I had heard from Larry Chambers over at Ecko Records that there was now a blues club on Broadway in West Memphis, Arkansas that had blues on Sunday nights. So I had gone out there to check it out, and they weren’t doing blues that particular night because the club had been rented by a motorcycle club, but the next Sunday was the day after Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, and despite a rather cold rain, the small club was packed to overflowing, and great music from the Soul Connection Band and some guest vocalists was already under way. Blues singer Ms. Dierdre came up to sing “Boogie Oogie Oogie”, and then the man of the hour, Big John Cummings, came up. Cummings is an excellent singer and songwriter, perhaps best known for the song “Too Many Mechanics” recorded by Donnie Ray, with which Cummings closed out his set. The club, CJ’s Sports Bar & Blues, has the authentic blues atmosphere that visitors to Memphis are looking for, and Sunday night is not to be missed.
CJ’s Sports Bar & Blues
3110 E Broadway
West Memphis, AR 72301
Coors Beer sponsors a huge party and concert each year at the Southern Heritage Classic, at the far northern end of the Fairgrounds near Central Avenue. Because the mayor and other important city officials attend it, it has traditionally been difficult to get inside the event, as it technically is invitation only. However, this year, a man in a Coors shirt waved me through the gate just in time to see the introduction of WDIA’s Bev Johnson as the announcer. She in turn introduced Ecko Records’ recording artist Sweet Angel, who came out on stage with her band and did a full set of her trademark suggestive blues songs, as well as a demonstration of her saxophone skills. Her performance was followed by that of a band called Fifth Element, which was first-rate and which did a series of Earth, Wind & Fire covers.
Somewhere between 1970 and 1980, the lines between blues and soul became blurred. In the urban areas, soul had given way to funk, and the emerging hip-hop and R & B genres, but in rural areas, particularly in the south, blues and soul remained. Production styles changed, the music became more electrified and sequenced, but the emphasis on singers, and on tales of juke joint parties and back-door affairs remained constant. This formula, known today as “Southern Soul” is a remarkable subculture, at once as insular as swamp pop or beach music. Its stars might be unknown outside the subculture, but they perform to packed houses night after night in places like Wetumpka, Holly Springs or Monroe, Louisiana, and O. B. Buchana is one of those rising stars.
His album “It’s My Time”, released in 2009 by Memphis-based Ecko Records, follows the usual formula, with feel-good party songs like “Groove Thang” and “Let’s Dance”, and songs about break-ups or cheating, such as “Looks Like It’s Over” and “We Know It’s Wrong.” Suggestive or even sexually explicit songs, often with the use of double entendre, are a big part of the genre, and Buchana offers those too, with “Did You Put Your Foot In It?” (a duet with Mr. Sam) and “Slow Lick It.” But the naughtiness and partying is suddenly forgotten with the title track “It’s My Time”, a moving soulful ballad that expresses both Buchana’s aspirations as an artist and his appreciation for his fans. The album is closed out by a duet with labelmate Ms. Jody called “One Way Love.” While “It’s My Time” offers little deviation from the accepted southern soul formula, it is a well-conceived and well-performed album, and a perfect introduction to this little-known genre of music.