My homeboy Jackie Clark is one of Memphis’ best bass players, and I had noticed him on Facebook talking about a new spot in downtown Memphis called The Suga Shack. After several weeks of hearing about it, last Saturday night I decided to head downtown to check it out. The Suga Shack is a rather clandestine speakeasy, located in the basement of the Bon Ton Cafe on Monroe Avenue in downtown Memphis, not far from the Rendezvous restaurant. There is no signage, and the entrance is down a flight of stairs on the outside to a door on the side of the building, although the spot is also accessible from the Bon Ton Cafe’s main dining room. There is a strict dress code, and I almost didn’t get admitted because of it, so men should avoid athletic gear and tennis shoes, as it is a really elegant environment. Even if I had been dressed fully appropriately, I still might not have gotten admitted, as the place was absolutely at capacity, and when I first arrived, nobody was being admitted at all. I’m told that reservations are accepted, and are definitely a good idea, because by 8 PM on a Saturday night, the place might be full. Eventually, enough people left that I was admitted, but the venue, though warm and inviting, was packed to the rafters with people. Every seat and booth was taken, as well as every bar stool, and people were standing against nearly every wall or pole. The band on stage was called the Suga Shack All-Stars, and they featured such well-known local Memphis musicians as drummer Marles Flowers, bassist Jackie Clark and saxophonist Jackie McCraven. Vocals were traded between a young man I didn’t know, and Memphis’ own hometown hero Lil Rounds, who had been featured on American Idol some years back. Rarely had I felt such excitement in a Memphis music venue, and the quality of the music was excellent, with the band doing favorite songs by Bobby Womack, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Luther Vandross and more. I have to say it was quite a rewarding experience, and a must-visit place for music-oriented tourists to Memphis.
On Friday July 18 at the new Hi-Tone in Memphis, a group of Memphis rap artists came together to celebrate the city and its rap legacy in a concert entitled “Memphis As F@#k”, based on the popular local T-shirts of the same name. Like the “Grit and Grind” slogan of the Memphis Grizzlies organization, this saying is a defiant expression of pride in a rough, predominantly-Black, working-class city. DJ Witnesse got things off to a good start with plenty of classic soul and rap on the ones and twos, and then a local artist named Trackman started things off, followed by the female artist Tori Whodat, who has been getting some attention here this year. Knowledge Nick, who came on after her, is arguably Memphis’ best exponent of classic hip-hop, as opposed to street rap, and performed a number of anthemic songs over smooth, mellowed-out backing. But the headliner of the evening was Memphis legend Al Kapone, who was inspired enough by the Memphis As F@#k shirts to compose a song of the same name, and who was joined on stage by his homeboy Tune C, and then by a cast of Memphis legends, including Mr. Sche, DJ Zirk, Frayser Boy and Skinny Pimp. Like a pep rally for those of us who love Memphis, the night ended in nothing but good vibes and good fun.
Memphis has a number of neighborhood clubs, bars and hole-in-the-walls, but it’s not all that common for them to book live bands, so when I heard that Joshua McCain & The Soul Seven were playing at a place called The Spot on Jackson Avenue in the Mitchell Heights area, I was intrigued. I had driven past the little sports bar many times, but had never imagined there being live music there. And while I had heard the Soul Seven before, it had always been a stripped-down three piece version of the band, but on this particular Friday, the larger ensemble was crowded into a corner of the tiny club, playing an incredible jazz/soul instrumental, complete with saxophone. During the rest of the evening, the band featured a number of tunes with their male and female singer, including covers of Frankie Beverly’s “We Are One” and “Happy Feelings.” The venue was tiny, with walls painted with every kind of Dallas Cowboys decoration imaginable, since the owners seem to be Cowboys fans, and the small crowd of neighborhood regulars grew bigger as the evening progressed. It was actually a lot of fun.
In the field of Black music worldwide, no other musical instrument is as important as the drums. Not only is percussion the musical foundation for much Black music and dance, but the instrument looms large in the cultural memory of people throughout the African diaspora. So it was only fitting for Arkansas’ best drummers to be honored at an event called The Drummer Is In The House, which was held at the Revolution Room on President Clinton Avenue in the River Market area of Little Rock on Thursday July 10. The event, sponsored by Clifford Drummaboy Aaron, featured performances by current and former Little Rock drummers Yvette Preyer, Rod Pleasants, Steve Bailey, Aerion Jamaal Lee, Jonathan “JJ” Burks and Charles Anthony Thompson. Rather than just a lot of extended solos, most of the drummers played with their individual bands, and even some singers, performing songs from the neo-soul, jazz and gospel traditions. But there were great solos too, including one from Jamaal Lee full of afro-caribbean rhythms and patterns, and one from Charles Anthony Thompson exhibiting extended sticking and tone techniques including pitch bends, and plenty of jazz influence. The final highlight of the evening was an event called the Roundabout, at which drummers moved across the stage from the first drum set, to the second, to the third, while Yvette Preyer kept a basic conga pattern for them on an octapad. As one drummer would exit the stage, another would come on from the left, enabling all the drummers to have an opportunity to shed three at a time, and to play each of the three drum sets. The Drummer Is In The House was truly a major event that highlighted some really great drummers, and a lot of other great horn players, guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and singers. I am told that future events will be held at the Revolution Room to highlight the other instrument families, and I am looking forward to it.
