10/21/08: On The Road to the Gainesville Music Summit


The weather was a little chilly, but clear and sunny as I headed out Highway 78 on my way to C. Wakeley’s 5th Gainesville Music Summit in Florida. When I arrived in Birmingham, I stopped just long enough to fill up with gasoline and pick up a quick lunch from Chick-Fil-A, and then I continued out Highway 280. At Auburn, I turned off the main road into town, and stopped at Toomer’s Coffee Company for a latte and a chocolate chip cookie. Then I headed on into Columbus, across Fort Benning and around Albany. Highway 133 from Albany was a dark, single-lane highway through Moultrie, and it was nearly 9 PM when I arrived in Valdosta. I found a Loco’s Bar and Grill and ate a steak dinner there, and my waitress recommended a coffee place just up the road called Elliano’s. I noticed that in that area the old milltown of Remerton had been turned into a district of clubs, bars and restaurants, some of which were fairly crowded with students from Valdosta State University. I still had an hour-and-a-half drive to Gainesville, but the coffee helped me stay awake, and with some difficulty, I made my way to the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Suites. My room had been reserved for me, and I quickly checked in and went to bed.

10/18/08:Grambling Homecoming/Waterfront Grill

Feeling that the Brandy House would take too long for breakfast, causing me to miss the Grambling Homecoming parade, I tried a new place instead in downtown Monroe called Lea’s of Lecompte. There were only a few people in there, but the breakfast was good, and then, with the sun out but the weather chilly, I headed westward toward Grambling.
At Ruston, I noticed that the road heading to Grambling past Rabb’s Steakhouse was backed up all the way to Cooktown Road, so I drove down through the Louisiana Tech campus instead and onto Highway 80. To my amazement, I was able to park for free on the street leading to the stadium, and from there I walked across the campus where large crowds had already gathered to watch the parade, especially in front of the Favrot Student Union and on the quadrangle.
There were even more people along Main Street in the Village, and a cacophony of sounds from the intersection of Main and Martin Luther King Avenue, where the Grambling State University band and a number of high school bands were warming up and getting ready for the parade. As the parade got underway, the weather began to get warmer. There were a number of high school bands, one that had come all the way from Detroit, Michigan, and a huge RV decorated with Barack Obama banners which drew cheers from the crowds along the route.
I walked along the parade route, starting at the north end of Main, near the new Spivey’s Fried Chicken, and ending up near where Martha Adams Hall had been at Central Avenue and RWE Jones Drive, near the gate to the stadium. There the Fair Park marching band from Shreveport began to battle the Madison High School band from Tallulah, and they soon drew a crowd, playing songs back and forth. I walked back to the student union area, where there was a Starbucks, and I bought a latte and relaxed there before walking back over to the stadium for the game. Around the stadium were all kinds of RVs and tailgaters, some with old-school DJs playing southern soul and blues hits, and with the tantalizing smell of barbecue drifting over the area.
By the kickoff, the weather had finally warmed up enough that it wasn’t uncomfortable outside, but Alabama State had not brought their marching band to Grambling, so there was no battle, and Grambling’s band could only play sporadically because of new SWAC conference rules that restrict when bands can play. Grambling won the game, and afterwards, realizing the traffic gridlock that would follow for at least an hour, I decided to walk back over onto the campus.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Drive had turned into a rolling street party, much like the seawall used to in Galveston during the Texas Beach Party in its heyday. Customized and candy-painted cars were everywhere, with booming systems and people hanging out on the sidewalks. The police would not let people leaving the game turn left to head back north through the crowds thronging the street, but they were u-turning in the street south of Tiger Village and then heading back up through the crowd. As I stood on the sidewalk, I heard somebody yell “J-DOGG! I see you, homie!” and it was DJ Bay Bay from Shreveport, who was riding with his homeboy in a blue-and-white custom Chevy. He yelled that he was in Dallas now, and then he had gone on down the street.
The crowds seemed more like the big homecomings of the 90’s, and I walked back onto the campus. Amazingly, Main Street, although it had its share of crowds, seemed far quieter than the busy boulevard to the west. Only up at the quadrangle was there a large crowd, and it proved to be the fraternities and sororities, standing and holding hands on their hills. As the Que-Dogs were gathered there singing songs, the boom of drums announced that the Grambling band was coming, and they soon marched in front of Long Jones Hall, heading across the quad and toward Dunbar Hall. Everyone soon lined up to see them, and though the band marched into the band room, the drumline, known as Chocolate Thunder, stayed out on the quad to entertain the crowd that had gathered. They played several funky cadences for the people, and then they too disappeared into the bandroom.
Even after an hour, I had difficulty in maneuvering my way out of Grambling and on the way back toward Monroe. I had decided to eat at the Waterfront Grill, but traffic nearby was thick, because the University of Louisiana at Monroe was playing their homecoming game as well. After a filet mignon dinner, I drove back over to the Corner Coffeehouse for a chocolate-peanut-butter brownie and a latte, and then I stopped by the West Monroe Civic Center to meet Gravedigga, who was DJ-ing a high school dance.
From there, I drove one last time to Grambling to see what was happening on the campus, but aside from a crowd of people at the new Plush Sports Bar, things had quieted down considerably.
Back in Monroe, I stopped by Club Envy on Catalpa to leave promo CDs with DJ Phat, and then I did the same at Club Dominos, where the DJ was visiting from Baton Rouge. Finally,thoroughly tired, I returned to the room and went to bed.

