Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Birmingham Sound CD Release Party at the Hideout in Chicago

August 12th, 2006

A few pictures of the Legendary Roscoe Robinson and special guest Otis Clay

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I'm listening to Trees with Bells, leaning on the grey formica of my desk, adjusting the strap of my velcro mary jane, and dreaming of the moment, most probably sometime next week, when I can turn off my alarm clock and just sleep, for hours and hours.

It's been an intense week and a half. And it will keep on with that pace until the end of the weekend. Although my house guests have returned to Chicago and I am no longer caravan leader and tour guide, the Soul shows are over and the shimmying and shaking has ceased, I've still the Skybucket Showcase in Tuscaloosa and 6 more glorious days of hospital work.

The show. The Soul shows. The adventures with Emily Oddo and Sean Michael McCarthy and Alan Fritz. I flew up to Chicago on the 11th. It was the day after the liquid bomb scare in England, so even though I had packed everything in a beuatiful tight little suitcase for the first time ever. Dear Lord, I was proud. I ended up having to check it anyway. When I arrived in Chicago, Emily whisked me away in her jeep to the Skylark to meet her friend Josh and then to the Inner Town Pub, where we drank PBR with her friend Jason. And we bought tamales. Here was this little man with a cooler, floating through the door. Emily and Jason turned on their bar stools in his direction and pulled out some cash. Cheese Tamales. The little man handed Em and Jason each a plastic sandwich bag full of corn husks. We sat at the bar and peeled back the husks to reveal the splendor of late night cheese and cornmeal.

We walked a great deal during that week. Emily lived in Wicker Park, so alot of good restaurants and bars were only blocks away. I'm not used to that. I drive everywhere. The suburb of Birmingham in which I live does not even have sidewalks.

Saturday was spent running errands. We picked up Brian and Mary from the Airport in the morning and took them to Record Dugout and to a small amazing mexican restaurant where Emily ordered everything in spanish. I think I was kind of worried that being rather new to the vegetarian way of eats Chicago would be disappointing. The truth is that I could not have been staying with a better host. Emily took me to My Pie and the Flying Saucer and we stuffed our faces with some of the best tasting food I've ever had. She was as excited as I was for me to experience new things. We drank cocktails from the top of the Hancock building, ate rice from a hollowed out pineapple. I ate some cactus (that's what it was, wasn't it Brian?)

After dropping Brian and Mary off at the Hotel, we met John and Ralph and Roscoe at the Hide out. Ralph was practicing with Adam Fitz and the incredible group of musicians that Adam had assembled for the show. Ralph was standing, back to the door, facing the stage, the band, directing the horn section through the song. He would sing into his microphone "bah duh duh duuuuuh...." Pointing at the three young men, the smiled seriously thoughtful smiles and went about their work. Adam watched Ralph intently and followed with a quiet rhythm. He seemed to know every song of Ralph's by heart already, in fact I'm sure he did. Soon, he would break out into Set Me Free...singing it at the top of his lungs, with wailing soul that would make Eddie Hinton proud. At that moment, Ralph would laugh and clap his hands and jump back and shout. I don't know that Ralph had ever heard anyone ever sing his songs, apart from that Sam Frazier cover that John had played him at the Arby's in Montgomery so many moons ago. One could tell how sweet it was to his ears. I turned and Roscoe Robinson was standing in the doorway. He had left his gumbo to cool and had jumped up to see what all the fuss was about. Later, as the band broke and walked towards the front door, Roscoe would stop the band members to say "If that boy is gonna sing like that, I'd best stay at home." Adam was a surprise to Ralph and Roscoe alike. He was a bit os a surprise to me too. I'd had his album for months. Although I'd found several songs quite infectious, I'd not taken the time to really listen. Now, I'd have to make the time.

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Birmingham Sound

The Birmingham Sound -

John Ciba and I met 4 years ago while I was calling around to order catalogs from distributors for my record store-that-never-was (Chachi Loves Vinyl). I called Choke Distribution, a Chicago indie, and John picked up the phone. When he found that I was in Birmingham, he started asking all sorts of questions, not just about the city, but about what I knew of soul music. I guess I knew a bit more than the average 23 year old girl, having the Dad I did who allowed me to scavenge through his record collection time and time again as I was growing up. John was a collector of soul music and had become interested in the South's offerings. He spoke of the amazing recordings that had come out of Muscle Shoals. Our conversation went on for over an hour and we talked the next day and the next and the next..the conversation kept going until three months later he traveled down from Chicago and we drove up to Muscle Shoals, met with Dick Cooper, and toured the Muscle Shoals Sound, Fame, and the newly refurbished 3614 Jackson Highway studio. We also spent alot of time in Birmingham, touring the Jazz Hall of Fame and speaking with Doc Adams, going to shows, and ate alot of Barbecue.

