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The Collective Presents: Liberation


Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College is pleased to host "The Collective Presents: Liberation" curated by Lawrence Matthews, featuring Terry Lynn, Natalie Eddings, Nubia Yasin, and Desmond Lewis. The exhibition will be on view February 23 - March 24. A panel discussion with the artists will take place on March 13 at 6:00 pm in Blount Auditorium. A closing reception and performance will take place in the gallery on March 23Please note that there is a closing reception rather than an opening reception for this exhibition. Full information for all events can be found here.

Curator Lawrence Matthews says, I feel like many times as a black artists we end up having to carry the weight of black people on our shoulders when creating. The same way many times black people in majority white spaces become unwillingly the representatives of black people. Our experiences and ideas must be filtered through a lens of blackness and preexisting ideas of the black experience to be accepted by others. For this exhibition I wanted to find artists who create work about their experiences using non-traditional approaches to mediums and to the ideas of blackness. I didn’t want to pick work with imagery we are used to seeing from black artists especially in the south. Every artist in this exhibition explores their self through imagery and medium and due to who they are the work becomes inherently black. I wanted to pick artists with contemporary inspirations and ways of exploring who they are even if it doesn’t come off looking like monolithic ideas of blackness.

Located in Clough Hall on the campus of Rhodes College, the gallery is open Tuesday - Saturday11 am - 5 pm. The gallery will be closed March 3-10 for spring break. Admission is always free.

Featured artists:
Nubia Yasin is a Memphis born multi-disciplinary artist with a focus on the narrative of what it is to be Black in America. She began her journey into art through writing, but has since expanded to filmmaking and performance poetry among other things. Nubia Yasin is one of the youngest artists to have work in Elliot Perry’s collection of Black art. Her short films have won awards from Indie Memphis, including Best Sound Design (Squirm, 2017) and Jury’s Special Choice (Spoils, 2017). Along with her filmmaking accomplishments, Yasin is also a decorated spoken word artist, having been awarded nationally and competed in the annual Brave New Voices international poetry contest the last two years.  She creates in an effort to shine a light on the very real black stories that get little to no exposure. 

Natalie Eddings says, I am a local Memphis artist who uses photography to question life, as we know it. Using the camera to depict our ever- inquisitive mind, my work aligns with humanity’s search for truth, light, and beauty. I will earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Art with a concentration in Photography in May 2018.

Terry Lynn  says, Growing up in a tight-knit family,  it was only natural that relatives told stories about growing up in rural communities across the Southeastern US. Those memories and reflections have become my visual vocabulary. In my current body of work I am investigating the complexities of my Southern experience. I want the work to evoke moments of reflection and contemplation about our surroundings.

Desmond Lewis, a sculptor, grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Desmond is currently the Studio Technician for the Department of Art + Design at Austin Peay State University.  He received his Bachelor of Science from Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee and his Associate of Arts from Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He graduated in May 2017 with a Master in Fine Arts in Sculpture from The University of Memphis. At the University of Memphis, he was the recipient of the Graduate Purchase Award from the 34th Annual Student Exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, while additionally being the recipient of the Tom Stevens Scholarship, Haystack School of Crafts’ Minority Scholarship, and the RiverArts Scholarship. He was also named one of the 100 Interesting and Influential People of Memphis.  Lewis’ work has been exhibited in Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, South Dakota, and Massachusetts. His public work can be found at Penland School of Crafts, Carolina Bronze Sculpture Park, the City of Lenoir, North Carolina, the City of Hickory, North Carolina, Vermont Carving and Sculpture Center, The University of Memphis, Soulsville USA (Memphis, TN), NexAir LLC, Stax Musuem of American Soul Music, and Orange Mound (Memphis, TN). His studio is based in Memphis, Tennessee
Cuba, Si!
(image) Jesus Alemany and Cubanismo pay tribute to deep music roots.

One of the leading purveyors of the rich musical heritage of Cuba will lead his 14-piece orchestra in concert Saturday at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. And he expects to get people moving.

"I like to see people dancing, and I like to see people listening," says Jesus Alemany, trumpeter and leader for more than 20 years of the band Cubanismo. "Don't even think we are gonna play in Memphis and people aren't gonna jump up and dance. I like people to be part of the show."

Alemany is an ambassador for the music of his home country and the influence it has left around the world.

