Although Memphis’ live music scene is not as healthy as it should be, one of its redeeming features is the occasional opening of new live music venues, often in the inner city. When these spots appear, they often feature the authentic soul and blues music for which Memphis is known, so when I saw that a place had opened on Brooks Road called Kings Sports Bar and that they featured a band every Thursday night called Since 5, I had to make the trip to Whitehaven to see what was what.
As it turned out, King’s Sports Bar was in a small strip mall in a place I recall as a club years ago when I was in college, across the street from what was then Club Obsession. Back then it was a rap club, but nowadays it is a small and nondescript local sports bar attracting a small older crowd of locals, including a handful of vocalists who come to sit in with the band. Memphis is literally full of great musicians, and although I had not encountered the Since 5 Band before, they proved to be a gifted group of musicians, switching seamlessly from contemporary jazz and funk to soul and blues, and backing three different female singers, including Lisa Cook, a gifted vocalist who performed a blues and a Chaka Khan cover during the course of the evening. Even better, Since 5 played some original compositions, something that very rarely occurs with a lot of Memphis R & B bands these days. Kings Sports Bar features live music every Thursday night beginning at 8 PM, with free admission.
The day after the big band battle took place at Oakhaven, there was another band battle between Melrose High School, Oakhaven High School and Fairley High School, this time at the gymnasium at Fairley in Whitehaven. The three high school bands and drumlines battled, and then there was an exhibition by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South band. Since all the bands (including UAPB) had arrangements of Memphis rap artist Snootie Wild’s single “Yayo”, they closed out the event by attempting to have all the bands play it together. Keeping it together was somewhat difficult, but it was a cool way to close out the event.
Despite Memphis’ well-deserved basketball reputation, Memphis is also traditionally a strong football town, particularly at the prep level. People turn out to see both the ball game, and also the battle between the bands and drumlins as well, and certain stadiums are historic locations for Memphis Black high school football, such as Booker T. Washington Stadium in South Memphis or Melrose Stadium in the center of Orange Mound. On Friday, September 19, 2014, I went out to the latter stadium to see the game between Whitehaven High School and the Melrose High School Golden Wildcats. Both schools brought their marching bands to the game, which isn’t always the case in Memphis these days, but Melrose seems to have declined in numbers in recent years, and its band, though it sounded good, was far smaller than I remembered in the past. Whitehaven, on the other hand, is one of the city’s premier high schools, academically, athletically and musically. Its band marches more than 100 members, and looks and sounds better than many colleges. The football game was a runaway for Whitehaven, but the band battle was more evenly matched, although I would have to give Whitehaven the advantage there too. Both bands pleased the crowd by playing a number of current hits, including Memphian Snootie Wild’s “Yayo”.
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.
I ate lunch at Pearl’s Oyster Bar downtown, and then headed out to Southbrook Mall, because my homeboy Snipes said his band A Touch of Soul was performing in the parking lot for the opening of some sort of discount mall there. A Touch of Soul proved to be a very talented young band, with a drummer named Otis Logan whose solo was one of the high points of the concert. Several rappers and singers performed with the band during the course of the hot summer afternoon.
When I entered Southland Mall to do some Christmas shopping, I was greeted by Shiekh, a new upscale hip-hop and sneaker shop in Memphis. They have the latest clothing lines for men and women and will cheerfully accept your event flyers and mixtapes. If you’re in Memphis, pay them a visit.
#067 Mitchell High School Band @ Whitehaven Christmas Parade (by John Shaw)
The Mitchell High School Tiger Band marches in the Whitehaven Christmas Parade in Memphis on 11/17/12. Formerly Mitchell Road High School, the school was the first African-American high school in Shelby County to play football, and thus had one of the earliest marching bands in the county schools.