Devin Greaney 0000-00-00 00:00:00
FreeWorld is ever-evolving, with a confluent complement of styles and races that currently number seven. Next year marks 25 years for the venerable Memphis band, which has played more than 5,000 shows since its inception — many of them at Beale Street’s Blues City Cafe: (l–r) Dr. Herman Green, cofounder, tenor sax, flute, vocals; William “Nokie” Taylor, trumpet, vocals, legendary Stax side-man; Charles Ray, trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Peter Climie, tenor sax; Matt Tutor, guitar, vocals, musical director; Richard Cushing, co-founder and band leader, bass, vocals; David Skypeck (blocked from view), drums, lyrics. Musicians working menial jobs while waiting to be discovered is a popular movie and book plot. In real life, however, a musician is often just as passionate about his day job as he is about his music — and balancing the two takes the most creative talent of all. Much is made of the restaurant server with a dream, waiting tables for the breakfast and lunch crowd, followed by a night of singing to a packed coffeehouse behind a tip jar and table of Cds. The server waits — and prays — for the day when the record company calls with that “big break” that means a permanent break from slinging hash. It makes for a great movie plot, but sometimes quitting the day Job is not in a performer’s repertoire — not when passion runs equally strong between two careers. A quick look around Memphis reveals that Patrick O’Daniel, bassist for The Sofa Kings, is also a history novelist And the learning resource system manager for Vatterott Career College. Ken Houston, frontman for No Hit Wonders, is a materials manager for GI Pathology. And Dr. Julie Elb performs for Opera Memphis and her high school history students at Lausanne Collegiate School. These and many others are professionals who play two or more divergent gigs, where the day job is a help rather than a hindrance, a complement rather than a curse. Who says all artists have to be starving? “This job allows me to do what I love to do,” says Myla, a senior accountant for a commercial real estate management company. “If you have a job that gives you resources and no time, you can’t make music. But if you have time and no resources, you can’t make music, either.” Gospel and country music have long gone together, but for singer/songwriter Myla Smith, so does accounting, and she plays all three. Her music promotions show farms, pickup trucks, country churches, horses, and cowboy hats; her East Memphis office shows a study in contrasts: an elevator ride up from a marble-floored lobby, cubicles, and a super-orderly desk with a view that stretches down bustling Poplar Avenue toward Downtown. “Some people go to college for the experience or to become more learned,” says the Millington native. “For me, it was for a job, and most of the people getting jobs were accountants.” She received her undergraduate degree and M.B.A. from the University of Memphis and has been a C.P.A. since 2004. “This job allows me to do what I love to do,” Myla says.“Some of my friends who have put all their eggs in the music basket are stressed because it is so hit or miss.Music is great money when you’ve got the work, but you don’t always have it, so you need a cash-flow stream.Being financially stable has enabled me to make music on my own terms without having to compromise my product.” But there are stresses in balancing two careers, too, which Myla learned the hard way. Her first accounting position required 60-hour weeks. “It was totally incompatible with creating music,” she remembers.“By the time I got around to writing, I was so drained and out of energy.” Little wonder it took her almost two years to finish her first album, All the Things That Go Missing, in 2006. “If you have a job that gives you resources and no time, you can’t make music.But if you have time and no resources, you can’t make music either. “Now I am a time manager and really take charge of my schedule,” she says. “When I started my current job, I set my boundaries, and I have to be very defensive about those boundaries.” This past September, Myla released her second album, White/Gold, her most ambitious and critically acclaimed project to date. The cover art shows her in her mother’s wedding dress, looking out two tall church doors — a very appropriate photo for the young bride, who married fellow musician Richard Thomas the same day she released White/Gold. Richard, an apartment sales representative, also juggles two careers. Who better to understand the needs of a business professional passionate about music than another business professional passionate about music? Myla’s family is proud of her work on both fronts. “They wonder why I would spend so much of my free time making music when I have a good job,” she says with a laugh.“If you don’t have that drive, you may not understand. Whatever you love, you make room in your life for it. For anyone whose love is musical, they have to get it out. It is not an option.” “I majored in biology but minored in Beale Street,” says Richard, who spends his weekdays conducting various procedures on mouse breast tumor cells. He’s been blessed with lab professors who allow a flexible work schedule and understand what he calls his “other life.” “It’s a fine line I walk to be the leader of a rock-and-soul band at night and keeper of the small furry creatures during the day. But it’s a blessing that I can do both.” Richard Cushing‘s two sons have an annual career day at their school. “I go every year,” says Richard, a senior research assistant in the Seagroves Laboratory for breast cancer research at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “I wear a white lab coat over my tie-dye lab coat, and I talk about going to college and getting a degree in science. I bring a couple of microscope slides and a mouse brain in a vial.” Then he whips off his white lab coat Picks up his 12-string guitar, and switches his talk to being a professional musician.