has enlisted members of the Unapologetic crew and others to create somethings special. “It’s definitely my vision coming to life, but there has to be at least 50 different hands that have touched this project, bringing this space to life. It’s gonna feel like walking in to an experience.”

Decibel: A Very Red Show Featuring AWFM, Friday, May 17th at THE CMPLX, 2234 Lamar Ave. $10, Doors at 8:30

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Violent Femmes Prep New Album As They Play Graceland With X

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 9:39 AM

The Violent Femmes
  • The Violent Femmes
“I don’t change the chords any more/ The chords change themselves.”

That’s the opening line from “Hotel Last Resort," the title track from the new album by the Violent Femmes. The band, which formed in a Milwaukee suburb in 1981, became one of the biggest and most enduring acts to come out of the post-punk period. But unlike most of their counterparts, like American bands Husker Du and The Replacements, who formed in the Midwest around the same time, they weren’t playing electric guitars fast and loud. The ramshackle Femmes always sounded like they had just wandered in off the street, where they had been playing for change. This is pretty close to being the truth, as their big break came when The Pretenders saw them busking outside a Milwaukee theater and asked them to open the show.

Even though their air of studied amateurism attracted the cult around the band, the awkward teenagers were always looking toward the future. “I was fully committed to it being a career. Completely,” says singer and songwriter Gordon Gano. “That’s how I felt, and that’s how Brian Ritchie felt before we met.”

That ambition almost cratered the band before they even got started.“When we were first playing together, in the beginning of 1981, Brian and Victor DiLorenzo, our original drummer, were planning on moving to Minneapolis the next summer to start a band with people they knew there. They told me, this is fun, but that at the end of the summer they were leaving. This thing that we were doing, them playing my songs with me, was going to end at the end of the summer. Then, something happened with the people in Minneapolis. Without that, this thing called the Violent Femmes wouldn’t have happened beyond the summer of ’81. There would have been no recordings or anything,” says Gano. “We were all feeling really good about the music we were making together. It had a nice energy which we all thought was great, even though no one else did at the time.”

As punk got more “pure,” Gano’s songwriting got more eclectic, incorporating folk, country, and whatever else he was listening to at the time. With lyrics dripping with teenage sexual frustration and anchored by the frantic standup bass work of Brian Ritchie, their immortal single “Blister In The Sun” sounded like nothing else on the radio in 1982, or even a decade later.

“There were a few people who liked it, loved it,” says Gano about their proto-folk-punk sound. “But most people didn’t know what to do with it. They just wanted us to go away. We’ve run into that our whole career, people who would be much happier if we just didn’t exist. I think the reason they’re like that is, the people who are supposed to be in the know, the people who are in the music business, from the very start told us we weren’t any good. I think those people are still around, and still exist. Basically, we shouldn’t be as popular or successful as we’ve been, according to this certain view of things in the industry.”

The Femmes have endured turmoil, ridicule, and lineup changes, beginning with a brief breakup in 1987 after the difficult recording of The Blind Leading The Naked with producer and former Talking Head Jerry Harrison — even though that album was their first entry into the Billboard charts and spawned a hit with their cover of T. Rex's "Children Of The Revolution".

"That one was the worst time of what was going on in the band itself," Gano recalls. "There were a lot of difficult circumstances. We were doing a lot of new stuff in the studio, with Jerry Harrison producing. It was the album which gives me the least enjoyment when I’ve heard it. But I probably can’t completely separate that from the experience of making the album. … I think with music, it’s so much about when you hear it. What’s going on in your life? How old are they? It’s impossible to hear music separate from what’s going on in one’s own life.”

Perhaps that can explain the Femmes’ enduring popularity. Gano’s compositions like the snarling “Add It Up” and the bitter breakup song “Nightmares” speak to people when they’re feeling awkward, alone, and also a little defiant. Everyone goes through a Femmes phase. “We thought we’d be either less popular than we’ve been for all these years, or more popular. We had no lack of ego in thinking about how well we play the music we play. All we knew about was the punk music we were into. You’d play the little punk rock clubs, and then you got really big. That was making it. The other end was the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and so on. There wasn’t anything in our mind in between. But that’s where we’ve had our whole career — the in-between area. And yet the longer we keep doing it, the closer we get to the Stone camp, in our little tiny way. We’re starting to put some years in. Certainly, we never thought about the number of years we’d be doing it. We’ve been playing music now longer than rock-and-roll had existed when we started playing. I can’t even really fully comprehend that. Time is … a subject we probably shouldn’t start talking about.”

When the Violent Femmes hit the Graceland Soundstage on Thursday, May 16th, it will be part of their ongoing tour with fellow old school punkers X. “We’re getting great reactions from people. We’re playing with X, which is a very fun double bill. I think it’s a great show, particularly with two bands accustomed to being a headliner. It’s been great.”
The new album Hotel Last Resort will be released in July. “I’m really happy with it. I suppose a lot of artists say ‘It’s some of our best stuff,’ so I’m trying not to say that,” says Gano.

But don’t you really think it is, I ask? “It is! It’s exceptionally fine craftsmanship for us!”

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

New Festival Honors Omar Higgins

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 10:32 AM

mojofest-logo.png


Memphians gathered at Clayborn Temple Wednesday, May 8th, for the unveiling of a new, multi-venue festival to take place October 5-6, 2019. Memphis MOJO Festival will be held Downtown, at a series of venues that includes the Orpheum, B.B. King’s Blues Club, Handy Pavilion, and the main stage at Church Park.

The festival is, in part, the brainchild of the late Omar Higgins, beloved frontman and bassist of reggae group Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, and the hardcore band Negro Terror. Higgins, 37, died on April 18, 2019 from complications related to an untreated staph infection. Higgins was named the Legacy Founder of the upcoming festival, which, like its founder, an avowed fan of a wide spectrum of musical styles, will celebrate multiple genres and promote unity.

The event on Wednesday was a who’s who of local musicians, activists, and business leaders, with Rosalyn Nichols representing Clayborn Temple, Anna Mitchell of Royal Studios, Dale Watson of Ameripolitan Festival fame, and Omar’s brothers and bandmates, Joseph and David Higgins, among the speakers. They praised Omar’s vision and activism and reminded their listeners to carry the torch. “The voice of Memphis is epitomized in the life and spirit of our friend and brother, Omar Higgins,” Mitchell said.

Joseph Higgins speaks during the announcement of the festival.
  • Joseph Higgins speaks during the announcement of the festival.
“This is something we’ve been trying to do for years,” Joseph said, as he stood next to a large photo of Omar. “He believed in unifying every single person.” David spoke next, saying that MOJO Fest was dreamed up when he, Omar, and a friend, a rockabilly fan, ate breakfast together, chewing the fat, dreaming of a festival that lifted up local acts and brought disparate communities together. That breakfast, with its meeting of reggae, hardcore, and rockabilly set the tone for the festival-to-be. David said that, even in the hospital, Omar mentioned the festival and wanted it to happen. He remembered his brother saying, “You know that festival we were talking about last year? Keep that going.”
MOJO is definitely going, and, as envisioned, it looks to be a party. In addition to the six stages of music, there will be a MOJO Expo Industry Event October 2nd-5th, before the festival proper. And the tone of the meeting to announce MOJO Festival wasn’t somber; it was more of a rallying of spirits. Memphis-based muralist Birdcap was on hand, painting a mural of three brilliantly multicolored birds. “They played ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley at [Omar’s] funeral,” he said, noting that the funeral was also held at Clayborn Temple. And the musicians on hand represented an array of genres and styles — soul, blues, singer-songwriter — who played songs before and after the speakers. There was a banjo and saxophone, electric and acoustic guitar, and violin.

Other guests spoke about Higgins and his vision of Memphis, as a unified city where citizens, artists, and activists can celebrate both its history and its future. Dale Watson said that he was pleased MOJO would feature “a little sliver of Ameripolitan,” in a festival with a lineup that proposes to include soul, jazz, blues, punk and garage rock, and gospel music. It’s evident that the festival organizers intend to honor their commitment to diversity, which looks to mean an embarrassment of riches celebrating Memphis’ multifaceted music scene and the life and legacy of one of its most generous musicians. 
Memphis MOJO Festival will be held at multiple locations, October 5-6, 2019. www.memphismojofestival.com

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Monday, May 6, 2019

Sunday Funday at Beale Street Music Fest 2019

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2019 at 4:35 PM

Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real
Ideal weather and a stacked lineup brought ’em out in droves for the sunny finale of the 2019 Beale Street Music Festival.

