I know, I know. It's wrong to hate. It's unproductive. We should turn the other cheek.
Well, my friend Taylor knows that haters are gonna hate!
And my boys the Clash popped out a great song about hate:
I don't hate too much. Well, there are some sports teams/sports figures (I don't quite know why, but I can't stand Peyton Manning - I'm sure he's a pretty good guy, but sports made me hate him). But that's sports hate and that's different. But there is one person out there that makes my blood boil. Can you guess?
Right now, I'm wavering on this one, and will likely stick it out to the end of the year. But I keep thinking about the great Johnny Paycheck song as redone by the Geto Boyz for the movie Office Space (a cinematic masterpiece about the modern corporate workplace). Any movie that can get Jennifer Anniston telling her boss that he's Number One, Philly Style, is a keeper, right?
I need to go see a show. What's this? Davy Knowles? Who the heck is Davy Knowles? I'm not quite sure, but I'm going to go see him tonight at AMH, and try to kick these work blues away.
Have a great weekend. I still owe you a couple of music reviews. I'll get to them, I promise. Oh, one last thing. Did you see that walk-off grand slam last night by Bryce Harper to beat the Cubbies? If not, it's great and you should see it. It capped an epic 6 run ninth inning. Maybe that's the kind of game that jump-starts a team on to a roll! If you didn't see it, why don't I just go ahead and show it to you:
Hey rockers, I have a bunch of stuff to post, but thought I would take a detour from the concert reviews to give you some great tunes to get you through the dog days. Ready?
First up, it's the pop master himself, Justin Timberlake. Say what? Yeah, I know, I'm a hard rockin' dude at heart, but I have much broader range than most people know. I've liked Justin for a while. I like him in the movies, I like him dancing, and I like him singing pop songs. And this track, Can't Stop The Feeling, is infectious. But even better is the video! I love it!!
I was recently in Tennessee along the banks of the Mississippi River. Big Muddy, Old Man River, whatever, it drains a huge swath of the country and is our mightiest river. And then I heard this track by the Doobie Brothers, and thought, voila, put this on BRP. I was a big DB fan back in the day. A little known fact is that my second concert of all time was seeing the Doobies. They used to play with that dry ice "smoke" around their knees and feet, and when you're 14, that's pretty freakin' cool. This track was a HUGE hit for them, and I like it to this day.
Football season is coming up, and that means stadiums and big-time crowds. Crowd mentalities are weird as the wheels can come off and the "we'll never get caught" euphoria pulses through the masses. To control that, stadiums play songs that everyone knows and that help to get the crowd appropriately pumped, but not out of control. Enter the White Stripes. Is Seven Nation Army one of the most ubiquitous stadium songs or what? Sometimes, entire crowds just pulse to it and chant it even when the loudspeakers don't play it. This song rocks. And I think the video is pretty low-fi but cool, too.
I've been digging this next track since the first time I heard it. Fang Fang's Proscenium Arch rocks it pretty good. Great guitar, singable chorus, good song structure. What else do you want? How about that they're from Philly! Local band done good, let's support them, ok?
Oops, I'm a day late, but I'm going there anyway. Yesterday was Feargal Sharkey's birthday. Remember him? He was the lead singer of the best rock band out of Northern Ireland, the Undertones. In celebration of Feargal's birthday, here is the seminal Undertones track, Teenage Kicks. John Peel, the famous rock broadcaster from England, once called this the perfect rock song. I don't disagree. Great riff, Feargal's interesting and unique voice, classic teen angst lyrics. Listen up:
As you know, I love Motown. As you know, I love British new wave/punk. As you know, any band that can combine these two into one fantastic track has to be celebrated. The Jam put out Town Called Malice which was both danceable and serious. Alas, it was near the end for this great trio, but still it's one of my favorite songs from this era. Check that, make it any era.
One more, shall we? If you've ever been to Toronto, there is a place called Echo Beach. They even have a music venue there. Toronto is a wonderful city, clean and diverse with tons to do and all set along a gorgeous lakefront. Martha and the Muffins put out this tune many moons ago celebrating Echo Beach, and it still sounds lively and fresh. And while I am not much of a nostalgic person, this one puts me back into my youth and makes me feel happy. Who can't relate to the lyrics? If they changed it to "my job is very boring, I'm a big firm jerk," that would put this into the stratosphere.
Was that cool? Did I scratch the itch a bit? And when I did, did your leg move like your dog's with that funky kick thing? I hope so. I'll be back very shortly with some more hijinks. It's what we do here at BRP. And it's what I do in real life, too. C'mon, time to party!
What time is that? It's almost football season! Yes, I hate to see summer go. But the big blessing is that football season arrives just as the weather starts to turn.
