"I knew from the beginning that you were the one for me," are the first words heard on "Stone Crush on You," the opening and title track of the new collection Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987, out April 3rd from Light in the Attic Records. The opening track, a more than 5-minute-long funky dance groove by C.W. Sykes, a.k.a. "The Singing Dentist," makes for the ideal introduction to the collection. Its protracted groove sets the mood for Stone Crush, a collection of songs united by their status as once-overlooked passion projects, many of them extended dance grooves.
- Courtesy Benjamin Jimerson Phillips
- Captain Fantastic
And how passionate were these performers? Well, Sykes certainly earned his nickname. When the "Singing Dentist" wasn't crooning over slide guitars and percussive riffs, he used to trade dental work for studio time.
Compiled by Memphis collectors and DJs Daniel Mathis and Chad Weekley, Stone Crush takes as its focus the soul and funk songs produced in the Bluff City after the closure of Stax. Though the biggest name in town had disappeared, Memphis had no shortage of musicians, smaller recording studios, and dreamers willing to spend their time and money chasing a hit.
A quick flip through the full-color booklet that accompanies the collection reveals some familiar Bluff City recording spots. Some tracks were recorded or mixed at Ardent. The collection sports extensive liner notes by Memphis-based Grammy Award-winning writer and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Gordon (author of the fantastic collection Memphis Rent Party), and artist interviews and bios from Memphis curator, writer, and sometimes Flyer contributor Andria Lisle. To further cement the Memphis look, the cover art and booklet paintings are by the late Memphis muralist and sign painter James "Brick" Brigance.
- Courtesy Bobby Manuel
The songs that make up Stone Crush make the definitive soundtrack to cutting class to soak up the sun in Overton Park or spending Saturday night skating backwards under the lights of SkateLand. They're fun, funky, and dotted with connections to the Memphis music scene. "Slice of Heaven" offers a slice of pure, dreamy, good-vibrations funk by Cato Walker, whose father's gig as B.B. King's driver got him an in. "Convict Me," by The Bar-Kays' former costume maker, Libra, is slinky and sexy, with a bassline that begs listeners to move their bodies.
To be fair, though, most of the songs on Stone Crush are made to get listeners grooving. Frankie Alexander's "No Seat Dancin'" could just as easily have been the title track for the collection. When Alexander sings, "We gotta keep on dancing, girl ... Get up from your seat. Get up on your feet," he may as well be delivering a mantra. "(I'm) Choosing You" by Magic Morris, with its choppy guitar, big bass riffs, and synth accents, clocks in at more than 6 minutes and 58 seconds long. It's an extended jam, fine-tuned to be an irresistible call to the dance floor.
Sir Henry Ivy's "He Left You Standing There" begins with piano and a tight drum beat, lending it a closer link to the traditional Memphis sound. "You Mean Everything to Me" by Sweet Pearl may boast the most Stax-inflected soul delivery on the compilation. On the stranger side of the spectrum, "The Doctor" by L.A. starts with a bass riff and is followed up with almost new wave keyboards.
Coming just in time for spring, Stone Crush offers a deep dive into the post-Stax world of Memphis soul. And though these songs may not be as familiar to listeners, they offer a way into a world that is just as passionate, fun, and danceable.
The new collection Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987 will be released by Light in the Attic Records on Friday, April 3rd. The collection will be available in two-LP + 7", two-LP, CD, and digital formats.