We all know what Isaac HAYES has been doing lately -- hanging out with Lucky the Pig, shilling for the sexy, sultry Tennessee lottery -- but what about his former songwriting partner and fellow Stax alumnus, David Porter? The Soul Man -- better known these days as the entrepreneur behind 'Da Blues, a restaurant inside Memphis International Airport -- is back in the music biz, thanks to smooth-jazz guitarist Garry Goin.
"I met Garry back in the late '80s, when he was playing at Captain Bilbo's with Wendy Moten and MVP," Porter remembers. "I was impressed, and I told him that I was interested in developing him as a writer. We've been together now for 15 years."
The two have collaborated on dozens of commercial ventures, including theme songs for the "Big Dig" groundbreaking for the Pyramid Arena and the opening of the Redbirds' AutoZone Park, material for Kirk Whalum's 2003 release Into My Soul, and more. Over the years, Porter says, "Garry has been an unbelievable friend and cohort. He's been extremely loyal, and I wanted to give something back to him. I knew he had the potential to be an artist in his own right."
So Porter co-produced Goin's first solo album, Goin' Places, available now on Compendia Records. The album, which consists of 11 melodic, uplifting instrumentals -- including an ebullient, soulful take on Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" -- was partially recorded at Young Avenue Sound and at Blind Alley Recording Studio, with additional work done in Nashville. Goin and Porter collaborated on the majority of the tracks, including the funky "Blue House" and the jazzy "Will You Marry Me."
How hard was it to collaborate with a genius of Porter's scale, someone who's written and produced more than 140 chart singles? "Well," Goin says with a laugh, "if I focused on how great David is, it would be hard for me to work. I knew his history from day one, but, luckily, he plays that down so things can get done."
Nationally, Goin' Places is getting plenty of play. It's gotten exposure in 30 markets, and SmoothJazz.com has ranked the album's first single, "Don't Ask My Neighbors," in its Top 50 chart. "But in Memphis, it's an uphill situation," laments Porter. "We had a great jazz station -- 98.9 FM -- go off the air recently. We had a tremendous amount of momentum, and now the station is gone, which is a bummer."
Nevertheless, Goin, an Ohio native, says, "I'm honored to be considered a part of Memphis' musical legacy. We have some incredible jazz musicians in this city now, and David is an incredible person and an incredible talent. Through him, I've learned that Memphis is something to carry with respect."
The guitarist has a national tour scheduled for later this spring, but for now, he and Porter are hooking up with an old friend: Every Saturday this March, Goin will be performing at Isaac Hayes Reloaded. Showtime is 8 p.m.
As luck would have it, Goin' Places isn't the only Stax-related smooth-jazz album to drop this month: The South Soul Rhythm Section is celebrating the release of its debut, M-Town, at Isaac Hayes Reloaded this Friday, February 25th. These musicians are hardly industry veterans like Goin and Porter. In fact, hardly any of the South Soul-sters are old enough to drink.
While guitarist Matt Isbell is 24 and pianist Tontrell Houston is 21, the rest of the band weighs in well below the legal age limit: Bassist Dywane Thomas Jr. is just 14 years old, while saxophonist Devon Britton and arranger Garrion Brown are each 19. Keyboardist Brenae Davis is 18, percussionist Reginald Shaw is 17, and drummer Kennith Shepherd is 16.
Manager Tony Nichelson recruited several of these musicians from the Stax Music Academy, where he worked as a program manager. "They're very gifted, they like each other, and there's great chemistry, musically," says Nichelson, who left Stax two years ago to work with the band full-time.
M-Town was recorded at Young Avenue Sound last spring. Propulsive horn blasts and a funky bass riff anchor original tracks such as "Black Cadillac" and the melancholy "Who's Curtis," while Davis leads the group on the joyful, percussive title track.
"Right now, we're focusing on getting more premium dates, using M-Town as our calling card," Nichelson says, citing another high-profile appearance for the group, The Pink Palace Museum's Oscar Night America party this Sunday, February 27th. "We'll have another album -- featuring 10 new songs -- out this fall."
Finally, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music's "Last Mondays" concert series will continue on February 28th, when The Bo-Keys set up inside the replica of the legendary recording space. It should seem like a homecoming for guitarist Skip Pitts and drummer Willie Hall, who laid down hundreds of hours in the original Studio A. Expect cabaret-style seating for the show, which begins at 7 p.m. General admission is $20, and free to Stax Museum members.