Thursday, December 12, 2019

An Inspired Weekend of Beethoven With Iris & The Zukerman Trio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, December 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Maria Muldaur Makes Special Memphis Appearance For Protect Our Aquifer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Switchblade Kid’s Very Dreamy Christmas

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

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

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

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

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

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

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

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

Harry Koniditsiotis - ANDY TORRES
  • Andy Torres
  • Harry Koniditsiotis

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

That Other Elvis: Hearing Graceland & The King Anew

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Elvis Costello - STEPHEN DONE
  • Stephen Done
  • Elvis Costello
When Elvis Costello and the Imposters took the stage at Graceland last Friday night, the irony was palpable. As it should be, given that this other Elvis is a songsmith and wordsmith of subtle twists and turns of phrase. The fact that he's also a dedicated fan and historian of Memphis music only gave the irony a more heartfelt touch. This show was nothing if not soulful.

Indeed, when the lights went down and shadows gathered on the stage, the first sounds we heard were exhortations to give our hearts to Jesus and the ecstatic sounds of a genuine gospel band. Then the lights came up and we saw that was all simply a recording, and the band launched into the thundering tom toms of "Strict Time."

Given that this is the "Just Trust" tour, starting with a track from that LP was not a complete surprise. Nor was the follow-up, "Clubland," in which the haunts of music scene-makers are cast in a kind of sardonic Cuban son. It's a tune that allows consummate keyboardist Steve Naive to shine, and shine he did, eclipsing even the glitter laden jacket and hat of Elvis himself.

The bandleader's whimsical outfit was just one manifestation of the playfulness he brought to the evening, perhaps inspired by the meta-irony of playing literally in the King's backyard. Dodges, feints, and witty asides were the order of the evening, and such looseness was a perfect foil to some of the thornier content of his back catalog.
Elvis Costello & the Imposters at Graceland - BRIGITTE BILLEAUDEAUX
  • Brigitte Billeaudeaux
  • Elvis Costello & the Imposters at Graceland
Take, for example, song four, coming after a propulsive "Green Shirt." As Elvis said, "I once found myself sitting next to a woman, and I sang this to her..." With that, he launched into the evening's first nod to the King. Singing the chorus and song title plaintively, "Don't...Don't...Don't..." Elvis then abruptly cut off the tune with a curt quip, "So I didn't." Ba-dum-bum!

Later, he revealed that "the woman" was none other than Priscilla Presley, whom he met on a talk show, as he revealed in his generous between-song banter. Other bits of the King's history found their way into the set from then on: "Mystery Dance" gave way to a bit of "His Latest Flame;" the coda to "Alison" became a stylized interpolation of "Suspicious Minds;" and the old chestnut "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love & Understanding" even had a bit of "Mystery Train" thrown in.

Other gems of Memphis music history were also present: a full-on rendition of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry;" a quote from "Mr. Big Stuff" at the end of "Everyday I Write the Book;"  and an especially gospel-drenched treatment of a Sam & Dave tune Costello put his stamp on decades ago, "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down."

If those references weren't entirely surprising, the new songs from this composer's composer certainly were, and they revealed a deeper Memphis influence than any lyrical quotations could. The first new, so far unreleased song was a "campaign song" in a gospel vein, with the chorus of "Blood and hot sauce!"

The second, "Face in the Crowd," revealed the provenance of the new material: "This is from a show coming your way," Costello explained, describing a live theater event he's collaborating on, based on the classic film of the same name. As the songwriter noted, "It'll be like The Sound of Music, with less Nazis." 
Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee with Elvis Costello & the Imposters at Graceland - BRIGITTE BILLEAUDEAUX
  • Brigitte Billeaudeaux
  • Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee with Elvis Costello & the Imposters at Graceland
Throughout the evening, the sound was a welcome improvement over the murk experienced at last year's Imposters show. And, if the front man himself was a bit winded at times by the stream of lyrics composed by his younger self, the band was sharp and on point. Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee on background vocals seemed more integrated into the sound than last year, Davey Faragher on bass and vocal harmonies was better than ever, and original Attractions Steve Naive on keys and Pete Thomas on drums rekindled the old driving intensity with aplomb. It was a spirited evening, in which Costello's vocal chops only got better and better. Once again, he showed that one can find a perfect balance between punk energy and musical craftsmanship, between history and innovation, between irony and soul. 

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Obruni Dance Band Celebrates That Memphis Beet & Community Table Garden

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 3:16 PM

Obruni Dance Band & the Mama Africa Dancers - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Obruni Dance Band & the Mama Africa Dancers
In Ghana, music and community go hand in hand. This is true wherever people gather to  listen to bands, of course, but the communal experience is especially crucial to the music of Africa, where all the players in an ensemble add small pieces to a groove, the sum being greater than its parts.

Which makes it especially apropos that the Obruni Dance Band, Memphis' own specialists in the highlife music of Ghana, will be leading a celebration of community tomorrow afternoon, in the open air, with glorious fall weather in the forecast. And, dear to this old farmer's heart, the community Obruni will be celebrating is based on breaking bread and beets. Not just beets, but tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, watermelon, greens and beans. 
(l-r), Gerald Stephens, Logan Hanna, Adam Holton, Jawaun Crawford, and Victor Sawyer in the Obruni Dance Band - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • (l-r), Gerald Stephens, Logan Hanna, Adam Holton, Jawaun Crawford, and Victor Sawyer in the Obruni Dance Band

Memphis is famous for its beats, but now its beets are stepping up as well, thanks to the efforts of the Community Table Garden. Started in 2014 in an effort to improve the quality of food available to Memphis' most vulnerable neighbors, the Community Table Garden promotes people's right to safe, healthy, clean food.

