How can you walk around the streets of Memphis and not write a soul song? It’s almost as if the oxygen there has been permanently bonded to sharp horn stabs floating in the air. As Canasta made our way down I-40 and crossed the Arkansas-Tennessee border, it was as if the ghosts of soul past and present jumped in the car and started humming in our ears.
Our good friend Rachel Hurley (aka Rachelandthecity) had set up an in-studio performance/webcast at Ardent Studios, as well as a show at the Hi-Tone for the evening. We hadn’t played Memphis before, and weren’t sure exactly what to expect. The strong musical history of Memphis was definitely well known by the band, so we were excited to see famous landmarks. But it didn’t truly speak to us till we walked through the hallways of Ardent Studios. Hanging on the walls were gold records by the like of Al Green, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs , and The Bar-Kays.
The owner and founder of Ardent, John Fry, was soon introduced to us and immediately he made you feel like you were best buds from back in the day. He showed us some the classic equipment used on some of those gold albums, including a vintage vinyl mastering console. For techies, it was like the gold star-backstage pass. We soon found out that it wasn’t just Mr. Fry who made you feel at ease and comfortable, but the people and surroundings of Memphis itself. There’s something to this soul thing.
The next day we were treated to a personal tour of the Stax Museum by John. He had done work on so many of the these artists these great albums, and had the personal insight you couldn’t get from reading biographies. Each exhibits brought together live recordings and videotape from Stax’s top artists. Something about the combination of the mood of the town and people, along with music we were hearing connected everything flawlessly.
I have always been a fan of the Memphis horns, but I was blown away by the work ethic and creativity these guys had. They would hang around the studio day and night, and whoever happened to be recording would ultimately need horns at some point. They were the gold stamp on many of the best soul albums from the 70’s. You couldn’t help but be inspired, and the entire band knew when we returned to Chicago, priority 1 was writing a soul song.
Our next song writing session found us working something upbeat. Something that made you feel like summertime and nodding your head to the groove. We eventually came up with the name “Summer Soul Song” that was pretty literal in the mood of the tune. That song went through so many incarnations, but didn’t really capture what we felt.
During one of our retreats we revisited the tune and started experimenting with different variation. A smooth flowing organ and pulsing hammer-on guitar lick soon set the tone for that mood we sought so hard to capture in Memphis. Studio time brought the appearance of our much needed horns, and that gave us “Reading the Map Upside Down”. Listen, and you can’t help but let your head rock back and forth with a sly smile. Thanks Memphis!!