May 2011 Archives

Blogging at Forbes.com, writer and musician Josh Max visited Memphis to interview Stan Perkins, legacy-keeper for his late father, the Sun Records artist and rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins. It turns out that the younger Perkins is wary of j ournalists these days:

"People call me up askin' for an interview about my Daddy," he says. "They come out here and it turns out they're doing an article about Elvis," he says. "After all these years, it's enough Elvis."

While Perkins might be overshadowed somewhat by some of his contemporaries, his influence continues to be felt even on Broadway:

Perkins, unlike his more legendary brethren, never had another million-seller after "Blue Suede Shoes." But his legend lived stubbornly on, kept alive by fans, by the recordings The Beatles made of three of his songs, and, more recently, by the hit Broadway show "Million Dollar Quartet," a musical to do with one legendary, impromptu piano-vocal jam featuring Perkins, Presley, Lewis and Cash.

(More about the "Million Dollar Quartet" here and here.) Guitarists and those interested in old instruments will enjoy seeing Max's photos and video of Perkins' 1955 Gibson Les Paul Standard, which he played on the original "Blue Suede Shoes." It turns out that the guitar had gone missing for many years.

"Daddy had it painted after 'Shoes' became a hit," he says, "And then he let someone borrow it.  It got away from him for 20 years and he finally found it in a pawn shop in Alabama in 1979 and bought it back.  The only way to ID it was by the belt buckle where the plug went into the guitar.  Dad put it on because he thought it looked cool."
The Ford family has provided those of us who cover the news in Memphis with a wealth of salacious, scandalous and tawdry stories over the years, and human nature often finds us reveling in the downfall of the wealthy, powerful and connected. But we mustn't forget that the Fords are real people with real families who bear the consequences of their mistakes. Victoria Ford, daughter of former longtime Tennessee state senator and current federal prison inmate John Ford and an abusive, alcoholic mother, channeled the pain and embarrassment of her parents' misfortune into a powerful literary voice, one that has garnered her a prestigious award as she prepares to enter the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. The New York Times told Victoria's story in Sunday's editions.

On Tuesday, at a ceremony in Manhattan, she will be presented with a $10,000 scholarship and a Scholastic Art and Writing Award, an honor previously won by Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates and Sylvia Plath. In the fall, she will enter the University of Pennsylvania.

Victoria herself cannot fully explain her unsinkable nature. "I had no choice," she said. "I'd wake up in the morning, go to school, do well and then the same thing the next day." Her lowest grade was 92 in Algebra II.

With both parents incarcerated and their home in foreclosure, Victoria and her siblings were in danger of being placed in foster care.

Her aunt Megan Mitchell-Hoefer, an elementary school principal here in Greenville, saved them from foster care.

"I called Aunt Megan one night from my room," Victoria said. "I told her there's no time, and I don't know what to do. I hung up and a few days went by."

Ms. Mitchell-Hoefer did not want to be another person making flimsy promises. "I wanted to drop everything," she said. "But I just had a child. I needed to speak to my husband."

He said of course. Ms. Mitchell-Hoefer brought along their 4-month-old on the 10-hour drive to Memphis. "I called from the car," the aunt said. "I told her I'm on the way."

That was four years ago. Victoria and her siblings have lived with their hero aunt's family since.

Victoria had hoped that her father, whose prison sentence recently was greatly reduced, would be able to attend Tuesday's ceremony. He was not. 

For Memorial Day weekend, the Staten Island, N.Y., website SILive.com remembers Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and Marine chaplain Father Vincent Capodanno, who was known for fearlessly navigating the battlefields of Vietnam to give medical aid and a last bit of comfort to his fellow Marines. On May 20, Father Vincent was honored with a "Sacrifice Window" at a memorial chapel in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Among those who paid tribute was a young lieutenant who witnessed the priest in action:

Fred Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx Corporation, served with Chaplain Capodanno and recounted during the ceremony how the chaplain nearly lost his hand to shrapnel as he tended to the wounded, but refused care so that medical supplies could go to his injured Marines.

