Monday, May 18, 2015

Overton Square Lives

This week's forty-fifth anniversary celebration of Overton Square brings back a flood of memories which, in itself, is an accomplishment. TGIFriday's was a year old when I showed up, so if my math is correct, I was twenty-three when I began singing in the Square. I'd just moved back to town after a six year absence when I got the call. A new club had opened across the street from Friday's where Bosco's now stands, called The Looking Glass. In contrast to the frenzy at Friday's, this was more of a businessman's club with the long wooden bar leading into a plush lounge area. They wanted live music but not a whole lot of noise, so I got the solo job, playing nightly Wednesday through Saturday. The sitting room was constructed to look like a library with overstuffed couches and bookshelves filled with someone's castoff antiquities. There was a platform in the corner with a high bar stool on top. Every time I took the stage, it was like climbing an obstacle course to reach my perch, but from there I could watch the whole crazy scene of Memphians celebrating the passage of an ordinance allowing liquor by the drink. The Southern Baptists had kept Memphis a cocktail free town for fifty years, and now the city was ready to party.

As for personal exposure, a student from Ole Miss named Holmes Pettey came in one night, and the next thing I knew, I was opening for the Allman Brothers in Oxford. When Lafayette's Music Room opened in August of 1972,  I became the Square's unofficial go-to guy for a warm-up act. Friday's manager and former Box Tops drummer, Thomas Boggs, moved me across the street where, instead of playing four sets a night, I became the opening act for some of the major artists of the day. Lafayette's wasn't just a rock club. They booked jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock, Buddy Rich and Chick Corea, or you could drop by the next week and catch Waylon Jennings or Earl Scruggs. Billy Joel was touring behind his first album, "Piano Man," when he played Lafayette's. I strummed pleasantly for the packed house, but Billy Joel blew them away. Between shows, I went to the dressing room and after introducing myself, I told Billy that I really believed he was going to make it. He smiled and told me he appreciated it. Hey, you've heard of the "butterfly effect." Who's to say my few words of encouragement didn't make all the difference? When I was finishing up my set before Barry Manilow made his Memphis debut, I told the audience that they would love this guy with the piano that lights up like a Christmas tree, which sent Manilow's manager into a rage, chasing after Thomas Boggs, screaming that I had ruined Barry's schtick. Then there was the night Kiss performed.

By this time, the jam-packed Square had created a burgeoning local music scene that went for three blocks in either direction. At one point, there were at least a dozen clubs within walking distance featuring home-town pickers. Thirteen, if you count Yosemite Sam's. No one had even heard of Kiss when the hype preceded the band to the Square. Lafayette's was filled with curiosity seekers when Kiss shook the stage. I stood in the back with the boys and when Kiss cranked up, and it was like being cuffed across the ear. The band wasn't halfway through their grotesque routine when the audience started jamming the exits. Kiss cleared out Lafayette's in thirty minutes- wanna know why? There were ten local bands on the street with better musicians than Kiss, and they didn't need stage make-up to get the message across. Kiss made no waves here and were considered to be a short-lived novelty act, reeking of desperation. Of course, they're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I'm here forty years later still reminiscing about the gig. Kansas was another band too loud for the room. They hadn't even gotten to "Dust In The Wind" before the decibel level sent customers running into the night with bleeding ears. On the other hand, Minnie Ripperton was heavenly and Leon Russell was cool. Henry Gross became a Memphis favorite after his Lafayette's appearance and returns to the same room this weekend for a long anticipated encore.

When Boggs asked me to put a band together for a slow Tuesday night, I called some guys and we started a weekly jam that drew in some of the city's best players. One night, I looked around and four of the six musicians onstage were in the teen sensations, Randy and the Radiants- only now we were old enough to drink. The band reformed on the condition that we drop the "Randy" from the name. The Radiants became one of Lafayette's rotating house bands, playing for a month at a time, and the place was jammed every night. Some of the waiters would periodically line the foot of the stage with vodka tonics, which the legendary Andrew Love referred to as "show-biz medicine." The room was jumping when Rufus Thomas walked in. None of us had met Rufus yet, but we were booked to back him up at a charity show later that month. I was delighted to invite Rufus up to the stage while the audience roared its approval. Mr. Thomas called the key and the tempo and the band broke into a ten minute uproarious blues jam with Rufus pulling out every risque verse he knew. The audience went nuts and screamed so loudly it was hard to hear Rufus when he walked back to me and said tersely into my ear, "Never invite me up again without asking my permission first." It was as heartbreaking to see Lafayette's Music Room close as it is heartwarming to see it reopen- so get out there and start making some new memories. This week's gathering of original Overton Square performers is our chance to pass the torch. And guess who's opening?

Monday, May 4, 2015

GOP Guide

The GOP could open a haberdashery with all the  hats thrown into the ring for the 2016 presidential nomination. It looks pretty much the same as the last go-round, minus Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, but plus Rand Paul and Jeb Bush. The list is still in flux, but these are the folks who are most likely to entertain us all summer with their traveling vaudeville debate theater. The reviews for the last troup were boffo. They brought down the house in every city. So what if that house was in foreclosure? Since there are so many candidates with such wonderful things to say, I thought a guide to the Republican presidential candidates might be useful for the still confused. That is, if Obama doesn't rip up the Constitution, declare martial law, and run for a third term. So without further delay, the prospective contenders for the office of president are:

Ted Cruz- Texas Senator and morality crusader
Philosophy- Whatever Joe McCarthy said.
Famous Quote- "I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand." Spoken before an empty chamber recitation of Green Eggs and Ham.

Rand Paul- Senator from Kentucky
Philosophy- Neo-Libertarian. "I read all of Ayn Rand's novels when I was seventeen."
Famous Quote- "A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."

Ben Carson- Neurosurgeon and Narcissist.
Philosophy- I'm the Bizarro Obama.
Famous Quote- "Obamacare is the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery."

Jeb Bush-  Former Florida Governor
Philosophy- Please don't blame me for my idiot brother torching the globe.
Famous Quote- "Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families."

Rick Perry- Texas Governor
Philosophy- I got glasses this time to make me look smarter.
Famous Quote- "Oops."

Chris Christie- New Jersey Governor and bridge builder
Philosophy- Sit down and shut up.
Famous Quote- "Sit down and shut up."

Scott Walker- Wisconsin Governor and union buster
Philosophy- Whatever the Koch brothers tell me.
Famous Quote- "Let 'em protest all they want. Sooner or later the media stops finding it interesting."

Marco Rubio- Florida Senator and pitchman for Aquafina.
Philosophy- I'm really running for vice-president.
Famous Quote- "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it."

Carly Fiorina- Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Philosophy- Just because I drove HP into the ground doesn't mean I can't be president.
Famous Quote- "If Hillary had to face me on the debate stage, at the very least she would have a hitch in her swing." I don't know what it means either.

Mike Huckabee- Former Arkansas Governor and future pitchman for reverse-loan mortgages.
Philosophy- Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?
Famous Quote- "Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription."

I suppose you could call the rest fringe candidates since their views are so radical. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said that the GOP "must stop being the stupid party." Anti-sex advocate Rick Santorum said, "Contraception is not OK. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." These are all worthy topics for future hilarious debates, but for the most eloquent statement of qualifications, you have to give it up to grifter and perennial candidate Donald Trump who said, "The only difference between me and the other candidates is that I'm more honest and my women are more beautiful." In this tabloid culture, what more could you want in a president?