Friday, January 13, 2017

The Memphis Beat

I've always loved Memphis, but I've never really written much about that great southern city. So when Virginia Living Magazine asked me if I wanted to take a trip there for a long weekend, and a big travel feature, it was a no-brainer. Sign me up.

End result: I ate too well, heard great music, learned some important history and laughed and smiled (a lot). I found a place still clinging to its unique identity but also pushing to break free of tradition.
"Memphis is all too aware of what its culture has meant to the American zeitgeist. But it also seems eager to break out and try new things. This eternal restlessness is why so much of its great music is raw and beautifully disheveled, not polished and neat like Nashville’s, and why the city still seems alive and vibrant, perpetually reinventing despite an inclination to embalm itself. It remains a great city, revelatory for a few days or a lifetime...
 Read "The Memphis Beat" by clicking right here.

Photo by the mighty Justin Fox Burks, whose images of Memphis perfectly represent and complement the article!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Don't Mean Maybe: Gene Vincent and "Be-Bop-a-Lula"

At 60 years old, the song “Be-Bop-a-Lula” still seems improbable. Written by a hospital patient now lost to history, sung by a sailor with a crippled leg, performed by a ragtag group of country radio musicians, the two-minute, 34-second “Lula” has become an acknowledged rock ’n’ roll classic, celebrated the world over (Rolling Stone ranked it #103 on their Greatest Songs list). The story behind the tune, recorded by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, is also a potent piece of Virginia history.

"Don't Mean Maybe," my latest piece for Coastal Virginia Magazine, takes a look at how "Be-Bop-a-Lula" came to be, and why it resonated over the years with so many later-influential performers -- the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, etc.
Vincent’s voice was not only chameleonic in the way that Elvis’s was—it was schizophrenic. Going from a drawling croon to a piercing cry, he was volatile, loving, temperamental, soothing; the ultimate “tough” teenaged child-man. His brooding performance, aided by deep, cavernous slapback echo, perfectly matched up with the tortured teenage fantasia being played out on theater screens at the time, in movies such as The Wild One, Rebel Without a Cause and Blackboard Jungle.
Click here to read "Don't Mean Maybe: The Story of 'Be-Bop-a-Lula'."

If you enjoy this article, you'll also dig "Virginia Rocks," a 2-CD box set and book of liner notes (co-written by yours truly with archivist Brent Hosier). You can get that here. In 2007-08, Brent and I worked with the Blue Ridge Institute to research Virginia's rockabilly and early rock 'n' roll history. For more on that project, click here.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Noah-O in The Rain

Richmond rapper Noah Oddo is bursting out all over, with a fresh new album, a web video series and a new way of working. The man known as Noah-O says he's just getting started.

In this article for Richmond Magazine, "I'm Around," Noah-O talks with me about his new album, The Rain, a collaboration with producer DJ Mentos, as well as his new net series, "Evolution of Noah-O."

To read "I'm Around," click here. 

For more on "The Rain" and the music of Noah-O, go here.


Bad Santa: All Hail the Krampus

He sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake. But instead of withholding gifts, Santa Claus’s wicked older brother, the Krampus, may just carry you away to your doom in a wicker basket.

All hail the Bad Santa! I recently penned an overview of Richmond's annual Krampusnacht, a celebration of Santa's less jolly sibling, for Richmond Magazine.

“Krampus was a part of yuletide lore long before the Americanized version of Christmas happened,” says artist and promoter Parker Galore, who has helped to popularize the centuries-old, mythological Bad Santa with this annual celebration, one of nearly three dozen tributes that take place across the world. “This is really us bringing the character, that figure of the dark side of St. Nicholas, back into the story.”

To read "Bad Santa," click here. And be good, for goodness sakes.

(Photo by the mighty Dave Parrish!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tony Jackson: Country Convert


With an expressive singing style infused with pure vocal honey, Tony Jackson is a welcome anomaly in the country music genre.

In one way, the friendly, goateed vocalist is a throwback to classic sounds — Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Lefty Frizzle, Waylon Jennings — with only a courtesy nod to the “bro-country” currently assailing radio.

But he’s also an African-American man singing country music. Other than Charley Pride and (of late) Darius Rucker, there haven’t been a whole lot of those. My profile of star-on-the-rise Tony Jackson can be found in Richmond Magazine.

To read "A Country Convert," click here... 

(Photo by the mighty Jim Shea)

The Seductive Serenade of Miramar

Miramar specializes in the beautiful, slow-burning male-female duet singing found in classic Latin American bolero music. Miramar singer Rei Alvarez and pianist Marlysse Rose Simmons are also key figures in the long-running Richmond salsa band Bio Ritmo. The third member is vocalist Laura Ann Singh.

My profile of the trio can be found in Virginia Living Magazine:

The three members of Miramar never knew they would be in the vanguard of an international resurgence in bolero music.  
“Suddenly a lot of musicians, especially in Puerto Rico, are releasing albums of boleros,” says Marlysse Simmons, keyboardist for the Richmond-based trio, which specializes in the long, smoldering male-female duet singing found in classic Latin American boleros—music fueled with minor chords, sinuous bass-lines and a slow motion groove. “People were asking me, ‘What’s this new movement all about?’ I would say, ‘I don’t know if it’s a movement. It’s a coincidence.’”  
And a happy one. The group’s debut full-length CD, Dedicated to Sylvia Rexach, shot to the top of the Latin music charts on Amazon.com upon its release in June. NBC Nightly News, CNN and NPR have hailed the disc, and a recent tour saw appearances at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center and New York’s Lincoln Center.

Go here to read the rest of "Seductive Serenade"...

And to read my in-depth history of Bio Ritmo, which I penned for Richmond Magazine, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Chris Smith)

Kehinde Wiley: The Economy of Grace

The celebrated visual artist Kehinde Wiley recently brought his audacious, career-expanding "A New Republic" exhibit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I attended his artist talk and filed this report for Richmond Magazine:
"I don't enjoy fist-raising political work," artist Kehinde Wiley told the sellout crowd at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Leslie Cheek Theater on Friday night. "My work, my passion, comes from a small gray area where we are all indicted."  
While establishment-challenging presidential candidate Donald Trump held a rally in downtown Richmond, a more colorful, and subtle, revolution was happening at the state museum a few miles west — the opening of Wiley's stirring "A New Republic" exhibition, a stunning and large-scale assemblage of the prolific African-American artist's work that sends a shot across the bow of everything the VMFA and other museums are about. Wiley's lecture — his only planned public appearance in connection with the exhibition — was eloquent and biting at the same time.
"I'm playing with the museum culture as a color in my palette," he told the (largely white) crowd. "Art is such a guilded rose, this ivory tower that we participate in presupposes that exclusion adds value to the appreciation of the work." He'd like to reverse that.
Click here to read the rest of "The Economy of Grace"...

(Photo by Travis Fullerton / VMFA)