Can Memphis Beat Help Save The Blues?
The question has often been raised – “Will the blues survive?’ Obviously this is an ongoing debate, and we here at TheDeltaBlues have heard both sides of the argument. Some tend to say the blues will never die – it is the founding roots of rock and roll, hip hop, R&B, and so much more. Still other say if the blues doesn’t evolve, it cannot reach a younger, more mass appeal audience, and therefore will fall into obscurity, as so many of its artists did.
Regardless of which side you are on, one thing is for sure – bringing the Blues to prime time TV is surely going to help. That is precisely what TNT did with its new drama, Memphis Beat.
The show centers on Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee), a quirky Memphis police detective with an intimate connection to the city, a passion for blues music and a close relationship with his mother. He is “the keeper of Memphis,” a Southern gentleman who is protective of his fellow citizens, reverential of the city’s history and deeply rooted in its blues music scene.
Despite his impeccable instincts as a detective, Dwight’s loose, relaxed style of police work rubs his demanding new boss, Lt. Tanya Rice (Woodard), the wrong way. But Dwight may eventually win her over to a Memphis state of mind, especially when he takes the stage at his favorite hangout to perform a legendary song or two.
I had a chance to watch the series premiere. For those of you who don’t know, it’s on Tuesday nights at 10pm on TNT. The premiere of the series was actually really good. It’s not a comedy, per se, but it had its funny moments. Lee does a great job fitting into this role, and the other actors/actresses do well too. What really makes this show though – or at least the opener – is that it ties blues, early rock and roll, and Memphis history tightly into the story line. Of course, some of the history is flared up with fictional details, but that’s TV. For instance, the opener had to do with WHER, the all female radio station. Though WHER did indeed exist, it shut down in the early ’70s. On the show, however, the tower still stands today.
There are some issues I do have with the show. For one, it isn’t filmed in Memphis (New Orleans I believe) and it isn’t produced my Mempians. All in all though, I will be tuning in every week to catch the show.
More importantly is what this show does for the blues. It brings in to the masses. With an artist like Keb’ Mo’ arranging and performing a lot of the music, you really can’t go wrong. This is a great opportunity to bring blues to the front lines. I mean, it’s hard to listen to a Keb’ Mo’ guitar riff and not wonder “who is this guy?” Even for non-blues fans ( I find it hard to believe they even exist), the show is well worth watching. Obviously the show cannot revitalize the blues scene all on its own. But it certainly is a step in the right direction.
I recently caught up with Keb’ Mo’ to ask him about the show (ok, I didn’t really catch up with him, but I have waited a long time to say that). Turner Broadcasting was nice enough to provide the opportunity for me to speak to Keb’.
Here is the interview, in its entirety:
Operator: Good day and welcome to the Kevin Moore conference call. Today’s conference is being recorded.
At this time, I will turn the conference over to Ms. Kristina Stafford. Please go ahead, ma’am.
Kristina Stafford: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for joining the Keb’ Mo’ conference call. Keb’ Mo’ is a music director and composer of TNT’s all new series, Memphis Beat which premiers on Tuesday, June 22 at 10:00, 9:00 Central.
The conference call is now open for questions. Please press star 1 to ask a question. Thank you.
Operator: Today’s question and answer session will be conducted electronically. If you would like to ask a question at this time, you may press the star key followed by the digit one on your touchtone phone. If you are joining us on a speakerphone, please make sure your mute function is off to allow your signal to reach our equipment. Again, that is star one if you would like to ask a question.
Our first question comes from Bob Stannard from Barrelhouse Blues. Please go ahead, sir.
Bob Stannard: Good afternoon, Keb’.
Kevin Moore: Good afternoon, Bob.
Bob Stannard: I’m doing a little research on you and I noticed in 2004 that you were politically active with Bonnie Raitt in the No Nukes group. I found that a coincidence. In my other life I’m a lobbyist for the Citizen’s Action Network trying to close down the nuclear power plant here in Vermont where I live. And I was just wondering if you still have strong feelings about that issue.
Kevin Moore: Strong feelings about the issue of Nukes? How does that pertain to the Memphis Beat show?
Bob Stannard: Oh, well sorry. I guess it doesn’t. I knew it was just a…
Kevin Moore: Well, I mean, I’m not trying to shut you down I just want to know how does that – I mean, in terms of that, well yes, I have very strong feelings about (totality) and that those things – yes I do.
But my feelings are so radical that they would cut me and everybody else out of a job, you know. And you don’t want to know how radical they are because none of us would be working. We’d all be farming and riding around on horses and buggies. A few of us would have cars but there would be no – all this traveling and stuff would have to come to a stop. And I don’t think a lot of people are quite ready to do that yet.
