Monday, October 1, 2018

Gonerfest 15: Saturday & Sunday

Posted By on Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 1:03 PM

For this time-worn punter, nearly 12 hours of straight rocking out can seem intimidating, but in hindsight my Goner-rific day zipped by without a hitch. The daytime action, of course, is at Murphy's Bar. Typically, I make straight for the outdoor stage, but the eerie pop sounds of Pscience stopped me in my tracks. Blending what could be classic big beat sixties tunes with odd harmonics and noise, this group, who only just had their first show earlier this month, has certainly hit upon a good psonic compound in their New Orleans-based laboratory.
Negro Terror - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Negro Terror
Then Negro Terror appeared outside, and we heard a whole other kind of eerie. Their chords of doom revving up, the trio was perhaps the most cathartic band of the festival, as they directly addressed the ugly elephants in the room: recent stress over the the rise of fascist groups, and violence in the city. Singer Omar Higgins started with a dedication to Phil Trenary, the beloved president of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce who was recently murdered. "Phil came to our shows. He understood the message," said Higgins, before launching into raging hardcore riffage. He also reflected the general rage over the recent shooting of Martavious Banks by Memphis police officers, with the anthem, "All Cops Are Bastards (ACAB)." Higgins then dedicated their cover of Detain's "Capital Punishment" to rapists, and quoted General Patton on the importance of killing Nazis. "Nazis!" Higgins called out, his hand raised in salute, until it became a thumbs-down. "Raus!!"

Exek - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Exek
One longtime Gonerfest-goer commented later, "It's been good to hear so many political songs at this Gonerfest. They usually have such apolitical punk, and the apathy always bugged me."

But those in search of escape rather than confrontation didn't have to wait long, for soon Australia's Exek took the stage with a subtler sound. They betrayed no emotion as they earnestly led the crowd down a hypnotic spiral, sounding like the love child of Stereolab and early Wire. Propelling it all was a powerful bass and drums that at times recalled Sly and Robbie, sans any hint of white reggae. A fascinating blend.

Exek - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Exek

Then, even the most sedentary fans piled in to the bar's smokey interior for one of the festival's most anticipated shows, A Weirdo From Memphis (AWFM), backed up by the Unapologetic crew. DJ'd platters and a live band meshed seamlessly as AWFM proved his freestyle mettle, laced with satisfying expletives that caught the mood perfectly.

AWFM with fellow Unapologetics and Crockett Hall (far left). - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • AWFM with fellow Unapologetics and Crockett Hall (far left).

Then it was back outside to hear the afternoon's closer, Robyn Hitchcock. Given that all of his previous Memphis appearances, going back to 1990, were solo, this show, featuring a crack East Nashville band that included Wilco's Pat Sansone on bass, arrived with heightened expectations. And they delivered, as the combo never missed a beat amid the jangling 6- and 12-string guitars, vocal harmonies, and driving Brit-pop beats. As with his old bands, the Soft Boys and the Egyptians, Hitchcock's surreal lyrics cruised effortlessly above the delicate, yet pulsing, rock sounds.

Recalling his first Memphis show, 28 years ago, Hitchcock then tried to imagine what the world would be that many years hence. "No doubt they'll be releasing the iPhone 21 around then. I may be gone, but I'll live on in an app, so my ego can have the last laugh. You'll be able to have the app compose songs exactly as I would. Or you'll be able to mix and match songwriters, so it'll compose in the style of, say, me, Tom Petty, and Joni Mitchell."

The fading day echoed with many such flights of verbal fancy, in a wide-ranging set that included the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You" and the Egyptians' "Element of LIght" and "Listening to the Higsons." They echoed up and down Madison Avenue as darkness fell, and all the little Goners readied themselves for the night.

Robyn Hitchcock - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Robyn Hitchcock

NOTS as portrayed on Gonerfest 15 poster. - GONER
  • Goner
  • NOTS as portrayed on Gonerfest 15 poster.

