Burning hair on ‘the real Beale Street’

March 23, 2007

From Boing Boing comes news of a barber in North Memphis who cuts hair with fire. Warren Lewis uses candles and even a butane torch to trim up his customers, such as the writer of the Ella Bites blog, who is pictured below undergoing this unique treatment. The shop is located at 887 Thomas St., north of St. Jude’s. The phone number is 901-521-1968.


No word in the blog about the ventilation system in Mr. Lewis’s shop.

An article in the Memphis Flyer focuses on the neighborhood in which Mr. Lewis has his shop, describing it by saying “the strip of black-owned and black-run barbershops, hot-wings stands, juke joints, and nightclubs looks like something out of this city’s celebrated past. It’s the kind of soulful authenticity that distinguishes Memphis from other places. In fact, some locals describe Thomas as the real Beale Street.”

King of kitsch takes on The King

March 22, 2007

It is a marriage made in rock ‘n roll heaven. Thomas Kinkade, the famous “painter of light,” has revealed to the world his version of Graceland. Kinkade has grown wealthy by satisfying the insatiable demand for sentimental paintings of log cabins and gingerbread cottages and lighthouses that all emit an intense yellow light from their windows as if someone had stoked a blaze of Barbara Cartland paperbacks inside every room.

Now Graceland, which Elvis bought 50 years ago and which has been open for 25 year (O numberical bliss!) has received the Kinkade treatment. According to this article in this week’s Memphis Flyer, the good folks at Elvis, Inc. are offering, for a mere $250, a chance to mingle with Priscilla Presley and the Leonardo of Light himself.

One of the innovations that Kinkade has brought to fine art is having skilled painters in some of his stores add “light effects” to a purchase to make it more personalized. If I were to buy one of these masterpieces, I’d want mine to show a lit-up Jerry Lee Lewis railing at the gate demanding that security let him in.


William Jennings Bryan

March 19, 2007

Today is the birthday of William Jennings Bryan, who, had he not participated in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, would have been remembered in a far better light. Bryan was a progressive’s progressive. He favored women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, and corporate income tax. He was a three-time Democratic candidate for the presidency. Then came Dayton, where in the final days of his life he took on Clarence Darrow amid a perfect storm of 1920s iconoclasm and new media. This remarkable man is now remembered as a befuddled fundamentalist in one of the more embarrassing episodes of Tennessee history. A new biography, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan has just come out in paperback.


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Will the Big One hit West Tennessee again?

March 19, 2007

People are still talking about the 1811-12 series of earthquakes that hit the northwest corner of Tennessee. The New Madrid earthquake was so powerful that it caused the Mississippi River to briefly run backwards, created Reelfoot Lake, and made clocks stop in Boston, Massachusetts. Passengers on a steamboat miraculously survived what must have been Tennessee’s all-time greatest white water ride, and history doesn’t record if they ever set foot on a boat again.

Scientists argue today about the likelihood of this level of damage occurring again. An article originally published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal quotes a researcher who says “‘It’s (the New Madrid seismic zone) going back to sleep for another thousand years,’ said Seth Stein, a professor of earth and planetary sciences who has studied the New Madrid zone for 17 years.”

We shall see. In the meantime, cue up Mama Cass singing “they tell me the fault line runs right through here.”


Smokies theaters celebrate 20+ years of success

March 16, 2007

For a few years in the 1980s, the Smokies tourism corridor towns of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge seemed to be cloning Branson, Missouri, with theaters featuring somewhat big name country performers such as Lee Greenwood, Anita Bryant, Reba McIntire, T. G. Sheppard, and Louise Mandrell.

Those folks have gone with the wind, and the thousand-capacity theaters have had to scramble to fill the seats. The places that have survived are the ones with good music but no headliners. First on this list is Pigeon Forge’s Smoky Mountain Jubilee. Established in Branson in 1977 by Elmer and Faunda Dreyer, pictured below, the show moved to the Smokies about six years later.


The Jubilee show delivers a frenetic array of clogging, country music, bluegrass, gospel, and cornball comedy by a character known as “Highpockets.” Definitely aimed at an audience that fears double entendres or any form of racy humor, the one-paragraph description of the show features the phrases “good clean family entertainment,” “clean comedy,” and “clean family entertainment.”

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Stax label reincarnated with ‘Stax 50’

March 15, 2007

The Concord Music Group, which bought the legendary Memphis Stax catalog three years ago, is rolling out some new CDs of the music that made Memphis famous. First out of the gate is <i>Stax 50</i>, which marks the 50th anniversary of the label with a two-CD set. According to the Concord site, “This 2-CD digitally re-mastered set features all the major Stax and Stax/Atlantic hit singles including Green Onions, Respect, Hold On I’m Comin’, Soul Man, Knock On Wood, Born Under A Bad Sign, Theme from Shaft, Mr. Big Stuff and more!”


Artists on the set includeRufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, the Bar-Keys, and Johnnie Taylor. Concord is also issuing CDs focused on Stax stars Carla Thomas and Jonnie Taylor.

For more on how to see more of Stax when you visit Memphis, go here.

Paul Griffith joins TNguy.com

March 14, 2007

Paul Giffith, a drummer and writer in Nashville, has signed on with TNguy.com to cover nightlife in Nashville. Paul worked with me on the last edition of Moon Handbooks: Tennessee and did a good job with the Music City clubs in that book.

Here’s Paul’s description of himself: “Journeyman drummer, writer and misanthrope. Likes the ocean, books, watches, hi-fi’s, church buildings (as long as they’re empty), vintage drums, drum machines, The Meters, a good hamburger, barbeque, raw oysters, tamales, a full English breakfast, ale, proper egg foo young, Makers Mark, Sailor Jerry, step aerobics, martinis, bikinis and panty lines.”


For a look at one of his reviews, go here.

Alligator found in East Tennessee lake

March 14, 2007

According to this story in the Knoxville News Sentinel, a five-foot long alligator was found in Watts Bar Lake near Spring City. The gator was sunning itself on a log when dispatched by a Rhea County wildlife officer. Non-native critters have been moving into Tennessee for some time–fire ants and armadilloes are prime examples–but an alligator is something else. As with pythons in Florida swamps, the alligator was probably brought to Tennessee by some person who, when the reptile grew too large for the trailer, loosed it in the lake. (The photo below is not the one found in Tennessee.)


Mariah Carey rides the rails in Tennessee

March 6, 2007

Pop singer Mariah Carey is shooting a new movie entitled Tennessee, and has been spotted in various locations in Middle Tennessee. According to this article in the Tennessean, she was seen riding in an open boxcar between Nashville and Lebanon, much to the astonishment of motorists stopped at railroad crossings.


The plot of the movie, according to various sources, has Mariah Carey portraying a waitress who sets off with two brothers to find their estranged father. Their goal: Get dad involved in saving their younger brother, who has leukemia.

The soundtrack for this one should be interesting.