I had been at Duwayne Burnside’s birthday event at the Blues Shack earlier in the evening, and he had mentioned that drummer Kent Kimbrough was also having a birthday party at Junior’s Juke Joint #2 in Holly Springs, so when Duwayne’s event seemed to be calming down, I drove back to Holly Springs to check out the other event. Junior’s Juke Joint was clearly packed to the rafters, and I had trouble finding a place to park. A rather loud argument was going on in the parking lot when I arrived, but I went on inside, where a DJ was spinning blues and southern soul. At one point, a singer named Benny Moore got up to perform, and the club’s house band, known as the Holly Springs Rhythm Section, backed him up. Although I had not heard of him before, he was a decent singer. After his performance, with the DJ providing the music, a woman who said she was one of the late R. L. Burnside’s daughters pulled me onto the dance floor. I’m not a dancer by any means, but it was fun anyway.
My homeboy Otis Logan invited me to a 4 Soul Band rehearsal that was being held on a Tuesday night in downtown Memphis in the upstairs of an old warehouse. As it turned out, the 4 Soul Band was backing up an up-and-coming R & B group called Offici8l, which had been featured on the TV show the X-Factor. They were getting ready for an out-of-town show on the weekend, and I was able to get some good video footage of Otis Logan on drums, the 4 Soul band, and Offici8l as well.
Tyke T was already an up-and-coming Memphis rapper when the local radio station K-97 proclaimed him the “Next Big Thing” after he won a contest they sponsored. Since then, he has been to New York and several other places for concerts, and although he might not be nationally known yet, he is part of a growing movement of Memphis rappers who seem to be more positive, more upbeat and more lyrical. He is also part of a growing local trend to rap with live musicians instead of just recorded tracks or a DJ, and for his performance at the River Arts Festival, he chose one of Memphis’ best up-and-coming bands, 4 Soul to back him, along with live singers, and guest appearances from other Memphis rappers such as Li’l Cam and S.O.U.L. Altogether it was a rap performance that could appeal even to people who don’t usually like rap, and that was probably precisely the point. Tyke’s lyrics avoid the negative tendency of the local artists that lean more to the gangsta style, and the live band gives him an appeal to those whose musical preferences lean toward other genres.
Keep up with Tyke T:
Keep up with 4 Soul:
Memphis indie duo Deering and Down wear their Memphis influences on their sleeve. Yet the 13-year-old duo of Lahna Deering and the Rev. Neil Down started not in the Bluff City, but in the unlikely town of Skagway, Alaska, when Deering’s mother introduced her to Rev. Down, who was known in the community as a musician and band-leader. The quick friendship led to an album, a cross-country tour that included a stop in Memphis, and eventually an album recorded at Yellow Brick Studios in Memphis in 2007. Shortly, thereafter, Deering and Down relocated to Memphis, cutting yet another album, 2009’s Out There Somewhere at the legendary Royal Studios, working with Willie and Boo Mitchell, Teenie Hodges and other Memphis musical legends. Memphis music was always part of Down’s musical vision, and Deering and Down pull off the seemingly impossible, reconciling alternative/indie music with soul in a way that doesn’t seem forced or contrived. Given the rise of other soul-inflected indie bands over the last couple of years, it could be truthfully argued that Deering and Down were ahead of their time.
Keep up with Deering and Down:
For whatever reason, the music at this year’s River Arts Festival seemed oriented toward folk, rock and country, with far less jazz, blues, soul or gospel than previous years’ festivals. But one exception was Clarksdale-based bluesman Terry “Big T” Williams, who played all Saturday afternoon on the festival’s far northern end of Main Street, occasionally accompanied by Latin percussionist Rico Rumba as well. Big T’s repertoire stretches from traditional blues to soul tunes like Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.” Occasionally, groups of festival goers would stop to listen before heading further down to the art exhibits.
