You’ve heard a million times that Memphis is the “Birthplace of Rock-and-Roll” and “The Home of the Blues,” but those two city slogans couldn’t be more true in 2015. With the resurgence of big-name artists coming to the New Daisy Theater, The Hi-Tone helping make Crosstown a hot spot, Minglewood Hall routinely selling out shows, the legendary Orpheum Theatre still packing the house, and FedExForum bringing world-class entertainment to town, it’s fair to say that Memphis is a music fan’s paradise. We’re also honoring our past with the opening of the Blues Hall of Fame, adding another monumental museum to accompany Stax Records, Sun Studios, and the Rock ’N’ Soul Museum. We’ve got our own record pressing plant, DIY recording studios, variety shows that stream across the globe, and enough music fests to make you dizzy, and the sounds that come out of Memphis are as diverse as the people who live here. Now that you’ve been given the official introduction to what this music city is all about, let’s jump right in with biographies on more than 25 bands currently causing a ruckus in Memphis.
Beale Street Blues and Beyond
W e’ll start with what made us a music city in the first place: the blues. Ghost Town Blues Band are carrying the torch that folks like Jimbo Mathus and the Dickinson Brothers lit for them, with massive tour dates across the country routinely played, in addition to performing at Beale Street Music Fest for the past few years. Ghost Town Blues Band leader Matt Isbell also crafts homemade instruments out of everything from brooms to shovels, and his unique ability to turn household items into blues instruments is displayed on the band’s latest album, Hard Road to Hoe . Daddy Mack (of the Daddy Mack Blues Band) also continues to crank out albums when he’s not performing on Beale Street, his latest effort being A Blues Man Looks at 70 .
Another blues artist proving that age is nothing but a number is Mississippi native Leo Bud Welch, who released the excellent I Don’t Prefer No Blues album earlier this year on Big Legal Mess. Welch routinely plays Memphis, and is a must-see anytime he’s in town. Barbara Blue, also known as the Reigning Queen of Beale Street, is also cranking out new music, and her latest album Sweet, Strong and Tight was released this spring. Blue recently received a Brass Note on the Beale Street Blues Walk of Fame, and she can be found behind the piano almost every night at Silky O’Sullivan’s. The Mighty Souls Brass Band released their debut album, Lift Up! earlier this year, and most recently the band had the bittersweet honor of performing during the funeral procession of B.B. King.
Americana and more
Longstanding local duo Deering and Down are gearing up to release their eighth album, and as a teaser the band dropped the excellent “You’re the One” single last month. The new song came in the form of a music video produced by Ditty TV, a studio that’s been producing a plethora of videos for local bands under the guidance of legendary engineer Doug Easley. Prolific songwriter Amy LaVere also has a new album that’s barely three months old, this time collaborating with husband and noted guitar player Will Sexton to create Hallelujah I’m a Dreamer for Archer Records. On Hallelujah , LaVere and Sexton captured the show they have taken on the road together, making for a stripped-down and approachable first album together.
One of the lesser-known stars in the Memphis music map is Mark Edgar Stuart, who released his second album, Trinity, My Dear , earlier this year on Mad Jack Records. Using the success of his first album Blues For Lou as a springboard, Stuart has made a name for himself in a city known for excellent songwriters. He has limited appearances in Memphis this summer, and his live show shouldn’t be missed. On the opposite side of limited appearances is Marcella Simien, who can normally be found playing at Bar DKDC or Mollie Fontaine’s at least once a week. Simien wears her Louisiana roots on her sleeve, and provides the most authentic Louisiana R&B the city has to offer in her live show and her recordings. Whether performing solo or with her band “The Lovers,” Simien has become a household name to even the most moderate of local music supporters. Dead Soldiers are another local band that needs little introduction, considering their propensity to perform locally early and often. Dead Soldiers are currently working on a full-length album, in addition to extensive tour dates that will take them throughout the region. Cory Branan is no stranger to the Memphis spotlight, but his career has experienced a bit of a second wind since signing to Bloodshot Records. Branan recently released the album I Would Die 4 U , and appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly earlier this summer.
