Memphis Jolly-Up, May 26-30, 2005.

Backslapping time. Well done us. We are fantastic.
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The Fish
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Postby The Fish » 03 Jun 2005, 23:02

I swear to God, you couldn't make this up !!!

Back a couple of days and not back to work till next week, I wandered down the pub this lunchtime. Some pretty bluesy stuff playing, which definitely seem to hit the vibe I was still feeling. Obviously a compilation. I asked the guy at the bar what was playing and lo and behold it was......


Image

Sure enough a couple of tracks later and on comes Rocket 88.
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Postby The Modernist » 03 Jun 2005, 23:09

The Fish wrote:I swear to God, you couldn't make this up !!!

Back a couple of days and not back to work till next week, I wandered down the pub this lunchtime. Some pretty bluesy stuff playing, which definitely seem to hit the vibe I was still feeling. Obviously a compilation. I asked the guy at the bar what was playing and lo and behold it was......


Image

Sure enough a couple of tracks later and on comes Rocket 88.


That's really weird because a friend of mine was in a Memphis bar the other day and they were playing The Barracudas from The Sound Of Hove. Unfortunately it got taken off for the more hardcore Sound Of Worthing compilation which goes down much better in the deep south.

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Postby tweetybird » 04 Jun 2005, 21:28

Wow! I just spent more than an hour reading the many write-ups from Memphis. The descriptions were so vivid, I could imagine people's reactions to the crap band, P-cat cracking you up in the park, and Take_5 rehearsing for the role of a corpse.

Sounds like you all had a great time, and all I can do is envy.

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Postby Still Baron » 04 Jun 2005, 21:34

tweetybird wrote:Sounds like you all had a great time, and all I can do is envy.


Actually, you can do more than that! Start saving for next year. At first there was talk (well, I talked) about making the Memorial Day weekend the semi-permanent date (end of May), but there's been other rumblings about other dates here and there.
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Postby tweetybird » 04 Jun 2005, 21:42

Baron wrote:
tweetybird wrote:Sounds like you all had a great time, and all I can do is envy.


Actually, you can do more than that! Start saving for next year. At first there was talk (well, I talked) about making the Memorial Day weekend the semi-permanent date (end of May), but there's been other rumblings about other dates here and there.


I'll definitely start to save.. 8-)

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Postby Quaco » 04 Jun 2005, 21:54

Memphis again?!
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Postby Sambient » 04 Jun 2005, 21:57

Baron wrote: At first there was talk (well, I talked) about making the Memorial Day weekend the semi-permanent date (end of May), but there's been other rumblings about other dates here and there.


For me, as long as I'm working where I am, Memorial Day weekend works particularly well. I recognize the pros and cons. It being a holiday weekend amped the expense factor, no doubt about it. But it also made it such that more folks could participate.
Plus, if this is the date of record, it is easiest to plan as far in advance as some might need. Or, again, being a holiday weekend, easier to play it by ear.

This was the best vacation I had in a long time. I want to do this again, wherever we choose.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 08 Jun 2005, 03:27

Visiting Clarksdale, MS

I've only written about visiting Graceland thus far, but there was plenty more to my trip than that, almost too much to write about in detail. One thing that comes to mind immediately is a car ride livet, the Baron, the Baronness, and I took to Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta, accompanied by the Baron's Gulf Coast Blues compilation CD.

Along the way I spouted the usual whatnot about the Delta (and surrounding areas) being the hotbed of American modernism with the following examples:

    Faulkner and Oxford MS,

    Delta blues and American music,

    James Agee and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (technically this is Alabama, but that's close)


Somewhere in the conversation, the Baron started asking about the economic history of the Delta, which actually I knew almost nothing about, that is, when was it developed, and by whom?