The Maryknoll missionary and U.S. Navy chaplain was killed by a sniper on Sept. 4, 1967, at age 38, as he ministered to a Marine in Qui Son Valley. The "grunt padre" was hit 27 times in the back, neck and head. Despite the passage of years, his legacy lives on through the countless lives he touched.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Father Capodanno was awarded the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

In 2006, the Roman Catholic Church also provided an everlasting honor to the chaplain, declaring him a Servant of God, the first step on the road to sainthood.


On The Boston Globe website, storm chaser Chris Curtis of Concord, Mass., is keeping a diary of his crew's recent exploits in the Mid-South during this tornado-packed week. They got right under one funnel cloud last night right as it was about to cross the Mississippi River into Memphis. (I'm not sure if this was that really ominous-looking "beaver tail" cloud.) These people are crazy:

We got back on I-40 and approached Memphis, keeping barely ahead of the mesocyclone. We had to ask people sitting in back to look up out the back windows to be sure a funnel wasn't coming down right on top of us. Just as we headed to the bridge over the river we got out of the rain and pulled over to get a look.

There on the shoulder of the interstate we watched as a funnel lowered out of the meso, and headed on a path directly toward us. We craned our necks and snapped off pics and watched it get closer and closer and spin and spin and it was almost right there over us, with truck drivers honking at us to warn us and van 2 almost panicking and jumping back in their van to get away.... And we stood there taking more pics. We just could tell that it was going to go right on over us without putting down and we stood our ground. Of course, those in van 3 were instead watching as it did indeed put down, into the waters of the crazily swollen Mississippi (the reports of Mississippi flooding are not exaggerated; that sucker is all over the place, and it is now down from where it was) and all but creating a water spout on land.

So, a tornado. Right over our heads.

UPDATE: A team of storm chasers from Ireland and Great Britain also were in the area to cover the spring tornado season. Ian Carruthers' account appears in Irish Weather Online.

We stopped again to observe it just west of Memphis. It had a well defined wall cloud on it for a time but it just didn't have enough rotation on it. We saw some great CG lightning tough we all got to hear a hail roar ( when hail isn't falling to the ground, its circulating up and around the supercell with the powerful updrafts.  This leads to them smashing together, causing a roar), which sounded just like constant loud thunder! Was amazing!

Most people are probably aware that the first rock-and-roll records were recorded in Memphis. What many don't know is that the record often credited as the first-ever rock-and-roll release wasn't by Elvis or Jerry Lee or Buddy: It was "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (it was written by Brenston and Ike Turner and produced by Sam Phillips). The Canadian Press looked back at "Rocket 88" around the 60th anniversary of the iconic record.

The song was recorded back in March 1951, when Turner was only 19
years old. Phillips was 28 and wouldn't launch his influential Sun
Records imprint -- eventual home to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Lewis and
Roy Orbison -- for another year.

Brenston used the 1947 Jimmy
Liggins cut "Cadillac Boogie" for inspiration in writing "Rocket 88,"
named after a spiffy new car being sold by Oldsmobile.

The racism and racial politics of the 1950s appear to have doomed "Rocket 88" to relative obscurity in the face of better-known songs by white artists such as "That's All Right Mama" by Elvis and "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley, according to York University professor Rob Bowman:

At the dawn of the 1950s, black and white artists were played on different radio stations to mostly racially divided audiences.

"(The
song's) significance on white teenagers in '51 probably wasn't huge,
but it was a huge record on the black charts," Bowman explained. "I
mean, some white hipsters who were listening to black radio at the time
did hear it, and I think it had a big influence on those musicians."

