Friday, April 20, 2018

Keith Sykes Leads Ardent Into a New Era

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 5:54 PM

Keith Sykes in Ardent's Studio B - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Keith Sykes in Ardent's Studio B
The legendary Ardent Studios was dealt a major blow over three years ago, when John Hampton, one of Ardent's chief producers, and John Fry, the studio's founder and owner, passed away within five days of each other. Nancy Apple, Ardent's night/weekend manager and director of social media, puts it this way: “Everybody was stunned. It wasn't just John Fry who we lost, it was John Hampton too. Those are the two key figures of Ardent, with the exception of Jody [Stephens]. I think Ardent really needed that team feeling.” Then, mulling over the past few weeks, she adds, “And we finally have that feeling again. It feels like the old days. Even though we all miss Mr. Fry, it's feeling like Ardent again.”

John Fry and John Hampton.
  • John Fry and John Hampton.
One reason may be the recent hiring of a longtime Ardent-associated artist, Keith Sykes, as the new chief manager. As a songwriter's songwriter who's had his work covered by the likes of John Prine, Jimmy Buffet, and Rosanne Cash, Sykes has traveled the world with his music, but has kept his home base in the Memphis area nearly all his life. His closeness to the Ardent "family" over the past four decades makes his new official post a very good fit indeed. I sat down with Sykes to hear how things are going today at the fabled studio.

Memphis Flyer: It must be a big change for you to move into a desk job like this.

Keith Sykes: You know, it's like in 1986 I when quit playing. I was building up my publishing company, and I did that for fifteen years, from 1986-2001. But then, I went out and did a tour with Todd Snider, just opening his shows. We were just having fun, basically. But I got to thinking, “This is fun, the publishing companies are up to where they're doing their own thing. It's pretty level.” So I thought, “I'm gonna go back to playing and just end out my days doing that.” And I did and I had a great time. I've been doing it 16, 17 years now.

So, my wife is [studio owner] Betty Fry's personal assistant, and Betty's been asking me to do this job since last summer. But I just said, “I'm happy, I'm good.” Well, after listening to my wife and Betty talk, and just getting a feel for things, I realized I could help out here and still do my gigs that I wanna do. The nicer ones of the bunch. I think I can manage the studio about as well as anybody. And we've got great recording engineers and great staff.

It seems like the place is really bustling with activity. New chairs, new ceiling tiles...

We're doing everything we can to get the place pretty again. The atrium is pretty again, the fountain started working again on Monday. The new roof, that's the first thing Betty did when she took control. We've got Nancy down to doing the things that she does best. But we all three, Jody and Nancy and I, trade off answering the phone. We'll do whatever it takes, clean up the place, whatever. We just want it to be a great place to record.

You go way back with Memphis and Ardent, don't you?

I lived here in Memphis from 1957 to 1966, when I was just a little kid. I moved away for eight years, but then I passed back through; I was going to California, but I saw Jerene Rowe, who's been my wife since then, and that was that. We've been together ever since. In 2001 we moved to Fayette County.

So I moved back to Memphis in 1974 and did the first record after that at Shoe Productions. And that did pretty good. I cut the first record that I ever cut at Ardent back in 1979. I'd done demos over here several times before, and it never really gelled until July of '79. I cut I'm Not Strange, I'm Just Like You here and everything seemed to work with that. Everybody in my band had quit 'cos I was on tour with Jimmy Buffet that year. So they took the core of the band and named it Uncle Tom's Jam Band. It did good back then. But it left me with zero band to come over here and record with. And I was talking to John Fry and he said, “Well, you know Joe [Harding] plays bass, and the night guy plays drums.” And the night guy was John Hampton! So I ended up with two great musicians. I didn't mean to, it just worked out that way. And they were both fabulous engineers and Grammy winners and all that stuff.
Jerene Sykes, Keith Sykes, Joe Hardy at Ardent in the 1970s. - COURTESY JERENE AND KEITH SYKES
  • Courtesy Jerene and Keith Sykes
  • Jerene Sykes, Keith Sykes, Joe Hardy at Ardent in the 1970s.

So you had a very personal experience of Ardent in its heyday. Has that informed your move to manager?

One thing that everybody told me when John died was, "What we're gonna do is exactly what we've been doing." I'm convinced that if we concentrate on it, and everybody uses their best intuitions and connections, we can make our mark again.

We're getting the place together physically, going through the gear, making sure everything's top notch, going over every microphone, every console switch. Everything. And hopefully we'll get the kind of clientele that appreciates all that. 'Cos one thing we can do that you can't do in your bedroom is get a good band in a great room and get creative. That's the magic in a bottle. You can get some great stuff in your computer, but we can still do that thing, where people get together and you just play it live.

There's nothing like the air of a great room.

I consider us a Golden Era studio. Everybody's got computers. Well, we're in a lucky position where we've got this great old gear too. And it's maintained really well. So many people are into the analog sound now. We've got three beautiful 24 track Studer [tape decks], ready to go.

What about other aspects of Ardent, like the label?

I'm not concentrating on the label, for the next few months at least, until we can really have our routine down. Right now, we're promoting the studio. Now, John Fry really did great with the Christian music. They were selling millions of records. I'm not in that. I'm not opposed to it, it's just not what I do. What I wanna do is get some great singer/songwriters in here and work around those people.

So I'm trying to use my connections. And you know, Jody's a gold mine. He knows everybody in the business. I sit here with him at least thirty minutes to an hour every day, trading Rolodexes. Just call the people you haven't talked to in a long time and say hello. One thing will lead to another after a while. And you may only get three or four big 'uns, and have to throw some back, but that's the way it goes, if we can get to fishing again, you know?

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

MonoNeon Featured in Bandcamp Daily

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 4:35 PM

  • Photograph by Justin Fox Burks
  • MonoNeon
It's no secret that the most reliable and widely-used online platform for independent artists today is Most unsigned acts, and an ever-increasing number of established labels, have Bandcamp pages. So it is with local hero MonoNeon, who has parlayed his online presence into a global fanbase who eagerly await his many split-screen videos on YouTube. MonoNeon is no stranger to Bandcamp, releasing nearly all of his self-produced albums and EP's via the platform.

Thus, it comes as no surprise, but nonetheless a delight, that Bandcamp has turned its own power of exposure on MonoNeon himself, featuring him in today's Bandcamp Daily under the title, "MonoNeon, the Funk Bass Maestro Carrying the Torch of Duchamp." See our recent article for more about MonoNeon's background and accomplishments. Then head over to to read Daniel Schwartz's informed and witty take on his career thus far, with oodles of audio clips.

And don't forget to check out the latest videos on MonoNeon's YouTube channel. Here's one posted earlier this week, "When The Neon Pearly Gates Open" (featuring Daru Jones & Lance Lucas) a video filmed by Aiko Tanaka at Electric Garden in Brooklyn, NY. It's a tune off his latest album, I Don’t Care Today (Angels & Demons in Lo – Fi), released earlier this year on — you guessed it — Bandcamp.

Tonight's "Tambourine Bash" to Raise Funds for Touring Musicians

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 11:47 AM

Elizabeth Cawein of Music Export Memphis. - TROY GLASGOW
  • Troy Glasgow
  • Elizabeth Cawein of Music Export Memphis.
In case you hadn't noticed, Memphis is exploding with musical creativity these days. Acts as diverse as Nots, Aquarian Blood, Ghost Town Blues Band, MonoNeon, Motel Mirrors, the Bo-Keys, and Jack Oblivian are traveling the world, each carrying their own vision of the Bluff City with them. Indeed, the road is the surest way to make a livelihood in music. But it's a tough way to make a buck.

How can bands keep taking the Memphis sound to the world, in spite of the touring life's difficulties?

Elizabeth Cawein, of local nonprofit Music Export Memphis (MEM), was contemplating just such a question. MEM, of course, is dedicated to promoting local bands, artists, and studios on a global level, having sponsored Memphi-centric revues and soirees at massive industry confabs like SXSW or AmericanaFest, and promoted cross-cultural exchanges between artists from here and England, among other things.

Perhaps taking her cue from foreign arts programs that often subsidize traveling acts who represent their countries, Cawein hit upon the idea of a local nonprofit that will do the same thing for the Bluff City. Thus was born the Ambassador Grant, a new MEM program just on the cusp of being realized. To kick it off with a splash, MEM is hosting yet another soiree, this time to rally the hometown team. The audience is anyone who wants to support local musicians and the little piece of Memphis they carry on their journey.

