Nashville’s Queen of the Blues, Marion James, who had a Top 10 hit in 1966 with “That’s My Man” on Excello Records whom also once had a young Jimi Hendrix in her band at Club Del Morocco, presided over the proceedings of the 30th Anniversary of The Jefferson Street Musicians Reunion & Benefit which celebrated the Rhythm and Blues era of 1950-1970 that was Nashville on Jefferson Street, 4th Avenue and even a part of the Printers Alley where the event took place last Sunday, Oct. 7th, starting at 2Pm at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar.
A great collectible program was available that had the lineup of bands as well as a comprehensive piece on the importance and history of the people and places that made up the great Rhythm & Blues era in Nashville.
There are mentions of Johnny Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Earl Gaines, Little Willie John, Gene Allison, and Christine Kittrell. The included story entitled; “Scuffling: The Lost History of Nashville Rhythm & Blues” was written by Daniel Cooper in 1996 and is one of the most comprehensive articles written about the scene that was played out at The Baron, Club Del Morocco, The New Era, The Club Revillot, Maceo’s (a great photo of Ray Charles playing at Maceo’s is featured in the program), Sugar Hill, Deborah’s Casino Royale, Ebony Circle, Pee Wee’s, even a beer joint called Behind The Green Door (Marion claims to have came up with the name of this joint).
Nashville had its own R&B imprints back in the day, Bullet, Tennessee Republic, Excello, Calvert, Cherokee as well as Athens, Sims, and Sound Stage 7.
The importance of Music City’s R&B, was just as huge as Memphis, although not as well known to the rest of the world. The music of Nashville was in thousands of southern state jukeboxes and being played on the mega powered Nashville pride WLAC back in the day.
There are discussions right now to start a fund to erect a statue of Jimi Hendrix near where the Club Del Morocco once stood on Jefferson Street. While Seattle has every right to claim Jimi as their own, it was here along with best friend and brother in arms, Billy Cox, that Jimi spent his time honing his skills and developing his songwriting craft (building riffs with Billy that would show in later compositions) in probably the most demanding city then and now for a guitarist to prove his worth.
Jimi may have lost out a guitar dual to Nashville’s great and gracious Johnny Jones, but, performing in Nashville only strengthened his resolve and allowed Jimi the opportunity to tour with the powerhouse performers of the day like Little Richard & The Isley Brothers. Johnny later paid tribute to Jimi by releasing his own version of “Purple Haze” with Jimi’s former band, The King Casuals in 1969 on the Brunswick label for all you collectors out there.
Starting at 2PM, the New Orleans feel of the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar, began to heat up with local favorites John Richards, Miranda Louise and Delicious Blues Stew getting the party started. The stage announcer, Peter Burger, plays saxophone with Stacy Mitchhart and also got to play in Marion James during her “burn- the- house- down” set!
There was a great silent auction to benefit the Marion James Musicians Aid Society that helps to support the musicians that made the scene happen between 1950-1970; especially with medical costs. As you all know, being a musician means forgoing a lot of insurance benefits. It was a chance to give back to the community that gave us so much.
I myself eyed a print of Steve Cropper signed by the artist Michael P. Maness, after a few bids, one very close to the cut off time, it is all mine! While there were several other great pieces of art of BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and an autographed Buddy Guy gig poster, it is rare to come across an art piece of Steve Cropper, my personal icon for what he has been able to achieve in his life, that so captured the essence, Hawaiian shirt, custom orange Fender Telecaster and all. It will go on the wall next to my art print of another Memphis legend, Furry Lewis.
Those in attendance included Baton Rouge Bluesman Larry Garner, as well as current King of The blues in Nashville, Nick Nixon. I had heard Steve Cropper was out of town, but, I did hope to see Billy Cox at the event with no such luck. I did catch him once hanging out with old friends at a Sunday night Blues Jam at Carol Ann’s, so; he is seen around town now and then. It would have been great to see Larry Carlton or Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys show up at one of these events, maybe, down the road apiece.
The Bad Moon Blues Band featuring Tom “Tom Cat” Whisenhunt, who has won a pair of Blues Guitarist awards, did some Strat-o-castin’ which started turn the heat up in the joint.
As the afternoon settled early evening, it was Carissia and Company that set the bar featuring Regi Wooten on Guitar. Although his brother, Victor Wooten, may be more well known, it was Regi’s guitar style that inspired Victor to go for some of the things he is known for on the bass.
Before Marion James’ set, there was a candlelight procession honoring passed Jefferson street artists such as Earl Gaines and Jimi Hendrix, before making mention of those who have passed on recently such as Nashville’s Donna Summers and Bob Babbit. Finally, after a moment of silence, “Taps” was played by a lone trumpet.
Lola Brown (daughter of Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown, the first black female surgeon in the south) performed a stirring Gospel rendition of “I’m Goin’ Way Over Yonder” and Carissia took a turn on the classic Curtis Mayfield, “People Get Ready.”
When Marion James took center stage with “The Queen’s Band,” the tiny stage was covered with some of Nashville’s finest performers on everything from horns, guitar to Hammond B3. Marion had three backup singers, including Lola Brown. There were at least 10 musicians, including Samuel L Dismuke jr. Jr. on trombone, who Marion said she considered to be one of her sons onstage. There was no denying why Marion James is the current “Queen of the Blues.”
Everybody stopped for about 30-40 minutes. Nobody was eating their Cajun burgers or swallowing down a couple of fries. There was no talking or chitchatting or wandering around. Time stood still as Marion cut through like a hot knife in a stick of butter.
It was an electrified performance that was not to be missed. Marion not only sang some of her classics, but, some of her new songs from the new release on Ellersoul Records, Northside Soul with the attack of Sister Rosetta Tharp in a street fight with James Brown. Marion won!
This was the main event, although, a great late night jam featuring the Andy T Band and Nick Nixon was still in the wings. After several hours, the night built to a crescendo and I left with my Steve Cropper print rolled carefully.
It was the end to another successful year for The Jefferson Street Musicians Benefit sponsored by Jefferson Street Sound.
– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN firstname.lastname@example.org