Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Bonnaroo 2019, The Coolest On Record, Is Still Red Hot

Posted By on Tue, Jun 18, 2019 at 5:47 PM

The Avett Brothers put on a lively show on the Which Stage Friday afternoon. - BIANCA PHILLIPS
  • Bianca Phillips
  • The Avett Brothers put on a lively show on the Which Stage Friday afternoon.
The 18th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was a sell-out this year, thanks to a varied lineup featuring everything from jam band Phish to rapper Cardi B. Although most of the larger acts this year limited their photographers to large-name media outlets, the Flyer did get into the photo pits for the sax-playing DJ Griz, emo rapper Juice WRLD, folk rockers The Avett Brothers, songwriting legend John Prine, and — most importantly — comedy rap trio The Lonely Island. They put on a hilarious 12:30 a.m. show Sunday morning that was part-comedy skit/part-rap show, complete with a Justin Timberlake puppet singing "Dick in a Box." Take a gander at our slideshow below for more...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ceremony To Celebrate Johnny Cash Statue By Mike McCarthy

Posted By on Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 6:50 PM

Mike McCarthy with his clay sculpture of Johnny Cash, before casting. - DAN BALL
  • Dan Ball
  • Mike McCarthy with his clay sculpture of Johnny Cash, before casting.
Wednesday, June 12 at 5:00, Memphis will finally behold the culmination of years of planning and painstaking work, with the unveiling of a statue of a young Johnny Cash. The larger-than-life likeness at 999 South Cooper will stand only a few feet from where Cash played his first paid performance at Galloway Church with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant in December, 1954.

I spoke with Mike McCarthy, better known for his underground comics and films, about the process of making his original vision a reality, and his experience with working in the new medium of sculpted clay.

Memphis Flyer: How did this all come about? Many people don't even realize that Johnny Cash played at what was then called Galloway Church.

Mike McCarthy:  So seven years ago, I thought to myself, 'Cooper-Young needs a Johnny Cash statue. And Galloway Church needs to be saved.' Then I met this strange cast of characters that took me on this journey that, seven years later, amounts to a statue.  I'm extremely happy. And maybe I'm amazed, to quote Paul McCartney. Because I can't believe that it actually happened. These things take time. At one point, we were in a moment of crisis where, if I didn't do the sculpture myself, it wasn't gonna happen. And frankly it was an honor and a privilege, and I would have done it for free. Many people don't even know I did it. They think I'm affiliated with it, but they don't understand that I actually sculpted it. At the end of the conversation, they're like 'Wait a second, you actually sculpted it?'

I have said that Memphis is under-statued. And it's becoming more under-statued. So why don't we replace these statues or create new statues that are rockabilly-oriented, blues-oriented, 70s rock-oriented. Create an entire milieu of Memphis music history with statues, so American Dream Safari, say, can drive by that. We need more statues of historical musical legends in Memphis. That's why I helped start Legacy Memphis. Then, when I became the sculptor, I stepped down from that nonprofit. From the beginning, our motto was 'Every neighborhood has a hero.'

You usually work in other media. How did you rise to the challenge of sculpting?

Thirty-five years ago, I had a sculpture class at the [then] Academy of Art with John McIntire, and you can read about him in Robert Gordon's It Came From Memphis. After I read that book, it all made sense to me, the beauty of the man who is John McIntire. When you move here from Mississippi to do your thing, you'd be best off just being quiet and soaking it all in, and go ahead and do whatever someone like McIntire says.

So I had that experience, and I knew I was up to the task of this project. I sculpted it in oil-based clay in my living room for about ten months. It was here in my house over Christmas. We strung Christmas lights on it. For me, having a piece of public artwork that supersedes anything I thought I would ever be able to accomplish, after coming from film and comics and other underground things I've done, is very gratifying.

I tend to be very philosophical about these things. Having something that was spawned out of my living room, that my kids were around and watched take shape, and can still go see after I'm gone, is wonderful. They'll always be able to drive by that statue, and that means a lot.

How did things proceed once you finished the clay sculpture?

Then it was cast into bronze at the Lugar Foundry. One of the nicest things to occur out of all this is my friendship with the Lugar family, with Andrea and Larry. I'm sure the Flyer readership is very familiar with their statues: Chief Seattle at the zoo, Bobby Blue Bland downtown by the Chisca Hotel, Elvis on Beale Street. When I went out to see the statue at the foundry in Eads the other day, I was extremely gratified. I'm very happy to have worked with all these people to have made this happen.