The garden is located on an empty lot on Madison Avenue owned by Huey's. Beginning with eight raised beds and three rain barrels, they now have 15 raised beds, two in-ground plots, a greenhouse, and will be installing an irrigation system and a few fruit trees and berry bushes this fall and spring. Managed by Sarah Taylor, they operate solely on community support and volunteer work, with sponsorships from the Memphis Empty Bowls Project and Grace St. Luke's Church. The gardens supply produce to the pantry at Grace St. Luke's every week during the growing season. 
Community Table Garden on Madison Avenue
  • Community Table Garden on Madison Avenue
Tomorrow's celebration will raise funds for and awareness of the ongoing project. Chef Brown Burch will be joined by Spencer Coplan from Wok'n Memphis and Zach Nicholson from Lucky Cat Ramen in preparing an exquisite feast, along with more food from FINO's, City Block Salumeria, and Payne's BBQ.

The Produce Tribe, Whitton Farms, Tubby Creek Farms, and Rosecreek Farms are all supplying produce as well, and, last but not least, Mempops will supply its unique sweet delectables. Wiseacre Brewing Company, a favorite venue of the Obruni crew, is hosting, serving both beer and Long Road Cider.

Community Table Fall Garden Party, Wiseacre Brewing Co., Sunday, November 17, 1:00-4:00 pm. Get tickets here.

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Friday, November 15, 2019

A Big Score for Jozzy: "Old Town Road" Nabs a Country Music Award

Posted By on Fri, Nov 15, 2019 at 6:54 PM

Jocelyn "Jozzy" Donald - CHRIS PAUL THOMPSON
  • Chris Paul Thompson
  • Jocelyn "Jozzy" Donald
Music history was made last night at the Country Music Awards, with an assist from an up-and-coming Memphis artist and songwriter. The CMA for Musical Event of the Year, often given to one-off collaborations, was awarded to Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus for their smash hit, "Old Town Road (Remix)". It was also an indirect tip of the hat to Memphis-born Jocelyn "Jozzy" Donald, who wrote the verses Cyrus sang in the newer, extended version of the song. 

The award not only went to Cyrus and Lil Nas X, the first openly gay hip-hop artist to win in that category, but also to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — both have a co-writing and co-production credit on "Old Town Road (Remix)" due to its sample of "34 Ghosts IV" by Nine Inch Nails. There was no official recognition of Donald, however. 
Lil Nas X
  • Lil Nas X

Nevertheless, this is a watershed moment for a track that occupied the top of the Billboard charts for a record-setting 17 weeks this year. Because of its blend of styles, not to mention the unspoken racial politics of contemporary American music, it was excluded from Billboard's country charts, amid much public outcry. To some extent, this newly-awarded CMA makes amends for that slight. As Lil Nas X told USA Today, "I'm so happy this song was accepted because it is the bridging of two polar opposite genres. I'm happy it's gotten respect from both places."

I reached out to Jozzy to hear her thoughts on this latest success of a track in which she played no small role.

Memphis Flyer: Congratulations on the CMA! Are you in Memphis now?

Jozzy Donald: I just left Memphis yesterday. I went to the Stax Music Academy to talk to the kids. I didn't go to the CMA, but I'm definitely going to the Grammys. It's gonna be a great day. It's the day after my birthday. That's not coincidental. I believe everything happens for a reason. I know it's gonna be a great birthday.

Old Town Road really has a shot at Record of the Year. We need more of those coming out of Memphis. I just realized, "Uptown Funk" was the first ever Grammy for Record of the Year that went to a Memphis recording.

Yeah! Boo Mitchell! Royal Studios!

So you didn't go to the Country Music Awards?

I did not go to the Country Music Awards. They treat songwriters so bad. The Grammys are really the only awards that appreciate the songwriter. So I didn't get to go to the CMAs. It's a shame how they do it. But if you want that, you have to get into that mode of being the artist and being in the forefront. That's what I'm working on right now.

Do you think it's a sign of progress that the CMAs gave "Old Town Road" some recognition?

Yes. I'm just really happy it got the award, you know? After all that happened to the song, when it came to the country charts. I'm happy that CMA acknowledged it, and didn't just throw it on the back burner and act like it never happened. So, mostly it was really dope.
The thing about it is, at the end of the day, it's people like you all at the Memphis Flyer, who tell the story, so it doesn't go unnoticed — that's really what it's all about. I could rant and rave about it, but then you just get tired. And I see myself going somewhere, doing something as an artist. I know I'm gonna be a big artist. So this is a part of that story.

Everyone in town is blown away that you co-wrote "Old Town Road," and the news is spreading.

Exactly. Word of mouth is beautiful. And the Grammys are a different story, you know. That's the biggest platform. So as long as I'm going to the Grammys, I'm fine.

Now I'm working on doing something with Red Bull in Memphis, probably in January, during Grammy week. We're gonna do a dope event. I just did a few gigs with Summer Walker, a dope R&B singer that I opened up some California shows for. I'm dropping my next single in December, and dropping a bigger project a week before the Grammy Awards. So it's gonna be dope.

