Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beale Street/The Soul of Memphis: "Sounds Like The Blues"

  The R & B Review

Tim Marchio is back again writing about his recent visit to Memphis and arguably the best music street in American, Beale Street.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Memphis on a business trip.  I had heard of Beale Street but did not have a real expectation of what it was.  Within walking distance from my hotel was an area one block long and lined on both sides with blues clubs highlighted by BB King's club.  Make no mistake, these were not high end expensive eateries with occasional music on the weekends.  These were authentic, old, some a bit weary from age, bars where Delta and Chicago Blues were the order of the day.  I went out on a Monday and Tuesday night to walk around and was greeted with at least five live acts each night at various places along the strip.  I was able to wander in and out of the clubs to take in a bit of each.  The feel is old and authentic.  Mr. King's club was located in an original building set up for southern hospitality, food and music.

In one club there was an older man playing harmonica from his new (self produced) CD with his much younger backing band, playing real blues as he lived it.  Next door, actually part of the same club, was a younger band playing the blues they loved, but most likely hadn't yet lived.  A interesting juxtaposition, yet both were authentic, good and musical in their own style.  I was entranced by the variety and quality of the music, because, when all is said and done, isn't that what this is all about, the music? 
On Tuesday evening I was on my way to BB King's club to see a band talked up by a waiter when I was there for lunch.  As I walked past a bar I heard some music I liked, so I sauntered in.  With 3 other patrons in this club, I saw a band (members in their twenties it seemed) play songs from Otis Redding, Clapton, Hendrix, George Thorogood and even the song "Wipeout" (by request from a slightly inebriated guy at the bar).   I thought they were quite good and loved their ability to change style so readily.   Then I went to BB Kings' where there were many more people and the band was more professional and experienced (also playing a Hendrix tune, The Stones and other blues standards).   
I have never seen a more special block for music.  Memphis has a very rich history in Rhythm and Blues, Soul and RockElvis lived here and the careers of many famous artists started in the two studios founded in Memphis; Stax, who had the likes of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MG's, Wilson Pickett and more; and Sun Records had Elvis, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison were both located very close to Beale Street.  This area provided a true fusion of Blues, Soul, Rhythm & Blues and Rock & RollSun and Stax launched the careers of so many visionary, iconic and important artists in several musical genres in such a short period of time. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this city in the history of music and it's influence in music as we hear it today.  Try to find an artist today that has not been at least partially influenced by some of the artists whose careers were launched by Sun and Stax.
I doubt it can be done. 
Interestingly, when I was being taken back to the airport to leave this great music oasis, I spoke to the cabbie and found out that he had played with the great Albert King and had written songs with and played on the recorded versions of several Al Green tunes.  I could have spoken to him for hours.  He also worked as a sound engineer at BB King's.  What a rich history.  Apparently the music doesn't leave this place, it may take a short sojourn but it always comes back home to Memphis.  This is where it all happens and where it always will.  This city, this small strip of old buildings, sings with the music of the blues and the call to those who feel its magic is so magnetic, Beale Street will remain the home of this particular form of art. 

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