Johnny Cash Statue & Historic Marker Unveiling, Wednesday, June 12, 5:00-7:00 pm, 999 South Cooper; with refreshments and music by Roy Cash and Thomas Gabriel (Johnny Cash's oldest grandson).

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Mempho To Showcase The City's Finest Alongside National Legends

Posted By on Mon, Jun 10, 2019 at 4:46 PM

MEMPHOFest - ERIC ALLEN
  • Eric Allen
  • MEMPHOFest
Living in Memphis, it's necessary to imagine one's self enjoying a cool October day; sometimes that's the only thing getting you through the roasting summer months. As of today, you can imagine with even more vivid detail, as the lineup for this year's Mempho Music Festival is revealed. And it ranges from renowned bands we don't see enough of, like the Wu-Tang Clan or the Raconteurs, to bushels of local talent, like the crew of local all-stars joining in a Sun Records tribute.

The fest is October 19th-20th at Shelby Farms.

“We are very excited to welcome both Jack White and Brandi Carlile to this third year of the Mempho Music Festival. They are both multi Grammy Award winners and among the most popular and relevant artists today,” said Boo Mitchell, spokesperson for the festival. White, of course, first made his name with Meg White as the White Stripes, before going on to found the Raconteurs. They'll soon be dropping their first album in 11 years.

Ghostface Killah and Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan.
  • Ghostface Killah and Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan.
Meanwhile, Wu-Tang Clan has long given a nod to Memphis, in both their sampling of old school grooves and their sessions at Royal Studios as recently as 2015. But at that time, the only performance was by Wu-Tang's Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, not the whole crew, which, despite losing key members, has persisted since 1992 in a career marked by innovation. 

Beyond an appearance by erstwhile Memphian Valerie June, much local talent is sprinkled throughout the schedule, including DJ Paul from Three 6 Mafia, Lord T. & Eloise, Marcella & Her Lovers, Mark Edgar Stuart, and more. A tribute to Sun Records will include Jerry Phillips, Jason D. Williams, Amy LaVere, Will Sexton, David Brookings, John Paul Keith, Lahna Deering, Seth Moody, George Sluppick, and Graham Winchester in the band.

VIsit the Mempho website for more details on the scheduled artists and other activities planned for the two day festival. 

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Friday, June 7, 2019

It’s Bonnaroo Time! Previewing Next Week's Fun

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2019 at 10:32 AM

NATHAN ZUCKER
  • Nathan Zucker
In just a matter of days, the small Tennessee town of Manchester (pop. 10,642) will be invaded by 80,000-plus fanny pack-wearing millennials (and a few old hippies still looking for a good time) for the 18th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

The fest, which runs from June 13-16 this year, takes place on a 700-acre farm in Manchester and tends to bleed out into the surrounding area. Just pop into the Manchester Walmart on any given day during Bonnaroo, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any shoppers not wearing a brightly-colored cloth 'Roo wristband.

The lineup this year leans more heavily toward newer, younger acts than it has in previous years — the major exception being a double set by Phish on both Friday and Sunday nights. Other headliners include the ever-present-on-the-festival-circuit, white-guy-rapper Post Malone (Saturday night) and the ever-present-on-the-festival-circuit, Latinx rapper Cardi B (Sunday night).

The Bellingham, Washington-based EDM duo Odesza will bring their haunting electropop beats to the stage on Saturday night, and Friday night will close out with a performance actor/hip-hop DJ Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover).

Other highlights on Bonnaroo’s massive lineup: saxophone-playing DJ Griz, folk rockers The Avett Brothers, The Lonely Island (the comedy trio featuring Andy Samberg), emo rapper Juice WRLD, and singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. Oh, and the 72-year-old songwriting legend John Prine will be there (#NBD).
NATHAN ZUCKER
  • Nathan Zucker
All of this (and performances by more than 100 other musicians) takes place on five stages spread throughout the farm. Besides the music, Bonnaroo features parades (an out-of-season Mardi Gras parade, a mermaid parade, and a gay pride parade), a Roo Run 5K, plenty of outdoor yoga classes, a mini sandy beach oasis (minus the ocean), a massive blow-up water slide, a Ferris wheel, and much more. Stay tuned for a post-festival recap on this blog, once all the dust settles.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Automusik Has All The Answers

Posted By on Tue, Jun 4, 2019 at 2:59 PM

Automusik
  • Automusik
I recently received the most cryptic message of my career, a text from an unidentified source that simply read, "Obey imperative: Automusik words about Automusik images about Automusik." Of course, light bulbs immediately went off in my head. Images of world domination by the music generation entity known as Automusik flashed before my eyes. A warm, comfortable wave overpowered me as I slumped in my seat and acquiesced to the flow of information.

