This Saturday, June 19, 2021
Harrison Brothers Hardware
Pre-Father's Day Book Signing
This Saturday, June 19, 2021
Harrison Brothers Hardware
The Blues Foundation held its 42nd annual Blues Music Awards program this past Sunday, virtually as it was done last year, because of the continuing pandemic.
It seems as though it was another case of "round up the usual suspects," as veteran blues performers, garnered most of the hardware: Shemekia Copeland, Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Walter Trout, Bobby Rush, Mike Zito, Robert Cray, Keb' Mo', Bettye LaVette, Curtis Salgado, Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, and others. Not that these well-weathered stars don't deserve the accolades, because they surely do.
But it's also good to hear the new, young artists who carry on the blues tradition, while bringing a pleasing freshness and originality to the genre. Folks like Clarksdale phenom Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, who won awards both last year and this year and Emerging Artist Album of the Year ("Harlem") vocalist and guitarist King Solomon Hicks, both authentic talents who have great presence and bright futures as blues stars and influencers for many years to come. Welcome!
Back in 2008, when I was beginning to research Soul of the Man: Bobby "Blue" Bland, I spent an intriguing and insightful day with Wolf Stephenson and Tommy Couch Sr. at Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi, where they, along with Mitchell Malouf, three Old Miss frat brothers, had founded the company in 1967.
Wolf was particularly generous with his time and reminiscences of the company's beginnings, ups and downs, and all-arounds. From the early years, when both Couch and Stephenson were still working part-time as pharmacists and recording whoever, whatever they could to make ends meet, to the first big hits by King Floyd ("Groove Me") and Jean Knight ("Mr. Big Stuff"), to Dorothy Moore's two-million copy megahit "Misty Blue," through some lean disco years, until Texas bluesman Z.Z. Hill surprisingly hit it big with his "Down Home Blues, a throwback to earlier soul and blues music that most in the business thought was long since dead.
From there, their course was set for the next several years to come, as Malaco, with the expert advice of veteran promo director Dave Clark, signed the great soul-blues artists that no other record company wanted: Latimore, Denise LaSalle, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, and, of course, Bobby Blue Bland.
As I was leaving from that first visit, Wolf gave me a brief tour of the warehouse and pulled off the shelf and handed me a big box CD set of Malaco hits that had been packaged for Malaco's 30-year anniversary in 1999. Included in the box was a 44,500-word, 108-page booklet by Grammy Award Winning Author Rob Bowman (author of tons of liner notes and Soulville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records). Now, at Malaco's 50th anniversary, Bowman has expanded the booklet to include a bunch more photos from Malaco's archives, as well as how, with the passing of most of the old blues artists, Malaco transitioned to becoming the world's largest gospel music producer and to providing today samples for a myriad of modern rappers and hip-hop artists everywhere.
So somehow, through it all, with some luck, lots of hard work, and plenty of perseverance, Malaco Records has outlasted all the other once-successful independent record labels--Motown, Atlantic, Stax, Chess, et al.--to become, with Tommy Couch Jr. now at the helm, the oldest and still flourishing independent record company...by focusing, in different ways over the years, on one thing: recording great Black music primarily for a Black audience.
I'm a couple of months late, but I do want to give a belated shout-out to blues great Bobby Rush who won his second Grammy on March 14 for "Rawer Than Raw," the Best Traditional Blues Album of 2020.
The 87 year-old bluesman wrote about half the songs for the album, while adding his own unique interpretations of a few old standards by Skip James ("Hard Times"), Howlin' Wolf ("Smokestack Lightning"), Willie Dixon ("Shake It For Me"), Sonny Boy Williamson ("Don't Start Me Talkin"), and Robert Johnson ("Dust My Broom"). It's a fun package that the veteran singer delivers with award-winning panache!
Sam and Jacob Farley, adhering to the time-honored Fenway Park tradition, signing Pesky Pole.
