Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Devo 'sells out' and Robyn gets bitchy

Devo's first song in more than a decade and a half is now... a commercial? Watching the new plug for a Dell laptop, it was obvious that the flowerpot heads were providing the music but what was that great song they were doing? A: "Watch Us Work It Out." I didn't recognize it from any of their old albums and as it turns out it didn't appear there. So how troubled should you be about them 'selling out'? If the song's this great, I'm not too worried, especially when I've used, bought and enjoyed Dell products for years now. If you like what you hear in the video, you can get the song at iTunes and

As for Swede popster Robyn (aka Robin Miriam Carlsson), you might remember her from her hit "With Every Heartbeat" back in the 90's before she burned out and retreated from stardom. After jumping ship from her label and releasing music herself, she's poised for another international push. "Konichiwa Bitches" goes back to a March '07 UK release (maybe even late '06 from an EP) and is only now coming out in the States. It was definitely worth the wait as this is a great piece of sleazy, fun dance pop (not to mention how funny and cute the video is).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Early Fall video

Thanks to wdfbhjk, my new MySpace friend for tipping me off to this prime material- early Fall videos going back to the late 70's.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dr. King and Mavis Staples- keep on fighting

On a holiday, I usually just sleep late and quickly forget the reason that I have a day off from work. But since I'd recently visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which had previously been the place where he'd been killed and since I'd long admired him, I thought that I should do something to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, especially since it involved one of my favorite singers.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music was holding its 22nd annual tribute to Dr. King and while I was glad to be there, even on a freezing cold morning, I was kind of disappointed to see that I was one of the few white people who came out there for the show (a freebee no less). Regardless, it was a nice testament to Dr. King in many ways as his beautiful visage stood on a screen at the back of the stage, with his soulful eyes looking skyward.

As a musical prelude, a small house band played an appropriate instrumental version of "What's Going On" before a choir got the crowd on its feet with the national anthem (sadly, not the Hendrix or Radiohead version) and the more-than-appropriate "Lift Every Voice" ("sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us").

After the BAM leaders greeted everyone, Yvonne Graham, Deputy Borough President of Brooklyn, said for the first but not even close to the last time that day that there was unfinished work that had to be carried out in King's name, including poverty, housing, education and over-crowded jails.

This was followed by Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, who talked about how ethnic diversity is the strength of this city and this nation. Later, he spoke of how MLK faced death bravely and then he then honored Obama for winning a caucus in a mostly white state (Iowa) and honored the passing of a number of African Americans last year including drummer Max Roach and pianist Oscar Peterson. He also toasted several successful local black businessmen in the audience, asking them to stand for applause before noting that next year we'll finally be rid of Bush (which got huge applause) and that a new day will dawn for government then (or so we all hope, right?). He even got in some praise for Oprah for having a positive effect on the political race along with an anti-gun screed.

Next up was William Rhoden, the New York Times sports writer, who noted that the sports industry has been able to make a lot of money for African American athletes but given them little power in the end. He also fretted about when kids ask him who the first white players were that integrated basketball and football as they obviously didn't know about integration or history. He wound down by speaking movingly of King's promise that "we" will reach the promised land, meaning all people of all races would get there together.

Mayor Michael "I'm not running for Prez" Bloomberg then gave a kind of tepid speech, not really worthy of someone who supposedly is thinking of seeking high office. After calling Staples "Marvis" and demanding some enthused applause for her, he joked that it was better that she was singing today instead of him. He spoke of how King still inspires young people and how he'd already been to three events today to honor King. Today was a day of optimism, he said. Later, he invoked King's Memphis speech ("I've been to the mountaintop...") and how MLK had brushed aside warnings of threats against his life just so he could do what's right. Bloomy took time to pat himself on the back for making city agencies more reflective of the community (i.e. more racially diverse) and how there was still unfinished business of Dr. King's to fulfill, including giving opportunities to young men and funding or defunding programs if they were or weren't working.