A few days after we got back, NPR ran the following story:

ELLIOTT: The writer David Cohn also coined the oft-cited definition of the Mississippi delta; that it begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi. On one end, the posh trappings of the white planter class; on the other, the ramshackle cabins of the blacks who work the land. Other writers have described the delta as `the most Southern place on Earth.' It's not really a river delta at all but a great fertile floodplain nearly 70 miles wide. The Mississippi River is at its core, twisting, turning and coiling its way past towns and cities that sprung into life because of the river.

...

ELLIOTT: Brown says in 1870, 90 percent of the delta was virgin wilderness; 20 years later, 90 percent of the delta was within five miles of a railroad track, developed largely by the influential Percys, who used New York banking connections to build railroads during Reconstruction. The rails opened up markets for the region's valuable but labor-intensive cotton crop. The development brought wealth to the region and increased the demand for workers.

Mr. BROWN: It was shortly after the Civil War, so you had a large number of agriculturally skilled African-American laborers, but they had no capital. And so they flooded into the area because of the opportunity to sharecrop. Whites from the surrounding area flooded in, especially from the hills. In those years Chinese came in, the Italians came in, Germans, Russian Jews. So this was the place where, you know, people of all sorts could come and try to make their fortune.

ELLIOTT: Some did--for instance, the land owners and the merchants, who set up in small, rural towns near plantations or in the port city of Greenville, which became the hub of the delta. But others just discovered back-breaking work and a race-based labor system that allowed the few to profit off the toil of the many. The Percy family helped set up what was known as Sunnyside Plantation over the river in Arkansas as an experiment to bring Italian farmers to work the land. For decades the delta was a rural-based economy feudal in nature. Billy Percy says each plantation was like a town unto itself.


SHOW: All Things Considered 8:00 AM EST NPR
June 6, 2005 Monday
HEADLINE: Economic depression in the Mississippi delta


The part that I put in bold is the part that I found most surprising, that is that the Delta had many different ethnicities in it at one point. Actually this makes sense if one accepts the fact that it was an economic powerhouse at one time. Still the idea that there was a significant population of Russian Jews in the Mississippi Delta is not what I grew up thinking.

Each one of these ethnicities must have had their own culture and musical heritage. It's interesting that the one we think about now is almost predominantly African-American.

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Postby Still Baron » 08 Jun 2005, 03:46

I heard that series on NPR and was happy to have a few of my half articulated hunches validated.
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 09 Jun 2005, 05:21

Somewhere on Nextdoorland there is a thread about writing projects and in which today's topic is ``blues''. I had originally started this as a two paragraph thing to post there, but really, it belongs here instead since it is about the Memphis JU


__________

Somewhere on a documentary I watched in the last ten years is an interview in which the subject said that blues was more than the foundation that all American music was built on. It was, to extend the metaphor, the ground itself because ``you can burn down the house, but you can't burn down what that house is built on.''

Maybe. I still distrust the metaphor though, and part of that is because I'm not really all that sure what blues is. Baron and I were talking about this on Highway 61 to Clarksdale, Mississippi. When did the blues begin?

There are a number of different thoughts on this, all of these being mostly speculation because the form is primarily an oral one and we don't have real recordings until the 1920s. One thought is that the blues follows naturally and logically from West African griot traditions. On one hand, I'll buy that. There's a recording of Elmore James's ``Rolling and Tumbling'' that sounds like a jumped-up version of a real griot field recording from an album that Columbia put out called The Story of the Blues (1. Yarum Praise Song, Fra-Fra Tribesman (2:57) ).

On the other hand is Ry Cooder's remark that there isn't such a natural line from Africa to here, that there's something fundamentally different about African-American music from African music. In in an article from Guitar Player 1991 in which he's talking about Muddy Waters's slide guitar playing that he says something along the lines of ``as great as African music is, it's in American where things come together.'' Yes? No? Maybe? I can't remember where it was that I read that there's a shift that occurred. African-American music is less complex rhythmically, but it plays more around with microtones, which may be one way of saying that there isn't really anything in African music that is a direct analogue to Muddy Waters's first electric recordings like ``I Can't Be Satisfied''. How much of this is because of America and how much of it is because of electricity I don't know (not that I really want to split hairs here: electricity and electric instruments in the first half of the 20th century were very much things that came from American culture).