"The essence of the band is just to give the audience the very wide history of the Cuban music," he says. "Going back to different periods with the music. Playing some original compositions and also some traditional standards of the Cuban music, we try to show a variety of rhythms — rhumba, cha cha cha, mambo, descarga. Also going to the most recent style of the Cuban popular music, which is called timba — what people internationally call 'salsa.' But always focusing on the Cuban music."

Alemany spoke by phone from Merida, capital city of the Mexican state of Yucatan, where he has lived for four years after 23 years based mostly in London. Living away from Cuba allows him and his band members to travel more easily to the United States, which still restricts travel and trade with the island nation.

"In 2004, we had a huge series of concerts throughout the United States, 40 concerts, but it was canceled because the State Department didn't give permission to go to the U.S.," Alemany says. "That was in a period when we were all living in Cuba. That was a really bad experience, and we had to make the hard decision to change some of the musicians and work with people who live outside of Cuba."

Despite such obstacles, Alemany is committed to maintaining a cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba. He recalls Cubanismo being booked in the late 1990s for a series of concerts in New Orleans that culminated in the 2000 album project Mardi Gras Mambo, as well as American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis traveling to Havana to teach and perform for students there.

"Then that stopped for a while," he says, "and we have to reopen this musical bridge."

Alemany, 55, began his professional career at age 15 with Sierra Maestra, a band that sought to revive the classic Cuban musical style from the 1920s called son, considered the foundation of modern Latin American music. As a Cuban music revival was sweeping the English-speaking world, they recorded the 1994 album Dundundanza in London. with producer Nick Gold for his World Circuit label.

American producer Joe Boyd then approached Alemany about putting together a new band in Havana to record for his own label, Hannibal Records. This was the beginning of Cubanismo, and the sessions yielded two well-received live albums, Cubanismo (1995) and Malembe (1996). Meanwhile, Gold was putting together his own Havana sessions, featuring aging musicians from the pre-revolution period along with American guitarist Ry Cooder. The resulting album, Buena Vista Social Club (1997), sold more than 5 million copies, won a Grammy Award, and became an international phenomenon.

Two decades after Cubanismo and Buena Vista Social Club, Alemany and his band continue to perform around the world, but he admits that interesting a new generation of Cubans in this music has been a challenge.

"We are all struggling in a way with how there might be a new generation of people that consume this kind of music," he says. "Because it is the original music, the most typical music that represents our culture, but now there is a different thing happening with reggaetón and timba and all that. The new generation of people are more into reggaetón. That's just the way it is."

Jesus Alemany and Cubanismo perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 17th, at the Germantown Performing Arts Center.

North Mississippi's Museum de Sankofa Honors Bobby Rush
(image) The word Sankofa, originating in Ghana, means "Go back and get it" in the Twi language, and the concept is often represented by the image of a bird flying forward while looking behind. It's an appropriate concept for a museum of history, as in the case of Robinsonville, Mississippi's Museum de Sankofa. Founded a decade ago by Stanley and Maxine Taylor, the museum is dedicated to West African art, music and culture, drawing heavily on the Taylors' private collection, amassed during their own extensive travels in the area. It also celebrates the African influences on the blues and Mississippi culture in general. 

It's an inspiring labor of love and cultural pride in a landscape dominated by casinos, and a welcome diversion for those flocking to the area for typically more hedonistic activities. In addition to their museum's celebration of African culture, the Taylors have begun the "Preserving the Heritage Benefit and Awards Ceremony," now in its second year. The ceremony is happening tonight in Robinsonville, with this year's honorees being blues legend Bobby Rush and local community leader and advocate Joan Richardson. All proceeds will benefit the museum and its youth engagement programs, and tickets include a dinner buffet, a silent auction, a tour of the museum, a live concert performance, and a meet and greet with the honorees.

Preserving the Heritage Benefit and Awards Ceremony, Feb. 10th, Blues Belt Entertainment Complex, (3468 Casino Way, Robinsonville, MS), 6:00-9:00 pm. See www.preservingtheheritage.myevent.com for tickets and more information.

