I consider myself lucky to have grown up in Memphis, a city steeped in a long and rich musical tradition. Even though much of Memphis’ golden era had faded by the time I started playing, the legacy was inescapable. There was still blues down on Beale Street, the Stax catalogue got regular airtime on the two R&B stations, and there were numerous Elvis sightings around town. The crew at American Music, later named The Memphis Boys, cranked out hits for B.J. Thomas, the Boxtops, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond and dozens more.
Bass was always my first love, not surprising living in the land of Duck Dunn and Tommy Cogbill.
Later on I played a little guitar figuring I could get more gigs, but after a brief flirtation I came back to my one true love. I was fortunate to connect with some kindred spirits early on in my career who taught me what it takes to be a pro musician and a true artist.
I learned a lot from these ‘Memphis boys’ and for that I am forever grateful.
Van Duren/Big Star
One of the first guys I hooked up with was Van Duren, a gifted singer and songwriter. He in turn, introduced me to the remnants of Big Star- Jody Stevens, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. Big Star was, according to Rolling Stone magazine: “… the “quintessential American power pop band” and “one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock & roll”.
Truly ‘a band before their time’, Big Star practically invented the power pop category. They made two astonishing records, but neither was commercially successful at the time. Most of the accolades that were written about the band came years later. Frustrated by the vagaries of the music business, they splintered. But when I met Chris and Jody we had one thing in common; we were looking for a gig.
The Baker Street Regulars/Walk n Wall
The Baker Street Regulars were Chris Bell, Jody Stevens, Van and me on guitar. Chris and Jody played their butts off, but they were both still sorting through the wreckage of the Big Star implosion, and The Regulars were short lived. Walk n Wall was a trio- Van, John Hampton on drums, and yours truly on guitar and bass. John went on to become a successful producer/engineer, producing and mixing multi- platinum records for Gin Blossoms, Travis Tritt and many others.
Later I migrated to Nashville to start my studio career, but Van continues to write, record and perform, and has released eleven records showcasing his beautiful voice and sharp-witted writing skills.
Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers
When I first met Larry Raspberry he was already the veteran of several record deals, had produced a feature length documentary (‘Jive Asp’) that chronicled the traveling carnival he called Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers, and toured the world. He had been the lead singer of the Gentrys, a band that managed to score a Billboard top ten hit, “Keep On Dancing”, while they were still in high school. By the time Larry graduated he was a show biz vet and a local star. He was also the toughest, and the best, bandleader I ever had. He demanded that everyone on his stage completely sell out to the music, no matter the circumstance. The cliché 110% applied to him before there was the cliché. More than anyone else, he taught me the meaning of being a music biz pro.
We toured the US from coast to coast in a Dodge stretch van dragging a 16-foot trailer, playing anywhere we could get a booking. It was grueling, exciting, frustrating and exhilarating, but it all paid off when Mercury records signed the band. We recorded “No Accident” at Ardent studios in Memphis, and continued touring together until I moved to Nashville to start my studio career. I still count Larry as one of my best friends.
Keith Sykes is a noted singer/song writer whose songs have been recorded by Jimmy Buffet, Roseanne Cash, Rodney Crowell and many others. I made two records with Keith, “It Don’t Hurt To Flirt” and “I’m Not Strange, I’m Just Like You”. We also toured together for several years. One of the highlights was our appearance on Saturday Night Live, December 1980.
Keith Sykes on Saturday Night Live, 1980