How much of what American culture is or was is in what ``I Can't Be Satisfied'' sounds like is hard to determine. And what produced that or what got documented there? There's a line of thought that says that what blues is about, what it springs from, and what it documents is racial oppression, but I've always been suspicious of this (along with Greil Marcus). Clearly institutional oppression was part of the context that surrounded blues, but that's not the entire story, nor is it necessarily the main driving force. Blues comes not only from poverty and oppression but from expendable income and mobility as well.

What do I mean by that? The initial audience for blues was poor (Marcus writes about how it doesn't quite make sense that blues records ever sold, given that the victrola needed to play one of these probably cost about 50 dollars or so, far above what a tenant farmer could afford.), but that initial audience also had some expendable income to sustain things like Saturday night fish fries that were the main venues and proving grounds for blues musicians. There had to be enough money and interest for something like these things to have occurred over and over.

Now the Delta is one of the poorest regions in the U.S. (``The median income here is \$6,373 a year.'' according to NPR), but it used to be an economic powerhouse, attracting all different ethnic groups (Italians, Russian Jews, the Irish, as well as African-Americans) to work as tenant farmers. Money and disposable income were key--although for the life of me I don't have stats on just how much disposable income people had, nor do I really have any idea what the Delta was like in 1890 just about the time of Plessey vs. Ferguson. How separate were ethnic groups? Did they mix at all? Is there anything of those other ethnicities in blues? Now it seems, along with boogie-woogie, the most African-American of all musical forms, but that may be simply because we don't know as much as we should about music from that time.

Or maybe not. Amédé Ardoin recorded some of the first Cajun records with Dennis McGee. McGee was white; Ardoin was black. Ardoin sounds white, or maybe that's what I think of as ``sounding white'', the sort of mindset in which I say ``cajun is white; zydeco is black''. This may, I am saying, be a more artificial line and more something that has to do with the last half of the 20th century than we quite acknowledge, although again I can't be too sure.

One thing I don't doubt though was something that T. Berry said at the Blue Monkey in Memphis, which was that the plantation owners (e.g., at Dockery Farms) hated the blues musicians who played at these functions. Sure, they served a ``useful'' function by keeping tenant farmers entertained and drunk on weekends. But they were--``dangerous'' is not the right word--a dangerous example because they were often itinerant and as such brought information from the outside (a bad situation given that the plantation owners' ability to keep tenant farmers on the farm depended on a certain level on making certain that they were kept as ignorant of outside possibilities as possible). In addition, they showed that it was indeed possible to get money, real money, not the sort of fake money that places like Dockery Farms made as their own currency, and do so not by working in the fields but by playing music.

Woody Guthrie sang that line about ``the gambling man is rich and the working man is poor''. I sympathize with that on some ideological level, but there is something about the example of blues musician that takes something of that line and mangles it. The workers on Dockery Farms were hermetically sealed from the rest of the US, spending and using their worthless Dockery Farm currency. Meanwhile no-good blues musicians (wasn't it Vernon Presley who said ``I never met a git-tar player who was worth a damn''?) were the ones who got real money and the women, and didn't have to work all week to get it.

In a closed economy predicated on endless work for fake money, what could be a worse example? To compound the irony here, the final joke is on the everyone else--the preachers who preached against blues and blues musicians, the plantation owners who owned, or thought they owned, blues musicians, sophisticated society folk in cities and in the Northeast with their classical music and maybe, hot jazz. All of this stuff is gone. Yes, the money made on cotton plantations still talks and people still listen; the Peabody Hotel still exists, and had the price been right, I would have stayed at it, even if I would have had to walk through duckshit in order to do so, but no one really cares whether the Peabody Hotel or the descendants of Sam Dockery exist or were burned to the ground. These things could be destroyed or die and no one would really care, not the way they do about pieces of acetate on Vocalion or Okeh.