Starting with the premise that touring artists based in Memphis will always be sharing the Memphis music story, the Ambassador Grant aims to provide tour support and messaging guidance for them to do it more effectively. MEM is now raising funds to pilot the program with its first-ever benefit, The Tambourine Bash, tonight at Old Dominick Distillery. MEM director Elizabeth Cawein hopes to garner enough support for five to 10 artists, with an initial goal of $10,000.

Artists approved for the Ambassador grant will learn how to share their own Memphis stories. During this training, MEM will help them create content to share (like videos, playlists, blog posts and more) and give them postcards for their merch tables at each show. When they return home, they’ll be asked to provide feedback and some anecdotal reporting.

Artists will be selected for the grant by the Music Export Memphis board based on quality of music, strength of social media engagement and tour schedule. There are no genre restrictions to receive the grant. The dollar amount for each grant will be determined based on the number of dates the band is playing and the geographic reach.

The Tambourine Bash will include craft beer from Crosstown Brewing Company (included with your general admission ticket), Old Dominick cocktails designed by mixologist and musician Sean Murphy (included with your VIP ticket), and live music by The Shotgunbillys and Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. Delicious eats by Chef Shawn Davis, Locals & Legends: A Decade of Erf, and rockstar photo booth designed by Jamie Harmon of Amurica Photo.  $25 General Admission, $50 VIP

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Lucero: Redefining the Memphis Sound for Two Decades

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 5:21 PM

  • Courtesy of Lucero
  • Lucero
The Lucero Family Block Party has become an institution here in their hometown, as has the band itself. Pursuing a relentless touring schedule, with a dozen albums under their belt, they've built a devoted national following and have become de facto ambassadors of Memphis. They're still close to the hearts of many Memphians, but it was nevertheless a little surprising to find that Mayor Jim Strickland had declared tomorrow, April 14th, Lucero Day, citing them as “a source of inspiration, encouragement, and strength for listeners all over the world.” They've come a long way for a band whose founders had their roots in DIY punk, even if their mission quickly became the pursuit of a soulful country rock hybrid that's all their own. As I spoke with guitarist Brian Venable today on the occasion of their 20th birthday party (tonight) and their block party (tomorrow), it became clear that there is still a healthy dollop of punk philosophy in what they do.

Memphis Flyer: So today is the band's birthday?

Brian Venable: We played our first show on Friday the 13th, exactly 20 years ago. I've been, I guess you would call it hoarding. I have 20 years of notes and papers and art and snapshots and old flyers. So tonight from 6-9 there's a free party at the 1884 Lounge. We won't be playing. On the stage we'll have some old guitars, Roy's old drums, John's upright, and two display tables that'll have things like the notebook where I wrote "Lucero" for the first time, lyrics, and other memorabilia. There will be old Memphis Flyer covers, calendars from the 90s; we did skateboards and I have the original art. Just neat stuff. Not very many bands make it 20 years without breaking up. So it's kind of a milestone for us as individuals and as a band in Memphis.

We've got a new album coming out and it's done and it's bad ass. I think, for us, it's like, “Holy crap, how did we make this amazing record?” And so we're still doing new things. But looking back, and preparing for tonight, I was like, “I need to get all of this weird garbage out of my house and let people look at it. And put it somewhere else, maybe!”

Tomorrow is gonna be so hectic that tonight is just like, “Come! Hang out!” Tonight's our actual birthday. You can get drinks and look at stuff. It'll be nice just to breathe and celebrate for a minute, 'cos tomorrow we'll be running around like crazy.

Flyer for the first Lucero gig, April 13, 1998 - COURTESY OF BRIAN VENABLE
  • courtesy of Brian Venable
  • Flyer for the first Lucero gig, April 13, 1998

Where was y'all's first gig?

We played at a place on Huling Street, on the corner across from the Lorraine Motel. Some friends of mine lived there. It was an art space that had a little stage and they'd have shows. Today on my Instagram I posted the first flyer for the first show. It was me and Ben and Jeremy Freeze actually played bass and Shane Callaway played drums. It was a different lineup. They played two shows with us. Within nine months, though, we had Roy [Berry] and John C. [Stubblefield], the lineup that we have now. Which is kinda crazy. It wasn't a joke by any stretch; we just wanted to make a demo tape and maybe a 7 inch. I didn't know how to play guitar. Ben had only played bass in every band he'd been in up until then. So...talent is a wonderful thing, but perseverance is just as important.

Do you still include stuff from those early days in your set?

Yeah! Tomorrow we're playing "All the Same to Me," which was one of the first songs we played. Every once in a while we'll reach back. This next record coming out is our 12th. We play two hours & 15 minutes a night, on average, and we pull from all the records. But yeah, we'll drop down and play old shit left and right. It's amazing that people you know were not there, that never saw it, but I guess have the records, will scream out songs and we'll be like "How do you know that song??"

You guys have very devout fans.

They're wonderful fans... I'm glad they're ours. 'Cos they can be butt holes to other people sometimes. They are very rabid and very loyal. And very opinionated, it seems. Just like us, I guess.

So you guys were into punk and metal before you started the band?

I was raised on punk. But by age 25 there's a point where you're like, “This music sucks. I'm tired of all the scenester music.” It's hard to be thinking, "That girl broke my heart," when you're listening to [D.S. 13 song] "NATO SUCKS, RAWWWRRR!" or whatever. All of the sudden you buy that used Lynyrd Skynyrd record and you're like, "This isn't as bad as they say!" From there it was "T for Texas, T for Tennessee" by Jimmie Rodgers, and that led to the Carter Family, which led to bluegrass, which brought me back up to Hank Williams.

Now, everybody calls us alt-country still, and I'm like "Man, I listen to old rock-steady, freaky 70s jazz, and opera!" Literally that's all I listen to right now. After 20 years it's turned into a lot more than alt-country. But at the time, it was, "We wanna be the Replacements and Tom Waits and the Pogues." And then we proceeded to get annihilated for the next six years, play really shitty, write some really good songs, and self-sabotage. So we hit it across the board, we got all three of them. And then at one point you wake up and you're like, "Man, I love Tom Petty." You're okay with your embarrassing influences, so to speak. I think at some point it's like, you can drink yourself to death, you can fuck off, or you can buckle down and treat it like a business. Which sounds not very artistic, but I don't wanna work at McDonald's or dig ditches. I enjoy playing music. It allows me the freedom to hang out with my kid longer than usual. And I get to play good music, so, it's kinda cool.

Lucero on the cover of the Memphis Flyer, March 22, 2012
  • Lucero on the cover of the Memphis Flyer, March 22, 2012
And you guys have really grown and evolved.

Yeah. The last three days we've been practicing and we have this set list: there's a lot of new songs, there's a lot of old songs that we like, and a lot of the hits that might not be in it. And we're like, "We're gonna get in so much trouble. This might be the funnest set we've ever played, but they're gonna yell at us for not playing this or this or this or this." But, part of it is, you don't wanna play that song you wrote 19 years ago forever.

Would you say you all still have a bit of the punk influence in what you're doing now?

Whether it sounds punk or not, punk has informed every decision I've ever made. I'm not raising my kid punk rock, he doesn't have a Mohawk, but what I learned from punk rock and hardcore and going to shows — the medium and the message and all that — is what I'm using to raise my son or do this band. We still try to take people out on tour that need help. Like we've got Louise Page playing tomorrow, and she's a young woman who's killing it. She's playing everywhere right now and recording EPs. It's like, “Who can we help?” That's the punk rock now. Not necessarily $5 shows and all living in the same place. The part of the punk rock I liked most was discovering the new music. For instance, I keep talking about it, and everybody's losing their minds 'cos I keep buggin' them about it, but a month ago I just discovered opera! I'm like, "This is the greatest music ever in the world!" And everybody's like, "No! It's not!" But one out of every ten people are like, "Yes, it is amazing." But that's punk rock to me. I'm listening to music that everybody hates. It just happens to be 200, 300 years old.

Your guitar playing has come a long way...

I tell everybody I still can't play. I guess technically you can get worse. I had to start playing up to my pay grade, so to speak. When we brought Rick Steff and then Jim Spake in, and you've got all these amazing people around you, you're like "I gotta learn how to do this real quick." But also, whatever style I had early on, I just embraced it and kinda refined it, so I still play the same way, I just do a better job of it. And I'm old enough now to be like, "This is my style." Everybody's like, "Yeah, he's 46. Just go with that..."

Do you guys write collaboratively?

