Friday, January 24, 2020

Hippie Hippie Shake: Blvck Hippie Cooks Up Tasty Tunes

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Blake Galloway (left) and Josh Shaw
  • Blake Galloway (left) and Josh Shaw


Memphis-based indie rock band Blvck Hippie released one of the catchiest Memphis-made songs in recent memory a little over one year ago, in January 2019.

“Hotel Lobby,” from the Blvck Hippie EP, opens with a drum shuffle followed by a descending bass line; when the piano and whining guitars hit, it’s already obvious the band has neo-soul arrangements on lockdown. And it just gets better from there.

Blvck Hippie, fronted by Josh Shaw, 24, has toured in support of the EP, undergone multiple lineup changes, and is currently working on new material. After seeing the new lineup at work at a concert at the Lamplighter Lounge, I called Shaw, who was cooking vegan pasta sauce at the time, to find out what was in store for Blvck Hippie.

The band will perform at Philly’s Got-You-Covered Fest in Cooper-Young on Saturday, January 25th, and at Pagan Mom House with Sun Not Yellow, Madd Well, Wednesday, January 29th, at 8 p.m. But that’s not all that Blvck Hippie has up its sleeve.


It’s no understatement to say that Shaw has immersed himself in music of late. He works at the School of Rock performance academy and is studying recording at the University of Memphis. He already has a music industry degree from Lambuth University. Of course, that’s when he’s not writing, recording, rehearsing, and performing with Blvck Hippie, a band that grew out of Shaw’s solo shows and demo tapes.

“Toward the end of my senior year of college I started being a little more open with sharing the music I’d been writing,” Shaw says. “I was pretty private about it at first, recording a lot in my room and in the studio on campus and keeping it to myself.”

Josh Shaw
  • Josh Shaw


So, after spending some time in Toronto, Canada, with his brother, Shaw decided to double down on making music. He moved back to Memphis from Jackson and bought some new gear. “I got a better electric guitar and a looper pedal,” he says.


After being booked at a festival, Shaw put together a band. “I decided January of 2018, that whole year was going to be only band shows,” he explains. Of course, the band would need a name. “I was a very weird, eccentric child, so my mom used to call me her little black hippie,” Shaw explains. He says he thought, “So I’ll just use that.”


With a name and a full roster, Blvck Hippie released its self-titled EP on January 1, 2019. That four-song example of indie-pop perfection was recorded at Young Avenue Sound with Calvin Lauber, and for a year, the band toured and played locally in support of it.

In addition to the excellent arrangements, the EP, along with the rest of Blvck Hippie’s music, is characterized by Shaw’s open and honest lyrics. Just as the songwriter who used to record in his room had struggled taking his songs public, he was unsure about being so open in his songwriting. But he had taken strength from the art of confessional songwriters when he needed it, and he was inspired by their example. “If I’m that open and honest, then I can help somebody else who might be going through a rough time,” Shaw says.


Blvck Hippie faced a new challenge when Blake Galloway, the band’s second guitarist, moved to Colorado. Shaw explains, “After losing a band member who was one of the founding members [I had to] reevaluate everything and [say], ‘What is it about us that I like? And what is it about us that can change and improve?’”


Shaw continues: “Every time somebody leaves, you feel like, ‘Aw, man, why did I even let this person into my heart? I should have just stayed solo.’ But I decided to embrace it as much as I can. Writing, arranging, recording — I do all the cooking of it, but if you don’t allow other people to throw seasoning in it, you might end up with a bland dish and not know it because you’re the only one who tasted it.”

Blvck Hippie
  • Blvck Hippie


For the moment, the band is a trio — guitar, bass, and drums, but plans are in the works to add keyboards, trumpet, and euphonium. “Once everything hits the fan, you have to sit down and figure out why you’re still doing this,” Shaw says, explaining that he decided forced lineup changes were, from one perspective, just an excuse to build on what he likes in the group.


The two upcoming house concerts are on par for Blvck Hippie’s indie (as in “independent”) aesthetic. Shaw says he has made merchandise at his parents house, and the band’s self-titled EP was self-funded as well. “It’s something that’s done out of necessity,” Shaw admits. There are benefits, though, to an indie approach. “It’s a culture that embraces the different and weird,” Shaw says. “So you just automatically feel comfortable no matter what happens. You’re like, ‘Hey, I know this is an intimate setting and everybody’s here just to enjoy the experience. If I break a string, if I sing the wrong note, everything’s okay.’”


Blvck Hippie performs at Philly’s Got-You-Covered Fest at 1054 Philadelphia Street in Cooper-Young on Saturday, January 25th, at 8 p.m.; and at Pagan Mom House with Sun Not Yellow, Madd Well, Wednesday, January 29th, at 8 p.m.


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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Booker T. Jones' Heartfelt Homecoming at Crosstown Theater

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2020 at 1:51 PM

Booker T. Jones and band with Carla Thomas - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Booker T. Jones and band with Carla Thomas
"My first guitar was a Sears Silvertone," quipped Booker T. Jones during his appearance at Crosstown Theater Saturday. Looking up at the walls around him, he added, "I must have bought it right here."

Crosstown Concourse, of course, was then the regional warehouse and retail center for Sears. He went on to recall how he quit buying records at Sears after he discovered the Satellite Record Shop, the storefront at the entrance to Stax Records in its heyday. At Sears, he noted, you couldn't hear the record until you bought it. "But Steve Cropper was happy to play records for you."

Such are the perks of hearing one of the progenitors of classic soul play his hometown, where, once upon a time, lightning was captured in a bottle, or at least on vinyl. And Jones seemed to revel in the memories.

But the magic of such anecdotes paled before the majesty of the music, unerringly played by Jones and his band (which included his son Ted on guitar, Melvin Brannon, Jr. [aka M-Cat Spoony] on bass, and Darian Gray on drums). Time stood still as the sounds of Jones on the Hammond organ, complete with rotating Leslie speaker, filled the auditorium with the harmonies known from so many classic records.

Though Jones' latest album, Note by Note, surveys tunes from across his lifetime as a player and a producer, Saturday's set was decidedly Memphis-heavy, with a heaping dose of originals by Booker T. & the M.G.'s. There was "Green Onions" in all its minimalist glory, and "Time Is Tight," complete with its powerful coda. "Hip-Hug Her" also was honored, albeit with a twist: flowing lyrics rapped over the tune by Gray. 
Booker T. Jones and son Ted Jones - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Booker T. Jones and son Ted Jones

"And now, here's a piece by George Gershwin," Jones noted, before launching into the M.G.s' arrangement of "Summertime," as perfect a showcase of his organ mastery as any of their cuts.

But the legacy of that Silvertone guitar was also alive and well, as Jones picked up a Telecaster and sauntered to the front of the stage from time to time, delivering very personal interpretations of "Hey Joe," a la Jimi Hendrix, "Purple Rain" by Prince, and others. At times, he sang sublime harmonies with his son.  
Booker T. Jones on guitar - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Booker T. Jones on guitar
But the most sublime harmonies of the night came when Jones called "an old friend" to the stage, none other than the Queen of Memphis Soul, Carla Thomas. Jones, noting the importance of the Thomas family, and especially Carla's father Rufus, described seeing the movie Baby Driver and unexpectedly hearing her sing in the soundtrack. Then they launched into "B-A-B-Y," one of Carla's greatest Stax sides. She was in fine voice, her delivery full of her trademark sweetness and wit. It was a luminous moment, with Carla, Jones and the band breaking out into beaming smiles throughout.

It was a dramatic moment, especially because Jones typically approached each song with a solemnity that seemed to exhort the audience to listen with care. And listen they did, the entire room rapt with adoration for the grooves and the moves that helped put Memphis on the map.

Opening the set were students from the Stax Music Academy, who did right by such classics as "Soul Man," "Soul Girl," "When a Man Loves a Woman," and even Peter Gabriel's Stax-influenced "Sledgehammer." For those who slept on it, let it be known that Memphis Soul is alive and well and kicking. 