Of
course, that group includes Presley -- who, as legend has it, was a
religious listener of WDIA, Memphis's first black radio station. Another
white artist, Bill Haley -- who helped popularize rock 'n' roll with his
'54 version of "Rock Around the Clock" -- performed a popular cover of
"Rocket 88" a few months after Turner's band released the song, a
version Bowman now dismisses as "irrelevant."

Cain-2012.jpg Conservative radio host and former business executive Herman Cain this past weekend joined the field for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. A profile in The Christian Science Monitor points out that the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and tea-party favorite was born in Memphis before moving to Georgia (he lives in the Atlanta area and once ran for the U.S. Senate in that state).

Born in Memphis, Tenn., and raised in Georgia in the segregated South, before civil rights legislation was passed, Cain is the son of Luther and Lenora Cain, a chauffeur and a domestic worker. He was the first in his family to go to college and get a degree, which landed him in the US Navy as a systems analyst.

As the GOP's traditional business wing searches for a well-known contender to wrap up the nomination, Cain hopes to gain momentum among the anti-establishment tea party groups that have gone in for candidates like Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Although he lacks name recognition and electoral experience, he could make some headway with his preacher's charisma and broadcaster's media savvy. The first primaries and caucuses are only 7 months away, but that's an eternity in a political situation as volatile as the Republicans' nomination free-for-all.

UPDATE: As a friend pointed out on my Facebook post, Cain might not be such a "longshot" after all: He's leading in the latest Zogby poll of Republican primary voters.
Memphis ranked third from the bottom in the annual American Fitness Index ranking of the country's 50 most-populous metro areas. Only Oklahoma City and Louisville ranked below Memphis on the listing of healthiest, fittest cities compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine. The survey is based on "a number of health factors, including percentage of residents who smoke, obesity rates, percentage of people who exercise and availability of parks, walking trails and farmers' markets." Minneapolis-St. Paul topped the list, followed by Washington, D.C., and Boston. It's a reminder that even with new amenities like the Shelby Farms Greenline, and increasing interest in cycling and locally sourced food, Memphis still lags far behind peer cities in fostering a culture of physical activity.

"The communities that scored well are places where physical activity is the convenient option," says Russell Pate, an exercise researcher at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina-Columbia. He's chair of the National Physical Activity Plan, a coalition working to boost physical activity in the USA.

"Right now in so many places, there are many barriers to being physically active. We need to make changes across the country that will make physical activity the easy choice, the convenient choice."


From UK tabloid The Mirror comes a remarkable story of a Welshwoman's survival and devotion to Elvis. Adeline Bevan, a 56-year-old mother of two, visited Graceland three years ago with her husband and was struck by a truck in front of the mansion.

She spent 31 days in a coma suffering massive head injuries, a ruptured spleen, a punctured lung, broken ribs, a displaced eye socket and shoulder and knee damage.

Incredibly she pulled through and is back home. Adeline said: "It's a miracle I survived." She was brought back from the brink of death several times during 14 operations at the Elvis Presley Trauma Centre in Memphis and was given just a 20% chance of survival.

With her massive injuries, Bevan had no memory of her Graceland visit (probably a good thing), so she and her husband recently returned to Memphis, this time bearing a 4,000-pound (about $6,500) donation for The Med.

UPDATE: The Med Foundation's website has more details on this story.
Last weekend's visit to Memphis by the casts of the Nickelodeon TV series "Victorious" and "iCarly" happened to coincide with "iCarly" star Miranda Cosgrove's 18th birthday, E! Online reports today. Recall that the young actors were in town along with the shows' creator, native Memphian Dan Schneider, to appear at the "Stars for the Kids" benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The celebration got started on Friday night and included a Saturday visit to Graceland, E! reports (with photos):

According to Cosgrove's Twitter, there was a pillow fight in her hotel room as well as a hallway singalong of "Happy Birthday" in her honor.

... The event afterparty turned into a birthday celebration for Cosgrove with a colorful six-tier cake from local bakery The Flour Garden along with sushi-shaped minicakes. "Was serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the after party," she tweeted.


