Wednesday night is becoming more of a night for live music in Memphis. In addition to Jerome Chism’s weekly performance at the Silver Spoon in Hickory Hill, Memphis soul singer Rodney “King” Ellis has started hosting a weekly Grown Folks Wednesday event at Memphis Sounds downtown, featuring the superb Fifth Element Band, and singer Jolynn Diggs. The club is down a flight of stairs underground, which gives it a sort of speakeasy atmosphere, and the band plays great soul and blues music all night long. And there’s no cover charge either. Meanwhile, Ellis is said to be hard at work on his forthcoming new album.
Last Saturday night, December 14, I was invited out to the all-new Deuces Bar and Grill on Winchester Road next to Hickory Ridge Mall to see a performance by two of Memphis’ best-known female vocalists, Carmen Hicks and Stefanie Bolton. They were backed by a first-rate band, anchored by drummer Taz Fields, and despite the venue’s newness, it was packed to overflowing. Deuces is located in the strip mall where Pop Tunes record shop was years ago, near the corner of Winchester and Hickory Hill roads. The club is comfortably equipped and spacious enough to accomodate even large events.
Deuces Bar and Grill
5959 Winchester Road
Memphis, TN 38115
Originally based in Birmingham, Alabama, the Yisrael Trio has been making a lot of noise in New Orleans where they are now based, and in the afternoon of the first day of Cutting Edge NOLA, they were across the street from our conference at the patio of a club on Esplanade called Mojitos. Quite a few people from Cutting Edge were over there on the patio, and the trio was playing an exciting mix of jazz and neo-soul, sort of the perfect soundtrack to such a beautiful afternoon in such an attractive location.
Every other Monday the Memphis Music Commission sponsors a Memphis Music Monday event at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street, and the first one of the summer featured a Memphis soul singer named Rodney Ellis, who had first gained some attention singing hooks for rappers Eightball & MJG. His performance was quite good, so when he announced that he would be performing again out at the Daq, a new nightclub in Hickory Hill, I decided to go out there.
The Daq was located at Hacks Cross Road and the Bill Morris Parkway, and proved to be a large and sleekly modern venue, with an ample area for bands to play against the north wall. The place was actually really crowded for a Monday night, and as I arrived, one band was taking down so that King Ellis’ band could set up. Club nights of any sort are fairly rare on Mondays, so it was great to see a singer working with a live band on a Monday night here in Memphis
After dinner, I headed out Highway 25 from Jackson headed to Philadelphia, Mississippi in Neshoba County to check out Jarekus Singleton, the hot new Mississippi blues artist who was appearing at the new 424 Blues Cafe, a venue so new it’s really not even open yet.
Neshoba County had a turbulent and violent history during the civil rights movement, but nowadays, thanks to the Choctaw Indians, the county is beginning to look more like Las Vegas, with elaborate casino hotels on both sides of Highway 16 as you approach Philadelphia. When I arrived at the town square, it was evident that there had been some kind of festival going on downtown, for there were cars everywhere, and even some motor homes set up. The new 424 Blues Cafe proved to be beautiful, and rather elaborate, with large central stairs heading up to a balcony overhead. Displays of records and memorabilia in the back pay homage to Otis Rush, the well-known Chicago bluesman who was born in Philadelphia. Every seat was taken, and the place was filled from top to bottom, but Jarekus Singleton had just gone on break when I came inside.
When he came back on stage with his band, I quickly saw what all the fuss was about. Singleton is a young and especially gifted guitar player, whose interests run from Hendrix to down-home Mississippi blues. What’s even more amazing is that he was a high-school basketball star before he decided to pursue his music career, and last year was named Blues Artist of the Year in Jackson. Singleton opened his second set with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, followed that up with Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, all skillfully and deftly played, but it was in the slow blues numbers that I was most impressed, for Singleton’s mastery of the electric guitar is rare in someone so young.
Singleton took another short break at 11:30, and after I met him briefly, I had to head out on the three-hour ride back to Memphis.