I didn’t make it to Tom Lee Park in time to see Keith Sykes’ homegrown Memphis set, but by the time I was approaching the festival grounds, the crowd was bulging and the din was palpable. There are sellout crowds, and then there are sellout crowds. Already, this was as big a crowd as I had ever seen at music fest, and it was only going to get bigger.
My friend from Nashville who was going to be joining me for Sunday didn’t make it, so I was going into the maelstrom alone. Since I was on the clock, trying to cover as much of the festival as possible, I thought my solo mission would be an advantage. It would be a lot easier to position myself for some good pics and to see what was going on. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

At first, things worked out pretty well. I schlepped up to the side of the Bug Light stage for the last few songs from Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real. They’re a solid, folk-infused classic rock outfit, and the afternoon crowd was lapping it up. They’ve been Neil Young’s backup band for a while now—they stood in for Crazy Horse for Neil’s epic “Down By The River” set in 2016 — so when they closed with “Rockin’ In The Free World,” they knew how to make Young’s barn-burning call to countercultural arms land like a punch. How well that song has aged! “We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand” is about mass shootings now. “That’s one more kid/That will never go to school/Never get to fall in love/Never get to be cool” could have been written about immigrant family separations.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Probably the most challenging act on the bill this year was Rodrigo Y Gabriela. The pair of former metalheads from Mexico City could be viewed as the world’s most successful buskers. They built a reputation touring Europe after relocating to Dublin, Ireland, as teenagers. Expanding the realm of flamenco guitar, the pair’s instrumentals are, as an old guitar player friend of mine used to say, technical as a nuclear plant. Garbriela Quintero, who provides the rhythm support for Rodrigo Sanchez’s melodies and improvisational flights, manages to simulate an entire band’s worth of sound with only her right hand and a nylon-stringed classical guitar. The highlight of their set was an expansive version of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” How did a Sunday afternoon festival crowd react to a flamenco arrangement of a 23-minute song originally written as a secret soundtrack to the “Jupiter and Beyond The Infinite” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey?  They loved it! Did not see that coming.
Hamish Anderson at the Blues Tent - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Hamish Anderson at the Blues Tent

Over in the Blues Tent, Australian gunslinger Hamish Anderson was playing. Anderson was definitely of the White Stripes-influenced generation of guitarists, and given that seminal band’s debut to Memphis, it was a good fit for the festival.
That's Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones hanging off the VIP tent. It would have looked a lot cooler if I had been closer. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • That's Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones hanging off the VIP tent. It would have looked a lot cooler if I had been closer.
As the press of humanity intensified, Alabama soul stirrers St. Paul and the Broken Bones took the festival to church. Singer Paul Janeway, dressed in a black feathered cape, tested the range limits of his wireless microphone by leaping into the crowd and attempting to high five as many people as he could. After moving through the VIP tent, he sang the final verses of his set hanging from a pole above the throngs. Reader, I could have gotten some spectacular photos of that moment had I not been on the opposite side of the stage.
The Claypool Lennon Delierium - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • The Claypool Lennon Delierium
One philly cheesesteak later, I was well positioned for The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Sean Lennon and the Primus bassist have been quietly concocting full-on psychedelic prog rock albums that sounds pretty compelling in person. They’re also kind of a snapshot of the music biz in the modern festival era: A supergroup spinning off the friendly space rock of the Flaming Lips and MGMT. To be fair, it worked great in the moment, and the level of musicianship was very high. It provided a great soundtrack to the spectacular sunset.
Sunset over Tom Lee Park - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Sunset over Tom Lee Park
Gary Clark Jr.’s moment in front of the absolutely packed Bud Light stage reminded me of my first Beale Street Music Festival, where I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan fight off rain squalls with “Couldn’t Stand The Weather.” The band was rock solid, and Clark’s absolute command of his guitar was inspiring.

As Clark’s set wound down, I headed north to the Terminix stage. I was determined to meet pop on its own terms, and that meant getting as close to Cardi B. as humanly possible. In her red sequined catsuit and rainbow wig, the most successful female rapper in history was all carefully calculated swagger. To all the done-up ladies in spandex who thought it would be a good idea to wear heels to day three of an outdoor music festival colloquially known as “Memphis In Mud,” she was exactly what they needed at that moment.
Hoopers get set for Cardi B - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Hoopers get set for Cardi B

At no time was I closer than a quarter mile from Cardi B.

When I discovered I was actually being pushed backwards from the stage, I decided to bail about halfway through to check out The Killers, for the sake of journalistic completeness. It would turn out to be a fateful mistake. The FedEx stage was hosting about 75 percent of the Cardi B crowd, which meant it was bursting at the seams with revelers. After trying to absorb the Killers for a couple of songs, I called it a night and started making my way toward the south exit — just in time to get caught in the swirling climax of Cardi B’s show. Then, as the show ended, I, along with approximately 10,000 others, were pinned against the eastern line of fences and hospitality tents as the crowd was given conflicting instructions on which way to go. The crowd control was nonexistent at the choke point, save for a lone security guard at the Budweiser tent who yelled “Keep moving!” without specifying a direction. For about 10 minutes, it felt like a legitimately dangerous situation, verging on a stampede, until enough people at the head of the line had cleared out to release the pressure on the back ranks. It was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise successful Beale Street Music Festival. 

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Perfect Friday Night For Beale Street Music Fest 2019

Posted By on Sat, May 4, 2019 at 3:13 PM

Ravyn Lenae, Chicago R&B singer, opens up the FedEx stage at Beale Street Music Festival 2019. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Ravyn Lenae, Chicago R&B singer, opens up the FedEx stage at Beale Street Music Festival 2019.
The first Friday of Memphis in May, my wife Laura Jean and I worked through lunch creating piping fresh content for your eye- and ear-holes. Starving, we hit the South gate of the festival a little after it opened at 5 PM, intending to fuel up on carnival food before the music got started.

Like everything else, the food at Tom Lee Park has evolved over the years. What used to be a funnel cake and pronto pup stand is now several funnel cake and pronto pup stands placed strategically around the festival grounds. But there’s a lot more than that, of course. The addition of the noodle stand about a decade ago was a great leap forward for handheld cuisine, and heralded an explosion of speciality vittles like biscuit sandwiches. Now there’s enough variety to make the Iowa State Fair envious.
Cloudy skies but perfect temps as BSMF 2019 opens. - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Cloudy skies but perfect temps as BSMF 2019 opens.
The sky Friday night was not the most beautiful in the history of Memphis in May, but the conditions on the ground at Tom Lee were darn near perfect—not too hot, not too cold, no blistering sun. There was plenty of live grass, and our rain boots were not sinking into the muck yet. At our first stop, I ordered a small beer and got served a large, which I took as a good omen. But no one had run power to any of the beverage stands yet, so it was cash only. Then we grabbed some fish and fried-avocado tacos and settled into a picnic table for a mini feast. As we sat there, we watched the first big wave of people wash towards the stage.

Debate is currently raging over the future of Memphis in May in Tom Lee Park. It must be noted that the MiM folks have perfected the Beale Street Music Festival layout. In the big picture of music festivals, BSMF is one of the most accessible and easy to navigate. With the notable and lamentable exception of the Blues Tent, the problems of sonic bleed that plague festivals like Bonnaroo are nonexistent. When Orange County’s Dirty Heads got rolling at 6:20, the bass was shaking tents hundreds of feet from the Terminix Stage. But when we headed north to the FedEx Stage to check out Ravyn Lenae, we stepped into a new sonic environment.

Lenae, and R&B singer from Chicago blessed with legs for miles, towered above the crowd. Her mezzo soprano voice floated comfortably in an upper register unreachable by most pop songstresses.
Brandon Santini plays the Blues Tent - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Brandon Santini plays the Blues Tent
Continuing north, we ended up at the Coca-Cola Blues Tent, where Brandon Santini and his band were absolutely tearing it up as the crowd filled in. Here’s a BSMF ProTip: when you need a break from the heat or to sit down for a minute, go to the Blues Tent. The music is always at least competent, and usually great. Sometimes, as with Santini on Friday, you can watch an act having the night of their lives while you catch your breath.

Heading back down South, we arrived just in time to watch the biggest party of the night break out. BlocBoy JB, the Memphis rapper whose “Look Alive” was a huge hit last year, almost missed the festival after an MPD traffic stop found him with weed and a firearm. Fresh out of 201, the lithe MC had what looked like half the crowd on stage with him three songs in. Thousands bounced along as clouds of cannabis smoke ascended to heaven.

As a side note, way too many of y'all are mixing your cannabis with tobacco. I’m not talking about rolling a blunt with a cigar paper, which is a time-honored and practical method. I’m talking about actually rolling tobacco into your joints. This is an abomination—what the late, great Memphis music producer Jim Dickinson would have called a “decadent European practice”. Have some self-respect and smoke your weed pure like Jah intended.
Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry is bathed in light as she whips up the crowd. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry is bathed in light as she whips up the crowd.
We returned to the Terminix stage for Chvrches. It was the last night of the tour for the Glasgow, Scotland, band, and they left it all on the stage. Singer Lauren Mayberry is pint-sized, even in platform shoes, but she radiates confidence and can work a crowd with the best of them. Swirling in a pink tutu, she and her bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty breathed life into their deep catalog of warm synthpop. Halfway through the set, Mayberry paused to point out a nearby funnel cake stand and tell the story of puking into a trash bin the first time she ever tried one of the fried dough pastries. Nevertheless, she said, she would probably have one again, “after I get this tutu off.”

It was a low-impact and fun Friday night. As Chvrches packed up, a wave of Dave Matthews fans descended on the stage like the undead at Winterfell. Having had our fill of Matthews’ jam-lite stylings in the 1990s, we briefly debated trying to fight the tide of baseball caps fetishists to get to Khalid before deciding to ride the wave out of the South gate. Another ProTip: The Lyft pickup area on Kansas street is the quickest way out of the festival area, and they’ve even got a promo code for free rides, courtesy of Bud Light. So use it, and be safe out there, y’all.

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A Meeting of Musical Minds: Stewart Copeland Visits Como

Posted By on Sat, May 4, 2019 at 2:21 PM

Rev. John Wilkins and Stewart Copeland - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Rev. John Wilkins and Stewart Copeland
Como, Mississippi played host to an unlikely encounter between two musical luminaries this week, as Stewart Copeland, the drummer behind Diddy's hit "I'll Be Missing You" (not to mention everything ever recorded by the Police), arrived at Hunters Chapel Missionary Baptist Church to bear witness to a service presided over by Rev. John Wilkins.