09/29/08: No Coffee in Tupelo

There was no kind of breakfast anywhere in Douglasville other than Waffle House, so I went there and ate breakfast, and then, after checking out of the hotel, I drove west into Alabama. Finding gasoline was just as much of a problem in eastern Alabama as it had been in Georgia, and at Anniston, the Exxon station was compeltely sold out, so I had to drive on to Pell City, and even there, I could only get premium gasoline. I decided not to stop and eat in Birmingham, but I grew so sleepy on Highway 78 outside of Fulton, Mississippi that I decided to stop in Tupelo for a coffee at JoJo’s Java downtown. However, when I got there, a sign announced that Jojo’s was moving to the old Uptown Coffee location on Gloster Street, but I soon found that it wasn’t open at either location, at least not yet. My iPhone was showing a Starbucks location on East Main Street downtown, but I never could find it, so I gave up and drove on into Memphis. My mother and her husband had only been back a day from their own vacation to Branson, Missouri, and they were tired and worn out from their trip, just like I was from mine.

09/25/08: Around Augusta/Papa Jazz in Columbia/Coastal Storms

I had read online about a breakfast place in Evans called the Sunrise Cafe, so I arranged to meet the rapper Pimpzilla there, and we discussed distribution over bacon and eggs.
Then from there, I headed out to Tobacco Road, where I stopped at a couple of clothing stores, including Millenium Urban Wear and Titanium Music and More, and then I drove up to an urban wear store on Peach Orchard Road, but the Music Connection store next door wasn’t open yet. Jamming my “Crunk in Augusta” CDs of local rap that I had made from artists on Myspace, I headed past the abandoned Regency Mall to Pyramid Music and More, and then down Deans Bridge Road to Four Corners, also known as Augusta Music World. This local landmark featured a counter where people had signed their names and neighborhoods, and as I was purchasing a DVD, a boy came inside talking about some fight that had broken out in the parking lot.
My final destination was the other Pyramid Music and More downtown where there were old vinyl records, but my journey there led down James Brown Boulevard, through neighborhoods that were basically eviscerated. Seeing the decrepit, tumble-down buildings and houses, along with vacant lots and nodding junkies walking down the street, I couldn’t help but think of this street as an insult to the famous singer rather than a tribute to him.
Downtown Augusta had free parking, and there was some sort of music festival getting underway near the riverfront, as I saw a stage and heard a drummer warming up on a drumset, but I walked into the record store, and found a number of 45s that I wanted, but the prices proved to be way too expensive for me to purchase any of the records. I had thought that V-Tec and Mr. Hill would meet me downtown before I headed out to South Carolina, but they told me to head over on the Washington Road side of town, so I drove west on Broad Street past a number of project buildings in Harrisburg and Lake Olmstead, stopping at a Starbucks to meet them there, and Mr. Hill came to bring me a copy of the Millionairz-N-Playaz album.
It was later than I had intended when I left Augusta, and with so many gas stations out of gas in the area, I decided to head on into South Carolina before filling up, which proved to be a mistake, as no stations in North Augusta or Aiken had any gasoline at all. I finally found an Exxon in Batesburg/Leesville which had gasoline, and I filled up there, but the weather was now taking a turn for the worse, with grey clouds everywhere and wind picking up significantly. In Columbia, I drove through the downtown area and out to Papa Jazz Record Shop near the University of South Carolina campus, but I didn’t purchase anything there. The wind was now blowing leaves and branches through the streets as I headed north to Manifest Music, then south to Sounds Familiar. I should have eaten in Columbia, but I wanted to get closer to Myrtle Beach for dinner, so I made my way up I-77 to I-20 and made my way east toward Florence. Almost immediately, however, the rain began to come down in torrents, and I noticed that this was far more like a tropical storm than ordinary rain.
Finally, at Florence, I-20 ended, and I made my way through the rain into town and to a Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner. Afterwards, I continued on Highway 501, stopping at a convenience store and noticing a newspaper headline about the bankruptcy of the Hard Rock Park amusement park in Myrtle Beach. An exit off the main road led me into Surfside Beach, and from there, I made my way to the Holiday Inn with no trouble. However, while running from the hotel lobby to my car, I slipped down on the wet pavement. The hotel called the EMTs out, and they concluded that I probably hadn’t broken anything, so I declined to go to the hospital, and went upstairs to bed instead.