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Spoonful Weighs a Ton: Conrad Tao and Iris Orchestra

Posted By on Tue, Jan 21, 2020 at 9:01 AM

Conrad Tao - BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ
  • Brantley Gutierrez
  • Conrad Tao

Composer, pianist, violinist, and electronic musician Conrad Tao, 25, is set to travel to Memphis for two performances with Iris Orchestra. Tao is a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the New York Dance and Performance award for Outstanding Sound Design/Music Composition, eight consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, and the Carlos Surinach Prize from BMI. He was named a Gilmore Young Artist, and he has performed alongside the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Boston Symphony. Backed up by Iris, the award-winning composer will perform a Memphis-inspired composition of his own, along with works by Haydn and Brahms, at Germantown Performing Arts Center and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on Saturday, January 25th, and Sunday, January 26th, respectively. The Flyer caught up with Tao to ask him about the blues, Brahms, and the tension between performing and listening.

Memphis Flyer: You were commissioned to write something that would celebrate Memphis. Tell me about that.

Conrad Tao: I ended up exploring the Delta blues lineage more broadly. I took a Charley Patton tune as my starting point for this piece. It was a Charley Patton tune called “A Spoonful Blues” that I had been listening to for a really long time. [I wanted to] consider the different roles and legacies of blues music, to hopefully offer a perspective on it that was personal.


MF: Tell me a little more about the piece.

CT: I was interested in the blues as dance music — as incredible dance music — and trying to imagine that aspect of the music. “A Spoonful Blues” is a blues tune about cocaine addiction. That is one way we could describe it, but that would really miss a lot of the point, to simply call it that. It’s this meeting point between the very social and boisterous and fun aspect of this music paired with the subject material. That’s really what’s interesting.

Conrad Tao - BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ
  • Brantley Gutierrez
  • Conrad Tao

MF: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the composition?

CT: The first line in the recording is Patton speaking “I’m about to go to jail about this

spoonful,” and that’s the only time the word “spoonful” appears in the song. It is basically the final word of each line in the song, except that instead of Patton finishing his lines with the word spoonful vocally, it’s taken by his guitar. I loved that. I was so excited by that, this excess of the feeling is such that it has to go into the instrument. The instrument is the only honest expression of the idea of this word. … I am interested in that kind of excess in music in general. I’m interested in any moment when something feels like it’s been exceeded. It’s just a preoccupation of mine.


MF: You’re from Urbana, Illinois. Being so close to Chicago, does that give you a different take on the blues?

CT: It was not first-hand experience at all. I left Illinois when I was 9 years old, and I’ve lived in New York really ever since. It was much more absorbed just through listening to recordings, in this case a recording from 1929.

Conrad Tao - BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ
  • Brantley Gutierrez
  • Conrad Tao
MF: Let’s talk about some other older compositions. Was it your choice to pair this piece with Haydn and Brahms?

CT: It was my choice to include Brahms. I feel very happy to be playing the Brahms first piano concerto right now. The piece was written when he was 25, so there’s just the happy coincidence of being at that point in my life myself, albeit in a different time. And I appreciate the emotional scope of it. I appreciate the formal rigor of it. I find that those two aspects of it are almost in conflict, and that’s what I’m really interested in.


MF: Conflict and tension can be powerful aspects of performance, especially when pairing seemingly disparate genres like classical and the blues. Talk a little about tension in music and the purpose it serves.

CT: I’m going to take a sideways route and say that I really believe that listening is the point at which music-making happens. The instruments are external to us. They’re the tools; they facilitate. We, as performers, are communicating something through the instrument, but I really think that without listening absolutely nothing happens. Listening is the plane at which all of these points can coalesce. I like this idea of music being evidence of our desire to connect the dots … to draw connections and just make sense of life.

Conrad Tao - BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ
  • Brantley Gutierrez
  • Conrad Tao
MF: Speaking of listening being a crucial part of performance, what are your thoughts on working with Iris?

CT: I’m excited. I’ve got one person in the band who I know, and I have known [Iris artistic director] Michael Stern for [a long time]. The first time I met him was 15 years ago at the Aspen Music Festival. I was playing in a violin section, and he was conducting. I have known Michael over the years, but we’ve never played together in this capacity, either with me as a pianist or a composer. So it’s really exciting to do that. It’s also a little nerve-wracking, especially as a composer, to work with a new conductor, but I’m hoping to dive in with openness.

Conrad Tao performs with Iris Orchestra at the Germantown Performing Arts Center Saturday, January 25th, 7:30-9:30 p.m. ($45-$70); and at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Hohenberg Auditorium, Sunday, January 26th, 3-5 p.m. ($40)

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Across the Borderline: Gaby Moreno at the Buckman

Posted By on Mon, Jan 13, 2020 at 12:23 PM

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Music crosses borders more easily than bodies do. That’s why the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” grooves to a Cuban beat, why The Beatles’ early records are chock-full of covers of songs by Motown and Sun Studio artists. “It’s a cliché, but music really is the universal language,” says Guatemalan-born singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno on a recent phone call. We spoke in advance of her concert at the Buckman Performing Arts Center at St. Mary’s, Friday, January 17th.


She would know. The genre-bending performer can sing in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese — and her music is tinged with the sounds of blues, jazz, soul, and R&B. Though Moreno is quick to point out that her singing in French is just phonetic — she doesn’t speak the language — she is nonetheless a poster child for the many ways music acts as a bridge.


When she was a child, Moreno’s parents took her to New York to see Broadway musicals and opera. While she was there, she discovered the blues. “That changed everything for me,” Moreno says. She heard Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and, she says, “I just went down the rabbit hole after that.” Now, years later, music has continued to be a catalyst for connections for Moreno. On her most recent album, 2019’s ¡Spangled!, Moreno collaborated with famed arranger and composer Van Dyke Parks and with Jackson Browne on the album’s opener, a cover of Ry Cooder’s “Across the Borderline.”


Moreno agrees when I suggest that, in 2019, opening an album with “Across the Borderline,” a song co-written by Memphis’ Jim Dickinson, is making an indisputably concrete statement: “Oh, yes. Absolutely. We completely wanted to make that statement,” she says. “That’s a song that [Van Dyke Parks] introduced to me. I hadn’t heard it before, and he actually played on that song that was recorded in the 1980s for the movie The Border with Jack Nicholson. It’s a song written by Ry Cooder and John Hiatt and Jim Dickinson. It’s just such a beautiful song. It’s heartbreaking, and it really speaks to the times that we are living in. I thought it would be a good statement to make, especially because I’m an immigrant and it’s a topic that concerns me.” She adds, “It’s something that, for me, will never completely go away. … I definitely feel a sense of responsibility, especially being Guatemalan.


“I want to be a voice for those who do not have one. And be a voice of hope, really. That’s all I want to do.”

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On ¡Spangled!, Moreno is indubitably a voice for hope. Her voice, brimming over with warmth and strength, is lifted up by Parks’ lush arrangements. The album is a cornucopia of sounds and influences, tonally an example of what can be achieved through a mixture of diverse ideas. On “The Immigrants,” Moreno sings “America, remember Ellis Island. We all came here to take the plunge.” The lyrics are bolstered by triumphant instrumentation, giving the song a hopeful air.


“I’m so honored to have worked with him,” Moreno says of Parks, her collaborator on ¡Spangled!, who has worked with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Joanna Newsom, U2, Rufus Wainwright, and others. “We found each other. We met about 11 years ago in L.A. through mutual friends, musicians. We were both part of this small, intimate concert. We talked about the love that we have for music from Latin America, and just kind of naturally he asked me to send him something.

“Then he sent me ideas; I sent him mine. And we ended up with this collection of 10 songs. But this was like 10 years ago. I’ve been saying that this record has been 10 years in the making.”


The decade-in-the-making collaboration with Parks — and with Jackson Browne, who sings on “Across the Borderline” — was made possible, in part, by connections Moreno made while living in L.A. “When I was living in Guatemala, I got offered a record contract, and the label was in Los Angeles, and that’s why I gravitated toward that city,” Moreno explains. “But I was always thinking of New York for some reason. I really loved musicals.” Still, Moreno explains, “I love being [in L.A.]; I think it’s the right place for me to be, not just because of the music that I do, but also the community that thrives there. It’s one that I’m so blessed to be a part of.”

