Friday, June 29, 2007

Memphis Soul, Nook and Cranny

Though Beale Street, Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum soak up most of the attention in Memphis when it comes to soul music, the city’s connection to the sound goes beyond its main attractions.

From the public address system in local grocery stores to the ultra-hip Beauty Shop Restaurant in Cooper-Young, the sounds of soul can be found in almost every nook and cranny. Pay attention to that background music when you stroll through the aisles of a convenient store or gas station or local shoe store and you’re more than likely listening to WDIA or Otis Redding’s Greatest Hits. The ubiquitous nature of Memphis music is what, in part, makes Memphis music so unique: Memphians listen to it. Yeah, that’s right, we Memphians enjoy the music made in this town, whether it be from Sun Studio, Stax, American Recordings or Ardent Records. This love affair extends to our record stores and one place we can guarantee you’ll hear Memphis Soul (and a lot of other Memphis music) is in a modest, but well-known record shop on Madison Avenue in Midtown, Shangri-La Records.

Owned by Sherman Wilmott, a local label owner, tour guide, historian and one of three credited curators of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Shangri-La’s selection of Memphis music is arguably the strongest in the region. Brows the bins and you’ll find Lps, CDs, 45s and 78s of Blues, Soul, R&B, Rockabilly, Country, Funk and a long selection of unique compilations like Scott Bomar’s Impala, “Night Full of Sirens: Anthology 93-97” or The Hook-Up’s “Simmer to a Boil: 2 Dozen Soul Cookers.” Attracting Memphis music fans from all over the world, the store also has the honor of employing one of the city’s best soul music DJs, Andrew McCalla, aka DJ Buck Wilders.

A featured DJ-in-residence at local club, The Buccaneer on Thursday nights, McCalla also does quarterly soul night gigs at the Hi-Tone. But were most people experience McCalla’s good, and obscure, taste for soul is on local independent radio station, WEVL. Spinning records every Tuesday afternoon on the station’s well-known show, “Memphis Beat,” McCalla has, according to the Commercial Appeal’s Bob Mehr, “shined in his on-air role, handling interviews with roots vets including Harvey Scales and Bobby Rush and setting up in-studio performances by younger artists such as Jeffrey James and the Hall and Vending Machine.”

Featuring an eclectic play list that covers everything from Stax instrumentals to gospel to early Sun Records to country and blues, McCalla has quickly established himself as one of the most knowledgeable locals of Memphis music.

Important websites:

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And On The Seventh Day…

With an incredible week of events celebrating Memphis’ rich soul music heritage that included the United States Congress honoring Soulsville with a resolution sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN, “7 Seven Days of Soul” came to at the historic Orpheum Theater, the chosen venue for one of the year’s most anticipated music events: “50 Years of Stax,” a concert to benefit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Hosted by rap legend Chuck D and American Idol’s Randy Jackson, the evening was broadcast live on XM satellite radio and featured a reunion of sorts of some of Memphis greatest soul legends, including Eddie Floyd, William Bell and Isaac Hayes. Throughout the year Concord Records and the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau have produced and promoted events featuring many of the men who made Memphis Soul, and though these artists have proven to all who’ve listened that they still got it, Friday night’s show brought together some of Memphis Soul’s most important women.

Mavis Staples marked an important return to Memphis belting out classic hits from her days with the Staples Sisters, as well as cuts from her recent critically acclaimed album, “We’ll Never Turn Back,” produced by Ry Cooder. Mable John, one of the few soul artists to have worked with both MoTown and Stax, brought back some of that old school groove with an inspiring performance of “Your Good Thing (Is About To End).” And newcomer Angie Stone gave the audience a taste of the future of soul as the first prominent contemporary artist to sign with the rejuvenated Stax label.

Other performances included Lalah Hathaway, N’dambi, The Soul Children and Booker T and the MGs, who earlier in the day were honored by the University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts with the Distinguished Achievement in the Creative and Performing Arts Award. Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and the late Al Jackson Jr., along with the previously honored Booker T. Jones, enjoyed an informal celebration at legendary local barbeque spot, Rendezvous.

