Memphis is a city mired in its own history. Local disputes over the Confederate parks have drawn national interest, and in the case of Forrest Park, some would like to see the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest moved. But when the All Memphis Soul Night happens Saturday, August 27th, at the Hi-Tone Café, a different kind of digging will be on display, and the exhumed history will be a lot funkier.
The event unites the local DJ team Buck Wilder & The Hook-Up with DJs from local label Memphix. All told, there will be five DJs performing, drawing on personal collections of more than 10,000 LPs and 45s. For these guys, "digging" - the art of record collecting - is more than a pastime.
When I ask Andrew McCalla and Eric Hermeyer - Buck Wilders and the Hook-Up, respectively - how long they've been collecting records, both laugh. "You mean how long have I had the disease?" McCalla muses. The two share a passion that transcends pleasure. For these collectors, digging is part archaeology, part obsession. "That's a big part of why I live in Memphis," McCalla explains, "to be close to all this amazing music."
Memphis is home to a treasure trove of locally produced records, many recorded on small independent labels. To find obscure, one-off recordings involves tracing producers and arrangers. "There was this guy Style Wooten who had a studio at Park and Highland," McCalla says. "We keep finding more and more labels he created - the Designer, Jace, Camaro, Styleway. Anytime I see that guy's name, I snap the record up."
Collecting these records means never going a day without trying to make some acquisition. "I get up every day, get out to my dealers, go to all my stores, surf the Web," explains Chad Weekely, one of the founders of Memphix.
The Internet has had a profound impact on the way records are collected and, more importantly, valued. "Prices have skyrocketed with the Internet," Hermeyer explains. "A record that in 1990 was valued at $5 now goes for $200 on the Internet." The Web has created a collectors' paradox, because the records are now much easier to find and much harder to afford.
The deep funk and soul records these DJs collect - much of which comes from Memphis - have found audiences worldwide. In fact, these DJs have found as much if not more acceptance overseas. "A record that goes for $1 here can fetch as much as 30 euros," Hermeyer says. "When I'm [overseas] I've used records as currency, basically paying to stay in hotels in 45s." McCalla and Hermeyer both work at Midtown's Shangri-La Records, whose owner, Jared McStay, estimates a third of his shop's sales are mail-order, with the majority of those going to the U.K. and Japan.
It was eager funk fans in England who helped turn Memphix from a one-off project into a label. "We didn't have any intention of having a label," Weekely says. "We slapped down $600 to press a 45. Memphix was just a name we made up so we could have something on there. I went to the 2000 DMC Championship," a worldwide DJ competition held annually in London. "I just hustled the record there, and we got a break because DJ Klever used it in the competition."
The record was a success, and in 2001, Weekley and Luke Sexton (aka Red Eye Jedi) were was on a 10-city European tour, followed by three shows with the touchstone of digging, DJ Shadow. Since then, Memphix has released a dozen vinyl singles, gaining notoriety among DJs and funk aficionados. Their releases have been all limited runs, usually around 500 copies. In a way, Memphix is unearthing sonic gems, but at the same time, their records restart the process, becoming rarities in and of themselves, sought after by the next tier of diggers.
Memphix used to deejay funk shows at the Hi-Tone on a regular basis. Weekely left Memphis almost two years ago, and in his absence Buck Wilder & The Hook-Up have picked up the torch, putting on shows together for six months now. Weekely, who is old friends with McCalla, recently returned to Memphis, and the stage was set for a DJ extravaganza. The show on Saturday, sponsored by Shangri-La, will begin with 45 minutes of archival footage from the Stax/Volt tour of 1967.
All Memphis Soul Night, with Memphix and Buck Wilder & The Hook-Up, is Saturday, August 27th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Admission is $3, and the show starts at 10 p.m.