Jumpsturdy News From Memphis
Before he became a very large man and named his band Mountain, Lesley West used to play in the Vagrants at a club near my house called Action City. Judging only from what I see off my balcony, not to mention what lands on it (beer cans! balloons!), Memphis is turning into an Action City all its own. Meteors blaze through the sunset sky over the river to West Memphis, where Howlin' Wolf used to live, but when it's foggy at night, the bridge that crosses Old Muddy sits in the dark, daring drivers to climb it. I can't think why this is so: the bridge is brightly lit most nights, and has soft blue ones every once in a while. But just when visibility is poorest, there are no lights at all. The shooting stars are great fun to watch, though, so Mama don't want no parades or fiestas interfering with them! Alas, that is not to be. The Month of the Popping Buds is upon us and, while the trees have not yet bloomed, Memphis is busily gearing up for its hot spring. Old Lesley can even come down and play "Mississippi Queen" for us; if we don't let him, you know the casinos will. David Acey, Chairman of Africa in April, tells me that the weekend of 15 - 18 April will be jammed with fun. In its 13th year, this festival, designed around bi-cultural exchange and expression, will highlight Egypt, with African food, song and dance, reggae and soul music lining Beale Street all day Saturday, Apr. 17, spilling over into W.C. Handy Park, and culminating in a Blues Festival that same night. Fortunately for us bacchanalians, all this happens on "Health Awareness" Day! Kids get out of school free on Friday, thanks to a local law telling them to skedaddle over downtown. Sunday will be devoted to gospel and jazz Me, I just want to taste groundnut, get my hair braided by a griot who will say I look like his sister, and dance with members of the ambassadorial staff in from Washington, DC. Hooey, Benjy! Note received in the mail recently: "Jump! Rest yo' rump on a stump! Love, Dr. John the Night Tripper" (with handdrawn pictures of the moon and stars.) I do hope that someone will save me a stump at the Beale Street Music Festival, because 4 stages over 33 acres of Tom Lee Park is an awful lot of ground for me to jump, at least without a broomstick. Good thing the good Doctor likes to check a girl's pulse. They say that Riverside Drive will be closed to traffic -- now, don't none of you go drowning off the levee, please -- I am not British and therefore cannot write a Booker Prize-winning novel about you if you do. (What is it with these Brits and the Booker Prize lately? Three years running, count 'em, 3! And there have been three corpses as central characters around which assorted other people moan and bellyache. Strange. Perhaps we should invite some British novelists over to Memphis, cheer 'em up a bit, eh what?) Last week, I mentioned some of the Festival's headliners; here's s'more for you springtime revelers: The Bar-Kays, Eddie Floyd, Peter Frampton and Robin Trower(!), Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Sheryl Crow. Sure, you might be planning to attend JazzFest, but why bother? Our crowds will be smaller, and if he doesn't bring his usual bevy of beautiful backup singers, here's a special Memphis treat (or "threat" if you add an "h"): I have already worked out the choreography for Dr. John's "The Olive Tree," off his latest CD "Anutha Zone." As the small but intellectually elite group of you who have heard this sizzling song already knows, a dance routine is a must, so all it needs now is a few more Jumpettes. Best Banter on Beale Street There's one club on Beale Street that must have the hardest crowd any musician could ever encounter. Why? Because they come to Silky O'Sullivan's to drink, mess around, get crazy and drink some more, that's why. So the corollary to this fact is that there aren't too many musicians who could handle this crowd, but songstress Barbara Blue keeps them well in hand Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7-9PM and certain weekend evenings too, with only a pianist to accompany her. Miss Blue, a throaty belter who looks like a cross between the elfin Judy Garland and a biker's Betty Boop, depending on what she's wearing, sings a deep repertoire of blues, standards and drinking songs. She even calls Randy Newman's "Guilty" her drinking song, and I'll let her do that because it is such a gem. (Newman, Nyro, and Nilsson, the triumvirate of American pop genius!) She is up to the challenge, sho nuff. One has to admire the spontaneity with which she manages to stun them with a good mix of Memphis sounds, from 30's blues to kdlang covers, while slinging sass right back at Silky's crowd of beer guzzlers and making them feel welcome all at the same time. Nice pipes! Barbara is planning another trip to the studio soon, to carry on where her first CD, "The Barbara Blue Band -- Out of the