This whole last record, we went old school. We went into Sam Phillips and we had nothing. Ben had a few parts and we wrote on the floor. And in two weeks we came up with 10-11 songs. None had words, and Ben had to go write lyrics. Usually, he starts playing, him and Roy come up with a tempo, and then everybody locks in and I try to find some melody or lead line. We call it “doing the Lucero” to it. So we wrote all that stuff together, and then he put the words to it. Technically they're his songs. We're lucky that he's still writing phenomenal stuff. That's the whole thing. I'm not a lead guitar player. I don't need to be all like, "doodly wigggly doodly doodly," you know? We're all still playing around the song, which is what we've always done. Our job is to make that song sound amazing.

Do you guys still tour with horns?

Not so much. Jim might come onstage tomorrow, we're not sure. Jim was the constant.  He first came in to do demos. I said, "I want a song with a horn on it," and he played on one song, and we ended up putting horns on everything for 1372 Overton Park. And then all of the sudden he was like, "I'll go on tour." So we put a horn section together. We went through four trumpet players. For us, it became like Spinal Tap, but instead of going through drummers, it was trumpet players. It was like, “Golly!” 1372 was like, "We have a new toy, and it's called a horn section." And then on Women and Work, we were writing these songs with the horns. At one point, we just kept getting bigger. There were nine people on stage and we were like the frickin E Street Band, and we were hitting it heavy. Jim did it for five years, and then he was like, "I'm gonna stay home!" When Spake left, we kinda stripped down. We were like, “Oh, let's write some sad songs,” and we brought it back down to the five piece. Now, we're just real comfortable with where we are. We just signed with 30 Tigers, it's a brand new label. And we just went in and made the record we wanted to make. We're not really looking to prove anything to anybody. We're the old dudes now. And so you get comfortable and you just make the record you want to. I drink coffee, paint pictures, hang out with my kid, read, listen to music, go on tour for while, come home, repeat.

Lucero turns twenty today: in just one year, the band will be old enough to drink! Raise a glass to them this evening at the 1884 Lounge, starting at 6:00 pm.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Harold Mabern Brings It Back Home

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 11:25 AM

Harold Mabern - ALAN NAHIGIAN
  • Alan Nahigian
  • Harold Mabern
Tonight will mark the homecoming of one of Memphis' greatest sons, pianist Harold Mabern. At a spry 82, Mabern is still playing in top form, mining the rich hard bop vein that he's mastered for sixty odd years. A longtime faculty member at William Paterson University, Mabern has in recent decades recorded and toured with his former student, the tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Alexander will join him tonight for a concert at Rhodes College's McNeill Concert Hall, alongside John Webber (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums).

Mabern, like so many of the city's jazz giants, studied at Manassas High School, and learned to emulate Phineas Newborn, Jr. before venturing to Chicago in the mid-1950s. There, he studied at a conservatory for a few months and was influenced by the work of Ahmad Jamal, but was primarily self-taught from that point on. In Chicago, he worked with other Manassas alumni like Frank Stozier, Booker Little, and George Coleman. Many of these Memphis players moved on to New York by the decade's end, and Mabern was no exception.

In Chicago, he became integral to the hard bop scene, with his muscular style (growing naturally from his early interest in drums) and his roots in Memphis blues perfectly complementing the hard bop movement's love of groovy R&B and soul. This continued in New York, where he worked with practically every player of note, including Lee Morgan, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis (briefly), Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, and many others. His 1968 debut on Prestige, A Few Miles from Memphis, was a solid disc featuring homie George Coleman. Since then, he's led sessions for over two dozen albums, not to mention his many appearances as a sideman. 

Indeed, he shines in the latter role, being a consummate ensemble player who combines the inventive chord clusters of, say, McCoy Tyner with more horn-like solos, always packing a strong rhythmic punch. Even his ventures as a band leader become showcases for all the players involved.

Fifty years after his solo debut, he remains grounded in the hard bop tradition, and may be the best example of how versatile and open to innovation that genre's marriage of bop, blues, and gospel can be. On last year's To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions Records), he mines familiar hard bop territory, but with surprises along the way. Soulman Oscar Brown's “Dat Dere” would seem ripe for a hard bop treatment, but in Mabern's hands it becomes a solo exercise in stride piano. Miles Davis' “So What” gets a kick in the ass from the band, revved up to near-frantic levels via Eric Alexander's playing.

All told, Mabern continues to innovate, even as he stays grounded in his hometown roots. Tonight's show is a must-see for any Memphis jazz fan, sure to hold plenty of delights and surprises as Mabern continues to walk the line between classic and cutting-edge.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Twin Releases by John Paul Keith and Motel Mirrors Celebrated at Railgarten

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2018 at 11:38 AM

Motel Mirrors - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Motel Mirrors
Today marks the long-awaited release of twin records by both John Paul Keith (Heart Shaped Shadow) and Motel Mirrors (In the Meantime), the latter being Keith's side project with Amy Lavere and Will Sexton. The latter group's record features the lovely blend of harmonies between Keith and Lavere, tending toward the country side of life, love and loss, though with dips into rock 'n' roll, country/folk rock and the New Orleans groove. Keith's new record is even more eclectic, venturing into all of the above as well as soul and the Bakersfield sound. More than ever, his voice has matured into a nuanced instrument with rich hints of a young Roy Orbison. It's been ages since we've heard new material from either group, so fans of their shared take on classic roots sounds should turn out in force at their dual record release party tonight at Railgarten. I spoke with John Paul Keith a bit about how these records came together and the way they changed his approach to songwriting.

Memphis Flyer: It seems like you've had the songs from your new album in your live set for about a year.

John Paul Keith: Yeah, the record's been in the can for almost a year. It just takes insane amounts of time to get product released. I don't have management and it's just moving a boulder uphill by yourself, all the time. And I paid for it all myself, when I had a little bit of extra money where I could afford to go in the studio. We broke it up into two tracking sessions, and then two or three mix sessions, just whenever I had a little money, you know? On the cheap.

Are these self-released?

No, they're both coming out on Last Chance Records out of Little Rock.

Is there anything new in your approach, compared to your earlier records?

Well, this is the first one I've made without the 145's, Al Gamble, Mark Stuart and John Argroves. My other three records were with those guys. So this one I wanted to do a little differently. At that point, none of those guys were in my live rotation anymore. Just by circumstance. And at that point, Shawn Zorn was playing in my live band most of the time. He started out as the Mirrors' drummer, and ended up being my drummer, too. So I thought since I had a bunch of different guys I was playing live with, I would just shake it up and do it differently. And just do different guys for different songs. So it was different that way.

And the Mirrors record was kind of a creative breakthrough with me. I hadn't had a record in five years, and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I started making the Mirrors record with Amy & Will, and it's the first time I'd really worked with Will, or written songs with Will, or been in the studio with him. And that was kind of a creative breakthrough for me, where it broke this creative logjam I had. I had written a batch of songs that weren't very good, and that had delayed my next record. I just didn't know where I was going, musically. And then we did the Mirrors record and I felt like I knew what to do next.

So I asked Will to produce my record and we just kinda kept going. We did both in Scott Bomar's studio, and it's a very similar group of people. Will is on most of it, Shawn is on most of it, Amy plays bass on a couple songs on my record. One of the songs on my record was going to be on the Mirrors record. We cut it on those sessions, and then ended up shuffling it to my record. So it was kinda like one long session in a way, broken up over a two year period.

I take it that you wrote all the stuff on your record. Is the Mirrors record very collaborative?

Basically, because Amy & Will had a really busy tour schedule, we only had a week to get material together and a week to track it. We'd already booked the time. So when they got off the road we realized we only had a short time to get the material together. So I would just go over to their house every evening, and we'd sit in their kitchen. They had two or three that they had been writing, and I had two or three that I had been writing, but we didn't have enough. So we wrote a few things together and just pulled it together. I'd say it's about half separate compositions and then half collaborations of some kind. And then there's one cover on there, "The Man Who Comes Around," an old Western Swing tune.

Oh, I wondered about the reference to the Fuller Brush man, who "comes around to sell a brush."

Yeah, and the ice! The ice delivery is mentioned in that song. Pre-refrigeration, that song!

So one of those nights while we were writing, we got the text that our friend Josh Benton had died. That's where the song “Funerals in New Orleans” came from. And we ended up dedicating the record to him. He and I were born two days apart. My birthday's July 1st, his is July 3rd, and we both turned 40 that year. He was having a birthday party on the 1st at Bar DKDC, which happened to be my birthday, and he asked me if I'd play, and that's where that line, “You're party spilled into my show" came from. I wasn't going play on my birthday, but he asked me to, and we said, “Okay, we'll make it into a double birthday party for us both.” So we did it, and then he was dead about two weeks later. I ended up playing his wake in the same bar, about three weeks after I played our fortieth birthday party.