09/24/08: Hanging With The O-Dubbs in Barton Village/Soulful Cyphers in Augusta

I was invited to speak at the Southeast Music Entertainment Summit in Myrtle Beach on Friday and Saturday, so I left early from Memphis, stopping by a Chick-Fil-A in Olive Branch for a quick pick-up breakfast, and then driving straight through Birmingham to Anniston. There I stopped for coffee, and a lunch from Zaxby’s, but finding gasoline was difficult, as there were still shortages in the wake of Hurricane Ivan.
I passed through Atlanta and stopped at a Panera Bread in Lithonia to meet a representative from DMP Records, who was bringing me some promotional items on the Hittman release. From there I continued toward Augusta, where I found that traffic was complete chaos due to heavy construction on I-20 and I-520. I had reserved a room at the Microtel Inn on Gordon Highway, so I checked in there and waited to hear from V-Tec, the rapper from Millionairz and Playerz that I had an appointment with. That group had been one of the first rap groups from Augusta, garnering attention from a single called “Barton Village Souljaz”. By an odd sort of coincidence, the Barton Village subdivision was but a stone’s throw from my hotel, and V-Tec had agreed to give me a tour of it. He soon arrived at the hotel, with several other people with him, and I rode in his truck down to Barton Village, which was not necessarily what I had expected. A large boulevard with a sign marked the entrance to the community, which had clearly been a suburban subdivision at one time. The houses were fairly large, and had decent front and back yards, although one could see that some of the houses had been allowed to deteriorate.
Built in 1969, Barton Village had been a private housing subdivision, but problems set in early, and the development company went into bankruptcy before the community was complete, so the US Department of Housing and Urban Development stepped in, and took over a subdivision where many of the houses were boarded up or even partially burned. The Augusta Housing Authority ended up with much of it, renting the houses much like project apartments, although some of the houses were still privately owned, and the area soon gained a reputation for drugs, then violence.
Local law enforcement and media associated Barton Village with a gang called the O-Dubbs, which the Augusta-Richmond sheriff claimed might be slang for Old McDuffie Road, which runs through the area. All of this brought a laugh from V-Tec, who could have told them that O-Dubb was short for Only With True Thugs, the old name of his record label when he and a partner named John Wolf first started recording rap music in the late 1990’s. On the song “Barton Village Souljaz”, there are numerous references to “OWTT” the acronym. People who lived in Barton Village came to associate this name with the neighborhood, and began to throw up a hand signal comprised of the letters O.W. to represent the area. Apparently the gang tag came about in two ways-one, the sheriff needed Augusta to have gangs in order to receive a coveted grant, and, two- some young members of O-Dub got involved in fights with nearby neighborhoods such as the Meadowbrook Click (MBC) or the Circle Boyz in Glenn Hills.
But now in the early dusk, as we rolled through the streets, V-Tec pulled up in front of one of the houses where some friends of his were hanging out, and he introduced me to them. People would come up to the truck and acknowledge V with an “O-DUBB” shout, and then we headed out to T-Bonz on Washington Road where other OWTT family members met us, and we got a big boardroom table to eat and hang out. V-Tec and I discussed digital and physical distribution, and then afterwards, he took us down to Soultry Sounds Cafe in downtown Augusta for a local showcase of rap talent. Some of the rappers were particularly talented, but I wanted a cappuccino, so I walked around the corner to the Metro Coffeehouse, and then back to the event. V-Tec wanted to stay and hang out, so his uncle drove me back to the motel