You know who we root for, right? Of course, the Virginia Tech Hokies. VT opens the season in two short weeks with an in-conference game against Boston College. I hate starting the season with an ACC game, but I love that the season is starting.
Ready to get fired up? This Hokie football trailer should do the trick. Turn up the sound. Louder. There, that's better. Now hit "play" and enjoy.
I'll be back to the music in a heartbeat. Thanks for suffering through.
Everyone knows Stevie Ray Vaughan, the blues impresario who died at a young age in a helicopter crash. But Stevie has a brother, named Jimmie, who is himself quite an accomplished blues guitarist. Jimmie brought his act to the Ardmore Music Hall recently, and BRP was there to catch it.
I saw Jimmie and his Tilt A Whirl Band about 18 months ago at Antone’s in Austin. It was a late spring evening, warm, and we were with some old and dear friends. Antone’s is a great venue, and we had a choice spot up front. That night, there were about 10 or 12 people on stage playing as the Tilts, including a few remarkable backup singers. It was a flip-flops, shorts and t-shirt evening after a long winter. BRP heaven.
Go forward 18 months, and Jimmie comes to AMH. He brought along the horns, the B3 and the same tunes, but AMH did the unthinkable and filled in the standing room section up front with seats. Jeez! No one up and moving, just a bunch of cotton tops sitting there, some of whom looked like they might fall asleep. And worse, the standing room people had to be crammed into the crappy bar area, making for an evening of jostling and movement.
Oh, and for whatever reason, this show attracted the tallest crowd I can remember. It was like “Dutch Night” at AMH or something. The upshot is that the magical night in Austin was not replicated in Ardmore.
That’s not to say that the show wasn’t good. It was a solid blues outing put on by a group of consummate professionals who are excellent at their craft. Having the B3 and the horns added punch and drive to the blues, and Jimmie can rip on the guitar. However, after being bumped, jostled and craning my neck for half the show, I got kind of tired of it. Each song began to sound like the last one. If that were a blues lyric, I would now repeat it: each song began to sound like the last one. That’s always a bad sign, and I’ve noticed it with some performers (calling the Rev. Horton Heat!).
I will say that the opener was a guy named Scott Sharrard who had played a lot with Gregg Allman in the last years of Gregg’s life, and he was worthy. I don’t go much for the solo acoustic guitar guy, but this dude didn’t just strum like he was playing the folk mass on Sunday at St. Agnes. He was playing leads, tricky chord changes, and his song structure and lyrical arrangements were good. It was a surprisingly good start to the night.
Jimmie did nothing wrong. In fact, the crowd was digging what he was offering. But there were weird moments, like when some dope yelled “play some blues” after he had just played 3 blues numbers to start the show. Jimmie looked a little surprised and simply said back “what the f+ck do you think I’m doing up here?” That made people laugh, but the banter was unusual.
I think the best moments were when Jimmie would start with a slower number that would begin to build, and then he would turn it over to the dude on the B3 or the horns, and they would power it up. JV would then come back in with an aggressive lead and the song would then muscle through to the end. But not all of the numbers did that, and the slower blues numbers simply wore me down. I just wasn’t feeling it that night.
I’ll also say that the AMH crowds that I’ve been part of lately have been remarkably, well, rude. Hey, man, people are performing. I honestly don’t care about whatever it is you’re talking about, but could you keep it down? I paid good money to see this show, and you need to either STFU or take your mindless banter about your high school years outside onto Lancaster Avenue. I don’t mind someone ordering a beer, or people dancing and whooping, but enough with the jabbering.
So the night was a success of sorts, but not the badass electric blues outing that makes my soul stir. I was happy to be a part of it, glad that I went, but also mindful that not every performance is going to kick butt. A solid show, but one where I got home early enough to be happy that I could get a decent night’s sleep before The Man gouged out my eyes at work the next day.
Rockers, I have a few more shows to get you all jumped up. I’ve been on a bit of a tear lately, and I’ve seen some really remarkable performances. If you come back soon, you’ll get those remarks BRP-style, and hopefully, you’ll go away happy (or at least pursuing happiness). I’ll tell you what: you come back soon, and I’ll make sure that there is something new and cool to read. Deal? Nice, see you in a few.
In the meantime, enjoy sweet summer. The 2019 version of Julius Caesar’s month is in the record books, and we’re on to Caesar Augustus’s 31 days. Before you know it, the kids will be back in school and the Main Line will be jumping again. So Frankie say RELAX and enjoy, nay even savor, these last days of sweet summer.