So it kinda did a number on my psyche.
John Paul Keith - MATT WHITE
  • Matt White
  • John Paul Keith

It was that whole period...I got divorced in the middle of making my last record, Memphis Circa 3 am, and one of the reasons I haven't been able to get a record out in all this time is that I was going through a personal crisis during all that time. And with Josh dying right in the middle of making the Mirrors record, that was kind of the lowest point, honestly. And so once we got through the Mirrors record, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I knew what kind of songs I should be writing and how to express things more fearlessly and to trust in the stuff that's hard to say sometimes. Sometimes the stuff you don't really wanna reveal is the stuff that, as an artist, you need to be revealing.

Now, time's have changed in the time it's taken me to get this record out, you know? From the writing to the release of this record, there have been these big cultural changes. I thought Hillary Clinton was gonna be president when we started these records. Trump won after all of it was written and a lot of it was recorded. The Mirrors was completely in the can. So I have no topical songs or anything. And I don't really write topical songs either. That's just not my forte. That's never something I've been successful at. But I'd like to be better at it. I think we're all gonna have to be better at it if we wanna be artists who create work of worth.

But that vulnerability is timeless. Reaching into yourself more... “Blue on Blue,” from the Motel Mirrors record, for instance.

That was a song Will and I wrote together. And that song was a total surprise. I remember very clearly writing in the van with Amy, years ago. I remember having this conversation about how I try not to use the word “love” in songs. It's just something I try not to do. I try to say it another way, or veil it in metaphor, or whatever. It's because I was coming from a place where I was afraid to reveal things. I had been in an unhappy marriage for a long time, and it's kinda like the John Lennon “Norwegian Wood” thing: you don't wanna write things that upset your spouse or that cause problems in your personal life. Or I'd try to be clever, and witty, and it's kinda cynical to do that.

And the thing I got out of the Motel Mirrors record was that Will and Amy put a stop to that. With the songs they were bringing, they were expressing stuff that was very vulnerable. And deeply personal, like the title track, and everything Will writes is that way. So when we were sitting down to write, I'd bring certain things in that I felt strong about, and they were like, “Nah!” And eventually I'd show 'em something I wasn't very confident about and they'd go, "That's the best thing you brought!" Like “Let Me be Sweet to You,” where I didn't even know if that was good enough to be on a record, and now that we've done it it's one of my favorite ones on there. But I was afraid to reveal that. I was afraid to express that and for people to see that side of me. Working with Will and Amy made me understand, that's what I'm supposed to do as a writer. Like the old tune says, "You've Got to Live the Life You Sing About in Your Song."

So that gave me the clarity and the direction and the confidence I needed for the next record. Making the Mirrors record was what got me through the dark period I was going through, but it also got my writing to where I feel like it needed to be. Now I already have enough material for another record, written from that time. And I'm always writing, and I feel good about the future and how writing songs is what I do, it's how I get through life.

And now I don't plan on ever taking that long between records again. I want to put out a record every year, every 18 months, as much as I can. That's just what I wanna do with my life, period.

To circle back, now I use “love” all the time. I was totally wrong when we had that conversation in the van. Now I'm writing all love songs and not hiding anything, just laying it all out there. I also really took to heart this Ernest Hemingway quote about writing. He said, "Write hard and clear about what hurts." And I have that on a Post-it above my desk, I see it all the time, and I always keep it in mind when I'm writing now.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Louise Page: From Salty to Sweet at Shangri-La's Fool Fest 2

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2018 at 8:51 AM

  • Kaitlyn Flint
  • Louise Page
Memphis-based songwriter and pianist Louise Page has been busy of late. She released her first EP, Salt Mosaic, last September, and, after a winter of steady gigging in support of the EP, she and her band will open the festivities this Saturday at Fool Fest 2, Shangri-La Records' spring sale and mini-festival, which doubles this year as a 30th anniversary celebration for the store.

“I have deep family roots in Memphis. My mom is from here,” Page says. The singer/songwriter moved to the Bluff City from central Pennsylvania to study creative writing at Rhodes College, where her grandmother matriculated when the college was still called Southwestern. “I got a degree in creative writing, which I now use to write songs,” Page muses. “It’s not what I thought I’d use it for.” Page’s songwriting prowess is on full display on her first EP, which mixes folk-inflected numbers with indie-rock laments of heartbreak.

Salt Mosaic opens with “Little Coast,” a plaintive wish for a new beginning. Piano runs and Page’s haunting vocals come in first. “I want to cut and run away,” she sings, “I want to rewire my disobedient brain.” Then the rest of the band joins in, bringing the energy up to match the fervency of Page’s lyrics with horn squeals and guitar arpeggios. But Page’s lyrics — and her voice — are the star of the show, and they remain so for much of the EP. The band, which includes a horn section, a violin, guitar, upright bass, and drums, adds details at just the right moments, giving Page’s voice textures to work with.

As a song, “Little Coast” stands on its own, but it also works as a thematic starting point for Salt Mosaic, whose songs share themes of endings and beginnings, of stripping away layers to reveal the essential self. “The name Salt Mosaic comes from the fact that the songs I ended up picking to record are all pretty much about broken relationships, be they romantic or friendships,” Page says. “I used to have really bitter, salty feelings about those experiences and those people.” Page elaborates on the cathartic aspect of songwriting, saying part of the process is “taking those bitter, salty feelings and turning them into something beautiful.”

Simple Sugar is sort of the aftermath of Salt Mosaic,” Page says of her planned sophomore release. “One of the lyrics for one of the newer songs is ‘When you’re used to salt, everything tastes sweet.’” As with Salt Mosaic, Page will track her new, sweeter batch of songs at Young Avenue Sound. Calvin Lauber will reprise his role as engineer for the Simple Sugar sessions. “The first EP was kind of experimental. I was figuring a lot out,” Page says, expounding on the two EPs’ complementary relationship. “In my head they go together; they’re kind of a pair.” But Page says that, while Salt Mosaic collected songs she wrote over a span of six years, from age 18 to just weeks before the recording sessions, the songs on the new EP are “all songs I’ve written since September.” She thinks that will lead to Simple Sugar sounding more streamlined than Salt Mosaic, which, true to it’s name, has a collage-like eccentricity, an eclectic mix of quirky but complementary colors.

“I’m just a classic band kid. That was my group in high school,” Page says. “I was in marching band, and concert band, and choir.” Music has always been a part of her life, Page says. She started playing piano as a child in central Pennsylvania. Her parents bought the piano for her older siblings, but Page, the youngest, was the one to embrace it. Page began taking formal piano lessons, and in the fourth grade, she joined the school band and took up oboe as well. Citing her classical training, she counts Claude Debussy among her influences, which also include contemporary artists St. Vincent and Fiona Apple, who share an experimental streak that appeals to Page. “They both take risks,” Page says, then adds, “I want my music to have a personality.”

The Fool Fest show kicks off a busy spring for Page and her crew. She’s playing Lucero’s annual Block Party at Minglewood Hall on April 14th before she and her band return to the studio to begin tracking Simple Sugar. This summer, they head out on a 10-day east coast tour, to New York and back.

Fool Fest 2 featuring Louise Page, Negro Terror, Model Zero, and Alicja-Pop at Shangri-La Records, Saturday, March 31st at 2 p.m.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Kids Who Sing a Righteous Song: Haunting Harmonies Guide the March for Our Lives

Posted By on Sat, Mar 24, 2018 at 7:17 PM

The kids of the Perfecting Gifts choir, at the March for Our Lives - ISEASHIA THOMAS
  • Iseashia Thomas
  • The kids of the Perfecting Gifts choir, at the March for Our Lives

As I approached the #MarchForOurLives gathering point at the Clayborn Temple this morning, walking across Robert R. Church Park, a choir's song wafted through the air, growing stronger as I drew near. The call to move had been made, and marchers were just beginning to walk up Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, but the singers' power kept building. “We are one...we are one,” they sang. Many marchers paused and turned back, riveted, looking to the temple's front steps, where a couple dozen kids sang. Now the soloists were stepping out, testifying in song with tremendous soul.

The music seemed to be wind beneath the wings of the march, carrying over two blocks' worth of humanity to the National Civil Rights Museum. Although official estimates of the crowd size are not yet available, this was a well-attended march of many hundreds who were calling out for stricter gun control laws. As people chanted “enough is enough,” signs floated above the crowd, cutting to the heart of the issue: “NRA Gives Blood Money for Political Bull Shit,” “Moms Demand Action,” “Melt the Guns,” and a giant handgun twisted into a knot. "This is what democracy looks like," they chanted.

I lingered at Clayborn Temple a while as the people and the signs flowed toward South Main, and found the kids in the choir reassembling inside. They were about to reprise their performance for a video taping. As they milled around, I spoke a bit with the choir director, Sharonda Mitchell, who co-wrote "We Are One" with Ranata Hickson.

