Though he never reached quite the stature of first-tier soul stars like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, Overton Vertis "O.V." Wright is recognized as one of the great semilegendary voices in classic soul music.
Wright, who passed away in Memphis on November 16, 1980, is remembered for classic deep-soul recordings such as "That's How Strong My Love Is" (later covered by Redding and the Rolling Stones), "A Nickel and a Nail," and "Motherless Child" (sampled, to great effect, by Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah), all products of a long career that started with local indie Back Beat Records before Wright began working with producer Willie Mitchell's Hi Records in the '70s.
In his time, Wright toiled in the shadow of more well-known local soul stars such as Redding and Al Green and, in a city that constantly pays tribute to past heroes, has been similarly anonymous in death. That's something that music writer/historian Preston Lauterbach (a former Flyer and Memphis magazine staff writer) discovered a year ago.
"It was the anniversary of O.V.'s death, and I decided to find out where he was buried and visit his grave," Lauterbach says. After scrolling through newspaper microfilm at the library, Lauterbach's journey took him to Galillee Memorial Gardens in East Memphis, where he discovered that Wright's final resting place was an unmarked grave.
Lauterbach wrote of his discovery on his blog, BackroadsofAmericanMusic.com, which inspired other soul enthusiasts to want to do something to better honor Wright's memory. One "soul blogger" friend from New York started a Paypal account, which raised $2,000. And this weekend, on the 28th anniversary of Wright's death, those who contributed to the fund will "come out and see what they bought."
Lauterbach has organized an O.V. Wright Weekend, which will culminate at Galillee Memorial Gardens at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 16th, to unveil Wright's new gravestone. The preceding night, Wright will be celebrated at a memorial concert at downtown's Ground Zero Blues Club headlined by Wright's former Hi Records labelmate Otis Clay. Clay, who lives in Chicago, is probably best known for his hit "Trying To Live My Life Without You." He'll be backed by guitarist Teenie Hodges and the rest of the Hi Rhythm band, who will also perform their own set. According to Lauterbach, it will be the first time Clay and Hi Rhythm have performed together in Memphis since the early '90s.
In addition, according to Lauterbach, a surprise guest will be on hand. O.V. Wright Jr., a Shelby County sheriff's deputy, will join Hi Rhythm to sing his father's trademark song, "That's How Strong My Love Is."
The memorial concert is set to start at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 15th. Tickets are $25 and are available locally at Shangri-La Records and the downtown and Whitehaven Pop Tunes locations. For more information, see OVWright.org.
For Lauterbach, this weekend's events also will be something of a launch party for a new nonprofit he's started, Soul of Memphis, which will seek to do similar cultural history/restoration efforts.
Local rockers Lucero have been pretty quiet since signing with Universal Records earlier this year, but fans can see frontman Ben Nichols in a different light at the Hi-Tone Café this weekend. Nichols will perform solo as part of the Revival Tour alongside other lead singers of like-minded punk/indie bands, including Hot Water Music's Chuck Ragan, Avail's Tim Barry, and, perhaps most notably, Against Me!'s Tom Gabel. The Revival Tour lands at the Hi-Tone on Friday, November 14th. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show.