This past weekend, myself and my friend Kat K. embarked on a weekend road trip to Memphis, Tennessee. We set off on our journey Friday morning and just 30 minutes out of St. Louis, down highway 55 South, we came across a most peculiar phenomenon. What appeared to be the carcasses of armadillos littered all over the highway. I wrote off the first couple as possums as I had no idea that the animal inhabited my state of Missouri and surely my mind was just playing tricks on me. If they did, they couldn't be living this far north, right? I convinced Kat that we would need to pull over and capture it on film for proof and of course, your viewing pleasure.
Crossing the bridge from Arkansas to Tennessee a sign reads: Welcome to Memphis "The home of the Blues and birth place of Rock & Roll". A debatable statement, but I am inclined to agree. Memphis indeed has an American musical lineage that rivals any other city in this country. We decided that our first stop after checking into our room at The Artisan Hotel would be Goner Records. Goner Records is an independent record label and record store co-owned by Eric Friedl of The Oblivians and Zac Ives specializing in punk rock and garage rock music. Needless to say, together, we spent a small fortune loading up on vinyl. We'd hit Goner one more time to sew up the loose ends before the weekend was said and done.
After our shopping spree at Goner, we hit the Xanadu Books and Music store. As you may have guessed, it's not your typical book store. Not only can you pick up a good book but you can purchase homemade shakers (think maracas) made of beer bottle caps, guitars made of cigar boxes, and Orange amps. The stores owner, Johnny Lowebow is also a very talented one man band. We were treated to an impromptu performance. Johnny strummed his guitar simultaneously while playing the drums. It looked something like this:
Next, we headed back to the hotel to plot our next move. We did very little pre-planning for this trip as we agreed that it would be better suited as a spontaneous kind of thing. We didn't take in to consideration the fact that Memphis tends to cut business hours much earlier than they do here in St. Louis. We remained determined to keep things going full speed despite the minor set backs we encountered. While many of the places we intended on visiting were closed for the night, there was one particular spot just across the street from the Artisan that was still wide open for business...This Place:
We pulled up and parked in the back, still pondering if this was a good idea or not. When Kat stepped out of the car and immediately onto a used condom wrapper, we knew that we had come to the right place. For $40 a piece, we had our palms read. While my reading was a bit of hit and miss, Kat was noticeably shaken by the extraordinary accuracy of the reading Mrs. Monica had delivered. Here is a pic of me looking a bit skeptical.
We had dinner then headed over to the Poplar Lounge for booze and conversation. The place was absolutely dead but we didn't seem to mind much. We got drunk and then went to sleep.
Saturday morning we got up and made plans to hit the Stax Museum. Stax Records was
founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the name Stax Records was adopted in 1961. The label was a major factor in the creation of the Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles, also releasing gospel, funk, jazz, and blues recordings. While Stax is renowned for its output of African-American music, the label was founded by two white businesspeople, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton, and featured several popular ethnically-integrated bands, including the label's house band, Booker T. & the MG's. Stax were responsible for releasing/creating records from outstanding artists such as Otis Redding, Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, and even Elvis Presley recorded records there in the 70's. I was told that visiting the Stax Museum would be like a religious experience and indeed it was. Me and Kat were equally moved by it all.
From Stax we headed on over to Shangri-La Records which carries a nice stock of used records. This leads to my lamest moment of the trip. The previous nights booze and 4 1/2 hour commute had finally caught up with me and I was suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. I flipped through some records and the ones I contemplated purchasing seemed a little pricey and so I left Shangri-La empty handed but Kat was able to grab herself a few 7 inchers. We then darted across the street to Huey's for a burger and then back to the hotel for a well deserved nap.
Here is the reason why my old ass is unapologetic about needing to nap. As it turns out, it would lead to one of our most memorable moments. As I slept, Kat had become restless and went outside to talk on her cell phone. I woke up to discover her gone and headed downstairs to have a cigarette where I'd find her sitting on a bench. As we sat, an older man approached us and mentioned that the hotel sent him outside after he had walked in with a lit cigarette. He admitted that he couldn't keep track of which places allowed smoking or not so he just assumes they all do until he is notified otherwise. Unbeknownst to us, this man was outlaw country rocker, Curtis Buck a.k.a Jerry Mcgill. He told us of his current "hit" record featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and "five colored working girls who could all sing". As it turns out, Jerry recorded for Sun Records in the 50's and was a rhythm guitarist/road manager for Waylon Jennings in the 1970's. He was notorious for carrying up to three guns on him at a time and ran into trouble for that in the 70's when airports started using metal detectors. Not only that, but he was being followed around by a man from Ireland who was creating a documentary about him. Below is a photo of Kat and Jerry Mcgill and one of Jerry's Sun recordings.
It was now time for some nourishment so we headed downtown for Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. The place was packed to the gills with patrons. We placed our order and waited for an hour or more for our names to be called. The wait was well worth it and besides that, you can also purchase a 40oz of beer to help you through. We took our chicken dinners down to the riverfront and devoured them. I can honestly say that it was the best fried chicken I'd ever had and I highly recommend giving it a go. I noticed that in the very back in a garage, a man was frying up the chicken. I sneaked myself back there in hopes of a photo op. On my way back I heard a woman jokingly holler out "don't give him the recipe"! It turns out, Gus's was catering a meeting with members of congress in attendance just a street over at Earnestine & Hazel's Bar & Grill, hence the need for the extra fryer in the garage.
Now it's time we hit the Hi-Tone Cafe for some unadulterated rock & roll with The Oscars, Nobunny, and The Spits! The last time I was at the Hi-Tone it was a hot and sweaty mess and this time would be no different. There were a few 100 less people sucking up all the oxygen though which proved to be to our advantage. Kicking things off were Memphis's own, the Oscars. As it turns out, the rhythm guitar player for this band also rang up our purchases at Goner Records. They put on a damn fine show and set the mood accordingly.
Next up to bat was Oakland, California's Nobunny who put on a stellar performance of lo-fi bubblegum tunes while dressed in little underwear, high heels, and a filthy rabbit mask. At one point Kat mentioned that she was terrified of masks. I replied that it might be a bad time to inform her that the Spits would most likely be wearing masks of some sort as well. Nobunny shot us with a gun that spewed glitter and set fireworks off on the stage. Everyone seemed to be quite pleased and I was no exception. Between bands, we stepped outside for a smoke and seen the previously mentioned Jerry Mcgill and he indeed had an Irishman and a camera man following him around. Kat struck up a conversation with him which may be included in the documentary. I'll keep you posted.
Rounding out the bill was Seattle's loud, and noisy Spits! The Spits played fast and furiously jumping into the next number as soon as the previous ended. The crowd was going apeshit slam dancing and even stage diving. After the show, another fellow St. Louisan we met earlier walked out of the Hi-Tone with a dazed look on his face and simply said "that was fucking awesome". I wholeheartedly agreed.
It went something like this:
That pretty much concludes our Memphis trip this past weekend. There were a few other things we meant to accomplish but I think we jammed as much we could in there. We never really had a dull moment so I have no regrets.