Not being quite ready for a long night myself, and being a teetotalling tea head, I supped some strong brew and victuals, missing out on Oh Boland and Amyl & the Sniffers, alas. Arriving at the Hi Tone as the NOTS played, I took some considerable hometown pride in the audience's rave reaction to what the Goner program guide calls the city's "synth/guitar squiggle punkers." They did not disappoint, though it was tough to wedge into the packed room.

And then came a blast from the past, the fabulous Neckbones, once rightly hailed as rock's saviors some 20 years ago. Newly reunited, they were in true form as they pummeled the crowd with what can only be called maximum R&B, old school rock-and-roll grooves amped up to 11, attacked with genuine ferocity by the Oxford, MS, quartet. Tyler Keith channeled a Southern preacher with his between-song rants, and drummer Forrest Hewes yelled out his gratitude for the audience's frenzy in flurries of swear words.

Neckbones - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Neckbones

After that, Melbourne's Deaf Wish, in the unenviable position of following the Neckbones, rose to the occasion with their thorny post-rock rock. There was plenty of noise and wiry, dissonant guitar, but the driving rhythms rocked hard, befitting a band just wrapping up a month long tour. They seemed elated to be ending their U.S. venture on such a Goner note. 
Carbonas - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Carbonas
And so the night's endgame began, as the Carbonas, who gained much love in their prime over a decade ago, took the stage in their one-night-only, Goner-fueled reunion. Time seemed meaningless as they immediately regained all the chemistry that dissipated when they broke up. Though drummer Dave Rahn's shirt implored us to "Kill the Carbonas For Rock and Roll," it was the group that killed it on this night. A friend and neighbor confessed between songs that "this group helped me survive grad school," and even this fan from back in the day was not disappointed. Nor was the still-packed house, all sporting happy faces as they filed out. 
R.L. Boyce
  • R.L. Boyce

For some, the night raged on, of course. Eric Oblivian, not content to co-manage the festival, play with the Oblivians, and oversee the Murphy's show with a child on his back, played Saturday night's/Sunday morning's after party with his old outfit, the AAAA New Memphis Legs. And then came Sunday at the Cooper-Young gazebo, featuring R.L. Boyce and Lightnin' Malcom, as festival-goers bid adieu to their comrades until next year (?), or made plans to convene at Bar DKDC that night, to the groovy, basement-dredged sounds of Memphis' own Hot Tub Eric. Farewell, Gonerfest 15, and many happy returns!

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Gonerfest 15: Friday

Posted By on Sat, Sep 29, 2018 at 2:06 PM

Day two of Gonerfest 15, the annual celebration of punk, garage, and other off-kilter forms of rock, took place in two locations: at Memphis Made Brewing, during the afternoon hours, and Hi Tone on Cleveland late into the night. The daylong festivities featured a songwriter session from Harlan T. Bobo, psych-blues-punk from Chicken Snake, the dark and deranged disco extravaganza of Cobra Man, and a breakout performance from indie-pop band En Attendant Anna. 
Gonerbraü by Memphis Made
  • Gonerbraü by Memphis Made


Memphis Made produced a limited cream ale, the Gonerbraü, to commemorate this year’s festival. The light, fizzy beer seems like the best bet to help get into the Gonerfest spirit, so, Gonerbraü in hand, I weave my way through the crowd to the small stage on the back patio of the Cooper-Young-area brewery and catch Harlan T. Bobo’s acoustic set.

“I wonder if there are many people who get engaged at Gonerfest,” Bobo muses. “Or get divorced at Gonerfest — or at least because of Gonerfest.” The crowd laughs, and Bobo begins playing “I’m Your Man,” a love song from his 2007 album of the same name. Gone is the demented showman who, backed up by a full band, closed out the festivities sometime after 2 a.m. the night before, and in his place is an indulgent father, a humorist, and a day-drinking, guitar-wielding teller of truths.

Bobo jokingly tries to calm a crying child hiding beneath the wooden stairs, tossing a rolled-up T-shirt down to the kid in an attempt to distract him. Then he brings guitarist Jeff “Bunny” Dutton onstage to add commentary to a song Bobo wrote about Dutton, who so ably backed him up on lead guitar the night before. “He don’t drink water and he don’t eat. He lives off alcohol and nicotine,” Bobo sings as Bunny smiles and nods, unable to contest his bandleader’s claims. The crowd laughs, and the kid beneath the stairs is busying himself dragging a plastic chain around. Later, the same little boy will run haphazardly up and down the loading ramp in front of the venue, narrowly avoiding spilling my Gonerbraü.

