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COMMENTARY: ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDS

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DEATH BE NOT PROUD

It’s true. I am officially getting old. People I am acquainted with are dropping like flies. This is not a fun experience. Memphis has lost too many geniuses of music in the last ten years. Little Milton is one of those subtle giants who did not get a lot of press but just kept chugging along cutting hits for an amazing fifty year career. He cut on the biggest labels of all time: Sun, Stax, and Chess as well as lesser, yet important, labels Malaco & Delmark! He is already missed.

While musicians are the turbines of the Memphis music engine, there are many other folks who are the grease. Dan Zarnstorff was a very greasy man. Zarnstorff ran one of Memphis’ most wildly eclectic “clubs” in the late ‘80s: the Loose End, which was set in the Pinch District when nobody wanted to be there (A tattoo parlor now occupies the space formerly housing the Loose End). Zarnstorff, a long-time Memphis hippie and photographer, ran the Loose End--how shall I say this—well, loosely. The bar was one-third the size of the Buccaneer and twenty people more than filled the place up. Bands like the Country Rockers, the Marilyns, 611, the Gibson Bros. (Monsieur Jeffrey Evans’ early rockin’ Memphis appearances!), A Band Called Bud, and even Memphis great Alex Chilton packed ‘em in for the club’s short but fun-filled existence. Of course, if the club occasionally had maintained a bartender, it might have remained open longer, but Zarnstorff was so into the music that he would disappear for the lion’s share of the evening. The bar would end up becoming self-serve or no serve, most likely curtailing the evening’s beverage sales and receipts. Many great Memphis bands received an early push at the Loose End at a time in Memphis club scene when no one else would book or promote them.

Times changed and The Pyramid came to town. Real estate speculators forced small businesses like the Loose End--which had evolved into the Epicenter after Dr. Quackenbush’s dire (yet, as of 15 years later, unfulfilled) earthquake predictionns of the early ‘90s--into oblivion. Real growth in the Pinch did not begin until this year, after the Pyramid has been all but shuttered. The city should have given Zarnstorff the $60 million that they spent on the Tomb of Domb instead of Sidney Slinker, and everyone, including the Pinch, would be much better off. Zarnstorff will be remembered by his great Memphis musician photos and prints as well as the beautiful, multi-colored paintings he created on the back of the Overton Park Shell. Thank you, Dan, for the great times in the Loose End!

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the death of Robert Freeland of Oxford, Mississippi. Mr. Freeland was yet another music enabler who first took me (and many others) to Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint in Holly Springs. “You wanna go to a juke joint?” he asked a group of us one Sunday in 1991. Does a chicken have lips? Of course; who wouldn’t? We didn’t even know juke joints still existed. Upon arriving at Junior Kimbrough’s, we discovered his juke joint was an otherworldly, psychedelic soul source in the middle of the farmlands of Holly Springs. We had truly expected nothing from this shack held together by blues, Budweiser cans, tin, a light bulb, and Good Times paintings. Actually, it was in fact the epicenter of American music in the middle of those fields. (Junior to Charlie Feathers to Elvis for starters then Junior to Iggy Pop to the Beastie Boys and Spiritualized by the end of the ‘90s…) In a word Junior’s was the most magical, timeliest place I have ever been in. Very rarely does one find oneself in the eye of the hurricane at the perfect moment and live to tell about it, and that is exactly what being at Junior’s was like on a good night. I will be forever in debt to Robert Freeland for giving me that once in a lifetime experience. “Junior, I love you…”

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