Sunday, July 17, 2011

Memphis Gold's Story Part 6

Memphis Gold, Watch Night 2007 Falls Church VA.
His last performance before he fell off tree
Photo © Ron Weinstock
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 this is the last part. I should point out that interviews with Memphis Gold have appeared in Jefferson Blues, Blues & Rhythm and Living Blues. The latest Memphis Gold CD was recently released, Pickin’ High Cotton (Stackhouse) and includes selections with Robert Lighthouse.

I sent it (Prodigal Son) to some of everybody. I sent that CD overseas and I wanted everybody to get a copy of it. There have been not even 2,000 copies of that CD out. I still sell it online, as a digital download now, but I don’t even have copies of it anymore (the first CD Memphis Gold). Jim O’Neil came up to see me. He had gone through a very tough divorce, a black lady he had 2 children by, so he went defunct from what he was doing down in the Sunflower State, and he moved to Kansas City. At that time when Jim came up here, he came up here for a wedding and he needed a place to stay. I said, “Jim, man, come up to my house and stay with me. I got plenty of room for you.” I started talking to him, and said, “Jim, I know you’re starting over with the record company and everything. I’d like to come in at the bottom level. I’ll put up my own money. I’d like to use your name.” So we drew up a contract. He doesn’t have a lot of money to put out to me now, but he’s growing, he’s coming back to where he used to be. You know, he had Rooster Records for years. After he lost it and sold it, he took his 2 children and they had become the most beautiful wonderful children. They’re coming to their teens now, but I know what he’s had to go through with his teens and with his old CDs and memorabilia and stuff that he’s got. Anyway, we drew up a contract, and I said, “Jim, I’ll do everything I can. All I want to do is just use Stackhouse Records, and we’ll try and work on it together.” Now I can feel some things that he wants to do for me. 

After playing on New Year’s Eve 2007, I played at the City of Falls Church’s First Night. About a week later on January the 8
th, I was helping a friend do a couple of trees in Maryland as a favor. I’m working and had already been up 3 of the biggest oak trees I had been up in a long time. I was getting ready to get off (of work) when Barbara said there’s a tree next door the lady wants to have come down, a pine tree. She said let’s try to tie this job up. I said, “I’m tired, Barb.” But I go up this tree, and as soon as I get up to about 35 feet, I throw my rope over a limb. The limb was around 2 inches in diameter. I know this limb can hold me. I threw the rope over and I’m sitting in my saddle trying to rest myself. As I’m trying to rest myself, I’m talking to somebody on the ground, and that rope left and slipped right to the middle of the limb. That’s where the breaking point was. It broke and went “crack”. And down I went. I’m going 35 feet backwards. I know I’m either gonna bust my brains or I’m gonna break my shoulder blades. I’m thinking as I’m falling, I wanna hit my butt. When I’m about 10 from the ground, I turned, and hit my butt bone, but it still broke my back.

Since then, I’ve been recouping, but I’ve still been writing and playing the blues I’ve still been staying upbeat. I think my music is the only reason that I’m doing so well. I had a little bit of a setback. On January the 18
th of this year (2009) I went downstairs in my apartment to get a pedicure the day before I was gonna do the Red, White, and Blue Ball. Larry King was there, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic was there and it was the first time I was ever gonna see Sly Stone perform and stay at a gig. Peter Paul, Mary, Ben Vereen was there. We were all in the same show. The day before I did this gig, the lady (giving me the pedicure) scrubbed my foot to a second degree burn and there was a big blister on the bottom of my foot. If I had been a diabetic like the rest of my family, I would have lost my foot. It took until May for my foot to get well. In that time, I wasn’t able to walk or do therapy.
Little Jimmy Reed and Memphis Gold at 2008 Columbia Pike Blues Festival
Memphis Gold and his wife brought him up to play some gigs with him
Photo © Ron Weinstock

In March, around the time of my birthday, I was happy to release
Gator Gon’ Bitechu. The reason for the title is (in tribute to DJ) the “Gator” down at WPFW and all the ladies he called the Gatorettes. Since he is one of the premiere blues DJs in this town (Washington DC), I decided to write Gator’s Gon’ Bitechu. I’ve had some good reviews and reviews that weren’t so good, but that’s the Blues.