Stax/Volt Singles, Vol. 4: New and Eclectic Surprises from the Vaults
(image) Stax, Volt, Enterprise, Hip, Ardent, Chalice, The Gospel Truth, Satellite, Memphis Power Pop, Big Star, Soul Music In 1991, I didn't even have a CD player. But I well remember the significance of the the nine CD set, The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968. Certainly I and others were already aware of the label and studio, whose half-ruined buildings were once a common sight on McLemore Avenue, but to have the Stax output so comprehensively curated and presented with beautiful period photos and historical data was a revelation. I promptly pirated my friend's copy onto stacks of cassettes that I proceeded to wear out for decades.

That collection was soon followed by volumes two and three, cumulatively reviewing nearly all the acclaimed and not-so-acclaimed, soul A-sides that made Stax and its affiliated imprints famous. But even after filling 28 discs across those three volumes, there was more material left.

Which brings us to Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & The Best Of The Rest, a 6-CD box set released today that delves even deeper into the Stax Records archives. This new addition offers a more profound study of the Memphis label's catalog, including long-forgotten B-sides and rarities, and offering a cross-section of rock, pop, blues, gospel and country recordings from 1960-1975, in addition to the soul Stax was known for. Like previous volumes, the collection includes a well-illustrated booklet, offering four new in-depth essays by music journalist Lee Hildebrand, writer and producer Alec Palao, box set co-producer Bill Belmont, and Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records (and producer of Vol. 4's discs 1-3).

This set was the work of Craft Recordings, a division of Concord Music, featuring recordings from the catalogs of both Craft and Rhino Entertainment, who jointly control Stax's masters. But that barely hints at the number of labels, artists, and genres associated with Stax represented here, including rock (from Ardent, Enterprise and Hip), gospel (Chalice, Gospel Truth) and country (Enterprise), not to mention sould from both Volt and Satellite, which are more often recognized as Stax labels. With previously unreleased material from over 60 artists, including Carla and Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Big Star, the Bar-Kays, Jean Knight, Don Nix, the Rance Allen Group, and Johnnie Taylor, the collection highlights just how much talent was working in Memphis over those years. And, keeping in mind that these are largely B-sides, it shows how consistently such legends produced high quality tracks.

Often, it was the idiosyncrasies — a turn of phrase, a guitar effect, or an unfamiliar chord change — that made these B-sides in the first place. Today, it's precisely these qualities that make the tracks fascinating. Some of them resemble more familiar hits, but with a twist, as in the Dixie Nightingales chilling work on Chalice, “The Assasination,” which slows down the MG's “Soul Dressing” (recorded earlier the same year) in a new arrangement that makes for a haunting lament. We can also hear two different vocalists take on the same song, as with competing versions of “Why Did it Take So Long” by both Chuck Boris and Barbara Lewis (spoiler alert: Lewis won). Or, we hear familiar players under different names, e.g., The Cobras, who were in fact another kind of Mar-Keys, including Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn and Terry Johnston, and whose “Shake Up” is garage-groove gold, the original vinyl no doubt coveted by many a DJ.

The stylistic sprawl, in contrast to earlier volumes' focus on soul, better conjures the times these records were made in. Pop music ascended through the 60s and 70s on many fronts, and the Stax family was trying its hand on all of them. Disc 4 ranges from Sid Selvidge's impressionistic “The Ballad of Otis B. Watson” to tunes from jazz singer Billy Eckstine's attempt at a reboot (where he sounds like nothing so much as David Bowie singing straight soul — in a good way). It's fitting that the Enterprise imprint, which Bill Belmont claims was named by Al Bell after the Star Trek vessel, in the same spirit of exploration, released both of those artists, as well as black country star O.B. McClinton, bluesy groove rock from Don Nix, and boogie woogie pop from Larry Raspberry.

Of course, the king of Enterprise was Isaac Hayes. His evolution is well-illustrated here, both in releases under his name, and in the growing sophistication of other soul singles written or produced by him. As with the other volumes, one hears soul music searching out new sonic territories as Stax ventures into the 70s. But it may be the gospel disc that offers the most musical surprises. Unconstrained by the conventional expectations of pop radio, gospel writers and arrangers filled their tracks with truly intriguing rhythmic and harmonic shifts. And the gospel disc's toughest grooves reveal where much of secular soul's pop innovations sprang from.

