From the moment he signed a contract to be the music supervisor on Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow in 2005, Scott Bomar had a plan.
"That very same day I went out and bought enough recording equipment to start a studio," says Bomar, a longtime fixture on the local music scene as a bass player with such noteworthy bands as Pezz, Impala, the Tearjerkers, and, most recently, the Bo-Keys. "I knew I didn't want to have to pay to work in outside studios for the project, and had already accumulated a large collection of musical instruments and gear over the years — amps and stuff that I knew other musicians could appreciate. So I just did it. I set everything up at my house and tried to record just about anybody I could."
Bomar's interest in recording music dates back much further than five years, of course. Roughly 15 years prior to signing on for Hustle & Flow, a 16-year-old Bomar had an epiphany of sorts while recording a compilation track with Pezz in Doug Easley's then-garage studio.
"I thought to myself, This is my environment, this is home. It completely mystified and fascinated me," Bomar says. "It was then that I realized that the coolest part about being in a band, for me anyway, is recording."
Later on, as a member of Impala, Bomar acquired a cassette 4-track recorder and began producing demos and compilation tracks for the band. During that time he honed his skills, all the while searching for ways to get the sound he heard in his head onto tape.
"I definitely came out of the 1990s home-recording movement," Bomar says. "And I had been listening to Travis Womack and a lot of Hi and Stax Records stuff. So I focused on learning how to achieve that sound myself."
These days, Bomar finds himself one of the most sought-after producer/engineers in Memphis. Three years ago, he moved his studio, dubbed Electraphonic, out of the house and into a large building on South Main and has worked there with a litany of prominent local acts such as the City Champs, Jack Oblivian, the Dirty Streets, and the late Jay Reatard. Bomar also has continued to do high-profile film and television work, including Black Snake Moan, Soul Men, and $5 Cover.
In late January of this year, Bomar received a call that would lead to his highest-profile album-recording project to date.
"I was at a [University of Memphis] Tigers basketball game. A friend of mine from Downtown Records [a subsidiary of Universal] called me, asking for a reel of recent stuff I'd recorded for a potential project," Bomar says. "It was very cryptic, because he wouldn't say who it was for, just that he wanted to hear stuff that was 'blues-y.' So I sent him a few things and didn't think much of it.
"Around that same time, I happened to see Cyndi Lauper performing on TV and also heard her song 'All Through the Night' while I was in a hardware store. So I was already thinking about how much I liked her music and how much I'd like to hear her do a new record."
As fate would have it, Lauper turned out to be the artist looking for a producer. And, of course, Scott Bomar got the job.
"I asked her why she decided to record with me, and she said, 'Because when we talked, you didn't act like you know everything,'" Bomar says, with a bit of a chuckle.
Lauper holed up for two weeks in March at Electraphonic with Bomar and an all-star backing band of local musicians: Stax players Skip Pitts and Lester Snell, Hi Rhythm veterans Howard Grimes and Leroy Hodges, and a horn trio of Marc Franklin, Kirk Smother, and Derrick Williams. The end result is the raw but rewarding Memphis Blues, which hit stores nationwide this week.
On Memphis Blues, Lauper is also joined by big-time heavyweights such as B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, Charlie Musselwhite, Jonny Lang, and Ann Peebles. But, according to Bomar, the heart and soul of the record is Lauper:
"She immersed herself in Memphis and what goes on here completely. Everyone was impressed by it. You don't see a lot of artists today making a record this real. I really respect her."
Indeed, if the album sounds a bit rough around the edges (in a good way), it's because the majority of it was tracked to Bomar's vintage 8-track tape machine entirely live and all at once.
"I was kinda surprised she went for it," Bomar says. "But that's how I prefer to work. What happened in the room translates on record."
Looking ahead, Bomar will focus the remainder of the year on finishing a long-awaited new Bo-Keys album, as well as new offerings from the City Champs, Ryan Peel, and whatever Memphis-related projects come his way.
"I've always loved Memphis music and bands. Working with them is what I love to do — nothing gives me more satisfaction," Bomar says. "That's why I stay here."