“Every year, I write a song for their class,” says the cofounder, band leader, bassist, lead vocalist, and co-songwriter for the venerable Memphis band FreeWorld. “The kids think it’s great!” Like many teens of the mid 1970s, Richard was influenced by the sounds of Yes, Led Zeppelin, and Rush. “I never had formal music training,” says the Christian Brothers High School graduate. “But I borrowed a bass from my best friend before heading to the University of Tennessee – Martin.” When Richard wasn’t studying, he was playing for the fun of it. Then the bassist for a local pro band moved, and Richard joined the group — with the emphasis on joined rather than hired. “Until that time, I never connected playing music with making money,” he says.But after his first gig, when he walked out with a $100 bill, he saw its potential. He finished his degree at Memphis State University. “I majored in biology but minored in Beale Street,” he says. “At that time, there were a lot of the old cats such as Uncle Ben and Alabama still sitting on Beale and playing, and I would just show up and play with them. I may have chosen biology, but music chose me.” In 1987, FreeWorld was formed. “We were just a bunch of young hippie dudes, but because the band also included Memphis musicians from the older generations — Dr. Herman Green, Calvin Newborn, Nokie Taylor — we gained some instant credibility. The older guys adopted us, and you can’t buy that kind of experience.” An important lesson the young band members learned was: Respect your heritage. “We are all students of the Memphis Sound,” says Richard, “and our music pays homage to that great tradition. We have one foot in the past and one in the future.We like to take our fans on a musical journey through the Memphis soul, blues, and jazz of yesteryear, then slowly dance them toward tomorrow with our own original songs.” Beyond the stage, Richard represents his musical peers by serving on the boards of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission, The Recording Academy, and the Beale Street Brass Note Committee — using the boardroom as just one more place to promote and protect the Memphis Sound. In the lab, he is equally at home. Richard has been blessed with laboratory professors who allow him a flexible work schedule and understand his “other life.” But he feels the same passion for his lab work that he does for his music. “We are working to cure breast cancer in mice, which will ultimately translate to sisters, mothers, and aunts. Science and research keep my brain alive.We are working toward the betterment of humanity.” There is also family. Richard’s wife of 23 years is the most important part of what keeps his passion for music going, In addition to the family they both wanted.“Music is part of my soul and heart, and it comes out because it has to,” he says. “My wife supports what I do 100 percent. There is no way I could live this dual life without her being the rock foundation I stand on.She holds down the fort.” Sleep is the biggest challenge Richard faces with his dual career. “Last night, I played until 2 a.m.,” he says. “After every concert, I also have to pack up the gear and take it to storage, so I didn’t get home until 4 a.m. — and I had to get up at 9 to go to work! One of my secrets is that I don’t do caffeine. For every up, there‘s a crash!” With 2012 marking its silver anniversary, FreeWorld is still a mixture of hippie-young and veteran-old. “I play about 300 gigs a year, which is insane,” he continues. “It’s a fine line I walk to be the leader of a rockand- soul band at night and keeper of the small furry creatures during the day. But it’s a blessing that I can do both. I can turn my spirit loose.” The music came late to Daddy Mack Orr, who worked part time in a garage when he first came to Memphis in 1965. His first gig was at the famous juke joint Green’s Lounge in the late ‘80s. Today, the popular bluesman fronts the Daddy Mack Blues Band, the house band for the Center for Southern Folklore. At Jackson and Decatur sits a small, blink-and-you-miss-it auto mechanic shop. It has the feel of an old garage that could have repaired Ford Model T’s. In his blue work clothes, Castrol cap, and unlit cigar, Daddy Mack Orr waits with the business owner — his son — for another customer.The garage offers the combination of freedom and a regular paycheck. “I have to do this to make a living when the music slows down,” says Daddy Mack. “But when I am working and somebody calls me to play the blues, I can go.” The Center for Southern Folklore books him and the Daddy Mack Blues Band often, and it has for a long time. It is hard to imagine a performer more perfect for the venue, where visitors can sit in the middle of Downtown, immersed in Southern culture and history, while Daddy Mack sings and plays on his electric guitar. His music is that distinctively electric guitar-heavy, deep-voiced kind of regional blues that has conquered the world but was taken for granted in the region that spawned it. It is the blues that was rediscovered when the South realized that the British rock bands they were listening to were influenced by the music coming out of the night spots in their own town. At about that time, Daddy Mack was heading up to Memphis from his hometown of Como, MS. “I always loved to fool with cars,” says Daddy Mack. “I started out by working on my own. I came to Memphis in ’65, and I started working part time at Exxon at Poplar and Manassas. I made $50 to $60 dollars a week, and that was good money.” No, he did not jump on the bus right after work with an electric guitar to wail the night away at a Beale Street nightclub. The music did not come until the late 1980s. “I enjoyed playing by myself,” says Daddy Mack, “and I like to entertain people.” His first gig was at the famous juke joint Green’s Lounge in the late ‘80s. Ten years later, Daddy Mack Blues Band found itself the house band for the Center for Southern Folklore. Within a year, and with the help of Memphis-grown Inside Sounds recording label, Daddy Mack had cut his first CD, ironically titled Fix It When I Can. Today, Daddy Mack goes well beyond Memphis. “I enjoy playing music on the road because that was the first time I had been anywhere before,” he says. “Now, I have seen the world. I even got to do some songs with Keith Richards and Ron Wood with the Rolling Stones. You don’t forget that!” In front of the garage is his 1991 Starcraft van. The odometer broke long ago, but with his travels, the mileage is probably slightly less than that of a space shuttle.Driving a van that has been on the road since the senior George H.W. Bush was in the White House has its Challenges, and here is where the talents of Daddy Mack the mechanic and Daddy Mack the musician overlap. “Last year, I left Denver Sunday night and drove all night, and around 10 Monday morning, my transmission went out,” Daddy Mack recalls. “I was 40 miles from Lee, South Dakota, so I called the hotel manager where we were playing, and he came and picked us up for that night’s gig. Tuesday, I took the transmission out, found someone to rebuild it, and then I put it in. By Friday, I was playing in Nebraska.”
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://bluetoad.com/article/Harmonious+Gigs/771290/74211/article.html.