Hattiesburg blues musician Wes Lee has a following in the Southern part of Mississippi, but this was my first time encountering him at Juke Joint Festival. He played a version of the traditional spiritual “John The Revelator” AKA “The Book of the Seven Seals” , which caught my attention because I had just heard a quartet version of it on Spotify a few days before.
Lafayette’s Northgate Mall is a dying mall, if not a dead mall, which is somewhat peculiar, as it is much closer to I-10 and I-49 than is the Acadiana Mall on Johnson Street which has fared so much better. But aside from a couple of hip-hop clothing shops and a barber shop, the one thing that keeps people going to Northgate Mall is Lafayette’s venerable House Rockers Record Shop, a neighborhood institution where people come for zydeco, soul, blues, gospel and local hip-hop. At a time when so many record stores are closing, House Rockers seems to be thriving, even in a mall that isn’t.
House Rockers Record Shop
1800 NE Evangeline Thruway
Lafayette, LA 70501
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.
My homeboy Otis Logan had texted me about a musicians’ shed (jam session) taking place at a church on Highway 72 in Collierville on Halloween night. I was a little skeptical, figuring that with it being Halloween, and with a shed way out in the suburbs, that it might not be well attended. But I decided to go anyway, and was amazed to discover when I got there that there were well over a hundred people there, many of them among the best gospel musicians in Memphis. Among the drummers were Marless Flowers, Sean Payne and James Sexton, and the amazing pianist Derrick Jackson was there, as well as producer Marque Walker, organist Keenan Shotwell, and a lot of other talented musicians. The event began at 9:30 PM, and was still going strong at 2 AM when I left, and best of all, the spirit of the whole event was positive and strictly love among the musicians.
The Anointed Cowan Singers are another Memphis gospel group whose performances and repertoire highlight the extremely close relationship between Memphis gospel and Memphis soul. In fact, the very first song I ever heard them perform, at a previous Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, was a song that resembled the classic sound of Stax in every way. They usually appear at the festival each year, and are not to be missed.
By an odd coincidence of tradition, the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival always coincides with another Memphis tradition, radio station WLOK’s Stone Soul Picnic, which is annually held on the Saturday before Labor Day in Tom Lee Park. WLOK used to be one of two Memphis soul stations, with the other being WDIA, which was the first Black radio station in the United States. WDIA sponsored something called the Goodwill Revue, and it is likely that WLOK came up with the Stone Soul Picnic as their station’s equivalent, and since the name is taken from Laura Nyro’s song of the same name which was a hit for the Fifth Dimension in 1968, I expect the event goes back at least that far. Unfortunately, nothing stays the same, and both WLOK and its event are now restricted to gospel music, which to me is kind of sad. Not that I don’t love gospel music, because I do, but one would expect a “Stone Soul Picnic” to incorporate gospel, blues, soul, R & B, and maybe even family-friendly rap. But still, despite the extreme heat, a good crowd was gathered in the park, listening to the Brown Singers on stage when I arrived. Their band musicians were really good, especially the drummer, and I recalled that my homeboy Danny Peterson played drums for the Brown Singers at one time.
One of the best aspects of the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival is the close proximity of different styles of Memphis music on different stages, which allows audiences to immediately discover the points of relationship and influence between gospel, blues, jazz and soul. Every year, there are some impressive gospel music groups, and this year was no exception. I was especially pleased by the male quartet known as The Appointed, a traditional Memphis-style gospel group backed by a first-rate band, whose music shows the close relationship between gospel and classic soul.
Despite really heavy downpours in Memphis and Tunica, the weather was sunny and pretty at Clarksdale for the second day of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.
I had never heard of Leo Welch before yesterday, but when the elderly man got on stage, he announced that he had been born in 1932, which he said was a “panic year.” Little Joe Ayers told me that Welch is from Ruth, Mississippi, which he said is out toward Water Valley. I was amazed at Welch’s fine strong voice and competent guitar technique, and even more amazed that nobody has recorded him yet. Someone should certainly do so soon.
I was not at all familiar with Memphis gospel singer Sherri Jones-Moffett, but her performance at The Recording Academy anniversary concert was rousing, and I certainly recognized her bass player, the enigmatic MonoNeon. She was ably assisted by Wendy Moten and Stephanie Bolton as backup singers, too.