Sunday, 1 November 2009

Time is tight

After my family moved to Memphis in 1974, I went to sixth grade at the MSU Campus School, which I have to honestly say was a pretty shambolic example of 1970s-style open-classroom independent learning. One of my teachers there was a woman by the name of Barbara Jackson, who sported a frighteningly unrealistic wig and amazing array of super-flared pant suits in a variety of garish colors and materials, including leather. We kids preferred the leather ones, because we could hear her squeaking down the hall back towards the classroom after one of her frequent forays elsewhere in the building. We preferred to have advance warning of her return so as to avoid being told off for rowdiness.

Anyway, this frequently terrifying figure was actually married to none other than Al Jackson, who visited the school on a number of occasions, and looked very cool indeed. They lived just around the corner from the school on Central, giving Barbara almost certainly the shortest commute of any teacher in the Memphis City School system, though she still drove her Cadillac, of course. This was Memphis, after all. It was in this house that Al Jackson would be killed a year later. For as long as I lived in Memphis, I thought about this whenever I drove past that house, and wondered what really went on that night, because the accounts all sounded very strange at the time.

Thirty years later, in April 2005, the "It Came From Memphis" season at the Barbican presented a Stax reunion show, and the fabulous Jim Spake got me a backstage pass. I arrived early at the venue to meet up with Jim and managed to catch him with Ben Cauley and Booker T. & the MGs rehearsing "Your Good Thing (is About to End)" with Mable John, which sent chills down my spine. After this we retreated to the catering room for a curry, which we ate with William Bell (who seemed like a really nice guy) and Skip Pitts. At one point I had to find the men's room, and on my way back I encountered Booker T. and his wife, attempting to find the dining room (the Barbican is notorious as a place where people get hopelessly lost), and I showed them the way, for which they seemed very thankful.

Later on, I was hanging out backstage, standing next to Deanie Parker, when up walked a very friendly and unassuming Eddie Floyd. He asked me who I was, and I shook his hand, told him it was a great pleasure to meet him, and asked him if he could possibly sing "I Stand Accused," one of my favorites. He looked into the middle distance, as if mentally time-traveling, and then said with a vaguely pained expression, "You know, I sure wish I could, but I only have time for three songs." Mable John won the audience's heart before her song when she thanked them and said how nice it was to be back in London, where people had treated her so well when she had last visited - in 1967. It was an amazing night. As I have just celebrated yet another birthday, I'm reminded that sadly time is tight for these remaining treasures of Memphis music (as it is for us all) and I'm glad to have crossed paths with and witnessed as many as I have over the years, and grateful for this music like no other.


Donna Upton said...

Whatever happened to Barbara? It's all pretty mysterious.

So jealous you got to go the Barbican show.

James Enck said...

Here she is!

Anonymous said...

Insanely jealous James, I have only seen a couple of the acts from that golden era live and never met any of them.

This is indeed God's music, as I think that Booker T clip amply demonstrates, thanks for the reminder. I feel a vinyl nostalgia session coming on this evening...