As it turned out, the injection of data directly into my neocortex that followed served as an important reminder: Of how, in 2004, a new group came into being that did not make music with vibrating instruments but with electronic noise machines called "synthesizers." It was as if the previous half century of popular music had never happened, swept away by the wonderful machinery invented by Automusik. As soon as I remembered that, the rest of was easy.

Automusik Can Do No Wrong, the film of the group that invented a music known as "electronik," will be screening in a week's time, thanks to the willing vessels at Indie Memphis. Before 2004, no one thought to pursue such a thing as machine-generated music. Thank goodness for Automusik.

As the group of three celebrity machine-servicers proclaim in the film:
Our music exists in an entirely self contained unit for the production and advancement of of acceptable representations of generally appealing reference waves which are synthesized in a manner that is both pleasing and disturbing and will allow for Automusik to become an object of sexual invitation and achieve a state of popularity within the prevalent attitudes of the current musical customs.

"And then we dance to them," one adds.

Such are the insights the group shared with director Phil Johnson fifteen years ago, when the film debuted. Hailing from somewhere between Aberdeen and Adelaide, Johnson is an elusive character today. When a bit of sleuthing revealed that he was holed up in Belize with tech eccentric John McAfee, I was able to get a message through. The only reply from Johnson was that "The best decision I made with Automusik Can Do No Wrong was to feature myself prominently. Having completed it, I had nothing more to say. That is all." Then a link appeared: "Would you like to know more?"

After a quick transfer of cryptocurrency, a dark web link was anonymously texted to me via WhatsApp. I followed. The Automusik platform engaged me enthusiastically with the words, "Our musik is krafted as a wholly original and inimitable werk. Please see your phone's autokomplete for all other queries." Curious, I began to text myself the answers.
img_3744.jpg



The words to the left were created entirely by my device, although I'm not quite sure how the word "Automusik" kept appearing sporadically through the process. But the platform was right: no further queries were needed. For the rest, I needed only view the film, which documents the group's rise from obscure German origins to complete saturation of the U.S. market.

The special effects budget was huge for this effort, ultimately creating the illusion that this multimillion-dollar production was shot on a shoestring. The true scale of the venture is revealed through the writing credits alone, as writers the caliber of C. Scott McCoy, Scott Moss, and Talbot Fields are not cheap. Allusions to other rock blockbusters like Purple Rain or Rattle and Hum can also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing alone. These expenditures are why Automusik Can Do No Wrong makes us happy.

Go see this groundbreaking film, winner of the 2004 Indie Memphis Film Festival Hometowner Best Feature, while you can. Not only will you rediscover the rush of early-aughts Memphis, when anything seemed possible, you'll fall in love all over with the endearing charm of a band beloved by billions. In their own words, "We are highly sexy. Automusik is sexier than you. The subject of your current affection is Automusik. You should be lucky to see us because we are celebrities. Und you and all these are nobodies. That is why you paid to be here."


Automusik Can Do No Wrong (15 Year Anniversary Screening) will be shown at the Malco Powerhouse Cinema Grill and Bar on Tuesday, June 11, 7:00-9:00 pm.

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Friday, May 31, 2019

North Mississippi Allstars Shine for Capacity Crowd at Levitt Shell Opener

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2019 at 3:17 PM

Cody & Luther Dickinson
  • Cody & Luther Dickinson
The Orion Free Music Concert Series kicked off its summer season last night with a stellar homecoming for the North Mississippi Allstars. Now in its 11th year of free concerts at the Levitt Shell, the series has a tantalizing lineup for every Thursday–Sunday between now and July 21. And it's hard to imagine a better inaugural show than what the Allstars delivered.

