Driving Miss Combo

I accompanied Eric to Gonerfest in Memphis last week for the only US show of his legendary band the Len Bright Combo. LBC hold a special place for me because on a Saturday some fifteen years ago while sitting in Manhattan-bound traffic at the Holland Tunnel, I heard “Young, Upwardly-Mobile and Stupid” on WFMU and thought hmm that voice sounds so familiar! When Terre T back-announced the songs she’d played and talked about Len Bright Combo and Wreckless Eric I was so pleased to hear his name and that he was still out playing (not with LBC at that point but solo) and hadn’t disappeared into the ethers of time. Then a friend gave me a copy of Eric’s Greatest Stiffs collection, I started covering Whole Wide World and that led to us meeting in Hull of all places and the rest is covered in Do You Remember That.

For all sorts of selfish reasons I jumped at the chance to come along: wonderful friends to visit, barbq to consume, and a chance to soak up the Goner atmosphere that fits so well with Memphis – sweaty and loose with underpinnings of tradition and a healthy dose of dysfunction.

We stayed first with pals Ilene and Ben and their three kitties in a gorgeous mid-century house and had a great time eating barbq & catfish and watching American Pickers, Drunk History a bad HBO movie about the Loud Family and this poignant documentary Marwencol about Kingston artist Mark Hogencamp. It was a dream come true to lounge about with these two instead of the usual dashing in and out we’ve done when playing a gig in Memphis. In the midst of it all, we kept Facebook/email/cellphone vigil for word from the UK on the birth of Eric’s new grandchild – a son! a son! born to his daughter Luci and partner Simon. What a thrill and relief!

When the other Combo members arrived from the UK, I acted eager-to-please chauffeur like Norman in Robert Altman’s Nashville, happy to ferry the trio around town. I’d met Bruce the drummer before and he is a wondrous character but I hadn’t met Russ – I expected a bass-slinging brute but he was an urbane delight. Driving up and down the bungalow-lined streets of town, I got a kick out of the trio’s effortless banter – it’s something the way a band clicks back into place, where all their speaking voices even sound alike.

Russ, meet grits. Grits, Russ.
Russ, meet grits. Grits, Russ.

I threw my tin discipline to the wind and ate as much of the local southern food as I could: Payne’s barbq ribs and slaw; catfish, hushpuppies and collards at Soul Fish; cornish hen and ribs at Cozy Corner; sausage patties, eggs, grits biscuits and sausage gravy at Bryant’s. The rare time I ate a salad it was grilled and studded with bacon. We tried to stop for what has been called the best fried chicken in the US but the line outside Gus’s was too long and we were too hungry, though I don’t know how that happened because it seemed like we never went more than an hour and a half without food. At one point we met drummer Greg Roberson(who only last week was at our house recording for both me and Eric’s new records) and his adorable son at a Whole Foods for fresh juice but it was like throwing fuel on the fire, the vitamins only upped my desire for more fat and grease.

Where would you like this, ma'am? Bruce at Bryant's
Where would you like this, ma’am? Bruce at Bryant’s

 

The Gonerfest bands were energetic and often Australian, but honestly once I’d seen Len Bright Combo (preceded by Deaf Wish who had me worrying for the band that had to follow that energy) I got what I came for. The Combo were teetering and tight at the same time, and funny and ferocious. It was sort of like watching someone else play your guitar – after playing next to Eric so many nights on stage, and he’s always an awesome force, I stood there with goosebumps watching him take off and thinking “I didn’t know you could do that!”

Len Bright Combo photo by Greg Roberson
Len Bright Combo photo by Greg Roberson
http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/504-shake-appeal-a-report-from-gonerfest-11/
I needed a pic of Eric from the show, this is from Pitchfork’s great review

Afterwards I sold records from the merch table next to Deaf Wish and got hugs from Scott & Charlene’s Wedding who we hosted last week at home in New York. I love these Australians so much, wish I could adopt them. It was a treat to see them play at a backyard show the next day, feeling them turn the world on with their charm.

Me & the kids back home in Catskill
Me & the kids back home in Catskill

Then we faded away from Goner and out to the Stax Museum which contains many interesting artifacts, loads of info and the incredible wall of records, but lacks the emotional wallop you want – even though they’ve recreated the studio, Memphis is so much about place and…well, the real place is gone and the most feeling I get is being outside the building, on this street, in this neighborhood where the original theater stood. But it is still a must to visit.

IMG_20140927_171906_965

To cap off the Stax experience, we caught the end of Robert Gordon’s talk about his Stax book Respect Yourself. He’s a wonderful speaker, and had a guest Sidney Kirk, who had gone to high school with Isaac Hayes and played piano in his band and I wished they’d had him in the Stax Museum talking because he made history come alive, it’s often the people on the sidelines of the inside who do.