Copeland was there with Nico Wasserman and Alex Black, who are producing a new three-part documentary for the BBC on the cultural power of music. For the episode on music and spiritual experience, Copeland has visited such locations as Hillsong Church in New York, CeCe Winans in Nashville, and, this past Sunday, Hunters Chapel.
ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
This follows close on the heels of the popular BBC special program On Drums, in which Copeland explored "the drums as the founding instrument of popular modern music." The response to this was so positive that this new series, as yet untitled, was planned to explore the social impact of music more generally.

Sitting through a full service, Copeland was visibly moved by the experience, as an enthusiastic congregation and choir, led by Rev. Wilkins, sang with fervor. Some church members were so swept away as to need the assistance of ushers, who rushed down the aisles to steady and calm them. Eventually Copeland jumped to his feet and began singing and clapping with everyone else.

The congregation was gracious and welcoming to the visitors. Rev. Wilkins' manager Amos Harvey, also in attendance, commented, "It just felt so good, so open and inclusive. It was almost hypnotic at times."

Copeland, for his part, was glowing after the service. As the crew interviewed Rev. Wilkins on his own, Copeland sampled the victuals in downtown Como, and spoke about the power of music and his love of composition for cinematic soundtracks. "When Tom Cruise kisses a girl with all the love and sincerity he can, it's my job to show the sinister intent behind what he's doing," he noted, by way of example. Beginning with 1983's Rumble Fish, Copeland composed soundtracks for a good 20 years.

Nowadays, Copeland regularly revisits his compositions in live performances with symphony orchestras around the world. The current tour of such shows, which feature Copeland on drums, is known as Stewart Copeland Lights up the Orchestra, and will next take him to Poland and Italy for dates this June.

After lunch, Copeland returned to the church to play with Rev. Wilkins and speak to him about the spiritual significance of both gospel and the blues. The church environs, a bucolic landscape of pastures, woods, and lakes, made for a serene setting as the two waxed philosophical. As Rev. Wilkins demonstrated his father's time-honored composition, "Prodigal Son," Copeland joined in on a percussive frying pan from Brazil. "Would you like your eggs up or scrambled?" he quipped as they closed the song. "I guess that was pretty scrambled."
Cameraman Alex Black gets  the shot as inverted Deity looks on. - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Cameraman Alex Black gets the shot as inverted Deity looks on.

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Powerful Shade: Black Pistol Fire To Play Hi-Tone

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2019 at 11:32 AM

Black Pistol Fire's Eric Owen &  Kevin McKeown
  • Black Pistol Fire's Eric Owen & Kevin McKeown
Black Pistol Fire sounds like it could be the name of a cowboy-themed arcade game, but it’s the moniker of the duo made up of vocalist/guitarist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen. The two Toronto natives met in kindergarten and started playing music together in high school.

They’ve since relocated to Austin, Texas, known (among other things) for its psych- and garage-rock scene and home to the LEVITATION Festival. (With records like 1967's "Levitation," Austin's 13th Floor Elevators pretty much invented the psychedelic rock genre). And the Toronto transplants fit in to Austin well with their scruffy appearance, blues-tinged guitar licks, and energetic live sets. On Sunday, Black Pistol Fire are making a stop at the Hi-Tone, with Emily Wolfe to open the show.

The band recently released a new single, “Black Halo,” on Rifle Bird Music. The track's vintage slapback guitar sounds demand attention. A lo-fi psych-rock shimmer gives the song a hint of darkness and just enough edge to act as a counterweight to its toe-tapping groove. Though the minimal production on the single is pristine, live performances are where Black Pistol Fire shines the brightest.

On guitar and vocals, McKeown samples freely from the popular music mosaic, employing a tightly wound punkish energy, blues riffs, and a good ol’ fashioned rock-and-roll veneer. Owen on drums is all shirtless flailing arms, and long curly hair, as the sticks in his begloved hands bounce off the toms and cymbals. It’s like Animal the Muppet learned to play by watching old videos of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham.

The result is far greater than the separate parts; the band sounds too lush and too dynamic to be just two people. While some reviews compare the duo to another famous blues-rock-influenced duo with “Black” in their name, I think the similarities are superficial. The comparisons that come to mind for this listener run the gamut from Bo Diddley to Buddy Holly to the Black Angels (yes, I know, another band with “black” in their name).

I spoke with Owen and McKeown via email about Austin, Goner Records, the band’s new single “Black Halo,” and why they like the word “black” so much.

Memphis Flyer: Austin seems to be a town that loves its psych-rock and garage rock. Do you find that your adopted hometown has been a big influence on you?

Eric Owens: It definitely has over the last few years. Our earlier records didn’t really have that psych element, but we’ve really tried to incorporate more psych elements into the records these last few years. I have personally seen the Black Angels five times in the last two years, and they blow my mind every time. Their sonics are incredible, bordering on full madness at times.

MF: With your sound, I definitely hear some blues tinges as well as more psychedelic influences. Do you get tired of people bringing up acts like 13th Floor Elevators and Roky Erickson when talking to you?

EO: Not at all! We’d love to hear more of that. Our music is pretty varied; we’re kind of all over the place. It’s all under the umbrella of rock-and-roll, but we try to incorporate as many other sub-genres as we can.

MF: I love the tone on the guitars on the new single. Do you spend a lot of time dialing in tone, or are you more “set it and forget it” players?

Kevin McKeown: Thank you! It definitely takes a while to dial in the tone. Hours! Pedal combinations, amp combinations, it’s a never-ending battle. Trying out several new pedals on this run alone, always refining.

MF: Let’s talk a little more about the new single. With lyrics like “got my shadow in a black halo,” it sounds like a song about being cursed. Am I way off the mark here?

EO: Not off the mark. It’s inspired by the California Wildfires of last year and how someone can lose everything they have yet still be holding out hope. Searching for that silver lining.

MF: In some ways, the protagonist in the song seems to find comfort in his black halo. I guess it’s a constant, something that can be relied on.

EO: Relied on yes! Comfort and solace, you be the judge ...

MF: Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but it seems like you have an affinity for the color/word “black.” Is that rock-and-roll thing? Black leather, danger, and all that jazz?

EO: All that jazz! It’s just such a powerful shade, color, tone, whatever you’d like to call it. It’s kind of like the unknown.

MF: Where was the song recorded?

EO: This one was recorded in Austin at Arlyn Studios, where we’ve recorded the majority of the last three albums with Jacob Sciba.

MF: Can we expect more new music soon?

EO: Definitely. We’re dropping two tracks in early May and another later in the month, all leading up to the next album in the fall.

MF: Have you played Memphis before?

EO: We have not. We’re stoked though. Our opening act, Emily Wolfe’s bass player Evan is from Memphis, so it’ll be a homecoming for him. Plus Memphis has so much musical history. It’s the home to the King of Rock-and-Roll and Stax, for crying out loud. And we’re also big into Goner Records and what they’ve done.

MF: Is there anything else you want to add?

EO: The show’ll pretty rad ’n sweaty! Plus we’ll be playing some new tunes. Should be a gas!

Black Pistol Fire perform with Emily Wolfe at the Hi-Tone, Sunday, May 5th, at 8:30 p.m. $15-$20.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Frank Turner Still Believes In America, Rock 'n' Roll, & The Lansky Brothers

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 12:22 PM

Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls
  • Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

Right here, right now, Elvis brings his children home.
Right here, right now, you never have to feel alone.
Right here, right now, teenage kicks and gramophones.
We hold them in our hearts.


With the words from his song "I Still Believe" ringing in my ears, I answered a phone call from Frank Turner, the English singer, songwriter, and writer who has enjoyed a decade's worth of hit records in the best possible sense: not manufactured beats and songs written by a committee, but honest, well crafted gems by one human trying to make sense of the world. It helps that he backs up his strum-along numbers of such wit and poignancy with the onslaught of his longtime band, the Sleeping Souls, seeming to give the legacy of Billy Bragg an extra kick for the 21st Century. And those lyrics about Elvis, from a song about the redemptive power of rock 'n' roll, will ring truer than ever this Saturday, when he and the Sleeping Souls play Graceland. I asked him about his latest work and the challenge of playing trenchant, socially-aware music in this day and age.

Memphis Flyer: It seems your work is in keeping with a great tradition of political song from the British Isles.

Frank Turner: With the most recent record I made, Be More Kind, I definitely was dipping my toe into making kind of public political statements again, in a way that I haven't done for a few records. Which I felt compelled to do because of what was happening around me, both in America and in the U.K., where, as I'm sure you know, we have our own share of ridiculous arguments to be having right now. For me personally, my taste in punk rock was always more American than English, with the possible exception of the Clash. Political music for me, when you say that I think of Bad Religion and Propagandhi. And bands like that. That particular take on the politicized punk rock thing.

Do you ever worry that your new song "Make America Great Again" could be appropriated by the right the way Reagan used "Born in the USA"? [Sample lyric: "Let's make America great again! By making racists ashamed again!"]

FT: Yeah, I know that story. I think it would be a serious lapse of judgment on behalf of anybody who was working for the Trump campaign to try and use my song. That song in particular was one that I wondered about putting out there, because life is easier if you don't make thorny political statements. And certainly I went through a few years where I wasn't talking about politics in my music. And I slept better and I had lower blood pressure.