If there is a guy that has paid his indie rock dues more than Ted Leo, I would like to see him. Ted has been around for a l-o-n-g time, put out a bunch of solid albums, toured the country over and over, and remains just under the radar of big-time musical success. It must be a bit of bummer for him. But you would never know it from a recent night at Boot & Saddle in South Philly. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists blew that place up with a fantastic and rollicking live show.
The Boot is an interesting place. I’ve now been there a bunch of times, and I think I like it. I’ve gotten great parking spots the last few times, which always makes the night more fun, and I think that the staff there are generally friendly and decent. The music venue is small, holding maybe 200 for a sold out show. Think of a standard two-car garage and then double it in length. Add some cheap ass faux-tin ceiling tiles on the walls, a tiny stage about 2 feet high, and a “how do I get out of here in case of fire” lack of exits, and you’ve got the Boot in a nutshell. It has decent acoustics, too.
Because the stage is low, and I like to see the band, I make it a point to get there early. That way, I can grab a spot against the wall (my knees are old, man!) to lean on, and be close to the stage so that I can score you some great photos. Knowing that TL was going to sell out quickly, and the place would be packed, we got a great spot. Don't believe me? Check out the pics! Who loves you?
I can’t remember the opening act much. They had a female lead singer and seemed in need of more time in rehearsals, but they rocked, too. It’s probably not a good career omen that my recollection of them is this dim. But they got off the stage after ½ hour, and thankfully, we didn’t have to suffer through another opener before the main event.
Sometimes, Ted doesn’t bring along the full band. I always think that’s a mistake even if it is economical and logistically superior for the artist. On this night, TL had the full Pharmacists behind him. That meant two full-time guitars (and the dude on the keys played guitar for about ½ the tunes), a bass, a great drummer, and a sax. That’s a lot of people on that little B&S stage, but it worked. And with all those people and all that gear, the sound was forceful and vibrant.
Ryan was telling me that when he was in college, a TL CD was left in a car used by him and his roommates. People would use the wheels and come back humming TL. Yeah, those songs are catchy. And when played live with a terrific group of musicians like the Pharmacists, it’s great. The only thing that could hold back the show was song selection, but TL played a number of his best tunes, and the crowd was just loving it. It was a show that restored your faith in all that is great and powerful about live rock ‘n’ roll played with passion. And if you use your Spotify account and do the "This is Ted Leo and the Pharmacists" playlist, you'll hear the lengthy hit list that makes TL an indie-icon.
Of course, Ted had to preach a little about how liberal everyone should be. Yeah, yeah, just play music buddy. No one really cares about your politics, and if you have something to say, put it to a punchy tune with 3 guitars and lyrics I can’t understand, and we’ll all go away happy. You can never trust these Notre Dame grads to keep their mouths closed, but (a) at least he didn’t talk about Irish football, and (b) remarkably, he didn’t tell us how great it is to be a vegan.
I got some splendid pictures that captured the essence of the live show. Despite the small stage, there was movement, interaction and stage presence that made the show really terrific. It’s hard to do justice to real life, but I think these pictures are, as a collection, some of the best I’ve posted in a while as they captured a lot of the human action that took place that night. I hope you agree.
I’ve got 4 more shows to get to and times a-wastin’. Next up is Jimmie Vaughan and the Tilt-A-Whirl Band at the Ardmore Music Hall, then it’s back to the Boot for the Gotobeds. After that, one of rock’s all-time legends in a massive football stadium, and then to Union Transfer for a sweet and emotional sendoff to a Philly band that deserved much more prominence than they ever received. Are you ready for all that? I sure as heck hope so. Because there is much more in the hopper! Strap in, sit back and enjoy your flight through BRP’s summer of rock. See you on the flip side, friends. And thanks for reading and visiting – you always have a home here at BRP.
I’ve strutted down Bourbon Street, 6th Street, and South Broadway. But I hadn’t been to the Memphis version of live venue row in decades. Beale Street is pretty famous and has a long heritage. But it’s funky and while it shares some similarities to the other famous honky-tonk strips, it’s different in important ways.
Of all the strips, Beale Street is most like Bourbon Street, but much, much smaller. It’s about 3 blocks long whereas Bourbon goes on for about 15 blocks. Why is it similar? Well, it’s got a scent of danger with it, a HEAVY police presence, local scam artists trying to get you to part ways with your money (both voluntarily and involuntarily) and it has not only live music but some off-beat stores that are worth a peek.
Let’s start with an obvious issue: the place reeks of danger. On weekend nights, you have to go through a metal detector to get onto the street as a whole. They don’t have them at clubs, but instead for the whole entertainment district. There must be a reason for that.
And there are cops galore. In fact, there is a police station right at the end of Beale Street. But at night, they have these cherry-pickers-on-steroid things called Blue Crush at the end of every block. Cops go up in them to keep an eye on the crowd, and most likely, to direct the many street cops to signs of trouble. There must be a reason for that, too.