When I ask Moreno how she decides in what language to sing, she makes it clear it’s more a natural impulse than an intellectual decision. “It’s just whatever comes to my head immediately. If there’s a lyric that comes to me in Spanish, then I’ll know the rest of the song will be in Spanish,” Moreno explains. “Having said that, I have written songs that are in Spanglish — so I’ll start a verse in English, and then I’ll just throw another verse in Spanish in there. I’ve been doing that more and more lately, and I find that a bit amusing,” she continues. “I am a huge fan of French music and Portuguese music — and just music in general,” Moreno continues. “I don’t care if they’re singing to me in whatever language. If the music speaks to me, that’s everything.”


And Moreno certainly has an ongoing dialogue with the music. It speaks to her, and her music, over the course of six albums and in a multitude of styles, continues to speak to listeners. “At first, it took me a little bit to find my own voice and find my sound, but I feel like at the end it’s just good music. I don’t like to have all these labels,” Moreno says. “Whether it’s blues, jazz, soul or folk, Americana, country, in a way they are all kind of related. I’ve had fun playing with all of them and seeing the possibility.


“I’ve been singing since I was 7 years old. That’s been my main thing,” Moreno remembers. “But when I picked up a guitar, I knew that I could write my own things, that I could accompany myself live. That was very liberating, and I loved it. I just love having that instrument as a tool for my songwriting,” Moreno says. “And also I really enjoy performing live with it.”


She’ll get a chance to Friday, when the lush arrangements of ¡Spangled! are reimagined for a more intimate, though still lively performance by her four-piece band. Moreno’s touring band, with whom she’s performed for some time, includes bass, drums, and two guitars, with one of those guitars played by Moreno. She says that though the band will touch on ¡Spangled!, much of the performance will be from 2016’s Illusión, an album with a more-stripped down quartet sound steeped in blues and jazz. “Pale Bright Lights,” a swing jazz meets honky-tonk jam, seems especially well-suited to performance as a four-piece band.

Strictly speaking, the upcoming concert at the Buckman won’t be Moreno’s first time singing in Memphis, though it will be her first official concert here. “I was invited to sing at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. It was just an acoustic concert,” Moreno says of her first time in the Bluff City, several years ago. This Friday’s concert, though, will mark the first performance with her full band in Memphis. “You’ll get the full show,” she says.


An Evening with Gaby Moreno at the Buckman Performing Arts Center at St. Mary’s, Friday, January 17th, 8 p.m. $35

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Memphis Tourism Rolls Out New Music Hub Website

Posted By on Sat, Jan 11, 2020 at 3:51 PM

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Memphis is a music city's music city, as people who live here know very well. The challenge is reminding others of the embarrassment of riches we have. While many foundations have come and gone to do just that, locals, especially musicians whose livelihood depends on a hopping night life, have hoped for a more concerted promotional effort to help build profile. As of yesterday, we've taken a major step in the right direction.

Memphis Tourism, aka The Memphis Tourism Educational Foundation, has recently been taking a more pro-active role in promoting the city, and now they can boast a full fledged web presence promoting the city's music. Their website at www.memphistravel.com took on a whole new dimension yesterday with the unveiling of its Music Hub pages.

The foundation's music specialist, Jayne Ellen White, seemed undeniably proud of this new web portal and its various features. "The About Memphis Music section, and the Memphis Music Resources pages are my favorite sections to explore and see all of the assets the Memphis music industry has to offer including Memphis labels, studios, music venues, and more–– but the "What Is Your Memphis Music Vibe?" quiz is really fun too."
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On a more pragmatic level, prospective visitors and music fans can find a diverse, up-to-date guide to the many events and venues where music can be found. There's even a link to inquire about booking Memphis artists. What's not to love?

This follows on the heels of some major on-the-ground success stories that the foundation has had on the music front of late. They've had a hand in some very high-profile events, including the recent Jam in the Van series, the Liverpool & Memphis exchange program, and the Memphis Masters, a limited video series celebrating various albums from the iconic Stax Records label.

If you make a virtual visit to their page, give yourself some time. It's easy to get lost in the many layers of images, information, and music, especially once you discover their AllMemphisMusic (AMM) Radio

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Elvis Turns 85: Rare Show by TCB Band & Other Events Mark King's Birthday

Posted By on Tue, Jan 7, 2020 at 6:02 PM

PHOTO COURTESY GRACELAND/ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES
  • Photo Courtesy Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises
Last year, the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's triumphant first residency in Las Vegas was memorialized with an extravagant 11-CD box set, Elvis: Live 1969, and it was a revelation. While "Las Vegas Elvis" suggests a rather kitschy affair to some, these recordings (remixed by Memphis' own Matt Ross-Spang) revealed a crack band, a quintet fired up by new arrangements, embellished with a small orchestra and background singers, with a new lease on rock history, post-'68 Comeback. It was the first iteration of the soon-to-be-legendary TCB Band.

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It's such an intense listening experience, one can't help imagining hearing it live. Astoundingly, in that embarrassment of riches that Memphians know well, the classic version of the TCB Band will be in our midst this week, when guitarist James Burton, pianist Glen Hardin and drummer Ronnie Tutt appear together at the Soundstage at Graceland on January 11.

Described as "a special concert experience featuring amazing on-screen performances from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll," the footage will have the distinction of being backed live on stage by the TCB Band, plus Terry Blackwood & the Imperials, who also sang with the King in that first residency in Las Vegas. Then, none other than Priscilla Presley and long-term Memphis Mafia member Jerry Schilling will make appearances.

It's all part of Graceland's grand celebration of what would have been Presley's 85th birthday. With such a focus on the passage of time, one can't help reflecting on the fact that Elvis was 34 when the iconic Las Vegas concerts began: seemingly washed up to the youth-fixated rockers, but in truth more full of energy and wit than he had been for many years previous.

Now, with a generous segment of the TCB Band still alive and picking, such concerns with time seem meaningless. See them now before time rears its ugly head again.

Other grand events for this special anniversary "birth week" include, on the morning of January 8th (the King's birthday), the Elvis Birthday Proclamation Ceremony on Graceland's North Lawn. Of course there will be a birthday cake.

Later, The Auction at Graceland will feature artifacts authenticated by Graceland Authenticated. (All the items in the auction will be offered from third-party collectors and none of the items included in the auction will come from the Graceland Archives).

Then, on January 10th, the full dynamic range of Elvis' repertoire can be heard in force, when The Memphis Symphony Orchestra brings their annual Elvis Pops Concert home to the Graceland Soundstage. Musician and singer Terry Mike Jeffrey and his band will join the Memphis Symphony Orchestra for a birthday salute that will "take you from Memphis to Las Vegas to Hawaii all in one evening."  It's a fitting tribute to the King, as we imagine how he might be celebrating this milestone if things had worked out differently.

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Music On Film: Two Inspiring Documentaries To Curl Up With This Week

Posted By on Sat, Dec 28, 2019 at 12:22 PM

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If "a picture's worth a thousand words," as they say, then the value of 24 frames per second is incalculable. Two albums recently featured in the pages of the Memphis Flyer also feature accompanying films about their respective artists, and fans of either album will want to seek these out to enhance their appreciation of the music.

First up, we have the little gem tucked in the sleeve of Fat Possum's recent all-star tribute to Mose Allison, If You're Going to the City. The two LP set itself is a gem, but it wasn't until I'd listened to it a few times that I stumbled across the accompanying DVD, Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues.

This is a BBC documentary dating from 2005, directed by Paul Bernays, with production values in keeping with previous documentaries Bernays has made, such as 1959 : The Year That Changed Jazz. For this, he was able to journey with Allison to Tippo, Mississippi, where Allison was born, to speak with members of his family and gather images of the local family legacy, including the gas station once run by Allison's father.

"He's the only man that ever got rich in Tippo. The only man," says Victor Buchanan, speaking of Mose's father, his former employer, who owned more than one business and much real estate in the area.

