Sounds Around Town

Welcome to Sounds Around Town, a semi-regular column about who is recording what and where in Memphis. Photo courtesy of Dee Dee Bridgewater via Billboard.com.

  • Grammy and Tony winner Dee Dee Bridgewater recently cut an album at Royal Studios, appropriately titled Memphis. Produced by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, Kirk Whalum, and Bridgewater’s daughter/manager Tulani Bridgewater, the first release is a cover of the Staples Singers’ classic “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)”. Listen to an exclusive preview at Billboard. Austin, TX singer and guitarist Jackie Venson has also been at Royal recently, working on her next project, The Love Suite. Luther Dickinson is also working at Royal, producing another record for Nashville singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. The sessions feature Luther on guitar, Cody Dickinson on drums, Leroy Hodges on bass, and Reverend Charles Hodges on organ.
  • At Music + Arts Studio, producer Carl Wise and engineer Daniel Lynn have been working with Canadian artist Crystal Taylor. Young Memphis band Summer Avenue just finished up their debut album there, produced by Kevin Cubbins and engineered by Kevin Houston. Blues artist Dana Fuchs returns to Music + Arts soon, as will my band mates, Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, for an upcoming project featuring guitarist David Cousar and drummer George Sluppick.
  • Memphis favorites Star & Micey are working with Curry Webber at Sun Studio. (In addition, the Matt Stansbury and the Romance album we told you about a while back, which Curry cut at Sun, comes out tomorrow).
  • Memphis’ own Tommy Cathey returned to Ardent Studios to record his debut solo LP with Adam Hill engineering. Tommy’s history with Ardent includes Target, Steve Cropper/Yvonne Elliman, and his bass contributions to Big Star’s Third LP in 1974. 

    Pictured in Ardent’s Studio C L to R: Scott Sudbury (guitar), Mark Ross (keys), Tommy Cathey (Lead vocals, bass) Buddy Nemenz (guitar), Bill Marshall (drums), Adam Hill (engineer). Photo by Michelle Grider

  • At the recently revamped American Studios, Toby Vest is mixing an album from the Echo Friendly, the New York City band with deep Memphis ties. The band features Jake Rabinach, his wife Shannon Esper, Greg Faison, and Jake Vest. Toby cut the tracks at the band’s rehearsal space in Brooklyn back in March.
  • Over at Bruce Watson’s brand new Delta-Sonic Sound, Nashville’s Legendary Shack Shakers frontman J.D. Wilkes has recorded a solo LP, Fire Dream. The album was produced by Watson, engineered by Jeff Powell, and mixed by Clay Jones. Memphis singer/songwriter (and another band mate of mine) Mark Edgar Stuart has also been working with Watson as producer at Delta Sonic. In addition to doing horn and vocal overdubs on Bette Smith’s Jet Lagger, Bruce has been doing archival tape transfers of blues recordings from the Gene Rosenthal archives, as well as syncing audio and video of the 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival concert film, out on Fat Possum in 2018.
  • Producer Matt Ross-Spang has been cutting more tracks for Lucero’s next record at Sam Phillips Recording, and has been working with Thirty Tigers artist Charley Crockett. Matt also recently cut a record there on Austin’s Dale Watson, with Will Sexton on guitar.

 

Austin’s Ameripolitan Awards Are Coming to Memphis in 2018

Austin, Texas honky tonk institution Dale Watson is bringing his 5th Annual Ameripolitan Music Awards to Memphis. The ceremony will be held February 13th at the new Guest House at Graceland and features awards for categories like Outlaw, Honky Tonk, and Rockabilly.  Austin Music Source has Dale’s explanation for the move:

“Austin has been great to us, but when we first started the awards, the dream was to bring the Ameripolitan Music Awards to different host cities,” Watson said in a statement. “And for the fifth year, moving to Memphis, the epicenter of roots music, seemed like a natural progression.”

Dale also recently purchased a home in Memphis near Graceland, which he plans to run as a 50’s styled bed and breakfast – complete with a period-correct recording studio – when he is away on tour or in Austin. The Commercial-Appeal has the full story. You can purchase your tickets to the Ameripolitan Music Awards here, or follow @Ameripolitan on Instagram for a chance to win a VIP package. Welcome to Memphis, Dale and Celine!

Memphis Business Journal: Nonprofit Arts Industry Drives $197m in Annual Spending

“You would not see the development and resurgence of the economy if it were not for the arts.” – Phil Trenary, Memphis Chamber of Commerce CEO, quoted in this impressive report in the Memphis Business Journal. I just did an interview this weekend with the Nashville daily, The Tennessean, about what an exciting time it is to be making music in Memphis. Word is starting to get out about what a good thing we have.