Unlike other places we’ve been to, including Bourbon Street, we didn’t see any fights. That’s good. One time in New Orleans we saw two women going at it, one yelling “f+ck with me?” and throwing punches at another, who was trying to get away but occasionally swinging back wildly. It was great. But with the number of people carrying guns now, I’m not sure I want to see that too often. (But every once in a while? Cool.).
We had fun on Beale Street. Like New Orleans, there are chain bars on the street, and we ended up in one called Coyote Ugly. [What’s with life imitating movies? I think the worst one of these is the Bubba Gump shrimp restaurants – who eats at those places?] Like the movie version, they encouraged you to dance on the bar, and Helen did so. But they also had a pool table and not many patrons while we were there, and we shot pool and danced to a really good selection of tunes. It was a great way to spend an hour or two.
We also happened upon a classic car show where the owners were displaying their pride and joys up and down the street. I love those old cars, and seeing them again is always fun in my book. We strolled around and checked them out and chatted up a couple of owners. It was nice.
The blues are king here. At the Blues City Café, we saw Blind Mississippi Morris and his band play a ferocious set of Delta Blues. And in a small city park along the strip, we saw a few different bands take the stage and entertain the blues-hungry crowd.
And then there is the weird stuff. Bourbon Street used to have a place with “French style entertainment.” I never went in, but it looked like a naked rugby scrum. They also had female impersonators. Beale Street has a place with goats in the patio of the bar near where the bands play. And it has Jack Lawler’s place, which is part museum, part live music venue. Lawler was nicknamed “The King” and was a professional wrestler. We sat on his throne, listened to a good blues band, and hung out for a while.
One thing that is different is that some of the clubs charge a cover. What?!? B.B. King’s place had a big band with about 10 people on stage, but they wanted something like $10 to get in. We didn’t know if we wanted to hang there, so we kept on walking and ended up in some other place where the music was free. We never made it back to B.B. King’s.
My biggest impression of Beale Street is that, for a city that has an outsized and well-deserved reputation for music (particularly the blues and early rock), Beale Street is small and a bit overrated. SoBro in Nashville is much bigger, and Nashville also sports a ton of other live music venues throughout town. The same goes for Austin: 6th Street has many more venues, and if you tire of the touristy music thing, there are clubs galore that feature live acts playing their own songs. I didn’t get the sense that non-Beale Street Memphis has much to offer beyond a few clubs, and that Beale itself is not big enough to do Memphis justice. Then again, Memphis itself doesn’t do its heritage justice.
Done! That’s it for my Memphis/Nashville/Little Rock musical sojourn. It’s time to get back to Philly and feast on its summertime music scene, which remains dynamic, diverse and thriving. Onward and upward!
I love my couch and TV. The couch is a big sectional that allows you to stretch out and get super comfortable. The TV is 65 inches of full-on HD color magic. They’re both great, and as a pair, they are symbiotic. But they’re also devils. You see, they are so seductive that they can get you to settle in, night after night, and experience some weird electronic version of “life.”
I’ve learned that I have to get off the couch, turn off the TV and go out and experience the real thing. It’s one of the reasons why I love live music so much. The rush and exhilaration of the band, the music, the crowd, the lights and the unspoken but prevalent energy is, combined, a type of drug for me. I crave it and I need it.
Most of the time, I go and see a band that I know. Of course, right? But there are occasions when I simply go and see whatever is playing, and get surprised by how good or bad the band is. When I’m traveling, particularly to a place like Memphis, Austin or Nashville, the opportunity to go from bar to bar and see multiple acts in one night is too good to pass up. I love hitting cities with a large indigenous music population that bursts out everywhere and allows me to indulge. Sometimes, you even hit the jackpot.
Such was the case in Memphis recently. We sauntered into Jerry Lee Lewis’s honky-tonk joint, and sat our butts down. The band was on a break, and so we ordered up some drinks and I went to take a piss. In the men’s room, this dude with a great pompadour is primping it up in the mirror. I almost commented on how much I liked the hairdo, but it’s kind of weird to be exposed and complimentary to another man at the same time. I said nothing.
I go back to the table, and Mr. Pompadour heads to the stage. He gets up there with a couple of other musicians and then starts to pound into some wonderful covers of early rock. He plays with verve, energy, and passion. His name, as I find out later, is Jason James.
The place had a pretty good crowd, but it wasn’t packed and pretty much everyone had a seat. I’m glad that people were comfortable, but sitting down is an antidote to dancing and having a good time. When you’re standing and the music starts to roll, you just go with it. If you’re sitting down, you might tap your toe or move your head, but you might also stuff some fries into your mouth or take a swig off of your beer. It’s why I like to go to standing shows – you can groove. Yeah, my knees hurt, and my legs get tired, but so what? I’m also primed for the show to hit my dance button.