Memphis Flyer: So how did this choir come together to sing for the march today?

Sharonda Mitchell: The kids are with Perfecting Gifts, Incorporated. We are a 501(c)3 organization with a mission to nurture, mature and celebrate young artists. So we decided to put an original song together and let the kids go into Hope Presbyterian Church, the Grove recording studio, and record the song. That was last Saturday, and we're here today to do a video with the song. Then we plan to release it on the anniversary of Dr. King's death.

That's great. So it applies to both today's march and Dr. King's vision.

Absolutely. The lyrics are so simple, "We are one, together we stand, hand in hand, we are one."

Did these kids just come together for this event?

This event was put together as a part of our six weeks performing art intensive. So all of the students came together for six weeks. They learned the basics of performance, which means vocal performance, theater — they learned all the basics. And now this is the culmination activity that ends the six weeks intensive. We have a program every season. This is our winter program and it will be kicking off again for the summer, which will be six weeks as well. And then we'll come back for the fall and do six weeks. This particular six weeks intensive is with kids aged from 9 to 17. But for summer we go all the way down to six years old. And we divide them into age appropriate groups. And it's all for the empowerment of our youth. Especially those who love music, love theater, love to sing. This is the perfect program for them.

Are kids recruited from all the school systems?

Absolutely. I have representation with this particular group from fifteen of our city schools. Maybe three charter schools. All of them are good honor roll students; and those who aren't honor roll students are striving to be. And it's the music that's enabling them to come out of their shell and do better with that. Believe it or not, most of these students have never performed in a choir. So this is the beginning of what will expand into youth unity in music.

Is it always a capella?

We have a mixture of everything. Today we have Steven Simmons, who's from Visible Music College. He and his team mate will be opening up with a song. We're trying to do more partnering with Visible, since they are right in the neighborhood here. And he as a musician invests so much into the kids. So we're trying to get a collaboration really soon. We also have Gary Walker, who is just an amazing musician. He's the one who developed the original track for the song "We Are One".

So the studio version has a backing track.

Yes, it was created by Gary Walker and it was presented by Steven Simmons and they were recorded by Marque Walker. Our video company is Forever Ready. They are amazing. Lauren and Julie have been just what we needed. They love the kids and it shows even in their recording. So it's just a big collaboration.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hump Day to the Max: Sons of Mudboy and Oblivians Light Up the Week

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2018 at 3:22 PM

Sons of Mudboy - JOSH MINTZ
  • Josh Mintz
  • Sons of Mudboy
A flurry of inspiring music will ring through Midtown today and tomorrow, as players rooted in the 1990s, but tapping into much older influences, make mid-week performances. Time to call it an early weekend and phone in sick tomorrow? Perhaps.

It starts tonight at 7:30 pm, when Sons of Mudboy start their set at Bar DKDC. The group features the progeny of the legendary underground rockers Mud Boy & the Neutrons — Ben Baker, Cody and Luther Dickinson, and Steve Selvidge — along with the last surviving Mud Boy, Jimmy Crostwaithe, and other friends to re-imagine the roots-rock Mud Boy sound for this century. While Selvidge and Baker often lead a version of the group in this weekly time slot, tonight's show promises to be special, as the Dickinson brothers, who are often away on tour, will join in the fun.

Mud Boy has been hovering over the city a lot these days, with many still reeling from twin release parties for Robert Gordon's newest book, Memphis Rent Party, featuring interviews (and an accompanying LP) with Jim Dickinson and others connected to the bohemian scene of 30-40 years ago. Pat Rainer, another member of that artistic community rooted in the '70s, also launched her photography exhibition at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at the same time, with many striking images of Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, Tav Falco, and others from that era. It's still on view at the museum through this July.

Tomorrow, Luther Dickinson will still be in town, this time at the Old Dominick Distillery's Pure Memphis Music Series. This series provides a unique, intimate space to hear its well-curated artists. The sound is stunningly good, and the drinks are, well, very fresh. Dickinson will be joined by Amy Lavere and Sharde Thomas, with whom he worked in his side project The Wandering, which also featured Shannon McNally and Valerie June.

In an interview with Jarrett Bellini from "Apparently This Matters,” Luther Dickinson recently reflected on the connection he feels to musical history and the songs of his father and those he learned from. “It's the repertoire. It doesn't matter, the stylistic trappings, or production. It can be electronic interpretation, whatever. Whatever it takes to get yourself off, and to trick a new generation into listening to it...It's hard, but the repertoire is what has to be carried on. That has been my biggest realization. My dad and his friends, they weren't hippies, they were beatniks, they were bohemians. Before the hippies. They were rock 'n' rollers turned folkies, and the folkies were song collectors. That was the hippest thing, who had the most obscure song.” Expect some choice rarities in this unique ensemble gig. 
The Oblivians
  • The Oblivians
And also tonight at Bar DKDC, on a very different tip, we'll hear another version of roots music from the Oblivians. Though most would call the group post-punk, when the trio started in the early '90s they were known for bringing a hint of the blues back into DIY garage rock. How much this was deserved is debatable, for they really were mining their own territory. But it can't be denied that very few punk bands covered songs by Blind Charles White, as they did. Nowadays, they reunite occassionally, and this year will be especially busy for them, as they play the Debauch-A-Reno festival in Reno, Nevada next month, with many dates following in Europe in May and June. But this may well be their only Memphis appearance. Expect a packed house tonight!

Sons of Mudboy play Bar DKDC Wednesday, March 21, at 7:30 pm. The Oblivians play there at 10:30 pm. Luther Dickinson & Friends play Old Dominick Distillery Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

5 Fridays of Free Jazz Livens up the Library

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 6:46 PM

The "5 Fridays of Free Jazz" concert series returns this Friday to bring the noise into what is traditionally a place of quiet: the library.

A partnership between the Levitt Shell and the Memphis Public Library, the "5 Fridays of Free Jazz" performances take place every other Friday starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Benjamin J. Hooks Central Library. “5 Fridays of Free Jazz,” now in its third year, outgrew its original home in a library meeting room, so concerts now are held in the main lobby, typically drawing 200 or more listeners.

The series helps the Levitt Shell organization, which hosts 50 free concerts as well as a few ticketed events each year on its namesake outdoor stage in Overton Park, to extend its mission of "building community through free music," says executive director Anne Pitts.

"There's such incredible jazz music here in Memphis, such wonderful jazz musicians, but not as many venues for that kind of music," Pitts says. "We wanted to create a space where that music could really be enjoyed by the masses, and so this was a perfect avenue to do that.

"It was one of those great match ups, one of those great opportunities where the library wanted to really reach out into community and bring more people into the library and see all different resources they have available, and we could give them a musical experience that really brings people together."

World Soul Project
  • World Soul Project
Performing at this Friday's season opener is World Soul Project, a group of veteran Memphis musicians reuniting after some years apart. Led by guitarist Gerard Harris and keyboardist Ben Flint, along with James Sexton on drums, Barry Campbell on bass, and Ekpe on percussion, World Soul Project fuses Brazilian and African textures with jazz and funk structures.

"We are trying to bring in great music that people are used to seeing and hearing as part of this series," Pitts says, "but also extend it and include more of a world music base to it."

On March 23, it's a double bill with saxophone and flute dynamo Hope Clayburn, leading her funk-soul project Soul Scrimmage, plus Joyce Cobb, one of Memphis' preeminent vocalists and song interpreters for some five decades.
Hope Clayburn
  • Hope Clayburn

The April 6 date features The Maguire Twins. Japanese-American identical twins drummer Carl Maguire and bassist Alan Maguire studied together at the Stax Music Academy and later at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where they met their mentor, famed pianist and native Memphian Donald Brown. Brown produced their second album as co-bandleaders, "Seeking Higher Ground," which comes out March 18, just one day before their 22nd birthdays.
The Maguire Twins
  • The Maguire Twins

On April 20, the Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra showcases the talents of students — undergraduates to doctoral candidates — from the jazz program at the University of Memphis' Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. The 17-piece ensemble performs repertoire both classic (Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington) and contemporary (Jim McNeely, Bob Brookmeyer).
Southern Comfort
  • Southern Comfort

Wrapping up the series on May 4, Ekpe returns with another band of longtime Memphis players, the African Jazz Ensemble, to incorporate African influences into jazz and soul forms.
African Jazz Ensemble
  • African Jazz Ensemble

"We very intentionally use this series to help develop and build audience for jazz music," Pitts says of how "5 Fridays of Free Jazz" complements the Levitt Shell's signature free concert series. "We make jazz a priority in our season, and we are constantly looking for great jazz musicians to bring in. There is such love and passion for this genre of music, and so this series we felt like was just so timely in being able to bring in those lovers of this music and also helping us identify who the people are in Memphis who love jazz so we can reach out to them."

