Memphis Marvels - One Night in Memphis
I drove through Memphis one afternoon and asked the folks at the visitor’s center what I should see. They weren’t much help - I was an inconvenience to them near closing time. I sort of already knew what to do. I asked for directions to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and cried with everyone else at the end of the intro film. As I headed out of town I ate supper at a BBQ restaurant that didn’t impress me and thought I needed to come back someday. As I wandered about the country in 2013-2014, I finished that thought. Then it was “what do I do with two days?” I headed to Beale Street, had some much better ribs - and Delta tamales - and talked to a few locals and my first bartender here. The band was okay, but I set out the next day to sample the city’s history (every trip for me is about food, music, and history). I chose to ignore the Indie Memphis Film Festival features and shorts, but the wrap party caught my eye - several bands at a venue that was not normally a venue, but a private residence. After meeting some great people on Friday and reading about this peculiar arrangement, I was starting to think that I liked this place. Like most people, I knew Memphis music from some great cover bands - disco, rock, and British Invasion and New Wave stars, and a couple of Saturday Night Live cutups - I just didn’t know it all came from Memphis. I learned a little over the years, a little more on that first “drive thru” but I ran smack into some of the originators of that “Memphis sound” at that home/performance space off South Main - The Warehouse. I walked inside and stared in amazement! Here was a stage, room, and bar in someone’s house. I wandered around the room looking lost. Once people started coming in and the music began, my positive and inspiring visit to Memphis continued. I met lawyers, teachers, fans and people involved with Indie Memphis. The music was better than what I had seen the night before - more Memphis in my mind. Then I realized I was in the presence of Memphis legends. The three brothers backing the second performer had put Memphis in the forefront of soul. They played behind Hi records artists like Ann Peebles (I Can’t Stand the Rain, later a disco hit for Eruption) and of course Al Green. Only later did I learn that the guitarist had co-written songs I knew by The Talking Heads (Take Me To the River) and UB40 (Here I Am, Baby). I had the pleasure of hearing the Hodges brothers - Leroy, Charles, and the guitarist, Mabon (“Teenie”) who helped write those hits for Green. It was one of Teenie’s last performances.
I have been to The Warehouse twice since I moved here for unique events like that wrap party - a fundraiser for musicians and a record release party. On the first occasion, I spotted the owner, introduced myself, and told him he had influenced my decision to live in Memphis. Both times, I get that same feeling as the first - I can’t believe they let some guy like me in here. The place is amazing and unique. You should not let an opportunity to take it in slip by.
Okay, big surprise here - I like live music, even a bar band playing the tried and true classics. Some of those bands even stray from trying to mimic the original. But I can hear music I and the rest of the world know on the radio or on one of the CD’s cluttering up my room. Hard to fathom, but when I came here and started seeing local, some newer, bands, I was surprised that a hundred years after Beale Street got hot, fifty or sixty years after the heyday of Sun and Stax, there is still great music being made here. It’s original, but not without roots in those great originators. Current performers will play some of the classics, but there are dates and places that feature only their original work. If you’re only going out to hear touring acts or cover bands, you’re missing Memphis marvels - songwriter nights and venues. Add some hospitality and compassion to that and what do you have? A fundraiser for a cause! I mentioned one at the Warehouse - musicians helping fellow musicians with healthcare.
After a grueling Labor Day weekend of volunteer work downtown, South Main Sounds (Mark Parsell) was the place to be. Comfort food and some great and caring musicians playing (mostly) original work at a venue with songwriters as its mission. Not to focus on one, songwriter nights and local musicians supporting great causes happen regularly around the city. Again, not unique to Memphis, but unique in what they do. Skip the touring act you’ve seen before and catch one of these nights or events while you’re here. If you’re here, put your favorite CD away, catch some local songwriters. There are scheduled songwriters nights, where you will hear unique local music, all over the city on certain nights - one of them will fit your schedule.
Last year I ditched the satellite radio subscription and put the money into local music - discs and tip buckets. On that Labor Day I put my lunch money (the volunteer opp bought us lunch and dinner over the weekend) in the bucket to help Hurricane Harvey relief.