What does this have to do with Jason James? Well, we got up off of our seats, got in front of the crowd, and danced our buns off. He and the boys were ripping one great song after another, and we wanted to have some fun. Some others joined us, but not many. Nonetheless, I think it made a difference to the band: they had had an effect on someone in the crowd, and had made that aural connection that got us wiggling to the sounds they were making.
At one point, we were up there right by Jason, and he gets out a small bottle of something and starts splashing it on to his piano. He then lights it, and the flames come up bright and warm. You know I love that kind of stuff. I have testosterone in my system, so loud music, fire and spectacle get my neurons to “bing, bing, bing” and me to laugh, dance and carry on. Jason then rips into some boogie-woogie piano, and well, the Kid went wild.
So here’s more on Jason James. He’s from Massachusetts, but now lives in Memphis. He can play the piano like a man possessed, but he also can play a venerable lead guitar, and he can sing. The dude must love old time rock ‘n’ roll, and I mean from the fifties, because he plays great old songs that every boomer knows. Jason has a great stage presence, and understands what about 99% of contemporary musicians don’t get: not only are you there to play music, you’re also there to have fun and perform. I’m getting kind of tired and bored with bands that just come out and stand in front of their mics. C’mon, haven’t they ever watched video of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Jagger, JB, Daltry, Mercury or any other rock icons? Jason understands that you need to PERFORM, play for the crowd, and become a different person on stage that is there to blow minds and give people something not just to hear, but to see and experience.
I ended up talking to Jason and he gave me his live CD to review. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times, and here are my thoughts. First, it’s a cover album, so you know the tunes. And he has done a great job in selecting ones that are historically important, but that also rock. Second, his band played live, but they were well-rehearsed and the performances were tight. There aren’t a lot of “oops” moments, and that’s a feat in the live format. Next, Jason can play that damn piano and guitar, and to great effect with the crowd. It was obvious that the people who were present during the taping were having a great time. But alas, all is not perfect. Jason’s voice is competent but not compelling, and on some tunes, the range is too much of a challenge. That’s not to say that the vocals are bad, but they can be pedestrian. Still, my opinion of the album is that it’s one worth having in your collection if for no other reason than a new version of Rocket 88 is needed in everyone’s music collection.
Here’s some great video of Jason tearing it up.
It’s always great to stumble onto a performer who cares and is skilled. We got that on a Friday evening on Beale Street in Memphis at Jerry Lee’s joint. If you’re in town, go there and hope that Jason James is ripping the place up yet again. We had a rip-snorting great time. Oh, and bring your dancing shoes, you’ll need them.
I’ve got one more post on Memphis upcoming. It’s all about Beale Street, which encapsulates everything I saw and experienced in Memphis in one compact corridor. Oh yeah, I’ve also been going to show after show, and have a backlog of reviews to get to on that front. It will be an exciting August at BRP, and you don’t want to miss a minute of it. Come on back soon, y’hear?
Wouldn’t you want to go see a show at a place called Stickyz Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicken Shack? I sure as hell did, and my wish came true. Dash Rip Rock, a band from way back in the BRP arsenal but one I’ve never seen live, was in Little Rock the same day I was, and they were the headliner at Stickyz. I love going to shows that include music I want to see at a price I want to pay, but I must admit that I was feeling a little cheap when all they wanted to see 3 live bands was $10. $10!! And since I bought tickets at the door, there was no additional ticket, service or handling fees involved. Can I get an Amen? Thank you.
We didn’t catch the first band as we were still eating dinner elsewhere when they came on. But we caught the second act, whose name I can’t recall. They specialized in psychedelic country rock. I think that’s what it was. Whatever it was, it was pretty good, and they kept us interested for a half hour. We cadged a table right up front, stage left, and were feeling pretty smug that we had beaten the crowd that would surely emerge for the headliner. Oh, and the beer and beverages at Stickyz were also budget friendly, so we helped ourselves to plenty.
Usually it takes about ½ hour between bands as the first one has to pack up all their gear, and then the second one has to set up all of theirs. On this particular night, the bands were sharing the drum kit and microphones, so that cut down on the time needed for the roadies to work their magic. In fact, they were swift, and within 15 minutes of the previous band finishing, Dash Rip Rock took the stage. Yowza! But where was the crowd?
Well, the crowd never materialized. I’ll bet there were no more than 75 people in the club that night. Still, DRR put on a terrific set of material that was highly entertaining. Playing their characteristic cowpunk, the set moved from song to song swiftly. And the songs were swift, too. In fact, hearing hillbilly lyrics sung to Ramones-style pacing was something that my redneck/punk butt enjoyed quite a bit.