For a full recap of the night’s festivities, click on any of the links below:,1426,MCA_505_5599524,00.html,1426,MCA_505_5596364,00.html

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Soul Week, Soul Food

Just one visit to Memphis and it’s apparent that food plays a major role in Memphis culture, especially soul food. Peppered with both well-known establishments and hole-in-the-wall joints, Memphis serves up some of the best down-home Southern soul food in the country. Here are a few you can’t miss during Soul Week:

Alcenia’s owner B.J. is famous for two things: the hugs she gives every customer who walks in her door and her smothered cabbage, arguably the world’s tastiest version of the typically ho-hum vegetable. The rest of her menu is delightful as well—just be sure to save room for the bread pudding or egg custard pie.
317 N. Main St
(901) 523-0200

With just a dozen tables, Gus’s may not look like a legend, but this unassuming eatery serves up what many folks claim is the best chicken since the invention of the modern frying pan. Gus’s one-of-a-kind spicy seasoned bird has been featured in GQ Magazine, Vogue and USA Today, as well as on The Food Network’s $40 a Day with Rachael Ray and The Travel Channel.
310 S. Front St.
(901) 527-4877

For its atmosphere alone, this brothel-turned-juke joint is not to be missed. And thanks to the world famous Soul Burgers (the flat-top grill is almost constantly filled with the sizzling, spicy patties) you won’t stay hungry while you’re there. The best part? The grill stays open as late as the dance floor does, which is always well into the wee hours.
531 S. Main St.

From North Carolina to Kansas City — and all points in between — towns, cities, states and regions all claim the best barbeque in the world. We in Memphis appreciate their enthusiasm, but ask any of us to concede the title and we’ll say, “When pigs fly.” Be sure to hit these smoke houses during Soul Week:

The Neely Brothers (Patrick, Tony, Gaelin and Mark) may have learned the basics from Uncle Jim, but their recipes are uniquely their own. Neely’s is arguably the perfect representation of Memphis BBQ. Perhaps that’s why it’s served at Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Tigers home games at FedEx Forum arena. It’s also why their ribs were recently featured on Paula Dean’s Food TV show, Paula’s Party.
670 Jefferson Ave.
(901) 521-9798

This Downtown, back-alley dining room that started in 1948 with a slab of ribs and an old coal chute has blossomed into a barbecue icon over the years. More than the city’s most famous BBQ restaurant, Rendezvous now ships its famous dry-rub ribs all over the world.
52 S. 2nd St.
(901) 523-2746

The most popular sandwich here features traditionally non-Memphis-style sliced beef and a thin, vinegary sauce, and the slow-cooked ribs are on any Q-connoisseur’s short list. But the real innovation at this Downtown staple is the barbecued Cornish hen—served with a few slices of the freshest Wonder Bread anywhere. (The bakery is just blocks away.)
745 N. Parkway
(901) 527-9158

In a city that lives and breathes soul food and bbq, Memphis’ medley of culinary offerings might come as somewhat of a surprise. When you need a little something different during soul week, visit some of our best Downtown Memphis eateries:

It’s not easy to capture the essence of southern cooking while still maintaining a global-contemporary flair, but Stella chef John Kirk does exactly that at this historic Downtown location. With an excellent wine list and an array of eclectic, Delta-inspired seafood and steak entrees, Stella is at once innovative and traditional.
39 S. Main St.
(901) 526-4950

With a menu as artful and creative as its décor (everything from fixtures to barstools has been designed by local artists), Slim’s is one of Memphis’ most original spots. Dishes here can challenge your pronunciation as well as your palate (see the red snapper huachinango in sun-dried blueberry and mint jalapeno sauce), but for the adventurous, the menu supplies a healthy dose of exciting, if occasionally wacky, choices.
83 S. Second St.
(901) 525-7948

Downtown meets the great north woods at this rustic-themed restaurant just across the street from the historic Peabody Hotel. While Big Foot serves everything from fresh Maine lobster to s’mores, the real legend here is the four-pound (yes, four-pound) Sasquatch Burger. Like it’s legendary namesake, this is one monster that has to be seen to be believed. But finish it off in one hour and it’s on the house, plus you’ll get your picture on the Big Foot wall of fame.
97 S. 2nd St
(901) 578-9800

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Things to do during Soul Week, Part 2

Soul Week represents a special time in Memphis music as it shines a white-hot spotlight on one of the city’s most unique and indigenous musical forms. In addition to the weeklong festivities throughout the city, we’d like to point out a few spots you need to check out when you hit town.

