The South Memphis rap group known as the Trap Mob
is a popular featured group at the annual Tate Street Block Party each June, but they only rarely perform in Memphis, so when I heard that they were sponsoring a rap show at God’s Sons Motorcycle Club on Crump Boulevard in South Memphis, I decided to attend. Unfortunately, the occasion was a sad one, as the concert was being held in memory of a recently-murdered South Memphis youth called O.G. Lumplump, and many of those who came were wearing shirts in his honor, including one worn by a young man which read “You will live on through me.” Despite the somber reason for the event, the concert proved to be upbeat and raucous, with a standing room only crowd. The Trap Mob performed several of their bigger songs, including “You Ain’t Straight” and “Ain’t No N_gga”, and I was also pleasantly surprised by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Big J.C. Gwalla, who performed his single “One of Me.” What wasn’t cool was the series of confrontations between different neighborhoods that kept breaking out during the evening. Nothing really got out of hand, but it was all somewhat annoying nonetheless. A few miles down Lamar Avenue at another motorcycle club where a party was going on, things didn’t end quite as well. A fight broke out which led to people leaving, and as they were leaving, shots rang out, striking a young man. Whether it was related to the conflicts that had broken out at our event was never determined.
Hardworking trombonist Suavo J looks increasingly like a man on a mission to single-handedly rescue Memphis music, and he is everywhere these days, whether it’s playing with Otis Logan’s awesome 4 Soul aggregation, or the Crescent City-tinged Memphis-New Orleans Street Symphony band, or the more rootsy The Bones
. The latter group was playing on Friday February 28 at the Center for Southern Folklore
down on the Main Street Mall in downtown Memphis. The weather was cold, and there was only a modest crowd, but the band rocked the house for those of us who were there.
Closer View of Downtown
Looking to the Northeast
This cash register was old in 1982
When I read that the first Undercurrent
event of the new year was to be held at something called the SkyBar in the 100 North Main building, I was thrilled. I vaguely remembered the old Top of the 100 club from my youth, and imagined that the view from the top would be amazing. Also, at least I thought, the announcement indicated that somebody was finally doing something with the long-vacant club, which in its heyday rotated once every hour. Sadly, I was to be disappointed.
The idea behind Undercurrent, is cool enough. Free parties are held monthly at different places around the city, aimed at Memphis’ young innovators, and the idea of having one 38 stories above downtown Memphis was very cool indeed. Unfortunately, there is no SkyBar, that’s just the name the Undercurrent people came up with when they rented the venue, which fully appears as if it hasn’t been used since Christmas 1982 (there were still Christmas decorations up everywhere from the last time it was used). While the view over the city was indeed fantastic, the decor and furnishings were vintage 1977, and there was even a 1970′s-era cash register still in its place. Nothing at the bar had worked in many years, and everything had to be brought in in taps and coolers. Of course there was great music from a DJ, good food, and lots of laughter and conversation. But the club’s appearance as if time had stopped back in the early 1980′s was just another reminder of a city that seems to be dying despite our best efforts. And apparently nobody has any plans for the SkyBar aside from a few event rentals.
Otis Logan’s 4 Soul band is one of the bright rising stars of Memphis right now, and they were in fine form last month at the Wine Down Monday at the 300 South Main Gallery in the South Main Arts District. Wine Down Mondays are wine tasting events with live music and light food, which occur twice a month. Contact the gallery for further details.
When I saw a flyer on my Facebook timeline for a performance by someone called “Lil Tyrone Davis” at a place called Ralph’s Bar & Grill in Whitehaven, I immediately planned to go, suspecting that Ralph’s might be the kind of neighborhood blues and soul spot that I like. The spot turned out to be in a strip mall on Millbranch just north of Holmes, and had just opened under new owners, although I recall it being a bar some years ago. It was quite large and roomy, with two main rooms, the second of which was centered around a good-sized stage and dance floor, and at first it was rather empty, with a DJ playing good blues and southern soul. Slowly, the place began to fill, first with women, then with men, and I noticed that many of them were singing every word of the songs the DJ was playing. These were true southern soul fans.
The high point of the evening was the band known as the Soul Connection Band, comprised of some excellent musicians who did a great job of backing up several male singers and a female blues artist named Ms. Diedre. After a brief intermission, they were back, this time backing Lil Tyrone Davis, who was from Chicago, and made a point of performing most of the late Tyrone Davis’ classic songs. Many of his friends and relatives were in the crowd, which by now had filled up most of the room. I met the club’s owner, who told me it was their intent to have live bands at least once a month.
