Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Memphis. Where "the soul of a man never dies"

Ben and I living it up at our last Sun session
The amazing food made by the Orpheum ushers and volunteers

They even made us a cake!

Oh...if only this were true...at Club 152


Rendezvous BBQ brisket

Stan Perkins rehearsing with the boys and m'am

The whole crew at Sun for my session

Sam and his proud papa at the Hard Rock Cafe

"See, dad?  I can rock too!!!"
Man, I wish I worked here

Some vocals for Billy

Let's hear that playback!

At Elvis' Circle G Ranch

We are having too much fun....

Cash and The King

"You're home, son"

Corey, killing it. 

Me and the Man In Black

Billy with his vintage Martin at my Sun session

James with a Fender Tele with a fabled past....

Standing next to the very mics I used the night before...except these are in the Rock N Soul Museum...

Big River

The cast and crew celebrate our 500th show on tour

Matt, making magic

Me, overcome with emotion, listening to my playback

The boys and m'am destroying the stage at the Hard Rock

Ben, beside himself

The man in black with The Man In Black

James pickin' Carl Perkins style

A beautiful recreation of the photo from that night by our very own Rosie Cohe
The Million Dollar Burger at the Hard Rock.  And Cody's seemingly giant hand...

All set to record

Happy 500th show!  Look at that cake!

This is NOT false advertising...

Million Dollar Burger



I have no words....

Austin, musical genius, conducts us on Cody's session

Johnny's boyhood home

Jack Cash's final resting place

Gotta love those fried chicken and waffles....

David and Joanne Cash Yates having a heartfelt moment

Me and Joanne.  What a night. 

Jerry Phillips, Sam Phillips' son and I

Our 2nd "tag" at the Orpheum

And to think, it only took me 6 days to remember where it was.....


Me, with the B3 Hammond organ that Booker T and The MG's used on Green Onions
The Peabody Hotel

Paying respect to The King

Perhaps one of my favorite pictures I've ever taken: The man, Cody Slaughter
Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's EXTREMELY eventful blog. What else would you expect from a week where it all started: Memphis, TN. Well, enough with the exposition, and on to the action.....

We left Des Moines in the freezing cold to make our way to the home of our show, and the birthplace of Rock n' Roll. Having been there just about a year ago, we all had quite a few things we were looking forward to seeing again, as well as experiencing some new things that Memphis had to offer. After getting settled at our hotel, I made my way to what was the cast's first meal in town the year before, at Blues City Cafe. I sat by my lonesome and sampled their "Best Meal on Beale", consisting of a half rack of ribs, fried catfish, BBQ beans and coleslaw. I was not disappointed. I have to say, and hadn't cared for their ribs before, but this time they were excellent. After heading home for a bit, I rejoined some of the cast at Club 152 on Beale, where a fantastic cover band was playing. We looked forward to the busy week to come, and talked a lot about our past experience in Blues City.

Bright and early on Tuesday morning, I headed to the airport to pick up Amy. I hadn't seen her since Louisville, and she had never been to Memphis, so I was looking forward to her spending the week and getting to show her the sites. We wasted no time....so once we had dropped her bags at the hotel we went straight to Beale, where I showed her Tater Reds, and quite a few other stores along the street. Because my recording session was coming up that night, I really wanted to tour Sun Studio before I went in to record. So, we hopped in a cab and went just a few short minutes up the street from our hotel to 706 Union Avenue....and my mecca, Sun Studio (pictures....many many pictures....above). I was greeted very warmly by the staff there, as they all had tickets to see our show that night. And, they wished me well on my recording session that night. It was a pretty crazy experience taking that tour and knowing that I would be recording some of Johnny Cash's most beloved tunes that evening. I mean, I had recorded there before, but that was singing background vocals with the cast...this was a whole different ballgame. When our tour guide mentioned to our group that it was a fully functional recording studio in the evenings, one of the people on the tour asked who was recording that evening...and when our guide indicated that it was me....it finally sunk in. I was going to record at Sun. Where it all began. It was a lot to take in.