Out front, New Orleans-based Chicken Snake take the stage, ripping into a swampy, blues-inspired punk set. The drummer sports a goth-glam mane as she attacks the drums with a frenzy. Sneering, strutting guitar licks call to mind the pioneering work of The Sonics or Roky Erickson. “Baby, don’t you give me them walkin’ blues,” the singer implores.
Cobra Man - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Cobra Man

Later, back at the Hi Tone, L.A. synth duo Cobra Man blends seemingly disparate elements of punk and disco, crafting a spooky dance atmosphere. Their sequined jackets flash in the green lights. During the rising energy of the repeated line, “I want it all,” audience members begin crowd surfing. By the time the singer begins chanting, “I’ve been living in hell with you,” Goner fans are taking turns clambering aboard a large wooden plank and riding it like a surf board across the waves of outstretched hands. The lights change to red, and the rhythm shifts into cut time. The Goner fans dance, revelers in a disco of the damned. Cobra Man’s set is wild and dramatic, and I hope the next band can top it.

French indie-rockers En Attendant Ana follow the depraved rave that is Cobra Man, and far from being overshadowed by the L.A. disco duo, the Parisian quintet make their set look easy. Their Gonerfest performance marks the end of a two-and-half-week U.S. tour in support of the band’s debut album Lost and Found, out on Trouble in Mind. Their tour has taken them through Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston, landing them on the main stage at the Hi Tone. They begin, and a wave of jangly guitars and trumpet blasts washes over the crowd, prompting an immediate reaction, as the collected bodies begin to move to the beat. The young indie-rockers ride the wave, all clean guitars, synths, and breathy, urgent vocals, before crashing to a halt.  
Margaux Bouchaudon of En Attendant Ana - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Margaux Bouchaudon of En Attendant Ana


A smile tugs at the corners of singer and guitarist Margoux Bouchaudon’s lips as the crowd cheers their support. Grinning, she ducks her head as lead guitarist Romain Meaulard introduces the next tune in a thick French accent. En Attendant Ana’s music sounds like euphoria feels. It’s bright and optimistic, like the ideal soundtrack to kick off a road trip. The clean guitars, trumpet, and dreamy rhythms call to mind Belle & Sebastian or Camera Obscura, but there’s a punk urgency that adds an edge the Scottish indie-pop legends lack. The Parisian quintet’s set seems to pass in an instant of pop nirvana. “This could be the end, oh, this could be the end,” Bouchadon sings on “This Could Be,” backed up by Meaulard and by vocalist/guitarist/trumpet player Camille Fréchou. The song is insistent and anthemic, and I don’t want the lyrics to be true. I hate for the set to end.

I catch three or four songs by New York-based Surfbort, a pure punk explosion, all alcohol-sweat and frantic guitar wrapped in a revealing bodysuit. They’re Gonerfest gold, but I can’t get En Attendant Ana out of my head, so I make tracks toward the merchandise room to find the band and ask them about their tour. I find Fréchou and Bouchadon, who are game for a quick interview.

“We’ve been [in Memphis] for six or seven hours, but tomorrow we stay all day long,” Bouchaudon says. She’s wearing a flowing red coat she bought on tour, and she and Fréchou lean close and speak into my recorder. “This will be the first town in which we can relax and visit. We want to go to Sun Records,” Bouchaudon says. “I would like to go to Graceland,” Camille Fréchou adds, “But I don’t think we are going to.” “Non,” Bouchaudon interjects emphatically. “I will go to Graceland, and you will come with me.” The nearly three-weeks-long tour marks the band’s first time in the U.S. “Every day was like, ‘I’m going to move here,’” says Fréchou, who assures me that Americans have been “really friendly.”
En Attendant Ana - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • En Attendant Ana