Royal Studio’s Boo Mitchell: The Tape Op Magazine Interview

Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell. Photo by Larry Crane, Tape Op Magazine

Here’s an epic interview with Royal Studio’s Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell in this month’s issue of Tape Op Magazine. Boo gives a vibrant oral history of Royal Studios, Hi Records, and his father, the late Willie Mitchell, one of the greatest record producers in American musical history. He talks about what it was like to grow up watching his dad work with greats like Al Green, and his own development into one of the country’s hottest producers today – thanks in no small part to Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, the first #1 out of Memphis since “Disco Duck”, the first #1 out of Royal since “Let’s Stay Together”, and the first Memphis recording to ever win a Grammy for Record of the Year.

The article also provides an insight into the intersection of race and the recording business in Memphis in the 1950’s and 60’s, when Willie Mitchell was coming into his own as a producer and engineer. Hi Records started out as a white-owned rockabilly label, and engineer Ray Harris wouldn’t allow Mitchell, who was black, to touch the console, or even have his picture on his own record cover.

I think it was sometime around ‘64 that Ray Harris sent somebody to get something out of his car. The guy opens his trunk up, and there’s this fucking KKK outfit in his trunk. One of the black musicians was walking by, saw it, and knew. He was like, “What the fuck?” Pop had a meeting with Joe about Ray, like, “What are we going to do about Ray?” Joe said, “I don’t know.” Pop replied, “Let me buy him out.” So Pop bought Ray out. Pop told him, “Ray, I learned a lot from you.” Ray said, “What’s that?” Pop said, “Never cut a record like you cut it.”

It’s a fascinating interview for anyone interested in Memphis music and history, and anyone interested in the art of making soulful records.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I serve on the board of the Recording Academy Memphis Chapter with Boo, and I also consider him a dear personal friend. Congratulations to Boo and the Mitchell family as they celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Royal, and as they launch new ventures like Royal Records and Royal Radio. Love and happiness!

 

Sounds Around Town, July 2017

Welcome to Sounds Around Town, a semi-regular column about who is recording what and where in Memphis. Pictured, L-R: Ken Coomer, Jeff Powell, Susan Marshall, Richard Alan Ford, McKenna Bray, Dave Smith, Wesley Graham, and David Cousar, at Sam Phillips Recording Service. Photo by Mary Brand.

  • Plenty of activity over at Ardent Studios this month. Boston, MA band The Push Stars recently tracked a new album in Studio A with Adam Hill. The Reputations from Austin, TX recorded a 10 song LP produced by non other than legendary Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. And Los Angeles-based recording artist Fernando Perdomo tracked his latest, The Golden Hour, with Adam Hill in two days. Here’s a great video Fernando made where he talks about the sessions. As he says, Ardent is “one of the Abbey Roads of America.”
  • Over at Sam Phillips Recording Service, producer Susan Marshall has been working with Memphis singer/songwriter McKenna Bray on her full-length debut for Madjack Records. The sessions were engineered by Susan’s husband, Jeff Powell and feature former Wilco drummer Ken Coomer.
  • Speaking of Jeff Powell, he’s been busy cutting lacquers in his vinyl mastering room at Phillips, Take Out Vinyl. In addition to a box set of Al Green’s complete 7″ singles, Jeff has cut lacquers recently for Margo Price, Lukas Nelson, Wage War, Marshall Crenshaw, and two 12″ LP projects for yours truly: my band Motel Mirrors‘ full-length debut, In the Meantime, and my 4th solo LP, Heart Shaped Shadow, both for Little Rock’s Last Chance Records. Jeff also engineered some overdub sessions at Phillips for the forthcoming Titus Andronicus record.
  • Scott Bomar at Electraphonic Recording has been mixing the new record from Memphis singer/songwriter Mark Edgar Stuart.
  • The High/Low Recording crew has been busy at their new digs, the former American East studio (aka Easley/McCain), finishing up the Marcella and Her Lovers full-length debut, and recording Memphis-native Jake Vest (brother of High/Low honcho Toby Vest).
  • Memphis producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang has been in Nashville engineering the new John Prine record with Dave Cobb producing.

Matt Ross-Spang Explains “Slapback Echo” at Sun Studio

 

Ever wondered how Sam Phillips got that great “slapback” echo sound on all those classic Sun Studio recordings? Memphis-based producer/engineer and Grammy-winner Matt Ross-Spang shows how it was done in this exclusive clip from Rolling Stone.  Elvis Presley – A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953–1955 Recordings comes out July 28th from Sony/Legacy.

Royal Studios Announces 60th Anniversary Celebrations

Royal Studios held a press conference this week at the Orpheum Theater to announce their 60th Anniversary celebrations. Royal’s Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell detailed plans for three events over the summer and fall to mark the occasion, July 28th at Royal, October 14th at the Levitt Shell, and November 18th at the Orpheum Theater. Bob Mehr over at the Commercial-Appeal has the full story.

