When Morning Comes To Memphis
Hi Records 1976
“Sometimes I try and blame the city, for the shameful shape that I’m in…”
Memphis in the mid-seventies was a mess; the glory days of Soul and the wave of southern optimism that birthed rock and roll were long gone. Sun Records was forgotten. Stax Records was in financial meltdown. American Studios was soon to up sticks to Nashville. Hi Records was no longer churning out hits. Career minded exploiters, religious opportunists, southern Democrats, oiled up pimps, those with the keys to the republic, were all parading down Beale Street.
All across America it was the same; lay offs and cut backs, unemployment, dishonest history, sky rocketing fuel costs. All against the backdrop of what was supposed to be a huge party: America’s two hundredth birthday.
I was 15 that year and read The Great Gatsby for the first time; it felt completely relevant. Particularly how, by finishing the book with a dead body floating in the swimming pool, F. Scott Fitzgerald turned a symbol of leisure and affluence into a symbol of ruin.
I didn’t hear this record at the time. Few did. What record station, during that celebratory year, was going to play it?
I first heard this from my friend Joe Brack. It was on a country album called Honky Tonk Women Love Red Neck Men by Jerry Jaye, produced by the great Larry Rodgers, and released on Hi Records. It tries to put on a brave face, tries to join the Good Old Boy/Outlaw party, but it’s no use. This is unsparing Memphis medicine; as the Mississippi Sheiks said thirty years earlier: “Strange things are happening like never before…” And as Bob Dylan said when he recorded that song: “ Strange things alright – evil charlatans masquerading in pullover vest and tuxedos talking gobbledygook, monstrous pompous superficial pageantry parading down lonely streets…”
Jerry Jaye was on that lonely street, looking not for redemption but oblivion. He knew there was a party going on; it was on every TV, in every magazine; he could hear it and smell it and taste it; he also knew he wasn’t invited.
Jeb’s new record, The Jeb Loy Nichols Special, is out on 2 April. A special edition version is on sale at the Rough Trade shops now.