I think Red Bull is the perfect partner to do it with. They're really invested in Memphis and they really wanna see something happen. So I really wanted to collaborate with them. I think we're gonna do a concert and a party. I might bring on some other artists to perform, too. We're trying to bring some fun stuff to Memphis, some different stuff that's never been done before.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Memphis Music Hall of Fame: Gala Event Honors Artists From Blues to Opera

Posted By on Wed, Nov 13, 2019 at 1:17 PM

  • Courtesy Memphis Music Hall of Fame
  • Scott Bomar & Don Bryant
This past Friday evening in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame honored some of music’s most influential singers and songwriters at its eighth annual Induction Ceremony.

The event honored eight Memphis-area musicians whose lifetime contributions to music embody elements of the “Memphis Sound,” all central figures in the history of chart-topping music of the 20th Century.

The official nexAir Stage at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts was filled with luminaries, both presenting and receiving the night’s distinctions. This year’s roster of inductees was an impressive and diverse group: Don Bryant, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Charlie Musselwhite, The Memphis Boys, Steve Cropper, Dan Penn, Tina Turner, and perhaps the most surprising, posthumous inductee and “The First Lady of Grand Opera,” Ms. Florence Cole Talbert-McCleave.

McCleave was an American operatic soprano and one of the very first black female opera singers to receive acclaim and critical success in the 20th Century, as well as one of the first to record commercially. Though not originally from Memphis, it was here she eventually settled and during her time was a sought-after performer, trailblazer for African-American women, and active educator for young black musicians throughout Memphis, even co-founding the Memphis Music Association. It is a testament to their scope that the Memphis Music Hall of Fame has opened its arms to classical forms of music like opera: the tribute performance to McCleave, an excerpt from “Aida” by soprano Michelle Bradley, was second-to-none and, quite simply, breathtaking.
  • Courtesy Memphis Music Hall of Fame
  • Don Bryant
Next up was Don Bryant, house songwriter for Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records throughout the 60s and 70s, husband to singer Ann Peebles, and gifted singer in his own right. Bryant is the rare combination of sincerely disarming, winsome, and talented. Backed by a bevy of some of the finest working musicians in Memphis, the Bo-Keys, Bryant let shine from that stage his unparalleled smile and inventive, heartfelt vocals. The Bo-Keys, who now tour regularly with Bryant, included: Joe Restivo on guitar, Scott Bomar on bass, Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers on horns, Archie “Hubbie” Turner on keys, and the Memphis “Bulldog” himself, Howard Grimes on drums. The latter two bandmates, with Bryant himself, served as key members of the house band at Mitchell's Royal Recording Studios, playing on some of Hi’s most celebrated recordings of the era.

One of the eight inductees was actually a group award. Six session musicians made up The Memphis Boys, the house band at legendary producer Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio, comprised of drummer Gene Chrisman, bassists Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech, guitarist Reggie Young, pianist Bobby Wood, and organist Bobby Emmons. Together these men laid down the grooves for over 120 hit records between 1967 and 1972 for artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, B.J. Thomas, Dusty Springfield, and notably, on Elvis Presley’s last number one hit "Suspicious Minds."
Extended family of The Memphis Boys - COURTESY MEMPHIS MUSIC HALL OF FAME
  • Courtesy Memphis Music Hall of Fame
  • Extended family of The Memphis Boys
Of the remaining members, keyboardist Bobby Wood gave a sincere thanks to the city of Memphis while drummer Gene Chrisman audibly held back tears of gratitude as he accepted his award, and in an endearing moment of appreciation of those years he reminisced, “I’ll tell you it was such a pleasure...We had more fun than two Christmas monkeys.”

As the room bubbled with cheer and nostalgia, the house band and guest singers led a medley of the Memphis Boys' greatest hits: “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Son of A Preacher Man,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Sweet Caroline,” among others.

Charlie Musselwhite and Bobby Rush - COURTESY MEMPHIS MUSIC HALL OF FAME
  • Courtesy Memphis Music Hall of Fame
  • Charlie Musselwhite and Bobby Rush
Boundless blues entertainer Bobby Rush introduced his erstwhile touring partner, friend and Grammy-winning electric blues heavyweight Charlie Musselwhite. Charlie, gracious as always, serenaded us with his famous harmonica stylings on “Blues Overtook Me.”

It was a night of montages, as rapper Al Kapone stepped out to speak with an unexpectedly heartfelt appeal to support live Memphis music. As he stepped aside, dueling DJs live-mixed an audio mosaic of some of the most cherished hits to come from our city: “Hound Dog,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Gee Whiz,” “Pretty Woman,” “Hold On I’m Coming,” “Soul Man,” “Shaft,” “Love and Happiness,” “Ring My Bell,” and many others, on through more modern Hip-hop hits like "Hard Out Here for a Pimp." This was followed by a brief but thoughtful “In Memoriam” video paying tribute to those Memphians in music we’ve recently lost.
  • Courtesy Memphis Music Hall of Fame
  • Dan Penn
Grammy-winning producer Matt Ross-Spang presented the next inductee, composer, instrumentalist, and singer Dan Penn. One of the most prodigious songwriters to come out of the Shoals, Penn’s songs possess a permanence that not many can boast - most famed among them, Aretha Franklin’s "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" and The Box Tops “Cry Like A Baby.” Penn gave a brief and witty acceptance and returned to play another of his seminal hits, “The Dark End of the Street,” a hit for James Carr on Goldwax in 1967. At 77, Penn’s stunning voice still commands a standing ovation.

