When Memphis rapper Tune C and I headed downtown for the album release party for Frayser Boy’s new album Not No Moe, we heard a drumline playing on Beale Street. There had been a Grizzlies game in the FedEx Forum, so at first I thought it was the Grizzline drummers, but the beats they were playing didn’t quite sound right for that. As it turned out, it was just a random line of local youths, playing a very funky series of cadences indeed. Such drumlines had been common on Beale during its first ten years or so, when there were no barricades or ID checks, and buskers were common along the street, but this was the first time I had seen such drummers on Beale in nearly 20 years. It felt (and sounded) good.
Memphis’ young new C3 Blues Band was formed toward the end of last year, and has been gigging mostly in Jackson, Tennessee, with an occasional Memphis appearance here and there, so I was thrilled when I heard that they would be playing on a Tuesday night at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street. The Rum Boogie is one of the oldest clubs on Beale Street, and one of the most popular, and this was the band’s first opportunity to perform on the legendary street in Memphis. C3 was originally a sort of blues power trio, but in recent weeks has added a second guitarist. For the Rum Boogie gig, they also added a saxophonist, and some new songs as well, particularly an amazing reading of the blues standard “As The Years Go Passing By”, which was the most impressive song from their first set. By the middle of their second set, the dance floor was filled.
Easter Sunday afternoon after church proved to be an absolutely beautiful day, so I headed first down to the Blue Note on Beale Street in Memphis where my homeboy Tune had started working to try the food there, and had a bacon cheeseburger, which I can truly say is the best burger on Beale Street. Then, with nothing else to do for the day, I decided to head down into the Mississippi Delta with my camera, taking pictures and finally ending up at The Blue Biscuit, Trish Berry’s excellent restaurant in Indianola. Two things stood out about my trip overall that afternoon, one of them the extent to which many of the Delta towns’ business district are basically ghost towns, all too many of them collapsed into absolute ruins, even though the towns themselves are still inhabited. The other thing that I noticed was the groups of young people walking in many of these places, still dressed in their finest clothes. In a few of the towns, family reunions and gatherings were going on either in private yards or parks. At Drew, for the first time, I saw walls and makeshift shrines commemorating young people who had been murdered, yet Ruleville looked cleaner and more prosperous, and families had gathered in its park to enjoy the afternoon. Nearby, on the stretch of Front Street traditionally nicknamed “Greasy Street”, two clubs were jumping, the venerable Club Black Castle which I remember from WCLE radio broadcasts back in the day, and the more grown folks-oriented Main Event next door. But at the next town of Sunflower, something else was going on altogether. The town seemed abuzz with young people the moment I entered it. They seemed to be in yards, in parks and on every corner, in what seemed to be a festive mood, so I gave little thought to them as I headed downtown to start photographing old and historic buildings. Sunflower, which was an historic battleground in the Civil Rights Movement (the legendary Fannie Lou Hamer was from nearby Ruleville), is home to a Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee offshoot called the Sunflower County Freedom Project, which has taken over the row of historic buildings along the railroad downtown. However, I noticed almost immediately that Gangster Disciples graffiti had been spray-painted on the back of a stop sign, and not long thereafter, I heard police sirens heading into the downtown area. Apparently a brawl had broken out between two young women, in which bystanders had soon joined in. I parked my car outside a juke joint called Club Wide Open, as people gathered on the corner to see what was going on. “Oh, boy! Look at them run”, said a man from the club as a group of young men came running from the neighborhoods to the north toward the corner of Quiver and Martin Luther King where the fight had broken out. As I walked in that direction, I noticed pieces of hair weave strewn along the street, presumably from the fight, but as I got to the corner, I realized that the town police had sprayed pepper spray, and I caught some of it, so I prudently made my way back to my car. The remaining crowd seemed reluctant to disperse. “I want to know who jumped my muthafuckin cousin!” one young man kept yelling repeatedly, and I realized that the problems stirred up by the fight were likely to persist all night, so I got back to my car and headed on to Indianola.