Senator Chuck Schumer did much better as he tagged himself as a Brooklyn native who plays basketball and gave a shout out to his old local school. On King, he told how he admired his courage and strength. "King help up mirror to America... made progress but still have a long way to go..." He quoted Alexis de Tocqueville, saying that the only thing that can prevent America from greatness is racism. Schumer said that some people in the civil rights movement had told King to slow down with his work. King's response was a letter from a Birmingham jail, which he rightfully noted was an historic document : "For years now, I have heard the word 'wait'... This 'wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'" As Schumer gave an impassioned reading, he occasionally betraying his Brooklyn accent. Ending on an upbeat note, he told that although in many cities, half of all black men never finish college, Strive is a good program to counter that.

New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn then addressed the crowd, saying that today gives you a moment to stop and reflect on the progress and the work we still have to do. there's been a 20% increase in hate crimes and that strikes at the core of what Dr. King wanted. We will not tolerate hate! As a sad reminder of how far we still have to go a woman heckler in the audience yelled at her three times: "The only hate crime is between you and Viola Plummer." This was a not-so-King-like greeting to the first openly gay elected speaker. In response, I wanted to remind the infantile jackass in the audience that the person we were there to honor would have been sickened by her incredible ignorance but luckily the crowd cheering Quinn drowned out the pathetic moron. King would have approved of that for sure.

Next came the keynote interview with Dr. Edison O. Jackson, President Medgar Evers College who was there to speak to the musical star of the show, Mavis Staples., an appropriate choice since she and her family were tight with King back in the day and also since she just released a great album of civil rights songs, We'll Never Turn Back (on Anti-). King's visage was taken off the back screen and we saw a collage of historical photos of Mavis and her family, the Staples Singers. Mavis appeared, saying that she was delighted that someone had left a present in her dressing room of a book of writings of MLK.

Q: Could you tell the story of what inspired the Staples to move from gospel to pop?

Mavis: It was 1963 and we were in Montgomery, Alabama and Pops said 'Martin Luther King is here and I want to go to his service and I'd like you to join me' So we always followed Pop and we went. During the service, Dr. King acknowledged him and after the service, they met and spoke briefly. Pops came back to us later and said 'I like his message. If he can preach it, we can sing it.' And so we came up with "March of Freedom Highway."

Q: Did he have a favorite song of yours?

Mavis: He liked "Why Am I Treated So Bad." Pops wrote it about the nine black children in Little Rock who were trying to integrate the school there and they had to get through these angry crowds and police. That made Pops wonder 'what did they do to deserve this?'

Q: Why did you decide to return to songs of protest?

Mavis: Our generation doesn't sing these songs... (but) they're just as relevant and needed today. What would Dr. King say about Katrina? He'd probably feel like it's 1960 again... That's why this generation needs to know what we went through. If it's just me keeping on, then I'll be there.

Q: What kind of effect did you think these freedom songs would have?

Mavis: We hoped these songs could change the world, make it a better place, inspire our people not to give up. Sometimes people want to hear a song, not a speech! (applause)

Staples then left briefly before coming back out with the house band. From her new album, she sang "On My Way" accompanied only by a guitar for a spacey blues song. Even with her raspy voice, she was still a true diva. "Sing it girl!" someone yelled from the audience as a spontaneous clap-a-long began. That Mavis did as she shouted the lyrics towards the end before humming the melody to bring it home. She then did "Waiting For My Child to Come Home" (an old Staples Singers song) again with just her and the guitarist. For her last song, the choir reappeared for "I'll Take You There"with the whole band playing with her now as the crowd was pumped up, clapping along for a beautiful, rousing version of the song. Mavis goaded each band member to solo then got the crowd to sing the chorus before leaving.

It was a tough act to follow. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke noted that she was literally able to be here today because of King and his work. He was a warrior, she insisted. At the time of his struggle, white folks had a psychosis, a schizophrenia that they hadn't shaken off. "We have to teach our kids about our history," she also insisted. "Being absorbed by a culture that continues to subjugate you isn't part of the dream. " Finally bringing up the current election and a viable black candidate who was campaigning in the south, she noted the problems that still persist there. "If the confederate flag is flying in South Carolina, then it's flying in Brooklyn too."

Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes was up next, noting that the Reentry program which led to less kids (specifically African American) going back to prison before reading a long portion of King's Memphis speech.

