Como, Mississippi bluesman R. L. Boyce used to be famous for his yard parties, but in recent years he had stopped doing them after some health issues. So when his daughter Sherena informed me that he was having a yard party with live musicians on a Wednesday evening, I made arrangements to get off early from work and head to Como.
The weather was sunny when I arrived at R. L.’s house just across the railroad tracks from Como’s restored downtown area. A cool breeze was blowing, and only a few people had gathered, although the event was supposed to begin at 4 PM. Boyce, Colombian bluesman Carlos Elliot Jr, and Lightnin Malcolm were on the front porch setting up their equipment, and the drummer Steve Toney was setting up his drums in the yard because there was no room for them on the porch.
When the music got under way, the atmosphere became magical, with Malcolm, Carlos and R.L. playing Hill Country blues in the kind of setting it was intended for, an outdoor house party. One of the out-of-town guests sent someone to purchase hotdogs and charcoal, and fired up Boyce’s grill, cooking hotdogs for the guests and musicians, some of whom were in Mississippi for the Kimbrough Cotton Patch Blues Festival, which was to be held on the weekend. Soon the crowd in R.L.’s front yard grew larger, with young and old, local and out-of-town folks. A few kids were playing under the trees. As the evening continued, some folks began to dance, and cars slowed down as they drove past the house, trying to see what was going on. After a number of songs from R. L. Boyce and Lightnin Malcolm, there was a guest appearance from the hot new female blues singer Joyce “She-Wolf” Jones from Potts Camp, and she performed a couple of her original songs with the band. Eventually, around 8 PM, the sun went down, and with no real lighting in R.L.’s yard, things had to come to a halt. Only a handful of people remained at that point, and Sherena Boyce and I decided to head uptown to Windy City Grill for a late dinner, but we could hear R.L. still playing guitar as he sat on his porch in the dark. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of night.
The Ghost Town Blues Band is a group of young Memphians that first garnered a lot of attention during the International Blues Challenge a couple of years ago. They’ve had a couple of albums out, and, despite the name, these young men play everything from blues, to soul, to funk and even rock and roll. This year, they decided to record and release their third album Hard Road To Hoe themselves rather than working with a record label, and they decided to hold the album release party at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street during the International Blues Challenge.
With it being a Thursday, I really hadn’t expected a large crowd, even if the IBC was going on, but in fact the cafe was packed to the rafters, and there was absolutely no place to sit, so I grabbed a standing spot in front of the stage, and soon the Ghost Town Blues Band came marching into the club like a brass band playing “When The Saints Go Marching In.” After that, it was a good mix of rock-n-roll and blues covers, as well as GTBB originals, with the most outstanding song being “Seventeen”, the single from the new album, which is a soulful slab of down-home rock and roll.
My homeboy Otis Logan had told me about an event that Devin Steel of K-97 was sponsoring at the Hi-Tone called the Kickback. The party was to feature several DJ’s, back by Otis on drums, and Otis’ band 4 Soul was supposed to play as well, so I decided to go. The new Hi-Tone on Cleveland seems somewhat smaller than the old Hi-Tone, but it filled up quickly. For most of the evening, Otis was on drums behind several different DJ’s, soloing, adding fills and breakdowns and amplifying the grooves. Briefly, the whole 4 Soul Band played behind the DJ’s as well. The drum and DJ format is new to Memphis, but the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves.
The TBC Brass Band had two gigs on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving, but fortunately, there was enough time between the first one and the second one for my homeboy Darren and I to grab dinner at a new spot in Uptown New Orleans on Freret Street called the Hi Hat. The second gig was at a little hole-in-the-wall club in Gentilly that had a crowd spilling out onto the front lot and the street. This event was apparently also a birthday party, but instead of having the band come inside the tiny club, the decision was made to have them play on the outside and then parade around the neighborhood with the revelers. It was wild, but the whole thing amounted to a little late-night second-line that lasted about 20 minutes. Altogether, it was a lot of fun.
For a Memphian, perhaps the high point of the Pimp C Memorial Concert at A3C was the appearance of Eightball & MJG, one of Memphis’ original rap acts, and one that is still among the city’s best-known and admired. Appropriately, they performed their best-loved songs, including “Pimps”, “Mr. Big” and “Lay It Down.” As Memphians who had relocated to Houston, Ball & MJG had crossed paths with Pimp C and Bun B early in their careers, and expressed their admiration for Pimp C during their performance in Atlanta on Saturday night.
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While most of the artists chosen to perform on the Pimp C Memorial Concert were from Texas, a few were from other areas, including T-Mo Goodie of the Goodie Mob. T-Mo has been working on solo material, and it was mostly these songs that he performed at A3C.
Twista first came to prominence on the song “Po Pimp” by a Chicago duo called Do or Die, on the Houston-based Rap-A-Lot label, and the song had a decidedly Texas feel. Still, I had never thought of Twista as having been influenced by Pimp C, yet he said exactly that to the crowd at A3C during the Pimp C Memorial Concert. He also performed his verse from “Po Pimp” and another of his classic songs as the crowd cheered and chanted the lyrics with him.
Trae tha Truth remains one of Houston’s most beloved rappers, even after the local hip-hop station imposed a ban on his music. He is a perennial favorite at South By Southwest, and was warmly received by the A3C crowd as well.
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Houston artist Killa Kyleon got his start as a member of Slim Thugg’s Boss Hogg Outlaws, but for the last several years has been making a name for himself as a solo artist, garnering a lot of attention with performances at South By Southwest in Austin. He is yet another younger Houston artist that shows the heavy influence of the classic Texas style instead of imitating music coming out of Atlanta or other cities. His inclusion on the Pimp C Memorial Concert line-up was very appropriate.
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Doughbeezy is a relative newcomer to the Houston rap scene, and only came to my attention a few years ago at South By Southwest in Austin. Yet, unlike a lot of young Houston artists these days, Doughbeezy exhibits a style heavily indebted to the classic Texas rap sound, and was a most appropriate artist to open the final main stage concert at A3C, a concert that was being held to honor the late Pimp C of UGK. Of course, he led the crowd in a rousing version of his anthem “I’m From Texas”.
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