Finally, we all know Big Star by now, but disc five puts their work in the context of other power pop and rock groups from the time. Ranging from heavy blues grooves by Billy Lee Riley, to straight-up blue eyed soul from Bobby Whitlock, to hippie jams reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge from the Honey Jug and the Village Sound, they sound especially odd adjacent to, say, the Goodies girl group soul revival sound, as they sing wistfully, “He was sweet, he was kind/And the goodies are still on my mind/He showed me the goodies...” Okay, ladies! The disc wraps up with nascent power pop of Cargoe, the Hot Dogs, and, of course, Big Star. Completists of the latter's work will hear a different take used for the “In the Street” single, and edited versions of “O My Soul” and “Setember Gurls.” And one hears these songs with fresh ears in this context, as pop singles that someone, somewhere, felt had a shot at a larger market. As it turned out, they were only a few decades off.

These are just a few of the surprises tucked away in this box set. If you spring for a copy, be forewarned: preconceived notions of Stax, or the boundaries between soul music and the other genres of the day, are in danger of being cast away.

Track List:

Disc 1:
1. Carla & Rufus: Deep Down Inside
2. Rufus And Friend: Yeah, Yea-Ah
3. Prince Conley: All The Way
4. The Canes: I'll Never Give Her Up
5. The Astors: Just Enough To Hurt Me
6. Eddie Kirk: I Found A Brand New Love
7. Rufus Thomas: Fine And Mellow
8. Booker T. & The Mg's: Fannie Mae
9. Floyd Newman: Sassy
10. Rufus Thomas: I Want To Get Married
11. Bobby Marchan: That's The Way That It Goes
12. The Cobras: Shake Up
13. Barbara And The Browns: You Belong To Her
14. Dorothy Williams: Watchdog
15. Baracudas: Free For All
16. Barbara And The Browns: I Don't Want Trouble
17. Gorgeous George: Sweet Thing
18. The Astors: I Found Out
19. Rufus & Carla Thomas: We're Tight
20. Rufus Thomas: Chicken Scratch
21. Ruby Johnson: Weak Spot
22. Rufus Thomas: Talkin' Bout True Love
23. Mable John: If You Give Up What You Got (You'll See What You Lost)
24. Sam And Dave: A Small Portion Of Your Love
25. Ruby Johnson: Keep On Keeping On
26. Rufus Thomas: Greasy Spoon
27. Mable John: Left Over Love
28. Ollie & The Nightingales: Girl, You Have My Heart Singing
29. Mable John: Don't Get Caught

Disc 2:
1. Shirley Walton: I'm So Glad You're Back
2. Delaney & Bonnie: We've Just Been Feeling Bad
3. Linda Lyndell: I Don't Know
4. Judy Clay & William Bell: Love-Eye-Tis
5. Judy Clay: Remove These Clouds
6. The Staple Singers: Stay With Us
7. Rufus Thomas: So Hard To Get Along With
8. Jeanne & The Darlings: I Like What You're Doing To Me
9. Booker T. & The Mg's: Over Easy
10. Mable John: Shouldn't I Love Him
11. William Bell & Judy Clay: Left Over Love
12. Jimmy Hughes: Sweet Things You Do
13. Art Jerry Miller: Grab A Handful
14. Eddie Floyd: Consider Me
15. Booker T. & The Mg's: Soul Clap '69
16. Jeanne & The Darlings: Standing In The Need Of Your Love
17. The Bar-Kays: I Thank You
18. The Soul Children: Make It Good
19. Ollie & The Nightingales: I'll Be Your Everything
20. William Bell: Let Me Ride
21. Booker T. & The Mg's: Sunday Sermon
22. Carla Thomas: Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)
23. Shack: A Love Affair That Bears No Pain
24. The Nightingales: Just A Little Overcome
25. The Newcomers: Mannish Boy

Disc 3:
1. Ilana: Let Love Fill Your Heart
2. The Soul Children: Ridin' On Love's Merry-Go-Round
3. Hot Sauce: I Can't Win For Losing
4. Lee Sain: Ain't Nobody Like My Baby
5. Hot Sauce: Echoes From The Past
6. The Mad Lads: Did My Baby Call
7. Isaac Hayes & David Porter: Baby I'm-A Want You
8. Jean Knight: Pick Up The Pieces
9. Johnnie Taylor: Stop Teasing Me
10. Isaac Hayes: Type Thang
11. John Gary Williams: In Love With You
12. Major Lance: Since I Lost My Baby's Love
13. Hot Sauce: Mama's Baby (Daddy's Maybe)
14. The Soul Children: Poem On The School House Door
15. Rufus Thomas: That Makes Christmas Day
16. The Staple Singers: What's Your Thing
17. Shirley Brown: Yes Sir Brother
18. Hot Sauce: Funny
19. Frederick Knight: Let's Make A Deal
20. The Green Brothers: Can't Give You Up (I Love You Too Much)
21. John Gary Williams: Just Ain't No Love (Without You Here)