Last year, my April 1, 2020 blog listed my all-time favorite baseball movies, but, thanks to the magic of Netflix, I have to add another one: the 2014 documentary "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," that I enjoyed the other night after having watched the first place Red Sox pummel the Tigers at Fenway Park last week and, a few days later, the Rocket City Trash Pandas (Single A Affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels) thrash the Tennessee Smokies 12-8 in a 13-inning slugfest that included not one, but two grand slam homeruns by the home team at their new digs at Toyota Field in Madison, Alabama:
Almost as uplifting as "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," an inspiring film about the 1973-1977 Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league team in the Class A--Short Season Northwest League. Founded and owned by the bit actor and lifelong baseball enthusiast Bing Russell (best known for his 13-year role as Deputy Clem on "Bonanza"), the Mavericks held open tryouts that resulted in a team of motley misfits, retreads, and ragtag rejects, including local bar owner Frank "Flash" Peters as team manager, Bing's own son Kurt (of famous actor fame) as V-P and designated hitter, and ex-Yankee pariah Jim Bouton, who, together with a colorful cast of cast-offs, ended up becoming one of the best teams in the minor leagues, beating major league affiliated teams with million dollar bonus babies and former college stars, while packing the Portland ballpark and creating one of the coolest, underdog rags to riches stories in baseball history.
If you care about baseball or just true tales of the little guys besting the big boys, you gotta check this out.
For many years now two of jazz's most talented and dynamic tenor saxophone players have been Pharoah Sanders and Joe Lovano, teaming with the best modern musicians in the genre to delight listeners with their strong, bold free jazz and hard bop stylings.
But something--maybe age (Sanders is 80 and Lovano, 68), maybe the pandemic (though both remain healthy and creative), or maybe their spiritualism (both have embraced Eastern religions)--has changed the type of jazz each of them is now making. It isn't exactly cool jazz or smooth jazz, although it is much mellower and gentler than their earlier playing, but instead in its inventive way more ethereal and haunting.
Sanders's most recent album is entitled "Promises" where he plays along with Sam Shepherd, a British electronic keyboardist, who records as Floating Points, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The single musical composition in nine movements was written by Shepherd and has been described as ambient sound, dreamlike, and abstract psychedelia. Whatever it is, I probably won't be dancing to it, but I do enjoy listening to it.
The only time I saw Sanders was at the Village Vanguard sometime around 1970, after he had proved himself the new wunderkind with the fabulous bands of Alabama's own Sun Ra and then with John Coltrane. He did things with that horn I have never heard or seen since, overblowing and multiphonic stuff, holding his hand over the bell, impossibly passing airflow both up and down the body at the same time, and somehow seeming to play two distinct notes at once.
Joe Lovano is not as storied, but definitely one of today's great tenor titans. His fast, brash, loud playing has gained him a devoted following among fellow musicians and jazz aficionados alike. But his last two albums with pianist Marilyn Crispell and percussionist Carmen Castaldi, aka the Trio Tapestry, are made of subtler stuff. The latest, "Garden of Expression," includes eight lovely Lovano compositions. All lyrical and tender, all sounding like the name of the album's last tune: "Zen Like." Take a listen to this cut from the group's first album, "Trio Tapestry."
"The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg," according to author David Cohn.
I've been missing the northern end of the Delta lately. So I turned to two good sources of inspiration about the rich Memphis music scene that capture the bountiful spirit of that southern city.
The first is the 25th anniversary edition of It Came From Memphis, native Memphian Robert Gordon's fascinating personal history of how blues music migrated up the Delta to the Bluff City and influenced several generations of inventive musicians: from originators like Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus Cannon, Mose Vinson, Sleeping John Estes, and others to a host of performers from the 1950s through the 1990s. The story is as rambling and discombobulated as the town and the people who have made music there.
So if you want to get beyond Elvis and Otis and discover the real, largely unsung heroes of Memphis music, this is the book for you. How about Alex Chilton, the lead singer of the Box Tops--remember "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby"?--who sang these megahits at age sixteen and never again attained these heights again, but instead led a stormy, fantastical existence with a long line of strange underground cult bands? Or Jim Dickinson who pops up everywhere, producing or playing on one hit after non-hit, who exclaimed and lived by the motto: "If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space."