En Attendant Ana recorded an EP to tape two years ago, releasing a limited run on cassette, which caught the attention of Canadian label Nominal Records. “[They] asked us if we were okay to release the EP on vinyl, and we said ‘Yes!’” Bouchaudon says, emphasizing the affirmative. The group then recorded their full-length debut, Lost and Found, which they released on Trouble in Mind. After a successful tour with label-mates (and fellow Gonerfest 15 performers) Ethers and a day and a night spent being “the best tourists ever,” Bouchaudon says the band will “go back to France, [and] go back to work.” She says they will spend some time playing in the West of France before getting down to the business of a follow up to Lost and Found. “And then we’ll have some time to make new songs,” she says. “And a new record. And another, and another,” Fréchou chimes in. Personally, I hope Fréchou is right. After only one concert and a brief conversation in the alley behind the Hi Tone, I’m already looking forward to the band’s next release and U.S. tour. Gonerfest 16, maybe? We can only hope.
Oblivians - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Oblivians

I make it back inside in time to catch The Oblivians, Gonerfest royalty, who deliver their raunchy garage-rock excellence to a packed mass of sweaty music fans. After two days of nearly nonstop music, I settle in to enjoy the show. The rhythm section is tight and powerful. The guitar tones are crunchy and snarling, as befits a late-night set helmed by Jack Oblivian, star of Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy’s psychedelic punk odyssey, The Sore Losers, screening Sunday afternoon at Studio on the Square. With two days of Gonerfest memories fresh in my mind, I relax, thankful for the 15-year-old festival that brings so many diverse and distant musical experimenters to the Bluff City.

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Gonerfest 15: Thursday

Posted By on Fri, Sep 28, 2018 at 3:12 PM

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A week ago, the man in the chainmail and shimmering cape would have been broiling in the Memphis heat, but rain swept in on cooler winds, and the first night of Gonerfest 15 is just cool enough for the assembled punks, rockers, and music fans to break out their denim jackets — or, in some cases, chainmail.

The emcee takes the Hi-Tone stage just after 9 p.m., wearing sunglasses and leather, and says a few kind words about Chris Beck, Goner’s “Muddy Spear,” who recently passed away from brain cancer. Members of the crowd shouted that they wished Beck could be there, displaying a communal spirit central to the festival.

Music fans come from the world over for Gonerfest, and there always seems to be a happy reunion happening in the parking lot or by the bathrooms. Then the emcee kicks off the night’s festivities, introducing the “King of the Gras,” who “tours in a cage on wheels … just take it  — Bênní!” Then the man in the chainmail hood smiles and steps onstage and up to a stack of keyboards and synthesizers. And he conjures magic.
BÊNNÍ, master of analog synths - ALLISON GREEN
  • Allison Green
  • BÊNNÍ, master of analog synths
Bênní’s set is dark and hypnotic, but there’s a touch of humor in his deadpan stage patter delivery as he sets up each synthesized swirl of sound. He speaks (and sings) into a talk box, explaining that the diamond man character was a vision that haunted him until he put it in a song: “This is who I am — a diamond man.”

The New Orleans-based musician plays an instrumental song in 6/8 time. It sounds at once sinister and rising, like an old-school video game theme played on a church organ at the bottom of a well. “I haven’t played that one in a while,” Bênní says casually. His delivery is wry, as if to nudge the audience and say, “You know we’re just getting started, right?”

Between sets, the garage-rock true believers slip outside to smoke cigarettes or scarf down barbecue from a smoker pulled behind an RV. Cincinnati-based Bummer’s Eve take the stage after a quick turnover, summoning the crowds with violently strummed guitar. The band is raucous and bopping, fuzzed-out punk. They crash into a noise breakdown, a wall of feedback and distortion, before plunging seamlessly back into the rhythm of the song. Where Bênní’s set pulsed, Bummer’s Eve shakes and rattles. Their set seemed to end far too soon.