Last week on Hangtime (which is a great way to keep up with events in your hometown, by the way) I read about an event called My Jam Session at the ICE Bar out on Hacks Cross Road. Subtitled “Drums and Drinks”, it featured a live drummer paired with a DJ, and for someone who loves hearing a funky drummer as much as I do, I had to attend, as I had not heard of anything like this in Memphis before. As it turns out, the drums and DJ trend is very cutting edge, at least in New York and Los Angeles, and the people that organized this event have been doing it in Nashville, and decided to bring it here to Memphis. Not surprisingly, the drummer they brought is from Nashville, a young man named Jeremy Williams who was very impressive indeed on the set. The rationale behind this is to heighten the excitement for the crowd by augmenting the traditional DJ-based club atmosphere as the live drummer adds rolls, fills and breakdowns to the continuous mix. In my opinion, it works fairly well, although the standing-room only crowd in Memphis wasn’t familiar with the concept. Whether the trend will catch on in Memphis remains to be seen (we have plenty of great drummers for it if it does), but Jeremy Williams is very much a drummer to keep an eye on.
Back in February, a new restaurant called Prive’ opened in the former Cooker/Smokey Bones building at Winchester and Riverdale in Hickory Hill, owned by a group of people that was said to include Memphis rap star Yo Gotti, On Tuesday, July 1, I finally had an opportunity to visit the new restaurant, as I went out to check out the superb 4 Soul Band, one of Memphis’ premiere neo-soul, smooth jazz and funk bands, as they kicked off a Neo-Soul Tuesdays event that is scheduled to continue each Tuesday for the foreseeable future. As for Prive’, it is a lavish and upscale atmosphere for “grown folks”, with a dress code that forbids athletic gear and tennis shoes. The menu is limited, but the food is decent, if a little expensive, and steaks seem to be the specialty of the house. Neo-Soul Tuesdays feature the 4 Soul Band with their vocalist Shenea from 7-9 PM, and Prive’ also features live music on certain other nights as well. It’s definitely worth a visit.
6890 Winchester Rd
Memphis, TN 38115
Memphis guitarist Garry Goin is a fairly well-known figure in the local music scene, who often appears at Memphis Grizzlies games at Fed Ex Forum, or at the annual Stax to the Max Soulsville Festival at the Stax Museum in South Memphis. Memphis saxophonist Pat Register is also very well known around town, and when he and Goin came together, the result was a band called Dual Drive, whose debut album The Memphis Project was recently released on Memphis-based blues label Icehouse Records. The album celebrates the Memphis music legacy, with new smooth-jazz-leaning arrangements of classic Memphis soul songs like “Take Me To The River” and “Dock of the Bay”, and on Tuesday July 1st, Garry and Pat were at Spin Street Music in Memphis to play a few of the songs from the album and to sign copies of it for enthusiastic fans. The crowd that gathered included a lot of Memphis musicians and music industry people, from Johnny and Jeff Phillips of Select-O-Hits, to Jack Cooper from the University of Memphis, and drummer James Sexton, who played on the recording.
Savalis Restaurant and Lounge is a soul food restaurant on Main Street in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. While I cannot speak on the food there, a lot of us who were panelists from the Vocalis Music Industry Conference in Columbia met up there after the conference and dinner for the great live soul music from a band called Terry and the Flames. Although their repertoire consisted primarily of cover tunes, they were an immensely talented band whose grooves kept the dance floor filled most of the night.
On the way from my hotel to downtown Columbia, South Carolina, I had noticed an intriguing burger bar called Burger Tavern 77, and after the final session of the Vocalis Music Industry Conference on Saturday June 28, I decided to try it. As the name suggests, Burger Tavern 77 has the atmosphere of a bar, but seems to welcome guests of all ages, and the centerpiece of the menu is burgers, particularly the ones you design yourself with all the various choices of meats, cheeses, toppings and sauces. The menu points out that all sandwiches are made with fresh ingredients and cooked to order. I chose my all-time favorite burger, one with bacon and cheese added, and I was pleased with the result. The fries, which were crispy and golden brown, came in a metal cup, which is becoming more common these days at gourmet burger places. If a burger is not your thing, Burger Tavern 77 also has salads and chicken, and the prices for everything are fairly reasonable. There is also an extensive amount of outdoor seating, but on the evening I was there, it was just too hot to enjoy it.
Burger Tavern 77
2631 Devine Street
Columbia SC 29205
When I left out of Pearlz Oyster Bar, I was thinking of how nice it would be if Columbia had a dessert cafe that was open late at night. Looking across Gervais Street, I saw a small cafe with an outdoor sign that was flashing pictures of different kinds of desserts. It proved to be a place called Nonnah’s, which is actually a full-service restaurant in its own right, but the desserts are made in-house and truly amazing. Although they had coffee, with it being so hot, I chose a cold drink instead, and tried the Key Lime Pie, which was very unusual, but very good. Rather than the yellow-green custard type of pie that one usually sees with key Lime, this one was a light, airy whipped pie made from cool whip, sweetened condensed milk and lime juice in a homemade graham cracker crust. A number of other tempting desserts were visible in the glass case. Nonnah’s is open until 11 PM on weeknights, and until 12:30 AM on weekends.
923 Gervais Street
Columbia, SC 29201