Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Memphis Gold's Sanctified Memphis Blues

The following review came out a couple years ago in the May 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 316). My friend Chester Chandler is about to issue a new CD on Stackhouse called Pickin’ In High Cotton and since my photo is being used for the CD cover, I will not be writing a review although I do think anyone who likes Gator Gon’ Bitechu will like this. It will have a slight bit more downhome flavor. I do hope to post on this blog, the interview Joe Kessler and I did with Chester Chandler that was published after this review was published in Block, a blues publication in the Netherlands. Information on this new release is also on his website which is included amongst the links given.

As a preliminary matter, I note that I have known Chester Chandler for about 18 years, am friends with him, and was at the studio when he worked on finishing some of the tracks on Gator Gon’ Bitechu! (Stackhouse). I disclose this because of possible bias that might exist despite my efforts. While I have been seeing him play shows at small and larger bars in the Washington, DC area for a lengthy period of time, when he gave me an advance of his second CD, Prodigal Son, several years ago, I was floored at how mature his music sounded. I was not the only one. Long-time Living Blues editor, Jim O’Neal, was obviously impressed as he signed Memphis Gold to Stackhouse and re-released Prodigal Son, on the label. And others noticed as Memphis Gold was featured in cover stories in the Swedish publication, Jefferson, the world’s oldest blues magazine; the esteemed British publication, Blues & Rhythm, and most recently in Living Blues.

Chester Chandler grew up in Memphis where he attended the same sanctified church as Robert Wilkins, the one-time blues guitarist and vocalist of the twenties, who stopped playing secular music. Later he started playing blues in Memphis with such legendary combos as The Fieldstones while also serving his country. Around 1991, he relocated to the Washington DC area where he first was known as K.D. King and later after meeting Barbara, who would become his wife, adopted the name Memphis Gold, while honing his music. Many may be aware in early 2008 he suffered severe injuries falling out of a tree (his day job was in the tree-cleaning business) and he has been making great strides since then.

On his new album, there are a variety of DC area musicians backing him, the best known being guitarist Robert Lighthouse who adds slide to several tracks and drummer Pete Ragusa of the Nighthawks. The recording spans a couple years, and while the accident slowed up its production, but it is finally is here. The disc opens with a sample of a symphony orchestra before some slide is played against a North Mississippi groove as he sings I Shoulda Known, a lament about a woman who bled him dried. It’s followed up by Catfish Creeper, with dual slide guitars (I assume Lighthouse and Memphis) with a Dust My Groove, as he shouts about laying on the river bottom like a log and if one wants to get their hooks in him they better lay the right bait on with Jay Summerour adding a nice harmonica break.

Set to the groove of Woke Up This Morning, Do You Still Want Me, has a nice lyric as he asks his woman whether she wants him after breaking his heart and using him. The title track, inspired by a Washington DC blues programmer, has an infectious funky groove as he sings about watch out cause that gator gonna bite you, with some brassy horns added here and there is a nice guitar break on this. I assume Warren Witherspoon, drummer with the disco-funk band, Heatwave, is on this track. My 2 Kcandys, is a jaunty shuffle that is a shout out to a Candy and a Kandy, while Can’t Get Enough, uses the melody of B.B. King’s rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, as Memphis sings about can’t get getting enough of his woman using him hoping that one day she’ll finally see his love.

The mood shifts on a lovely blues ballad about falling in and out of love How I Got Over, and then the groove picks up on the quasi-biographical shuffle I Was Born in Memphis, where he sings being born in 1955 and his folks still burned wood and coal just to stay alive, went to church house staying them some time, and always ended up on Monday morning finding his brother’s wine. Squeaky Wheel, features a nice Jay Summerour harp solo. Lil Lucy, opens with a dreamy backing as Memphis recalls a beautiful lady that used to pass his house everyday and then the band shifts gear it picks up the groove with a funky groove and a funky bass riff as he recalls his boyish fantasy as he asks “Lucy, why do you tread on me.” It ends a very successful follow-up to Prodigal Son.

His strengths are his sanctified-rooted singing, his solid, rhythmically charged guitar playing and the good-time feeling he invests his performances. This should be available from better retailers along with Memphis Gold’s website is

I received my review copy from Memphis Gold. Here is the cover of the upcoming album.

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