09/06/08: Tennessee Music Conference/Southern vs. Tennessee State

Since conference events wouldn’t get under way until 11 AM, I had time to drive down to J. Christopher’s in Franklin for breakfast, and they were just as good there as they have been in their Atlanta locations, and not as crowded as I had feared.
Afterwards, I drove back to the hotel and registered for the conference, which was being held in the ballroom on the top floor. Mr. Serv On was there from Louisiana, Cowboy from Buck Wild Productions, C. Wakeley from Florida who used to manage Bloodraw, a rapper and producer named Blacktime from Cincinnati but now living in Nashville, and many others. I was on the initial panel about the pros and cons of getting a major label deal, and Freddy Hydro arrived from Memphis and joined us during it. I hung around the hotel lobby networking after that until it was time for me to go to the ball game at LP Field.
The stadium was visible from the ballroom of the hotel, so it wasn’t far away at all, but I had not expected the $20 cost of parking when I got there. The Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands marched into the stadium first, rocking their cadence “Psychotic Funk”, and soon, the Human Jukebox of Southern University was entering the stadium from the other side as well. They proceeded to battle back and forth, but the John Merritt Classic had evidently sold advertising over the scoreboard, so every time there was a time out, they began drowning out the bands with commercials, and we fans couldn’t enjoy the marching bands, which is half the fun of a Black college football game. Tennessee State ended up winning the game, although they had trailed Southern for much of it, and there was then a really good “Fifth Quarter” of band battling afterwards. It was about 10 PM when I left to stadium area, and I still had to run back by the Maxwell House to get my baggage and check out.
Tom Skeemask from Memphis had pulled up in front of the hotel and was just checking in as I was leaving. We talked briefly, and then I headed out to the Mall at Green Hills to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. College football highlights and results were flashing across the TV screen as I waited for my hamburger and french fries, and then I began the three-hour journey back to Memphis, made more difficult by my extreme fatigue, which made me have to stop several times for energy drinks. I arrived home about 3 AM and went straight to bed.

