Saturday, July 16, 2011

Memphis Gold's Story Part 5

Memphis Gold and Deborah Coleman
Photo © Memphis Gold
In August 2009, Joe Kessler and I had a chance to interview Chester Chandler, the blues performer known as Memphis Gold for the Dutch publication Block. This interview was translated into Dutch for publication, but we have felt it would be helpful to have the interview in English. Joe transcribed it and leftThis is the fourth of several parts that will be running the next few days. I should point out that interviews with Memphis Gold have appeared in Jefferson Blues, Blues & Rhythm and Living Blues.

I assumed the name “K.D.” when I got there. When I got there I had to have a name, so I was “Little K.D. King”. Everybody wanted to come in and play with me. They’d put their name on the list and ask to play with me. I was playing lead then and kicking butt. William Goldman and O.C. Nunn out of Chicago would come in. William Goldman recruited me to play at the DC Blues Society’s first Blues competition. 

I finally got a place to stay in a prestigious neighborhood near Nebraska Avenue. The guy let me stay in his basement, an Italian guy. And he would let me keep his properties up, keeping them real nice. So I had a place to stay until I met Barbara (my wife) in late ’93-94 and I moved in with her.

The week I met Barbara, I had already contracted out with Deborah Coleman and Willie Hicks. It was me, Willie Hicks, Deborah Coleman, and a guy named Slam. She said she needed a rhythm guitar player. I met her at India Gate in Adams Morgan (DC). She came to see me play that night. It was me, Willie, and a drummer, Morris. We were a three piece and we used to pack the India Gate, man. We went down to Walnut Creek down in North Carolina. That’s the first time I saw Roy Roberts, I got a chance to play with him, and also I got a chance to play with Bob Margolin. Deborah was opening up for Bob. She met this guy, Keith Federman who became her manager. He didn’t like me. When I opened up, I was killer. I’m walkin all through the crowd, doin my thing, I opened up for Deborah for at least 30 minutes, so I’m outshining her, you know. He didn’t like that. He fired me. I was with Deborah for about a year.

Then I met Charlie Sayles when I went down to Manute Bol’s to jam one night. Charlie said he’d heard of me but never met me, and that everybody used to tell him he needs to get with this guy, K.D. At time, Charlie was sleeping in front of Central Union Mission. I invited him to my house where he spent the night. It just so happened that the next day I was going to the studio to make a little demo. It was me, O.C., and Charlie. From then on, me and Charlie started playing together. It was Barbara’s idea that it was time for me to start doing my own thing, so I started doing my own thing.

Then we started playing at Whitlow’s, J.V.’s, Smokehouse Blues in Centreville. Charlie had me play with him at Fleetwood’s (Mic Fleetwood’s club in Alexandria VA). One day, Barbara’s attorney found a guy from AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment), so then I started getting on the USO tours. Then everything was starting to roll real good. I had regular gigs all the time. I was the first guy to play at Whitlow’s. We were like the house band.

When I started on the USO tours, I was trying to get out of the clubs ‘cuz Barbara’s always had a good business sense and she said if you want to get bigger than what you are now, you gotta get out of the clubs. Then I started playing up at the casinos, like Trump Plaza, with this guy called Greek Horn (?). He said Memphis, if you’re going to get a Marquee value, you’re gonna have to get out of these small places. Since then I’ve played some clubs, but mostly I’ve been kind of silent, but steady going.

I started my first recording in 1997 and finished it in 1998. It was called
Memphis Gold. Bobby Parker helped me produce it. I funded it myself. I was working cutting trees down. By this time, I started getting my own little tree company, too. I started climbing. I was climbing everyday and working in Vienna and Great Falls, making chunks and chunks of money. Times were good.

I learned quite a lot from Bobby doing my first album. Bobby didn’t want to give his total 100% to it because he was “one of the premiere blues guys around” and Bobby didn’t want nobody to outshine him, but he did help me with it and I paid him. I learned about mixing, recording, I learned how to do what Bobby said, make it big and fat. I learned what to do to bring over to my next CD which was
Prodigal Son.

Memphis Gold at Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock
I played the Poconos in 2004, after I sent a demo to Michael Cloeren. When I played it, I was getting other people to try and learn my music, and nobody really wanted to rehearse, so to me, I thought it wasn’t a very good gig. Ralph Oliver was with me at that time, and he and his old lady had just had a big blowout. That just sent him out to the left field. We were on stage trying to grapple to get our shit together, because if you’re gonna do something, the Poconos is the place to do it, and I feel like I didn’t do as well as I could have done. From that day ‘till now, I feel like it was because of that mishap with him.

I enjoyed it, though. Just to be at the Poconos and carry on and play my guitar and have everybody taking pictures. It was a half a year later that the
Prodigal Son CD came out. I feel like I was always a step behind. Even the CD I have out now, I was rushing it, I think I could have done a better job. By Prodigal Son, I was trying to show people that I am the real guy, I am the real deal. I wanted to show Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones that I’m the prodigal son, ‘cause I’m the guy who played with Robert Wilkins, the guy whose song you covered on Beggar’s Banquet. I was also trying to prove a point to myself.

I’m the prodigal son. I’m the one who left home, was homeless, and I was joining all this together as being the prodigal son.

I don’t know why I paid off my parents’ house, everybody in my family was begging. My sisters and brothers, too, none of them to this day can remember a dime I gave them. I had about $22,000 dollars. I was paying the light bills and everything, with a smile. I always smile. Every time you see me, normally, I’m the same person. My family was taking advantage of me at that time.

(To be continued)

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