To deliver a benediction (making it much like a church service) was Reverend Robert M. Waterman of the Antioch Baptist Church. "This is the part where everyone wants to leave," he jokingly noted as several people walked out. Later, he said "I keep coming back to what Dr. King's said about 'the bad check'" (from his "I Have a Dream" speech: "America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'"). Waterman told how he was stopped by cops recently in his own neighborhood as they demanded identification from him. "Living in Brooklyn," he told the crowd, "some of you still got bad checks- health care, jail, unemployment... And remember that even if you make it, don't forget that many of your brothers and sisters still suffer." He also took an admirable swipe at the Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program without mentioning it by name, noting that "test taking is not learning!" (to which the audience applauded in agreement). He asked us to all held hands for a prayer as I clutched an elderly black woman next to me. He asked God for tolerance, love and patience but also that we speak out against injustice.

The choir came back to sign "We Shall Overcome," as we all soon stood and sang along with them. "Deep in my heart/I do believe/We shall overcome some day." It was a beautiful, moving moment and a great way to end the tribute.

Afterwards, I stood in line for a CD signing by Mavis. As I came up to her and she signed a booklet for my girlfriend, I asked her "What's the most important thing you learned from Dr. King?" Without missing a beat, she said "to keep on fighting." Perfect answer. She laughed at me then and said "You wanna interview me, right?" I smiled back and said "Thanks Mavis, I just did."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Toumast- toureg rock

Thanks to the good people at globalFEST, we Gothamites get to sample some of the finest, more interesting and captivating world music around. Whatever 'world music' means nowadays to everyone or anyone, it's still all-inclusive about music from other countries.

In addition to the exciting french jazz group Samarabalouf (think Les Paul meets Django Reinhardt) and the hijinks of Hungarian band Little Cow (a slighter saner version of Gogol Bordello), there was Niger/French band Toumast. Similar to Tinariwen, they're a North African band who believes in using their native tongue plus old-school percussion bubbling under extended guitar rave-up's, courtesy of leader/singer/founder Moussa Ag Keyna. Exciting as it was to see them live, sad to say that singer Aminatou Goumar didn't make it over for the show but they've promised to come back in May with her. In the meantime, you can enjoy their 2007 release Ishumar (Realworld Records).

The term 'ishumar' means 'unemployed' and applies to the Toureg people who struggled to find work as their land and lives where split along the Sahara among Mali, Niger and Bukina Faso, sometimes resulting in bloody conflicts as they fought and struggled for their rights (including Moussa himself) until the 90's when these countries' regimes gave way to democracy. Like many other African musicians, Moussa found support in France where he was able to find a good producer and record this album which, like Tinariwen again, reflects the harsh social conditions and lives of his people.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ringing in 08 with Rev. Organdrum and Amanda Shaw

The New Year is usually time that's written off by labels. We're still dazed by last year and getting our bearings in a post-holiday world so why try to confuse us with new releases? But a few brave souls put out product earlier this week and I'm happy to say that there are already two good ones out there for '08.

First we have an usual side project which a band boasts is more like a "main project." Rockabilly howler/guitarist Reverend Horton Heat isn't necessarily the type to make an organ trio record but his new combo is a winning one, even if you can't stand their Rev. Organdrum name. With Tim Alexander on Hammond and Todd Soesbe on drums, he waltzes through some oldie favorites instrumental favorites, mainly from the 50's and 60's including "Honky Tonk," "A Shot in the Dark" (from the original Pink Panther film), James Brown's "Night Train," the James Bond theme and a good helping of Booker T. and the M.G.'s ("Hang 'Em High," "Time is Tight"). They even do OK with vocal-less versions of Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman" and the Rascals' "Groovin'." Not exactly ground-breaking or breath-taking but it sure is enjoyable to listen to.