Blue" left off. A true belle of Beale, she gives some of her best performances at other clubs, when she guests with the likes of Blind Mississippi Morris, Robert Nighthawk II, and the King Bees. Crossed the state line into Mississippi last week and had a fine ol' time at the Horseshoe Casino in Robinsonville, home of Bluesville (and the Blues Legends Museum), soon to host Bluesaid II on April 11-12. Loved the restaurant (lobster thermidor makes such a nice change from pulled pork, dont ya know) and the friendly ambience. Y'all remember that movie I mentioned last week? Well, guess where you can see it running non-stop for free! I kid you not. At their Museum! Now no one has an excuse to miss Mavis in action. What we are jumping to this week: "Fly on the Wall" ("you mean the woman he left me for is a man?!!!") Keisa Brown; "I'm a Man," the Yardbirds (recorded right here - is that Keith Relf on harp?); "Crossing 110th Street," Bobby Womack; "Mighty Oaks," Mark Sallings and the Famous Unknowns. Visual and auditory stimuli unique to Memphis: a sign on someone's front door: "Move Your HeadBoard." Is that what the aforesaid Eddie Floyd was singing about in "Knock on Wood"? And heard on the radio: "Take Elvis Presley as an alternate." But of course. And if that does not work, put the lime in the coconut and call me in the morning, I'll tell you what to do. So, kids, I know all about Spring Fever, but keep your trash off my balcony, please, unless you intend to Pass the biscuits, cos it's King Biscuit --- Time and love everybody,
Congratulations to Memphis's very own Staple Singers on their induction last week into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Way to go, Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha! And if you're thinking, "sho nuff those Staples can sing, but -- rock 'n roll?" -- just you watch our Mavis clap her hands during "The Weight" in the movie, "The Last Waltz." Watch her raise her hands, look at how she turns that beat around. I have long suspected that Mavis's talents were greatly underrated, and I still think so; let's just give her a phone book to sing and a few Grammys, shall we? While on the subject, what fine company to be inducted with! Curtis Mayfield, Macca himself, and Dusty Springfield. Memphis, the home of hot soul, had a special fondness for Ms. Springfield -- she was a grown-up talent back when Lulu and Cilla were still teasing teenyboppers. That love was mutual too: Ms. Springfield recorded one of her albums here, Dusty in Memphis, a stone soul masterpiece as memorable as any blend of British and Southern sass. We miss her. Saint Patrick's Night: Thousands of suds-swilling old-enuffs packed Beale Street, and Barbara Blue certainly wound up belting to most of them over at Silky O'Sullivan's, where much of the official festivities took place. Down the street aways, things were a bit more subdued at the Center for Southern Folklore, where we enjoyed the Daddy Mack Blues Band and their cooked just right, electric guitar-based blues. When you visit the Center, perhaps Beale Street's last bastion of No smoking etiquette, you can wander about or sit at the counter where Leonard might pour you a cuppa joe. The good news for you smokers is what you can find to nosh on at this same counter: pickled eggs! I never tasted one before, and I been not having them for too long to start now. But a basket of individually wrapped Goo Goo Clusters, the pride of Tennessee, sits right next to those pickled eggs and jalapenos; just as good as a cigarette anytime, I'll jump to that. Little did I know that on this very site was aspirin first invented -- yes, it used to be the home of Plough, a homely drug store, long before they became the international pharmaceutical house of Schering-Plough and hotfooted it to the Big Board. I wonder if Plough's drugstore sold horehound candy, the kind kids eat in "Andersonville." Hooey, Benjy, I bet they did! More congratulations are in order-- with the Memphis chapter of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) set to hold its awards ceremony at the Pyramid next week, let's hear it for two nominees in the Harmonica Player Category: Mark Sallings of the Famous Unknowns and Billy Gibson of the Junkyardmen. Two sweeter, more gracious harpists cannot be imagined, at least by this Jumpster. They both turn heads with their playing, but their wealth of talent extends to the gentle way each has with beginners; too bad they're both on the road too often to teach!! Well, it's not too bad for them, of course. Sallings recently toured Australia for 2 weeks and we hope to learn you all about it in this column before the next moon. And hot on the heels of their latest CD, "Scrapheap Full of Blues," featuring this priceless lyric: Honey, take your time Cos all my best parts is used, the Junkyardmen are back in the studio with Jim Gaines at the helm, anticipated release set for May. This