Memphis has been a mecca of garage rock and underground rock-and-roll since the late ’70s, but the current crop of high-energy rock bands on the dive bar circuit are some of the strongest in recent memory. Goner Records’ gals Nots recently finished an extensive West Coast tour, and to celebrate they released “Virgin Mary,” their third single for the local label. Also on Goner Records is the six-member anomaly known as Aquarian Blood. Made up of husband and wife duo Laurel and JB Horrell, Aquarian Blood started out as a recording project then morphed into one of Memphis’ most exciting garage rock bands, with local and out of town gigs scheduled frequently. James and the Ultrasounds were one of the first bands to take advantage of the new vinyl pressing plant Memphis Record Pressing, and the high-energy four-piece led by James Godwin can normally be found gigging at Bar DKDC on any given weekend. Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks recently released Live in Memphis , a semi-live album that pays homage to the end of the Burgundy Ballroom era, a venue that the band called home and threw parties at for more than a year. Manateees are still going strong after nearly five years (that’s like, 20 years in punk time), even if the lineup has gone from eight people to two during their reign of terror. The band has a new full-length lined up on 12XU Records (run by Matador Records co-founder Gerald Cosloy) and they recently finished a short tour through the Midwest.
Who Run It?
Yo Gotti recently proved that Memphis rap is still intact, throwing a huge (and sold out) extravaganza at Mud Island Amphitheater to celebrate his birthday. The rapper brought out everyone from local Snootie Wild to mega-star Nicki Minaj during the five-hour celebration, and his white Lamborghini was backstage to serve as a reminder on how far the pride of North Memphis has come. Tori Who Dat is another name to look out for in the local rap realm, and she recently released the single “Love the Way” as a teaser track for an upcoming album, Krewsades . Preauxx will drop his latest album Forever I Will later this summer, and a rare local appearance will be scheduled to celebrate the release. Da Mafia 6ix (DJ Paul’s latest incarnation of Three Six Mafia) will also drop a new record, but details of the release are still limited.
E vil Army is back in action after a bit of a hiatus, and the thrash-metal band has releases lined up on Hells Headbangers Records (run by Phil Anselmo) set for later this year. A single by Winter Coffin (a defunct side project of Evil Army that featured Jay Reatard), was just reissued on Blak Skul records, and the limited record can currently be found at local record stores. Metal youngsters Dawn Patrol recently released Democracy Delivered , their first full-length recorded at Ardent Studios. Dawn Patrol seem to perform out of town more than locally, but their live show is worth checking out when they do decide to appear in town. Reserving Dirtnaps are another heavy band to pay attention to, as they feature one-time Clenched Fist guitarist Paul Doherty and the scariest front man in Memphis: Brandon Pearce. Local death metal band Ritual Decay seem content to play anywhere BUT Memphis, as they have shows booked everywhere from San Antonio to Miami this summer.
The Freshman Class
E ven with all the established acts we’ve listed here, more talent just keeps cropping up. University of Memphis student Mary Owens released an amazing first album called Sweet Soul on the school’s Blue Tom Records label, and Owens can be found at venues like Lafayette’s Music Room throughout the summer. Blackberries are another new band to look out for, and their first recordings of psychedelic garage rock are available on Sound Cloud. Greyscale have a propensity to play pop-up shows in strange locations, but that shouldn’t discourage you from checking out their brand of catchy noise rock. The band recently got written up in USA Today , and they will release Limn Everything later this year. Another BAA Records band worth your attention is Ruby Dawn, the new project of Magic Kids drummer Ben Bauermeister. Ruby Dawn also features singer Ashley Gerst and the duo will release their debut EP this fall. Pillow Talk have been making waves in the indie/shoe gaze music scene with their debut album What We Should Have Said on Animal Sounds Records, and last year the band had the honor of opening for Weezer at Snowden Grove Amphitheater.