Larry Holmsted at Forbes.com takes down the national media for their hip-wading stunts, questionable ethics and general inaccuracy during coverage of the ongoing great flood. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton tweeted the link this afternoon, and judging from the half-dozen or so retweets in just an hour, the article has struck a chord with Memphians.

Holmsted presents specific examples of fudging by the national media, including the too-closely cropped shot of the large puddle on Riverside Drive and the focus on a half-dozen Mud Island marina cottages threatened by the rising waters. Then there is the fact that the flood happened to coincide with one of the most festive stretches of spring Memphis has ever witnessed:

Every restaurant and sight, from Graceland to the National Civil Rights Museum, remained open and dry, and the same day the river crested, the city's largest annual event, the massive Memphis in May festival, went off without a hitch. On the day the river crested, it was near 90 degrees and sunny, the motorcycle riders and music fans partied on Beale Street, and the show went on. Bet you didn't see that on TV.

The bottom line here is the effect this breathless coverage has on the tourism and visitor business:

I do not want to suggest that Memphis was spared: outside of the tourist areas and downtown, there was flooding and residents were affected, though at the end of the day I think it is safe to say that the damage to the city from the storm will be less than the economic damage from coverage of the storm.

As a side note, this is the same Forbes.com that has painted Memphis in an unflattering light with a number of arbitrary surveys and city rankings. Good look to them for sticking up for us this time.
Memphis is among seven cities that will replicate programs begun in New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Center for Economic Opportunity, according to a story in Sunday's New York Daily News.

Five of Mayor Bloomberg's unprecedented anti-poverty initiatives are going national.

They include the daring program that gives cash to the poor for completing mundane tasks like going to the doctor and taking college admissions tests.

Bloomberg and his staff spent Thursday and Friday teaching out-of-town officials to replicate his programs in seven cities: Memphis, San Antonio, Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio, Kansas City, Newark and Tulsa, Okla.

"For far too long, widespread poverty has been regarded as a troubling but inevitable condition of life in American cities," Bloomberg told participants Thursday. "That's something our administration a long time ago decided was something we could not accept."

Among the programs to be replicated in Memphis is Family Rewards, the cash giveaway program mentioned in the above excerpt. The version to be tried in Memphis has been slightly modified from the original program.

"It would be shortsighted for the mayor of New York to say, 'I'm only going to look out for New York,'" said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who met with Bloomberg on Thursday. "When things are bad in New York, things are bad in Memphis."


"Gig from hell" doesn't even begin to describe this alternately harrowing and hilarious two-part account of Sunday load-in at this year's Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival. Godsmack sound engineer Frank Sgambellone goes into "super roadie" mode to make sure his band's show goes on even as the elements make a mess of the stage, the load-in area, the front-of-house console (which blew away), and everything else in Tom Lee Park, whether nailed down or not.

It's just never a good omen when you know you are going to be outdoors and it's coming in sideways. But, that's the gig, right? We don't get to pick the weather nor do we pick our hours. But we did pick our gig, so it's time to man up and get on with it. Memphis in May, here we come. Little did I know that this day would have me questioning my current career choice.

P.S.: The tour diary is a lot more fun if you read it to yourself in a Boston accent.
USA Today goes big today with a "first look" at the new version of "Footloose," directed by Memphian Craig Brewer and due in theaters on Oct. 14. Starring newcomer Kenny Wormald (in the role played by Kevin Bacon in the 1984 hit) and Julianne Hough of "Dancing with the Stars," the remake updates its setting and characters to suit the different times.

That's where Craig Brewer comes in. Even though there's a November chill inside this unheated industrial space, there also is a sense of excitement -- much of it coming from Brewer's passion for his dream project even as shooting winds down. The filmmaker, 39, whose sexy Southern-fried steam permeates 2005's Hustle & Flow and 2007's Black Snake Moan, spent much of his 13th year in thrall to Footloose.