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic: Keeping the Funk Alive

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 12:01 PM

George Clinton
  • George Clinton
Tonight will be a watershed moment for lovers of the funk, as the Mothership descends once again on the Bluff City. I well recall when George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic played the old Ellis Auditorium in 1991: the floorboards were literally bowing and bouncing to the beat. And that was just from the audience jumping to the band, who by now need no introduction, as pillars of American music history. The other day I had a chat with Danny Bedrosian, piano prodigy, synthesizer wizard, and fifteen year veteran of the band, about various new projects from the P-Funk collective and what funksters can expect from tonight's show.

Memphis Flyer: So your first big work with the P Funk group and George Clinton was 2014's
First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate?

Danny Bedrosian: That's the third P Funk album I was on. But I was much more involved with it than I was in the prior efforts. I came into the group as a studio musician first, which is kind of ironic. After being a studio musician with George for a few years, on and off while I was finishing college, I moved down to Florida where I live now, and where his studio is, and started working even more for George. And upon them liking what I did further and trusting me, they hired me into the group to go out on the road in 2003. Prior to that I was doing mostly just sessions. And being a session musician, you never really know how much of your stuff's gonna end up on release. You also don't know where things are gonna end up going. And I ended up doing a lot of work for a bunch of different associated acts all through those years as well, even while I was in the band. I played on George's 2005 album, How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent?, and I played on one song on his 2008 album, Gangsters of Love. And then I was very instrumental in the new Funkadelic album, Shake the Gate. I played on about 17 songs on that album. He also has a new Parliament album coming out called Medicaid Fraud Dog, which he's really excited about. That's coming out this year, the first Parliament album since 1980. We're gonna have lots of horns, lots of that classic Parliament sound, and I'm also very conspicuous on that offering as well. I definitely contributed to more songs than there probably will be on the album,'s another one that I'm really proud of, that's gonna be coming soon from the P Funk camp.

You also contribute quite a bit to the new album Detroit Rising [released March 30 on Down Jazz Records], which features many P Funk players on it. Was that all recorded in Detroit?

No, the conceptual framework behind the project is the idea of the Detroit sound, being both the Motown sound and also United Sound, which was the studio where P Funk did a lot of its recordings back in the day. It's the idea of the rising of that sound back into the forefront of American music and not just in these locales where it comes from. Although the title is a bit of a misnomer, because probably a greater portion of it was recorded in NYC. And probably an equal portion to the Detroit stuff was recorded in Florida as well. So it's really a multinational offering, if you will. It was equal parts New York, Detroit, L.A. and Florida. So sorta all corners of the country. But the Detroit sound is really an important part of the P Funk sound, you know Motown and R&B and funk and all that stuff.

The idea of the concept was bringing back that sort of sound to the forefront and then adding something new to it as well. Because it's definitely got a heavy East coast influence as well, with the jazz fusion thing. So it's a pretty cool project.

A few tracks were done at United Sound, which is the longest running studio in the country. And it's where P Funk did all of their big big albums back in the 70s, and also where a lot of the great R&B artists did their music. And so, the project started there and it evolved from there. I'm really proud of the music, I think it's really dynamic and exciting musically.

What's it like creating and recording tracks for a George Clinton album?

Working for George, he will have a complete concept in mind before coming in. So if it's something we're doing with George for a particular album or effort, he's gonna be very specific about the concept and what it is that we're doing and why we're doing it. He's still very much the producer in that way. For instance, we just did a session in Atlanta last night with the rhythm section, and we recorded a song that we'd been doing live that already exists in a track form; but he liked the way we did it live with the track so much that he's having us recreate sort of a live version for the studio of this track. And so this was his vision for this, capturing that energy from a live version of a song that we never really put out live. We just played it live. We never put it out on an album. So he's looking to create the live version of that as the studio version, if you will. And that was his vision last night.

It is collaborative, but he's very focused, and it takes a long time. He cares about his product and how it's crafted and how it's made. He's very on hand in the studio, always on point, very, very focused in the studio. You just get in there and take directions and see what happens. And then, he is also very collaborative in a way, where if we're at his home studio in Tallahassee at the P Funk studio, we might be coming up with something sort of leisurely, and it'll become something. That happens too in a very organic way. Or it could be something where one of us wrote a song and it doesn't necessarily have a place yet, and he may fall in love with it and do some post production, add a bunch of stuff, take away some stuff, mix some stuff, do some things with it, and create something new with that. That happens very often too.

And then oftentimes he'll put groups of us together to create something. So he'll have a vision for a few of us from the group or from the organization to work together or create together in some way in a way that maybe we never would have thought of before because maybe it wouldn't be someone you even knew before you came into this organization. He's really connected a lot of people in that way. So the spirit of his production is just so more alive than maybe it has been in the past 20 or so years, 'cos he's just so focused now. And it's really great to see.

It reminds me of Duke Ellington, who would craft compositions around the sounds and personalities of particular players in his group.

Yes, he's very conscious about who it is that starts a particular song, and how it has that color because that person started it. And he's equally conscious of how a track needs the color of this person, so we'll get so and so to overdub on it. He's very conscious about who starts it, who dubs in, how he wants it to be structured, how he wants the flavor of it to be.

Will Memphis get a taste of the new Parliament album?

Yes, we have released one single from the upcoming album already. It's called “I'm Gonna Make You Sick.” And it is really really just a banger. It's really a great funk song, the classic Parliament sound. It also features the rapper Scarface. and I played on it a little bit as well. We've been doing it live about four months. And it's one of those songs that really gets the crowd going, which is great because it's a new song. So, such a great continuum to see how it continues to thrive. So yeah, you will get a little bit of new Parliament album.

And of course some of the new Funkadelic.

Yep we're gonna do probably five songs from that as well.

And dip into the hits?

Oh yeah. There's always a strong inclination from the fans to do this song or that song. And the P Funk canon being so vast, you can never expect to get all the hits. It's something like forty charted hits, six number ones, three platinum albums and additional maybe eight gold albums. Just so much of the stuff from that period that you can't expect to hear all of them, but there are definitely ones that we can't do a show without doing. And also, which makes me happy, is we tend to dig through the crates and go through a lot of lesser known album cuts as well from back in the day. Which I really like 'cos I was such an album guy growing up when I was a fan of this band. I always liked a lot of the album cuts the best, even more so than some of the singles. So it's really exciting to be able to do those as well.

I saw P Funk in 1991 and there was a descending Mothership...

Oh yeah! We probably won't see the spaceship in this show. It is something that's been talked about lately, about bringing the Mothership back, and you never know, it could happen. Right now the original Mothership is currently in the Smithsonian in Washington, which we're really proud of.

How many of the current players go back to the early days of Parliament or Funkadelic?

We have Blackbyrd McKnight on guitar, he joined the group in about '78. He's with us. He's also an original member of the Headhunters [backing Herbie Hancock], and played with Miles Davis. He's a 30-plus year veteran of P Funk. Mister Lige Curry on bass, who's the longest tenured bass player in the band's history. He's been playing for this group for 30 some odd years as well, joined in '79. The horn section, Benny Cowan and Greg Thomas on trumpet and saxophone respectively. They both have been in the group some 40 years now, they came in the '70s. Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, who has been with the group since '73 and was also an original member of Bootsy's Rubber Band, also is with the group. Tracey Lewis, who is George's son, did a lot of work with them starting in the early to late '80s. Steve Boyd, who started in the late '80s, is also with us as well. So there's quite a few people from that era. And it's such a great thing to see how George has people from every decade of this group. I came in the 2000's, and it's interesting that I'm the only one left from that era. So it's a kind of a microcosm where you see the different generations and how they impact the thing. I think we have maybe 3 people here from the '90s. And then we have a slew of new people who've come in the 2010's. Some of George's grandchildren, they're the new generation that's coming up. So it's really great to see it self-perpetuating.

It's quite an American institution. Anything else we should know about P Funk projects?