The film, having been made over a decade before Allison's death, is perhaps the last great record of the man revisiting his past. "Growing up in Tippo, Mississippi, I probably heard more varieties of music than any other place I could have grown up...the service station was where one of the jukeboxes was," Allison comments early in the film, as we see him strolling down back roads in his unassuming leisure wear. Now that he is gone, such moments are laden with significance.

This being a U.K. production, there is a lot of commentary by British artists, which is quite in keeping with Allison's influence on the history of rock. Pete Townshend recalls, "When I first heard Mose Allison, I thought he was black, because he sounded so authentically from the Delta." The Who's version of "Young Man Blues," of course, helped bring Allison to a new, global audience.
"He's the premier lyricist in jazz, you might say, because he's put all this wit and commentary into it," says Elvis Costello, whose collaboration with Amy Allison, Mose's daughter, is one of the highlights of the tribute album.

But there is more than reminiscing in this film. The bulk of it captures nearly complete performances of Allison in the kinds of clubs where he spent most of his life. If tribute albums can at times lose sight of the ostensible honoree in the white hot glare of celebrity guest artists, this one at least offers the corrective: a world-class time capsule from a time when Mose walked among us.

Speaking of world class, Kirk Whalum's new album, Humanité, is also being co-released with a documentary, sold or streamed separately from the audio release. Titled Humanité: The Beloved Community, the film is clearly striving to be more than a promotional clip for the new album, a visionary labor of love by Whalum, who consciously created the album as a gathering of players from around the world.

From the start, Whalum's friend, film director and producer Jim Hanon, was involved. This film was clearly a labor of love for him as well, as he functions as co-producer, director of photography, editor and director all at once. And to be sure, the photography here is delectable, a perfect compliment to the extremely polished, cosmopolitan jazz-pop of the music.

The first thing one notices about the music, in the context of the film, is that it's not particularly Southern. It's disorienting because the opening imagery is primarily of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with Whalum's voice-over recalling his youth in Memphis churches. The soundtrack, unlike so many documentaries with similar images and narration, is not drawn from iconic African American spirituals, but is rather a largely instrumental track echoing the easy sing-song soulfulness of Bob Marley, with all the edges smoothed out. Ultimately, a chorus joins in with the words "We shall overcome," but it's not the same old protest song we know.

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As the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that this disorientation is partly the point. As Whalum journeys through the world, cameraman in tow, he's trying to show common threads in the struggles of the poorest people in the world, including Memphis. And the touches of world music that inflect all the album's tracks become, in essence, that common thread. Ultimately, the team offer a creative approach to the film's stated goal of channeling "the ethos of civil rights in a raw and compassionate tale of harmony in a divisive world."

As it turns out, Whalum's recollections of growing up in churches where his father preached, including one that was little more than a shack, are just the beginning. He's not the only musician here to evoke the development of a life dedicated to music and faith: in every locale across the globe where he records, the struggles and triumphs of the musicians he works with are highlighted. And they are beautifully illustrated by Hanon's roving eye.

If this is the season when the world's demands are put on hold, a time when we can strive to see the bigger picture and the common threads, what could be better than augmenting one's love of music with these two in-depth glimpses of the stories behind the the art? From Mose Allison's combination of homespun wisdom and rapier wit, to the more open-ended search for community that leads Kirk Whalum across the world, these films will help you start the new year in a more philosophical, thoughtful place. 

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Very Spaceface New Year’s Eve

Posted By on Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 8:01 AM

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I caught up with Jake Ingalls of psychedelic party-rock groups Spaceface and The Flaming Lips to ask him about Spaceface’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Young Avenue Deli. The singer/guitarist/sampler/songwriter took a break from vocal warm ups in the studio to tell me about the holiday concert, the band’s new album (halfway done), and their recently released Christmas single.

“We’re finishing up a new record,” Ingalls says over the phone, presumably tucked away in a corner of the studio. “We have six or seven songs pretty much done.” The group’s 2017 offering, Sun Kids, was an explosion of flower child optimism and rainbow rock — and one of this music writer’s favorite records of the year. It even features Julien Baker on the track “Timeshare.” The new record promises to be something different, even if the psychedelic bent is familiar to longtime fans.

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Forced into new territory by the departure of their drummer, Ingalls says he’s begun incorporating samples into the music. “I’m always learning from the Lips,” Ingalls says, explaining that he takes inspiration from the elder group, if not direct input. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” he adds, explaining that using samples is something he’s wanted to try for some time but felt hesitant to commit to doing. Ingalls adds that the inspiration is about “not feeling dismayed, finding a workaround.”

Besides sampled drums and meticulously layered acoustic guitar strums, Ingalls is using field recordings of particle beam dumps supplied by research scientists. The samples, Ingalls says, sound like something right out of Star Wars.


“This summer, I got to go to the Large Hadron Collider,” Ingalls recalls excitedly. He visited the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, where the singer from Spaceface met scientists who study space. Some of them, Ingalls says, also sing in a group called Piña Collider.

So the new Spaceface song “Piña Collider” is named after the only premier scientist-staffed cover band, Ingalls explains. “It’s an ode to the hardworking scientists at CERN.” Spaceface released the single “Panoramic View” in October 2019, and the audience at the New Year’s Eve concert may be among some of the first to see and hear the new songs performed live.

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Spaceface is no stranger to holiday performances. “We just put out a Christmas single,” Ingalls says. The song, titled “Christmas Party (Nice & Naughty),” is a holiday-themed party jam and has been gaining some traction on streaming services. “It’s kind of funny that the metric for success for an unsigned band these days is if you get put on a Spotify editor’s playlist,” Ingalls adds, happily noting that “Christmas Party (Nice & Naughty)” made its way onto one such playlist.


“I feel lucky that in Memphis we’ve become this holiday act,” Ingalls says, referencing the band’s yearly Halloween and New Year’s Eve concerts, which have grown to be full-blown spectacles. Spaceface, a group already well known for their over-the-top live shows, confetti, costumed dancers, and mind-bending light shows, always ups the ante for the holiday concerts. Ingalls says, in all seriousness, that fans can expect to see a “double-necked guitar with lasers on it.” The band, he says, will play dance-inducing rave songs, and Ingalls will spin a DJ set after the band plays.

“We love playing there,” Ingalls says of Young Avenue Deli, a Midtown venue that has seen more than its fair share of alternative rock acts, both local and touring. Think Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill, Black Lips, Native Blood, HEELS, and Amy LaVere. “We’re excited to break in the new sound system.”


Spaceface performs at Young Avenue Deli, Tuesday, December 31st, at 9 p.m. $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Merry Christmas, Baby: HEELS Xmas Variety Show

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2019 at 3:28 PM

Brennan Whalen (left) and Josh McLane of HEELS - HOLLY JEE
  • Holly Jee
  • Brennan Whalen (left) and Josh McLane of HEELS


“It’s got that ‘we’re putting on a show’ feel,” says Memphis comedian and drummer/vocalist for Memphis band HEELS, Josh McLane, of the Hi Tone’s small room. It's the site for HEELS’ upcoming Christmas variety show on Saturday, December 21st. “That’s why I like this room so much. The Christmas show is a prime example of that.”


McLane says he owes his wife, Cara McLane, for the inspiration to transform the Hi Tone’s small room into a winter wonderland for a Christmas-themed extravaganza. Earlier this year, Cara threw him a birthday party in the music venue. “She made the entire room up with pink and streamers, and she got a 4-foot, blow-up unicorn,” McLane says.


“I’m a sentimental sucker,” McLane explains. “I’m a fan of old-school television, and with Brennan [Whalen] and I pushing, not so much a comedy gig, but having a lot of banter, I was like, ‘Why don’t we do something that nobody would do in Memphis? The variety show.’”


And a variety show seems an ideal task for the duo of McLane and HEELS guitarist/vocalist Brennan Whalen. The band, with its frequent lyrical nods to Memphis wrasslin’, comedic stage banter, and seemingly uncategorizable performances, is primed to take on such a challenge. But how did McLane and Whalen become, well, HEELS?