So I kind of keep it to myself and keep it to when I’m discussing. We have like a long time to really discuss those things because it’s a very deep subject.
Bob Stannard: I agree with you completely, and interestingly enough, I live in Vermont. So we’re almost to where we think we ought to be. We still have a couple of cars left up here though.
Kevin Moore: Yes, you understand. You understand.
((Inaudible)) really tied by what I do to the so called oil machines, you know? Because I ride in buses to go on tour, but we try to use bio-diesel whenever we can and we try to really, you know, do it. But you know, you (every now and then) you have to get on a plane. I flew a plane yesterday, I had to go to LA for a minute and I had to get on a plane and ride, you know, it’s just like – you, know, it’s not good but it is what it is.
Until we all decide that that’s not what we want. But when we make that big decision, that’s a huge decision, and then maybe we won’t have as many cars down here as you have in Vermont as well and we can have more, you know, horses, buggies, organic farms and a lot of maple syrup, ((inaudible)).
Bob Stannard: Let me just tell you that I’ve liked your music for a long time and I was unfamiliar with your political views. They coincide perfectly with most of us up here in Vermont, so thank you for sharing that. And it’s nice to have that little tie there.
All right, let’s go to your music then, since I guess that’s why we’re here. I’d just as soon talk to you about anything else in the whole world because a lot of people…
Kevin Moore: It’s all (instantly) connected.
Bob Stannard: It absolutely is. You know, right now, we’re in bad times; it seems to me though – you and I are about the same age, we’re both born in ’51.
Kevin Moore: Yes.
Bob Stannard: And it seemed like some of the best music that ever was created in our generation came out of real turmoil in this country; the Vietnam War and that whole era of our lives and it seems like we are almost back there again. And I’m wondering what your read is on the music of today and how you relate to it, how your music relates to what is going on in the world today?
Kevin Moore: Well, the first part; when you say we are in real bad times, that’s such a broad statement. I mean, it seems our bad, but I think we are all buying into it so it seems, you know, that things are bad, so we make it bad. And I think things don’t have to bad, all these things are choices, which is as deep a conversation as the other one.
But as far as music that came out of the 60’s and music that came out that was – there was very great music that came out of turmoil and that turmoil is what I would call life.
At any given point there’s joy, there’s pain, there’s turmoil, there’s war, there’s peace. You know, there’s places where things are great and there’s places where things aren’t so great. But at any given time, all of these things are going on.
The common denominator by music, what music does, when you write and you speak and you are inspired by life and whatever it is; it’s truth. And that’s what makes music to me, great or it makes any art form really great. Or a vivid imagination; what’s possible.
You know, something that is inspiring. So I know things are bad and an oil spill is bad in the Gulf, it’s really a bad thing and, you know, I’m hoping that we all collectively take responsibility for that and stop trying to blame, put all the blame on BP and all the blame on President Obama and the oil companies, because the oil companies are just serving us for, you know, what we are asking for, you know, so you complain about the spill and we complain about that, but we don’t want to, you know, stop driving. You know, so, meanwhile the oil, as the oil gets farther out into the ocean and the coal miners get deeper and the music reflects those things. Like Coal Miner’s Daughter, that’s a great song, you know.
And I don’t know; it’s just truth. Truth is what’s wonderful about life. At any given time we can turn all of it around. Did I say too much? Did I confuse you? Hello?
Operator: We will take our next question from Keith Langerman from Night Watchers House of Rock.
Kevin Moore: All right.
Keith Langerman: How are you doing today?
Kevin Moore: Hello?
Keith Langerman: Hey Kevin?
Kevin Moore: Hi.
Keith Langerman: Can you hear me? Hi, how are you doing today?
Kevin Moore: I’m doing good. How are you doing?
Keith Langerman: I’m doing good, thank you. Hey, it’s a pleasure to talk to you here. I’d like to go ahead and get back into what actually you were brought here to talk about and that’s the Memphis Beat show.
Kevin Moore: (Okay, yes, great).
Keith Langerman: Now, you previously composed music for TV before, a few years ago for the sitcom Freddy that starred Freddy Prinze, Jr.
Kevin Moore: Yes.
Keith Langerman: Was there any challenges for you in writing for this since this is a drama versus a comedy in the previous show?
Kevin Moore: Yes, it’s a completely different animal. It’s a completely different – where the sitcom, it plays itself, you know, the music plays itself and usually adding music into laughter. Cause music is one thing to the other; not as spot on specific for the actual scenes.