We noticed that a number of their original songs were sort of nasty. Other bands may try to be subtle with their lyrics, or try for the artsy crowd. Not DRR. If they want to pick up a girl at a bar and do the dirty with her in the parking lot, then they sing a song called Let’s Go F*ck in My Truck. If they think that a wealthy woman is a bit too much for them to take, the song is called Rich Little Bitch. This stuff is in your face.
But the band, a blazing hot trio featuring leader Bill Davis, is tighter than a duck’s behind, and they were clearly there to bring it that night. There were some great tunes that were creative and funny, such as a send-up of the two most requested rock songs ever (Stairway to Heaven and Free Bird) that was called Stairway to Free Bird and that featured hooks from each original tune, plus a mash-up of lyrics that made you smile. Or how about a tune called Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot that used Danny and Junior’s doo-wop song Let’s Go To The Hop with more modern lyrics. It was funny to have them doo-wopping the word “pot” when Danny used “hop.” They did a campy and punk-fast version of Delta Dawn. And they even played a Mojo Nixon song, which led directly to a Philly reference. Someone in the crowd said “who?,” and Davis replied “if you don’t know about Mojo Nixon than this place can use some fixin’” which is right out of the Dead Milkmen song Punk Rock Girl. Where are the Dead Milkmen from? Philly, naturally. Irrespective, It worked. And the boys played plenty of music that simply made your guitar-loving heart sing.
Davis can rip it on the 6 string. This guy is super-talented, but also cognizant of the fact that hardly anyone wants to hear lengthy guitar solo after lengthy guitar solo. So he sped up the songs, ripped off short bursts of artistry, and then went back to playing rhythm to carry the tune. And he has a good enough voice to make the whole thing entertaining.
The people in the club who were smart enough to pull themselves away from their TVs that night enjoyed the show, too. Lots of whooping and hollering among the crowd at the end of each tune. No one really stood up and raved on, but there was some jamming going on in the seats. One guy was trying to keep up with the drummer the entire evening to no avail, but he was fun to watch.
So who the heck gets lucky like me on this whim 24 hour trip to Little Rock? I know of no one. To be able to say that I’ve been to Stickyz Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicken Shack and seen Dash Rip Rock tear the joint up is just too much. Even better, we simply strolled 4 blocks back to our hotel at the end of the show, and didn’t have to hassle with the whole driving, parking, transportation thing. How refreshing. I do understand that DRR is on tour now, and if they come to Philly, you might want to take a look-see. I doubt you’ll do it for $10, and I doubt you’ll stroll up to a front row seat like we did, but I don’t doubt that you’ll have a rollicking good time.
With that, I’m done with Arkansas for the time being. And now, I’m done with this post. I told you that I had much to write about from my trip to the mid-south, and I wasn’t lying. What’s up next? Well, you’ll just have to take some time away from those other screens in your house and take a look at what foolishness I’ve been up to since the last time you were dumb enough to swing by. I promise you that I’ll try to make it worth your while. OK? Ok! See ya.
Colt 45? No, I drank that crap when I was a kid and wanted a cheap beer buzz. It’s really horrible stuff, but occasionally I get wistful for its flavor because it’s so powerfully reminiscent of part of my youth. Oh, and doesn't Colt 45 work every time? Yeah, that's what I thought.
45 RPM? No, not that either, but that would be a good guess given that this is primarily a music blog. Do you remember that little adaptor that you had to use to play 45s on your turntable? For whatever reason, 45s came with a much larger hole in the middle than did 33s, and you popped this little plastic disc adaptor into the hole so that the 45 could rotate uniformly on the spindle. I spent a lot of time with 45s in my life as they were the primary records that you bought prior to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The Beatles were the first band that made entire albums relevant, and not just singles. Once the Beatles did that, everyone naturally followed and the 33 became the medium for purchasing and listening to records.
Back to 45. What 45 do I speak of? Well, there are 50 states in the U.S. and I have now visited 45 of them. The latest state to be conquered was Arkansas (“Woo Pig! Sooie!”). I don’t know why but it’s become a thing with me that I want to visit all 50 states.
Like everything, there is a way to make the visit “official.” Some will say that you simply have to step onto the soil of a place to proclaim an official visitation, while others will say that you have to do something there for it be a visit. For me, you have to spend the night within the jurisdiction. That seems reasonable given that you are making some kind of proclamation that you’ve visited a place. Spending a night requires some effort, and puts you into the position where you actually have to see daylight and nighttime in order to say “Yep, I’ve been there.”