08/31/08: Running From Gustav

Hurricane Gustav was out in the Gulf of Mexico, making a run at New Orleans, and everybody was being forced to evacuate, many of them coming into Dallas. I checked out of the hotel, and headed up to Buzzbrews for a late brunch of salmon and eggs, and then I headed east on Highway 80 through Terrell.
Just beyond Big Sandy, I drove past a sprawling campus that signs announced as the International ALERT Academy, although signs on some of the fencing read “Property of Ambassador University.” I wasn’t sure what the International ALERT Academy was, but it was a big place.
In Longview, I was looking for a place to get coffee, but nothing was open, apparently because it was a Sunday. Driving up to Loop 281 looking for a Starbucks, I came upon a Jucy’s Hamburgers instead, and, seeing that they had won an award for having the best burgers in East Texas, I stopped and ate lunch there. I still wanted coffee, but in Marshall, nothing was open either, so I drove on into Greenwood, Louisiana to the flea market, and bought some records there, but all the vendors were closing early because of the approaching storm and the risk of flooding. Signs along the interstate announced that the shelters were already full in Shreveport and Bossier City, and buses of evacuees were being directed to the Alltel Center in Bossier City. I decided not to eat dinner in Shreveport, but I did stop at the PJ’s Coffee on Youree Drive for a breve latte, and on the TV there, Governor Jindal of Louisiana was warning that “this storm could be the worst one yet.” At Ruston, I began encountering outer bands of the hurricane, with rain and heavy wind in places, and I decided not to eat at Monroe either, but to go on into Jackson, since I felt that I would be fighting sleepiness after eating.
In Jackson, all the storm shelters were full and people were being advised to go further north. I stopped at a Lone Star Steakhouse for dinner, and the restaurant was full of people from Louisiana who were running from the storm. Rain was fairly steady from then on, and traffic was practically bumper-to-bumper on I-55 north as people were fleeing the coast. Periodically we passed cars that had broken down along the side of the road, and I stopped at Batesville for an energy drink, and then drove on into Memphis.
On the internet at home, I learned that the International ALERT Academy I had passed earlier in Texas was affiliated with Christian evangelist Bill Gothard, and was a military-style training camp for young people who were then sent around the world to the scenes of natural disasters to rescue victims. The campus however had formerly been Ambassador University, a college affiliated with Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God cult. It had closed abruptly in 1997 due to financial crises brought on by the church’s gradual drift toward mainstream Christianity. Ironically, as the movement’s new leadership began to remove much of Armstrong’s doctrinal error and bizarre beliefs such as “British-Israelism”, many members broke away to form splinter groups that adhered to Armstrongism. Nowadays, the Worldwide Church of God is considered a mainstream Christian denomination rather than a cult.

08/29/08: Texas Summer Music Conference, Dallas

I checked out of the Hyatt Regency since this was the first day of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and I drove up Cedar Springs to Cafe Brazil for breakfast. Then I drove down to the Westin City Center Hotel on Pearl Street to register for the conference, but they had not opened the conference registration yet. So I sat in the lobby networking and talking with labels, and I called the Presidential Trap House people from Oklahoma City who had left posters in the lobby.
Once I did get registered, I learned that the conference had provided a hotel room for me and another hotel room for Wes Phillips, who was driving in from Jackson, Mississippi and had called me from Tallulah, Louisiana. While sitting in the lobby, I ran into Doc and Hood, the rap duo from Oklahoma City that had impressed me so at the Oklahoma Music Conference back in 2006, and I was sorry to learn from them that BJ, the founder of that conference had been killed a couple of months before.
Wes arrived in the early evening, but I got caught by Mike the conference organizer and was corralled into the opening showcase of the music conference, which I wouldn’t have minded except that I was so hungry. The talent was better than average, however, and especially impressive was a little boy from Dallas called Bentley Green, who rapped three songs from his upcoming album, and who had been rapping since he was three years old. I finally left the hotel and drove over to Lower Greenville to Daddy Jack’s, but I was fairly disappointed at the limited menu. I finally chose a broiled lobster tail, and it was very good, but also quite expensive. Then I drove out to Cafe Brazil for coffee and dessert, and then I headed back to the hotel, networking and interacting with the conference attendees.
The hotel was also really neat, sitting on one side of a vast plaza, complete with ice-skating rink, and with the meeting rooms on the opposite side of the plaza. There was no real exhibit hall area, only a few tables set up outside the main ballroom, so people tended to gather and hang out in the lobby, and in the restaurant/bar. I met with the Presidential Trap House label there in the restaurant, and then later the hotel began serving pizzas and sodas in the lobby. There had been some sort of modeling event at a downtown club, but I stayed at the hotel and got to bed around 2 in the morning.

