Pictures and thoughts from a Memphis Musician's Wife

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Almost Famous

What makes a musician famous? Is it their album sales? Is it the clothes they wear? It seems these days, that with all the new studio technology, you don’t even really have to know how to play an instrument or really even sing to make a hit. With pop culture, you don’t even really have to be saying anything in a song to have a hit and sell millions of records. On a daily basis, I see musicians who play LIVE music every day struggle to get by. I see a band of young “hip” stars touring with full police escorts who lip sync and have full bands of musicians pretending to play instruments to a click track. Someone said something to Jeremy the other day that really made a lot of sense. They told him he is a pianist, not a keyboardist. Keyboardists use their keyboards as machines, to make beats or use all kinds of crazy sounds. Pianists use their machine as nothing more than an instrument when they are in a live situation. Don’t get me wrong, the keyboardists are definitely skilled artists, but I truly believe that the people getting all the big money should be the ones who are actually doing all the work without all the technical help. Musicians years ago didn’t have the ability to transpose their pianos. They had to actually learn all of their scales and chords. It’s really sad to see how little respect the musicians who have actually learned how to play their instrument get and how much respect the people who have no clue as to what they are doing get. We need to bring back the days of real live music. Where there is feeling and passion in what the musicians are actually doing.

My husband and I met on Beale Street in October of 2010. I was just coming back to town from South Carolina to basically start my life over. I went down to Beale to hang out because I needed the music and wanted to try to look for a job. I met Jeremy in passing and thought he was a drummer for a long time. That was until the day we really met each other.

On October 24, 2010, I was on Beale Street to meet some guy for a lunch date. He stood me up because it was raining. I was standing in Handy Park when Jeremy came walking through, soaked. I called out his name, and he hugged me when he walked over. He didn’t say much. He walked me over to the wall at the front of the park, and we just started talking. He held me close to him, letting me talk away. People would walk up to us and tell us how cute we were together. We weren’t even a “couple” yet. LOL. That day, we spent hours talking to each other, walking on the river, talking more. I felt like I could trust him with anything, my deepest darkest secrets. He didn’t judge me. He just smiled, held my hand tighter, pulled me closer, and would kiss me gently from time to time. It was like something out of a movie. Around 4 am, we ended up at Denny’s. We ate breakfast, and Jeremy asked me how I was getting home. I had no car at the time, and I was going to have to wait another two hours for the bus. I asked him to walk me to the bus terminal, but he refused. He wasn’t going to leave me alone at the terminal for hours. He caught a cab and took me to his house.

Jeremy was living with his mom at the time, and we snuck into the house. We spent the next day together on Beale. And the next. We couldn’t leave each other. We got our own place, continuing to build on our friendship and relationship. It was different than any relationship I’d been in. We trusted each other. We loved each other. We appreciated each other. I could tell him anything about me, and he refused to judge me. Within a few weeks, we knew our connection was permanent. We were meant for each other. He was the one who suggested that we get married.

11 months to the day after we started dating, we were married. September 24, 2011. No, our relationship has not been all peaches and cream, but I can’t imagine my life without my husband, my best friend, my lover, my partner, my business partner. Our lives are together, which is something you don’t find in most relationships today. I am truly blessed to have found my true Prince Charming, Jeremy Powell.

Suavo J. feat. Mr. 88 and the Bones with Sweet Angel singing “Just Be Good to Me” at the 2013 National Bikers Roundup in Tunica, MS

Long Days

Most days as a full time Memphis musician can be very long. Yesterday, we were out of our home at 11:30 to be at Handy Park at 12. The rest of the band did not show up until after 1. My husband played until 10 pm last night with five 15-20 minute breaks. This was outside, very hot and humid. Most days are not like that, now, but Jeremy is still on Beale Street 12 hours out of most days. People think being a musician is so easy, that all you have to do is play an instrument. That is not true. You have to worry about making sure you have gigs booked, which can be difficult in a city FULL of musicians competing for the same spots. You have to make up for lost gigs sometimes by doing gigs that are well beneath what you should be playing for. It’s funny to me that the “paid touring musicians” for quite a few major artists don’t even really have to play their instruments on the stage and still get paid. My husband, and several other musicians, would feel insulted if you asked them to pretend to do what they have put all of their hard work and energy into doing. No, people may not realize it, but normal musicians work hard to gain the love and respect of their fans, too.  Most of them have to do all of the legwork themselves, doing their own promotions, booking, and sales. It is almost a 24 hour a day job. I wish there was more respect for the every day musicians, who are just as talented as those world famous superstars’ musicians.

My Guys with Sweet Angel

So, you always hear all sorts of things about singers these days. Some are total divas. Some are self-centered, rude, and hard to work with. Some are just particular about what they like. Last year, Jeremy got a call from Mike Dobbins, husband and manager of Sweet Angel, “the Redbone with the Saxophone of Blues.” Due to scheduling difficulties, we were not able to work with her. In that year, Sweet Angel had another band or two, and the Bones started to take off on their own.

About a month or two ago, we got a call from Mike Dobbins. Jeremy was asked to put a band together for a Sweet Angel show. This time, the band was ready. All they needed was a guitar player. Moe, our bass player, suggested someone. He came to two rehearsals (there were only 3) and backed out on the day of the event. Moe called a guitarist named Adam. Jeremy has played with him a lot of times on Beale Street. I was sure if anyone could do the music he could. But that story comes a little later. Jeremy booked the gig for the Bones, and the Bones began rehearsing the music.

