The conventional wisdom is that there is really only one Black fife-and-drum band left in America, that of Sharde Thomas in Panola County, so it was thrilling to see a second one at this year’s Juke Joint Festival, even if it shared a member with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. R. L. Boyce, a blues musician from Como has long held yard parties at his house, and some of these have featured fife-and-drum music. At the Cat Head stage at this year’s festival, Boyce brought out a fife-and-drum band which featured Otha Turner’s nephew, Andre Otha Evans on the flute, rather than the bass drum he customarily plays with the Rising Star. Perhaps it’s a sign that the tradition has some life remaining in it, at least in Mississippi.
Memphis is literally loaded with incredible soul and funk bands, and occasionally local restaurants and clubs feature some of them. Joshua McCain and the Soul Seven have recently started playing every Tuesday night at El Toro Loco in Hickory Hill from 7-9 PM, with singer Jay Bailey as their featured vocalist. I like to come out and support live music, and it is especially enjoyable to have a live music event early in the week.
I really can’t even first recall when or how I first heard about the Kashmere Stage Band from Kashmere High School in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston, Texas, but I expect it grew out of my interest in Skipper Lee Frazier’s Ovide Records label, and the superb Texas Funk compilation that Jazzman Records released. Soon enough, I learned the story- that these young African-American kids from a rough neighborhood in Houston’s Fifth Ward were molded by Conrad Johnson into the best high-school jazz band in America, not once, but over and over again from the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. They released 45-RPM singles, and a handful of albums which are now all priceless collector’s items, and I once got to meet the man himself, who welcomed me into his home and answered my questions about the band while I was on a trip to Houston. Mr. Johnson passed not long after I met him, but further honors and new recognition for the Kashmere Stage Band and its accomplishments were everywhere following the release of the Texas Thunder Soul compact disc on Now Again Records, and the Thunder Soul documentary, which had been unveiled at South By Southwest a few years back. One of the outcomes of all the recent recognition was a reunion of former members, which in turn led to a reunion band called the Kashmere ThunderSoul Orchestra, and when I saw that this band was scheduled to play at 10 PM Wednesday night at the Palm Door, I decided I had to be there, no matter how far the walk.
The band had already begun their performance before I got there, but they were only in their first song. The years have diminished none of the funk or soulfulness from these great musicians, and their talent, showmanship and good spirits were available for everyone to see. I was especially impressed with the youngest member, the drummer, who was incredibly funky, and although the band played some medleys of Earth Wind & Fire and other cover tunes, their originals such as “Kash Register” were the most exciting by far. At the end of their long set, the crowd cheered for nearly a full five minutes, a tribute to the lasting legacy of a man named Conrad Johnson who believed in the potential of inner-city youth rather than the obstacles they faced.
When I heard that a place in Raleigh called Precious Moments at Lorenzo’s was sponsoring a Down Home Blues Night on Sunday March 2, with a band called the C3 Band, I had to go and check it out. Live music outside of Beale Street is not all that common in Memphis, and is extremely rare in Raleigh, and the venue seemed to be a new one as well, so I wanted to support it. But that particular Sunday proved to be a cold rain that started turning into a freezing rain and sleet event. Even so, the band was there, and a small crowd of brave souls who came out to party. The C3 Band is only a few months old, and consists of Courtney Brown on drums, Chris Pitts on guitar and Colton Parker on bass, and is something of a blues power trio. While they can certainly play the blues, they can effortlessly shift into funk, soul or rock, anchored by Courtney’s aggressive drumming style, and seem to be a group with potential far beyond the basic blues category. Their covers can range far and wide, from Frankie Beverly and Maze, to Bobby Rush, to Clarence Carter. At the end of the night, when I thought they had no more surprises, they went off in left-field with a totally unexpected cover of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” I left even more impressed than before. (The C3 gig on Sunday nights has become a regular weekly event at Precious Moments at Lorenzo’s in Raleigh).
