Sunday, November 11, 2007
More Reasons Why Memphis May Be the New Punk Capital of the USA
Peter Case, one of my longest-standing friends, loves Memphis. I tried to bribe him to eschew his Americana Conference appearance in Nashville to come hang with us for Punk Rock Day of the Dead... not to worry... Peter honors his obligations... but it did bring us back to that conversation we've had on more than a few occasions about just how great Memphis is and how much we both love it and the musicians who make music here.
Peter and I have frequently been neighbors in LA, but in the last few years, we seem to have the great pleasant surprise of running into each other while we're both on tour. In 2006, Peter and I ran into each other in Memphis during the Ponderosa Stomp. I saw him in the crowd checking out a band that featured one of my Memphis pals.... and in 2007, Peter helped another of my Memphis pals get a foothold on gigging in LA, and since my suggestion that they meet, Peter has invited Ron Franklin to open a few acoustic gigs... and its like they were meant to share a stage!
Earlier this year, when I learned that Peter was in Memphis performing in a Folk festival and doing an in-store at Goner (with Tommy Ramone and his new bluegrass band Uncle Monk), I knew that Memphis had earned the crown that LA created for itself in the 70s.
Back in the LA punk rock days, when Peter's band, the Plimsouls were plying their particular brand of punk-energized power pop laced with garage and r&b tinges, LA had earned a very special designation as a place where fans embraced all genres of music... especially American roots music.
Punk rockers were great friends of rockabilly bands and the success of The Blasters and the spin-offs of X only just begin to hint at the support that came from the punk rock world for the important element in rock n roll...the roots thing.
They were one big happy family and even British rockabilly punks married into LA punk royalty for a spell. I see the same thing happening in Memphis. On Friday night, I tried to see as much live music as I could because a whole lot of great bands were playing that night and there was that very same Los Angeles 1977 vibe of cross-pollinating musical genres with an undercurrent of punk rock energy.
I saw The Wallendas, a band influenced by the Byrds and fronted by the original bass player from the Reigning Sound, Jeremy Scott. One of the guitarists in the Wallendas is the Gun Club's own Jim Duckworth. Their set was followed by the Black & Whites from Oxford Mississippi, a band that is equal parts Ramones and Real Kids, and are capable of turning in a performance that channels the spirit of the Germs. I know that might sound weird, but I've always believed that the influences upon pop culture are cumulative and hybridized at once.
After that double shot of pop and punk, I headed out for an evening of covers by a man I call the Human Jukebox, John Paul Keith, who is a lot rock n roll and a lot country just like the Blaster Alvin Brothers are... and he fits right in here...and if he were playing music in 1977, he'd have fit right into punk rock LA! He's been doing double duty on his own and in Jack Oblivian's band... and it kind of ties up the punk rock / roots / r&b / garage thing up in a perfect bow.
This is another era where good music defies a genre-lization but is powered by the ethos of punk rock.
And FINALLY... what ties Memphis up in my personal pantheon of punk is that everyone here knows (or knows of) Pleasant!
Whenever I am in Memphis, I make it a point to catch the regular show put on by the inimitable Ross Johnson and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans. This past Wednesday, Ross kept mentioning Pleasant all night. That photo above goes out to you Ross!
Ross Johnson has a new CD out on Goner, and while I'll miss his CD release party, I'll have the CD to entertain me.... while you're here, please click over to Ross Johnson's myspace page... listen to his stuff and make him your friend...