No Soul Week sojourn would be complete without spending a few hours at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. This 17,000-square-foot museum—on the original site of Stax Records— houses more than 2000 cultural artifacts, celebrating the music made famous by Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Kays, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire and more. In addition to Stax music and memorabilia, you’ll also find exhibits dedicated to the artists of Muscle Shoals, Motown, Atlantic and Memphis’ own Hi Records. The multi-media format delivers countless hours of music and video, as well as a model Soul Train dance floor and Isaac Hayes’ gold-plated Cadillac. And bringing the music to life, the museum puts on live concerts in Studio A, a near-exact recreation of the famous studio where Booker T and the MGs recorded hundreds of hit records.

For a more complete picture of Memphis music and how Memphis Soul came to be you absolutely must pay a visit to the Smithsonian Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. More than a sound, Memphis music is also about a movement. From the rural fields of the 1930’s, to the Sun and Stax era of the 1970’s, to its continuing influence today, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum tells the story of the musical pioneers who overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook the world.

An important aspect of soul music in Memphis was its connection to the Civil Rights Movement, and there’s no better place to engage in this part of the city’s past than one of our nation’s great cultural treasures, the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this exceptional museum brings the stories of civil and human rights to life in moving fashion. Interpretive exhibits and in-depth audio/visual displays focus on milestone events like the Montgomery bus boycott, the Memphis sanitation strike and much more.

To further explore the city’s cultural and historical connection to the African-American experience, be sure to book a tour with Heritage Tours. Highlighting African-American sites and contributions to the city’s heritage, tours include locations that served as leading slave trading centers, plantations of the South, antebellum homes and the history of the Union occupation in Memphis, the Lorraine Motel, historic churches and the Burkle Estate, a pre-Civil War way station on the Underground Railroad.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Things To Do During Soul Week, Part 1

If you’re headed to Memphis during Soul Week, June 17th to t he 22nd, here a few things to do in Downtown Memphis:

BackBeat Tours
Orient yourself to the city and its rich musical history with one of the most entertaining music tours around. You'll ride in vintage style on "Miss Clawdy,” a vintage 1959 GM transit bus, climate controlled and fully restored all the way down to genuine naugahide seat covers, and learn the story of the "Memphis Sound.” From Beale Street's vibrant blues to the rockin' rhythms of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, from the stirring gospel heritage of the churches to the captivating grooves of Soulsville USA, you'll hear it all LIVE in a completely one-of-a-kind show on wheels. There's as much happening inside the Backbeat bus as outside - so get ready to shake, rattle and roll!

Beale Street
Once the heart and soul of Memphis’ African-American culture with its banks, beauty salons, dance halls, barber shops and other black-owned establishments, today’s Beale Street has re-emerged as the city’s focal point for live blues, R&B, jazz, soul and rock, as well as sizzling soul food and exotic gift shops. Home to several live music clubs, including B.B. King’s Blues Club, King’s Palace, Alfred’s, Rum Boogie Café, The Black Diamond, Hard Rock Café and more. See why they call this street the “Home of the Blues.”

Gibson Lounge @ the Gibson Guitar Factory
The smell of freshly carved tonewoods. The incandescent flutterings of abalone and pearl inlay. Classic details of a Gibson, arguably the most famous guitar brand in music. Gibson’s Memphis factory offers tours of its state-of-the-art production facility, home of the revered ES series guitars, which have been played by the likes of B.B. King, Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry. But that’s just the beginning. At the west end of the Gibson complex sits the Gibson Lounge, one of the most intimate venues in Memphis. Be sure to check out the Stax 50th Celebration of Soul - After Party featuring live performances by Stax artists on Friday June 22nd. Doors Open at 10pm, show starts at 11pm.

Tickets $27 can be purchased in advance at or in Gibson Retail Store.

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Soul Week is Just Around the Corner

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Soul Week here in Memphis, and if there’s a holiday to celebrate this summer it’s on June 22nd.

The newly rejuvenated Stax Records is throwing down in Memphis at the Orpheum Theater with “50 Years of Stax” benefit show that unites some of the greatest legendary soul stars onstage for the first time in years.

The show will feature, among others, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MGs, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Mavis Staples, Mable John, the Soul Children, and Angie Stone.

