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Free concert kicks off new era for Royal Studios

  • Written by Tony Jones

ThisIsMemphis-1With President Obama reminding the world of the impact of Memphis music when his crooning of the opening lines of Al Green's signature hit "Let's Stay Together" went viral on the Internet, wouldn't it be great if First Lady Michelle Obama was to create a similar stir with a surprise visit to the Levitt Shell in Overton Park Thursday night?

Wishful thinking certainly, but the First Lady's visit here – a fundraising reception at the Memphis Cook Convention Center Thursday (June 28) morning – comes on the same day that Memphis' famed Royal Music Studios is producing a special musical performance as part of the Shell's free summer concert series.

Set to begin at 7 p.m., the concert is being presented by Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell and Royal Music Studios as an advance promotion for a film documentary slated for release this fall.

Now being edited under the working title, "This Is Memphis," the film was shot at Royal and several other major studios here this past summer. It's designed to update the Memphis music scene by pairing modern talent with soul music legends.

ThisIsMemphis-2A final date for the film's premiere has not been finalized, but music lovers here and in many cities should be interested in seeing the collaborations and final songs selected for the film, among them: Terrance Howard with Hi Rhythm; the Bar-Kays with Eightball and MJG; Otis Clay and Lil P-Nut; William Bell and Snoop Dogg, with the Stax Academy players; and more.

The concert at the shell will present several of the acts recorded for the film, including the original players on "Let's Stay Together" – Charles, Leroy and Teenie Hodges. Collectively known as Hi Rhythm, they are considered among the crème de la crème of R&B music makers, and recognized as the bedrock of the famous Hi Rhythm sound mastered by Royal's guiding hand, the late Willie Mitchell, and virtually all of Al Green's history-making R&B hits.

Another true highlight scheduled for the show is the closing performance by blues legend Bobby "Blue" Bland, who will be prominently featured in the film in a duo with platinum Memphis rapper, Yo Gotti.

Preceding Bland will be another anticipated performance pairing modern blues king Bobby Rush with rapper Frayser Boy, an Academy Award winner for his part in writing "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" for the Memphis-based movie "Hustle and Flow."

Dennis Graham, the father of rap's hottest act, Drake, will show his Memphis-bred musical chops, the popular Stephanie Bolton is slated, as well as R&B influence Otis Clay, whose sound is part of Royal Studios' heyday and history.

"The show is a sneak peek of what the film will present, the younger generation of current and rising stars," said Mitchell, Royal Studios' executive producer.

The show and the film both contend with what Mitchell, his studio cohorts and many others trying to make a living in music today are challenged by – staying aware of the legacy of the past while pushing forward to make good, new music.

"We also recorded it old-school style, relying on real talent," Mitchell said of the music in the upcoming film. "It was cool to see how the energies of different age groups melded together."

Mitchell serves as a co-producer on the film, along with fellow second-generation Memphis music professional, Cody Dickinson, whose father Jim Dickinson was a Rolodex regular for the Rolling Stones and many of music's biggest artists.

The documentary is the idea of its executive producer, Martin Shore, an accredited Hollywood director, whose experience and contacts led him from a moment of inspiration to assembling the project.

"All of this actually began from a factoid I read on a Popsicle stick," said Shore. It said, 'Did you know that 73 percent of all the music featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came from within 38 miles of Memphis?'

"Like the rest of the world, I have always loved Memphis music and this project will show why the Memphis sound is vital and always will be."

So vital that when Mitchell went to Los Angeles to record Snoop Dogg's tracks for the project, he took the famous #9 microphone that his father, Willie Mitchell, used exclusively for Al Green.

"You can't duplicate some things," said Mitchell, "even in L.A."

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