8/28/08: A Day of Record Promotion in Dallas

I drove up to Buzzbrews at Central Expressway and Fitzhugh for breakfast, and then headed over to CD Source on Greenville Avenue, where I found a lot of Blue Note CDs in the new arrivals, including one by the pianist Elmo Hope. I also found two Odean Pope Trio recordings there, and then I drove a few blocks over to Half Price Books Records & Music, and there I found a number of African LPs.
Wanting a hamburger, I headed over to Jake’s Hamburgers on Skillman, but there was literally no place to park, so I stopped by Poor Man’s Music & More on the other side of LBJ Freeway, and then drove over to the Galleria.
At Valley View Mall, there were two new record stores, an Xperience Music (which is what the Eargazum chain is becoming), and Nu Era Music and More, which wasn’t on my store list and which I just happened to see as I walked through the mall. From there, I headed out to Oak Cliff and to a store on Cockrell Hill called Da Shop, and then to Rewind Music in the Wynnewood Village. At Top Ten, the owner Mike asked about Gary Bernard, the buyer at Select-O-Hits who he had known for some years, and gave me a cold root beer, and then I headed down to the Eargazum at Southwest Center Mall.
In Grand Prairie, there was a large store called Forever Young Music, and they had a Houston CD I had been looking for called Queen of Hits: The Macy’s Record Story, so I bought that and then drove over to the Irving Mall to leave posters and promos at another Eargazum location.
I had decided to eat at a Texas Land and Cattle Company in Garland near Lake Ray Hubbard, and I didn’t want to fight LBJ expressway traffic at the 6PM time of evening, so I decided to take the new George W. Bush Tollway, little knowing that by the time I reached the end of it in Garland, I would have spent almost $10 and killed nearly an hour. Worse, the tollway abruptly ends at a city street in Garland that doesn’t lead to I-30, so I had to drive down through Rowlett to get to the restaurant. The Dallas Cowboys pre-season game was on the TV screens at the restaurant, and I ordered their signature smoked sirloin, which is unique and very good.
Afterwards, there was supposed to be a jazz group playing at R. L. Griffith’s Blues Palace on Grand in South Dallas, but there wasn’t, and so I drove down to Brooklyn Jazz Cafe again. But the group there had quit playing because of the Barack Obama speech at the Democratic National Convention, which everyone was listening to. I hung around the club for awhile, but ultimately headed back to my hotel.

8/27/08: The Freddie Jones Quartet at the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe, Dallas

The Cupboard in West Memphis had started selling breakfast, so I stopped there on my way out of town, and then I continued west on I-40. It was National Truck Drivers Week, and in honor of that, a truckstop in North Little Rock was giving away free lunches, a fact which had created a major traffic jam at Exit 161.
I had miscalculated the start of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and had taken a day off work that I probably hadn’t needed to, but since I had already made my plans, I had gone on Priceline.com and booked a hotel room in Dallas for Wednesday and Thursday nights (they had put me in the Hyatt Regency Reunion), and I reasoned that this would give me a free day in Dallas on Thursday to go around to the record stores with posters and promotional CDs.
Below Little Rock on I-30, I began having a problem with drowsiness, so, at Texarkana, I stopped at a Starbucks, and then I headed on into East Texas, stopping at Greenville to go by a Hastings Music in the hopes of finding CDs by The Southern Sea or Tree With Lights. Unfortunately, they had neither of them there.
I had considered eating dinner at Culpepper Cattle Company in Rockwall, but after checking their menu on my iPhone, I learned they had both remodeled and increased their prices dramatically, so I decided to eat at the Saltgrass Steakhouse there instead, and it was quite good. The sun was beginning to set over Lake Ray Hubbard as I stopped at a Starbucks after dinner, and then I headed on into Dallas.
I headed first to Good Records in Lower Greenville, where I found a couple of Numero Eccentric Soul reissues that I didn’t have, as well as CDs by the Sound In Action Trio and the Papercuts. Then I headed over to South Lamar Street, and stuck my head briefly into Bill’s Records before heading down the street to the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe, where the Dallas Observer had said the Freddie Jones Quartet would be playing. The cafe was large, nearly a block long, and was full of people. Freddie Jones proved to be an excellent trumpeter, and his quartet was exciting, if a little funk-oriented. I am not usually a fan of R & B-influenced jazz, but this group was exciting, particularly the drummer and bass-player. At an intermission, I met the trumpeter, and learned that he was originally from South Memphis-it’s a rather small world after all. During the rest of the night, he used two other drummers, and I tried to buy a Brooklyn Jazz Cafe T-shirt, but the owner had taken the key to the shirt-case with her when she left for the day.
I had worried about finding the Hyatt Regency Hotel, but I had no difficulty finding it once I drove into the Reunion area, and once I got checked in, the pool was closed, so I headed up to my room.