Native Memphian and dynamic singer Dee Dee Bridgewater got her well-deserved accolades from Royal Studios’ Boo Mitchell, son of legendary producer Willie Mitchell. Mitchell spoke of the recent work he has done with Ms. Bridgewater on her last record Memphis... Yes, I’m Ready, and ready she was: attired in glittering silver from head to toe, Bridgewater dazzled and shone. The jazz singer, Broadway star, and Grammy-winner addressed her Memphis roots and mesmerized the audience with her rousing rendition of “Can’t Get Next to You.”
  • Courtesy Memphis Music Hall of Fame
  • Steve Cropper
Blues guitarist and brother to the late Stevie Ray, Jimmie Vaughan introduced the incomparable Steve Cropper. Guitarist, songwriter, producer, Stax house guitarist, and OG “G” of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, he’s responsible for some of the greatest songs ever recorded, having written for and worked with everyone from Otis Redding to John Lennon. Inducted in 2012 as a member of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, this year saw him inducted as a solo artist for his life-long accomplishments, and, a natural charmer, he treated us to a version of his Redding co-write “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” leading the audience through whistles at the end.

The final inductee of the night was to a lady born Anna Mae Bullock in nearby Nutbush, Tennessee, and known to the world as Miss Tina Turner. Though not present at the ceremony, we enjoyed an agreeable medley of her greatest hits to round out the festivities, performed by a collection of local female artists who did Miss Turner proud: “Rock Me Baby,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” “We Don't Need Another Hero,” and “River Deep, Mountain High” among others.

Memphis is a town chock full of heavy contributions to the music world – and these ceremonies, presenting so many timeless artists and songs in one sitting, are mind-blowing. It was a night of sheer celebration and a night of sober reflection. It was, as Chrisman mused with his distinct Southern drollness, 'more fun than two Christmas monkeys.'

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Friday, November 8, 2019

What's In A Name? Wreckless Eric Brings Transience to Bar DKDC

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2019 at 3:48 PM

Eric Goulden
  • Eric Goulden

“I’ve got this name, and it doesn’t fit. I don’t know what I can do about it,” sings Eric Goulden on the opening track of his new album, Transience. The lyrics to "Father to the Man" are, perhaps, a nod to Goulden’s stage name, Wreckless Eric. The English rocker released Transience in May of this year and is touring in support of the record with a concert at Cooper-Young’s Bar DKDC on Sunday, November 10th, with Memphis musician Alex Greene as his opening act.

Goulden broke onto the English punk and new wave scene in the ’70s. Though he is perhaps best known for “Whole Wide World,” released on Stiff Records in 1977, Goulden has remained consistently active. He won praise for both 2018’s Construction Time & Demolition and 2015’s amERICa, and Transience proves the songsmith is still capable of transfixing.

  • Transience

Goulden’s new record sparkles with the enchantingly mellow sounds of clean guitars, electronic burbles, and warm fuzz boxes. More often than not, Goulden uses distortion and dissonance as a bed for his vocal melodies. When paired with electric pianos and acoustic guitars, as on the sweetly sincere “The Half of It,” the overall effect is like that of a warm blanket on a bitingly cold night, or a cup of coffee spiked with bourbon. The bite of the temperature out of doors serves only to underline the comfort provided by the blanket and a warm house.

“Strange Locomotion” has the bones of a 4/4 blues groove, but mutated and filtered through homemade fuzz boxes and burbling electronic noisemakers. “Indelible Stain” opens with a protracted groove that’s as long as the song that preceded it. Even on his own album, Wreckless Eric recklessly — and delightfully — bucks the rules. Still, for all the magic of the seven songs that come before it, the album closer “California / Handyman” is the standout track. Goulden’s refrain of “Californ-i-a” is hypnotic, and the electric piano and effects create an irresistibly dreamlike ambience that call the listener to drift into a trance.

Eric Goulden
  • Eric Goulden
Goulden has plenty of history with Memphis. The punk and power-pop icon has played Gonerfest, the Galloway House, Burke’s Book Store, and the River Series at Harbor Town Amphitheater. He told the Flyer in 2018 that he grew up loving Stax Records, Otis Redding, and Booker T. & the M.G.s, and it shows. When Transience swings, it does so with the old-time feel of blues and soul. But the album is by no means retro or a nostalgia trip. It warbles and hums, deconstructed power-pop for the 21st century. Transience shows an artist confident and brave enough to take his time and take chances. With his hallucinogenic soundscapes, Goulden has crafted an aural landscape worthy of many return trips.

Wreckless Eric and opener Alex Greene perform at Bar DKDC, Sunday, November 10th, 8 p.m.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Not Hanging Back: Atlanta Trio The Coathangers Returns!

Posted By on Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 1:49 PM

The Coathangers - JEFF FORNEY
  • Jeff Forney
  • The Coathangers
The last time Atlanta garage-punk trio The Coathangers played Memphis, they ended their set at the old Hi-Tone with a merch manager – their drummer’s then-boyfriend – that barely had his arm attached to his body.