Now, I should explain something before I go any further. All of the musicians I work with are able to listen to a song and normally play it back just like the CD. You will rarely ever see chord charts, drum charts, or sheet music around them. A majority of them are self taught. I don’t mean, they only play by ear. If you gave 3/4 of them sheet music to sight read, they could. There is just something different about these musicians.

I was emailed all of the music and made sure my band got it. The first rehearsal lasted an hour or so. They seemed to breeze right through the music. The second rehearsal was a little rough. Of course, there was a different added element, the guitarist. I was not personally at that rehearsal, but I know it tool almost 3 hours. I also heard stories about the guitarist arguing and whining throughout the rehearsal with Sweet Angel. I was at the third and last rehearsal. The energy through the first run was low. When the second run was played, Sweet Angel sounded pretty satisfied, although still skeptical of if they could pull the show off with the energy she needed.

The day of the show rolled around, and we all rode together to Tunica, MS. We were performing at the Tunica Expo Center and Arena, opening up for Avant and Keke Wyatt, as well as Mr. Bobby Rush. Avant’s band was on stage doing a sound check when we walked in the door.  Jeremy thought he would be able to use the keyboard in the backline, and there was a backline for everyone else, so nobody brought their amps or big equipment in. They took a very long time to finish their sound check. Sweet Angel and 88Bones were going on stage at 7, but when the band finally got to step foot on stage, it was 7. Of course, Jeremy couldn’t use the other Motif on the stage. We had to run out and get his equipment and set it up. We did that in about 5 minutes time, and the band got started.

#88Bones

The first song was so full of energy.  Adam, the guitar player, fit right in with the band, even though his first time hearing her music was in his car on the way to Tunica. Sweet Angel was sweating by the 2nd verse! She told the guys during rehearsal that she wasn’t satisfied until she started sweating.  After the first song, I went to sit beside the stage.  The show went of without a hitch. When Sweet Angel came off stage, she told me I’d whipped them into shape. I didn’t do anything. That’s just my guys. They may not be perfect during rehearsal, but when the lights are shining and people are cheering, these guys give their best.

We got in the van for the ride home, all feeling somewhat satisfied. It looks like this could be a new path for #88Bones. Stay tuned for this adventure. Oh, and Sweet Angel has proved not to be anything more than a professional lady. She was kind, generous, encouraging, and wants the best band she can get because she puts on a show that needs just that. We truly appreciate her professionalism. I am very proud to say I am the manager of Suavo J. feat. Mr. 88 and the Bones. They are an amazingly talented group of professional musicians, and I am honored to be able to work with them. I’m so glad that they entrusted me with their future as a band.

A Day in Our Shoes

For three years now, I have been a part of a unique world of people. I was raised in Memphis, but I was never really aware of the live music scene around town. When I was younger, I sang in the choir, played piano, and taught myself how to play the clarinet. My mom always had several genres of music playing around the house, so I was exposed to all types of music. Classical always had a very special place in my heart, though. I loved the sound of a full orchestra, how that orchestra came together to make one song a magical experience for the audience. The right piece could invoke so many types of emotions without a word ever being sung.  It was not until I met my husband that I got exposed to the true life of the everyday professional musician. 

When Jeremy and I began dating, he played at a few different venues on Beale Street. Most of these venues (smaller bars and outside venues) pay the musicians a small percentage of nightly bar sales and the musicians are responsible for gathering tips to pay themselves. When you think about Beale Street, you think, “It shouldn’t be that hard to make money down there. Thousands of people pass through Beale Street every week.” Well, when you are relying on those tourists to pay you on their own, combined with the competition for money from the other 16 venues on the street, it can be hard to make a living. Many tourists come to Memphis because they are trying to save money. They want an affordable vacation. Keep in mind, whatever tips are made are split 3-6 ways, depending on the size of the band. Tipping $1 to a 4 piece band gives each of them .25 cents. So, in order to make a decent living as a musician in Memphis, it is a must that you play with more than one band.  Jeremy has played with the Juke Joint Allstars, Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars, the Memphis Bluesmasters, Darrell Wilson and the Soul Outsiders, the Eric Hughes Band, Carl Sims, the Ghost Town Blues Band, and Darren Jay and the Delta Souls, just to name a few. He also fronts of his own band with Suavo, which is taking off now.  You may think that is a lot of music to learn, and you would be correct, but it is a must if you are striving to make it doing nothing but playing music.

It is a rough life. That is for sure. There are late nights and long days. Sometimes Jeremy will have 3 gigs in one day, starting around lunch time and playing until 1 or 2 am. If I was not as involved with his career as I am, I would probably never see him.  On weeks when his daughter is with us, it is even more stressful. We wake up around 8-9 am when she is home and 10 am or later when she is not.  We usually grab breakfast, get dressed for the day, and are out of our house by 1-2 pm. On some days, Jeremy starts playing one gig at 1 pm, breaks his equipment down to go to the next gig at 3, and will have another gig around 8 or 9 pm. We don’t leave Beale Street most nights until 1 or 2 am. Some nights it has been 3 or 4 am. Some gigs give a guarantee pay to the bands, although that gets split and is normally barely enough to cover daily expenses. It is almost impossible to save money with what you make on one gig. You have to play several to pad the rest of the income you have coming in. Several times out of the week, a band will call Jeremy to fill in for someone who couldn’t make it to the gig. Normally, there is no refusing a gig. We can’t afford not to go, although some days and nights I have seen musicians play for 4-5 hours and walk out with less than $5 in their pocket. It can be rough. They are right when they say you truly have to love music and have a passion for it to do what the musicians I know do. I wish everyone who came to Beale Street could see just one day in the life of one of the young musicians trying to earn a living on Beale Street through their eyes. It would open so many eyes. 

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