OK This bugs me enough that I blogged about it

I was raised, probably just like everyone else, with the ethos “if you haven’t got anything nice to say”, you know the rest. And I also know I am treading on thin ice with what I am about to write but it has irked me for years that I am just bound to “do a little number” about a song. Let me preface this with: I am not being negative in the slightest and I have nothing personally against what I am about to wax on here and do not know the creator of what I am going to write about in the next 600 or so words. And I doubt they would care one way or the other but much like John Lee Hooker in Boogie Chillun “it’s in him and it’s just got to come out.” I personally do not like the song “Walking in Memphis.” Here is why.

It rubs me the wrong way and has for years. This is nothing new, I did not like it the first few thousand times I heard it. It rubs me the same way that people hear “Free Bird” or “Sweet Home Alabama” and assume that the rest of the rednecks yelling the lyrics out encapsulates me as a southerner. And it rubs me, oh man does it rub me, the wrong way when people use it as some sort of sound track for their first experience in Memphis.

I have been to Disney (East and West) and did not walk around, through my entire experience humming “It’s a Small World.” The song itself is OK and passable so I am not slamming the writer, it “ain’t” his fault and he has no control of what others do after it is released but people, for god’s sake, “Walking in Memphis” is way down on the list of songs you should associate with Memphis.

I get that the tourism board probably loves it and I don’t blame them, it is made to order as far as a tourist song goes. I am very sure the writer of the song loves it and has reaped a just reward. I have no problem with this. The Don Corleone mindset (“It makes no difference, it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.”) is my view. Yet for the rest of you, do some homework and realize Memphis is a deep, ocean deep, place filled to the brim with culture. It is a Mecca. So much art has been created, unique to American culture, it boggles my mind and I have done my homework, my entire life and still learn things that still amaze and humble my soul.

So I am not attacking the song. Its lyrics are a bit trite for my taste yet also I get it. The guy was stupefied by his experience and I think this is probably a very honest response and in song no less. Just for the rest of you please, pretty please, do not make it the soundtrack for your journey to Memphis.
Read this book:
Deep Blues by Robert Palmer
or this book
It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon
Listen to these songs:

Booker T. Laury Memphis Blues
This goes to the very heart of Memphis music. It is its history and captures one of the greatest barrelhouse Piano players ever.

Booker T. and the M.G.sGreen Onions
There are tons of Stax songs and I encourage anyone to dive in but if I had to pick one I thought captured the sound it’s gotta be this one.

And I would suggest going to Sun Studios

The Stax Museum
Of course there is the King and Graceland
but also for an alternate take on where Memphis Music is now you might want to give a listen to Jack Oblivion who has done and is doing some very interesting music.
Memphis is basically stacked with history and culture unlike any other place in the world. Just don’t let one song from one guy temper your vision before visiting the Bluff City.

* Also for the record I love me some Lynard Skynard, the original boys. Just so you know.

Visions of an Old, Nerd Man

I listen to music on many different and subjective levels which is often key to employing various ideas and devices when I go into the studio to work on my own or someone else’s future masterpiece. One thing I enjoy immensely is listening to the oldies station, the real old stuff from 40 -50 years back. Yes I know, I am old but I compensate for it by being a nerd. So you might ask “what is the world does this have to do with me old, nerd man?” and here is the uptake on that. You can learn so much from the classic era of recording, I would say from the early 50’s to about 1975, before they got too flashy with the technology.

A person might immediately say “I don’t want to sound old I want a fresh modern sound.” I get that but what you should be going for is a universally great sound, regardless of the time. Yeah and also I know that you don’t care about “old grandpa music” but let me point out that they were playing these songs on the radio when I was a lad and they are still playing them, that should tell you something, great music is timeless. And you are not always necessarily listening for it because you like it, you are studying it to see what they do that sticks out as great.

What many of the mid 20th century studios lacked in equipment they more than made up for with experimentation, mic placement, and just raw, pure talent, which is the beginning of any serious recording endeavor. Or, if you really take the time, listen to some classic albums or recordings, then research the setting they were made in, you can get a great idea of the conditions and contributions which spurred these jewels into creation. Sometimes it was a little talent invested with a huge amount of work that produced a hit and just the opposite, huge talent and quick, hardly more than one or two takes that produced not only a hit but whole albums at times.

I will use examples which, if you ignore or do not take the time to listen, then it is your loss. Basically anything from the Beatles can teach you a great deal, from their first album, which was recorded, I believe, in one, long twelve hour session, to their last works which had grown sonically and thematically from their early efforts. If I had to pick one, and this is by no means my favorite or one I think is the best example but Revolver would be a prime candidate. It is first a supremely well written album, succinctly deft is how I would describe the musicianship and vocals, and the whole thing just sits so well in your ears. This is just one example.

Anything by Stax and Motown are also good places to start as you are getting hundreds of ideas to add to your creative palette as a musician, producer or both. It also is important to note that the equipment used on Stax early recordings, which are great, was nothing short of archaic and limited even for its time. Again the overall sound can be attributed to proper microphone placement and as always super good talent hit on all cylinders. Same in regard to Motown.

Classic music is classic for a reason. Great albums are called that for a reason. They all contain elements which have to be present. If you are a musician who writes and records their own songs the lesson is great songs make great music. If you are a recording musician with limited gear remember that talent can overcome any gear, a groove captured on the most basic setup can cook many years after it was made, but never has even a million dollars of equipment made something great out of something mediocre.