“His elbow was dislocated, it didn’t even look like it was connected,” bassist Meredith Franco tells the Memphis Flyer of the 2013 gig. “We just kept playing. He sat behind the merch booth the whole time and was like ‘nah, I’m okay.’ It looked like [his arm] was hanging on by a string.”

Though it was a simple stumble that caused the dislocation, and sheer belligerence that kept it that way, it’s definitely was a punk rock moment typical of The Coathangers’ long, energetic journey that will see them play Bluff City once again at the Hi-Tone this
Wednesday. They’ll be supported by Philadelphia punk trio Control Top and local heroes
Hash Redactor.

Formed in 2006, the band’s first gig was at an Atlanta house party where mastery of their
instruments – “I’d never even played bass before this band,” Franco says – was secondary to the performance itself. After their self-titled 2007 debut, put out through Rob’s House Records and Die Slaughterhaus, The Coathangers begun a long relationship with Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records – early backers of Elliott Smith and Modest Mouse – that has seen them release five albums in the last ten years.

“[Suicide Squeeze owner] David [Dickinson] is our number one fan, and we’re his number
one fans,” Franco says. “He really gives us a lot of freedom, whatever we want to do, he
supports us basically.”

Their most recent offering, The Devil You Know, released in March, shows a band that
haven’t taken a step backward from their devil-may-care roots during what has been a
tumultuous time – both politically and socially – in recent American history. With songs like
‘Hey Buddy’, addressing street harassment, and ‘F the NRA’, The Coathangers – named for a DIY abortion technique – was always going to come armed with a response to it.
“Yeah – especially a song like F the NRA,” Franco says. “It’s not like we’ve not ever been ‘not political’, but I think in the past we didn’t want to be [too] preachy. But why not? This is our way to express how we feel, why wouldn’t we write something we believe in? If someone doesn’t like it, fuck off – don’t listen to it.

“[With F the NRA], some people were worried that it was going to get negative [press] and
people who are all about guns were going to like come after us, I don’t know. People were
worried, but we were like, the reason we do what we do is to say what we want. Isn’t that the whole point of music in general? If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.”

Though Atlanta was the starting point, The Coathangers now find themselves in three
different corners of America. Franco moved back home to Massachusetts to care for her
ailing father (who she wrote ‘Memories’ for), lead singer Julia Kugel-Montoya relocated to
Long Beach while drummer Stephanie Luke remained in Atlanta.

The Memphis connection doesn’t just end with an ex-boyfriend of a drummer who dislocated his elbow, though. The Coathangers were good friends with Memphis punk legend Jay Reatard, dedicating their 2011 track ‘Jaybird’ to his memory.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Elton John: The Rocket Man's Final Launch Lifts Fans Into Stratosphere

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2019 at 12:48 PM

  • Jamie Harmon
  • Elton John
The atmosphere on Beale Street was more carnivalesque than usual last night, as Elton John fans filed into the FedExForum to catch Memphis' last glimpse of the storied entertainer. That the show happened the night before Halloween was entirely fitting, with many fans paying homage to the glam-master's wardrobes of yore. But along with the glittery trappings and finery, it was a powerful measure of just how dearly Memphis fans hold his music to their hearts.

Looking stout but far more spry than most 72-year-olds in his rhinestone-bedecked tux, John commanded the proceedings from a grand piano, stage right, as the band, featuring players dating back to his 70s tours, spread out on a multi-level stage set below a gigantic Jumbotron screen. All was framed by a gold-bricked, medallion-festooned proscenium topped with the tour's motto: "Farewell Yellow Brick Road." This is John's final series of performances.

Later in the show, after a rousing performance of "Sad Songs (Say So Much)," John addressed the bittersweet context of the show directly. "This is my 50th year of touring. I couldn't have imagined a farewell tour even 10 years ago, but 10 years ago, I didn't have a family. Now I do.

"The greatest thing is to get a reaction from another human being," he went on. "Thank you, Memphis, Tennessee. You're in my soul, you're in my heart."

Judging from the ecstatic reaction from the crowd, John was clearly in their hearts as well. They also responded to a very personal moment between songs, when he frankly described his battles with addiction. "Ask for help!" was his advice to substance abusers. "Don't sit on the pity pot." After he himself asked for help, he noted, "I got sober." At that, the crowd went wild with cheers and applause. It was a remarkable moment.

With a Jumbotron screen displaying either close-ups of the band, or pre-edited montages of images, videos, and animations, one sometimes forgot to look at the actual humans on stage. Then, a thumping sub-woofer boom from the kick drum or synthesizer would snap you back to reality. But percussionist Ray Cooper, who first toured with John in 1974, gave the Jumbotron a run for its money with his theatrical skins- and gong-pounding. This was most entertaining when the rest of the band left the stage, leaving only Cooper and John to perform the epic "Indian Sunset."

Introducing the tune, John described writing songs with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. Upon first seeing some freshly-written lyrics, John noted, "a little movie appears in my mind. Then I put my hands on the piano." Taupin's lyrics for "Indian Sunset," he said, "were five and a half pages long." The grandiose, three-part suite was the result.

The power and proficiency of the band shone on a parade of both hits and, like the aforementioned tune, deep cuts. Some of the greatest rave-ups came in the extended outro jams to "Rocket Man" and "Levon." On the latter, John revealed how powerful and precise his voice still is, even if his classic falsetto had to be carried by other singers in the band. And, with a nod to his stage histrionics of yore, he rose out of his seat to pound the keys at the climax of "Philadelphia Freedom." 

