There seems to be a fair amount of contention in Memphis these days, and I'm not just talking about the politicians. Case in point: Early last month, I reported that South Florida bluesman Joey Gilmore -- representing the Blues Society of Taiwan -- swept the Blues Foundation's 2005 International Blues Challenge, beating out nine other acts for a slot at a dozen blues festivals and events. Now, however, it seems that Gilmore has been disqualified, because he had a nationally distributed CD out within the last 10 years. The new first-place winner? Diunna Greenleaf & the Blue Mercy Band, representing the Blue Shoe Project, which is based in Dallas.
The Blues Foundation isn't the only music organization in town having trouble picking a winner: A few weeks ago, the powers-that-be at MemphisRap.com announced that they're re-tallying votes from their Urban Music Showcase, which was held in mid-January. M-Town Luv, the main force behind the Web site, says "I got this gut feeling." No word yet on who has won the recount.
And a photograph taken 70 years ago at the Hooks Brothers Photography studio on Beale Street is currently at the center of controversy in the Mississippi Supreme Court. The photo, which depicts a dapper Robert Johnson clutching his Gibson guitar, was in the possession of Carrie Thompson (the bluesman's half-sister) for four decades. In 1973, she may have assigned the rights to the picture to musicologist Steve LaVere.
LaVere also allegedly obtained the rights to Johnson's music. He then produced a box set on the late bluesman's work, which was released to worldwide acclaim on CBS Records (now Sony) in 1990. With more than a million dollars in potential royalties, the legal battles began. Researcher Mack McCormick insisted that he'd secured the rights to the the photograph months earlier, while, after Thompson's death, another half-sister laid claim to the Johnson estate. Next, LaVere unexpectedly produced Claud Johnson, the bluesman's long-lost son, who, in 1998, was declared sole heir.
As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, in December 2004, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered the case, which hinges on the veracity and rightful ownership of the photo, to trial. In comparison, it seems that Johnson got off easy. Johnson died at age 27 in 1938, a short time after, as legend has it, he sold his soul to the devil.
Even those good guys of neo-soul are heaping on the acrimony this weekend. That's right. For their third annual Marvin Gaye tribute, Tha Movement is showcasing Here, My Dear. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, it's a whopper of an album, recorded by Gaye as part of his divorce settlement from Anna Gordy (daughter of Motown head Berry Gordy) in 1978.
Chock full of vitriolic lyrics such as "If you ever loved me with all of your heart/You'd never take a million dollars to part" and songs like "You Can Leave, But It's Gonna Cost You," the double-disc album serves as a down-and-dirty confessional that's much steamier than the stuff you see on reality TV.
This is what a cold-hearted breakup sounds like, and, at the Gibson Lounge Saturday night, artists such as Larry Springfield with Ty Brown, Messiah Surat, Nappy Wilson, the Tim Terry Experience, and female duo Men-Nefer will be performing selections from Here, My Dear, as well as a sampling of Gaye's greatest hits. Doors open at 8 p.m. For more information, call 774-7437 or go to ThaMovement.com.
Maybe some good news: Last week, DJ Michael "Boogaloo" Boyer of Hot 107.1 FM announced that rappers Three 6 Mafia and Eightball & MJG are ready to bury the hatchet. Both factions contributed to David Banner's new single, "Gangsta Walk," and, Boyer reports, they're talking about collaborating on a full-length album. Needless to say, I nearly drove off the road when I heard this news. Big props to Banner for landing the single, but a real joint venture? I'll believe this one when I see it, folks.
Roots-music fans will want to tune into Oxford, Mississippi's Thacker Mountain Radio show this week. The program, taped at Off Square Books in downtown Oxford, will feature Memphis musician/poet Michael Graber and his band, the Bluff City Backsliders. Graber is scheduled to pluck his mandolin with the Backsliders, then read an excerpt from his debut poetry collection, The Last Real Medicine Show.
Graber also will get a chance to play along with pianist/producer/cult hero Jim Dickinson, who is currently leading the Thacker Mountain band during the monthly shows. "Live radio is like wrestling. There's an irreversibility of being in the moment and broadcasting through the earth's protective ozone layer. It's almost fun," Dickinson says. "Of course, I dread everything. That's my nature."
Graber's episode is taping Thursday, March 31st. It will air on Mississippi Public Radio Saturday, April 2nd, at 7 p.m. For more information, visit ThackerMountain.com.