Memphis Reissues Doing Well

By Mark Jordan, special to The Commercial Appeal
June 1, 2007

Much has been made recently of the sad state of the record industry, but at least one segment of it - the reissue market - seems to be thriving.

Once the exclusive purview of a few established American and foreign boutique labels, the reissue market has welcomed an explosion of new players in recent years, spurred on chiefly by the global reach available through the Internet. And the effort is uncovering some fantastic artifacts from Memphis's musical past.

For its rich legacy in blues, rock and soul, Memphis music has long been a favorite subject for reissue labels. Thanks to comprehensive packages from Germany's Bear Family, England's Charly, America's Concord Music Group, Rhino and others, most of the major chapters of the city's musical legacy - the major stars of Stax and Hi Records, virtually everything recorded at Sun - have been fleshed out. But some resourceful labels still manage to mine the past for valuable musical gems.

For instance, it is well known that Los Angeles-based Concord Music Group, owners of the Memphis Stax Records archive, has embarked on a yearlong series of reissues celebrating the soul label's 50th anniversary. But a pair of new English re-releases put the spotlight on Stax's lesser known but still influential rock subsidiary, Enterprise Records. Home Sweet Home (Sunbeam Records,) is the one and only solo album by legendary Stax and Ardent studios engineer Terry Manning. The record features the first recording appearance of Memphis guitarist Chris Bell. A few years later Bell would form Big Star, a band whose fate would follow that Manning record. Critically well-received upon its release, Home Sweet Home's sales suffered from the endemic distribution problems that ultimately led to Stax's demise (ironic in a city that would become the distribution capital of the world).

Acclaimed by collectors as a groundbreaking studio work and a progenitor of punk, the record enjoys a reputation that may have less to do with its own merits than the regard in which Manning, currently manager of Chris Blackwell's Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, is held. Still the record is a mischievous, at times inspired psychedelic artifact, highlighted by two Beatles covers - a deranged, 10-minute take on "Savoy Truffle" that is left over from the original LP, and a rare bonus cut of "One After 909," based on an early demo Manning had heard and released before even the Fab Four's version.

Also originally released on Enterprise, Memphis blues rock band Moloch's eponymous LP (Fallout Records, ), released here with a pair of bonus tracks, is today revered as one of the most complete documents of the guitar prowess of the late Lee Baker.

Moloch - Baker, drummer Phillip Durham, bassist Steve Spear, organist Fred Nicholson and vocalist Gene Wilkins -- was a lynchpin of the Memphis psychedelic scene of the late '60s, sort of a bluesier Grateful Dead with Midtown substituting for the Haight. Their one and only album was produced by Don Nix (the Mar-Keys, Leon Russell), who also wrote most of the songs on it. Wilkins and Baker are the stars of the effort, however, with the latter giving a pointed schooling in the essentials of blues-rock guitar on tracks such as the original recorded version of the standard "Going Down."

Following the demise of Moloch the following year, Baker would go on to a storied career backing up Furry Lewis and Alex Chilton and forming the groups Mudboy & the Neutrons and the Agitators. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he was murdered in 1996, but with this first CD reissue of Moloch, his legacy perseveres.

Barbara & the Browns
Memphis gospel singer Barbara Brown and her siblings Roberta, Betty and Maurice also started on Stax. Billed as Barbara & the Browns, the group released three singles (six songs total) for the label in 1964-65, including the excellent "My Love," featuring the distinctive chicken-scratch guitar of Steve Cropper and a powerhouse vocal that recalls the best Etta James. After failing to catch on at Stax, the group recorded for a series of other labels, including Atco and Sounds of Memphis, before apparently abandoning secular music to return to the church.

Scheduled for release Friday, Can't Find Happiness: The Sounds of Memphis Recordings (Ace Records, ) is the first compilation of Barbara & the Browns' recordings. It is not complete. All three Stax B-sides, including the superior "Big Party" flip side "You Belong To Her," are missing. But that loss is balanced by the discovery of all 17 tracks Brown recorded for Sounds of Memphis. At the time these tracks were leased out piecemeal to various labels, but collected together, they paint a portrait of one of the great -- if forgotten - soul acts.

Eddie Bond
One of the labels that most consistently features Memphis music of the past is England's Stomper Time Records. Named after Eddie Bond's old label, Stomper Time has dedicated itself to excavating all the lesser rockabilly labels that emerged in Memphis (and Tennessee) around the time Sun Records was changing music forever. This has resulted in fascinating if uneven compilations chronicling the Fernwood, Rebel, and Glo-Lite labels, among others.

Their latest, however, finds Stomper Time revisiting its initial inspiration. Eddie Bond: Memphis Rockabilly King (Stomper Time,) is an updated version of the very first Stomper Time collection, with 40 of Rockabilly Hall of FamerŪ's earliest recordings.

Finally, on Action! Action! Action! (Break-A-Way Records,) the German label Break-A-Way paints a startling, complete portrait of a period of Memphis mid-'60s garage rock centered around the almost famous trio the Guilloteens.

In 1964, guitarist Louis Paul, bassist Laddie Hutcherson, and drummer Joe Davis formed the Guilloteens out of the remnants of the old Mar-Keys. (The new name "sounded English" Hutcherson explains in the liner notes, largely lifted from Ron Hall's essential tome "Playing For A Piece Of The Door," published locally by Shangri-la Projects.)

The band built a local following, counting Elvis Presley among their fans, and was poised to begin work with producer Phil Spector, when their manager -- in one of those only-a-Memphis-band kind of moves - signed the group with the fledgling record arm of cartoon producers Hanna-Barbera.

Despite the odd coupling, the Guilloteens toured nationally, appeared on shows like "American Bandstand," and managed to record some highly memorable national hits before breaking up for good in 1968. Those singles included "Hey You" and "Don't Let the Rain Get You Down." And though you can clearly hear elements of the Kinks and later tour mates Paul Revere & the Raiders in the 10 original singles and B-sides collected here, there are also strong elements of American soul and psychedelic rock that suggest something very different to come.

A second unessential but fascinating disc is dedicated to various projects that both preceded and followed the Guilloteens, including Hutcherson's earlier group the Lesabres and the one-off Hutcherson studio project the Memphis Marks.

Back to the "Take Note" Main Page