As for Amanda Shaw, how many teenage classically-trained Cajun fiddle players do you know? Sounds kind of gimmicky but she's got talent to back it up on her new Rounder release, Pretty Runs Out. Along with her sweet voice, she's got a country-pop sound that's should be a lot more palpable to roots fans than Shania plus her own fiddle featured in the mix. Not only that but she can also get bluesy (listen to "Chirmolito" and think Bonnie Raitt), give up some impressive playing ("French Jig" indeed), duet with some NOLA brass ("Give It Up") and play a good love song called "I Don't Want To Be Your Friend." I'm sure label would love her to become a Bijou Hanna M but for now, she's impressive enough as a bridge between good pop and downhome music.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Al Green delivers that old time religion

Two miles South of Graceland, just West of Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, sits a modestly-sized church, just past a stretch of rural homes. It's here you'll find the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church. And though they operate a prayer line and food bank, you'll be hard pressed to get someone on the phone there- no doubt they're weary of inquiries about their famous minister. Like the gospel says, you must seek them and him out.

And so the Sunday just after Christmas and two days before the new year, I took a chance and drove out there in the morning in the hope that services would indeed be presided over by none other than soul legend Al Green. Supposedly, he does run the services there unless he's on tour. And though he lives in the area, he rarely makes it out to Memphis for any shows or celebrations though he's often asked to. Instead, he keeps his routine duties at the church, going back to December 1976 when it was founded, not long after he swore off his pop life for a while (brought on by the violent end of a relationship).

Thirty years is a long time to be leading a church so there's no questioning his commitment though with me being Jewish and my girlfriend being Episcopalian who couldn't remember the last time she'd been to a service, there was plenty of reason to question our own commitment. I had rarely been to a church myself (much less a synagogue). One of the last times I went was about 20 years ago and even then I embarrassed myself and the minister at a Bible study (long story) and on my Facebook profile, I list myself as an "orthodox agnostic." But when we're talking about one of the 20th century's greatest singers and a living legend, I'll gladly make an exception.

As we drove along looking for the church, it wasn't obvious where it was as not only where there a number of other churches along the way but also the Tabernacle itself isn't much to see from the outside. It was a modest sized place that couldn't have held more than 100 people inside (if that). The only thing that makes it stand out is a small sign outside that proclaims "Rev. Al Green" in small letters, not far from a sign post that reads "Al Green Road." As we walked into the church, I noticed that there was another office outside for his publishing company. It wouldn't be the last time that day where the sacred and profane would mix.

When we entered, we were still wondering and hoping that Green himself would be there for Sunday services. Sure enough, there he was in front, leading a Sunday school sermon, dressed in white robes and occasionally flashing that winning smile and with no gray hair in sight. Those last two items were about the only thing that visually connected him with the image I saw at the Rock and Soul Museum in downtown Memphis a few days later. In an early '70's clip, he sang on stage, wearing a sleeveless purple vest, letting him chest hair and tone body hang out for all to see. As Green himself would explain later, we could be seeing a different side of him today at church.

We caught the tail end of the Sunday school session as Green admonished the whole idea of "science." "That word isn't in the bible!" he exclaimed. "Show me where it is there," he demanded as he called for someone to hand him a copy of the good book. "Faith, is what's in there..." he assured the congregation.

After he finished, a small group cleared out of the church as they prepared for the regular service. The program they handed out included a xeroxed picture of Green, a prayer, a Christian Creed, a prayer list, New Year's greetings, a space for 'sermon notes' and a schedule for the 11:30 AM service. On the inside was a quote about Salvation from Romans 10:9:

"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart the God hath raised him from dead, thou shalt be saved."

Then there was the schedule for the day:

Morning Worship Service

Processional........Full Gospel Tabernacle Choir
(Please Stand)
Selection...........Full Gospel Tabernacle Choice
Announcements............. Sis. Edith Wilkins
Christian Creed.............Congregation
Welcome...............Sis. Pat Beecher
Selection..................Harmonizer Male Choir
Processional.................Full Gospel Tabernacle Choir
Morning Message.........Bishop. A.L. Green
Call to Discipleship............Bishop. A.L. Green
Benediction................Bishop. A.L. Green

(Note that Green is named as a Bishop here)

It began with a three-piece male choir singing briefly and a reading of some announcements for the church's weekly schedule including a schedule for Sunday School, Bible Study and Choir Rehearsal. While this was going on, the church slowly filled, not just with the regular members near the front but other visitors (mostly white) filing in later. Green sat in a large plush chair near the podium, listening along patiently until it was his turn to address the assembled. He launched into a shaky speech about Benazir Bhutto's murder and how it's part of god's plan but he regained his footing as he insisted that we have to be grateful for everyday we're here and how he's giving us another chance to do good next year. He also called out to the congregation to ask for anyone with a December birthday and wished them well.