Available through Ticketmaster, tickets are going for $25, $50 and $100, but for those who want premium seats in this beautiful venue consider the limited number of $1,000 Golden Circle tickets. It’s all for a good cause as proceeds from the show benefit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located at the site of the old Stax headquarters on Memphis’ historic McLemore Avenue.

Golden Circle admission will include VIP orchestra seating at the Orpheum, VIP parking and shuttle service, a pre-show private party at the Orpheum Broadway Club, a gala after party at the Gibson Lounge featuring performances by Stax artists and friends, a private celebrity tour of the Museum, the 50th Anniversary Stax CD box set, a lithographed poster, and a commemorative Stax T-shirt.

Sounds like a steal. For more information on Golden Circle tickets, please call Deanie Parker at 901-261-6385.

But those are just the details. It’s the music that counts and this show will deliver some of the best live soul sounds since, well, probably March, when Booker T and the MGs played the SXSW music festival in Texas. That was a small show, with fans young and old, lined up around the corner waiting to get in. Not so this time, though we still expect lines for tickets and fans of all ages. But this event is bigger and better as StaxRecords has brought in a slew of superior soul artists. Here’s a little bit about them:

Booker T. & the MGs
Booker T. & the MGs began accidentally, but became, arguably, the most important group in the history of soul. Organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, drummer Al Jackson, Jr., and bassist Lewie Steinberg were randomly scheduled to back Billy Lee Riley at a Stax recording session in summer 1962. While warming up, the group came up with the song “Green Onions,” their biggest hit. By 1965, former Mar-Key member Donald “Duck” Dunn had taken over the bass from Steinberg, and the group went on to define the Stax sound, releasing records under Booker T. & the MGs, and backing up hits by Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, Wilson Pickett, and Sam & Dave. The group, along with songwriters David Porter and Isaac Hayes, formed the “Big 6” producers pool who, in various combinations, artistically directed Stax recordings. Cropper later mused: “For me it was like going to church every day. You walked in those doors at Stax, you left everything out there behind you. I’d work eighteen hours a day and never even thought about being tired.”

Mavis Staples
Though known for her lead vocal work in the legendary Staples Sisters and on songs like “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” Mavis Staples has been recording solo work since 1969. Singing everything from gospel to folk to soul and disco, Mavis’ talents are unquestioned, but it is her ability for lyrics and phrasing that makes her unique. An almost direct connection to the Staples Sisters socio-political inspiration, Mavis reemerged with one of the year’s best albums, Never Turn Back. Produced by Ry Cooder and featuring guests like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the record asserts Mavis’ commitment to the civil rights struggle.

Angie Stone
Though the revitalization of Stax Records has largely revolved around remastered reissues of classic Stax records, the label is determined to take classic soul music into the future. As a result, one of the first artists to sign with the label was Angie Stone.
Breaking into the business as the lead vocalist on Vertical Hold’s urban dance track “Seems You’re Much Too Busy,” an R&B Top 40 hit in 1993, Stone has been recording solo since 1999. Taking a classic old-school approach to her music, Stone cut songs like “No More Rain (In This Cloud),” which featured samples from Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye”). But she also had a hip, contemporary edge to her music and worked with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, former Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad, as well as D’Angelo.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Soul Food Exhibit

A Soul Food Celebration at the Brooks Museum This Summer

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art celebrates "50 Years of Soul" with the exhibition Soul Food! African American Cooking and Creativity on view from May 19 through August 19, 2007. Over fifty works ─ including photographs, mixed media installations, paintings, and artifacts ─ illustrate the roots of soul food and the development of African American culinary traditions.

The rich cooking customs associated with the genre of soul music is evident throughout Memphis and the world. The origins of these culinary traditions are made visible in Soul Food!, which was organized by The Amistad Center for Art & Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. The exhibition includes works by such well-known artists as Carrie Mae Weems and Whitfield Lovell in addition to numerous original photographs and artifacts that help narrate the journey from Africa to the Americas and from African to African American.

Special events scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition include:

Friday, May 18, 7:00 pm
Terrace Concert featuring Afrissippi
Hill country blues of North Mississippi meets traditional Senegalese melodies for a unique and powerful sound. Bonus: a sneak preview of the exhibition Soul Food! African American Cooking and Creativity.