But the reason I felt comfortable putting it out was that it was kind of unbidden. It just kind of arrived. I felt the need to say these things. And that felt honest to me. In terms of the actual reaction that the song has received...I mean, when you're on the coasts, let's say, people are kind of into it. But even so, I've had some pretty cool grown up conversations with people who fall on the other side of the political divide for me. Which is kind of the point, in the sense that what the whole record's about is the fact that I feel like we've stopped having grown up political conversations. So it's kind of nice here and there to have some, you know, reasoned back and forth with people. That sort of thing we need more of.

I just feel that every one's in this massive hurry to not listen to the people that they disagree with, which I think is not a particularly adult way of conducting a debate. So I'm not saying everyone should agree. We won't. Human beings don't agree with each other, that's written into our political DNA. But we need to find a way to conduct our disagreements in a civil and adult fashion, and that seems to be the thing that we're all collectively losing sight of right now.

I have some extremely progressive left wing friends, and I have conservative friends. And they're all intelligent people in good faith, and they deserve to be listened to. The solution to our problems lies in the middle, and it always has been and always will be. The problem for me is when the two different approaches to life become incommunicable. Right now people take pride, they take pleasure in fighting people they disagree with. And I think that's actually a sign of weakness. The first thing I was told about political debate when I was a kid was that you should be able to inhabit your opponent's mental universe, if only to defeat their arguments better. And if you just turn around and say 'I can't understand anything you're saying,' well then it's like, try harder.

Musically, the new record has some really subtle arrangements and rhythmic elements, beyond the solid song structures and sharp lyrics.

FT: If there's ever a point in my career as a writer where I'm allowed to take some risks and some experiments, some left hand musical turns, then it would be on album seven. I think I've earned the right at that point. And it was really fun. One of the things this time around was, the band and I, we didn't work up any arrangements at all before we got to the studio. Which is very different from how I've done things in the past. In the past, I tended to show up at the studio with the band very well drilled, knowing exactly what we're gonna play and how it's gonna go. And a lot of the time that's just been out of necessity, in the sense that we've only got eight days to make a record, and not enough money and all the rest of it. This time around I had the schedule and the money and the wherewithal and the will to really take my time and to use the studio as a tool, and to let the songs grow and develop in the manner of their own choosing, in the context of the studio. And that led me into some very different arrangements and different sonic textures and that sort of thing. It was really fun.

Funnily enough, I'll actually be joining you in Boston, at one of your Lost Evenings III shows at the House of Blues  playing bass for Cory Branan.

FT: Amazing! I love Cory! Cory's one of my absolute favorite people in the world. We've done a handful of shows together and we have a lot of mutual friends — Jason Isbell and Jon Snodgrass and people like that. The thing about Cory for me is, almost every songwriter I know is slightly embarrassed by his existence, in the sense that he's just better than all of us. And should be more successful than any of us. And we're all just slightly like, 'Oh man, that Cory Branan's so f*cking good.' So actually yeah, I'm extremely excited to have him on the bill for the festival. It's been too long since we did a show together. That motherf*cker can play guitar as well. He can shred.

Will this be a full band show for you at Graceland on Saturday? And what does being in Memphis mean to you?

FT: I've been through Memphis once or twice in my time. And the boys from Lucero raised me right, in the sense that, if I had to pick a town in Tennessee I'd probably pick Memphis over Nashville.

Yes, I have the Sleeping Souls with me Saturday. And in fact the rest of the bill for that show is really great. We've got my friends in Murder By Death playing as well, who are amazing. And then one of my favorite humans in the world, Tim Barry. So it's a hell of a lineup in my opinion.

My other engagement, when I'm in Memphis on Saturday is, I'm gonna make a little stop at Lansky Brothers. I'm getting married in August this year, and I'm planning on getting a Lansky Brothers suit for my wedding.

Brilliant. That bodes well for this sacred union...

FT: Yeah, well, my missus won't let me dress as Elvis from the 1970s at the wedding, but she will tolerate a Lansky Brothers suit. 

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Memphis Musicians Remember Omar Higgins

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 11:35 AM

Omar Higgins plays the Food Not Bombs benefit show in 2009. - COURTESY CHRISTOPHER REYES
  • Courtesy Christopher Reyes
  • Omar Higgins plays the Food Not Bombs benefit show in 2009.

Omar Higgins, 37, died on April 18th, 2019 from complications related to an untreated staph infection. The Memphis music community expressed shock and grief at the unexpected passing of the bassist and bandleader of Memphis’ premiere reggae band, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy (CCDE), and the buzzed-about hardcore outfit, Negro Terror — the man everyone knew as simply Omar.

 “I’ve struggled to find the appropriate words to share with everyone about how much Omar meant to me,” says Kris Garver, DJ who has been friends with Omar since they were teenagers. “I don't quite remember how I met Omar, in person. It might have been at Kirby High School, it may have been at the Hickory Ridge Mall or even on the front stoop at his house, a place that was Omar's de facto headquarters for as long as I've known him. Our mutual friend kept talking about this friend of his, Omar, who was so fucking rad and knew how to play the bass and loved kung-fu movies and cartoons and knew about all kinds of fucking music, and just moved here from Brooklyn."

Garver says he and Omar were “music nerds, amateur musicologists. We would talk about all the kinds of bands we wanted to form.”

Joseph Higgins, who along with his brother, David, formed the core of CCDE, says Omar was born in Memphis, but lived in Brooklyn for “a good chunk of his life. He loved it so much. That was the place where he honed his skills on punk rock. But he brought his skills back here to Memphis and we sharpened our swords like crazy.”
Omar Higgins was an Army veteran who served in the Iraq War. “He talked about it, but it was always something that he tried to keep to himself,” says Joseph Higgins. “He loved this country. Anybody ever try to talk bad about it, he would say, 'nah, this is my home.' We were born here. You black, white, Asian, whatever. We are all one….In Iraq, in the field, we’re all brothers, we’re all one. That’s the only way we get a chance to come home. We can’t be like, 'I don’t protect this person, because he’s this, or I don’t protect this person, because she’s that.' That was one thing he brought back: The whole mentality of, we are all one. He was just trying to be the best Omar he could be.”

The Higgins brothers played together in worship bands at churches such as IPC, New Beginnings. Miracle Redemption, and New Genesis. “They have done nothing but show us love and let us hone our skills,” says Joseph. “Omar talked about those churches as things that kept him centered. With all the wickedness and crazy stuff that went on the world, we all need that assurance, hope, and peace. We got that from reggae music, and the churches.”

Omar’s spiritual beliefs were as idiosyncratic as they were deeply felt. In John Rash’s award-winning 2018 documentary Negro Terror, Omar claimed a strong affiliation with Hari Krishna, and performed a blistering psych-rock chant in his name. He was a spiritual seeker, who found deep meaning in the healing and uniting power of music. “If you didn’t like him, you just don’t like good energy,” says rapper SvmDvde. “He never told anybody to harm this person because they were gay, or harm this person because they were white or black — except racists and rapists. Omar was an advocate for women. I feel like if he could catch a rapist, he would hang a rapist.”

While playing punk rock in Brooklyn, Omar became associated with Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), which arose from the first-wave ska scene in late 1960s London. The SHARPs, who appropriated the logo of Jamaican reggae label Trojan Records as their own, are a loose-knit, anti-fascist organization who acted as a counterweight to the violent, racist skinheads who infiltrated punk rock culture in the 1980s and 90s.

When he returned to Memphis in the mid-2000s, Omar dove deep into reggae history, and started training his brothers to play the music. “I was always into hip hop and R&B and a little bit of rock,” Joseph says. “Bob Marley was a great artist, but I thought he was the only one people listened to. Omar introduced me to Gregory Issacs, Barrington Levy…I fell in love with reggae.”

Omar Higgins had a well-earned reputation as a demanding bandleader. “Anybody that we have ever featured or had join us on stage, they had to do their homework,” says Joseph.
Singer Kween Jasira of Ras Empress, who frequently sang with CCDE, says, “Omar taught me to be knowledgeable about what you’re doing. Some people play certain music, and sing certain music, but they don’t understand it. They just sing it because it sounds good. Omar had knowledge about not only reggae and rock, he had a true love of music, regardless of genre. Not only true love, true knowledge…Omar really taught me to research my craft, and let that shape me as an artist.”

CCDE drummer Donnon Johnson says, “He was really a James Brown type. He was very specific about how music should be played. One rehearsal, when I first got into the band, I watched Omar literally change instruments, teach piano and guitar parts, give a horn line, voice lines, and show me what drum pattern to play, all in one rehearsal…Nine times out of 10, he was the most skilled musician in the room. But he was the least likely to try to show somebody up, or exhibit any type of attitude. He was the most skilled and the most humble on any stage he was on. That’s his legacy.”

David Higgins says the band passed up offers from a record label in 2009. The label executive “…loved what we were doing. He had never seen anyone like [Omar] who was an American.”

But the label wanted the band, then known as the Soul Enforcers, to stop playing club shows and record with them exclusively. “Omar would never sign on the dotted line,” says David. “He was like, I want to keep playing. This guy doesn’t want us to play out. So we’re going to keep doing it under the name Chinese Connection Rhythm Selection. I came up with the Dub Embassy part…The name is funny. It was supposed to be a thing so Omar could go out and play, to minister to people, to play life music. That’s what reggae music is, life music. We wanted to get out there and keep that camaraderie going. He didn’t want to record until he was ready, until we were all mentally ready. He didn’t want to take us through a whirlwind of BS. I’m glad we did it the way we did, the underground way, the independent way. That’s what everybody’s doing now. Nobody wants to be signed to some big label. Independent is where it’s at. Omar was ahead of his time.”