The Hi Tone, already crowded for opening sets on a Thursday night, swells with the addition of late arrivals. There is a constant sense of rising energy throughout the night, a shared knowledge that this is only the first night of the festival. Conversations buzz and grow louder as the ever-growing mounds of beer cans in the trash continue to rise, and people fight to be heard over each other and the ringing in their ears. People dance and bop, and Memphis-based Aquarian Blood and Tampa party-rockers Gino & the Goons continue to escalate the energy. Aquarian Blood wails, frenetically running chromatic scales up their fret boards, urging the party to a wilder pitch.

Aquarian Blood
  • Aquarian Blood

Aquarian Blood build a bomb, and Gino & the Goons light the fuse. They’re party punk, solid songs punctuated by grunts of “ooh!” and “uh!” The Florida-based band plays on as the singer shouts from onstage, “You’re not dancing, we’re not stopping!” Then the rhythm changes, and the singer rips into a chorus of “hip-hip-hypnotic” before everything crashes to a stop with a squall of feedback. Lydia Lunch Retrovirus is up next.

Lydia Lunch, backed by a band so tight they seem telepathic, is the penultimate performer on the opening night of Gonerfest. Dressed in black and laughing, she warns the crowd of her band’s “nasty,” “raunchy” ways. Her guitarist strikes a deft balance between crunchy, palm-muted riffs and wild, dissonant squeals of noise. The rhythm section is locked in, propelling the performance forward through moments of angry, brittle complexity and explosive breakdowns. Red and green lights seem to drip from the Hi Tone sign above the stage. Lunch’s voice floats above it all, singing, screaming, and crooning. Local singer and multi-instrumentalist Luke White leans in to shout in my ear, “She’s pretty badass” before admiring the guitar and bass tones.

Lydia Lunch - JASMINE HIRST
  • Jasmine Hirst
  • Lydia Lunch

White is waiting to go onstage with Harlan T. Bobo, who is closing out night one of the festival. Lunch’s vocals rise, casting a dark spell, while the band pulses with barely restrained energy and she chants, “There’s something witchy in the air.” The music rises to a final crescendo, and Lunch, a master performer, relinquishes the stage with a shouted, “Start the disco!”

Harlan T. Bobo’s set is magnetic, hypnotic. He looks like a man possessed, his eyes going wide as he sings, his smile like Conrad Veidt’s in The Man Who Laughs. He has the strangely compelling charisma of someone who hears holy voices.

His band crafts a dark atmosphere, making them a perfect bookend to Bênní’s darkly filmic opening set, a complement to the eclectic lineup. Frank McLallen’s bass lines are expert, a framework on which to hang the keyboard swells and whine of a slide guitar.

Bobo’s second song is “Human,” the simmering opening track from his new A History of Violence. The song builds to an electric instrumental ending, setting a fevered energy level that the band maintains for several songs, before Bobo pulls out a harmonica and eases up on the gas slightly, giving the captive audience a moment to catch its breath.

It’s the briefest of moments, though, before Bobo starts up a swinging, country-inflected song. It’s an inspired performance, and a fitting end to the opening day of the festival.

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Love Story

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 5:18 PM

Chad Latham and Malak Moustafa
  • Chad Latham and Malak Moustafa

Chad Latham is gearing up for a fundraiser to help save his fiance’s life.

The benefit, which will feature stand-up comedy and music Oct. 6th at the Hi-Tone, will be held in addition to a GoFundMe for Malak Moustafa, who has hip dysplasia.

If they aren’t able to raise the money for Moustafa’s surgery, she will be immobile for the rest of her life, Latham says.

They need $10,000.

They’ve only received $165 so far.

“She’s a sixth grade teacher at Ridgeway Middle,” Latham says. “The first girl I ever dated. We reconnected later in life.”

They met when they were in the eighth grade. Moustafa is Muslim and Latham is Christian. Latham remembers her dad answering when he called her on the phone. “Because of different cultures and strict parents she was not allowed to date so naturally the very next day I received a note that explained she couldn’t date and that she then had to break up with me.”

Over the years, Latham and Moustafa messaged each other from time to time on Facebook. Latham, who is divorced, told her he had a daughter. Moustafa, a widow, was living in Memphis, Egypt, with her two sons.