We were staying now with old friends Robert and Candace and their darling daughter Vivian and we all had birthday cake and I passed out on the couch, not from drinking but a complete sensation overload. The last day we accompanied the Maches to a front porch cookout with nonstop platters of fried chicken and beef tips, and then took Russ to the airport (Bruce left the day before). We went by the finale of Gonerfest and then sat down in a bar to hear barefoot soul lady Linda Heck play with Ross Johnson on drums. Ross took a phone call as the first song started, and played with one hand while hoisting a flip phone to his ear with the other. We’d seen Ross play earlier in the week with a whole gang doing Like Flies On Sherbert, the Alex Chilton album he’d played on, and he’d sounded great. I heard him order a “Diet Croak” from the bartender.

Yes no Memphis visit would be complete without a visitation from Chilton’s ghost. All the exes, girls he’d herded and produced in bands like the Clits and Hellcats were present, and there was a moment when two of them spotted Eric. It is well-noted and documented that Alex loved Eric’s records but they never got a chance to know each other. Still, the girls knew and I saw them fix their big shiny eyes on my boy and come floating across the room like hungry flesh eaters in Night Of The Living Dead. It was scary, it was sweet. I doffed my imaginary Norman chauffeur cap and took my leave. “You’re on your own here.”

Two minutes later Eric emerged from the bar, wiping sweat off his brow. We walked off into the sunset to find one more meal.

Bar-b-q's fine, wish you were here
Bar-b-q’s fine, wish you were here

 

27 thoughts on “Driving Miss Combo

    1. amyrigby

      Glad you liked it Mick. Ha ha, those kids make me want to join a band. Oh wait, I’m doing that next month for Eric’s shows in Europe (sadly none in France)

    1. amyrigby

      Definitely not something I could do every day (except maybe the barbq). Deb, the Hi Tone moved! It’s in another interesting spot, not sure what went on there but right across the street from this huge old Sears warehouse.

  1. Scott W

    You put into words thoughts about Stax that hadn’t crystallized and probably never would have. It was lovely to see you again! Come to Columbia any time, every time!

  2. amyrigby

    It was great to see you too Scott, and Woody Jones! Glad we got to meet up with you and visit the Museum together too. I look forward to coming back to Columbia one of these days.

  3. Marti

    Love do reading this, Amy. I sure do miss seeing you! I’ve been listening to your older records while painting… I love them. Appreciate them. Love to Eric.

  4. Hal Davis

    This was a hopeful sign:

    drummer Greg Roberson (who only last week was at our house recording for both me and Eric’s new records)

    Please keep us posted on these.

  5. amyrigby

    Yes, we both have solo records underway. Still a ways to go (especially for mine) but I feel it will come together now that I’ve managed to get started.

  6. Mark

    As usual, I feel like I was there – and without paying the price for eating all that so-good-it-must-be-bad-for-you BBQ. Love your writing, love you two.

  7. Stribs

    I preferred the Rock and Soul Museum myself Amy. And congratulations to you both on the birth of your Grandson. I know the feeling and it’s great, although ours is even further away than yours, in Australia!

    1. amyrigby

      Do I get to call him my grandson too? I’m only step but what the hell! How hard that must be, to be so far away, Stribs – do you use Skype or facetime or what have you? I can’t wait to see Sunny (just learned his name, so cute) in November/December when we’re touring.

      1. Stribs

        Step to me as well Amy! If you remember , our relationships have mirrored each other. I have a CD autographed by Eric to ” another married man”. I’m just younger than him!
        And yes, we Skype fortnightly. He’s now 6 and we have been to Oz twice.

      1. Miller Steve

        I guess you already know that the fried chicken places in Nashville and Memphis use a lot of cayenne pepper. And Gus’s has great turnip greens but you have to ask for them–they’re not on the menu. The Nashville location is on Old Hickory Blvd, about two miles east of I-65 at the corner of Edmonson Pike. That is twelve road miles from the center of Nashville.

  8. Mahwah Paterson

    I’m not much of a computer user. I think we all spend too much time on our backsides. I don’t see myself checking this, or anything else, out over the long term. But the entries are clever, insightful and amusing– dare I say amiable? Like your songs.

    The Net resembles the Tower of Babel. So much is on there that it all drowns itself out. And it has killed (or nearly so) much of our our former culture and big sectors of our economy: Musicians, newspapers, booksellers, local sports events, tutors, singles bars…

    1. Mick Smith

      Apparently radio spelt the end of reading and would lead to an illiterate society. Television was the end of conversation as people abandoned the dining table in favour of a plate on theit knees. And Yet… Lots of us still read and I often sit at a table and eat and converse and laugh with friends. I’m not sure the internet’s destroyed anything. It’s changed some things but time does that anyway. The number of us following Amy’s blog is proof that after a hundred years radio hasn’t stopped us reading the written word – regardless of the medium that brings us to it…
      Chin up – things may be better than they seem.

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