One could just barely maneuver through the crowd on the fringes of the shell's seating area, so dense was the sea of humanity in attendance. Though the forecast had threatened rain, there was only the coolness of a storm that never was. And in that idyllic corner of Overton Park, Luther and Cody Dickinson, with a shifting cast of band members, gave everyone a guided technicolor tour of the region's history of rhythms and riffs.

Now, a generation after Jim Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, Lee Baker, and Jimmy Crosswaith (and many others) used their Memphis Country Blues Festivals, also at the shell, to build a bridge between the counterculture and North Mississippi blues artists, the musical hybrid they championed is an institution of sorts. The Allstars presided over a loose-limbed expression of city pride and good will from all walks of life; if Dickinson the Elder proclaimed that “world boogie is coming,” one could safely say last night that world boogie had arrived. 
img_3726.jpg
More than just the blues was celebrated through the set. Shardé Thomas, inheritor of her grandfather Othar Turner's legacy of fife and drum corps music, joined the band for some songs. Jimmy Crosswaith himself was on hand, bringing with him the good ol' hippy values of peace, love, and understanding, and a healthy serving of traditional folk, on both washboard and more idiosyncratic percussive inventions. Cody, for his part, took up the washboard as well, but with a tweaked approach involving his deft use of effects pedals. “It sounded like tap dancing on amphetamines... with echo!” exclaimed longtime music fan Jeff Green.

Cody's multi-instrumentalism shone during an extended drumless jam between the brothers involving fluid dual-guitar harmonies that built into a rocking crescendo. And stylistically, the band's rock and blues originals sat comfortably with their takes on old chestnuts like “Shake 'Em On Down” or “Down By the Riverside,” with the latter featuring finely layered gospel harmonies from the brothers and guest singers.

As Luther notes on the band website, “I think it’s our responsibility to the community that brought us up to protect the repertoire. To keep the repertoire alive and vibrant. That’s what folk music is about. It’s an oral history of America. My dad and his friends, they learned from Furry Lewis and Gus Cannon and Will Shade and then taught those songs to us. It’s important for us to write songs and experiment and do other things, but playing our community’s music in a modern way is what Cody and I do best. I think it’s what we were meant to do.”

Revel In Dimes
  • Revel In Dimes

The night seemed reluctant to end, with the encore extending well past the scheduled wrap-up time of 9 p.m. True lovers of music and leisure could well have simply stayed put in the grass, as it will all begin again this evening and carry on through the summer. Revel In Dimes will take the stage tonight, followed by River Whyless tomorrow and Memphis' own Talibah Safiya on Sunday. For the summer series' full schedule and details on the artists, visit the Levitt Shell events page.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Weekend Shows Celebrate A Quarter Century of Goner

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2019 at 4:29 PM

Eric Friedl and Zac Ives of Goner Records - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • MIchael Donahue
  • Eric Friedl and Zac Ives of Goner Records
Scan over the provenance of bands signed to Goner Records and you'll see a polyglot of international performers, hailing from Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal, Leipzig, London, and Dunedin, New Zealand. There are acts representing both Melbourne, Australia, and Melbourne, Florida. Not to mention other domestic burgs like New Orleans, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, and, naturally, Memphis. Goner is very much a hometown player.

This year, the label and store are celebrating their 25th Anniversary with a weekend of hot music. It starts on Friday, appropriately enough, with Jeff Evans, Ross Johnson, and Walter Daniels, all of whom helped foster the scene out of which Goner arose, followed by that national treasure, Jack Oblivian. On Saturday, we have upstart country with the Flamin' A's and the strange-o-billy of Bloodshot Bill. Sunday's first show will feature a screening of Mike McCarthy's Sore Losers, followed by the Tokyo terrors that started it all with Goner's first release in 1993, Guitar Wolf. New Orleans' own Royal Pendletons, beloved by many a Memphian, will have a rare reunion performance after that, and the evening will see more from Tokyo with the Let's Go, and Big Clown from Memphis.

The span of such bands, both geographically and stylistically, is remarkable, but quite in keeping with the eclectic vision this label has pursued. The store, too, get's widespread appreciation, including another nod last December from Rolling Stone magazine as one of the country's ten best record stores.

With all that in mind, I reached out to Goner's founder and co-owner Eric Friedl to delve into how this all came to be, who makes it tick, and how it came to be a global mini-empire.

