Friday, January 29, 2010

(Do The) Push And Pull, Pt 1 (STAX 0079)

(Do The) Push And Pull, Pt 1

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

So, after the Willie Mitchell Memorial Celebration, people were hanging out in the lobby of the Church, just kind of catching up on old times. I was talking with Otis Clay, Darryl Carter and Howard Grimes, all of whom I have gotten to know better since the O.V. Memorial back in 2008. Along came a lady in red, who proceeded to rub Howard's cheeks. "He's always smiling like that. I always rub 'em whenever I see him, for good luck. He was the drummer on my first record..."

Carla Thomas... I couldn't believe it. Here I was actually getting to meet this woman who played such an important role in the history of Stax. A woman who, for whatever reason, has been thought of as some sort of recluse for the past couple of decades. She was great. Funny and outgoing, with a twinkle in her eye that puts you in mind of her father...

I watched as Al Bell came up to her. I would venture to say that they hadn't been in the same room together since Stax went out of business 35 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under that bridge. The friction between the old and the new at Stax in those days was kind of embodied in Bell's relationship with the Thomas family. A lot of words have been left unspoken. As I said last week, Al is back in town as the head of the Memphis Music Foundation. He was genuinely glad to see Carla, and seemed to welcome the opportunity to let his voice be heard. I spoke with him for some time about the bankruptcy, and he told me in minute detail how it all went down. Not a pretty story, it included, he said, a hit squad that had orders to take him out unless he did what the big money boys wanted him to do. Incredible stuff.

As it turned out, people were going back to the Marriott downtown, and Carla needed a ride. I, of course, offered my services. As we were on our way out, we met up with her brother Marvell (one of Chips Moman's original Triumphs, and the keyboard man on so many great Stax records), who wasn't sure which lot he had left his car in (the place is HUGE). I offered to give him a ride to go look for it. I started talking about how I had Sattelite Radio in this car I rented, and that I had heard Carla on there twice in one hour on the way down. Once we were all in the car, I tuned the radio to Soul Town, and some song was just finishing up.

As the first notes of the next tune came out of the speakers, both of them yelled at once "It's Daddy!" You really can't make this stuff up, folks. Here I am with Carla and Marvell Thomas in my car, which in itself is as unlikely a scenario as one could possibly imagine, and out of all the songs on all the stations in all the world, here's Rufus Thomas (doing a song that was produced by Al Bell, no less) beaming from some Sattelite back down into Memphis, doin' the Push and Pull. Our hair was literally standing on end. It was spooky, man. I don't know if you believe in this kind of stuff, but I sure do. There are no coincidences, my friends. This had to be some kind of sign...

Back at the Marriott, Marvell met up with Sir Mack Rice.

We were soon joined by J. Blackfoot and Eddie Floyd,

as Carla sat there on the couch with David Porter and Al Bell.

Along with a few soul devotees from the UK who had made the trip for Willie's funeral, we had us a time, talking about those storied salad days at Stax. Days when Carla was the Queen to Otis Redding's King, days of Gee Whiz and B-A-B-Y. Like some kind of impromptu Stax reunion, I think some bridges were built, and ideas hatched for some incredible possibilities down the line.

After a while, Carla asked me to take her to another post-Willie Tribute party that was being held at The View, the funky Soul and Blues club out by the airport. We, of course, got lost for a while navigating the I-40/240 nightmare, and it gave me the opportunity to speak with her at length. This is one incredible woman, folks. She has been there and done that. The heir apparent to her father's incredible legacy as the ambassador of Memphis Music, she has chosen to live in obscurity. She has no telephone. "Are you ready to reclaim your rightful place as the Queen of Memphis Soul?" I asked her.

She wanted no part of it...

When we got out to the club, it was obvious how much she was loved by everyone in the place. As they were winding down a set that had included Queen Ann Hines and Toni Green, they pulled Carla up on stage and the joint went nuts.

She didn't sing. She didn't have to.


Blogger Popville said...

Thank you so much Red for attending the memorial and sharing with us the incredible stories and the photos!

And I hope the true story of Stax gets told in book form, first person, from the point of view of Al Bell & all others that were there.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Jer.Eps said...

What a ride. Thanks for sharing your great night with us. RIP Willie Mitchell, long live Stax/Volt soul!

7:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What an incredible story Red, this the stuff of dreams. I think my head would have gone if that had happened to me.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Red you did some traveling down the Soul Highway, those stories are precious.

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible! Thanks for reporting back on this. You were hangng out with real royalty. W.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Tad Richards said...

Thanks for this story, and for a glimpse of Carla.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Funky16Corners said...

Dude...I would have had a stroke if I'd been in the same room with all those legends. I'm jealous.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous tabs4959 said...

What an incredible night and story. I was not sure if I believed in "this kind of stuff" before I read your story but I am a believer now!!!

1:26 AM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Even more weirdness:

OK, I have an iPod, but I like never use it... only when I'm getting on a plane or something like that. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was flying down to Puerto Rico for my annual trip with the kids, so I fired the iPod up and did a total 'restore' syncing it with a 'smart playlist' that included anything in my iTunes library with either R&B or Soul in the genre (which came up with over 6000 songs, and made it something like 13 days long)...

So anyway, I get on the plane, settle in and hit 'Shuffle Songs'... you guessed it, the very first randomly selected tune was by Carla Thomas, "When Tomorrow Comes".

I was just blown away.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Linda Warn said...

Thank you, RED for bringing

I just have to tell you when you
mentioned WHEN TOMORROW COMES--that
is my song--I claimed it! (I know
CARLA will never forget that being
my song! She sang it one evening
when we were walking home after an
evening in MEMPHIS!)


1:27 AM  

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