As he began to sing "Sweet Jesus," he was joined by a ten-piece choir which sounded great and were probably hand-picked by him, along with a small band combo (guitar/bass/drums/organ). After the beautiful, slow-burning song, he peppered his sermon with references to his old secular life:

"I was at a gas station and the guy there said "You know, since you started singing, a whole lotta babies were made!'" he laughed.

"Some woman came here and said 'I wanted to hear you sing "Let's Stay Together."' I don't have anything against that song but this just isn't the place for that."

"I used to sing "Love and Happiness" and "Tired of Being Alone" and those other songs," he explained as he let out a few notes of each tune. "But the Lord said to me 'that's alright but I have bigger plans for you!'"

Later, he launched into a little speech about his early years. "I came from a poor family. We didn't have much. But the Lord's... been good to me," he said graciously. He repeated those phrases again and again until he launched into a song with them, backed by the choir and the band.

I came from a POOR family!
We DIDN'T have much!
But the LOOOOORD'S...
Been GOOD to MEEEEE!!!

Soon everyone was standing and clapping along joyously as he sang it again and again. Right in front of us, two women (one who sang earlier during the services) went into convulsions, almost slam dancing into each other and fanned by nearby friends when they almost fainted from exhaustion. Still another woman rushed out as she was babbling a mile-a-minute "Oh glory! Oh Jesus!..." Normally, I hate the boring piousness of church services but this was so alive that even a heathen like me felt the spirit in him. I even shouted "Amen!" occasionally and didn't intend the least bit of sarcasm by it.

Later when things cooled down, Green went on to acknowledge the visitors there. He called out to couples that he hadn't seen before, asking where they were from. Some came from Chicago, others from England and Australia. When he pointed out my girlfriend and I, we proudly shouted back "New York City!" He graciously applauded each of our hometowns as we replied.

It occurred to me then that this was par for the course for his church. In addition to the local congregation, his musical fame drew in tourists like us to his church for these Sunday services. Acknowledging his past, he had no illusion about why we were coming there but he also insisted that this was still a place of worship and needed to be treated that way. But even with the sacred adornments, the music there was a vivid reminder not just of Green's own roots but where R&B and rock sprang us from.

Green then returned to the good book to quote the beginning of Ecclesiastes 3, which is where the Byrds' classic "Turn Turn Turn" takes its words (courtesy of Pete Seeger) though Green didn't mention that in the sermon.

As the two hour service wound down (much longer than what my girlfriend remembered her church sessions to be as a kid), it was time for the proverbial collection plate. They passed envelopes around which we could mark our names, slip in the money and then seal them up. I coughed up $20, which I thought was at least worth what I'd seen. "We all got bills!" Green told us. "You'd think that just once, they'd forget but they never do." Each section then came up front and gave their envelopes back into a trio of collection plates. Even the band and the choir weren't exempt from this.

Green thanked us all for coming out and as the choir sang him out, he departed for a lunch with his church group as he was helped off with his robes by another member (kind of a reverse James Brown leaving the stage).

I hadn't snapped any photos of Green or the inside of the church because that would have been disrespectful in the context, even if I was there as a musical tourist in the end. And though the service was a better, livelier experience than Green's own secular concert at the Beacon Theatre that I saw up close a few years ago, I wondered if this was comparable as 'entertainment' per se. It was a church service after all but it was also one of the most memorable musical experiences I've ever witnessed- thousands of televangelists had also mixed religion and entertainment but never in such a convincing way as I saw here. If I happened to get some of that ol' time religion in me even for a moment, no doubt that would have pleased Green and been worth it to play for us out-of-towners in his own backyard.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Honeydripper- John Sayles' blues

John Sayles is an underrated indie auteur for sure- he has films like The Brother From Another Planet, Return of the Secaucus Seven, City of Hope, Lone Star, Casa de los babys to prove it. As far as music goes, Springsteen thought enough of him to hire him to do two videos for Born in the U.S.A.

