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Letter From the Editor

The Blues Ball and the Best of Memphis


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When I moved to Memphis in the early 1990s, my first job at this company was running the special-publications division, helping put together magazines for customers needing a promotional or informational print product. One of my first customers was a woman named Pat Kerr Tigrett, who had an idea for a big party called the Blues Ball.

She wanted to create a colorful, magazine-type program for the party and have it bound into Memphis magazine's October 1994 issue — which is where I came in.

If you look up the phrase "force of nature," you will see a picture of Pat Tigrett. If you'd looked up "bumfuzzled" in 1994, you'd have seen a picture of me, trying to keep up with Pat, who was simply bursting with ideas and to whom the words "final deadline" meant "the day we might possibly think about starting to wrap this up."

Every day there was a new idea, a new story to write, new (or old) photos to find, new people to call and schedule for interviews or pictures. I spent so much time at Pat's downtown condo working out details, people were starting to talk.

"Just call Sam at home. Here's his number. He'd love to talk to you," she'd say.

"Sam?" I said.

"Sam Phillips, you know, Sun Records, the man who discovered Elvis?"

"Uh, okay." And Sam was happy to talk, a lot. In fact, I felt like I needed a translator to parse his stream-of-consciousness rap.

And when Pat mentioned calling Isaac, I soon realized she was talking about Isaac Hayes. In fact, she was seemingly on a first-name basis with every living Memphis music legend: Rufus Thomas, Willie Mitchell, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Al Green, Booker T. & the MG's, the Bar-Kays, David Porter, the Memphis Horns, B.B. King, Sam and Dave, Sid Selvidge, Jim Dickinson, Big Star, the Staple Singers, etc.

As a new guy to Memphis who grew up listening to most of these icons, it was thrilling to be able to meet them and, in some cases, get to know them a little bit.

After a few years, the program got so big it wouldn't fit in Memphis magazine, so our company got out of the Blues Ball business.

And I hadn't been to the Blues Ball for a few years, but last weekend was the 20th anniversary of Pat's big party, so my wife and I went. My, how it has grown. Outside dinner seating in downtown Memphis for a few hundred people, anyone?

This year's honoree was Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave, whose performance at the Obama White House this spring may end up being noted by historians as the highlight of this president's second term.

At 77, Moore hasn't lost a thing. Backed by a stellar group of Memphis session men, he transported us all back to the glory days of Stax. It was transcendent, and I am grateful to have been able to experience it — and proud to be able to say I live where so much musical greatness was spawned.

And so, in this issue, when we talk about the "Best of Memphis," just remember, that's really saying something.

Bruce VanWyngarden

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