At first, Omar’s version of a ministry meant playing in some of Memphis’ worst dives. Negro Terror guitarist Rico Fields met Omar at the notorious Rally Point in the University of Memphis area. “The Buccaneer was the Cotton Club compared to the Rally Point,” Fields says. “That’s where you went when you couldn’t go anywhere else.”
An early supporter was Eso Tolson of the a cappella hip hop act Artistik Approach. His series of Artistik Lounge shows featuring up-and-coming artists started out at the Rumba Room in Downtown Memphis. Tolson booked Chinese Connection Dub Embassy to play. “His charisma, his stage presence, his energy was just so compelling…That’s when I knew these guys were special. It was a rainy Sunday night. The energy was living good. There were a lot of up-and-coming musicians there. Right after the performance, it was sprinkling outside. They were putting up equipment. Donnon, on the drums, he just had his snare, and he started playing this rhythm. He’s from New Orleans, it was like a second line. Then Suavo came out with his trombone. Omar and me were outside chanting in the rain with this second-line energy. They had just played this amazing set, and here we were, on the street in the rain, chanting. It was that energy they created, and that vibe they had. Omar was the leader. He had that spirit. People trusted him. They valued his wisdom, his ideas, and his leadership. Chinese Connection traveled all over the South and the Midwest, and people were catching those vibes. But that performance was a pinnacle for me.”
From that point on, CCDE was the house band. “The Artistik Lounge is kinda like a convergence,” says rapper PreauXX, who frequently performed with the band. “Omar had this powerful energy about him that commanded your attention, but it was so thoughtful, so grateful. It was, 'don’t bullshit me, because I’m stylin' in your face.' It was an honest person. I love characters like that…They brought me to one of my first festivals, the Wakka Roots festival. I didn’t have any money to my name, and they said, ‘PreauXX, get in this truck and come tour with us.’…Any time performing with them, it was always a family reunion.”

“They are completely different,” says Kween Jasira, who also began playing with the band around the same time. “The other bands I had been with, there were singers, and there were musicians, if that makes sense. CCDE are a complete package. They are the definition of one band, one sound. You don’t just have singers with the musicians playing behind them, background singers to the side. The entire band is responsible for the sound, and for the singing. It’s a self-contained thing that I hadn’t seen before. But what makes them unique from other bands is they found a way to integrate themselves with other genres of music, and other artists. They found a way to bring hip hop and reggae together, and R&B and reggae together. The way they immersed themselves in the artist community around them, and both spread their seeds and became a part of what was already there, and bringing people into reggae as well. A lot of those people didn’t know reggae, or even knew that they liked it at the time. They’ve never given it a chance. But the way CCDE moved in the artist community, they were exposing that roots reggae, and people latched onto it.”

Chinese Connection Dub Embassy playing the 2018 Beale Street Music Festival - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Chinese Connection Dub Embassy playing the 2018 Beale Street Music Festival

PreauXX says, “(Omar) could hang with the hipster kids, he could hang with the grunge kids, he could hang with people who love reggae music. He could move fluidly throughout all of these communities and be appreciated. It’s a rare feat. There will never be anyone else like that.”

“Musically, that is one of the tightest bands you’ll see,” says Justin Jaggers. “It’s just fun to watch them perform, and nonverbally communicate. A look from Omar, a response from Joseph, and they just know what to do.”

Jaggers is the organizer of Musicians for LeBonheur. In 2013, he reached out to CCDE. “The quickest ‘yes’ I got was from those guys….I was just blown away by their response. They would do anything we asked them to do.”

Jaggers arranged to have CCDE play for LeBonheur patients. “There was this kid who had some kidney issues. He was 19 or 20, and just a frail, small guy. We went into the room, and he just looked miserable. These guys started playing, and they were interacting so well with each other. The kid kinda lifts up his arm and starts dancing with the only body parts he could move. You know that kinda had to hurt a little bit, but he wanted so badly to be a part of this music.”

CCDE’s reputation and fan base grew with their 2013 album The Firm Foundation, named for an earlier incarnation of the group. But the ever-restless Omar continued to branch out. Omar sat in on bass with cowpunks Jocephus and the George Jonestown Massacre. “We had another underground project called the Cotton Pickers,” says David. “We used to work for Mr. [George] Klein for Elvis Radio. We had another project called Ten Foot Ganja Plants, and another called John Brown’s Body. We had a studio thing, and a live thing. We were going to drop this thing called Slave vs. Master. We intend to put that out in the future as a tribute to Omar.”
CCDE had a minor hit with their grooved-up cover of A-Ha’s synth-pop classic “Take On Me," Joseph says, “That was Omar’s thing. For the longest, he wouldn’t do a Bob Marley song, because he didn’t want to be a cover band. But we were like, this is Memphis. People love Bob Marley. So he said, 'OK, but if we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it Chinese Connection Dub Embassy way.' Every time, if you heard a cover we did, it’s not like the original song. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it our way.”

I first met the Higgins brothers backstage at the David Bowie tribute concert at Minglewood Hall organized by Memphis musicians after the legend’s 2016 death. I had seen them play before, but up close, the 300-pound Omar’s energy was intense and unmistakable. Five months later, I watched them steal the show at the Prince tribute with Omar’s stunning arrangement of “How Come You Don’t Call Me?” The next time I saw them play at the Hi-Tone, Omar greeted me as soon as I walked in the door. Offhand, I asked if he knew “Heathen” by Bob Marley. The band then opened their set with a barn burning version of the song.

Omar was cooking up a fresh surprise. He recruited his old friend Rico Fields and drummer Ra’id to get back to his hardcore punk roots. “When he hit me up about the idea, all I knew was I wanted to be involved with it,” Fields says. “I didn’t know nothing about skinhead subculture, nothing. I knew enough about punk to have a conversation, but I wasn’t a sub-genre guy: American, oi, this punk, that punk, whatever. I was like, there’s more than one? He was an encyclopedia. He drilled us hard for a year. We didn’t do any shows. All we did was practice.”
Omar Higgins plays with Negro Terror at the 2019 Black Lodge Halloween Ritual - COURTESY CHRISTOPHER REYES
  • Courtesy Christopher Reyes
  • Omar Higgins plays with Negro Terror at the 2019 Black Lodge Halloween Ritual
The band would become the controversial Negro Terror. “We knew to get the message out, it had to be crazy,” Fields says. “There were five or six other band names that came before Negro Terror. Some of them were like, you should never, ever say those two words together ever again. That’s going to get us arrested.”

Negro Terror’s mission was to challenge the assumption that punk is an exclusively white genre. “Growing up in the 80s, 90s, that’s what they told you: You’re black, so you have to be gospel, hip hop, or R&B. You gotta stay in your church. Folks like me and Omar, we love black music. If you could put a color on popular music in America, it would be black. I’m never one of those people who says certain colors need to stay in certain genres of music. And Omar was the same way.”

Negro Terror instantly made a big impression. “People were very confused at first,” says Fields. “They were used to seeing Omar play reggae, because that’s what he was known for…When we did our first show at the Hi Tone, we kinda decided to fuck with the crowd, and play reggae first. Then, all the sudden, I turn that distortion on, and people were just like, 'whoah, shit. It’s about to go down.' Then he started singing, and people were like, is that Omar’s twin brother? Who is that?”
One of Negro Terror’s earliest coups was a cover of “Invasion” by the infamous English racist band Skrewdriver. Fields says Omar was determined to do it better than the fascists. “Literally the only negative reactions we got were from racists. We even had a white supremacist on YouTube comment on ‘Invasion’ who actually showed respect. He said, ‘I may not agree with you ideologically, but you know what? You did really good on this song and I really like it.’ I’m the dude who handles the social media, and I was like, ‘Thank you? I think?’”

One of Negro Terror’s most notorious gigs was playing in front of City Hall during the protests surrounding the Madison Hotel's (now Hu's) forced eviction of artist and Live From Memphis founder Christopher Reyes from his home at 1 S. Main. “I didn’t know him all that well,” says Reyes. “However, he was part of the Live From Memphis scene, always doing something. What stands out in my mind mostly is how he supported my family in our time of need.”

Rico Fields performs with Negro Terror in front of Memphis City Hall during a protest in April, 2018. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Rico Fields performs with Negro Terror in front of Memphis City Hall during a protest in April, 2018.

Negro Terror was the subject of a documentary by Mississippi director John Rash. The film included incendiary performance footage and intimate interviews with the band members. In the film, Omar revealed that he had a wife who was killed in a car accident. “I’m surprised he put that out there,” says Joseph.

The documentary Negro Terror premiered in November, 2018 at Playhouse on the Square during the Indie Memphis Film Festival, with the band providing a live soundtrack to the packed house. It would go on to win the festival’s Soul of Southern Film Award.

This spring, Omar was hard at work preparing the release of Negro Terror’s debut album Paranoia. “He had back problems,” says Fields. “Last summer, at one of these little funky-ass festivals, he fell through some stairs and fucked up his leg real bad…He was getting better. He just got back in the gym. He was already down 30 pounds. We were about to hit the road hard, and he was ready for it.”