John went back to Chicago and we continued to email and call. Over time, his interest spread from the Muscle Shoals Area to Birmingham's Soul era, a time of music that was always overshadowed by the Civil Rights Movement. Through John's trading and buying and researching, he had heard about a small label in Birmingham from the 60's. The man who owned the label also had started the Sound of Birmingham Studios in Midfield. He was a plumber. A nice guy who loved music, wanted to work with music, with musicians. Neal Hemphill. In his studio, Sound of Birmingham and it's later incarnation Hemphill Studios Neal recorded country acts, gospel groups, southern rock garage bands, and lots of soul music: Sam Dees, Frederick Knight, Jerry Weaver, Ralph Jackson, Roscoe Robinson....

Neal had passed away in 1985, and since he had always kept his family life apart from his music life, his children had little interest in the stuff left over form their father's "side career". They took all of the contents of the studio, put it in a storage place, where it sat for 20 years. Through all of the friends we had made in the Shoals, through a bit of digging and calling and pestering, John finally found Neal's family. On one of his trips down early last year, he finally met with Neal's children and acquired from them the contents fo the storage space. All of these demos and reels had little or no documentation. Boxes and boxes of tapes with nothing but the name of the bands or singer and a song title. That's where the fun started. We had to find out who played on what and when, who engineered it, who wrote the songs. John would fly down once a month and we'd interview all of these amazing people, Don Tinsley, Roscoe Robinson, Wayne Peterman, Mike Dee, Shelly Stewart, Mark Harrelson, Roszetta Johnson.

Roscoe was a trip. We met him for lunch one day and ate and talked and listened and took notes, he came out with story after story. A wrinkled, beautiful little man, with many tricks up his sleeves and a certain twinkle in his eye. He made people rise form the dead (Eddie Steele, a singer who we were looking for and were told had passed was actually selling shirts that day out of the back of his car at fife's sandwich shop). He had crazy connections like you wouldn't believe (went to high school with Michael Jackson's dad in Arkansas), and somehow had found the fountain of youth (it's in his voice, when he sings, the years, the wrinkles just melt away).

Ralph...we met him at an Arby's in Montgomery. Spooner Oldham (Muscle Shouls Rhythm Section, Neil Young) had gotten us in touch with him. He thought we were there just to ask him a few questions. Instead John played music for him on his laptop, Ralph's music that he hadn't heard in 30 years, he cried and laughed. He's been working as a mechanic for a long time, had made some music since his time at Sound of Birmingham, but only for himself...he thought that no one cared about his music. Then John played a couple of tracks of the great Sam Frazier coviering his songs. Ralph was on cloud 9. Since then, John has set Ralph up with a band in Chicago, is sending him on tour to Europe this fall... Crazy.

So all of this, sitting through the interviews and John and Emily's library trips, poring through stacks and stack of old handbills and newpapers at Jim Reeds books, Ryan's photoshoots, and I'm sure so much more that I'm not eveni aware of up there in the Windy City has come to this, the love John Ciba's life, the Soul of Neal Hemphill, this collections of the best of what was left behind. Even if I was just John's hostess, navigator, and notetaker, I've found that my appreciation for this city's rich history has only grown and grown, as has my addiction to the sweet and incredible sounds of soul music.
It's been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I can't wait to see John and Emily when I get off of that plane tomorrow. I can't wait to be in chicago. I can't wait to see the show. I can't wait to dance. It will be amazing. And I get to do it all over again next weekend here in Birmingham.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wednesday, a Budweiser, and Books on Baseball

Amber is still the master of Connect Four. After an evening of stuffing and stickering, getting ready for the press rampage of the new Barton Carroll album, we sat at the folding table plopping the black and red checkers into their holey, yellow home as Travis and Shawn brainstormed about the upcoming showcase in T-town and Will worked on his new screenplay. God, I love my friends. Have I mentioned that? I find myself so freaking fortunate to have these intriguing and imaginative, lovely, lovely souls in my life. We threw comments back and forth over the table all evening, passed beers around and laughed a good deal and it felt so good.

I played Midlake on the stereo for a while and then Travis took over. He threw in Wire's Chairs Missing and then Pink Flag...great soundtracks to the rough and tough mind match going on down in the Amber/Sara corner of the table.

Okay, so I'm sure that you're going to hear about this on like every music blog (Stereogum's already kicked it) in the next few days, but I can't help but show you the great new video by OK GO. And now you're saying..."Sara Leah, they've already done the whole choreographed in the back yard geeky band dance fest." Sister, the last video was not done on treadmills. So here you go:

I've started distributing my summer mix. Just in case you got a cd without a song list, I'm posting it now:

All My Wasted Days - the Amazing Pilots
Priest's Knees - Destroyer
Straight to My Head - Ana Egge
Down to Zero - Bettye LaVette
The Storm - 13ghosts
Somersault - Decoder Ring
A Cold Wind Will Blow Through Your Door - Bill Ricchini
They Cannot Let It Expand - Midlake
No Room for Change - Crystal Skulls
Crooked In the Weird of the Catacombs - Oranger
Bees & Butterflies (Down) - Girls in Hawaii
Malt Liquor - Hope For Agoldensummer
Oh Lately It's So Quiet - OK Go
No One Knew Where we Were - Midlake
Mysterious In Black - The Mendoza Line
Ballad of Bitter Honey - Eef Barlzelay of Clem Snide