In 2015, they began regularly corresponding on Facebook. And never stopped.

Moustafa told him she wanted to move back to Memphis. She wanted her sons “to grow up in a better culture.”

Latham, who finally was able to get Moustafa and her boys to Memphis, proposed to her at the airport after she arrived in June 2016. “The boys were happy knowing they were going to have a daddy for once in their life.”

He knew Moustafa had hip dysplasia, but she said it “didn’t really hold her back from anything growing up.”

But her condition got worse after she gave birth to her boys, he says. “That pretty much kicked it in high gear for advancement in deterioration.”

Over the years, Moustafa “walked wrong” because of her condition, Latham says. “One leg is smaller than the other from lack of muscle mass and not being able to put her normal walking weight on it. Because with hip dysplasia there is nothing to connect the leg bone to the pelvic region. She tries to hide it the best she can, but you can only do that so well and so long. It’s embarrassing and painful for her.”

Moustafa has to have a full bone replacement because of the “grinding down from over the years of walking. It has also caused major scoliosis mainly on her spine. If she doesn't have this surgery as soon as possible, she will be immobile for the rest of her life. Her spine can't stand to get any worse and it kills her every step she takes. I literally have to help massage her back every night to try to find some type of comfort.”

Moustafa doesn’t take any pain pills. “She’s seen first hand what that can do to people. Plus, she’s a fighter. She doesn’t ask anyone for anything.”

Latham decided to contact everyone he knows and who knows her to help him “do something nice for a great soul that deserves to not feel the pain that she feels everyday. “

He wants her “to know what it feels like to walk normal again.”

The fundraiser will include performances from two bands - No Love for Lions and Ego Slip - and MC King Farroah and stand-up comedian Josh McLane.

“I've put my heart into this because she is the love of my life and she deserves it,,” Latham says.

To give to the GoFundMe, go to:

https://www.facebook.com/events/492612724540208/?ti=cl https://www.gofundme.com/Help-Malak


Friday, September 21, 2018

Dancing Highlife in Memphis, Obruni Style

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Where did you go from there?

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

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

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

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

The main goal was to create a space conducive to the fellows, students, and staff hanging out. Community, after all, is what MMI is about, says Isom. "It's not just for 'leaders' or career musicians. Even those who go on to other things are part of the creative economy."
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Tonight will be filled with music (and much good conversation, one imagines), not to mention food and drink. There will be performances by many of MMI's Music Engagement Teaching Fellows, partner school ensembles, MMI Works youth and more (see below for the line-up).

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

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

UPSTAIRS | INSIDE
Perfecting Gifts, Inc. 5:30 PM

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Memphis Music Hall of Fame Announces 2018 Inductees

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

Eddie Floyd
  • Eddie Floyd

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Repercussions: Aftermath of Continuum Festival Continues To Inspire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Listen Up: Wine Witch

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

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

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

He was in the eighth grade at the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Brown just “played it cool.”

“We were cool,” Shull says.

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

“I knew he was good,” Shull says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks like you got back from the mountains."

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

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


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

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

“You couldn’t sing,” Brown says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Brings Cool Outdoor Music Galore

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

nightlife_levittshell_p3a8415.jpg
On good nights, the cool air of autumn is already whistling in. And other tones are floating in the air as well, with the fall outdoor concert season, already underway, really hitting its stride this weekend. Not only do we still have the Delta Fair & Music Festival, this weekend will see the launch of the fall season's River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheater and the Levitt Shell Orion Free Music Concert Series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

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

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

classic_pimpin_2.jpg
The distance between Orange Mound and Midtown is mere blocks, but the Railgarten appearance by Memphis rap duo 8Ball & MJG, slated to take place Sunday, September 2, is more of a metaphysical journey. Just two weeks ago, Premro “8Ball” Smith and Marlon Jermaine Goodwin celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of their nine-song studio debut Comin’ Out Hard, a funky, bluesy hip hop masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flyer Exclusive: First Look at New Johnny Cash Statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, the other guy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Jose Feliciano Plays Unannounced Memphis Gig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Gillian Welch Wows GPAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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