In mid-April, he hit a wall. “His back was hurting,” says Joseph. “We usually play three church services on Sunday. We played one and he was like, man, I feel bad. I don’t think I can make it.”

Omar returned to the family home to get some rest. His brothers later discovered him laying on the floor. “He said he felt like he had a pinched nerve in his side. I asked if he needed to go to the hospital, and he said nah, he’d had this before. It was something that would die down quick. After a couple of days, he still wasn’t feeling well. He was still in the same spot, it looked like. Then we were like, nah man, we gotta get an ambulance.”
An untreated sore on Omar’s back had led to a staph infection which spread quickly. In the hospital, he suffered a stroke and ended up in the ICU. As his condition deteriorated, word spread that Omar was in trouble. CCDE had fought to get Kween Jasira and Ras Empress included on a show they were opening with Jamaican dub musician Jah9. They eventually arranged to give their protégées half of their set. “When Omar fell ill, we had to open up the whole show,” says Jasira. “I was calling and checking in every day. I think the thing that made it the toughest, the night we played the Jah9 show, word was he was turning the corner. He was out of ICU, and the breathing tube had been removed. I was not ready for it to turn the other way the next day.”

Joseph says, “While he was in the hospital, he did nothing but crack jokes. We were watching TV and praying, just being as positive as possible. It was a time when you would think he would be depressed, he was trying to stay positive about everything…I want to say the day before we passed, he was on the phone with Donnon, our drummer. He said, 'When I get out of this bed, we’re going to start working on the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy record. It’s way overdue. People are waiting on it'…He said, 'This happened for a reason. It’s telling me that we need to keep on what I’m doing, but we need to bring light to the dark times. That was what inspired him. He wanted to get it out to the masses. We said, we’re with you for the long haul.”
Omar Higgins died on Thursday night, April 18. “We were with him until he passed,” says Joseph.

As the news leaked out over the weekend, there was an anguished outpouring of love from Memphis musicians and admirers on social media. “Omar was the powerful voice who stood up for you, even when you couldn’t stand up for yourself,” says PreauXX. “That’s something I’m always going to carry in my heart, and I think everyone who knew Omar knew that about him.”

“For a couple of days, I couldn’t wrap my head around the why,” says Kween Jasira. “Now, I’m just trying to accept it and be there for his family. I want to make Omar proud. They say death isn’t final. As long as you speak their name, and talk about them, they’re never truly dead. That’s what we can do to keep Omar alive, with the music that he loved, and to carry the same Omar spirit along with that.”
“I’m still processing it,” says Donnon Johnson. “I love Omar so much, as a man, and what he brought out in me as a musician, that my heart is going to have to find a new way to break.”
Omar Higgins plays the Green Room at Crosstown Concourse in March, 2019. It would be one of his last shows. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Omar Higgins plays the Green Room at Crosstown Concourse in March, 2019. It would be one of his last shows.

“I told somebody today, 'God sent him to me,'” says SvmDvde. “I had to meet him and learn from him in order for me to get where I needed to be. He opened my mind completely. I could talk to him about anything. He guided me spiritually, musically, everything.”

Fields says Negro Terror cannot continue without Omar. “Negro Terror has died and been reborn. Look at what’s going on in pop culture. The Lil Nas X kid? He’s Negro Terror…The idea of Negro Terror isn’t even to be a cool punk band with a cool logo. It was showing black kids that they could do anything they wanted to without worrying about it being a white space. There ain’t no such thing as a white space.”
“Not only did he have the skill and the talent, it was not in vain. He was using his talent to inspire and build community. He was giving of himself, sometimes not to his advantage. He was skilled, and humble,” says Eso Tolson. “That spirit, what he was about, his music, will carry on. Those who didn’t know him will come to know him with the stories that will be shared.”

Fields says he got to say goodbye to Omar. “He came to me in a dream. He looked kinda down, so I gave him a hug. ‘I got you,’ I said. He said, ‘No no no. I got YOU, forever.’ I hadn’t had a dream since.”

Omar Higgins
  • Omar Higgins

A memorial for Omar Higgins will begin with a Beale Street parade at 10:30 AM on Tuesday, April 30, followed by a reception at I Am A Man Plaza at 11:00 and funeral services at Clayborn Temple at noon.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Lord T. & Eloise Will Burst Your Bubble (Record, That Is)

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 at 7:50 PM

Lord T. & Eloise
  • Lord T. & Eloise
Prepare for an understatement: Memphis musicians have thrown a few good parties. But still there ain’t no party like a Lord T. & Eloise party. Memphians can experience the absolute insanity of a Lord T. & Eloise live performance this Saturday, April 27th, as the local crunk rap duo records the show for their forthcoming live album, Live From the Bubble Bath. LAPD, Damp Velour, and DJ Leroy will also perform.

Ever the embodiment of decadence, Lord T. & Eloise plan to perform for the occasion, “all from the comfort of their bubble bath, which they will have delivered to the stage.” The self-styled "intergalactic time travelers" and "horsemen of the Rap-pocalypse" have dubbed the affair a “Bring-Your-Own-Bubbles” event, but, they say, “if you cannot acquire bubbles they will be provided for you.”

The proposed live album will feature seven new tracks from the Memphis rap duo, who have not released a new album for some time, though their Bandcamp page has sported the occasional single release. With the bubble bath bash, Lord T. & Eloise plan to debut such new songs as “Get Up,” “Double Dip,” “Palm Beach 2,” and “Harem.”

To accomplish the bubble-filled feat, Lord T. & Eloise have recruited a stirring stable of local talent, including the “newly expanded and enforced rhythm section ‘the aritocrunk sound system’ (Lord Sri Alpha, Teddie Roosevelt, Biggs Strings, DJ Witnesse),” says Lord T. Al Kapone, KingPin Skinny Pimp, and more are expected to make guest appearances.

When asked why a live album, Lord T. responds, “Well, everyone always says you just have to see us live. So we figured it’s high time everyone got to hear us that way.” Eloise adds, somewhat cryptically, “Tell them to listen up close. They might learn a little something about the way the world works.”

The duo, possessed of impressive vocabularies and unburdened by false modesty (or any
modesty at all, for that matter), claim their stated intent is to “literally break The Guinness Book of World Records for most bubbles at a live performance in human history.” Will they succeed? Turn up at Railgarten this Saturday to find out.

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Pat Sansone: Making Memphis Mello Again

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 at 2:13 PM

Pat Sansone - SANSONICA, INC
  • Sansonica, INC
  • Pat Sansone

"It's gonna be a mellow acoustic set," Pat Sansone says of his moment in the sun, down at the Harbor Town Amphitheater on Sunday, April 28th. His forecast matches that for the afternoon's weather. It will be an ideal setting for that rare chance to hear Sansone's songs, no doubt played with his usual musical dexterity. Better known as a multi-instrumentalist member of Wilco for the past 15 years, Sansone was a Wilco fan and a songwriter in his own right long before that.

He'll be selecting from twenty years' worth of songs he's contributed to the band Autumn Defense, founded with Sansone's friend John Stirratt in New Orleans. And even before that venture, Sansone was writing. "I was living in New Orleans for the back half of the 90s. At the studio where I worked in New Orleans, even before the Autumn Defense got going, I was working on a batch of solo material. I'm revisiting that stuff now to finally mix it properly and hopefully release it sometime later this year. It definitely has a kinship with Autumn Defense — very much influenced by the Zombies, the Beatles, the Kinks. English Psychedelic Pop."

To these ears, there are also plenty of echoes of American renegades like Todd Rundgren or Emitt Rhodes. "Big Star and all sorts of other things were influences too. Shoegaze. A weird mish-mash of stuff, which is not very New Orleans-y. As much as I love New Orleans, and I love it dearly, and certainly John loves it as well, I think one of the reasons we connected so strongly was we both felt a little bit outside of what was happening musically in New Orleans. There just wasn't much of an audience or interest for the kind of music we were making. I learned a lot in New Orleans, and I absorbed a lot of amazing music, but I didn't necessarily feel like I was part of it, other than being a fan. That's one of the reasons I left. I knew that the music that I was going to make and what I had to offer musically wasn't something that New Orleans really needed or wanted," he laughs.

Selections from the above mish-mash are what Sansone will be conjuring up Sunday, albeit in minimalist form. One of Autumn Defense's strengths is their harmonies. Though Sansone and Stirratt are not kin, they sing harmonies like they are. On record, it can be difficult to distinguish their voices, especially when layered together on songs like the early gem "The Sun In California."

"Working on that song was really a milestone in the realization of what we were about as a band," Sansone recalls. That number from their second album was by Stirratt; naturally Sansone focuses on his own songs when playing solo. "I know I'll be playing 'The August Song,' from our album Fifth, and I'll play 'Feel You Now' from our self-titled album on piano."

For Wilco fans who haven't yet explored the Autumn Defense's discography, the work holds up beautifully, and may be a kind of skeleton key into Wilco's poppier moments.

"John and I had been doing the Autumn Defense for about five years before I got absorbed into the Wilco organism. It was a natural thing. I think the type of music that John and I connected over, was very much the same reason John and Jeff [Tweedy] connected. I remember hearing [Wilco album] Summerteeth. I guess it came out around the same time that John and I were working on the first Autumn Defense record. And there's a similar heartbeat going on, between those two records."

