Bah Humbug: 2014's Memphis Music Letdowns


J.D. Reager
  • J.D. Reager
The Memphis music scene enjoyed many triumphs in the past year, which my colleagues have already discussed and celebrated. But 2014 also saw its share of failure and disappointment – two things I consider myself something of an expert on. So, to borrow an old catchphrase from local sports-talk radio personalities Chris Vernon and Gary Parrish: 2014, I’m hating on you. (P.S. – shout-out to the brain trust that helped me put this list together. You know who you are.)

10. Venue Closings

Two longstanding Memphis music venues closed in 2014 – Midtown’s The Poplar Lounge (A.K.A. where the stars used to hang out) and Newby’s, the centerpiece of the Highland strip. And while the Newby’s space sits vacant, The Poplar Lounge has been replaced by a second location of the Bartlett heavy metal bar Rockhouse Live. 

9. Beale St. Cover Charge Fiasco

In August, the Downtown Memphis Commission experimented with a $10 cover charge to walk down Beale Street after-hours on weekends. This was in response to a string of violent incidents in the area, but nobody seemed happy about the policy. Some even suggested racist motivations, and the fee was quickly abandoned.

8. Come Back Jake

Memphis musicians have, somewhat notoriously, always seemed to find greater success outside the Bluff City than within. This year, we lost a crucial member of the scene in Jake Vest – a singer/guitarist behind such bands as Tiger High, The Bulletproof Vests, Dream Team, Jump Back Jake, Clay Otis, and countless others – to Brooklyn, NY and a band called The Echo-Friendly.

7. Rick Ross

What’s more embarrassing than having a guy who rapped about drugging and raping women perform at the University of Memphis’ annual Memphis Madness event? Giving him the key to the city for opening a Wingstop.

6. Radio, Radio

In September, Entercom – a radio conglomerate that controls numerous stations across the country, including several in Memphis – decided to turn Classic Hits 94.1 into The Wolf, trading in classic rock (I.E., The Beatles) for modern pop-country drivel. To make things worse, the company fired longtime local D.J. Steve Conley. Ugh. And, oh, by the way – U of M radio still really sucks.

5. Gone Guitars

Local singer-songwriters Chris Milam and Myla Smith embarked on a tour together this fall, and all was well until all of their gear and merchandise was stolen in Jackson, MS. So far, none of it has been recovered.

4. Symphony of Destruction

In order to help keep the cash-strapped Memphis Symphony Orchestra up and running, members of the group agreed to take a 38% pay cut and continue playing; but the question still remains as to whether Memphis can realistically maintain a top-notch symphony in the long term.

3. Killer No-Show

Fresh off the heels of the release of his critically-acclaimed comeback album Rock & Roll Time, Memphis music legend Jerry Lee Lewis canceled his performance at the Cannon Center at the last possible minute. Fans waited for over an hour and a half before hearing the news: he had fallen ill and wasn’t up to the gig. Here’s hoping Mr. Lewis recovered fully and can make up the date in the future.

2. Violence (However Accidental)

Murphy’s, located at 1589 Madison, is an established local music venue and watering hole and has long been known as the “bar across the street from the (former) Antenna Club.” But a recent rash of violent encounters in the neighborhood (including one incident where a Murphy’s patron caught a stray bullet) has led some to question whether the business currently occupying the Antenna’s former space, a club called The Renaissance, is a public nuisance.

1. Death Becomes No One

Sadly, 2014 will be known as the year that took Memphis music icons Jimi Jamison, John Fry, John Hampton, Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, Don Mann, Jesse Winchester, Wendy Rene, and probably others that I’m forgetting, away from us. Rest in peace, y’all.

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