So in this hour drama, which is slightly comedic as well, you are in with the acting. You are in, you are involved with the story telling, so you’re part is going) way more crucial than on a sitcom.
Keith Langerman: Okay. What’s the biggest difference for you in composing for a television show versus writing for your own album?
Kevin Moore: The biggest difference is this one; in the show and writing from my own album, and some of my own albums, I’m the boss.
And on the show, I’m taking cues from the creators of the show. The people who created. The same way someone who is going to work on my record would take direction from me in terms of what to play on my record recording.
Keith Langerman: Okay.
Kevin Moore: So if the roles – the reversal of roles which is very nice because it makes me go places – it’s makes taking myself out of the driver’s seat. I mean, I’m driving in a sense but I’m not completely driving the whole thing. So it makes me have to dig deeper and get into what other people are looking for, as opposed to my own egocentric creations.
Keith Langerman: Right, right. Do I have time for one more question?
Kevin Moore: Yes, go ahead.
Keith Langerman: Okay, now while you will be composing and performing original music for the series, Kevin, I know a lot of people on the blues scene are actually wondering, will there also be other artists featured on the episodes?
Has this been discussed at all?
Kevin Moore: Well, music is always ((inaudible)) mostly it’s like a lot of Memphis music. It’s going to center around Memphis and the musical pallet of the musical background is based in Memphis.
That will definitely show it’s side. So there will be a lot of Memphis music and as far as placements of music, that’s not really my job. My job is the background music and when I have to do things I, of course, I’m there to do it. And I’m trying to bring a real bluesy, a real rootsy kind of Southern Memphis vibe to the show.
Sometimes it’s very dramatic at the same time so there’s a balance of Memphis. But Memphis music and the blues are a big part of the show.
Keith Langerman: Okay. All right. And I will clear the floor for someone else. Thank you very much.
Kevin Moore: Thank you.
Operator: As a reminder if you want to ask a question at this time please press star 1. We will take our next question from Jason Rewald from Delta Blues. Please go ahead, sir.
Jason Rewald: Hey Keb’. How are ya?
Kevin Moore: How are you doing, Jason?
Jason Rewald: Good, good. I think I got one of my questions answered, and that was, basically, obviously, sometimes blues gets clumped into one type of genre and there’s obviously many different forms of blues. So my first question was, are there any specific like Memphis musicians that you are going to draw inspiration from for creating the music for Memphis Beat?
Kevin Moore: Well, yes. I mean, I’m just listening to the box set. You know, the Memphis box set.
And as far as me, the place is close to me although Memphis is, you know, Elvis and Booker T and the MG’s, Otis Redding, Al Green, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas; it’s great sounding music. Wilson Pickett…
But I’m really inspired by Booker T and I have, I use, I recorded the theme song in Memphis, It’s the Memphis (condition). You get it there.
And I came back to Nashville and I had Steve Cropper play guitar on the theme as well which was really cool. So any time I have to bring Memphis into the music on a real basis, I’m going to do it.
Yes, so, I mean, the scratches, the needle drop is there, the scratches, but I’m speaking like real time now – the Memphis condition and the Memphis people to bring in – the real deal.
Jason Rewald: Gotcha. And just one quick follow-up question to that, and I’m hopeful of this, do you think that the Memphis Beat show is a good opportunity to bring blues and blues fans of a younger generation?
Kevin Moore: I think it’s a great opportunity to bring them in, yes it is. But you know, as the show goes on, the music is – I feel like it’s more in the R&B realm, you know, Otis Redding. More in that roots – that style of blues.
Now I’m accused – I’m doing a lot of old time different types of blues in there, you know.
Jason Rewald: Right.
Kevin Moore: And there are other things too. So at the same time, you know, I think it’s going to put a lot of light on Memphis in general, the whole Stacks, Atlantic Stacks [Stax Records] and the high record music catalog.
Jason Rewald: Great, thank you.
Kevin Moore: All right.
Operator: At this time we have no further questions. I would like to turn the call back over to Miss Stafford for any additional (comments) before closing the call.
Kristina Stafford: Thank you so much for participating in the Keb’ Mo’ Memphis Beat conference call.
Just a reminder, the Memphis Beat premieres on Tuesday, June 22 at10/9 Central on TNT.
A transcript of the call will be available within 24 hours. Please check with your respective TNT publicist.
And thank you, Keb’ and thank you all for participating.
Operator: That does conclude today’s conference call. Thank you for your participation.
And just like that, the call ended. I had more questions of course, but I expected more questions from other participants. You can bet next time I’ll be hitting star 1 more than a dozen times.
Until next time…. Go watch Memphis Beat!