While the albums are available for the ages, a performance by Autumn Defense is a rare thing. "I don't think we're gonna do anything this year, except for a performance at Solid Sound." That would be the Wilco-launched Solid Sound Festival, June 28th-31st in North Adams, Massachusetts. That festival will also notably play host to the Memphis-based ensemble behind last year's Mellotron Variations, in which Sansone was a key player, along with Robby Grant, Jonathan Kirkscey, and John Medeski. (More on their new album and Solid Sound performance in the near future).

The Mellotron Variations project was clearly dear to Sansone's heart. "I was really transported by it. And I have to say the Mellotron has been very helpful to me as far as arranging goes, because you have all those colors, and those instruments at your fingertips. It's allowed me to do things I never would have been able to do without it."

Indeed, that experience will feed right back into the Autumn Defense's appearance at Solid Sound. "It will be fun," Sansone says, "because it's gonna be an acoustic performance with a string quartet. I wrote string arrangements for a handful of songs and I'm gonna be cranking out a few more. So, hopefully we can do an entire set with strings. That's the only Autumn Defense performance on the books this year."

As the band's song "Things On My Mind" goes, "Let's go, let's get in the sun." That, and the rarity of hearing those songs live, could well be an exhortation to attend Sunday's gathering by the river.

Pat Sansone and Crystal Shrine will appear at The River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheatre, Sunday, April 28, 3:00 pm. $5 admission.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

UPDATE: In Memoriam, Omar Higgins. Local Musicians in Need

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2019 at 8:51 AM

Omar Higgins
  • Omar Higgins
Only days ago, we put out word of a GoFundMe campaign to help defray the medical expenses of local visionary Omar Higgins. With heavy hearts, we now must report that Omar has left us. As the family writes:

Dearest Family and Friends,
It saddens us to announce that Omar passed away this past Thursday. Omar fought so hard and never gave up hope as so many friends and family prayed and came to visit him almost every day he was in the hospital. Omar loved so many people from all walks of life and he made sure to always help anyone that came to him in need of advice and would do anything that would bring peace. Omar wanted to continue to do what he loved and was healing others through music and conversation. If you or anyone you care about ever needs help, please fight with every muscle in your body to help them with every ounce of love you can summon.

We love all of you so much as does Omar – let us continue to keep his memory alive and cemented in the history books of Memphis Music.

Gratefully,

David, Joseph and the entire Higgins Family

*** Funeral arrangements are being made at this time and we will post details soon. ***


Please note the fundraiser above, and remember that, unfortunately, the medical costs are not going anywhere. You can also express your condolences in the comments there, or visit his Facebook page. Social media has been filled with beautiful tributes from friends and fans who are confronting the tragic news; all are focusing on the inspiration and passion Omar brought to everything he did, including his commitment to a more just society.

In Omar's memory, we present his gifts in this stunning  footage from last year, followed by the original post (from April 16th) on his recent crisis.

On the younger end of the musical spectrum, a local mover and shaker, Omar Higgins, is in the ICU at Methodist Hospital at this very moment. The founder of two critically acclaimed Memphis bands, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy (CCDE) and Negro Terror, suffered from the double whammy of a mini-stroke and a staph infection two weeks ago. Like Green, Higgins has no health insurance.

Higgins and CCDE have been notable community activists as ambassadors for Musicians for LeBonheur, helping to raise money for LeBonheur Children's Hospital. Omar is also a church youth leader and music director. Friends and family are now hoping that his supporters and fans will give back, via a GoFundMe campaign. As with Green, a fundraising event will also be held for Higgins on Thursday, May 23rd, at Growlers.

For those who have ever been moved by these or other Memphis artists, this is a good time to give something back. Remembering how unforgiving our current health care system is to those in the arts, community support can literally make the difference between life and death.

The talents of musical geniuses among us are deeply felt by Memphians, but it's rare that such talent can win you health insurance. A life dedicated to the arts can be a treacherous path for those plying their trade full time, regardless of how moved we might be by their performances. And thus we have that very American institution: the health care fundraiser.

Herman Green, Stevie Wonder, - and Joyce Cobb
  • Herman Green, Stevie Wonder, and Joyce Cobb

Dr. Herman Green will turn 89 next month, and, spry as he may be, he's encountered some health issues in the past year that have challenged his bank account. Luckily, his friends and comrades are staging an event at the Railgarten on Tuesday, April 16th, to bring fans and colleagues together on his behalf.
  
Stephen Perkins (drummer for Jane's Addiction & Banyan), Willie Waldman, Norton Wisdom, and Ross Rice (and several other surprise guests) are all flying in to Memphis for the show, joining FreeWorld & Devil Train in a celebration of this generation-spanning icon of Memphis music. It will not only be a rare reunion of Memphis players who don't often perform together, it will contribute much love and funding to a man who has mentored so many.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Tambourine Bash: Showing Music Export Memphis Some Love

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 11:06 AM

Talibah Safiya
  • Talibah Safiya
Ah, the embarrassment of riches in a music city like Memphis. To see artists of the caliber of Nick Black, Marcella Simien, Talibah Safiya, Daz Rinko, the Unapologetic Crew and Future Everything, on two stages, is a stunning night out. The line up represents many of the latest contenders for carrying this city's torch of genre-bending, groundbreaking music. And they're just a sample of local artists who have benefited from the efforts of the relatively new nonprofit, Music Export Memphis, whose annual fund-raiser tonight features such artists and more.

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Since last July, over two dozen bands or performers have received tour support and other funds from Music Export Memphis  to up their profiles. The nonprofit tallies that as 60 individual musicians from the heart of the city's scene, all thankful for gaining a little more momentum in a precarious life on the road. As one of MEM's beneficiaries (full disclosure), I should know. Having toured with the Ultrasounds, I can well appreciate the words of my boss, James Godwin, who was named one of MEM's Ambassadors last year. (All told, MEM Ambassadors have played more than 140 shows in more than 100 U.S. cities, plus 10 countries in Europe and Asia).
James & the Ultrasounds in Liverpool, 2018. - RICHARD SCHUT
  • Richard Schut
  • James & the Ultrasounds in Liverpool, 2018.
“Touring is very stressful on a person’s overall well-being," says Godwin. "So just knowing that we had a decent place to stay after the gig rather than sleeping on someone’s floor or in a seedy motel provides a good deal of comfort and assurance. We couldn’t have done the tour without the grant. We could’ve, I suppose, but we would’ve more than likely frozen to death somewhere between London and Norwich.”

So tonight's fund-raiser for the nonprofit feels more like a celebration of what they've already done. Sure, they would like music fans to stoke the fires for future work by attending their event, but this is also a good time for everyone to just give the nonprofit a hand.

When the Flyer first profiled organization founder Elizabeth Cawein's vision in 2017, little did we anticipate the group's success rate on the ground less than two years later. Beyond tour support, the organization is stepping up and speaking out in other markets far and wide. As their own information sheet touts:
  • MEM's third annual showcase at AmericanaFest in Nashville, The Pure Memphis Happy Hour, drew 250 music industry attendees to see five Memphis bands and landed Talibah Safiya in NPR Music’s Best of AmericanaFest coverage. It also paid out $2,500 to Memphis artists and featured Memphis brands and culture bearers like MemPops, Old Dominick Distillery, Memphis Made Brewing, and IndieMemphis film festival.

  • For the first time, we attended A3C hip hop festival in Atlanta, where we produced a showcase featuring an all-Memphis line-up and supported three artists and one producer to attend the affiliated music industry conference, totaling more than $6,000 in support for travel, lodging and conference access.

  • In 2019, MEM will produce surprise pop-up events in key markets (including St. Louis, this Saturday, April 20) in addition to our beloved Memphis showcases at industry festivals

  • In 2018, MEM launched its Export Bank, expanding opportunities for Memphis musicians through strategic partnerships and ensuring that wherever the Memphis story is being told, music is at the center. MEM has already committed to more than $1,500 in artist payments for Export Bank partners this year.
Ultimately, no endorsements or numbers can say it quite as directly as Memphis' own John Paul Keith, who's just completed a massive tour of Europe to great acclaim. “For years people have been trying to figure out how to help Memphis music," says Keith. "But this is a real, tangible, and welcome help. I can breathe a little easier about the economics of this tour now.”

The Tambourine Bash benefiting MEM, Thursday, April 18, 7-10 pm, at the Century House, 151 Vance Avenue. $50 ticket includes food from The Majestic Grille, cocktails featuring The Spirit of Memphis Music by Old Dominick Distillery, a rock star photo booth, and a silent auction featuring Memphis music items, from private house concerts to signed rare vinyl and more.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

For Carlene Carter Where She Comes From Is Where She’s Bound

"And now -- Carlene!"

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2019 at 2:06 PM

Carlene Carter
  • Carlene Carter
Carlene Carter was sitting on her porch when the call came in. Even if she hadn't said so, I might have guessed because I could hear the sound of geese and turkeys coming through the phone. She said there were parakeets inside the house too, as more avian sounds intruded, like Martin Denny was producing our interview, or Jerry Byrd.

I knew I was going to enjoy talking to Carter when, first thing, she told me she was touring with Chris Casello on guitar. Casello's a telecaster wizard and compulsive entertainer. His band The Sabres has been on heavy rotation in my car for the past year, at least. So, like others in her famously musical family, she has a knack for surrounding herself with great players. I’m starting with these images, because it’s all present tense. And when you’re talking to Country music royalty, it’s too easy to get hung up on the past.