weekend, they appeared at W.C. Handy's Blues Hall for three hot sets, bringing Memphis James onstage to do my all-time favorite Muddy classic, "Mannish Boy." Now aint that a lot of work! Across the street at the Black Diamond, Johnny Rawls tore up the house with his funky set (he looked fine, too), although I fail to see what's so funny about the fact that I've never heard "Stroking." Where I jump from, we have "Groovin'" and I'm sure they mean the same thing, so there. Down on the corner (what corner? where was I?) Mason Ruffner's band featured Parker Card wringing the Dickens out of "Take Me to the River," a version worth at least the price of 10 Goo Goo Clusters. Wrap 'em up -- I'll take it. Just some advance word on the Beale Street Music Festival: the kickoff for Memphis in May. Dates are Fri, May 7 through Sunday, May 9, and here are some of my favorite headliners (yours will probably appear too, the list is long): Dr. John the Night Tripper, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter (ooh, "Patches!" somebody give me a hankie), Booker T & and MG's, and James Cotton. So many gigs, so little----- Time and love everybody,
Sometimes it starts at the prom dances, where dizzy teenage couples can't be pried apart. Then the radio switchboards light up and, next thing you know, if it's really schmaltzy, the bands who have geared up all year for June weddings will be asked if they know how to play it. If it's not sappy though, if it's a really cool song with a mean hook -- look out, by summer, that's all you will hear: "Too Hot," "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," "Hey Jude," "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." A hit record conducive to that rarest of driving moments: when teenagers and their parents agree that it's great.
I once lived on a tropical island so small that you had to be ready to put your business in the street, 'cos if you didn't, somebody else would. Among a population who loved to both cha-cha and slowdance, adultery was the most popular pastime and "Secret Lover" became the island's quasi-official theme song, at least for a season or two. All the folks loved dancing to it, even with their own spouses.
"Memphis Monday Morning," the latest single by Bobby "Blue" Bland, is already receiving airplay on some of Memphis's hipper radio stations, and for similar reasons.
It might be March, but the summer rain is sure coming down, if you listen to Bobby. There's an all-season, all-purpose timelessness to this plaintive, updated blues. Hey, time and love, as the old gal said. Here is a tight, righteously sweetened arrangement surrounding a lyric that no one will tire of hearing, even after it goes crossover, as is probable, onto AOR and urban contemporary charts. Mr. Bland is in rare form, controlling his emotion just enough to give us intensity without overkill. The horn section, with tenor and fluegelhorn, backs those gritty lyrics in a way that would make Herb Alpert smile, when even he doesn't have much to smile about anymore. Here is a man braving wet pavements and cold drizzle to hit the depot and bug the trainman:
Mr. Ticketmaster, tell me where is my baby bound? Pleeeeeze, Mr. Ticketmaster, can you tell me where is my baby bound? (I gotta know!) I'd do anything just to turn that train around.
When he can't learn where she's gone, he dials Station Information; would they check their schedule please, he's down here on his knees. Look out, he's choking up now. Here comes that signature snort! It's still cold, ain't no sunshine 'cos she's gone, and you've got to wonder whether she left in a huff early Sunday morning, or later that night after thinking it through. But you haven't heard piano this crisp in a while. Brilliant arrangement-- watch the urban contempo drivetime M.D.s falling for the sax-based hook and sweet solos on the album cut.
Yes, Bobby's got it down proper this time, taking us on a tour of the wet, cold and miserable Memphis that we all meet sooner or later, coming up from Beale to Third Street and, have mercy, from the Peabody across the street to the Days Inn! Why the Days Inn, Bobby? Maybe because they have the nastiest bellhop in the South there, a guy who can scare wimmen into triple-locking their doors against the devil. I hope for his sake that that's not where Bobby's woman is hiding out. The Days Inn may not need Bobby Blue Bland's good will, but with "Memphis Monday Morning," he has created quite a cache of good will for himself.
Join SMN's own Jump as she guest hosts on the "Juke and Jam" show, Memphis's showcase for traditional and modern blues, WQOX-FM, 88.5, Saturday, 20 March. 4:00-8:00PM.
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Fowl Ball: An impressive flock of local and international showbirds gathered recently for an impromptu musical performance at the James D. Martin Wildlife Park in Gadsden, AL. You are cordially invited to watch.