This is the stuff that survives and that people in Germany or Hungary or Japan want to know about. When all of us went to Clarksdale, we were intercepted by the owner of the Riverside Hotel. Other people can go into the details of this, and goodness know, there are plenty of details to go into--the lawn furniture in the rooms, the way you get a padlock and a screen door when you check in, a special room devoted to Bessie Smith, tales of John F. Kennedy, Jr. sitting on the proprietor's mother's bed (newspaper headline quotes famous anonymous guest saying ``I HAD FUN''; current proprietor claims ``next day, he had his shoes off''), showing off Robert Nighthawk's tin suitcase. Yes there was a bit of self-promotion going on (``everyone here has got to have a J.O.B.''), but it didn't seem like arrogance when the proprietor said how he had been contacted by a newspaper to be interviewed about some local musician or celebrity.

On one hand, there's nothing that surprising about this. You look at the map of the area in the Delta Blues Museum, and you see that if you threw a stone in any direction, you would probably hit some building or landmark that some major blues musician had walked through or seen. But then, there is something surprising about this, the fact that we listen to and pay attention to this small plot of land about 70 miles wide when we pay no attention to so many other things and so many other cultures or people. If you had told somebody in the literary circles in New York in the 1920s--the Algonquin Circle, for example--that their fame would expire but the fame of musicians who travelled through the Delta would not, they would have laughed you off the stage, yet this is what has happened. Only a few weirdos like James Agee would have nodded, but even he probably would not have believed the way blues has become in its own way more important than the Mississippi River itself.

At the same time, one can't entirely discount the physical river. The last night I was in Memphis, we all went to the Blue Monkey, and I stepped outside to call livet and the Fish to let them know what the address was and how to get there. Thanks to honorary street signs that weren't on the map, I couldn't find any real street names to give directions, and so I went walking around the bar...and walking and walking, past an enormous brick building built supposedly in 1890 whose inside was totally demolished. There were steel girders left but the inside floor was covered in vegetation and some trees. I walked past it till I got to Butler Park (corner of Butler and Wagner St.). On the north side is a house, but if you ascend the concrete steps you get to an unobstructed view of the Mississippi, perched high enough so that you can see all the trees still on the west bank.

On one hand, as you look at the surface of the water, moving at all sorts of different speeds, you feel the absurdity (what could he have been thinking?) that only a kid who grew up in the suburbs of LA like Jeff Buckley would have been stupid enough to have gone swimming in something like this. On the other hand, you think about that line in the Hank Williams song about going in the river three times...``but only coming up twice'', and you can sort of see how even someone from this area, someone who knew better might feel this way with a river like this vomiting up silt, murder, fatalism, money, yellow fever epidemics (1878, Memphis), astronomical homicide rates, the blues, fertility and greed, fake Dockery currency, the Peabody Hotel, vast tracts of cyprus groves with their massive trunk, dilapidated shacks that looked as if they had been put together with Bronze Age tools. I could repeat that old line about Lincoln's boyhood home when I looked at Muddy Waters's reassembled birthplace from Rolling Fork--something about the mystery of democracy being that from such humble beginnings could come such figures--but even that doesn't quite feel right, maybe because it presupposes that there is some patina of democracy in all this, when I can't find it.

Greil's line about the conditions Elvis grew up in come to mind--``the violence of the weather, bad food, diseases that attach themselves to the body like new organs'': that's what comes to mind. I went to buy bananas in a local grocery store on Main Street, just a few blocks from the hotel where I stayed at when I went one morning or afternoon to visit livet at her hotel, and that's what I saw at the store--a middle-aged woman behind the counter with an enormous growth that came out of her right eyebrow. I've never seen anything like it. It wasn't a pimple or a cyst. It was an enormous wart, but it grew out at least an inch from her face as if it were a tail. Steven Jay Gould's description of medical oddities from The Panda's Smile came to mind.