After the encore concluded with "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," which John performed in a silk dressing robe decorated with cats, he tossed off his outer garment to reveal a track suit beneath. Climbing onto an automated ski-lift-like platform, he waved to adoring fans as he was lifted up into an opening in the video screen, seeming to retreat into his own fantasy and the fantasies of the Memphians who have marked their lives with his music.

See the slideshow by Jamie Harmon, below.

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Hernando's Hide-A-Way Opens October 31st With a Halloween Party

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2019 at 9:24 AM


  • MIchael Donahue

Hernando’s Hide-A-Way — the legendary music club — will reopen for one night October 31st with a Halloween party/fund-raiser. It's slated to open to the public November 15th.

So, expect to see Elvis. Or a lot of Elvises at the Halloween party. It’s a “Dead Celebrity” party, says singer-guitarist-songwriter Dale Watson, who owns the club with Patrick Trovato. But costumes must be “tasteful,” he says.

The club in the building — originally an African-American-owned dry goods store — dates to 1883.

Hernando’s Hide-A-Way isn’t really hidden away; the club at 3210 Old Hernando Road off Brooks Road is visible from Elvis Presley Blvd.

On Halloween, guests will get a peek at the $400,000 renovation to the club, where Jerry Lee Lewis and other legends performed.

When they enter the club, some guests will say, “I proposed to my wife (here) 50 years ago,” Watson says.

Music will be Ameripolitan, which is Watson’s “rockabilly, honky tonk, and Western swing” band. In addition to his band, the club will feature Amy LaVere, Will Sexton, Jerry Phillips, and some blues. It also will feature local and touring bands.

Watson says he’s the “music” and Trovato, a restaurateur from New York, is the “food.”

The fund-raiser will be for Ameripolitan, which will perform at the Halloween party.

Visitors will feel as if they’re going back in time to the 1950s. “That’s the whole esthetic,” says Watson’s daughter, Dalynn Watson, as she decorates for the party.

An area with booths and some tables will greet people as they enter. An old telephone booth with a door graces the area. A special VIP area is the site of the original stage. It’s smallish, but stages were small back in the day, Watson says.

The gleaming new kitchen is off the dining room. Part of the original green-painted concrete floor still can be seen, but the majority of the floor was re-done and now is red. Old paneling was removed and exposed brick can be seen.

Watson added swinging doors to separate the dining room from the “dance hall” with the big stage, which is where the stage was in the 1980s. Watson recreated the iron railing with music notes in front of the stage.

Tables and chairs surround the 24'x30' stage. The dance hall includes a 25-foot-long bar. A dance floor is in front of the stage. Booths line the walls. Above each booth is a photo of whoever the table is dedicated to. So, guests might be sitting in booths dedicated to Elvis, Carl Perkins, or Johnny Cash.

The dance hall includes a 25'-long bar.

The vintage jukebox in the dance hall is the same kind as the one at the Rendezvous, Watson says. They also have an original cigarette machine.

The “green room,” a room off the main room, is for performers to relax before they go on stage. Watson decorated the room, which includes a chandelier. Jerry Lee used to call the room his office, Watsons says. They uncovered a door, which Lewis entered from the parking lot.

The decor of the club is done in red, green, and brown.

The bathrooms are labeled “John” and “June,” which is what they were called back in the day, Trovato says. And whoever doesn’t know who those names stand for probably needs some music education.

The club has two TVs for viewing what’s happening on stage.

The front of the club was painted white, which was the color back in the 1950s, Watson says. The iron railings in front of the club came from the old Sun Studio Cafe at the Memphis International Airport.

Food items will include Memphis-themed fare, including the “Thank You Very Much” peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich, and the “Bluff City Slaw” burger. They also will serve other burgers, including the Stax burger and the Ameripolitan burger.

And they’ve got fried chicken, including fried-chicken-and-waffle sandwich appropriately named “Funky Chicken.”

Trovato describes the menu items as “American fast casual.” The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner. He began his restaurant career selling hamburgers in a food truck before he opened his restaurant in Long Island.

They’ll also sell Trovato’s sandwiches, including Philly cheese steak and fried catfish Louisiana po’ boy sandwich.

Halloween party-goers can sample Trovato’s cuisine, which will be served buffet style.

Hernando’s Hide-A-Way will be no smoking, but from time to time, they will have cigar events but “only in the back,” Watson says.

Seating also will be available on the deck on the east side of the building. The club also has a second floor, which was where “late night poker games” reputedly were held back in the day. It’s now Watson’s office, as well as a bedroom.

Watson first entered Hernando’s Hide-A-Way in late 1982. “When I first came in the door it was smoky, dark. On stage, I think Linda Gail (Lewis) was in the house at that point. I looked up on stage. Something was lying on the microphone, covered with dust.” It was a pair of glasses with “1982” on them. They were left on there during a 1982 New Year’s Eve party and, apparently, had never been removed.

Watson says this was the club immortalized in Johnny Burnette’s “Rockabilly Boogie.” “He mentions the Hide-A-Way,” he says.

The club’s slogan is “Come Early Stay Late,” which is what Watson wants everybody to do.