Memphis Flyer: I just read in Bob Mehr's great profile that you moved here with the express purpose of opening Shangri-La Records with Sherman Willmott.

Eric Friedl: Yeah. It was basically like 30 records. It was pretty amazing. And actually our big windfall was the WLYX sale. They closed down Rhodes' radio station and sold all their vinyl and we got like a thousand records. So that was really the start of the store.

When you met Sherman, you guys must have been into records already. But did you have retail experience or business experience?

No. Sherman had the idea to do the flotation tanks thing [with customers floating in salt water solution]. That was his big moment of “Ah-ha, Memphis needs to relax!” And he was only thirty years ahead of his time. But he realized even if you have an active massage/flotation tank place, nothing's really happening. It's dull. So, the record store idea was a side thing to the flotation tanks. And it kind of went from there. I don't know why he asked me. We had done a little fanzine together, I think? So we had kept in touch and we had kept up with the music and stuff.

Before Goner, Shangri-La set a local precedent of a label connected to a record store. That's not very common is it? Stax did that of course, and there are other examples, but...

It's weirdly happening now, the other way. Labels are opening stores. I think it makes sense. You're in the middle of everything and the bands are hanging out at the store, and you're like, these guys need a record. But doing it more as a full time thing, I don't think it's that common.

Do the two sides of the business enhance each other?

Luckily for us, they've complemented each other. When one has been going bad the other one has been going good. I can't really say one or the other is the moneymaker. It's varied. It is hard, because we wanna tell people about the label, but we also wanna tell them about the store. People who are into the label stuff don't care that we've got a original Abbey Road record in. So it's kind of tough to balance sometimes.

But my thing has always been about serving the customers. If they wanna buy Adelle records, that's fine. We've got Adelle records. We're not probably gonna put out that record on our label. Someone else will do that. That's not really our spot. But in terms of retail, if someone's coming looking for it, I wanna have it to sell, or be able to get it for 'em. That's just basically being a record store.

The Goner label is really well-curated, and incredibly eclectic. It goes way beyond punk. You and [Goner co-owner] Zac [Ives] must have pretty diverse tastes.

Even stuff that we put out, we wouldn't necessarily say, 'This is what I'm listening to.' We don't have a master plan. Things fall in our lap and we go, 'This is good, we should put it out.' We don't go, 'Is this gonna alienate our Reatards fans?' You know, the people that like fast punk rock stuff. We're like, 'There's room for everybody. Just throw it out there.' Some things are easier to sell than others, for sure. But we've been lucky. People that pay attention to the label are generally pretty open minded, and that's a big part of it.

Is the label just you and Zac making the decisions?

Yeah, for the most part. But some punk rock singles put out in the last year or so have been more Alec [McIntire] and Cole [Wheeler] and John Hoppe's thing. We put out singles by Crown Court and by Boss. It's aggressive, straight ahead punk rock kinda stuff. And that was from their angle, which is fun. It's cool to have other input on it too.

John Hoppe has been with us the longest. He moved down from Kalamazoo, and he has tons of experience selling records, and really took over the behind the scenes stuff, running the register and everything. That really helped us out a whole lot, especially when things get hairy, like during our festival or other busy times. He has a really good knack for that. And we've had a few other people coming though that have really helped out. Charlotte Watson from Nots helped out for a while. But basically our crew right now is John, Alec McIntire, who plays with Hash Redactor and Ex-Cult, and Cole Wheeler. And everybody has kind of their angle, doing mail order or retail sales, or keeping the label stuff together. There's plenty to do. We're always scrambling, doing twenty jobs at once and trying to keep track of it. It's always a challenge.

That's one of the weird things. All the articles make it all about me, and I really haven't done anywhere near everything. It's been teamwork. To the point where I will start something, and then realize I'm way over my head and realize that everyone else has already realized that and has picked up the pieces or put it together. But if you work close enough for long enough, that's sort of how things happen. We all complement eachother real well.

There were rumors that last year's Gonerfest would be the last, but it's still rolling...

Yeah, we always think about taking a break. And then we start getting excited about bands coming to town, and people are asking about it and it sort of assembles itself again and you realize, 'It's happening! It's gonna drag you along, like it or not!' It's a lot of fun, and every year it's amazing. The fact that people will come to Memphis, year after year, multiple times, to come to this festival in September is awesome. These people from Australia that keep coming, they could go anywhere in the world, but they're going halfway around the world just to come to Memphis. I think it's great.