A wholly different flora of diseases that I hadn't seen before, the fantastic overgrowth of swamps and cyprus groves. Maybe this is what the fertility of the Delta meant, that is, all sorts of organisms coming out to breed in the heat and humidity, whether those organisms be pathologies or human greed while the actual river itself continues in total oblivion to all this.

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Postby Still Baron » 09 Jun 2005, 11:06

Very good. This touches on lots of things I've been thinking about.
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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tweetybird
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Postby tweetybird » 09 Jun 2005, 11:16

Wow, again.

Now I really have to visit this place... reading about the history and the rich culture, doesn't really compare with being in their presence, yourself.
Still, as a second-hand experiences go, this is excellent. 8-)

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Postby Mr Maps » 09 Jun 2005, 15:28

I'd like to take the girlfriend there and get married by the Rev. Al Green.
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Postby RAT » 10 Jun 2005, 19:40

take5_d_shorterer wrote:

This is the stuff that survives and that people in Germany or Hungary or Japan want to know about. When all of us went to Clarksdale, we were intercepted by the owner of the Riverside Hotel. Other people can go into the details of this, and goodness know, there are plenty of details to go into--the lawn furniture in the rooms, the way you get a padlock and a screen door when you check in, a special room devoted to Bessie Smith, tales of John F. Kennedy, Jr. sitting on the proprietor's mother's bed (newspaper headline quotes famous anonymous guest saying ``I HAD FUN''; current proprietor claims ``next day, he had his shoes off''), showing off Robert Nighthawk's tin suitcase. Yes there was a bit of self-promotion going on (``everyone here has got to have a J.O.B.''), but it didn't seem like arrogance when the proprietor said how he had been contacted by a newspaper to be interviewed about some local musician or celebrity.


Now see this here is what I'm talkin about. Don't listen to this guy whatsoever he say. Because can't nobody else tell you about this place. I'm the owner of the hotel. My family been owning it since 1944. And I don't like the way you talkin about it either, I think you getting a big head some boy but you see your pants still fit don't ya?

I told 'em I make the inside nice now. Don't worry about what kind of furniture in the rooms o.k.? Each room is different right, number 15 got my great-grandmothers furniture in it. It don't matter what kind of fixtures is in the room cause to a lot of people this is home. I got people been here from two months to twenty years. There's no drugs in here - you can drink if you can drink and you can handle it that's alright and you got to have a job to stay here. If you don't have a job, you're out. Now you might think that's funny I guess it's some kind of joke for you but that does mean something. I could tell you what it is but it wouldn't make any difference to you. But people come here from all over the world. I gotta book in there I kept since 1993 what's almost full up and I have to get another one. I'll show it to you and you'll see that people been here from everywhere.

John Kennedy did stay here. I didn't even know who he was. I asked my mother one day, Mama you want something to eat? She said 'nah, my son getting me something'. That's how she was when somebody was here she called 'em her son so I went on and as I was leavin he was comin in the door. He said 'You Rat?' and I said yes and he said 'I'm John' and I said nice to meet you and that was it. I didn't know who he was until later. He had his shoes off and was up in my mama's bed when I don't even be up in her bed. Some people got mad and asked why did he stay here. Well because he wanted to stay here, he wanted to know about the blues and he just finished that test that he took and he wanted to relax and not be bothered so he came here and he was a home. Because to a lot of people this is home. And you see this right here say he had fun don't ya?

Now I'm gonna tell all ya'll something. Is this here the tour guide? Cause you gonna miss out on a lot if this is the your guide. Cause can't nobody tell you about it ecept for those who know it. And I think you read all that stuff what else you wrote in a book. And that's why books is no good. You start off tellin em you gonna tell em about the blues. Well readin all that sure would give someone the blues and make em feel drunk besides and it ain't but one oclock in the afternoon. But the blues, you ain't told about that.

The blues is in this place - they all stayed here. John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Sam Cooke, Robert Nighthawk - I got his suitcase in the other room, Muddy had a girlfriend used to stay here. Ike Turner lived here some too. Jackie Brenston all those guys been here.