It was nearly sundown when I reach Indianola, but there was just time for me to get some beautiful shots of the sun going down over Indian Bayou. The B. B. King Museum was closed, as was Club Ebony and 308 Blues Club (whose owner had been found dead earlier in the month), but the Blue Biscuit was open, and there was a decent crowd inside although there was no live music on Easter Sunday. I ordered my favorite meal there, biscuits and barbecue, which is exactly what it says it is, pulled pork placed between the halves of four buttermilk biscuits. It is truly incredible, and something that has to be tried to be believed. Afterwards, I made a drive around Indianola, but found very little going on, and called my DJ partner Bigg V to see if he knew where things were jumping off, but I couldn’t reach him either, so I started the drive back to Memphis. I considered stopping off at the Black Castle in Ruleville, but having to work in the morning, I thought better of it, and drove on into Memphis.
On Saturday night February 8, an all-star contingent of Memphis rappers and fans took over the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street to celebrate the release of Lil Wyte & Frayser Boy’s new duo album B.A.R. on Phixieous Entertainment. Wes Phillips, Jeff Phillips and Terrance “DJ Bay” Long of Select-O-Hits were in the building, as well as La Chat, Miscellaneous, Criminal Manne, Al Kapone and Thug Therapy. Unlike a lot of album release parties, people actually performed, and coming as it did after a big University of Memphis Tigers win at the Fed Ex Forum, it was a fun night indeed.
Friday night, the Memphis gospel music community came out to support local Memphis drummers, and to see Calvin “C-Rod” Rodgers, arguably one of the best gospel drummers of today. It was amazing and fortunate to get to see him play, as last year, after a brutal robbery and beating, it was for a time doubtful that he would ever be able to play again. The event, called Thankful 4 The Drummers, was sponsored by Marcus Malone at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street in downtown Memphis, and was opened up by local drummers such as Tevin Curtis, Bart Orr and Chris Pat. Altogether it was an amazing night of great drumming that didn’t break up until nearly 1 AM.
Down Beale Street in front of the New Daisy Theater was another great blues band that seemed to be composed mostly of young teenaged musicians and singers, who seemed to be costumed for Halloween. I soon learned that they were a band called Adam Warren and the Kings of Soul, and the young guitar player was especially impressive, even playing behind his back at one point. I also noticed across the street that Memphis bluesman Preston Shannon has opened a place in the former Lil Anthony’s Cafe location which is called King Arthur’s Home-Cooked Meals and Blues Club. I will be interested to see what kind of live music they book there, and how often Preston Shannon performs there himself.
My homeboy Travis McFetridge was in town from Great South Bay Music in New York, and wanted to check out Beale Street, and my homeboy Antonio Motley (who is one of our city’s best young drummers) was filling in for the regular drummer with the Plantation All-Stars at Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall on Friday afternoon, so I took Travis there, and although there was literally nowhere to sit, we enjoyed a good half-hour of authentic Memphis blues and soul. Another blues band was playing on the outdoor stage in Handy Park as well, and yet another further down Beale in front of the New Daisy. I don’t think I’ve heard so much blues on Beale in one day as I did Friday.
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
I had heard that Memphis was to have something called a “Zombie Walk” up South Main Street to Beale Street, but I didn’t expect to see it, because I was playing a jazz gig at the Beignet Cafe on G.E. Patterson Avenue, but during a break, I heard something that was the last thing I expected- a funky drumline playing Jackson State University War and Thunder cadences. As it turned out, the “Zombies” hired the Blood Sweat & Tears drumline to provide the beat and motivation for their walk, and were standing in the vacant lot next to Earnestine and Hazel’s playing their cadences while a young woman danced to the beat. It was one of those serendipitous Memphis moments.
During the afternoon, many of the Jus Blues Music Awards attendees headed down to Beale Street for lunch, shopping, and a Calvin Richardson instore at Memphis Music. There were also a lot of people up from the National Bike Rally in Tunica, so it was a very busy day on Beale Street.