But his real music moment is his latest film Honeydripper (his 16th feature), set in a Alabama (where the movie was actually filmed) in a 1950 pre-rock world. Danny Glover plays a Tyrone Purvis, a piano-playing juke joint owner with a sordid past, struggling now to keep his place open. Along with his stoic role, he's also surrounded by a great cast including Charles S. Dutton as his right hand man, YaYa DaCosta as his sweet daughter (China Doll), Stacy Keach as a scummy sheriff and blues singer Keb' Mo' as a mystic spirit in the form of a blind player and even a great cameo by sax player Eddie Shaw (Chicago bandleader and member of Howlin' Wolf's band). Tyrone pins his club's hopes on an appearance by a well-known singer but when he doesn't make it, he's forced to dress up an ambitious drifter (Gary Clark Jr.) to play the part with a homemade electric guitar (seen as a novelty then). Sayles calls the movie "A Rock 'N Roll Fable" and though the makeshift band does indeed rock, the movie's rooted in R&B and blues which preceded and led to rock, as literally seen in the film.

If the movie has a problem, it's that Sayles tries to put too many poignant phrases in characters' mouthes where spreading them out would make them more meaningful and powerful. Otherwise, it's a wonderful little film that deserves to be seen and other notch on Sayles' impressive belt.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

All the Way from Memphis- a semi-tourist's guide

OK, as promised, here's my amateur guide to Memphis after a year-end trip there. Hope it helps you in your own trip there (which you need to take if you haven't been there).
  • Backyard Burgers- I ain't too snobby to eat at a fast food place now and then but there's few that I'd actually write about. This chain has very good burgers, MUCH better than you'll ever find at Burger King or McDonald's.
  • BB King's- OK, OK, despite the moniker of a famed/loved blues icon, this place is basically a venue chain now but you'll still find good music here. Preston Shannon aka "Mr. Beale Street" holds court here well, doing everything from KC and the Sunshine Band to Prince.
  • Bigfoot Lodge- includes many mounted animal heads on the wall (sorry PETA) plus a fireplace, great French fries and do-it-yourself smores for dessert.
  • Blues City Cafe- though I didn't get a chance to see the back area with music, the front section features some of the best BBQ you'll get downtown.
  • Blues Hall- This small Beale Street bar is known for its raw, downhome blues performers and that's just what you'll get here. Plus, unless it's a weekend or holiday, you probably won't have to pay a cover charge. A recurring favorite there is The Dr. "Feel Good" Potts Band.
  • Bon Ton Cafe- 150 Monroe Ave, phone- (901) 525-0883- a good downtown place for breakfast. If you don't mind spending a little more, the Peabody hotel has a good breakfast buffet at their Capriccio Grill.
  • Center for Southern Folklore- Sad to say, I didn't get a chance to check out their gallery but they do have evening shows plus some nice pieces of folk art for sale in the front room. Plus, the peach cobbler there is to die for.
  • Full Tabernacle Church- an amazing experience, especially if Al Green himself (who is a Bishop there) happens to be leading the service, which he usually is if he isn't touring. I have a separate write-up of it here.
  • Gibson Guitar Factory- "Our rejects get sent to Fender," joked the tour guide. This huge building does indeed assemble the guitars, going from slabs of wood in a controlled, moisturized environment all the way to the end of the line where the engineers have to test and play the axs to make sure they work.
  • Goner Records- a great record shop and label in the midtown area with a specialty of vinyl records. Thanks to Bob Mehr of the Commercial Appeal for pointing this out to me.
  • Graceland- Even Chuck D's given Elvis a break so why avoid his crib? You don't get to see the upstairs (including the bathroom where he died) but you do get the run of the rest of the house on a self-guided audio tour, including his lavish rec rooms, horse ranch, triple-TV media room, office with a desk outfitted with a stereo plus his final resting place alongside his parents. And of course, plenty of memorabilia to buy up at the shops there.
  • Memphis Music- The best blues music shop downtown with a very knowledgeable and helpful staff, who'll also be glad to talk your head off about your favorite artists.