I would like to say I have a new album that just came out as well, my solo album with my little trio called Secret Army. And the album is called 8finity. It's our eighth album, and it's myself and the bass player and the drummer from P Funk. So it's basically the backbone of P Funk, we just put out this new album as well. George is on it too, and bunch of other members of the band. It's a really nice effort.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

The Memphis Jazz Workshop: A Q&A with Founder Steve Lee

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 12:11 PM

Faculty and students of the Memphis Jazz Workshop
  • Faculty and students of the Memphis Jazz Workshop
Steve Lee is helping to revive jazz education for Memphis youth in a big way. Having taught with the Memphis Music Initiative and the Visible Music College, and having received the Steinway and Sons Top Teacher Certificate Award in 2017, he founded the Memphis Jazz Workshop to fill in gaps that have developed in public school music education. The pianist lived in New York City for twelve years and studied with jazz giant (and Memphis native) Donald Brown. Now he's back in his hometown and has gathered a faculty of some of the city's best and brightest players. 
Stephen Lee
  • Stephen Lee

Tomorrow evening at Hutchison School, audiences can hear for themselves what the workshop students have accomplished during the past month's winter session. After the student concert, faculty will join drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. in a performance featuring many compositions associated with Memphians who made their mark in the world of jazz. Owens, a graduate of the Julliard School, was named a 'rising star' by Downbeat magazine in 2012, and drummed on Grammy-winning albums by Kurt Elling and Christian McBride.

Memphis Flyer: When did you start the Memphis Jazz Workshop? And where is it based?

Steve Lee: We just started this past June of 2017. Now it's based at the University of Memphis. We've done it at Hutchison, and at the Visible Music School. But the main place is U of M.

Do you do workshops for adults?

You're the second person to ask me that this week! If we had our own space, that'd be real easy. That's on the agenda — to give lessons not just to grade school kids but to adults too. That's what the Nashville Jazz Workshop does. But we really need more space for that.

So the Saturday concert will be the graduating recital of all the kids in the workshop?

Yeah, it'll be a couple of combos performing. Then at the end of the concert we'll get everybody up there playing an F blues, something like that.
So I guess the star attraction is Ulysses Owens, Jr. Will he be teaching as well?

Ulysses Owens, yeah! He's also doing workshops Saturday morning. He's doing a drum workshop, then he's doing an entrepreneur workshop at 11:30. Then he's doing the concert later that night.

Who will be playing with him?

Me, Gary Topper (saxophone), Johnny Yancey (trumpet), and Sylvester Sample and Carl Casperson (both on bass).

Ulysses graduated from Julliard. He's also a producer. You know, he's produced probably 20 or 30 different singers out of New York. Plus, he has his own nonprofit in Jacksonville, Florida. It's like a dance and fine arts program. And that's what he's gonna talk about. You know, carving out your own space, in life and music. Whatever you wanna do. In entrepreneurship, you don't just have to be a musician. There are other things that you can do also. That's what the entrepreneurship class will be talking about. Ways to do more than just play music. I wish someone had told me about that 20 or 25 years ago.

Do you have a particular method of teaching jazz to younger people?

We really teach them to just listen to the music. There are so many styles of music out nowadays. And most of their friends don't listen to jazz. So we're trying to encourage them to listen more to the music. For instance, some of those kids were playing “Impressions” at rehearsal. And I asked if any of them had heard John Coltrane play it. They were like, "No." How're you gonna play “Impressions” if you've never heard John Coltrane play it? So, we encourage them to listen more. And practice.

We do have kids that like to practice. But that's still a struggle. Especially for a few that wanna go to Julliard, and do that for a living. They really need to understand that you have to be practicing at least three, four, or five hours a day at the middle school grade level, or even elementary, to compete against kids who're applying for those scholarships. And we focus on mental stuff, motivation. Also, listening to live music. That's another thing kids don't get a chance to hear a lot. 'Cos there's not a lot of live music nowadays. Everything's programmed. So, just give 'em all those methods. See what happens.

The first thing I do, especially with piano players, I teach them [chord progressions] ii-V-I's, in all twelve keys. So that's the beginning. Once you do that, then we can start talking. If you don't know your ii-V-I's [such as C minor-F-B♭] in all twelve, major and minor keys, there's nothing they can do. But once you learn ii-V-I's, then they can get into scales and chord changes. And then you can stretch it into bebop. For example, with ii-V-I, you've got a minor chord to a dominant chord to a major chord. So once you know those chords, once you play that C minor, then you can play that for four bars and you can get to the next chord, which is an F7. Once you understand how to get around those changes, everything else is downhill. This applies to all instruments. Horn players should have an understanding of piano, so they can see what they're doing. It makes it easier for them to really learn improv, if they have an understanding of piano and a little basic jazz harmony. That helps too.

How about blues?

Oh that's the first thing we really do. Teach them an F blues. You know, "Straight No Chaser," just teach 'em the blues scale. Once you teach them that blues scale, and I'm really speaking for piano players, you show them the left hand voicings, you learn the blues scale with your right hand, and you start coming up with melodies. That's the first thing we start with, the blues. Get them making little melodies and sounding pretty good, then they're confident. And then we can go to another song, like “Autumn Leaves” or “Song for My Father.”

So on Saturday, what kinds of jazz tunes should the audience expect to hear?

Well, the kids will be doing this tune, "Red Clay" by Freddie Hubbard. That's the older kids. The younger kids will be doing “Cantaloupe Island,” by Herbie Hancock. Now, Ulysses will be doing a couple Mulgrew Miller tunes. He'll be doing a James Williams tune. He'll also be doing a Roy Ayers tune called “Cocoa Butter.” So it'll be a mix of songs from other artists. He may be doing one original called "Soul Conversation." A few by Memphis musicians like [pianists] James Williams and Mulgrew Miller. Mulgrew, you know he's from Greenwood, Mississippi, but he spent so much time in Memphis. He went to the University of Memphis before he moved to New York.

Although I mainly studied with Donald Brown, I actually had a lesson with Mulgrew when I was living in NY. He was in New Jersey and I took a bus over to his house. The bus broke down on the way back!

It strikes me that teaching jazz to youth is a long tradition in Memphis, going back to Jimmie Lunceford at Manassas High School in the 1920s. Do you feel this is kind of a continuum of that?

Oh man, yeah! Jimmie Lunceford, that's another secret that a lot of people don't know about. I do think it is a continuation of what he was doing. But Memphis never had a jazz workshop like the workshops we have now. They always had jazz in the schools. And there used to be more, man. When I was in school like back in the 1980s, most high schools had a jazz band. Now, it's really only a handful that have a jazz band around the city. Overton, Central, Germantown. The other city schools might have a little combo, but nothing like a jazz band. I don't think there are even ten.

Did you study jazz in high school here?

I studied at Carver, with Ozzie Smith. Ozzie Smith was a well known local musician around town, back in the '80s. I had one year with him. He was a great saxophonist. He's the pastor for a big church in Chicago now. And I also studied with Tim Turner. Tim now is a jazz director down at Xavier University.

So many great jazz players came out of Memphis.

Memphis really doesn't understand the history, and the role the city plays in jazz music. The people that played the music, and contributed to this music worldwide. If you look at cities that the great jazz players came from, and you look at the number that came from particular cities, Memphis is up there. You know, Philly, maybe Detroit. But Memphis is definitely in the top five.

I mean, you got Charles Lloyd, you got George Coleman, Hank Crawford, Phineas Newborn, Jr., Donald Brown, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Bill Easley, Kirk Whalum, and Harold Mabern, Jr. And Herman Green! I played with Herman at the first jazz festival I played. I was back here in Memphis one summer and he asked me. It was me, Herman Green, and Terry Saffold. We were in Nashville, opening up for Lionel Hampton at a jazz festival. I'll never forget that! It's just a long list of musicians from Memphis that have done a lot for jazz. But Memphis is not aware of it. Memphians don't know their history.

Memphis Jazz Workshop events at Hutchison School, Saturday, February 24.
10:30-11:30 am:   Master drum class with Ulysses Owens, Jr.
11:30-12:30 pm:   “Carving out your own space in the music industry”
                                      — entrepreneurial workshop with Owens.
6:15-6:45 pm:      Memphis Jazz Workshop student ensembles performances.
7:30-8:30 pm:      Concert with Owens and members of the faculty.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Beale Street Music Festival 2018: Performers Announced

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 12:00 PM

R.L. Boyce
  • R.L. Boyce
The Beale Street Music Festival lineup usually has some pleasant surprises in store, and this year is no exception. Just released today, the scheduled acts run the gamut of styles and decades. Among the highlights are such luminaries as Grammy nominee R.L. Boyce, the Love Light Orchestra, Star & Micey, Tav Falco, the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, Al Kapone, Juicy J, Zeke Johnson, Blind Mississippi Morris, and Earl “The Pearl” Banks.
Queens of the Stone Age
  • Queens of the Stone Age
What's that you say? There are also acts without roots in Memphis? Okay, we'll tip our hat to them as well. Although Queens Of The Stone Age, Alanis Morissette, Tyler The Creator, Kaleo, and Dashboard Confessional are not from Memphis, let's give them a chance. Some have ties to the Bluff City by way of their recording history and professional associations, such as Jack White, an erstwhile Oblivians fan whose work at the old Easley-McCain studios won much acclaim, or Margo Price, who has done well recording with Matt Ross-Spang in recent years.