What’s the point? I have no idea. Perhaps for me, it’s just that I’m American, proudly so, and want to see this great and large country of ours. It’s a big place, and it’s different and beautiful when you travel around it. Despite a homogeneous popular culture, there are still some pretty significant regional differences that are best experienced rather than simply acknowledged. And the U.S. has certain things that other countries don’t offer, and I want to be a part of them, at least for a day. Sure, it’s also silly, trite and egotistical, but hey, I’m silly, trite and egotistical. I’m not the only one; what’s the purpose of Johnny Cash’s song other than to brag that he’s been there, done that, and you haven’t.
There are places in the U.S. where you can still feel out of place, or where you are instantly recognized as not being “from there.” I was in a restaurant in northern Mississippi recently, and we had to wait on a table. The host looked at us oddly because he could tell that we weren’t from Mississippi. He took down our telephone number to text me when it was ready, and he didn’t recognize my 267 area code. He asked where I was from, and when I said Philly, he said “for real?!” Like, what are you doing here? And it’s so obvious you’re from SOMEWHERE other than here. I was still certainly in the U.S., but I clearly wasn’t in a big Northeast city or some other place where I routinely find myself.
This country has so many great places to see, too. I was in California for a wedding earlier this year, and we found ourselves in Carmel, a picturesque retirement town for the wealthy. We hiked along the Pacific coast at Point Lobos State Park (no, we didn’t see any wolves), and it was unspeakably beautiful. I would imagine that a Californian coming to see the Jersey shore would be taken by how different it is from the coastline with which they are most familiar, and that’s how I felt. I’m glad I saw it, watched sea lions bask on a hidden beach and tidepooled around some rocks at low tide. You don’t do that on the East Coast. Instead, you swim in the warm ocean and hang out in boardwalk towns that are full of little kids eating funnel cakes and other healthy snacks. Both are great, both are remarkably different from one another, but both are part of our country and ought to be experienced.
Wait a minute, what's that pickup doing here? Well, they must know that I'm a southern redneck at heart because when I got to the San Francisco rental car agency, that pickup is what they had reserved for me. Hahaha, who in God's name wants to rent that for SF? I don't know, but they had about 15 of them in a row, so I kept the damn thing and embraced my heritage. Yee-hah!
When we went to Memphis, I immediately seized on the idea of going to Arkansas for just one night. It’s right across the Mississippi River, and Little Rock, the capital, is all of 2 hours away. Since I was driving, off we went. I will say that the drive from Memphis to Little Rock is kind of boring save for the many trucks that plow I-40 and that are constantly jockeying for position along the way. The landscape is flat, agricultural and open. Think of driving along the Delaware eastern shore, and you’ll get a clue. It always strikes me that the U.S. is still remarkably free from development compared to the rest of the first world countries. Asia is simply teeming with people, and there isn’t a square foot of land that isn’t purposefully set aside for something. Farmers live in skyscrapers in Korea, I kid you not. And Europe is also densely populated in comparison. It has 100 million more people in half the size of the U.S., and you notice it. I like the open spaces and the feeling that there is still land aplenty for our citizenry.
We got to Little Rock with, let’s face it, low expectations. I knew the Clinton Presidential Library was there, as well as Little Rock Central High School, but other than that, I was pretty ignorant of the place. I was happily surprised. The city is compact, but has a nice setting astride the Arkansas River. Downtown is spruced up with new buildings, charming older places that have been restored and preserved, and there is a thriving arts and culinary thing going on there. We strolled through a gallery composed of the output from Arkansas artists, and it was large, diverse and interesting. You know I love the visual arts, and while Little Rock certainly can’t compete with the big cities in terms of museums (although the Waltons have funded a museum in Bentonville that is supposed to be pretty amazing), that didn’t diminish the artistic beauty and relevance of the works on display here.
The Clinton library is worth seeing. It has the typical stuff of many of the presidential libraries: the replica Oval Office, presidential limo, and history of the presidency of Mr. Clinton. And they threw in a replica of the Cabinet conference room to boot. The curators did a good job of putting his presidency into perspective, although it was a bit too rah-rah for my tastes. The building is designed to resemble he main library in Dublin’s Trinity College, and after comparing pictures, there is a similarity of design. As always, I found the gifts that people and dignitaries had given the President the most interesting thing on display. I’ve been to LBJ’s and FDR’s libraries, and this one held its own. It also has distinguished architecture and a lovely spot along the river. I liked it.
I’ll talk about Little Rock Central High School in a separate post that discusses the plight of black people in the U.S, and particularly in the Jim Crow south. My heart aches for what was done to them.
Little Rock also has a free downtown trolley system with antique cars that tool around.