Hernando’s Hide-A-Way is a special place for Watson. And he wants it to be for others, too. “We want people to feel they’re going to a piece of Memphis history.”

Doors open at 5 p.m. October 31st for Hernando’s Hide-A-Way Halloween Party. The band will begin at 9 p.m. $10 cover charge.

Patrick Trovato and Dale Watson in the VIP area of Hernando's Hide-A-Way. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • MIchael Donahue
  • Patrick Trovato and Dale Watson in the VIP area of Hernando's Hide-A-Way.
  • Michael Donahue
  • Michael Donahue
  • Michael Donahue
  • Michael Donahue
Dale Watson with a photo of Jerry Lee Lewis appearing at Hernando's Hide-A-Way. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Dale Watson with a photo of Jerry Lee Lewis appearing at Hernando's Hide-A-Way.
  • Michael Donahue
  • Michael Donahue

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Vaneese Thomas Brings It All Back Home, With Show, New Album

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 3:16 PM

Vaneese Thomas
  • Vaneese Thomas
Though she's a longtime resident of New York, Vaneese Thomas has Memphis deep in her soul. So her show at Lafayette's Music Room tonight has added significance. As the youngest daughter of Rufus Thomas, she had a ringside seat for the Stax circus in the label's heyday, and she saw her older siblings, “Memphis Queen” Carla Thomas and keyboardist and producer Marvell Thomas, thrive there. Vaneese, on the other hand, left Memphis for college, where she cultivated her own style, and a New York-based career. Her self-titled debut album spawned the Top 20 US R&B singles “Let's Talk It Over” and "(I Wanna Get) Close To You" in 1987.

She's covered a lot of stylistic ground since then, most recently with albums grounded in the blues. But her latest album, Down Yonder, is a more eclectic slice of classic soul. Thomas is the project's co-producer and either wrote or co-wrote all of its twelve tracks. Joining her are: Shawn Pelton on drums and percussion; Paul Adamy, Conrad Korsch and Will Lee on bass; Al Arlo on acoustic and electric guitars; Thomas' husband and the disc's co-producer, Wayne Warnecke, on dobro and percussion; Tash Neal on dobro and electric guitar; Robbie Kondor on keyboards and organ; Charles Hodges and Paul Mariconda on organ; Marc Franklin on trumpet; Tim Ouimette on trumpet and flugelhorn; Lannie McMillan and Ken Geoffree on tenor saxophone; Kirk Smothers and Rick Kriska on baritone saxophone; Katie Jacoby on violin; and, last but not least, sister Carla Thomas and Berneta Miles on background vocals; and Kevin Bacon on lead vocals.

Speaking with Thomas recently about her upcoming show, I found it has a regional focus that resonates with Memphis as much as any of her other blues records.

Memphis Flyer: How did this new album come about?

Vaneese Thomas: Well, I mentioned it in the spring, and my husband was like, Okay, here we go again...But I'm so happy with the sound of it. I think it's the best material I've ever written. It's good story telling.

In your most recent albums, you've been exploring the straight up blues, but this sounds like a dynamite classic soul record.

I've been calling it 'blues and beyond.' Because, you're right, there's so much blues and gospel in it, but it's a little departure from and expansion on traditional blues. Like any style of music, it has the capacity to expand, and you certainly don't have to stick to the traditional Delta blues.

Some of the promotional material notes that "she tells stories of her Southern upbringing." How personal are these stories?

Well, it's not necessarily my personal experience, but certainly the experience of my Southern upbringing. For example, the story of "Ebony Man" is about African-American farmers and the difficulty they've had ever since post-slavery, in keeping their land. Because a lot of it was taken from them. It's a current phenomenon as well. The New York Times just had an article about this very issue. Where ConAgra and lots of corporate farming interests have been pressuring people to give up their land. And of course, the black farmer, being at the bottom of the totem pole, has had the most difficulty over time, maintaining his property. So those are the kinds of stories I'm telling: not just my personal experience, but my Southern experience.

Wasn't your father's family from rural Mississippi? Did he have rural roots?

He was a baby when his family moved to Memphis, so he didn't really know the rural experience. My mother did because she was raised on a farm in Whitehaven. But daddy was always urban. His parents moved into the city almost right after he was born.

You moved to New York when you were fairly young. You seem pretty happy there.

Oh I am. It gave me an opportunity that I would never have found here, for expanding my musical horizons. There used to be so many ways to have income streams. Playing live, doing television, touring. All the kinds of things you can do. But because television was rooted there, I got to know Paul Shaffer and Will Lee and all those guys who did TV. So I was always first call for television shows, and artists coming through town who needed singers. That sort of thing. So New York's been very, very good to me.

And I suppose you're always helping to bring a bit of Southern flavor to the city...

Oh, no question. 'Cos they love that kind of background in your singing.
Carla and Vaneese Thomas - EDGAR MATA
  • Edgar Mata
  • Carla and Vaneese Thomas
Speaking of your singing, as I listen to the new album, I'm reminded how different your voice is from Carla's.

Oh my gosh! She has a sweeter tone, I think. It's interesting. Our church was very straight-laced. It was not the gospel experience people expect from Memphis. We grew up in a very straight-laced Baptist church. So we sang hymns and anthems. It was very different from, say, the Pentecostal religious experience. So neither of us really had gospel as a foundation to our singing. But because we had access to the blues and big band and gospel, just being in Memphis, it certainly was a part of our experience.