The Mitchell family

#1 Records From Memphis’ Matt Ross-Spang and Boo Mitchell

L: Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell, photo by Charles Nardi. R: Matt Ross-Spang, photo by Austin Miller

Congratulations to Memphis producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang for a big week. Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound, which was engineered by Matt and produced by Dave Cobb, is the #1 Rock, #1 Country, and #4 overall record the week of July 8, according to Billboard. Matt also worked on the new Blind Boys of Alabama album, Almost Home, which is featured over at NPR’s All Songs Considered. In addition to doing some remodeling of the Studio B tracking room at Sam Phillips Recording Service, Matt recently took time sit down with Tape Op Magazine for their podcast. Congratulations, Matt!

It’s been another big month for Memphis producer/engineer Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell. North Mississippi All-StarsPrayer For Peace was produced by Mitchell at Royal Studios and hit on #1 on the Billboard Blues Album chart the week of June 24. The album is Mitchell’s first #1 as a producer. It supplanted yet another Royal release at #1 on the Blues Album chart, Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm. These albums make the second and third releases from Royal Studios hit #1 in the last 6 months (the first was Melissa Etheridge’s Memphis Rock And Soul). Last but not least in Royal news, congratulations to Charles Hodges, Leroy Hodges, and Howard Grimes (as well as the late Teenie Hodges and Al Jackson, Jr.) for Hi Rhythm’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association.

 

Recording Academy – Memphis Chapter New Member Celebration

Photo by Greg Campbell/WireImage for The Recording Academy.
The Recording Academy – Memphis Chapter had its New Membership Celebration Monday night at the Halloran Center. I’m happy to begin my first term as a chapter governor, and I’m honored to serve with such a great group of people, including our new chapter president, Gebre Waddell. Exciting young Memphis artists Julien Baker and Marco Pavé performed, as did the legendary Don Bryant. It was a great night and it’s an exciting time to be making music in Memphis, Tennessee. More photos over at our chapter’s Facebook page.

Sounds Around Town

Welcome to our semi-regular column, “Sounds Around Town”, all about who is recording what and where in Memphis. (Pictured, Jackie Venson. Photo by Pooneh Ghana).

  • Royal Studio‘s Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell was working last week with Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Jackie Venson.
  • Memphis by-way-of Louisiana swamp-soul chanteuse Marcella René Simien and her band, aka Marcella and Her Lovers, recently began their new full-length at American. Produced by High/Low Recording‘s Toby Vest and recorded and engineered by Pete Matthews, this is the maiden voyage for their new venture at the old American East building, later known as Easley-McCain.
  • Scott Bomar at Electraphonic Recording recently produced and engineered the debut release for Atlanta-based artist Liz Brasher. Scott has also been working with local singer-songwriter Mark Edgar Stuart on an upcoming project.

(Liz Brasher and Scott Bomar. Photo courtesy of the artist’s Instagram).

  • Jeff Powell has been busy cutting lacquers in his mastering room at Sam Phillips Recording, including a box set of Al Green’s complete Hi Records singles (a total of 26 7″ 45rpm records), as well as vinyl releases for Dr. John, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Gregg Allman. He engineered the recently released Afghan Whigs record In Spades in part at Phillips, and produced his wife Susan Marshall‘s upcoming covers album, named after the studio’s address: 639 Madison.
  • Speaking of Susan Marshall, she produced the debut from singer/songwriter McKenna Bray at Phillips, which husband Jeff cut the tracks for. The first single, “The Way I Loved You”, drops today on MadJack Records.
  • There’s been a lot of activity the past couple of months over at Music + Arts Studio. Back in March, rapper and activist Marco Pavé did pre-production for his hip-hop opera there. Jazz musicians and twin brothers Carl and Alan Maguire recorded an album with the legendary Donald Brown producing.  In April, Kevin Houston mixed the Kevin Cubbins-produced debut from young local band Summer Avenue, as well as the soundtrack to a documentary film about famed Memphis dancer Lil Buck. In May, the studio did a remote live recording of the Lovelight Orchestra (featuring blues vocalist John Németh) at Bar DKDC, for a live album produced by Ross-Spang and engineered by Houston. May also saw sessions at Music + Arts for Ruf Records artists Big Daddy Wilson and Dana Fuchs.

(Lovelight Orchestra at Bar DKDC. Photo by Nikki Boertman, Commercial-Appeal)

  • Speaking of Matt Ross-Spang, he recently finished work over at Sam Phillips Recording Service on a new record for California artist Nicki Bluhm. May also saw the release of the Ross-Spang produced Sweet Kind of Blue from British folk artist Emily Barker, recorded at Phillips last year and engineered by Jeff Powell.
  • Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records comes out this month. Produced by Tamara Saviano and Luther Dickinson for the Americana Music Society and engineered by Matt Ross-Spang and Kevin Houston, all proceeds go to St. Jude’s Research Hospital. The sessions were divided between Sun and Phillips, and feature performances of classic Sun material from artist like Valerie June, Jimbo Mathus, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Shawn Camp, Chuck Mead, Amy LaVere, and more. I was lucky enough to play guitar in the house band on the sessions, and I have my own track, a cover of Warren Smith’s “Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache”. (Thank you to Alex Greene at the Memphis Flyer for the write-up).