Following our tour at Sun, and me buying a ridiculous amount of merchandise, we headed back toward our hotel, and ventured into Lansky's at the Peabody hotel. I knew I wouldn't be able to walk out of there without buying a shirt, so I got one that said "Lansky's: Clothier to The King" on the back. It was becoming a very expensive day....

Before heading to the theatre, Amy and I went to one of my favorite places to get BBQ, Rendezvous. It's been a Memphis landmark since 1949, and when you taste their brisket, you'll know why. It was just what I needed before a very busy, and very long night.

I headed to the theatre quite early because that night, Stan Perkins (Carl Perkins' son, and the spitting image of his father) was going to sit in with the band. He had joined the boys onstage last year as well, but with an almost entirely new group of people onstage, it was a completely new experience (pictures above). Just a nice, personable and talented as ever, Mr. Perkins really brought it home with his rendition of his dad's song, Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby. The audience went crazy.

Filled with anxiety and nervous energy, the boys and I headed to Sun shortly after the show ended. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare to try and get cabs to take us the short distance to the studio, but once we got there we proceeded to set up and get ready to record. A bunch of people from the cast came over to take it all in, and surprisingly, my nerves melted away once I stepped in front of those vintage mics to do my best at replicating what the Man In Black had done so many years before (MULTIPLE pictures above and videos below). Surprisingly, it went very smoothly, and after just about 2 1/2 hours, we had cut the 5 songs I had planned to do: I Walk The Line, Hey Porter, Big River, Folsom Prison Blues and Home of the Blues. The boys really brought their A game, and having a genius like Matt (the recording engineer) in the booth brought it all to fruition. We recorded everything straight to tape; no ProTools, no overdubbing, no auto tune....none of that crap. We put those songs straight to tape with the Sun signature slap back echo, just like Cash and the Tennessee Two had done. It was all pretty overwhelming. I was brought to tears more than once while listening to our playback in the booth. I just couldn't believe that Corey, Billy, James and I had just made the sounds we were hearing back. It was unreal. It will take a bit to have the tracks mastered, get Billy to do some album artwork, buy the rights, and get it distributed....but keep your eyes peeled for it to be released this summer. We finally got home about 2:30 AM...and I was more than ready to pass out.

Wednesday started with a bang, as we headed to the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale to (yes, buy MORE pins) but also to watch the boys and m'am do probably one of the best promos I have seen yet (videos below). I also had a bite to eat....their limited edition Million Dollar Burger.....I shouldn't have....but DAMN, was it good. After cheering my people on, a little heartburn, and some fun with James' son Sam, we headed to the Rock And Soul Museum, just down the street. To my surprise, the woman behind the counter in the gift shop remembered me from my previous visit, and let us in free! Gotta love the perks of being with this show. Though I had been there before (in fact, last year the boys and m'am did a promo there, AND we had our opening night party there), I hadn't watched the introductory video....and I'm glad we did this time. It was well worth the visit.

We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in the various shops on Beale, and of course, taking tons of pictures. I headed to the theatre early yet again, because that night marked our 500th performance on tour; a crazy milestone, and certainly the longest run I've ever been a part of. We celebrated with a gorgeous cake (pictured above), and strangely, that day also marked the 61st birthday of Sun Records. Following the performance, we all celebrated in the loading dock by tapping a beer that one of our crew members, Dog, brewed. This was the second beer he has made on tour, and for him it may be a hobby, but he is DAMNED good at it. A few of us ventured back to Blues City Cafe afterward for a little nosh before we turned in for the night.

Thursday was one of the "lightest" days...if that's possible...in comparison to the rest of the week. I rented a car, and Amy and I headed out for the Stax museum (pictures above). Just as cool the second time around, I was able to soak it in a bit more, since I had known there was quite a bit I had missed previously. Strangely, Vince, Ben and his wife Lizzie showed up around the same time we did, so we all went in together. And, since they had taken a cab, I offered to drive them in my rental car...er....truck. After dropping Vince off at the hotel, the four of us went to The National Civil Rights Museum, at the site of the now defunct Lorraine Hotel; where almost 45 years ago TO THE DAY, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. It was pretty surreal to be there, and actually step on the balcony where he died. Though I knew a good amount about that day and the assassination, I really didn't know much about James Earle Ray, or the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination. After seeing all of that information in front of me, I will DEFINITELY be reading more about it in the coming months.