Disc 4:
1. Sid Selvidge: The Ballad Of Otis B. Watson
2. The Caboose: Black Hands White Cotton
3. Dallas County: Love's Not Hard To Find
4. Casper Peters: April
5. Clark Sullivan: Reaching For A Rainbow
6. Billy Eckstine: I Wanna Be Your Baby
7. Chuck Boris: Why Did It Take So Long
8. Barbara Lewis: Why Did It Take So Long
9. Finley Brown: Gypsy
10. O.B. Mcclinton: Slip Away
11. Billy Eckstine: When Something Is Wrong
12. Ben Atkins: Good Times Are Coming
13. River City Street Band: Some Other Man
14. O.B. Mcclinton: Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You
15. Big Ben: Would I Be Better Gone?
16. Don Nix: Black Cat Moan
17. Don Nix: She's A Friend Of Mine
18. Larry Raspberry And The Highsteppers: Rock 'N Roll Warning
19. Chico Hamilton: Conquistadores '74
20. Cliff Cochran: The Way I'm Needing You
21. Connie Eaton: Let's Get Together
22. Karen Casey: The Way I'm Needing You

Disc 5:
1. Poor Little Rich Kids: Stop - Quit It
2. Lonnie Duvall: Cigarettes
3. Poor Little Rich Kids: It's Mighty Clear
4. The Honey Jug: Warm City Baby
5. The Goodees: For A Little While
6. The Honey Jug: For Your Love
7. Kangaroo's: Groovy Day
8. Bobby Whitlock: And I Love You
9. Southwest F.O.B.: Smell Of Incense
10. The Goodees: Condition Red
11. Billy Lee Riley: Family Portrait
12. This Generation: The Children Have Your Tongue
13. Billy Lee Riley: Show Me Your Soul
14. The Waters: Day In And Out
15. The Village Sound: Hey Jack (Don't Hijack My Plane)
16. The Cheques: Cool My Desire
17. The Goodees: Goodies
18. Paris Pilot: Miss Rita Famous
19. The Knowbody Else: Someone Something
20. Cargoe: Feel Alright
21. Big Star: In The Street
22. Cargoe: I Love You Anyway
23. The Hot Dogs: Say What You Mean
24. Big Star: O My Soul
25. The Hot Dogs: I Walk The Line
26. Big Star: September Gurls

Disc 6:
1. The Dixie Nightingales: The Assassination
2. The Dixie Nightingales: Hush Hush
3. The Dixie Nightingales: I Don't Know
4. The Stars Of Virginia: Wade In The Water
5. The Dixie Nightingales: Forgive These Fools
6. The Jubilee Hummingbirds: Our Freedom Song (Free At Last)
7. The Jubilee Hummingbirds: Press My Dying Pillow
8. The Pattersonaires: God's Promise
9. Rev. Maceo Woods And The Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church Choir: Hello Sunshine
10. Roebuck "Pop" Staples: Tryin' Time
11. Terry Lynn Community Choir: His Love Will Always Be
12. Reverend W. Bernard Avant Jr. & The St. James Gospel Choir: Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You (Don't Let The Devil Fool You)
13. The Rance Allen Group: There's Gonna Be A Showdown
14. The Rance Allen Group: That Will Be Good Enough For Me
15. Reverend Maceo Woods & The Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir: The Magnificent Sanctuary Band (Marching For The Man)
16. Louise Mccord: Better Get A Move On
17. Charles May & Annette May Thomas: Satisfied
18. The Rance Allen Group: I Got To Be Myself
19. The People's Choir Of Operation Push Under The Direction Of Reverend Marvin Yancy: He Included Me
20. The Rance Allen Group: We're The Salt Of The Earth
21. Louise Mccord: Reflections
22. The Rance Allen Group: Ain't No Need Of Crying


The Dixie Dicks: Having Their Way With Country
(image) While a quick Google search turns up such events as the Gay Ole Opry, begun in 2011, the subgenre of queer country music has been dominated by one artist, Phranc, for the last three decades. There are a handful of stars who have come out—namely Chely Wright, Brandy Clark and Ty Herndon—but the Nashville music scene is still, uh, dominated by straight guys in blue jeans.