Wednesday, June 6, 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
1st Wednesday: Art and Soul
An evening celebration featuring live soul music, art tours, a discussion on the origins of soul food by Rhodes professor Luther Ivory, cocktails, and specialties in the Brushmark.

Friday, June 29, 6:30 p.m
Food for the Soul: Film Screening and Tasting
Southern Foodway Alliance president John T. Edge and University of Mississippi filmmaker Joe York present an exclusive screening of the film Above the Line: Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House. Above the Line tells the story of the destruction and subsequent rebuilding of Willie Mae Seaton's famed Scotch House restaurant during Hurricane Katrina. Following the screening there will be a tasting of soul food provided by local restaurants.

To purchase tickets for special events, go to

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Citywide Celebration Delivers 50 Years of Musical Excitement
Over One Spectacular Week

Underscoring its role as a contemporary and historical center of American music, Memphis, Tennessee will host “Seven Days of Soul” June 16- 22, as part of the city’s year-long “50 Years of Soul” celebration.

The milestone commemorates the golden anniversaries of the founding of Stax Records, which pioneered the spare and punchy style of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs and countless other legends; and Royal Studios, which produced the achingly sweet intensity of Al Green and Ann Peebles, among others.

“Memphis is thrilled to present ‘Seven Days of Soul,’” said Kevin Kane, President of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re proud of our city’s ongoing legacy as a breeding ground for these timeless sounds and plan to pack all the excitement soul music has delivered over the past 50 years into one blockbuster week.”

The gala week will engage with an abundance of iridescent sights, sounds and attractions as well as special events inspired by the world’s most universally beloved style of music.

Beale Street, the number one tourist attraction in the state of Tennessee with its wealth of restaurants, bars, hotels and shops, will function as the centerpiece for “Seven Days of Soul.” John Elkington, President and CEO of Performa Entertainment, which oversees the strip, said: “Everyone on the street will take part. This will be one amazing bash. The world has embraced our home-grown soul, and many of the artists who created it have become national treasures. ‘Seven Days of Soul’ will be a time to toast their incredible achievements and party in their honor.”

The nearby Gibson Guitar Factory will also host a soul performance series all week long, showcasing top R&B acts in its intimate lounge setting daily during “Seven Days of Soul.”

To complete the week, Concord Records will host a star-studded concert at Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre on June 22, beginning at 8 pm. The concert, benefiting the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Stax Music Academy, will feature contemporary and legendary Stax artists, including Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Mabel John, the Temprees, Rance Allen and The Reddings, a group consisting of Otis Redding’s sons Dexter and Otis II. Tickets for the event go on sale April 30 from Ticketmaster (, priced at $25, $50, $100, and $1,000.

Memphis is known worldwide as the birthplace of popular music, attracting millions of international fans to the city’s many musical shrines. Attractions that capture this incredible legacy include the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the Gibson Guitar Factory, Sun Studios and Elvis Presley’s Graceland.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lantana Projects' New Exhibit

The relationship between Memphis music and the city's role in the struggle for civil rights has been well documented by many music historians, which is why we'd like to invite you to check out the new exhibit from Lantana Projects' Artist-in-Residence program:

Lantana Projects, the FedEx Institute of Technology and the University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts Friday will present artist Barbara Bickart's Memphis project Friday, April 20, from 7-9 p.m. at 531 S. Main. (The entrance is on G.E. Patterson.) There is no charge to attend.

“When” is a video installation performance piece that explores our relationship to the past and the future, highlighting images of visitors to the National Civil Rights Museum. “When” investigates our relationship to this specific cultural, historical site and its legacy.
Bickart is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is project-based. Her projects take the form of video installation, video performance, and experimental documentary work. They have been presented globally in locations including London, Argentina, Israel, Croatia, Australia, and New York.

The Artist-in-Residence program, designed by Lantana Projects the FedEx Institute and the College of Communication and Fine Arts, brings international artists in technology and new media to Memphis to explore the unique innovation that occurs from linking renowned artists with research scientists working at the frontier of technology.

More information is available online at or

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Beale Street Music Festival Update

In addition to the very exciting news that the first Friday of the Beale Street Music Festival will include headliners Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission is planning a free-to-the-public "after party" to take place in WC Handy Park on Beale Street.

For more information on the Beale Street Festival and other Memphis In May Events, like the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, visit

And if you want to make new friends with the Memphis music scene, visit