  • National Civil Rights Museum- a well put-together moving testament to a long struggle. The documentation is very thorough and you're bound to learn a lot there (I definitely did). I might be giving away the biggest surprise and shock but the tour appropriately ends at the spot where Martin Luther King was assassinated, including a detailed recreation of the hotel where he was staying then in Memphis.
  • Peabody Ducks- a wonderfully strange custom at this fancy hotel, every morning at 11AM. A group of ducks leave their penthouse suite to come down to the lobby and swim in the fountain there. The hotel also has some nice shops on the ground level that are worth checking out.
  • Pink Palace- a little out of the way but definitely worth the drive to see this beautiful old mansion which houses not only a recreation of the first Piggly Wiggly market (America's first grocery store), planetarium, IMAX theatre, Civil War details and other history going back to prehistoric times, including dinosaur remains that were found in the area.
  • Rock and Soul Museum- If you go to Sun, Stax and the Civil Rights museum, you already have about 1/3 of this place covered but it's worth it just for the first section where they recreate the live of Depression era Southern families working the fields and listening to their radios, just to give you a good context for a pre-rock world.
  • Rum Boogie Cafe- Along with the great name, this Beale Street club features good (live) soul music and great food.
  • Schwab's- this long-time Beale Street staple is a department store with mostly old-time merchandise and novelty gifts and as such, definitely worth a visit. Also, an excellent selection of mojo items up front, including potions for love, money and other important things.
  • Shangri-La Records- another fine midtown record shop that caters to everything from indie music to soul to novelties (thanks again to Mr. Mehr).
  • Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum- another off-the-beat path gem worth visiting, this is housed in a place used as part of the Railroad back in the day, including underground quarters you can inspect plus a very knowledgeable staff which can tell you about the routes that slaves used to flee and the huge bounty that Harriet Tubman had on her head.
  • Soul Fish Cafe- 862 S Cooper St, phone (901) 725-0722; great catfish and BBQ food (thanks again to Mr. Mehr).
  • Stax Museum- Easily one of the highlights of a visit here. For a while, I wondered why the Rock and Roll Museum or EMP bothered me and it wasn't just that it was reducing living history into scattered artifacts but how these were arranged. Everything is random and squashed together, without enough regard for the individual artists, movements, labels, etc.. Stax does this right by not only existing where the famous label once did (like Sun does too) but by also giving extensive space to the subject matter. And like Sun too, you get to walk through the studio where the magic happened.
  • Sun Studios- As if any music fan could avoid this... The studio itself is still there and intact and is actually used in the evenings for recording sessions. You can stand where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many others started out and dig the extensive memorabilia they have there too. Plus, how could you leave town without getting a Sun t-shirt?
  • Tater Reds- A nice Beale Street shop with a good selection of T-shirts (which you have to get as a tourist) plus an impressive selection of mojo items that rivals Schwab's.
  • Two Weeks Notice- as you wander down Beale Street, you notice not just the loud music blaring from the clubs but also side-streets with make-shift stages. This (local?) band was set up for a few evenings in an alley, near a bar and though they were mostly doing Southern rock covers, they did 'em well enough to make me stick around to hear them for a while.
  • Wet Willies- yet another stop on Beale Street, featuring a good variety of frozen drinks and good live music.

And a few things I missed which you might want to see too
  • Bosco's Brew Pub for Sunday jazz brunch (thanks to George Light for the tip).
  • Hi-Tone- It's got a good reputation as a small club that caters to good indie music.
  • Paulette's for the popovers alone (another GL recommendation).
  • Rendezvous Ribs- I'm told that it's well worth dining here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy 08!

As if you needed a blog to remind you... it's 2008 now. Maybe you do need a reminder as I'm just getting used to it myself. I'll have lots to post about Memphis in the next few days. Hope you're not too hung over yourself and if you are, don't feel alone- even Beale Street is mostly shut down tonight as they're still getting over December 31st themselves...