Next week, Memphis group the Dixie Dicks throw their proverbial hot pink cowboy hats into the ring with the release of an EP, Vers. A record release party, labeled “Love Sucks and So Do the Dixie Dicks,” will take place at Bar DKDC on Valentine’s Day—Wednesday, February 14—at 9 pm. Produced by Kevin Cubbins at Pansy Foote Studio, 300 copies of the EP will be available on pink vinyl.

There is nothing average about the Dixie Dicks, although their self-deprecating demeanor onstage would have you think otherwise. Their musicianship, which harkens back to the folksy, bluegrass style re-popularized with the release of 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?, is top-notch. Lyrically, Vers is a hoot, jam-packed with sing-a-longs about how “No one likes lesbian drama” or double-entendres like “You call me daddy while I feed you this meat.” Rather than sides A and B, the vinyl is labeled sides Top and Bottom. Get it?

I caught up with guitarist Brandon Pugh and percussionist Joel Parsons earlier this week (banjo player Brandon Ticer, who his bandmates declare is the only “real” musician in the group, was on tour as keyboardist for the New York-based rock band Wheatus).

“It’s fun because we’re all gay, but none of us are hooking up with each other,” said Pugh, who runs the organic Delta Sol Farm in Proctor, Arkansas. “I’m a camp counselor-level guitar player. I love country music, and I love bluegrass music. I still listen to a lot of that late-1980s early ‘90s country that I grew up with. I love Tanya Tucker, the Judds. Miranda Lambert—I’m obsessed with her now. She divorced that Blake Shelton guy, and he’s been a jerk about it. Meanwhile, she’s the last one at the bar—she doesn’t care, and she’s owning her shit.”

Pugh sees performing in the Dixie Dicks as an opportunity to “reclaim the weird stuff that happened to us [growing up], like being gay at a Christian camp.”

Their songs, he said, “are pretty crude—not parent friendly. At rehearsals, we’re cracking each other up. And then whoever says the dumbest, funniest thing, we’ll add it to the lyrics.”

Parsons, an artist and curator who runs the Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College, maintains that while the Dixie Dicks started as a lark, the band is taking the joke “very seriously.”

“To be completely honest, I know almost nothing about making music.,” Parsons continued. “My dad was a drummer, and I grew up around percussion. Brandon Pugh sustained interest in music in a self-taught way, while Brandon Ticer is an excellent musician who elevates our playing to another level. It’s a nice mix—we don’t get bogged down in arrangements or making it super-slick.”

When recording the EP, the Dixie Dicks wanted “everything to sound like as much fun as we’re having,” Parsons said. “Let’s not get too tight, or too perfect. Let’s leave some flubs and mess-ups and hootin’ and hollerin.’”

Some of his strongest childhood memories, he said, are riding in the backseat of his grandparents’ Lincoln Town Car around his hometown of Rogers, Arkansas, listening to George Jones, Dolly Parton and Reba McIntyre.

“I left that behind, but now I’m able to come back around and flip it,” Parsons said. “I can live inside this music that I didn’t think had a place for me. The Dixie Dicks are really, honestly a hundred percent country and really, honestly a hundred percent queer. Being onstage feels a little bit naughty, which makes it so much fun. Country music is so gay—we have a list of at least 50 songs which just need this word or that word changed to be queer. Like ‘Rock Me Daddy Like a Wagon Wheel’—they write themselves, we just have to tune it and sing it!”

Parson sees the Dixie Dicks as not just a way for him and his fellow musicians to reconcile their own identities as gay men, but as a reclamation of place for any Mid-Southerner who has come out of the closet.

“We have a really good mix of people at our shows: A hardcore contingent of badass middle-aged women, and people who come because it’s a gay thing to do, and a safe place to go. Then we have people who love the songs. I don’t think there’s been a huge country music following among the local [LGBTQ] community, so it’s been fun to watch them embrace their southern side,” Parsons said. “It’s something that a lot of people, including me before this band, have been a little hesitant to do.”