It was fun to ride one for a bit. We were just messing around and figured that it would be a quick and easy way to discover some spots we might not otherwise see, when bam! I look out the window of a small club about 4 blocks from our hotel and it is advertising that Dash Rip Rock, the New Orleans cowpunk band, is playing that very night. I had seen any live music in, well, hours, and I was itching. Did we go? Oh yeah. I’ll write that up separately, too. Here's a couple more pics from Little Rock, including the Ten Commandments on the state capital grounds. Really? Yeah, really.
All in all, it was a well-spent 24 hours in Arkansas. I’ve now visited 45 states, and only have Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska to go. The Dakotas have plenty to interest me – Custer’s house and the battlefield at Little Big Horn, plus the Badlands. I know a lot of people from Iowa, and I pretty much like them all, so I’ll figure out something to do there. Nebraska has the Lewis and Clark trail that goes up the Missouri River. And Alaska is huge, majestic and full of characters. See? Everyplace is interesting, sometimes even BRP. Catch you soon, I hope.
Every great studio that produces tons of hits seems to have a house band that plays on track after track. Think about it. At Hitsville USA in Motown, it was the Funk Brothers. You’ve got the Swampers down in Muscle Shoals. In LA, you had the Wrecking Crew. And at Stax Records in Memphis, you had Booker T. and the MGs coupled with the Memphis Horns. Unlike those other house bands, Booker T. had a massive hit all by themselves, the fantastic instrumental Green Onions.
Yeah, these guys, like their city, were gritty and played with a rawer edge than many of those others. But let’s not try to rank or do something silly like that. Let’s instead dive into Stax and its legacy to see what was going on in Memphis in the post-Sun period.
The Stax museum is definitely worth visiting. Stax took over a former movie studio, modified it to contain a large control room and studio, and then punched out the hits for local and national adulation alike. Take a look:
Who recorded there? How about Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, the Bar-Kays and the Staple Singers to name a few. This was soul music, gospel with secular lyrics, and it was a sound that came out of Memphis and other black urban hubs throughout the nation. But having people like Otis Redding carrying the flag makes it hard to compete. Once again, Memphis boasts a larger musical heritage than its modest size would otherwise indicate.
The quick Stax story is that a brother and sister combo, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, set up a record shop and eventually a recording studio, and they operated the place in a color-blind fashion. Opening up in a traditionally black neighborhood referred to as Soulsville, this team of white people would record anyone with talent, and formed an integrated band well before integration was acceptable in this part of the world. Word got around, and Stax made a distribution deal with Atlantic Records that allowed its songs to get the national exposure that ensured commercial success. Tons of great music was recorded here, and the place competed with other local studios/labels like Hi and Argent (Argent ended up becoming a somewhat partner, and recorded other great bands, like the Box Tops and Big Star). The whole thing came spiraling down after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The place then ultimately falls derelict before being resurrected as the current museum.
Unlike most of the other music museums, this one told the story of soul music whether or not it was recorded at Stax. Sure, they focused on some of the great Stax artists and had more artifacts from them, but they also had some great stuff from Ike and Tina Turner.
But the collection of Stax memorabilia is super cool and some is over the top. Check out Isaac Hayes’s custom Cadillac:
Wow, can you imagine that thing driving around town? It would certainly catch your attention. Other great stuff includes Otis Redding’s stylish suede jacket, instruments used by the Bar-Kays, and lots of stuff from Booker T. and the MG’s: Steve Cropper’s Fender Telecaster, Donald “Duck” Dunn’s Fender Precision bass, Al Jackson, Jr.s drum set, Wayne Jackson’s Besson Brevete Trumpet, and Booker T. Jones Hammond M-3 organ. Take a look:
I don’t know why, but I love seeing that stuff. How about this send-off of the Beatles Abbey Road picture, done Memphis-style by Booker T. and the MG’s:
And let’s not forget the wall of 45 singles that were recorded at Stax:
Stax tells the story of American soul music, with a special emphasis on what Memphis brought to it. There's great video, too, and you can spend a lot of time in the joint just watching and then checking out the artifacts. One young kid was there, and the adult with him referenced the Theme From Shaft. The kid had never heard it, which blew the adult and me away (notice how I don't reference myself as an "adult"), and then we played it for him on Spotify. Yeah, he liked it. Who doesn't?
Memphis. How can such a small, gritty city have such a large impact on the world? Location, individuals with ambition, and great local talent all conspired to make Memphis a music hub. It's days are not gone, either. I still have to write up the Beale Street experience, where I came into contact with an extraordinary musician named Jason James. We'll get to that soon. But I need a break from Memphis. Can I take one? Phew, the boss said OK. I hope you'll like my detour. If not, skip the posts and then roll on back for more from Memphis. In the meantime, turn up the volume and rock it!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.