‘Black Snake Moan’ director on Memphis and the South

This is an excerpt from an interview in Salon.com (Premium edition, subscription required, alas) with Craig Brewer, Memphis resident and director of Black Snake Moan. He is talking about Memphis:

“It’s a maverick town. It’s a town that doesn’t have professionals. Jerry Lee Lewis can’t really play the piano all that well. He plays it a certain way. You can’t really give him a Bach piece and expect it to sound like Bach. It’s going to sound like a Jerry Lee Lewis song, because the energy he uses to attack the keys is specific to himself.

“Also, in the South, you do a lot with not much. And that makes what you’re making more unique and more lasting and memorable. You look at Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line.” They couldn’t have drums on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and he really wanted that song to cross over to the country charts. So he just took a dollar bill and wove it through the strings of his guitar. And it created that chk-chikka-chik-chikka-chik. You look at Ike Turner coming up from Clarksdale, Mississippi, in a jalopy filled with his band, and he’s writing a song about a car that passed, called the Rocket 88. He gets pulled over by a cop, and the amplifier falls off his car and smashes on the pavement. He goes into Sun Studios, and there’s Sam Phillips, this crazy white man from Mississippi. And Phillips says, “Aw, don’t worry about that, Ike.” He starts shoving newspaper inside the amplifier. They plug in the guitar and it has this raw, distorted sound. And now all amplifiers try to duplicate that sound.

“There’s something about that spirit, where we know, when we listen to music, when we make music, when we worship, when we go to football games. And especially when we eat. We’re bound to each other more than people outside of the South give us credit for. I guess I respond to that kind of spirit. It makes me feel I can be creative and not be judged. I can be poor and not be ashamed.”

Personally, I’d like the hear the Killer play a little Bach sometime.


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