Did any singers in particular have a big impact on you?

Well, it's interesting. When I was younger, it was the British Invasion. I loved all the Beatles' stuff. The variety of their music was a big influence on me. Because I realized you can't be monolithic. You have to have a wide variety of musical experience to grow. So I loved the Beatles.  I was always playing and singing, but when I got to college, I began to play and sing at the same time more often, for concerts. And Elton John was a tremendous influence on my playing and writing style.

You were playing piano?

Yes, piano. And if you listen to "Down Yonder," not only is that song a little gospel-y at the end, but at the beginning it's very Elton John, like "Your Song" or "Tiny Dancer." That kinda thing. So if you combine all that with other influences like the Staple Singers and Otis Clay and Al Green, you've got a tremendous well to draw from.

You have quite a band to back up your singing.

Oh yes! I am so pleased with the guys that played, both in New York and here. In fact, the horn players on the album are playing with me at Lafayette's. All three of them. Then in New York, one of the best drummers ever is Shawn Pelton. This is right in his wheelhouse. And Will Lee can play anything. He's just multi talented, from blues to Jazz. And Robby Kondor used to be Carole King's son-in-law, so I've known Robby for years. And he plays gospel as well as anybody I've heard. It's sort of like a Spooner Oldham kind of vibe. These cats are really multifacted. And when I came down here to do some overdubs, I got Marc Franklin to do my horn arrangements. He just sits in it so great. And Lannie McMillan and Kirk Smothers. And my sister sang background on a few songs, and my friend Berneta. So it's just the best of all worlds.

Where did you record when you worked here?

At Royal Studios, of course! If the walls could talk... And Boo Mitchell was the engineer, so I had all my peeps with me. 
Back: Mr. & Mrs. Marvell Thomas, Vaneese Thomas; Front: Carla, Lorene, and Rufus Thomas - COURTESY OF STAX MUSEUM OF AMERICAN SOUL MUSIC
  • Courtesy of Stax Museum of American Soul Music
  • Back: Mr. & Mrs. Marvell Thomas, Vaneese Thomas; Front: Carla, Lorene, and Rufus Thomas

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Mempho Day Two: Valerie June Honors a Fallen Friend & More

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 1:50 PM

Valerie June at Mempho - NATHAN ARMSTRONG
  • Nathan Armstrong
  • Valerie June at Mempho
Before this past weekend, the last time I listened to Valerie June was in a tiny art shop in Paparoa, New Zealand at the end of May with my wife and sister.

The Memphis-raised alt-folk star was playing on the stereo, and the shop’s owner excitedly described herself as a big fan. We were just as thrilled to let her know that June was from our neck of the woods.

She was back there yesterday, playing what was arguably the finest set of Mempho’s second day at Shelby Farms Park. Wearing a blue-purple frock and sparkling pants, June came armed with her famously unmatchable sense of positivity — and the ability to show her hometown audience why people like Bob Dylan think she’s absolutely the bees’ knees.

From ‘Shakedown’ to ‘Astral Plane’, June played all her big hits, but it was her heartfelt tribute to Mary Burns that really put the hook in. Burns, the beloved owner of Cooper-Young’s Java Cabana who died this month after battling lung cancer, played a major role in June's life. June played her first ever gig at the cafe, was close with Burns until the end — and last night, played the 2013 track ‘Somebody to Love’ on banjo to honor her friend.

“You look around the world and you find your people,” June told the crowd. “You find your heart people - your soul people. Mary was one of those for me.”

“I’m not going to cry,” she continued, “instead I’m going to think about her spirit. That Memphis spirit. That ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ spirit. That ‘if the world don’t believe in you, believe in yourself’ spirit.”

Her set’s conclusion - which saw her joined by iconic local musician Hope Clayburn for ‘Working Woman Blues’ — was the perfect cork for her hour on stage.

Brandi Carlile at Mempho - NATHAN ARMSTRONG
  • Nathan Armstrong
  • Brandi Carlile at Mempho
Before June performed, local favorites The MDs, paying tribute to Booker T & the MGs, were the pick of the afternoon acts. Afterwards, it was alt-country headliner Brandi Carlile that deserves the plaudits. At nearly an hour and a half, Carlile — nominated this year for six Grammys — delivered a sharp, impressive performance to wrap up the festival, pulling numbers from throughout a long career in alt-country.

Like the Wu-Tang Clan the night before, Carlile — flanked, as always, by long-time collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth — ruminated on Memphis’ musical history (“how iconic is this town?”) as well as recalling a gig she played in a dive bar near the University of Memphis that saw crawfish heads lying on the floor by the end of the performance.

Earlier, the Revivalists provided a spirited set, though lead singer David Shaw was perhaps asked to do too much by his largely immobile band mates, gamely providing the only stage presence. Still, their crowd rivaled that of The Raconteurs the night before. Californian indie popsters lovelytheband disappointed, with lead singer Mitchy Collins seeming to spend more time talking about the band than playing their tunes. Show, don’t tell, brother.

For me however, June was the needle that really hit the groove. Watching one of Memphis’ finest recent musical imports doing her thing as the last few rays of weekend light yawned across the festival, it’s hard to think of a better lasting memory of this year’s Mempho.
  • Spencer Johnson, Creative Studios
  • Mempho Fest 2019

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