“When we started … I think a lot of people took from a lot of the Goner bands that nobody was talking. There was no banter anymore, it was just ‘Let’s get just up there and blow our rock down your face and kick ya in the teeth and be done with it,’ which is a great thing,” McLane says of HEELS’ transformation into a part-band, part-comedy-duo musical amalgamation. “I’ve been doing stand-up forever, and Brennan’s adorable and really funny, and nobody knows about it. So we made a rule that you’re not allowed to talk on stage unless it’s into the microphone. No matter what it is. 'My string broke.' 'Sorry, I fucked that song up.' anything,” McLane goes on to explain. “The whole rule of the band is we can be funny in between songs all we want; we’d never write funny songs.”

RONNIE LEWIS
  • Ronnie Lewis


Okay, fair enough, but why Christmas, one might wonder. What about trucker hats, tattoos, love songs about a box of porn found in the woods, and a bombastic stage persona adds up to spell Christmas variety show?

“We’re both big suckers,” McLane says, explaining that the band’s veneer of sweat and sarcasm hides two tender teddy bear hearts. “So I wanted to bring in a bunch of people we like playing with. We don’t really play with bands a whole lot. When we book our own shows, we usually do stand-up [comedians] because it’s easier for me to pay stand-ups.”

“I love Christmas, so we brought our friends out. I’m using all the characters in our little world,” McLane says of the variety show. “Mitchell Manley shows up as Santa because we wanted to invite Santa to a Christmas party.” McLane excitedly continues, saying, “Ben Ricketts is doing a song. Kitty Dearing is doing a song. Brando from Wailing Banshees is doing a tune,” McLane continues, reeling off a list of names that includes Michaela Caitlin from Rosey, as well as Mitchell Manley and Josh Stevens from Glorious Abhor, a Memphis group for whom specially themed shows are old hat.

Glorious Abhor hosts the Memphis’ Last Waltz events every Thanksgiving — when the psychrock band recruits other Bluff City players to help recreate Martin Scorsese’s famous documentary about The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz. HEELS has joined Glorious Abhor for past Memphis’ Last Waltz shows, and Whalen does a mean version of Neil Young’s “Helpless.”

McLane continues: “Jason Pulley from Tape Deck and a million other bands [including Glorious Abhor] is playing. I’ve been in bands with Jason since Mrs. Fletcher, so he’ll always be my piano player, even though I haven’t been in a band with him for 10 years.”


“You just want to be Johnny Carson who gets to play in the band,” McLane’s wife told him, and the comedian and musician assents that she’s right, asking, “Why just play regular shows if you can bend the rules?”


HEELS Xmas Variety Show at Hi Tone, Saturday, December 21st, 9 p.m.


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Thursday, December 12, 2019

"Last Night in Memphis" — Lance Carpenter's Musical Homage to St. Jude

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2019 at 12:59 PM

Lance Carpenter - KRISTIN BARLOWE
  • Kristin Barlowe
  • Lance Carpenter

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The Memphis skyline was the initial inspiration for "Last Night in Memphis," says singer-songwriter Lance Carpenter.


He was driving over the Harahan Bridge from his home in Ozark, Arkansas to Nashville one night and “looking out over the skyline of Memphis” when the song title came to mind, Carpenter says.

The lines, “Last night in Memphis I walked the streets of Beale. I saw the ghost of Elvis,” came to him, but those weren’t the right words. And they were too close to "Walking in Memphis."

“I thought, ‘That’s not the way to write that song. I can never write it that way,’” Carpenter says. “I didn’t think much of it. I wrote it on my phone at a gas station. I thought, ‘I’ll live with it for a little while. Eventually, God will tell me what to do with that song.’”

That was in early 2012.

“I made several trips back and forth to Arkansas. Every time I would look at the skyline and try to find something unique to help me find out how to write the song.”

Something happened on his next trip. “God said, ‘Look left.’”

Carpenter saw St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the idea for the song hit him: “Tonight is some kid’s last night in Memphis because they’re cured.”

“I just thought, ‘That’s the way to write it. Now I have to figure out how to write it or who to write it with.”

Carpenter, who at that point didn’t have a publishing deal, had never set foot in St. Jude, but he knew the bands Alabama and Lonestar are big supporters of the hospital. Over the next year he met Randy Owen from Alabama and Richie McDonald with Lonestar, but he and McDonald clicked.

They first met at the Listening Room Cafe in Nashville. Carpenter told McDonald about the song. “He instantly was affected by the idea. He loved it.”

Carpenter didn’t even have music for the song at that point. They met at McDonald’s house a couple of weeks later. “We finished it in a day and a half and did a work tape of it.”

The song talks about a fictitious little girl named Annabelle, who is a patient at St. Jude. She walks down the hall saying goodbye to fellow patients because it’s her last night in Memphis. Listeners might think she’s dying, but they discover Annabelle actually is cured and she’s going home. “We wanted it to be happy. Not a sad song. Give hope to the kids.”

Carpenter originally hoped Lonestar would record the song because he didn’t think he could give it the “promotional status” the band could.

That was in 2016. “I was like, ‘I just don’t think this is the right time yet to do it.’ I didn’t have the following yet. I thought, ‘God is going to tell us when.'”

In 2018, Carpenter’s publicist asked him, “Hey, have you ever been to St. Jude and done a tour? We’re taking a group tour as a publishing company.”

After boarding the bus to take them from Nashville to St. Jude, Carpenter thought, “I feel like I’ve been on it before.”

He saw a pillow with singer Kelsea Ballerini’s name embroidered on it. It was her tour bus. Carpenter was co-writer with Ballerini on the song “Love Me You Like You Mean It." He felt that was a good sign as he made his way to St. Jude for the first time.

He was impressed and touched during his St. Jude visit, “being with family and kids and walking the halls and seeing smiles and hope on their faces.”

Carpenter played his work tape of the song for Jackie Proffitt with St. Jude. She told him, “My God. You wrote this without ever being there?”

Proffitt told him St. Jude would like to use the song, Carpenter says.

Later that year, Carpenter, who was recording music for an EP, made a demo of the song to see how it sounds. He loved the way it turned out, so he asked McDonald to sing harmony on it.

McDonald agreed. “He said, ‘Man, this is incredible.’”

But Carpenter still didn’t feel it was time to release the song.

Shortly after, Carpenter recorded a duet with Krystal Keith, daughter of singer Toby Keith, on Carpenter’s song, "Anyone Else," and he was signed to Toby’s label, “Show Dog.”


He released "Last Night in Memphis" November 22, 2019.

"The song definitely affects a lot of people," Carpenter says. “They reach out and tell me their story. Their son was cured. In remission. I’ve kept in touch with families. Texted on the phone. They touch your heart when you meet someone who’s gone through something so tragic and have a big smile on their face. I admire what St. Jude does. Cancer sucks and I don’t think any kid should have their childhood taken away because of cancer.”

Carpenter’s slogan is “The more success I have, the more significant I can be in the lives of others.”

“This song will allow me to do that.”

McDonald, who is a St. Jude Partner in Hope, says he and Carpenter plan to go to St. Jude and perform the song live in 2020.

They’ve agreed to donate 50 percent of the net proceeds from the song to St. Jude.

“This is one of those songs that will continually give.”


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An Inspired Weekend of Beethoven With Iris & The Zukerman Trio

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2019 at 7:45 AM

The Zukerman Trio
  • The Zukerman Trio
This past weekend's performance by the Iris Orchestra, complemented by the Zukerman Trio, was highly anticipated all around. As noted in October, the entire current season is loaded with significance on the most personal, local, and global levels. As the orchestra's conductor, Michael Stern, said then, "We have a rather happy confluence of anniversaries. It's the 20th anniversary of Iris...And we're celebrating 250 years of Beethoven...There's also the anniversary of my father, Isaac Stern, who would have been 100."

Last Saturday and Sunday's offerings, the second weekend of Iris' season, resonated with all of those milestones, perhaps most powerfully with the centenary of Isaac Stern. As Michael Stern noted to the audience at the Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC)  Saturday night, his father was at first skeptical of this somewhat unorthodox ensemble when it was launched, asking, as Michael put it, "What is my son doing in Tennessee?" 
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  • Michael Allen
  • Michael Stern

With bittersweet emotion, he then recalled how his father warmed to the idea of Iris, an orchestra of world-class players who converge in Memphis on a regular basis, inviting notable guest performers as each season unfolds. The most telling moment was when the father asked the son, "When are you going to invite me?"