As usual, the mix is unpredictable and not beholden to current trends. It's notable that several acts made a name for themselves in the 1990s or even the 1980s:
David Byrne
  • David Byrne
 David Byrne, Cake, Erykah Badu, The Flaming Lips, and Third Eye Blind clearly have proven their staying power over the decades, even as they've continued to evolve and explore.
Erykah Badu
  • Erykah Badu
 Reaching back even further, the festival will host Delbert McClinton, who, because he played harmonica on Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby" and toured England on the strength of that hit, ended up teaching John Lennon a thing or two about blues harp technique. Of course, he went on to build a career on his own records, such as “Giving It Up for Your Love.”
Delbert McClinton
  • Delbert McClinton

Finally, more Memphis in May events will follow the festival proper, with additional musical fare evoking this year's honored country, the Czech Republic.

2018 Memphis in May International Festival Dates:
Beale Street Music Festival: May 4-6, 2018
International Week: May 7-13, 2018
World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest: May 16-19, 2018
Great American River Run: May 26, 2018
901Fest: May 26, 2018

Full Schedule of the Beale Street Music Festival
Friday, May 4th
Queens Of The Stone Age
Alanis Morissette
Tyler, The Creator
Third Eye Blind
Dashboard Confessional
Margo Price
Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Star & Micey
Ghost Town Blues Band
Zac Harmon
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Terry “Big T” Williams
Zeke Johnson

Saturday, May 5th
Jack White
David Byrne
Vance Joy
Gov’t Mule
Action Bronson
Franz Ferdinand
All Time Low
Al Kapone
Dan Barta & Illustratosphere
Marcia Ball
Tav Falco And The Panther Burns
Amasa Hines
Chinese Connection Dub Embassy
Tommy Castro And The Painkillers
Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater
Blind Mississippi Morris
Joanna Connor
Earl “The Pearl” Banks
Sam Joyner
Washboard Shorty & Reverend Robert Rev

Sunday, May 6th
Post Malone
Erykah Badu
The Flaming Lips
Juicy J
Luke Combs
Oh Wonder
Young Dolph
Delbert McClinton
Andrew W.K.
Tank And The Bangas
Love Light Orchestra
R.L. Boyce
Reba Russell
Biscuit Miller And The Mix
Butch Mudbone
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Dixie Dicks: Having Their Way With Country

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 10:31 AM

While a quick Google search turns up such events as the Gay Ole Opry, begun in 2011, the subgenre of queer country music has been dominated by one artist, Phranc, for the last three decades. There are a handful of stars who have come out—namely Chely Wright, Brandy Clark and Ty Herndon—but the Nashville music scene is still, uh, dominated by straight guys in blue jeans.

Next week, Memphis group the Dixie Dicks throw their proverbial hot pink cowboy hats into the ring with the release of an EP, Vers. A record release party, labeled “Love Sucks and So Do the Dixie Dicks,” will take place at Bar DKDC on Valentine’s Day—Wednesday, February 14—at 9 pm. Produced by Kevin Cubbins at Pansy Foote Studio, 300 copies of the EP will be available on pink vinyl.

There is nothing average about the Dixie Dicks, although their self-deprecating demeanor onstage would have you think otherwise. Their musicianship, which harkens back to the folksy, bluegrass style re-popularized with the release of 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?, is top-notch. Lyrically, Vers is a hoot, jam-packed with sing-a-longs about how “No one likes lesbian drama” or double-entendres like “You call me daddy while I feed you this meat.” Rather than sides A and B, the vinyl is labeled sides Top and Bottom. Get it?

I caught up with guitarist Brandon Pugh and percussionist Joel Parsons earlier this week (banjo player Brandon Ticer, who his bandmates declare is the only “real” musician in the group, was on tour as keyboardist for the New York-based rock band Wheatus).

“It’s fun because we’re all gay, but none of us are hooking up with each other,” said Pugh, who runs the organic Delta Sol Farm in Proctor, Arkansas. “I’m a camp counselor-level guitar player. I love country music, and I love bluegrass music. I still listen to a lot of that late-1980s early ‘90s country that I grew up with. I love Tanya Tucker, the Judds. Miranda Lambert—I’m obsessed with her now. She divorced that Blake Shelton guy, and he’s been a jerk about it. Meanwhile, she’s the last one at the bar—she doesn’t care, and she’s owning her shit.”

Pugh sees performing in the Dixie Dicks as an opportunity to “reclaim the weird stuff that happened to us [growing up], like being gay at a Christian camp.”

Their songs, he said, “are pretty crude—not parent friendly. At rehearsals, we’re cracking each other up. And then whoever says the dumbest, funniest thing, we’ll add it to the lyrics.”

Parsons, an artist and curator who runs the Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College, maintains that while the Dixie Dicks started as a lark, the band is taking the joke “very seriously.”

“To be completely honest, I know almost nothing about making music.,” Parsons continued. “My dad was a drummer, and I grew up around percussion. Brandon Pugh sustained interest in music in a self-taught way, while Brandon Ticer is an excellent musician who elevates our playing to another level. It’s a nice mix—we don’t get bogged down in arrangements or making it super-slick.”

When recording the EP, the Dixie Dicks wanted “everything to sound like as much fun as we’re having,” Parsons said. “Let’s not get too tight, or too perfect. Let’s leave some flubs and mess-ups and hootin’ and hollerin.’”

Some of his strongest childhood memories, he said, are riding in the backseat of his grandparents’ Lincoln Town Car around his hometown of Rogers, Arkansas, listening to George Jones, Dolly Parton and Reba McIntyre.

“I left that behind, but now I’m able to come back around and flip it,” Parsons said. “I can live inside this music that I didn’t think had a place for me. The Dixie Dicks are really, honestly a hundred percent country and really, honestly a hundred percent queer. Being onstage feels a little bit naughty, which makes it so much fun. Country music is so gay—we have a list of at least 50 songs which just need this word or that word changed to be queer. Like ‘Rock Me Daddy Like a Wagon Wheel’—they write themselves, we just have to tune it and sing it!”

Parson sees the Dixie Dicks as not just a way for him and his fellow musicians to reconcile their own identities as gay men, but as a reclamation of place for any Mid-Southerner who has come out of the closet.

“We have a really good mix of people at our shows: A hardcore contingent of badass middle-aged women, and people who come because it’s a gay thing to do, and a safe place to go. Then we have people who love the songs. I don’t think there’s been a huge country music following among the local [LGBTQ] community, so it’s been fun to watch them embrace their southern side,” Parsons said. “It’s something that a lot of people, including me before this band, have been a little hesitant to do.”

Cubbins, the producer, agreed. “That’s the most brilliant part of it—the Dixie Dicks go beyond one single audience,” he said. "There are so many layers to their songs, so much energy and spontaneity, yet so much attention to detail.”

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

North Mississippi's Museum de Sankofa Honors Bobby Rush

Posted By on Sat, Feb 10, 2018 at 11:16 AM

Bluesman Bobby Rush
  • Bluesman Bobby Rush
The word Sankofa, originating in Ghana, means "Go back and get it" in the Twi language, and the concept is often represented by the image of a bird flying forward while looking behind. It's an appropriate concept for a museum of history, as in the case of Robinsonville, Mississippi's Museum de Sankofa. Founded a decade ago by Stanley and Maxine Taylor, the museum is dedicated to West African art, music and culture, drawing heavily on the Taylors' private collection, amassed during their own extensive travels in the area. It also celebrates the African influences on the blues and Mississippi culture in general. 

It's an inspiring labor of love and cultural pride in a landscape dominated by casinos, and a welcome diversion for those flocking to the area for typically more hedonistic activities. In addition to their museum's celebration of African culture, the Taylors have begun the "Preserving the Heritage Benefit and Awards Ceremony," now in its second year. The ceremony is happening tonight in Robinsonville, with this year's honorees being blues legend Bobby Rush and local community leader and advocate Joan Richardson. All proceeds will benefit the museum and its youth engagement programs, and tickets include a dinner buffet, a silent auction, a tour of the museum, a live concert performance, and a meet and greet with the honorees.

Preserving the Heritage Benefit and Awards Ceremony, Feb. 10th, Blues Belt Entertainment Complex, (3468 Casino Way, Robinsonville, MS), 6:00-9:00 pm. See for tickets and more information.

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