If you turn east on Renwick Street off of Highway 165 in Monroe, Louisiana, you will soon come to the intersection of Griffin Street, where you will notice a massive, two-story building that resembles a school gymnasium more than anything else. A sign outside announces that it is the Elite Lounge, and a closer look reveals that the complex of buildings is truly massive, including what appears to be a motel as well. Although it has been closed for many years now, the Elite Lounge at 1207 Griffin Street is a part of a forgotten part of Monroe history. Built as Cain’s Lounge and Motel,opened by Willie and Edna Cain, it was one of the city’s biggest night life spots, often serving as the site of performances by local singing star Toussaint McCall, and other singers and bands, and the adjacent motel met a need during the dark days of segregation when white-owned motels were closed to Black people, no matter how wealthy or famous. Later it became the Elite Lounge, serving as the center of a thriving blues and southern soul scene in Monroe. Unfortunately, Monroe became wild and violent in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and eventually the woman that owned the building chose to shut it down. However, the building doesn’t seem quite abandoned, as there are cars about, and it seems that a least of couple of people might be living in the old motel. The owner’s request for a city liquor license earlier this year led to speculation that the historic lounge might reopen. But so far, that remains merely a wish.
On the first Sunday of each month, Brinson’s in downtown Memphis sponsors a free event called First Sunday, which seems to be something of a music showcase and a trade show all at once, with live performances and exhibits of locally-sourced products. This month, my homeboys in the 4 Soul Band were scheduled to perform, so I went to support them. 4 Soul is one of our city’s best neo-soul/funk/jazz bands, performing in a number of local venues, and behind several local rap artists.
Memphis musicians were shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of a young drummer, Mario “Yoggi” Stewart, but on September 10, a number of musicians and relatives came together to honor his memory in the most appropriate way possible, with music and song. The setting was the Blue Worm AKA The Blues Night Club, a neighborhood fixture on the backside of the Lamar/Airways Shopping Center in Orange Mound. The band was anchored by three drummers playing three sets on stage, with “Cowboy” Neal on guitar and my homeboy Danny Peterson on bass. I had intended to observe, enjoy and film, but I got called to the stage to play keyboards. Other guest musicians and singers included Tony Gentry, Deij’rah Terrell, Gerod Rayborn and Terry Wright. The night closed with a drummers’ shout shed in memory of Yoggi, and Cowboy thanking all of those who came out. It was a great night of Memphis music, with nothing but love and respect between the musicians.
When I left Hal and Mal’s, I headed on over to F. Jones’ Corner, where something called the Dexter Allen Blues Band was playing. Despite the name, Dexter Allen seemed to perform more soul than blues, but I was quite impressed with his first set, as he did two of my favorite songs. The first one, “Cruising”, is a difficult song to do right, as it immediately invites comparison with Smokey Robinson’s original, which is sheer perfection. However, it’s not one of those songs that just should not be covered, and Allen did a tremendous job of making the song his own, and his band gave it a slower, funkier gospel and neo-soul feel. He also performed Bobby Womack’s “Harry Hippie”, not a Womack song that gets covered frequently. Of course, everyone knows it, and one of the beautiful things about F. Jones’ Corner is that in a place like that, everyone will sing the hook together.
A little over a year ago or so, I wrote about the sorry state of Jackson’s historic Farish Street, a redevelopment nightmare that has left most of the street still abandoned, and most of the historic buildings rapidly crumbling beyond repair. The exception I noted at the time was a place called F. Jones Corner, a privately-owned blues juke joint that hopefully can serve as a template for what the rest of the street could and should be. F. Jones is an after-hours bar, and that is unusual enough for Jackson, but what is even stranger is that it books live music almost every night of the week, serves food, and attracts a crowd that’s nearly evenly split between whites and Blacks. Perhaps the key to F. Jones Corner’s success is the music, which is centered around Mississippi’s twin gifts to the world, blues and soul. On the Friday night I visited, the Sorrento Ussery Band was on stage, performing everything from funky down home blues to classic soul, with the dance floor full, and basically no place to sit inside. Fortunately, there’s a large courtyard outside which is available when the weather is nice, and even an outdoor stage, although nobody could tell me if the stage is ever used. The decor inside is historic, mostly ephemera from Jackson, from Farish Street itself, or from the blues and soul legacy. Things keep going at the Corner until 4 AM, and a sign on the wall near the entrance sums it all up nicely- “No Black, No White, Just The Blues.”