Carlene’s the daughter of June Carter and “Mr. Country Music” Carl Smith. Her first recording released was a track on Johnny Cash's 48th album, The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me. She’s been in the family business of telling stories and picking shows alongside the best of the best for as long as she can remember. She’s had hits, on the charts, in the trades and in the tabloids. Her current show mixes original music with stories about growing up in the Carter Family and standards from the family songbook.

We talked about her band, life, and what it means to be part of the First Family of Country Music, as well as the ongoing challenges of being an independent female artist.


Memphis Flyer: Tell me about the show you're bringing to The Halloran Centre.   


Carlene Carter: I’m coming as a trio. I'm bringing my keyboard player who also plays harmonica and guitar, Al Hill. And Chris Casello.

I'm going to stop you already to geek out. Casello's just a tremendous player, I met him at the Ameripolitan Awards a few years back. I know some great surf and rockabilly players and still — if it's the same guy — he just makes you step back and rethink everything you know.

He was probably at Ameripolitan. He’s kind of a big deal. I met him when I came back from California in 2005. I did a musical based on my mom and the Carter family called Wildwood Flower. And Chris was in the house band and played Faron Young. We’ve been playing together on and off since then and he’s my go-to guy. I met Al Hill through Chris. We have a full band too. But I’d been out doing a lot of these shows by myself, and just wanted to add a little energy. Otherwise, it’s all kinda the same. I tell a lot of stories about life and growing up the way I did and what influenced me. I even tell about my mom saying the first record I listened to was when she danced with me to “Mystery Train.” I try to let people know a little more about what it was like on the inside, being a young Carter girl.

That sounds great. And a good group for playing all the traditional stuff and your own songs.

Obviously, I've had a long career and a lot of different kinds of music has come out of me. But I've always returned to the music I grew up with and that was Carter Family Music. People can say it's country music, and yeah it is. But it's timeless to me. And I have a certain amount of energy that I still have at the age of 63, so I can still rock a little bit. It drives the guys all crazy because I never have a set list until right before a show. Sometimes I go, "You know, I'm just going to wing it." I think it keeps us on our toes. It keeps me really fresh instead of being where I have just one show that I do.

I'm going to play this recording for my band the next time they're pressing me for a set list.

It keeps you really fresh. Keeps everybody on their toes. It's good to have a set list when you're playing with a full band. But in the situation we have, we can just jam like we want to. I'm really fortunate that I have a good duet partner in Al Hill. You never know what's going to happen. It's fun.


I remember seeing an interview with you when you were just starting out, maybe. People would assume you knew everything about country  music, but you didn't because you were just inside this musical world. It was just your family and your life. It was a kind of disconnect.

Yeah. I didn't listen to country radio except for the Grand Ole Opry. And that's because I want to go see my mom and my aunts and my grandma on there. People I grew up with like Minnie Pearl, who would babysit me on the side of the stage sometime at the Ryman. It was just a conglomeration of all these folks I just knew. So, because of that, I don't think I really understood the extent of the stardom they had. Even my father Carl Smith. And Johnny Cash. You know, he just did Johnny Cash. That's one of the things I inherited. I was encouraged to not pay so much attention to a lot of stuff, and to do what makes you feel right and do what's real.

That seems in the family spirit. Cash always introduced new sounds and artists.  A.P. wandered the countryside asking people about the songs their families sang. Looking back and forward at the same time.

Gathering. Gathering information. Gathering stories. So much of what I do is about my life. A lot of my songs are autobiographical. They're not necessarily story songs, but I can fill in the blanks.

Exactly.

I'm really looking forward to coming to Memphis because it is a place I've always felt connected to. It's down the road from Nashville and now that I live in Nashville, I'm so happy to be coming there. I can just get my car in the morning and drive on down then play. To me that's what it's all about. That's how I grew up — "Let's go pick a show!" And you drive and get there and play and get in the car and drive back. That's just how I roll. Although I'll probably spend the night, I'm thinking.

Obviously, there are a lot of advantages to growing up in this world where music is woven into everything, but was there also obligation? Sometimes it's hard to grow in the shade. June Carter, Carl  Smith, Johnny Cash — these are some pretty long shadows.

I know what you're saying. I get this question quite a lot, really. And I never considered it either until people start asking me about it since, pretty much back at the beginning of my career. When your parents are iconic performers, you don't really know. They were all four of them — Goldie, Carl, Johnny, and Mom — very down-to-earth people. We had a normal kind of life in a lot of ways. We swam and we fished and we'd work in the garden and we did things that other people did. And then we picked a show. I learned a lot from that. And I've got so much respect for my grandma. What I learned from her was a great work ethic, and a great balance between being a person and not a superstar. I never really got to the point where I had to handle that though.

But you've had hits, and a career.

And I feel responsibility for a lot of it now particularly since my mom passed away. I was told very early on, "when we're all gone you'll have to carry on the music, keep it alive to the best of your ability, and add to it." I took that very seriously. I always try to tip my hat to my heritage. Also whenever I didn't know what to do musically, I went back to Carter Family music. I'd sing it, and play it, and get back in touch with what is in my DNA. Because I really do believe there's DNA involved here. So when I got around to doing Carter Girl in 2014, it's a record I always knew I was going to make someday.

I don't know how you pick a record's worth of songs out of a catalog of so many songs.

The songs would change drastically from week to week. It would change all the time. And I'm trying to write. I kept thinking I could do that for the rest of my life. And that's kind of what I am doing. And I want to pass it down to my daughter and my granddaughters. I don't know if the boys want to be Carter boys, but the girls are leaning that way. If I can only get them singing. There's an age where they don't really want to sing. They want to play, which is great.

I don't want to focus too much on the past.

One of the things I accepted a long time ago was anytime anybody wrote about me there was going to be a full paragraph about who I was related to — "And now, Carlene!"

I'm sure. And you get it from all sides having been married to Nick Lowe. 

And the huge influence he had on me. Howie Epstein too. I just had good teachers. I did. And I soaked up everything I could from people who really knew how to make records. Nick would always tell me, just remember to always practice your craft. He’s coming to Nashville in May and I’m going to see him because he still inspires me.


You talked about how picking shows is just in your DNA. But — and I might be wrong about this. But when Carl Smith finally retired, didn't he basically give up being Mr. Country Music and decide to just be a regular guy?

He had a long career. It was like 30 years. He burned up the road, and burned up the charts, and everything he touched turned gold. And by that point, he’d done it all. At that point in his life he said, "I want to concentrate on being home and working with horses." He wanted to focus on horses and he did. A lot of people who had the success my daddy had would never dream of walking away from it, but he did. A lot of people say they’re retiring from the road, but then they come back because they can’t stay away from the action, or the feeling they get when they’re performing, or the music. Daddy was happy on his horse whistling and singing his heart out in a field counting cows. In the last couple years of his life, I spent more one-on-one time with my dad than I ever had. I always saw him, of course, and my stepmother was very much a part of that. She made sure she was the one who would call and say, "Does Carlene want to come out this weekend?" Daddy wasn't one of those kinds of dads, but he was always glad to see me. And I had my sister and brothers out there and that was really a much more normal life than I had, particularly after Mom married John.

Oh, I'm sure.

After mom married John, things changed for us in terms of being in a fishbowl and being seen, and being on the cover of The National Enquirer, as a kid.


National  Enquirer — yeah, that's got to be completely surreal.

Daddy gave it up the year I started making records, 1978. So he never took us on the road like the Carters did or Cash did. That was a traveling family. But Daddy, he went to work. Even so much so that my brother, when he was little, they asked him in school what his dad did for a living, and my brother Carl said, "Oh, he works at the airport." Because he was always going off to the airport! I never got to see him perform very much. I saw him one time in Las Vegas when I was about 16. So he retired in 1978, and that was the same year my grandmother passed away. So it was the start of something for me, but the end of Daddy's musical career, and the end of Grandma's musical career. And her not being there for advice I counted on. I counted on her for a lot of that stuff. She always had time for all of her grandkids. She'd teach about anything, and she loved playing with us no matter what, whether we were good or not. Though, she'd give you the evil eye if you were on stage and messed up. I've tried to carry the best of everything with me. Sometimes I show my ass on stage and made big sweeping statements I wish I never said. But I love playing to a live audience and the engagement I have with them. It's very personal for me. By the end of the show, I think people know me.


You've said some things about how women who wanted to do their own thing and didn't fit a package got labeled difficult.

I remember going to my label in the nineties, and they said, "You need to realize that you can't have the kind of record sales men have." Like 80 percent of the market is women and women don't buy women's records.I just thought that was insane. It made no sense to me. I bought women's records most of my life. I love Etta James. I love Janis Joplin. Linda Ronstadt was a huge influence. It made no sense to me. And that you might get 20% of sales because you're a woman made no sense to me. So I decided early on, I'm not going to let them get me down. I'm going to be the highest energy female act, and I'm going to make people happy.

I know this is an impossible question, but is there any one image or anecdote that really illustrates what it was like growing up in the Carter Family? 

Probably the biggest thing in my mind that I always go back to, is being a young girl who wants to be a songwriter, and sitting in our music room on the lake in Hendersonville, and looking around the room and seeing Roy Orbison and Paul McCartney sit down at the piano and play "Lady Madonna." And Kris Kristofferson was there. And Mickey Newbury. And George and Tammy are there. And we have this real thing of having people just eating together. And then sharing together in such an intimate way. It's such a reminder of why we make music.

Carlene Carter celebrates her family tradition Saturday, April 13th at The Halloran Centre.

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