That was in 2001, and arrangements were made to feature Isaac Stern, backed by Iris, that December. Everything changed when the legendary violinist died in September. As his son described it, his memory was instead honored in Memphis when Iris backed Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax, who had recorded with the elder Stern as a quartet.

Michael Stern also noted the special connection between his father and the namesake of the trio hosted this week, Pinchas Zukerman. Hearing Zukerman play at the age of nine in Israel, the elder Stern promptly facilitated his enrollment at The Juilliard School, and the rest is history: Zukerman is now one of the most celebrated violinists of our time. 

However, Saturday's concert began with the Iris Orchestra on its own. And from the first notes of Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, it was made clear what a treasure to Memphis the orchestra really is. It was a fittingly grandiose opening salvo, but it was the next piece, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, which really showed the orchestra's full range. This symphony in particular, full of coordinated, rhythmic hits in sync with the timpani, can truly be said to "rock," and can show off an orchestra's power. But it was in the quieter moments that Iris displayed its sensitivity. The subtle moments revealed an organic lightness of touch that was all the more moving by way of contrast. Moments featuring pizzicato cello patterns felt like an unfolding flower. 
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  • Phillip Van Zandt
  • Iris Orchestra

These strengths were all the more apparent once the Zukerman Trio took the stage to perform the Concerto for Violin, Cello & Piano, Op.56 (Triple Concerto).  Amanda Forsyth, cello, and Angela Cheng, piano, looked resplendent, and Forsyth was an especially striking presence on the cellist's pedestal. Zukerman was in more reserved attire, but his gravitas was commanding.

The orchestra's lightness of touch provided a perfect setting for the more commanding tonalities of the trio, with Zukerman's almost Klezmer-like sonority, Cheng's rhythmic, rolling piano arpeggios, and Forsyth's melodic passages in the cello's higher registers being especially captivating.

On the next day, audiences were able to hear the trio, as Stern facetiously noted in his introductory remarks, "without the pesky orchestra" behind them. And that too was a revelation. The intimacy of the Brooks Museum of Art, where the featured artists of Iris' season always perform on Sundays, was an ideal setting for appreciating the trio's almost telepathic connection in even the most rubato passages of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio.

As a weekend exclusively devoted to the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, it was a revelation. This December 17th will mark the 249th year since his birth, and next year the world will celebrate his 250th anniversary. As Stern noted in October, "Nobody needs to rescue him from obscurity," but his very omnipresence can numb us to the rare beauty and innovation of his works. Yet here in Memphis, where we can boast the unique collective project of the Iris Orchestra, it was all made new again, as the players leapt once more unto the breach, breathing life into some of the greatest music ever conceived.

The Iris Orchestra, conducted by Michael Stern, will next perform on January 25 (GPAC) and 26 (Brooks Museum), 2020, featuring a specially commissioned work by Conrad Tao, "Spoonfuls," celebrating Memphis' bicentennial, performed with the composer on piano.

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Friday, December 6, 2019

Steve Gorman, Once Of Black Crowes, Brings The Rock, Country, & Soul

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 2:51 PM

Trigger Hippy - SCOTT WILLS
  • Scott Wills
  • Trigger Hippy
He might live in Nashville these days, but Memphis has always played an out-sized role in the life of former Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman.

A 54-year-old rock veteran, Gorman will be in town on December 20, when his latest group Trigger Hippy play Growlers. The rock and country soul four-piece have recently released their second album ‘Full Circle And Then Some,’ five years after their first and with two personnel changes to boot. Bassist and long-time collaborator Nick Gorvik has remained, while guitarist Ed Jurdi and singer Amber Woodhouse are the more recent editions.

Groman - who released band memoir Hard To Handle: The Life and Death of the Crowes with acclaimed music critic Steven Hyden earlier this year - says he’s feeling good about the latest combination.

“I’m not staring at the clock, but I am 54 years old,” Gorman says. “I don’t have another band idea. If one happens, that’s great - but in my mind, and as far as something I’m looking at and trying to build out with an eye towards an actual future, this is the band for me. So, for me, let’s take it easy, let’s slow down and make sure we do it right.”

Back to the role of Memphis for Gorman, who - for the first time - won’t be part of the Black Crowes when they tour next year.

Jeff Dunn, son of the legendary Booker T. and The MGs bassist, was the Black Crowes sound man in the 1990s, while Luther Dickinson, son of legendary producer Jim, played with the group the following decade. The first time that a pan of [Jim Neely’s Interstate] BBQ spaghetti was bought on the tour bus was in Memphis too, he recalls. “That was a life-changer,” he says.

From the personal impact of Big Star’s Alex Chilton on the Black Crowes to his de facto fanship of the Memphis Grizzlies - and plenty more, Gorman opened up to the Memphis Flyer in a wide-ranging conversation recently.


Memphis Flyer: I recently read a quote where you mention that, for the first time in your career, you’ve helped create an album that you didn’t feel the need to change upon its completion. How does that feel?

Steve Gorman: It’s wonderful to get finished with a project and realize … that it was the perfect amount of time because the record is exactly what we wanted to do. When I said that [in The East Nashvillian], I was specifically referring to parts I played or little things. I don’t have regrets on albums that are over-the-top, I look back on anything and go ‘I could have done better there, I pushed that turn around a little, I was too dramatic on that chorus’.

When I said it, I was really referring to that - but this album, across the board, because it ended up taking as long as it did, it wasn’t a lot of work - it just took a long time to do the work. Having that long to sit with every track, you know what I mean? There were things that we did and then, six months later, Nick or Ed or me went ‘you know what’s bugging me?’ We could go right back back in and address it. That ended up feeling like a real luxury. That said, I certainly don’t think the next one will be that long of a process.
Be it with the Black Crowes or other projects, you’ve been taking bands on the road for more than 30 years now. Is there a fresh excitement to do it with Trigger Hippy this year?

SG: The last time Trigger Hippy played, it was the summer of 2015. To go four years between gigs, flying this flag, it was necessary [and] made a lot of sense, but it made that much more exciting to go out and do some dates. On top of that, everyone does get on very well. It’s a very nice, very copacetic group of personalities. That was a big part of deciding to ring it back around this time, too. We went in just jamming, me and Nick [and] knew that was a great fit, [but] we were not in a hurry to fill out the rest of the pieces because it was far more important to me to find the right people across the board.

Nashville, like Memphis, you can throw a rock and hit a great musician, you know what I mean? That’s the easy part. Then it’s like, what about the third or fourth time you have a long conversation with them? How many red flags are flying? Do you really want to get into a band with that guy? Do you think your understanding of the word commitment is the same as theirs? There’s all those kinds of questions that, a lot of times, bands don’t think about at all, or if they do, they just think about it on a surface level. With Trigger Hippy, for this album, we knew we had a bunch of great songs, and loved the way the album was shaping up, so it was important to just slow down and make sure it’s right. I’d rather move really slowly, all aligned in the same direction.

In many respects, your time with the Black Crowes will always be the defining aspect of your creative career - and life. What was it like reflecting on the arc of the band, in your book, all these years later?

I had processed and kinda made sense of all it before I started writing the book. The book was not a journey … it wasn’t a question of ‘I’m going to wade into this forest and see if I can come out the other side.’ I’d already done that. It was really just that I had a story I wanted to tell. There were very few surprises and very few moments that were actually trying on me, emotionally, to recount. That said, it was an exhausting process. It was mentally taxing.

Memphis is obviously a city with a colossal amount of music history. Creatively, what does the city mean to you?

You’re talking to a guy whose first hit song was [a cover of] an Otis Redding song. For the glory years of Black Crowes [in the early 90s], our sound man was Duck Dunn’s son, Jeff Dunn. Duck came to a lot of shows - we got to know Duck and June. We had cook-outs at Duck Dunn’s house in Florida. We’d run through his polaroids from a lot of those sessions that no one else has ever seen. Memphis is just one of the home plates, it’s a church in the world of, not just the Black Crowes and very much Trigger Hippy, but anyone who is a fan of rock and roll music. Memphis holds a place that is equal to anywhere else you want to name. It’s just that simple.

