For the past six years, Memphis-born virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Paul Taylor served as a drummer and collaborator with local alt-country siren Amy LaVere, working on two of her studio albums and touring the globe alongside LaVere in a trio that also included guitar wizard Steve Selvidge. Behind the scenes, Taylor also penned a few songs for LaVere, including one of her best known, the funny and heartbreaking "Pointless Drinking," from her 2007 album Anchors & Anvils.
But in March of this year, the collaboration had begun to run its course, and all three parties looked to take on new musical partners.
"I called my friend and musical associate Luther Dickinson," Taylor says. "I told him to keep his ear to the ground for anyone who might need a drummer or whatever. The very next, day Chuck Prophet called Luther to ask if he knew of any drummers, as he had a month-long European tour coming up, and his drummer at the time was leaving the band. So I charted up about 50 songs and flew out to San Francisco for a few rehearsals, and over the sea we went."
His association with Taylor aside, Prophet's connection to Memphis and the Dickinson family runs deep. Luther Dickinson's father, the late Jim Dickinson, produced the debut album by Green on Red, Prophet's late-'80s "paisley underground" outfit, and Prophet has maintained a close personal and professional relationship with the family ever since.
"I do feel sometimes that me falling into Chuck's band so quickly, and through Luther, was the work of Jim," Taylor says. "Still producing in absentia! God rest his soul."
Taylor's current stint on the road with Prophet's band, dubbed Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express, is a 15-date run, sending the group across the South and up the Eastern Seaboard. It will also provide a homecoming opportunity of sorts for Taylor, when the tour stops in Memphis for a Sunday, October 24th, date at the Hi-Tone Cafe. (The Jeremy Stanfill Band opens. Showtime is 10 p.m., admission $10.)
"Most all of my friends are musicians, and we're all on the road," Taylor says. "So I'm sad I won't get to see some of my dear bros that night. Other than that, I'm super-stoked — and looking forward to showing my new bandmates that barbecue is made from pigs, not cows."
In a town that has seen quite a few music venues and nightclubs come and go, Kudzu's has quietly managed to defy the odds and stay relevant for two decades.
In 1990, schoolteacher and part-time bartender Steve Edmundson purchased the building at 603 Monroe, former home to several defunct nightspots, including the Little Commercial Grill (a hangout for Commercial Appeal pressmen and printers) and the Cameo Lounge, with the intention of opening a bar and grill. After some redecoration and renovations, he officially opened the doors at Kudzu's that June.
About a year later, Edmundson started booking local acts such as Kenny Brown, Roy Brewer, and the late Lee Baker, whose band the Agitators was the first to maintain a regular gig at Kudzu's. The live music was a success with bar patrons, and the club developed a solid reputation and steady following in the roots-music community.
In 2000, singer-songwriter Nancy Apple approached Kudzu's about hosting a weekly songwriter's night dubbed "The Pickin' Party." Edmundson agreed, and the Pickin' Party is now the longest-running open-mic night in the city.
"Kudzu's does not focus on just the music. It's all a mix of friends, food, fun, music," Apple. says "It's not pretentious. For me, personally, if I am going to pour my heart out through songs for the sheer passion of it (i.e., for little money), I prefer to feel really appreciated and loved and respected. I get that from Kudzu's."
This Sunday, October 24th, Kudzu's will host a 20th anniversary celebration of the club's opening, with a host of local acts, including Apple, Roy Brewer, Lamar Sorrento, Campfire Boys, and Maria Spence, among others, performing at an all-day extravaganza, starting at noon.
"Not too many bars have been around and supported local music as long as Kudzu's," Edmundson says. "We're looking forward to a great day of music."