Wednesday night is not usually a big entertainment night in Memphis, but on October 29, many of Memphis’ best industry figures came together at Purple Haze downtown to celebrate the release of veteran rapper Frayser Boy’s new album Not No Moe on the Phixieous label. Frayser’s own DJ Bay was on the ones and twos, and Tune C, DJ Zirk, Miscellaneous,Carlos Sargent, DJ Care Bear, Lil Wyte, Snootie Wild, Jason Da Hater,Suavo J, Louis Goggins of the Memphis Flyer and Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell of the Recording Academy and Royal Studios were among the attendees. Frayser Boy, Lil Wyte and Miscellaneous performed a few songs from the album toward the end of the night, and the event was all love, fun and food.
My first stop was at the jazz showcase of Cutting Edge NOLA, which was going on at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club on North Claiborne Avenue, a neighborhood venue that also serves as headquarters for the social aid and pleasure club known as the Black Men of Labor, whose logo is prominently displayed on the premises. Though not as well known as the city’s other jazz club, Snug Harbor, Sweet Lorraine’s proved to be a beautiful and spacious club for live music, with a large stage and a beautiful grand piano. The band that was performing was that of Jairus Daigle from Lake Charles, a young jazz violinist with two albums under his belt already who is about to head to the Berklee School of Music in Boston this fall. Many of his band members are family members, as the Daigle family name is well-known in Lake Charles for jazz, soul and funk. Although the jazz style Jairus performed was fusion and contemporary jazz rather than traditional, straight ahead jazz, I was still very impressed by the young man’s facile mastery of the violin.
For 22 years, the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference has been going on in New Orleans, giving new artists and musicians an opportunity to showcase their music, and giving music industry professionals a chance to network and adjust to changes in technology and the climate of our industry. The first day was largely registration and panels, including a demo listening session where I was one of the judges. I was especially impressed by Jackson, Mississippi southern roots rocker Jason Daniels, whose song “You’re an Angel” had a definitive New Orleans aura, as well as the world-music/indie fusion group Pans Permia, from Miami, Florida who opted to perform an acoustic song for us rather than merely play a CD.
Memphis guitarist Garry Goin is a fairly well-known figure in the local music scene, who often appears at Memphis Grizzlies games at Fed Ex Forum, or at the annual Stax to the Max Soulsville Festival at the Stax Museum in South Memphis. Memphis saxophonist Pat Register is also very well known around town, and when he and Goin came together, the result was a band called Dual Drive, whose debut album The Memphis Project was recently released on Memphis-based blues label Icehouse Records. The album celebrates the Memphis music legacy, with new smooth-jazz-leaning arrangements of classic Memphis soul songs like “Take Me To The River” and “Dock of the Bay”, and on Tuesday July 1st, Garry and Pat were at Spin Street Music in Memphis to play a few of the songs from the album and to sign copies of it for enthusiastic fans. The crowd that gathered included a lot of Memphis musicians and music industry people, from Johnny and Jeff Phillips of Select-O-Hits, to Jack Cooper from the University of Memphis, and drummer James Sexton, who played on the recording.
Since the last time I had been in New Orleans, the great Louisiana Music Factory record store had moved from their longtime location on Decatur Street to new digs on the ground level of the building where Offbeat Magazine is headquartered at the foot of Frenchmen Street. While the new location is smaller (there’s no upstairs), there’s still plenty of selection. I can usually expect to spend about $100 in this store, and this trip was no exception. While vinyl and CD’s are the main attractions, don’t overlook the amazing book department, which is for the most part restricted to books about music or books about New Orleans (I’m especially partial to books that are about both). There’s also a fairly decent selection of DVD’s (mostly about Louisiana), some T-shirts, and an assortment of concert poster replicas. Don’t miss it.
After I left Travis Heights, I drove over to East Austin and parked my car across the street from the Carver Community Center. As I was walking down the hill, I came first to Trailer Space Records, the cool vinyl and used CD shop that is also a music venue. During SXSW, it can get too crowded to come inside, but I was able to do some browsing before I continued walking down past the cemetery to the Hotel Vegas. While there, i checked the SXSW schedule on my phone and saw that the 1970’s funk/soul band Kool & Together was playing at the 512 Rooftop on Sixth Street, so I decided to walk over that way and see if I could catch their show.
Also in South Austin is a record store called Friends of Sound, which can be hard to find despite its South Congress Avenue address, as it opens onto the alley behind. Unlike Waterloo or End of an Ear, Friends of Sound sells nothing new, and no formats other than vinyl. The emphasis is on soul and funk, especially 45’s, and some of the best and rarest ones often come through the store, particularly ones with a Texas connection. Prices are not low, but the selection of records that aren’t seen anywhere else is significant.
With Austin being such a hip town, it has become ground zero for the vinyl renaissance, with plenty of vinyl record shops in several different neighborhoods. South Austin’s End of an Ear is definitely one of the better shops, with a specialized inventory that emphasizes indie rock, jazz, soul, funk and reggae. Vinyl is the main thing here, although there are plenty of compact discs as well, with a decided bias toward independent labels. A small selection of music books and DVD’s rounds out the offerings. Live music gigs in the shop are not uncommon either, at least during South By Southwest.
End Of An Ear
2209 South First Street
Austin, TX 78704
Memphis rapper Snipes has always tried to connect Memphis’ soul past and its rap present in a way that few rap artists other than Al Kapone have done locally. His shows were characterized by live musicians at a time when few known rap acts other than The Roots were doing that on a regular basis, and his label Overwater Entertainment had a roster that included singers as well as rappers. Setting him apart even more from many of his fellow Memphis rap artists was the often upbeat and inspirational nature of many of his songs. All of these trends are very much in evidence on The Classic Soul Project, a 6-song EP that is releasing today on Bandcamp. The six tracks, produced by Kingpin Da Composer, are all based around samples of soul songs that have an old and deep root in Memphis, such as the obvious single for the upcoming warm weather months “Summer Breeze”, based around the Isley Brother’s classic take of the Seals and Croft hit from the 1970’s. “Keep Steppin” is based around Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” and “The Approach” features a snippet from Willie Hutch as well as a rap verse from Memphis trombonist/band leader Suavo J. Finally, the closing “We’re Gonna Make It” is a positive and uplifting anthem that wouldn’t be out of place on gospel radio. As for the overall sound of the project, the combination of classic soul sounds and Memphis-style rap creates an atmosphere reminiscent of classic Eightball & MJG. The Classic Soul Project can be downloaded for a donation here.
Young Clifford Antone had left his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas in 1968 to attend the University of Texas at Austin, but his college career was cut short by a marijuana arrest. What could have been the beginning of a downward spiral was anything but for Antone, who in 1975 founded a night club that would prove to be one of the greatest blues night clubs in the world. Antone’s moved several times over its long career in Austin, but its impact was significant in the city, helping to establish the reputation Austin enjoys today as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” By 1987, the night club had inspired a record label called Antone’s, and a retail record shop of the same name on Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas campus. The empire that seemed impregnable began to fall apart after Clifford Antone’s death, however. The record label failed after acquiring the assets of another bankrupt Austin label called Watermelon Records. A bankruptcy auction left the Antone’s masters in the hands of New West Records, where at least some of them are still available. The club became more of an indie rock entity, and finally moved out of downtown into East Austin before closing. Today all that remains of the Antone’s name and legacy is the retail record store near the campus. Heavily skewed to vinyl and the blues, it is a must-visit spot for blues lovers, and prices are reasonable. Even the used compact discs are full of unexpected items, especially in the Texas section.