By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
I am not from Memphis but I love Memphis music and the musicians that created it. I was first introduced to the Memphis music scene at a sprawling home/business on the outskirts of the city. Shortly after moving to Memphis in 1990, a friend told me about a bunch of hippies who played music every now and then in a place called Eads. Come to find out, these “hippies” were Memphis music legends
The place to which I refer was owned by Jimmy Crosthwait, where he ran an art gallery for a short period of time. There I saw Jimmy and friends play primitive rock-n-roll often with members (i.e., Sid Selvidge and Jim Dickinson) of his band Mud Boy and the Neutrons. I not only loved the music but over the years have learned to love the lineage of these performers. For those not in the know, Crosthwait is a famed puppeteer and washboard player. Dickinson is a world-renowned producer and piano player who worked with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to mention only a few. I am still fascinated with his last solo album, Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger. Selvidge was a multi-talented performer known for his solo albums and his long running radio program, “Beale Street Caravan.”
From there, I moved into Midtown and began visiting the infamous Antenna Club during its later years. Around this time, I began hanging out with a musician named Martin Chytil. He was playing in a band called Dynamo Hum which I saw a number of times at the club. Although not from Memphis, Martin had the Memphis do-it-yourself mentality. He quickly moved from guitarist/singer to music producer to label owner. His label, Gravelsauce Records, captured the mid-1990’s Memphis music scene including almost every prominent band at the time such as DDT, Pezz, Six Million, Lime, Big Ass Truck, Rob Jungklas, Crash Into June, and many more. Many of these were featured on compilation albums, most prominently the incredible Memphis in the Meantime, whose proceeds raised thousands of dollars for Habitat for Humanity.
A Gravelsauce alumni, DDT, was the second coming of the Dickinson music legacy. Jim’s sons, Cody and Luther, quickly moved from this small label to the big time. Since forming in 1996, the brothers’ formidable group the North Mississippi Allstars has earned 3 Grammy nominations beginning with their first release Shake Hands with Shorty. I recommend checking out their homage to dad the awesomely haunting, Keys to the Kingdom. Beyond this, performing as Sons of Mud Boy, the Dickinsons and Steve Selvidge (son of Sid) earned a nomination for Best Traditional Folk Grammy in 2011.
I met Jungklas on Martin’s front porch. They would talk music, occasionally playing acoustic guitars. Jungklas’ album Closer to the Flame (1986) had the Billboard charting song “Make it Mean Something” and “Hello Heaven” was on a movie soundtrack. However, it was his album Arkadelphia (2003) with its blues roots, name checking, juke joint feel that really impressed me and earned him a spot on tour with Lucinda Williams. Key tracks include “Drunk Like Son House” and “God Rode Through Clarksdale.”
My next musician friends turned out to be neighbors. Bill Walsh plays guitar in a duo with Midtown drummer Greg Young and in the band Delta Nomads, which can be seen performing monthly at the Buccaneer on Monroe Avenue. Bill is a singer-songwriter of the 1970’s stripe. Every song tells a story to which, if you buy him a beer, he will likely give you the backstory. Their latest release is the album Fully Loaded with the standout title cut plus “Tyrone” and “Roll with It.” Look for new songs and upcoming shows on their website.
Playing darts at the P&H on Madison, I met a younger generation of musicians. These included some guys in a band called The United. Chris Mitchell (guitarist), Jeremy Stanfill (Keyboard-vocalist), and James Godwin (bassist) became my friends. Shortly thereafter, they were offered a recording deal with Atlanta producer Rick Beato on his Ten Star Label. They changed their name to Streetside Symphony and released the album The Curse.
Through my association with Streetside Symphony I met Luke White a member of The Coach and Four, whose debut album title cut “Unlimited Symmetry” enjoyed heavy rotation on XM radio. My favorite Coach and Four song is the New Wave-ish “Hello Destroyer,” which is on their outstanding second release The Great Escape. Come to find out, Luke had played with noted trumpeter Nahshon Benford (whose credits Lucero, Memphis Dawls, and Amy LaVere) in the nationally known band Snowglobe. I highly recommend you give them a listen. Their excellent Going the Distance has some great rock/pop tunes like “Regime” and “Big Machine” plus give Nahshon’s horns a listen on “Rock Song.” Memphis music at its best!
I save my final words on Memphis musicians for an up and coming band, James and the Ultrasounds. This band has some old friends—front man Godwin and White. Fresh off a successful New York tour, James and the lads are currently working on their first full length release. View their web presence and hear their current releases by keyword searching: James and the Ultrasounds.
Unlike other cities where music and musicians are largely imported, Memphis grows its own. As illustrated in my article, Memphis musicians are real, tangible people who are your friends, neighbors, and the person sitting next to you. You can meet them at parties, on front porches, walking around the block, or in a club. Most are friendly, more than happy to regale you with tales of life on the road, meanings behind songs, or an impromptu performance. This is the essence of what makes Memphis and its musicians Memphis! So, go out this weekend and support a local musician.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell has lived in Memphis for 25 years and served as a freelance writer for 20 of these. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org