Following our visit, we headed to Central BBQ, a stone's throw from the museum. And let me tell you, I had THE BEST pulled pork sandwich I have ever had. Bar none. Smoked and cooked just perfectly, piled high, and just lightly covered in their signature sauce. It was fantastic.

That evening after the show....you guessed it....we headed back to Sun, but this time for me and some of the other cast members to record backing vocals for Cody. For the past few months, Billy and Austin have been working painstakingly on writing some fantastic songs for Cody, and their hard work was finally paying off as we went in to add the finishing touches to the tracks (pictures above and video below). It's a really nice feeling to be able to go into a monumentally important place like that and be welcomed with open arms and friendly faces. Matt is just a great guy and immensely talented. He really knows how to get the best out of each performance, and to achieve the sound you are striving for.

Because I still had the car...er...truck, bright and early on Friday, Amy and I headed to a place I had longed to go to....Dyess, AR. Though Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland, he spent his formative years in the small sharecropping community of Dyess. Arkansas State University has been working tirelessly to renovate his boyhood home there, so I was pretty excited to see what it looked like when I got there, having seen many photos and videos of what it looked like in the past. But, first thing's first. The drive. Now, I have been to the "middle of nowhere"....but I assure you, Dyess isn't even on the outskirts of nowhere. It is the DEFINITION of nowhere. After a bit of a drive on highways, we trekked very slowly through the pouring rain on a series of gravel roads, surrounded by barren fields, and no homes around for miles. But, like a shining beacon in the dark of night, the white house drew us in (pictures above, video below). I was really quite impressed at how the house had been restored (and, I got to meet the woman in charge of the renovation later that evening...but more on that in a bit). Unfortunately, due to the rain and the fact that it is not completed, we were only able to snap a few pictures. It was well worth the drive though. We navigated more gravel roads to find Dyess town center, which is also part of ASU's renovation project. They are planning a museum and welcome center, as well as making a trail all the way from the Cash homestead to the town center. I can't wait to go back and visit when it is all completed. Rather than head home, I really wanted to try and find the cemetery where Johnny's older brother Jack was laid to rest. After much Googling, mapping, and another long drive off the beaten path, we found it. But, not the grave...right away, that is. We drove through the grounds for quite a while, and just as we were ready to give up, I saw a marker for an irrigation system. And for some reason, I just had a feeling we were in the right place. Sure enough, we were. I called for Amy to join me from the truck, and as she walked, as though it was meant to happen, she found a red rose next to one of the truck tires. After a long silence, a prayer, and contemplation, we laid the rose on Jack's grave; right next to the words "Will You Meet Me In Heaven". It was a very poignant and emotional moment. Feeling as though we had done it all, we made the drive back to Memphis.  Thankfully, the rain started to let up a bit, and we made our way to Miss Polly's Cafe on Beale for some home cookin'.  And, like I have a few times on tour, I sampled the chicken and waffles....not my favorite of those I've tried, but still quite good. 

Our music director, Chuck Mead joined the boys onstage for an encore that night, but it was two other people in the audience I was most interested in meeting (no offense, Mr. Phillips).  Jerry Phillips, Sam Phillips' son saw the show that evening, and came back for photos (above) and to meet all of us afterward.  What a great, down to earth guy.  Also in the audience was the aformentioned Dr. Ruth Hawkins who is instrumental in the renovation of Johnny's boyhood home, and, most important to me, Mrs. Joanne Cash Yates: Johnny's baby sister.  Months ago when I was in Nashville visiting the Johnny Cash Museum store, I started what has become a friendship with Kelly Hancock, one of Johnny's nieces.  A while ago, she asked me if I could see about getting her aunt Joanne tickets for the show.  And, of course, our company was more than willing to oblige.  David and I chatted with her and her husband, Pastor Harry Yates quite a bit after the show, and they were nice enough to pose for some pictures as well (again, above).  It was such an honor to meet all of them on the same night, and Joanne was quite touched to hear about our experiences in her hometown that day.  The whole bunch joined us near the lobby of the theatre following the performance for a meet and greet, and some snacks.  It was a perfect ending to a great day.