The band marches on with an outrageous and talented cast of crazy, under-appreciated Memphians: colorful wrestlers like Sputnik Monroe and Jerry Lawler, wonderful and often obscure musicians like Charles "Skip" Pitts (who can forget that perfect wah-wah rift on "Shaft"?), bassist Scott Bomar, Ben Cauley, Howard Grimes, Teenie and Leroy Hodges (ala the Hi Rhythm Section), Fred Ford, Lee Baker, Sid Selvidge, on and on--making music for the ages.
I can only agree with Rolling Stone: "If you haven't read this book, do it now."
A suitable and enjoyable companion to the book is the 2014 documentary Take Me to the River, now streaming everywhere, where director Martin Shore gathers a bunch of crack Memphis session musicians to accompany a handful of old blues and soul singers with some of today's young singers and rappers.
So we watch duets by Otis Clay and Lil P-Nut, Mavis Staples and the North Mississippi All-Stars, Bobby Rush and Frayser Boy, Booker T. and Al Kapone, William Bell and Snoop Dogg, Charlie Musselwhite and the City Champs, and my favorite: Bobby "Blue" Bland and Yo Gotti, singing/rapping "Ain't No Sunshine" (I know, I know, I know...).
If it sounds a little weird, well, it is, but that's Memphis! I found it to be great fun, and it appears the performers did as well. And so will you.
Al Green is 75 years old today.
I first saw him at the Beacon Theater in New York City, way back when, before he found God and became a preacher man. After his band warmed up the sold-out audience with a few jazz numbers and an overture of bits of some of his many hits, a red spotlight swiveled its beam to the back of the audience and to the door to the lobby that suddenly swung open. And dancing jubilantly down the aisle came the soul legend himself, red roses in hand, sporting a shiny, bright, white suit, high-fiving those with aisle seats, and then bouncing up the steps and onto the stage while the band blared "Tired of Being Alone," Green's first big hit in 1971. The show then continued for a couple of hours in a whirling blur of sustained southern soul fervor.
I would have caught "the last great soul singer," as some have called him, back in 1967, when he served a brief stint as vocalist for Jr. Walker and the All Stars at the El Grotto Lounge in Battle Creek, Michigan, where I was teaching high school English at the time, if I had only known he would soon become the next huge pop megastar. Hi Record producer Willie Mitchell discovered him in a club in Midland, Texas, the next year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As it turned out, I would have to wait another few years after the Beacon Theater show to see Green again, this time at an outdoor concert in Kansas City, Missouri, in a field behind the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum in the famous 18th and Vine Historic District, a rib-bone's throw away from Arthur Bryant's famous barbecue joint and from where Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Jay McShann, and many other jazz greats held court during the 1920s and 30s.
By the Kanasas City gig, Green was splitting his time among preaching, singing gospel, and touring around the world with his dynamic soul show.
Later, I would see Green again in a huge spectacular outdoor concert in Birmingham, Alabama's Linn Park, not far from Erskine Hawkins's Tuxedo Junction, where it seemed most of the Magic City was in exuberate attendance.
Finally, I spent a cold Sunday morning in January, just before the 2005 Super Bowl, at Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, near Graceland, to hear the good Reverend preach and occasionally burst into spirited song. If you want a taste, view the 1984 documentary "The Gospel According to Al Green," now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Happy Birthday, Reverend Green!
Dear Mr. Archibald,
Thank you for your new book, Shaking the Gates of Hell!
Thank you for speaking out and making sense in a state, a country, a world that all too often makes no sense at all. For helping me to understand my relationship with my own father a bit more forgivingly. For helping me to appreciate my family, my church, my state, and my place in them more lovingly.
These are no small gifts, especially when delivered with such humor, understanding, and compassion.
So...I am pleased to wholeheartedly recommend your book to all Alabamians, all Southerners, all sons, and daughters, all Christians, all...oh hell, everybody. Read this book!
Charles Farley is an author who lives and writes in Huntsville, Alabama.