[The one thing] the Robinson brothers and I were equally obsessed with was the band Big Star. We opened for Alex Chilton once - it was one of the biggest nights of our lives at that point. Alex stepped into our dressing room. It was December 8, 1987 and we played the Cotton Club in Atlanta. We played our forty-minute set and he poked his head [into the dressing room] and said ‘how old are you guys?’ We were all just looking at him. In our minds, it might as well have been John Lennon standing there. I think Chris said ‘umm, well I’m 22, he’s 20 and I’m 19.’ He was kinda flustered. Alex just said ‘well, y’all got a good little band - keep it up’ and he walked off. You might as well have injected pure heroin into our veins. We were like ‘holy shit’. There’s nothing better in the world than that.

Beyond music, you have a healthy reputation for your knowledge - and opinion - on sport as a former sports radio host. What’s your thoughts on the Memphis sporting scene right now?

[Since ending the ‘Steve Gorman Sports!’ Show last year], I literally stopped paying attention to sports on a major level, I needed a detox - and one area I’ve not jumped back into is college sports. I know there’s been some trouble over there with the recruiting [with James Wiseman] and the football team looks good, but I do pay attention to professional sports.

My biggest problem with the Memphis Grizzlies - and I’m going to make a lot of enemies saying this - is that they didn’t come to Nashville. I would kill for an NBA team right now. For all of the ‘boom city’ [stuff with Nashville], we don’t have an NBA team and until we do, I’ll never say we’re the chosen place. I come over to Memphis to see Grizzlies games every year, my son and I, two or three times a year since forever. I’m a de facto Grizzlies fan, but that’s as far as it goes. If you want to talk about Memphis State University back in the old days, and they had Keith Lee playing basketball in the early 80s, we can go there if we need to, for sure.

Trigger Hippy play Growlers on Friday December 20. Doors open at 7:00 pm, show after 8:00 pm. $18.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Maria Muldaur Makes Special Memphis Appearance For Protect Our Aquifer

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 3:25 PM

Maria Muldaur
  • Maria Muldaur
Maria Muldaur is one of those perennial luminaries in the music world that we all too easily take for granted. But even though her biggest hit, "Midnight At the Oasis," came out in 1973, she has consistently created a body of quality, genre-spanning work that has one foot in the past and one eye on the future. It's no small feat, then, that the annual Acoustic Sunday Live! series was able to add her to its roster this year, along with several other Americana talents. As with last year's show, all proceeds benefit the nonprofit Protect Our Aquifer, dedicated to warding off threats to the pristine quality of this city's natural underground water supply. I caught up with Muldaur to see what she's been up to lately, and it turns out that it's been quite a lot.

Memphis Flyer: Is your stop in Memphis part of a tour, or is this a one-off thing?

Maria Muldaur: First of all, I'm always doing a lot of shows. I haven't slowed down at all. I started the year with a Grammy nomination for my 41st album, and did a couple of tours this year. In the fall I was awarded the Americana Music Association's Trailblazer Award. And so in that sense I am doing a lot of shows, most of the time, but my stop in Memphis is to do something very special: a benefit for the aquifer. And then I'll be doing some Christmas shows with an amazing guitarist named John Jorgenson. I'm looking forward to that. And that closes out the year for me.

MF: I know the progressive community in Memphis appreciates you lending your voice to this cause. You're no stranger to wedding your musical talent to a political vision.

MM: Well, first of all, environmental causes shouldn't be just for progressive communities. These different environmental crises and situations we're facing are things that concern all of us, as a human, or even an animal, on the planet. These are universal issues. But I've always really cared about the environment, and about social issues.

In 2008, I put out an album called Yes We Can!. After making almost forty albums, I was searching for a theme for the next one, and I thought about all the issues that were weighing on my heart and mind at the time. So I came up with the idea of doing a protest album. But I quickly realized after a few days that I had never really liked "protest music" that much when it was first coming out in the early 60s. I totally believed in the causes they were singing about, but the music itself seemed a little dreary and overly serious for me.

So over a couple of days, the idea morphed into doing a pro-peace album. And I used a lot of songs that soul and R&B artists had written and recorded in the late 60s and early 70s. So I switched my focus a little bit and put together some wonderful songs from that era, including three Bob Dylan songs, and also songs by Marvin Gaye and so forth. And I formed something called the Women's Voices For Peace Choir which included Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Jane Fonda, Odetta, Phoebe Snow, Holly Near, Jenni Muldaur, and others. I gathered up a bunch of women who had raised their voices in the cause of peace and social justice and the environment. Whether it was through singing or another medium. And anyway, we all got together and did that album. I always like to do songs that address those issues. As long as they're full of spirit and good music. I guess I would call it protest music to dance to.

MF: And the song "Yes We Can, Can" is a perfect example of that. Was that recorded in New Orleans?

MM: No, it was recorded here in the San Francisco Bay Area. But I have recorded many albums in New Orleans, including my last one, which was my 41st album. That was called Don't You Feel My Leg, and it was a tribute to a wonderful blues woman from New Orleans named Blue Lu Barker. And I did that with a band of all-star, killer players from down there. My music is very informed by New Orleans music. So I have a special connection with that. But the "Yes We Can, Can" song was written by Allen Toussaint, one of New Orleans' greatest musicians and songwriters, so you weren't far off on that one. We lost a good one when he left us.

I also did the song "War." And three Bob Dylan songs, "Masters of War," "License to Kill," and "John Brown." To think that he wrote two of those when he was but 21 years old is kind of amazing.

MF: The song "John Brown" was fairly obscure — something he recorded under the name Blind Boy Grunt, for the Broadside Ballads album back in 1963.

MM: Possibly, but I actually first heard it sung by the Staple Singers. I'm a huge fan of the Staple Singers. In fact, I've known Mavis and the family since 1962, before they even broke out. I used to go hear them in a little church in New Jersey. I grew up in New York City. So Mavis and I go way back. And of course Pops Staples sang that one. And it's just a riveting, really powerful, poignant song. I wanted to definitely include that one.

MF: It sounds like you're somewhat familiar with the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

MM: I don't know too many of the details, but the minute I heard a little bit about it, I said 'Sign me on.' It's one thing when people make stupid choices without knowing any better, but now we do know better and it's just sad that we even have to make an issue of it. It should be, 'Oh, is this threatening to cause damage to our water supply? Oh, of course then we won't do it!'

MF: Who will you be performing with in your Memphis show?

MM: Well, this is part of Bruce Newman's benefit that he does every year, Acoustic Sunday Live! He does a benefit every year in the form of a hootenanny. It's what we used to call 'open mic' back in the 60s. So I'm gonna be onstage with all of the other performers, including Ruthie Foster, who I dearly love. She's just wonderful. Guy Davis, a wonderful guitarist. And Don Flemons. And also Doug MacLeod. So we'll all be sitting onstage together, each doing a couple of songs. And they all play guitar and can back themselves up, but I explained to Bruce that I don't play guitar. So I'm bringing my piano player from my band, the Red Hot Bluesiana band.

Blues is where I've comfortably settled after taking a 56-year odyssey through various forms of American roots music. My keyboard player for over 26 years, Chris Barnes, is going to back me up, because I need someone to accompany me. And I think there'll be some nice interaction between us artists. There may be some duets and this and that. It's a very informal and intimate format, really, and I'm really looking forward to it.

I think we'll have fun because we're all kind of musically interrelated in the styles of music we do. It ought to be a fun and creative evening. And I just hope that the folks of Memphis will come out to support this really good cause. It's something that affects all of them. Besides raising money, we have to raise awareness about this and make people ever more aware and ever more vigilant about issues that are directly impacting the health of their environment.

I don't care what party you support, we all have to breathe and we all have to have clean air and water. That these kind of things should even be an issue means we've got a long way to go to catch up with a lot of the rest of the world. The rest of the world is waking up and placing more of a priority on cleaning up the environment and rehabilitating it. We need to do everything we can not to further damage the environment.