But I'm the only one can tell you about it and that's a fact.
My family been owning this place since 1944, it ain't never been no boarding house.

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Postby yomptepi » 10 Jun 2005, 20:20

Its funny cos its true!!!

I have never seen a tin suitcase before. Baron was both inpressed and alarmed by it. A genuine blues artifact, yet a bizarre item in its own right. And the furniture in those rooms was , not antique, but very well used indeed.

A time warp, and no mistake.
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Postby RAT » 10 Jun 2005, 20:37

Well that suitcase was lost for a long time until when I crawled up under the house and found it. I knew it was here cause I don't throw nothin out. I asked my mother had she been looking for Robert's suitacase and she said yeah she had. I said well I found it up under the house. He had to leavin it cause he was carrying his band back down to Itta Bena and didn't have room for it in his car. But he didn't worry about it cause he knew he could leave it and it would be here when he came back.

Like you see Belle, she comes up here every now and again when she comes thru from Greenwood and her bed clothes is up in the drawer in room 11. I know they're there and she knows they're there and that's where I leave 'em. When she comes she can take em out and lay em on the bed. I don't mess with em cause they hers and this is her home. People treat this place like home, in the eleven years I've run this place I ain't lost but two washclothes and a hand towel in all that time.

And that furniture in number 15 got my great-grandmothers furniture in it. Now that's true. And this is a god-damned HOTEL. It ain't never been a time warp. You read that in a book didn't you? And that's why books ain't no good. You see what that sign say? Riverside Hotel and Cafe, Home of the Blues. It ain't never been a time warp.
My family been owning this place since 1944, it ain't never been no boarding house.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 13 Jun 2005, 03:53

Mr. Ratcliff wrote:Now see this here is what I'm talkin about...


As close to verbatim as one is likely to get, folks. I've seen Lexis transcriptions of NPR broadcasts that aren't as faithful.

This is what everyone who didn't go to Memphis didn't get to see firsthand. This man exists, and plus or minus a few words, this is how he speaks AND he hasn't even gone into the explanation yet of the guitar in or the enormous Peavey amplifier in his office yet, or how he used to operate a club down in the basement, or the extra cabins to the north of the main building.

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Postby Still Baron » 13 Jun 2005, 04:06

At some point during the JU (probably Take_5's seafood incident) I attempted to hold forth on the absurdities of modern world cuisine (with limited, if any success). I tried to explain the concept of serving "foam." Lo and behold, looking through the papers tonight in search of a suitable JU of the Americas 2006 venue, I stumbled upon this sentence: "Past creations have included langoustine ravioli with snow crab foam and cod with glazed turnips in blood-orange sauce." Just so you know I'm not making this stuff up.

If you're like me and have been considering Copenhagen as a likely spot for next year's JU of the Americas, and you might like to try out some foam, here's the dope, free from the NYT for the next week. (registration required, username = blackcatbone password = boner)
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 14 Jun 2005, 01:07

Baron O' Boogie wrote: "Past creations have included langoustine ravioli with snow crab foam and cod with glazed turnips in blood-orange sauce."


While this is not the description that a certain restaurant in Memphis used to describe its fare, it is very, very close. I remember that place well. The process of dealing with the food required almost a full set of surgical tools, far more than I was used to. What I particularly remember was Seth, T. Berry's brother moving farther and farther away as my attempts to extract (or was it ``extricate'') the food from its packaging kept on splashing into larger and larger radii from my plate.

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Postby eelpie62 » 16 Jun 2005, 23:21

Our tour guide from Sun Studios (the one with the big mutton-chop side burns) was just interviewed on A&E's "City Confidential". It's an older one, so it's a repeat. They're talking about some murder in Memphis and the first part of the show is a history of Memphis, including the Sun years and the civil rights struggle. It's interesting enough just to see places I was just at a couple of weeks ago, but to all of a sudden see our own tourguide was a kick.
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