You guys have quite an international reach and profile.

Yeah, it's cool. Before the first little Buccaneer show we did, we were driving over and realized there was a guy I'd never met, a guy from Italy, walking down the street. He had a tiny little label in Italy, but it was worth it to him to come all that way to the Buccaneer to see these bands. I realized there's people from all over the place that get into this stuff. And they really get a kick out of coming to Memphis. They love it. 
Guitar Wolf from Nagasaki, Japan
  • Guitar Wolf from Nagasaki, Japan

I guess the international reach was there right from the beginning, when you started with that Guitar Wolf release in 1993.

Yeah. We had a bunch of Japanese bands at first. International bands that were touring in the 90s when I started doing that stuff. The 5678's, Guitar Wolf, Teengenerate, and Jackie and the Cedrics came over here and were in that scene. There was a festival in Bellingham, WA, Garage Shock, that was kind of the headquarters for that stuff at the time. And that's where I saw Guitar Wolf. Garage Shock pioneered putting these kinds of festivals together. I went to a couple of those and I'm sure that left some kind of mark on what we could do and how to do festivals.

Were you early adopters of the internet?

Yeah, we got lucky on that. I had a bulletin board, and that is really the engine behind Goner and the appeal of everything. We had the Goner bulletin board, which is still up. You could see a direct drop off as soon as Facebook came into the picture, but before that, people that wanted to yack about this stuff would get on our bulletin board and post stuff, see what we were doing, find out about shows, and that kind of thing. So the bulletin board was the main thing. I had a site that I sold records off of, pretty early. Peggy from the Gories had some of their records she wanted to sell, and I helped her do that. So we were in the middle of it when nobody knew what was going on.

Really, the bulletin board had a huge reach. It still kinda does. Like it'll pop up. Somebody will have some topic on there about aspirin or something, and the Goner board will pop up because people are talking about it. Instead of going to Bayer's site, no one's gonna go there, there's no action there. They might have the information, but it isn't gonna pop up in the Google algorithm, so the Goner board will pop up in regards to aspirin or something. It recently popped up as the number one Google search result for Michael Jackson jokes. Not something to be really proud of, but when the Michael Jackson movie came out we were back in the spotlight.

When did you start that bulletin board?


You know, it crashed and we lost a bunch of it, but it was probably going by '95, something like that? There might be stuff from the 90s still. I'll have to do the internet archive thing and see if anything's there. Yeah, it was pretty early and pretty interesting, the people that went through there. We've had songs written about it, about crashing it and trying to destroy it, all kinds of stuff. It still is pretty interesting. I think the only real thread that kind of maintains itself is 'defunct Memphis restaurants that we miss.' People look for some restaurant and the Goner board pops up so they'll post something.

So well before the brick and mortar store, you were doing a brisk business?

Yeah. I didn't have a whole lot of records that I was selling, but a couple hundred, you know. I'd do orders from distributors and sell it out of the apartment. So that was there to move into a brick and mortar type of thing. There was a demand for it and it made sense to do it. Greg [Cartwright] had the space [Legba Records] and was moving, and said, 'You guys should take this over!'

How great that Guitar Wolf is still going strong, and Jack Oblivian is still going strong. You've got these threads connecting to the very first days of the whole thing.

It was weird when we realized that all this was coming together, we were like, 'We have to put together a weekend.' We don't need to do more than one festival a year. This was more like a bunch of shows thrown together. But I think it works. All the shows are great and people are excited about it.

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Friday, May 24, 2019

Misti Rae Holton Sings In Her Garden

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

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

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

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Friday, May 17, 2019

A Weirdo From Memphis Performs A Very Red Show

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

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

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




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



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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Violent Femmes Prep New Album As They Play Graceland With X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

New Festival Honors Omar Higgins

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

mojofest-logo.png


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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 6, 2019

Sunday Funday at Beale Street Music Fest 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Perfect Friday Night For Beale Street Music Fest 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Meeting of Musical Minds: Stewart Copeland Visits Como

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MF: Where was the song recorded?

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

MF: Can we expect more new music soon?

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

MF: Have you played Memphis before?

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

MF: Is there anything else you want to add?

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

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

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