Music for the Soul: Parish Picnic

Posted: 4/29/2016

by Chris Hardman 

"Soul" music can be described in various ways. I think about it this way. The "soul" is that deep part of us all that is connected to God. Soul music, therefore, is music where the artist puts his or her whole self (i.e. soul) into the music and that connects with our deepest self, our soul. This connection brings a sense of peace and a sense of being a part of something greater than ourselves. From that point of view any music can be soul music. For me, however, it will always be the music that came out of Stax Record Studio in Memphis, Tennessee during the 1960's.

As you all know, I grew up in Helena, Arkansas, about 45 miles south of Memphis. Pastor Heath also grew up there, albeit a few years later. When I was growing up the air was filled with music-Gospel, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Boogie-Woogie, and Country. And out of that amalgam of styles arose what we now call "Rock and Roll."

Elvis, of course, is the one we think of most often as indicative of Rock and Roll in the Memphis area, but there were a number of African-American musicians who preceded Elvis. Ike Turner was one of these. Ike was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, just across the river from Helena. When he was in high school he worked as a DJ for the local radio station and started his own band, the Rhythm Kings. The saxophonist for his band, Jackie Brenston, wrote a song called Rocket 88which was an ode to a new car-the Oldsmobile 88. It was recorded on June 9, 1951, at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis and released by Chess Records. It is considered by many to be the first rock and roll song. Jackie sang and Ike played the piano which included a wonderful boogie-woogie intro that Little Richard used for Good Golly Miss Molly a few years later.

My sister, who is 10 years older than I, was a teenager when we moved to Helena in 1952. Dances and music were the center of a teenager's life in those days, but rock and roll was prohibited. The temptation, however, was all around. Before Elvis was famous he used to make the Memphis dance circuit which included Helena. Unbeknownst to my mother, my sister actually went to a dance where Elvis was playing in the fall of 1955. She just told me about this daring adventure a couple of years ago because telling it when my mother was still alive meant that my sister might not be.

My brother, who is 7 years older, was a teenager when rock and roll was king, but he preferred the Blues and R&B. He and his friends would leave their High School campus at noon and travel downtown to hear Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Jr. Lockwood and other Blues artists perform at the local radio station. When he graduated from college, he left me three records that I played so much I wore them out-Ray Charles' Modern Sounds, Nat King Cole's Love is the Thing, and Bobby "Blue" Bland's Here's the Man! Bland was my favorite because he was local. He was born just outside Memphis in an unincorporated section of town. In the early 50's he was known as a Beale Streeter, artists who performed in the clubs on Beale Street in Memphis. Other Beale Streeters include B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, Junior Parker, and Johnny Ace.

I entered the teen years at the beginning of the British invasion. While everyone loved the Beatles and all those British bands, it did not diminish the appeal of Memphis Soul. Stax Records and Hi Records in Memphis began to record Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla, Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes and Al Green. The house band for Stax was made up of Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson Jr. and Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn of Blues Brothers fame.

On June 5th we are presenting a "Memphis Soul" Mass that will include songs with lots of soul and lots of connection to the Memphis area. We have secured the services of the Chuck Webb Band who play Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and Soul. If you want to experience music that can reach your soul, join us on the 5th for a "connection" treat.

Here are a few songs you will hear along with a description of their "Memphis connection."

Soul Man-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, recorded by Sam and Dave at Stax Records in Memphis.

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay-written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, recorded by same at Stax.

Mustang Sally-written by Mack Rice, recorded by Wilson Pickett at Stax.

Let's Stay Together-written and recorded by Al Green. The Rev. Al Green was born in Forrest City, Arkansas, my wife's hometown, just west of Memphis.

Respect-written by Otis Redding, and recorded by Aretha Franklin, who was born in Memphis.

Proud Mary-written by John Fogerty and recorded by Ike and Tina Turner. Ike was from Clarksdale, Mississippi, and lived in Memphis before he moved to St. Louis and met Tina.

Let the Good Times Roll-written by Louis Jordan who was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, just west of Forrest City, which is just west of West Memphis.

Sweet Home Chicago-written by Robert Johnson who was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, but lived in Memphis and Helena off and on for a number of years.