Ralph’s Bar & Grill
5162 Millbranch Rd
Memphis TN 38116
It’s a fairly long way from England to South Memphis, and seems an equally long distance from classic rock ‘n roll to soul music and blues, but former Free and Bad Company Paul Rodgers
was heavily influenced by the blues and decided to give back to Memphis when he cut his most recent album The Royal Sessions
. Recorded at Boo Mitchell’s historic Royal Studios in South Memphis, Rodgers’ most recent effort is backed by the Memphis All-Stars, a band largely coterminous with the Hi Rhythm Section, including Teenie Hodges, the Rev. Charles Hodges, Archie Turner and Michael Toles, and features largely tunes pulled from the catalog of Stax’s venerable old East Memphis Music publishing, such as Albert King’s “Down Don’t Bother Me”, William Bell’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” and Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.” Rodger is only the latest of several high-profile artists to choose to cut albums in Memphis at the legendary studio where Al Green cut his hits, but what Rodgers did afterward was truly unique- he decided to give all the proceeds to the Stax Music Academy, which makes a difference in South Memphis by training kids in music, improving the neighborhood, the Memphis music scene and the future of soul music all at the same time.
On Saturday, a release party was held at the Stax Museum to celebrate the album’s release, drawing what appeared to be the largest crowd ever to an album release par
ty at the museum. The line stretched well around the building at 6 PM, and in the old Studio A, it was standing room only, as people came to understand that Paul Rodgers would actually perform four songs from the album with the Memphis-All-Stars. Afterwards there was even a longer line for people to have their purchased discs signed by Rodgers and the other musicians, but it was well worth it, and great to see the legacies of Stax and Hi Records intertwined in this way.
On Friday night February 7, 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
, 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.
Memphis’ music reputation was built on blues long before gospel or soul, but authentic blues in an authentic setting in Memphis is not so easy to find. A few juke joints still exist in rougher Memphis neighborhoods, and one of the most long-standing is Wild Bill’s
, a North Memphis institution on Vollintine Avenue that had a long run of popularity before closing abruptly last summer. It reopened under new ownership in December, and I read that on weekends, the Memphis Bluesmasters play there, often with Memphis blues queen Ann Hines.
So even though we were under a winter storm warning, I drove down to the rather tiny juke in a non-descript strip shopping center not far from Northside High School. When I arrived, there was already a good-sized crowd in a jovial mood. Despite the new owners, Wild Bill’s still has the funky juke joint ambiance that I remembered from my previous visit a couple of years ago, and the only real difference is that they have added a hot-wing menu and have started opening for lunch.
The Memphis Bluesmasters are a seasoned group of Memphis musicians with years of experience playing blues and soul music, on Beale Street and elsewhere, but here in North Memphis, they can let their hair down and play to the local crowd, some of whom come up and make a small dance floor in front of the musicians. Ann Hines wasn’t singing with the band on this particular night, but the female vocalist was called Miss Nickki, and she was an attractive singer with a fine and powerful voice. The material was largely taken from the standards of southern soul, with covers of Tyrone Davis, Shirley Brown and O. V. Wright songs.
At the end of the band’s first set, it was 1 AM, and I walked outside to discover that the whole neighborhood was draped in a coating of white snow that was still falling. The music would continue until 3 AM, but I decided it was best to make my way home.
Memphis artist Frank D. Robinson is the artist-in-residence at Caritas Village in Binghampton, and has done much to promote the arts in Memphis,both his own and others, so it is entirely fitting that he organized an exhibition called “One Village One City” that brings together the work of several different Memphis artists at Caritas Village. Friday night February 7, the works were unveiled to the public at a reception, and several of the artists (including Robinson) were present.
On the second and fourth Monday each month, the 300 South Main Art Gallery
sponsors Wine Down Mondays, an event featuring an opportunity to sample fine wines paired with food offerings, a DJ and live music. This past Monday night, DJ Kojak was providing the recorded sounds, and Memphis drummer Otis Logan’s superb band 4 Soul was providing the live grooves, ably aided and abetted by ubiquitous Memphis trombonist Suavo J, straight from his second-place award in the International Blues Challenge with the Ghost Town Blues Band. The atmosphere was just right for the grown and sexy set eager for something to do on a very cold Monday night after work.