I love Memphis, the people, the culture, the music, not to mention the food of Memphis. And I actually built in an extra day on my trip so I could spend a whole day at the wonderful blues museum down there. And it'll be a special treat to be up on the stage with my brothers and sisters. I hope everyone will turn out and make it a success. Amen!

Maria Muldaur appears at Acoustic Sunday Live! The Concert to Protect Our Aquifer, with Ruthie Foster, Dom Flemons, Guy Davis, and Doug MacLeod. Sunday, December 8th, First Congregational Church, 7 p.m. Proceeds go to Protect Our Aquifer. To purchase tickets, go to acousticsundaylive.eventive.org.

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Exclusive Video Premiere: Memphis Masters Series Celebrates the Bar-Kays

Posted By on Fri, Nov 29, 2019 at 12:22 PM

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With so many classic albums of 1969 celebrating their half-century mark this year, it would be easy for music fans to sleep on an especially stellar LP reissued with extra care this month — and that would be a shame. The Bar-Kays' Gotta Groove, originally released on Volt Records, a Stax subsidiary, was a watershed moment for Stax, for the group themselves, and for all things funky.

Besides helping to launch an approach to a harder-hitting funk/rock that would come to define the 1970s, the album was the result of the sheer tenacity and invention that kept Stax going. The label, having learned in late 1967 that Atlantic Records claimed ownership of the entire Stax catalog up to that point, was being reborn in a flurry of era-defining releases, celebrated by the double Soul Explosion album, which contained several hits generated by the newly restructured label in 1968.  Meanwhile, while the label lost one its greatest stars in the plane crash that claimed Otis Redding's life, the Bar-Kays, who started out as the label's youngest band in 1966, and enjoyed immediate success with their Soulfinger LP, lost most of their members in the same crash. But James Alexander and Ben Cauley, Jr., the only surviving Bar-Kays, forged ahead, and Gotta Groove was their shot across the bow in the name of rebirth, reinvention and survival.

This year, Craft Recordings launched a painstakingly-crafted reissue series, celebrating many of the works that marked the rebirth of Stax in the 1968-69 period. The select titles have been cut from their original analog tapes by Jeff Powell at Memphis’ Take Out Vinyl and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing, making this a labor of love by some world-class local establishments.

Jeff Powell - JD REAGER
  • JD Reager
  • Jeff Powell
Along with the records, Craft has created The Memphis Masters—a limited video series celebrating the reissued albums and showcasing Stax's enduring musical legacy, as well as its influence on Memphis, TN. Created in partnership with Memphis Record Pressing and Memphis Tourism, and directed by Andrew Trent Fleming of TheFilmJerk Media, the multi-part series was shot in several locations around the city, including Sam Phillips Recording Service, Royal Studios and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Each episode—available on YouTube—will revolve around an album or collection from a singular artist or group on Stax’s roster, starting with Melting Pot from Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Other titles covered include Home, from husband-and-wife songwriting duo Delaney & Bonnie, Who’s Making Love from Johnnie Taylor and Victim of the Joke?...An Opera from acclaimed producer and songwriter David Porter. The Staple Singers will also be honored with a deluxe, seven-LP box set, Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection, available in early 2020. The majority of the single albums were recently released on November 1st, while LPs from Porter and Taylor will be reissued on December 6th.
The Bar-Kays today
  • The Bar-Kays today

And today, The Memphis Flyer is proud to announce Episode Two in The Memphis Masters series, celebrating Gotta Groove by The Bar-Kays, It's a rare deep dive into the making of an era-defining work, with commentary by artists young and old on its lasting influence. Watch here to see how the album was created, literally from the ashes of the tragedy that claimed the lives of so many, and amidst the turmoil surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then, get out to Record Store Day and get yourself a copy.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Switchblade Kid’s Very Dreamy Christmas

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 12:40 PM

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

“So have I got a holiday music story for you,” Harry Koniditsiotis tells me excitedly. The singer and sometimes-guitarist for Memphis mainstays, post-punk and noise-pop purveyors The Switchblade Kid, then pitches me a story about his upcoming concert at Two Rivers Bookstore. Halfway into the pitch, Koniditsiotis has already mentioned Edward Scissorhands, Twin Peaks, and old-school Christmas decorations — lots of them. For anyone wondering what the connection is (as I was), well, Koniditsiotis is turning the Cooper-Young-area bookstore into a winter wonderland for a one-off noise-rock concert on Sunday, December 1st.

Besides collecting comic books, toys, records, and music gear, Koniditsiotis is also an avid collector of vintage Christmas blow molds. “I love the ’60s and ’70s Christmas blow molds,” Koniditsiotis says. “The big plastic statues of Christmas characters. And I love all the dreaminess and pretty lights of Christmas.

“There is just something so dreamy about Christmas lights that I’ve loved since I was a child,” Koniditsiotis continues. “When I was in my 20s, I would drive through the Christmas areas of New Orleans listening to the Twin Peaks soundtrack,” Koniditsiotis recollects. “I’m sure David Lynch loves Christmas just because of the lights.”

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

And what setting could be better for the dreamy concert than a science-fiction and fantasy bookstore, where Koniditsiotis vintage decorations will cozy up with out-of-print book covers featuring elves and magical animals? “I thought that since Two Rivers has been having a lot of noise shows, it would be a great environment to bring all that stuff out and give it that holiday look,” Koniditsiotis says. “You know, give it that dreamy/dreary thing Christmas has going on. Also I wanted to do it before I put all the stuff up at my house because I didn’t want to have to put it all up and take it down again.”


Joining Koniditsiotis at the show will be current Switchblade Kid drummer Patrick Mulhearn and longtime friend Tim Kitchens from the Angel Sluts and Hardaway. “We are going to do actual [Switchblade Kid] songs,” Koniditsiotis says. Still, though The Switchblade Kid’s ouvre will make up the bulk of the concert’s material, Koniditsiotis and his crew plan to experiment with improvisation, creating warm soundscapes with feedback and noise, not unlike the warm, warbly fog a rum-and-Cognac-spiked eggnog might produce. “I love the challenge of playing with other people and throwing them into the deep end. At this point, I feel like pretty much everything I do is billed as a Switchblade Kid show, whether it’s just me or there’s a backing band,” Koniditsiotis says. “I love the element of surprise, and lately, the solo shows have gone so well, this is kind of an extension of the solo shows.”

Koniditsiotis says he has experimented with incorporating holiday lights into live shows before, but previous attempts were full-band endeavors. This time, the singer aims to capture the chaos of the holidays with a more stripped-down lineup, many more lights and Christmas characters, and improvised noise-rock elements. “I’m looking at it more like an art piece show rather than just a regular rock show,” Koniditsiotis says.


The singer remembers seeing Edward Scissorhands for the first time and being taken with Kim’s father, a man obsessed with decorating for the holidays. “The first time I saw that, I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be that guy!’ I want to be the guy on the roof stapling fake snow and singing,” Koniditsiotis says. “And I want to put that to music.”

Both Edward Scissorhands and Twin Peaks are fitting touchstones for Koniditsiotis’ plan to throw a holiday-themed concert in a bookstore specializing in genre fiction. Both Tim Burton’s film and David Lynch’s television series center around dreamlike, fairy-tale towns steeped in nostalgia, and in both Scissorhands and Twin Peaks, the nostalgia is underpinned by an element of danger, a manic happiness or coziness that threatens to unravel. Though Koniditsiotis’ concert (hopefully) won’t feature any knife-fingered people or murderers, the juxtaposition of improvised feedback loops with friendly holiday lights will hew true to the dangerously dreamy films that inspired a younger Koniditsiotis.

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

“Whatever you celebrate or do, I think everyone just enjoys that pretty dreaminess, whether you say ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas’ or whatever,” Koniditsiotis says. “I don’t know if I’ll be singing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ but it’s entirely possible,” Koniditsiotis says. “If there’s one show you’re gonna drop acid at, this might be the one.”


The Switchblade Kid: All the Pretty Lights and Dreamy Sounds at Two Rivers Bookstore, Sunday, December 1st, 5 p.m. Free, but donations are accepted.

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

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