Bright and early (ok, it was pouring rain, so it wasn't bright...and, it wasn't ALL that early...) the next day we headed next door to see the March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel.  The hotel itself is just gorgeous, and we really took the time to walk around and take pictures, as I didn't last time.  The ducks did their cute little entrance, as they have for the last 70 years.  It wasn't quite the same this time, as our boys were not the honorary Duck Masters, but it was still really cute.  I made my way to the matinee, and between shows we were fed by the ushers and volunteers at the theatre.  For every show that plays at the Orpheum, they do a pot luck dinner, where they let us sample some of their home recipes for pecan pie, fried chicken, collard greens, sweet potato casserole, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese (pictures above), and so many more things I wouldn't know where to start.  Just an amazing meal, and for the second time, one of the highlights of tour.  We were more than willing to take a picture for our cooks, and to sign their scrapbook like so many other casts have in the past. 

Uncharacteristically, we closed the show that evening, as the following day was Easter....so we had a true day off!  Amy and I took the trip to Graceland early in the afternoon.  I've been there 3 times (pictures above), but it still is a pretty amazing place to visit.  He Elvis truly had a remarkable career, and though his life and work doesn't touch me in the same way that Cash's does, it really is a place that everyone should visit.  And, unlike my other trips, I stopped into one of the restaurants to have a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.  It hit the spot, and hey....The King can't be wrong. 

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in at Sun yet again.  I knew I couldn't leave Memphis without one more special souvenir.  I decided to make an investment and buy one of the original pressings of the Johnny Cash 45rpm, I Walk The Line.  This particular trip to Memphis was special to me, having recorded that and 4 other songs, so I really couldn't pass up the opportunity.  It will be in my collection for years to come. 

Shortly after we got back, we took a little adventure with my boy Cody.  He had invited us to take a tour of Elvis' now barren Circle G Ranch, a short drive away in Mississippi.  We met with some lovely folks who are instrumental in the restoration of the ranch, and the eventual (though, as you will see with what unfolded, not probable) sale of the property.  We got the ranch, which, I have to say, was much closer the main drag than I expected (pictures above).  The plan was for Cody to reenact a picture of Elvis at the ranch.  However, the owner of the property and the realtors in charge of selling the property decided at the last minute that we were unwelcome.  In fact, they called the police....

The police showed up, and when the situation was explained, they realized that there was no harm done.  We took a few (amazing, by the way....pictured above) shots of Cody near the house and grounds, though not actually ON the property.  The pictures came out extremely well, and though none of us really want to do the man any favors after the way he treated us, I know that we'll all cherish that little adventure for a long time to come.  If only we had been able to walk the property...and perhaps find Priscilla Presley's wedding ring that was lost so many years ago. C'est la vie. 

For our last evening in Memphis we (stop me if you've heard this one) headed back to Sun to record some backing vocals, this time for Billy.  He had brought a few of his band members down to cut 7 new songs, and a la The Coasters, Ben, Austin and I lent our voices to one of his songs.  In addition, he decided to have EVERYONE in the studio lend their voices to the chorus of another one of his songs.  Even Lizzie and Ben's dear friends from England got to joing in. I can't wait to hear, and to share the music we made this week.  It will only enhance the great times and the memories that we created.  And they will be forever.  How many people can say they recorded at Sun Studio??  I'm pleased to finally say, I have. 

With reluctance, yet a bit of relief after the busy week, we left Memphis on Monday morning, bound for San Antonio, TX.  But, that of course, is for next week. 

Thank you for bearing with me on this long blog, but, when you have a week as touching and amazing as this, it's hard to sum it all up in just a few paragraphs.  Please tune in next week for news from one of the few cities on tour I have visited previously, and I hope you enjoy all of the pictures and videos I've shared.  Til next week!!!



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