Sound Advice: Linda Heck plays an early show at Murphy's

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Linda Heck
  • Linda Heck
Linda Heck, once a staple of the Midtown scene, has returned to Memphis to record a new collection of songs with Doug Easley at the control panel. Her band is comprised of primo bassist John McClure, Beat Generation drummer Kurt Ruleman, and Memphis ex-pat/multi-instrumentalist James Enck AKA Jimi Inc. (Grundies, BumNotes). This excellent track—"How About You"— also features Memphis Symphony Orchestra string player Jonathan Kirkscey on cello.

Heck, who currently lives in Sewannee, TN is playing an early show at Murphy's on Friday, April 15. 8:00 p.m. I asked her and Enck, who lives in London, one question:

Neither of you live here any more, but Memphis is still the locus of your identity as musicians and Linda always describes the music as Memphis music. So how, exactly, does one make Memphis music from Sewanee and London?

Linda Heck: I was having a hard time finding like-minded souls in East Tennessee so I changed the game from trying to find these needles in their haystacks to "if I could play with Anyone In The World, who would it be?" My first thought was John McClure, who'd play with me if I could get myself to Memphis.

I started by coming to Memphis recording John on a Garageband project I had going, and some of those were demos for what grew into a new, almost-finished album. For me, there was something about being away that brought into relief the amazing musical experiences I'd had in Memphis, both with people I've been privileged to play music with, and with the music I've witnessed.

Musically, a lot of what's gone into my guitar playing is based on what I would see people like Wilroy Sanders playing- rather than trying to sound like something I heard, I'd mess around with positioning my fingers like people I saw, it's nonverbal... when I start deconstructing it, there are so many bits and pieces I picked up, I feel like a traveler in a continuum. I feel like Memphis is my musical home.

Jimi and I actually rehearsed a bit via Skype the other day. Loved that! I think Doug Easley first planted the seed of getting Jimi to record guitar parts for this album in London. Doug is always worth listening to.

Paraphrasing Jim Dickinson, I'll say this about Jimi Inc.: "He's not gone, he's just In London."

Vintage Heck at the Antenna Club with John McClure on bass, Jimi Inc on guitar and Brenda Brewer on drums
  • Vintage Heck at the Antenna Club with John McClure on bass, Jimi Inc on guitar and Brenda Brewer on drums

James Enck: I don't know if anyone listening to Linda's music would necessarily associate it with "Memphis music" if they didn't know about the connection, because it doesn't have any of the immediately recognizable hallmarks of genre or "Americana" music which people might be tempted to label "The Memphis Sound." For me "Memphis music" is really an approach, an attitude, a state of mind, an openness to musical possibilities. You probably have to live here to experience and absorb it, but once you do, it is with you, and can be invoked wherever you happen to be.

I think what makes this work, and what makes it Memphis, is the bond between the individuals involved, our shared musical experiences/influences (as well as the complementary things we each bring), and a lot of serendipity.

I think the latter may really be the critical element, because if you are aware of it and open to the possibilities it enables, a lot of good things can start to flow from it.

As an illustration, I had been living in London for 15 years without really knowing any other musicians or ever playing, apart from occasionally by myself, just for my own pleasure. Then, I suddenly started discovering that some of the "ordinary dads" dropping off their kids at the school gate were musicians, and one of them, Paul Betts, invited me to see his band play.

This got me thinking about playing music again, and I also knew that Paul had a small recording studio in his basement next door to an Indian takeaway, so when the idea first came up to add guitar on four of the tracks on Linda's project, I immediately knew where to turn. As we were working, I sensed that what I was playing, how I was organizing the parts, and the way I approached the recording process was all pretty alien to him. I guess that's also a validation of the "Memphis-ness" of it all, because in my mind I was contributing to a Memphis project being recorded at Easley, so it all felt completely familiar, and the sound we got was exactly what I had pictured in my head when I went in. He was flexible enough to just let it flow.

Another nice stroke of serendipity was an invitation I got to attend a professional conference in Louisiana this time last year. I ended up not being able to go because of the Icelandic volcanic eruption, but I had already booked a side trip to Memphis anyway. The flight restrictions eventually lifted, and I was able to make the Memphis trip in the end. This coincided with some followup sessions Linda had booked with Doug, and my being here enabled us to add a bunch of vocal harmonies/backing tracks together, which I think enriched the sound of the songs. Technology hugely enables a lot of collaboration in music over distance, but sometimes there is no replacement for sitting in the same room, sharing ideas and singing together.

As to technology, there's no doubt that the net and collaboration tools are completely revolutionizing how, where and with whom musicians can work. When we cut the guitar parts in London, I was gearing up to use an FTP site, Soundcloud, or similar tools to share the tracks with the Mother Ship in Memphis, but in the end, because I was able to physically get here, I just brought everything on a USB stick. If we ever get truly fast, low-latency symmetrical connections (fiber) and telepresence applications reaching the mass market, then you potentially have a scenario where musicians can easily collaborate, even perform live, from multiple remote locations, which could be very interesting. Technology makes the previously unthinkable commonplace when it comes to producing the music, but the music itself, if it's good, is entirely a product of the human sphere. Which is where the Memphis thing comes in. Either you've got the human element, or you don't. And here, at least for now, it still seems to drip from the trees.

Note: Enck's a telecom analyst, investor, and tech journalist... in case that wasn't obvious.

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