Maybe the least expected of the factors that went into making ska in those years, and the one many would argue that most nearly approached it in sound, leading most directly to its birth, came not from Jamaica at all, or even from the Caribbean, but from West Tennessee, and more specifically from South Memphis, and more specifically than that, from the band called the Beale Streeters, and most specifically of all from the right hand of their pianist and sometime singer-songwriter, a Memphis native named Rosco Gordon.
Maury Gortemiller’s work Do the Priest in Different Voices shows us familiar scenes from an unfamiliar viewpoint. The images in this series blend the icons of Christian epiphany and mysticism with mundane objects from our everyday experience, changing the backdrops of one thousand year old stories to this century in a distinctly American setting.
In 2008, a massive retention pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant burst open, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, burying about 400 acres of land under six feet of ash. The spill was one hundred times greater in volume than the Exxon Valdez spill and by far the largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. When TVA decided to send the ash by train to a small, poor, rural, mostly black community outside Uniontown, Alabama, the EPA approved the decision. That same day, the first train of eighty cars clicked down the tracks to Alabama.
Roland Janes, 1933-2013
If you ever visited the Sam C. Phillips Recording Studio at 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis, you would know Roland Janes. He was there managing the studio, engineering sessions, greeting the world, every day more or less for the last thirty years, working with everyone from Charlie Rich to Memphis rappers Three 6 Mafia and Al Kapone to Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and anyone who might wander in off the street looking to cut a “personal” record.
In the early 1960s, the Staple Singers marched with their gospel rhythms and church-house fervor into the arena of civil rights–inspired folksong. Some saw this as a straying from the one true way, a betrayal even. For the Staples, it was a seamless progression, a greater embracing of all creation. And so it was that a like-minded admirer came by one day to introduce them to a scruffy young songwriter from northern Minnesota.
An excerpt from McClanahan's forthcoming novel, Hill William (Tyrant Books): "And I asked myself a question I’ve been asking ever since, but haven’t been able to answer. I asked myself whether the mountains are just graves full of dead skeletons or whether they are pregnant bellies popping full of life. And sometimes, I think to myself that the mountains look like graves, and then at other times I say, no, they’re not graves, but pregnant bellies, full of babies waiting to be born."