Not many soul singers are hotter after nearly a half century of making records and headlining countless shows than in the early stages of their careers, but that’s precisely the case with Otis Clay. The Chicago soul legend retains the supercharged gospel-powered pipes that he unleashed on his 1972 hit “Trying To Live My Life Without You” and countless more R&B classics, and he’s busier than ever in the studio and on the road, bringing his fiery brand of soul to several generations of ardent fans.
Otis co-stars in director Martin Shore’s new music documentary Take Me To The River, which showcases a passel of southern soul legends (including Bobby Rush, William Bell, and the late Bobby Bland) combining with a new generation of rappers to illustrate how the region’s indigenous music has changed over the decades.
“It’s really a lot of fun. Educational and entertaining, the whole works,” says Clay, whose remake of “Trying To Live My Life Without You,” filmed at Royal Recording Studios (where he cut the original hit with the late producer Willie Mitchell) was done in conjunction with pint-sized rapper P-Nut. “Lo and behold, I wind up with one of the greatest kids you’re gonna find anywhere.”
Then there’s Clay’s new CD Truth Is, where the singer collaborates with a pair of old friends, producer/arranger Tom Tom Washington and songwriter Darryl Carter, in a veritable feast of warm, intimate old school soul.
“The music has gone so off base as we know it, that it was time to bring it back home. We wanted to talk about love instead of folks outsmarting each other,” says Otis, who released the disc on his own Echo label.
Clay teams with fellow soul sender Johnny Rawls on Soul Brothers, a new disc of electrifying duets pressed on the Catfood logo. It continues a musical relationship that commenced last year with three memorable guest appearances by Otis on Rawls’ Remembering O.V. album. Clay contributes three vocal efforts to Chicago guitarist Dave Specter’s Delmark CD Message in Blue (including a revival of his ‘67 classic “Got To Find A Way”), and he’ll be prominent on Pittsburgh singer Billy Price’s upcoming Duke Robillard-produced album as well.
“I’m bounding all over the place!” laughs Otis, whose sizzling rendition of “Got To Get Back (To My Baby)” was an exciting highlight of the Bo-Keys’ 2011 album Got To Get Back!. As if all these new recordings weren’t enough, an upcoming reissue compilation from the Secret Stash logo that digs deeply into the archives of Chicago’s One-Derful! Records and includes several mid-’60s Clay performances, some of them, like the sparkling “Thank You Love,” previously unheard.
Clearly Otis Clay’s profile couldn’t soar much higher than it is at the moment. He’s lately been co-starring with Rush, Bell, Snoop Dogg, and a contingent of young rappers on a series of concerts in conjunction of Take Me To The River, the revue visiting destinations as varied as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas and Brooklyn Bowl in London.
“What we’re doing is kind of unusual, but this is an unusual movie,” says Clay.
Everywhere he goes, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive.
“The young people are seeing and hearing this music, and they’re saying, ‘Wow, we love it!’” says Otis. “Because now they know where it really came from.”
This frantic all-female four piece — made up of Natalie Hoffman (Ex-Cult), drummer Charlotte Watson (Manateees), bassist Madison Farmer (Toxie) and synth player Allie Eastburnis — is the latest Memphis band to make waves nationally and internationally. Released late last year, their debit album, We Are Nots, has received rave reviews, and they’ve just wrapped up a raucous West Coast tour, giving Hoffman’s former band Ex-Cult a run for their money as the hottest band on Memphis’ Goner label. Nots take the path less traveled when dealing with song structure, societal conventions, and the laws of thermo- dynamics. Impossibly cool nuevo no wavo!
Chinese Connection Dub Embassy
Since their first show in 2008 Chinese Connection Dub Embassy have opened for a wide array of artists in the reggae community including Collie Buddz, Glen Washington, Dubtonic Kru, Ugly Lions, and the Mike Pinto Band. They have been called one of the hardest working reggae acts in the Mid-South because of their hard work and determination to bring a sense of unity back to reggae music. In 2011 they went from just another reggae band to a force to be reckoned with when they started to reach their music out to the masses with heavy amounts of networking and their unwillingness to stop growing in music, life, and spirit. The hard work paid off with high profile gigs at BristerFest, the Plant Based Food Festival, River Arts Fest, In A Hurry Blues Festival, Elvis Tribute To The King Festival, LUVMUD Fest, and the Springfield HempFest as well as genre-jumping gigs with pop artist Ryan Peel. Now with the release of their first EP The Farmers Market and plans to jump right back in the studio, CCDE has never been more motivated to reach the masses with their message of truth and rights/love throughout the world.
Mark Edgar Stuart & the Hot Mess
A veteran sideman with such celebrated locals as Alvin Youngblood Hart, John Paul Keith, and Jack Oblivian, bassist/guitarist Mark Edgar Stuart stepped into the limelight in 2013 with his debut solo record, Blues for Lou. Born out of a terrible year in which Stuart battled cancer and lost his father, the record was an intimate set of witty, heartfelt, personal songs. It was also no fluke. Earlier this year the Arkansas picker followed it up with the more ambitious, eclectic Trinity My Dear on Madjack Records, an album of well-crafted Americana, in the best sense of the word. Usually a solo act, his Cooper-Young appearance will be a rare performance with a full band.
The Fast Mothers were founded by Chris and Tracy Ruble, the identical twin sons of the late Tommy Ruble. Tommy was a member of the Cavaliers, who were best known for their hit song, “Last Kiss.” He was also the lead vocalist on the official song of Memphis, “One Last Bridge.”
