The month of May brings spring tulips with its warm days and cool nights. I think of May as the transition month into the dog days of summer and my trips to Memphis.
Memphis in May is a month of festivals and great music. The first Memphis in May was in 1977 featuring the Memphis blues, a sound that is like no other, ribs and a touch of rockabilly. To appreciate the Memphis sound, one must understand its raw history of music.
In the 1940s, Beale Street was home to black musicians that brought the sound of cotton field hollers into the juke joints and clubs. WDIA was the first radio station programmed entirely for African-Americans and where B.B. King was a DJ. Later in the 1950s, King recorded with Sun Records, which was Sun Studios at the time. It was also in the ’50s a young man from the Lauderdale Courts public housing project would beg to get into the clubs on Beale Street to listen to the music, bellowing the blues. His persistence paid off, and in 1954 he recorded “That’s All Right” at Sun Studios for under $4; he was Elvis Presley. Other unknown musicians in the 1950s who recorded at Sun Studios included Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner.
During the ’50s and ’60s, Estelle Axton with her brother, Jim Stewart, created some of the most important music in American history. They brought black and white musicians together to record at their studio, known as Stax Records. Stax Records gave a voice to great musicians such as Sam and Dave, Issac Hayes, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs and Aretha Franklin—who lived right around the corner.
Hi Records, at the same time was cutting vinyl singles for Al Green with his recording of “Love and Happiness” and in the ’70s Ann Peebles recorded her soulful tune, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”
The Memphis sound is iconic in American music history. I have been exposed to that sound as long as I’ve had ears. My mother was from Memphis and had a great appreciation of the sound from her hometown.
So, I chose a guitar for the cover, as a tribute to my mother—who enjoyed the Memphis sound—for Mother’s Day. She especially enjoyed Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”
“And I never lost one minute of sleepin’
Worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been.
Big wheel keep on turnin’
Proud Mary keep on burnin’
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river…”
Stephanie D Scordas