Dinerral Shavers was a snare drummer for the popular Hot 8 Brass Band in New Orleans, and a well-loved teacher at a local high school when he was abruptly murdered in early 2007 by a teenager who had been feuding with his stepson. Out of the tragedy has come an organization set up in Shavers’ memory by his relatives, a foundation that supports the arts, music, culture and anti-violence initiatives in New Orleans, and so on Saturday, January 11, 2014, the Dinerral Shavers Educational Fund sponsored a “brass band blow-out” at the popular Howlin Wolf music venue in the Central Business District. The evening began just after 9:30 PM with a new band, the Most Wanted Brass Band, many of whose members have come from other area bands, such as the Stooges. As such, the band is new, but the members are seasoned veterans and it is a good and tight aggregation overall. What started as a sparse crowd soon filled up, and eventually, the dancers took over the area nearest the stage.
On Saturday December 28th, a surprise party was held for longtime Memphis musician Jimmy “Pete” Peterson at Aji’s Sports Bar & Grill on Lamar, which turned into something of a jam session. The first set was played by a band largely comprised of relatives, with Roderick “Drumhedz” Stewart on the trap set. On the second set, Roderick was replaced by veteran drummer and producer Randy Goodlow. It was great music, and great fun.
Veteran Memphis drummer Mike Mosby has one of Memphis’ best soul bands, the Hard Hitters, and on Sunday night, December 22, 2013, they kicked off the week of Christmas right with an event called Locked and Loaded at the Zodiac Restaurant and Lounge on Mount Moriah Road in Hickory Hill. The band amazed the standing-room-only crowd with funky instrumentals, vocal tunes, and a hip-hop performance from Memphis’ most soulful rapper, Soulman Snipes. As the old folks used to say, a good time was had by all.
Friday night, the Memphis gospel music community came out to support local Memphis drummers, and to see Calvin “C-Rod” Rodgers, arguably one of the best gospel drummers of today. It was amazing and fortunate to get to see him play, as last year, after a brutal robbery and beating, it was for a time doubtful that he would ever be able to play again. The event, called Thankful 4 The Drummers, was sponsored by Marcus Malone at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street in downtown Memphis, and was opened up by local drummers such as Tevin Curtis, Bart Orr and Chris Pat. Altogether it was an amazing night of great drumming that didn’t break up until nearly 1 AM.
I had heard last week that there was a live band playing at Mr. P’s Hot Wings on Hacks Cross Road every Wednesday night, so I rolled out there last night to see for myself. The band was keyboardist Josh McClain’s Soul Seven Band, featuring a soulful singer named Jay Bailey, and they play every Wednesday from 7-10 PM, although last night’s set ended early because of the Grizzlies’ game coming on TV. The band was superbly funky, trading off between two different drummers on alternating tunes, and Bailey is a talented vocalist, with a repertoire that includes most Memphians’ favorite tunes, from Maze songs to Bobby Womack covers. I should add that the food at Mr. P’s is really good, much better than I would have expected. I tried the lemon-pepper boneless wings and was amazed.
Mr. P’s Hot Wings
3285 Hacks Cross Rd
Memphis, TN 38125-8918
My homeboy Otis Logan had texted me about a musicians’ shed (jam session) taking place at a church on Highway 72 in Collierville on Halloween night. I was a little skeptical, figuring that with it being Halloween, and with a shed way out in the suburbs, that it might not be well attended. But I decided to go anyway, and was amazed to discover when I got there that there were well over a hundred people there, many of them among the best gospel musicians in Memphis. Among the drummers were Marless Flowers, Sean Payne and James Sexton, and the amazing pianist Derrick Jackson was there, as well as producer Marque Walker, organist Keenan Shotwell, and a lot of other talented musicians. The event began at 9:30 PM, and was still going strong at 2 AM when I left, and best of all, the spirit of the whole event was positive and strictly love among the musicians.