It's a good time to be from Memphis: Even outside the rap realm, where Hustle & Flow reigns supreme, local artists are getting their shot at a moment in the national spotlight. Take Raleigh rockers Crippled Nation, who are slated to open up for Def Leppard at their sold-out Mud Island Ampitheatre concert Tuesday night. "We've just been around the scene, working hard for a long time," says frontman Jeremy Stanfill. "[Concert promoter] Beaver Productions asked for the best local band, and they'd heard about us somehow.
"It's easy to have a scene when you have so many good musicians around," says Stanfill, who also credits organizations such as the Recording Academy and the Memphis Area Band Association with helping keep local bands on course.
Stanfill originally started out as Crippled Nation's drummer a decade ago, moving to frontman six years later. "For years, we were like 'Fuck the radio,' and all that, and we had to change our band," he explains, adding, "I don't understand why, if you're good and you promote your band, you've sold out."
After he and bassist James Godwin - another inaugural member - recruited drummer John Emerson and former Piston Honda guitarist Chris Mitchell, Crippled Nation got back on track. "This is the magic line-up," Stanfill says.
Godwin agrees. "It's what we were looking for the whole time. It comes down to these four guys who are all on the same page," he says. "We have to do this. We're all dedicated, and we work hard."
The band recently recorded several new tracks at Sounds Unreel for a self-released EP that's due out in September. They're keeping busy on the road, playing local and regional dates on the weekends. In the meantime, they're working with a local promotional company, Street Savvy Unlimited, to land a management contract.
"We're not looking for a record deal out of the box," Stanfill says. "We're trying to pay our dues and build a fan base. Of course we want to be rich and have big houses, but first, we want a van, a good album, and some tour support."
"Right now, we're trying to write the best songs we possibly can," Godwin adds. "We've learned that the best songs you can write are [based on] things that happen to you on a daily basis, so we're doing that instead of trying to come up with some brilliant concept.
"There's a lot of honesty in our music. Of course, most of our songs are about girls, because we're just a bunch of 20-something guys hanging out," Godwin says, pointing to one of Crippled Nation's newest tracks, a lush power ballad called "I Wish U," which is currently available for download on My Space.
"We're just good ol' Southern boys with no money," Stanfill says, "but we're learning that it's all about promoting yourself and putting your music out there. Hopefully, someone will take a chance on us."
With any luck, the group's opening slot for Def Leppard will help boost them to a higher level. If not, the men of Crippled Nation remain optimistic. "We have faith in this band," Stanfill says. "There's been a lot of line-up changes, but this is the one."
Singer/songwriter Rob Jungklas, who has recorded for both RCA and MADJACK Records, is also set to benefit from national exposure: So says producer/engineer Jeff Powell, who introduced Jungklas to country rocker Lucinda Williams earlier this year. Apparently, Williams, who was in town recording a duet with Luther Dickinson for an upcoming North Mississippi Allstars release (Electric Blue Watermelon, which is due on the ATO label September 6th), decided to hole up at the Madison Hotel for a few days. Powell gave her a copy of Jungklas' latest CD, Arkadelphia, and, he says, "the rest was history.
"Lucinda was driving back to the West Coast, and she called us, freaking out," Powell recalls. "She actually said, 'Who is this guy? I've gotta meet him!'"
Fast-forward a few months, when Powell's wife, singer Susan Marshall, was doing a set at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. When both Williams and frequent Marshall collaborator Greg Dulli agreed to participate in the gig, the couple decided to fly Jungklas out for the weekend. "The rehearsal was a magical, musical night," Powell says. "Rob sat down and played a couple of new songs, and Lucinda was hunched over, sobbing. Later on, Rob came to me and said, 'She asked me to go on the road.'"
"I thought it might have been drunk talk," Powell says, laughing. "But Lucinda said, 'Absolutely - the world needs to hear you.'" Not long after, Jungklas received a call from agent Frank Riley, who booked him on nine dates of Williams' current tour. "His first show is in Washington, D.C., on August 8th, and his last one is at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville," Powell says, adding that this week, he and Jungklas are traveling to Denton, Texas, where they'll work on Jungklas' as-yet-untitled Arkadelphia follow-up at Echo Lab recording studio. - AL
When the first annual African-Caribbean Reggae Festival comes to Memphis this weekend it promises to unite musicians, poets, dancers, and vendors under a common cause: drawing attention to the Jamaican and Caribbean culture in the city and perhaps serving as a catalyst to the burgeoning local scene.
"We're trying to get the sound out in the area," says Tzaddi, one of the organizers who will also serve as a DJ between live acts. "I'm going to play from the foundation - Toots, Marley, Cliff, Tosh and maybe some dub in between, Dillinger and Big Youth."
The bands featured at the event are Soul Enforcers, River Zion, and Yard Squad. Each group plans on playing classic reggae tunes, but in their own style. Yard Squad is the most contemporary, dance-hall-oriented group. Soul Enforcers is a local group that has been playing together for around four years. The five-piece act has played such local venues as Precious Cargo, Automatic Slim's, and the Buccaneer. The Soul Enforcers manager Troy Lester says the group plays Memphis soul music with a reggae feel. "Hopefully this festival will draw local musicians together into a more collective atmosphere so that we can support one another," Lester says.
Gordon Taylor is a founder of River Zion. He has been playing reggae music in Memphis for more than two decades, and he echoes the sentiment expressed by Lester. "I have found there is a community here who really appreciates reggae, and I hope this festival showcases that," he says. River Zion plays a more traditional style of roots reggae, covering songs by Bob and Rita Marley and the Israel Vibrations.
The festival will also feature appearances by local poets and rappers. There will be a showcase of capoiera, the Brazilian martial art, by a local instructor. There will also be a prayer and libation led in the Santaria tradition. The event will be held Friday, July 22nd and Saturday, July 23rd, at United Travelers Field, north of T.O. Fuller State Park in South Memphis. Tents and RVs are welcome. Admission is $10 daily. - Ben Popper
It's been 12 years since three teenage Metallica fans from West Memphis were charged with the ritualistic murder of three eight-year-old boys. Damien Echols, a self-professed Wiccan, was alleged to be the ringleader of a satanic cult that included his pals Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. Echols was sentenced to death for the crimes, and the others were handed life sentences. But some believe the teens, later dubbed the West Memphis Three (WM3), were unfairly judged on their looks and interests rather than on physical evidence.
Musicians, especially Henry Rollins, have been defending the WM3 for years, hosting benefit shows and raising awareness. On Saturday, July 23rd, musicians the world over will help raise money for the Damien Echols Defense Fund during the first WM3 World Awareness Day. Echols is currently trying to get a federal appeal, and funds raised will go toward legal fees for new counsel. Events and rock shows are being held in more than 50 cities across the globe. Neil's in Midtown is hosting the local event, where 15 bands will play, including The George Jonestown Massacre, Solstice, The Moment of Truth, Kat Maxwell, Cell Theory, Amerika, Fall With Me, Adrenaline, The Best Defense, Jason Freeman, and Organ Thief. Music will go on from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m., and in between bands, autographed copies of Mara Leveritt's The Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three and the collection The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three will be raffled off along with other merchandise. There will also be a viewing of videotaped messages from Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley. n
- Bianca Phillips