The band began as an outlet for Tracy’s musical creativity. Finding himself for the first time without a guitarist, he taught himself to play rhythm guitar to assist in his songwriting process. Chris, who hadn’t been behind a drum kit since he was eight years old, quickly picked it back up without missing a beat. The pair began writing song after song, and soon put together a band. Over the past decade the Fast Mothers have had a number of players, but the current line-up is the strongest: lead guitarist Wayne Walker (Seeing Red), rhythm guitar Walter Hughes (the Eric Hughes Band), and bassist Matt Dees ( 714 and Medieval Steel). The band recorded its debut EP with producer Jimmy Fulp at his Broken Snare Studios. The self-titled effort is full of grooves and soul and rock-and-roll and is just a hint of what this band is capable of.
Aquarian Blood’s first offering was a cassette only batch of Father Yod/Manson Family cult punk hippie creepy crawl home recordings by JB Horrell (Ex-Cult, Moving Finger) and Laurel Ferdon (Moving Finger, formerly of Nots). But their live show is a six-piece heavy freaked out proto-punk squall — chock full of synth burps, fuzzed out violin, guitar squeal, and the ferocious vocals of Ferdon. Their debut 7-inch Savage Mind, released on Goner Records on Record Store Day in April, captures both aspects of the band, with the full band blowout on the two A-side tracks and the B-side a new home recording that is less unhinged but just as engaging.
Will Graves & Soul
Will Graves and Soul was formed in 2001 by lead singer/keyboardist William Graves, II, drawing from some of the best players in the city. Performance highlights include sharing the big stages with international recording artists such as Ledisi, Angie Stone, Dwele, and Amel Larrieux at Memphis’ Cannon Center and the former Gibson Guitar Lounge. During one spirited performance at an event that honored notable guests including Stevie Wonder, Mr. Wonder himself joined the band in song after hearing their performance from the next room over! Soul, jazz, pop, R & B, rock, gospel, inspirational — one can hear a perfect blend of these genres represented authentically by Will Graves and Soul every Sunday night in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Weekly performances at the underground lounge, Memphis Sounds (22 N. Third St.) afford fans and newcomers alike the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Memphis’ most sought after musicians.
Robby Grant first came to prominence in the ’90s with hip hop/alternative hybrid Big Ass Truck. Since that group’s demise he has continued to pursue a defiantly independent, idiosyncratic creative vision in projects like the home recording outfit Vending Machine, the all-star indie rock band Mouserocket, and the experimental music-movement duo >mancontrol<.
Having recently released his sixth Vending Machine effort, the ambitious multimedia undertaking Let the Little Things Go, Grant recent put together a band made up of bassist Terrence Bishop (Son of Slam, the Candy Company), guitarist Kevin Cubbins (the Pawtucketts) and the drumming duo of John Argroves (John Paul Keith, James & the Ultrasounds) and Robert Barnett (Big Ass Truck, Rob Jungklas).
Alexis Grace the artist might surprise you if you’re expecting Alexis Grace, the American Idol alumna.
Yes, she wowed the judges on season eight of the long-running reality pop stardom series with her big, soulful voice. Yes, Simon Cowell himself did call her “the dark horse of the competition.”
But if you’re expecting Alexis Grace the American Idol alumna, you might be expecting a one-note – and Alexis Grace the artist sings and studies them all.
The daughter of a Beale Street musician, Alexis studied the masters of soul and R&B — Aretha Franklin, Ann Peebles, Whitney Houston — in her childhood home. On Sundays, she learned gospel harmonies in her church’s youth choir. And at John Overton High School, a prestigious performing arts magnet school in Memphis, she stretched herself on stage in plays and musicals. Her formal music education continued at the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. From jazz to opera, Alexis has allowed her myriad influences to deeply inform her development as an artist – and she’ll share that genre-bending talent with her fans in January of 2015 as she releases her first solo EP.
After getting its start in 2010, Memphis hardcore trash band Hosoi Bros. went on to release two 7” singles: 2011’s Wine Witch, featuring the eponymous lead song and “Yellow Fever,” and 2012’s Snorlokk, which included both the title track and “Amberlamps.” They have played with Red Fang, Skeletonwitch, Truckfighters, the Sword, Torche, Gypsyhawk, and Totimoshi among others. They blend a whole lot of Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Thin Lizzy and have been referred to as “party thrash,” a descriptor they wholeheartedly accept. Vocalists and guitarists Severin Allgood and Shawn Apple, drummer Jimmy James Blasingame, and bassist Eric Fortenberry are getting ready to debit the band’s first full-length record, which is scheduled to be released by summer’s end.
A local super group made up of members of the Bo-Keys, the Sheiks, and Jack Oblivian’s band, the Maitre D’s are the only Booker T & the MG’s tribute band in the group’s hometown of Memphis. The soulful instrumentals of the Stax backing band are timeless, and are given an energetic, rock reinterpretation by the Maitre D’s. Keyboardist Adam Woodard, bassist Frank McLallen, drummer Graham Winchester, and guitarist Joe Restivo play anything the group ever recorded in the studio or at a live show.
Deering & Down
Deering & Down is an independent duo living in Memphis and playing music worldwide. Originally hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the band has lived and played music in Alaska, Los Angeles, Ireland, Switzerland, Canada and Memphis. Called “the best one-two punch in the city” by Memphis’ Commercial Appeal, the duo describes their style as defiantly unorthodox with a smokey Memphis flavor cast in a glow of shimmering Northern lights.
As fate would have it, Canadian born chanteuse Lahna Deering found her way up North to Alaska, where she met and befriended rock and roll journeyman Rev Neil Down. The merging of Deering’s strong belt-it-out voice, and Down’s “left of center” guitar playing was just the beginning of their creative kinship. The last few years have found Deering and Down immersed in the muddy browns and Blues of Memphis and the Mighty Mississippi River.