It's been 21 years since Goner Records co-owner Zac Ives happened across a Wreckless Eric cassette tape passed from Greg Cartwright to the late Jay Reatard. Another decade has passed since Wreckless Eric, aka Eric Goulden, made his Memphis debut at the original location of the Hi-Tone, thanks to Ives, who tracked him down while on vacation in England. Ever since, the punk singer/songwriter, best known for his 1977 Stiff Records hit "Whole Wide World," has made Memphis a stop on his infrequent U.S. tours, performing at a variety of venues including Gonerfest, Burke's Book Store, and the Galloway House. He's played solo, with his wife Amy Rigby, and once, with reunited cult faves the Len Bright Combo on their only American tour date — coincidentally their second gig in a quarter-century. This Sunday, he returns to headline the second installment of the spring River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheater, which begins at 3 p.m.
- Eric Goulden
Goulden remembers that first Memphis gig, which occurred in July 2006, with lightning precision. "It was like playing to a lot of braying idiots," he says. "You Memphians think you know about music because of Elvis Presley and Alex Chilton, but you know fuck all about music because you just talk about yourselves. I had to wonder, is there someone who is listening?"
Of the Burke's Book Store gig in October 2012, Goulden says, "Things changed; it was the first time I felt people were listening." The next fall, when Goulden returned to play Gonerfest, he decided that Memphis was "quite fun."
"There must be a Memphis outside of Goner Records, but I don't know it," Goulden says, constantly referencing the Cooper-Young record shop, as he names the landmarks he knows in the city. Burke's is "the bookstore around the corner from Goner," and Galloway House, where Goulden and Rigby performed in spring 2016, is "that chapel down the road from Goner."
Yet Goulden is a fan of more than just garage rock. "I grew up loving Stax Records, Otis Redding, and Booker T. & the MGs," he says. "I've never been to Graceland, but I have been driven past Elvis' Audubon house. Memphis is fascinating — of course it is, that's a dumb thing to say. It's another world. You can walk around and go into the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot."
He gulps, pauses, then utters a soft expletive. "When I come down there, history comes alive for me. It's almost overwhelming. Even the Mississippi River is something I can't quite take in — that it somehow comes from Minneapolis and ends up flowing into the Gulf of Mexico."
Goulden's Sunday performance will mark the fifth stop on a three-country tour promoting his inspired new album, Construction Time & Demolition, which was cut at his home studio in Catskill, New York, finished and mixed at the Bomb Shelter, Andrija Tokic's Nashville studio, and released last week on Southern Domestic Records.
"I was gonna call it Forty Years, because it was supposed to come out exactly 40 years after my first album," Goulden says, "but all these other people already did that. It's been 40 years since the Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, and the Sex Pistols, and I thought, I don't want to be involved in that nostalgia trip!"
Despite the title change, Construction Time & Demolition adroitly documents Goulden's trajectory from his youth in East Sussex and his stint in art school to his career during and after the Stiff Records years. Moody, brilliant, catchy and frequently hilarious, it also tackles the apathy of the Trumpian world in true punk fashion.