Cubbins, the producer, agreed. “That’s the most brilliant part of it—the Dixie Dicks go beyond one single audience,” he said. "There are so many layers to their songs, so much energy and spontaneity, yet so much attention to detail.”
Bloodshot Bill Hits Memphis
(image)

The rockabilly revival act: Memphians know such bands all too well. They fill bars from Beale to Bartlett, slicking back their hair, flipping their collars, rehearsing their hiccups, and climbing their upright basses. As a fan of classic rockabilly, I can sympathize. But too often, revivalists hit the stylistic touchstones and remain content to simply stay there. (Indeed, this plagued the genre from the beginning, when industry giants tried to profit from the haunted sounds first discovered by indie labels.)

Nevertheless, there are still those whose love of rockabilly pushes them to go beyond the gestures and capture the unhinged spirit of the originals. Which brings us to Bloodshot Bill.

A self-described "Trinitalian" (half Italian, half Trinidadian) from Montreal, Bloodshot Bill began playing one-man shows in the late 1990s. Like the Gories' Mick Collins, Bloodshot Bill first played drums as a youth, bringing that percussive approach when he switched to guitar in his twenties. At the time, he had no particular focus on rockabilly per se. "My holy trinity is Charlie Feathers, Hasil Adkins, and Link Wray, but I kinda got into that stuff later," he says. "At first, I was influenced by old country music and early rock-and-roll stuff. It wasn't until I started playing that people started telling me, 'Hey, you sound like this guy.' I didn't know who Hasil Adkins was, so I checked him out and obviously I had to buy every record after that."

Comparisons to wildman Adkins are apt, given Bloodshot Bill's penchant for lo-fi recordings and the immediate gratifications of big beat minimalism. But bear in mind the first name in his trinity: Charlie Feathers. The unbridled, manic playfulness in Feathers' singing lives on in Bill's voice, with just a touch of Conway Twitty's trademark moan. In a video for Seattle station KEXP, VJ Mike Fuller notes, "It sounds like you've stomped on the microphone a couple of times and gargled some broken glass," but that's only half of it. Bill's vocalizations range from such growls to heartfelt croons and falsettos. A reediness in his delivery resonates perfectly with the slapback echo he favors. Ultimately, his singing evokes nothing so much as the cackles, barks, and howls of coyotes at midnight.

And let's not forget Link Wray, the capstone of Bill's trinity. Like Wray, Bill channels a gritty, grungy virtuosity on his Kay Galaxy electric. It's the sound of someone stretching their abilities in the heat of the moment. Put it all together in the package of his tight, punchy songwriting, and you can imagine Bloodshot Bill thriving in any setting, from solo artist to band leader.

Acknowledging that his approach is hard to define, he admits his songs confound the purism so often found among rockabilly aficionados. "I know they might sound weird to a total Nazi-billy kind a guy, you know what I mean?"

Casting such rigidity aside, even to the point of performing in his pajamas at times, he notes that "sometimes there is a bit of a formula, but then there are people out there doing stuff that's exciting, where it's not like a museum piece." In fact, he mostly lives in a world of such performers. "I've never seen a rockabilly band in Memphis. I'm usually thrown in with the garage bands there." And yet he'll freely extend a hand to any fan of the genre. "I don't know if it's because I'm really into rockabilly, but I notice people seem to pick on it a lot more than they do other stuff."

This open-hearted approach will serve him well when he arrives in Memphis this week with a host of other roots country and rockabilly diehards, all making the pilgrimage to the Ameripolitan Music Awards. Traditionally held in Austin, the award show, brainchild of the roots country visionary Dale Watson, has relocated to Memphis along with Watson, himself.

Bloodshot Bill feels right at home with the Ameripolitan aesthetic. "The mission is cool," he says. "It's saluting people who are trying to keep the old music alive and have not ventured out into 'bro country' or whatever you call it. It's my third year being nominated. They said, 'We'd like you to come down and play for us in Memphis,' and I said 'Memphis? Hell yeah!' Memphis is my favorite city. All the great music that was there, all the characters. Nowadays, it's different of course, but it still has a bit of that untouched feeling to it."

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