Tribute to the Coach 

Select-O-Hits vice president Johnny Phillips has been in the music business for 46 years. He regularly releases albums and distributes products by other labels, operating as a one-stop shop for independent country, pop, rock, rap, and gospel labels and the stores which stock their records. Phillips has been involved with charity work and numerous outreach projects over the last five decades -- but in the last few years, two causes have really moved him: Hurricane Katrina and the health of former University of Memphis Tigers basketball coach Larry Finch.

Last fall, Phillips put together Hip Hop Helps: After the Storm, a rap compilation that raised money for the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund. Now he's released Eye of a Tiger: A Tribute to Larry Finch, which will benefit the Friends of Larry Finch Foundation, a nonprofit to offset medical and living costs for the star player and coach felled by a debilitating stroke in 2002.

"Primarily, I'm a fan," says Phillips, who attended the university a few years before Finch, a Melrose High School graduate who led the Tigers to the 1973 Final Four.

"Larry was a star," recalls Phillips. "It was such a big deal when he decided to stay in Memphis [to play for the Tams, an American Basketball Association team and, later, to coach the Tigers in the '80s and '90s]. For the last 35 years, it seems like he's always given so much to the university and to Memphis."

Originally, Phillips planned to make a personal donation to the foundation. Then he decided to put together a project that would generate cash flow and public interest. "I can't do a whole lot," he says simply, "but I can do something on the music side."

With copies available at 30 area Wal-Mart stores, FYE, Borders, Cat's Music, Pop Tunes, SpinStreet, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, the Tiger Bookstore, and the official Tiger booth at FedExForum, Phillips' CD is poised to make a difference for Finch. And with cuts ranging from Jimi Jamison's "Eye of the Tiger" and John Kilzer's "Further Along" to Al Kapone's "For My True Fans" and Jimmy Davis' rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues," Eye of a Tiger makes a great gift for U of M basketball fans and music lovers alike.

And, while you're finishing your last-minute Christmas shopping, you might want to look for these other recent releases: Drew Holcomb's Live From Memphis album, recorded at the Hi-Tone Café, is available on CD or as a download via DrewHolcomb.com.

Cary Hudson, formerly of Blue Mountain and more recently spotted backing chitlin-circuit star Bobby Rush, also has a new disc out. It's called Bittersweet Blues, and it's on his own Black Dog Records label. Look for it at local stores or go to CaryHudson.com.

Or, if you're looking for other music-related presents, head to the Center for Southern Folklore for copies of archival photographs of local stars like B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, and Furry Lewis.

Christmas has come early for a few local musicians, including organist Lester Snell, trumpeter Ben Cauley, trombonist Jack Hale, saxophonist Lannie MacMillan, and arranger Willie Mitchell, whose work on John Mayer's Continuum warranted three Grammy nominations. Ardent engineer John Hampton, who mixed The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers, is up for two nominations.

click to enlarge Larry Finch
  • Larry Finch

Last week, the Blues Foundation announced their nominees for the 2007 Blues Music Awards, giving nods to Memphis-bred Charlie Musselwhite (the harp master is up for four awards, including Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year); Nesbit, Mississippi, resident Jerry Lee Lewis (Last Man Standing, for Comeback Album of the Year); and Beale Street diva Barbara Blue, who's been nominated in the Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year category.

And earlier this month, The Masqueraders were presented with an Entertainer of the Year award by the Beale Street Merchants Association. Catch the soul vocal trio, veterans of Hi, Goldwax, and Hot Buttered Soul sessions, live at Blues City Café every Friday and Saturday night.

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