R. L. Burnside was one of the most famous musicians in the blues tradition of the North Mississippi Hill Country, and many of his children and grandchildren have carried on that great tradition, including Cedric Burnside, a grandson of the late R.L. who is accomplished on both the guitar and the drums. After coming to prominence as part of a duo with another Mississippi bluesman, Lightning Malcolm, he more recently has formed a band called the Cedric Burnside Project, which is really just him on drums and Trenton Ayers on guitar (I suspect that Trenton Ayers is kin to the older Marshall County bluesman Little Joe Ayers). On Saturday June 21, Cedric brought his music to the Levitt Shell in Memphis’ Overton Park, and an overflow crowd despite hit and run showers early in the evening. Beginning on acoustic guitar, Burnside soon switched to drums, and performed most of the Hill Country standards, including “Coal Black Mattie”, “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”, and even the late Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me In The City.” It was a great evening of great Mississippi blues.
After two albums that had done little on the charts, Memphis rock band Big Star was basically falling apart when Jim Dickinson, Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton went into Ardent Studios to start work on an untitled new album. By some accounts, the album was tentatively named Beale Street Green, an indirect protest of the city’s demolition of the Black neighborhoods around legendary Beale Street. By others, the album (or perhaps even the band) was to be called Sister Lovers, since Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton were dating two sisters, Lesa and Halladay Aldridge. Today we know and love it as Big Star Third, but nothing prepared me for the experience of hearing that music played live by an all-star cast of musicians including a string orchestra to kick off the Levitt Shell’s Summer Music Concerts in Memphis. After a brief introduction by John Fry, the owner and founder of Ardent Records, all the songs from the album were performed by a whole host of great singers and musicians, including Pat Sansone of Wilco, Star and Micey, Van Duren, Jody Stephens and Lesa Aldridge herself. This presentation highlighted Alex Chilton’s amazing talent and the timeless quality of his songwriting. It’s just a pity that he didn’t live to see Memphis honor him as they should.
Backstage was sheer pandemonium after the Recording Academy concert at the Levitt Shell. It was also as hot as an oven, but performers and some chapter officers and board members got an opportunity to relax and hang out briefly.
At the end of a wonderful evening of commemorating 40 years of The Recording Academy in Memphis at the Levitt Shell, all of the evening’s performers came out on stage a final time to thunderous applause.
To close out the Memphis Recording Academy’s 40th Anniversary concert, Luther and Cody Dickinson’s North Mississippi Allstars came on stage along with bluesman Duwayne Burnside. Any North Mississippi Allstars show is great fun, and this was a rousing and appropriate way to close out the night.
Memphis soul revivalists The Bo-Keys have played a huge role in the rebirth of interest in the classic Memphis sound, and they have frequently provided the backing for Memphis soul great William Bell, so it was not at all surprising that Bell was tapped to perform at the Recording Academy celebration. He performed several of his biggest hits, including “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”, probably his biggest hit ever.
First lady of Memphis soul Carla Thomas and her brother Marvel Thomas made rare Memphis appearances on Saturday night July 13 at the 40th Anniversary Concert of the Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy at the Levitt Shell. They performed several songs that had been written or made famous by their father, the late Rufus Thomas. Rufus and Carla’s unexpected meeting with Jim Stewart as Stax Records was moving into the old Capital Theatre on McLemore Avenue led to the label embracing the recording of Black music instead of the country and rockabilly they had intended to record, and thus changed the whole history of Memphis music.
The Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy includes all of Louisiana, so it was great that the Rebirth Brass Band happened to be in town for a gig at Newby’s and agreed to perform on the 40th Anniversary concert. Of course, with them having to go to another gig, they kept their appearance at the Levitt Shell brief, but the audience responded with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Originally from the New York area, blues-roots singer Shannon McNally has lived a little bit of everywhere, from Austin to New Orleans, before choosing to settle down in North Mississippi. She has garnered national attention for her most recent release Small Town Talk, an album which celebrates the late Louisiana songwriter Bobby Charles, and has been extremely active in both the Memphis and North Mississippi music scenes. Her appearance at the 40th Anniversary concert of the Memphis Recording Academy chapter included a rousing rendition of “Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City” and a couple of Bobby Charles compositions from her recent album.