On the last weekend of September, Memphis-based blues and southern soul singer Gerod Rayborn asked me if I would play keyboards with his band for a blues show taking place at Como, Mississippi. The show turned out to be the Bikers’ Rally and Blues Show at LP’s Ballfield on the Hunters Chapel Road, east of Como, a location which has a rich history in regards to the Hill Country blues.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, LP’s was a place where Black fife and drum bands came together to perform at picnics or in friendly competitions, and there are historic photographs of Otha Turner, R.L. Boyce and other Hill Country musicians that were taken at the ball park.
Unfortunately, the venue was inherited by a son of the original owner, who has redirected it away from the traditional Hill Country music in favor of rap and hip-hop, car shows and southern soul.
Although fans of southern soul often refer to themselves as “blues fans”, and the terms “blues” and “southern soul” are used interchangeably, there is a vast difference between Hill Country blues and the kind of music that is performed at a southern soul performance, such as the one I was playing at. Southern soul could best be described as a modern genre that seeks to continue a vein of Black music that was largely abandoned elsewhere with the coming of disco, funk and ultimately rap. Lyrically naughty, and often concerned with cheating, southern soul is rural music for rural Black folks. Of course, through migration and family relationships, the genre has a following in larger cities as well, even in the north, but references to things like “trail rides” clearly establish the country frame of reference.
Working for Select-O-Hits Music Distribution for 20 years, I knew a lot about southern soul, but I didn’t expect the absolutely tremendous crowd that showed up for the event on this particular Saturday afternoon. Bikes were everywhere, and a lot of the new bike/car hybrids known as Slingshots. The warm weather was perfect for the event, and lots of people had come down from Memphis, particularly to see the headliner, Big Pokey Bear, whose song “My Sidepiece” was currently the hottest thing going. In addition to bikes and near-bikes, there were classic Corvettes and large RV’s, where some people had made themselves at home, watching college football in between the acts on stage.
Bev Johnson of Memphis radio station WDIA was the master of ceremonies for the event, and she soon brought up the first act, a band called the Smooth Groove Experience from Memphis, which featured a female singer. They were quite good, but as we were the next band up, I had to start getting ready to go up on stage.
After our performance, I hung around the event for awhile, as I had intended to check out all of the various performers. But my girl was in Hernando at the Front Porch Jubilee, and when she called and told me she was missing me, I decided to leave and meet her at the other event, which I did. She and I ended the evening at the Brick Oven Pizza Company in Hernando, after which I headed back home to Memphis, thoroughly tired but with a sense of satisfaction.
WLOK’s Annual Stone Soul Picnic
By an odd coincidence of tradition, the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival always coincides with another Memphis tradition, radio station WLOK’s Stone Soul Picnic, which is annually held on the Saturday before Labor Day in Tom Lee Park. WLOK used to be one of two Memphis soul stations, with the other being WDIA, which was the first Black radio station in the United States. WDIA sponsored something called the Goodwill Revue, and it is likely that WLOK came up with the Stone Soul Picnic as their station’s equivalent, and since the name is taken from Laura Nyro’s song of the same name which was a hit for the Fifth Dimension in 1968, I expect the event goes back at least that far. Unfortunately, nothing stays the same, and both WLOK and its event are now restricted to gospel music, which to me is kind of sad. Not that I don’t love gospel music, because I do, but one would expect a “Stone Soul Picnic” to incorporate gospel, blues, soul, R & B, and maybe even family-friendly rap. But still, despite the extreme heat, a good crowd was gathered in the park, listening to the Brown Singers on stage when I arrived. Their band musicians were really good, especially the drummer, and I recalled that my homeboy Danny Peterson played drums for the Brown Singers at one time.