"I had the soundtrack in my Walkman all the time," he says. "I constantly played it."

Brewer, who fought to have the movie shot in Tennessee (it was shot in Georgia instead), was not the first choice to direct "Footloose," but it bears his stamp both visually and in the script. In fact, the film opens with something of a surprise twist:

Brewer took a crack at the script and adjusted it to mesh with his grittier sensibilities. In the first Footloose, some members of the congregation who oppose dancing come off as out-of-control zealots, even burning library books at one point. To make their objections more understandable and less fanatical, Brewer chose to have the first scene of his movie reflect the real reason for the ban -- something that is spoken about in the original but never shown: a tragic auto accident three years earlier that killed five high school seniors, including Ariel's older brother, after they went to a keg party with drinking and dancing.

The director also insisted on a normal-looking high school student body and natural dance routines, according to a sidebar to the USA Today story.

"I told Jamal (Sims, the choreographer) my worry was that it is going to look like the dancers had been on diets for the last four years. This is a Southern high school and, let me tell you, there are all types of body shapes and sizes and colors. We need to reflect it. I didn't want some fantasy world. I want real kids."
As Mid-Southerners warily eye the rising floodwaters and consider whether it's time to get packing, area corporations are gearing up their own disaster preparedness processes. Banktech catches up with Bruce Livesay, CIO of Memphis-based First Horizon National Corp. -- the holding company that owns First Tennessee Bank -- to find out how his company is reacting to the looming threat. Livesay say First Horizon's disaster process focuses on what's important: people.

First Horizon, the bank holding company that owns First Tennessee Bank, has suffered suffered power or telecommunications outages at about a third of its branches, Livesay says. One branch was inaccessible for an extended period of time because law enforcement had shut down access to the particular part of the city it's located in. The Mississippi River, which Livesay can see from his office, is currently flooding, with waters not expected to crest until May 10.

While IT assets are important, Livesay says one of the key factors in disaster recovery is to watch out for employees.

"Any time we have a major storm go through, we have some processes we put into place to try and keep an eye on our own employees," Livesay says. "The first thing is you want to watch out for is your employees.


Since Green Bay, Wisc., bought and rebuilt the Zippin Pippin for $3.5 million, the iconic roller coaster has become a source of some controversy up in TitleTown, where it is about to open as the star attraction of Bay Beach Amusement Park. The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported in Sunday's editions that some local officials are concerned that the Zippin Pippin, set to open May 21 after a weather-related delay, will draw large groups of teenagers -- and attendant security problems -- to Bay Beach, which traditionally has served families with small children. There is some precedent for such concerns:

City officials in the 1990s attempted to attract older children to Bay Beach by hosting Teen Night activities, including music, pizza and free rides. That experiment ended in 2005 following several instances of unruly crowds and fistfights.

Says Patrick Evans, a county board member who ran for mayor on an anti-Zippin Pippin platform:

"I think you can invite some problems," he said. "Not everyone who goes there is going to be a wonderful person."

For their part, the mayor, the police and boosters in the neighborhood around Bay Beach all are rooting for the Zippin Pippin and think it will improve the 100-year-old amusement park. Larry Maxwell is a former Memphian and a current booster for Elvis' favorite roller coaster.

Maxwell recalled that the classic wooden roller coaster was wildly popular in Memphis when he was growing up there in the 1960s and '70s. The coaster had a special allure at county fairs, festivals and other seasonal events, he said.

"The Zippin Pippin seemed to always be the center of attention," he said. "It didn't matter who you were or anything else -- everybody loved it."


Hip-hop outlet XXL has a news item about the newly released book "Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop" by journalist Ben Westhoff. Memphis is, of course, among the "Third Coast" locales covered in the book, along with Houston, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and other cities. Veteran Memphis rappers 8Ball & MJG are featured in one of the video promo clips, talking about the fair city's penchant for pimpin'. 

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