At the same time, I was working on a second album with Robert Lighthouse, a Swedish-born musician who used to play on the street with Charlie (Sayles). I was trying to release both of them at the same time, but I ran out of money. The second album is an acoustic, old traditional album. It’s a down home thing. Robert Lighthouse is a phenomenal guitar player and contributed a lot to the album. I’m finishing it up now. If I was able to get them both out at the same time, that would have been a kicker – a rejuvenation and I’d probably be walking again. I figure I’ll be walking again maybe by later October. I’m putting a song on my new album for the guy who owns John Brown’s Cabin, the Kennedy Farm in West Virginia. I’m putting a song on there for John Brown, who got hung. I was invited up to the John Brown House. He owns the farm now. 

I gave Charlie the name “Hollywood Charlie” in about ’99 or 2000 because of his swagger and the moves he makes, he’s like Hollywood pictures. I was K.D. King and became Memphis Gold. They were calling me K.D., King Dog, ‘cause when I was at the Vegas, every night they were open, I was going somewhere with some girl. I was a dog. When I first got to Washington I had 2 gold teeth in my mouth. I was sitting with Barbara one night and I said “I want a new name”. She said “Everybody’s trying to be a king, like Albert King, B.B. King, Little Jimmy King.” She said “you’re from Memphis and you have gold in your mouth, so you’re Memphis Gold”. 

Little Jimmy King knew me from Memphis. He called and told the promoter of a show in Alaska. They brought me up there and we had a guitar shoot out. We had the greatest time (in Alaska). I was playing with his band. I opened up for him the first night, he opened up for me the second night. 

All of the songs I record are songs I’ve lived. There are some funny songs, there are some songs that I feel. I sit down and I laugh and think about the women I’ve been with, like on the
Prodigal Son, “I got these six women”. I’ve been married 6 times, and I’ve got 2 children by 2 women outside of those 6 marriages. I’ve settled down a lot. Barbara has been background and has settled me down a lot, so it’s out of my blood, I guess. And I’m a little older now. 

I don’t think I could do anything different with my life. I wrote a really morbid song on my last CD. It’s called “In My Next Life”. Barbara asked me why I wrote that song. I said, “Maybe I missed out on something. Maybe I missed out on a girl or two!” 

I played the Chesapeake Blues Festival twice. I played with Big Joe Maher (drums) and John Previti on bass; I’ve played with some of the most top notch musicians in this town, and it’s by the grace of god. This town has some really great musicians, I must say. 

I like to listen to Howlin’ Wolf now. I just close my eyes and I can just see the type of life that he lived. He and Albert King were very ornery. They were two of a kind. Albert King was standing outside the door one night when I was playing Crosscut Saw. I walked out and he said, “Come here, boy. You’re a pretty good damn guitar player. Don’t try to play like me. Just do what you do.” From that day on, I may still play a couple licks from him, but I try to keep to my own style, sanctified Beale Street gutbucket blues. 

The Red, White, and Blue ball from this year was my favorite gig because of the people that were there, even though I was sitting in a chair. The audience was out there in dress uniforms and I was pumping them up. 

Barbara started a foundation called (Building Bridges America Foundation?) Bridging the Gaps to help handicap disabilities, autism, we’re gonna put on a festival in Crystal City, at Gateway Park, which holds about 7,000 people. I love (my town) Arlington, …even though I don’t have enough to pay the rent (laughs). The rent just jumps out of the sky sometimes. Last month, there were a couple of houses I painted. I’m not doing trees no more but I do services for other people. I have a guy who is a carpenter; he’s Hispanic, and others. I try to keep those guys working. I go there and supervise, and people, they trust me. Last month I did the house of a guy with Georgetown University. This guy trusted me and just tossed me the keys to his house and said “Memphis, do such and such a thing and paint my house.” So I’m making money doing different things than cutting trees.

Taken at 2009 Congressional Blues Festival in Washington DC
lower row- Joe Kessler, comedian & activist Dick Gregory
(Memphis' cousin) & Memphis Gold
Middle row, Jay Summerour who plays on Memphis Gold's last two albums
Upper row (Standing) - unidentified
Photo © Memphsi Gold

1 comment:

Deb in SF said...

Ron, that isn't Little Jimmy King; I believe it's Little Jimmy Reed.