Friday, July 15, 2011

Sylvan Hills grad helps revive Memphis sound

The Bo-Keys horn section includes (from left) Ben Cauley, Kirk Smothers, Floyd Newman and Marc Franklin, who is formerly of Sherwood.

Last month in Overton Park in Memphis, the young trumpet player on stage left was blasting away with the Bo-Keys, an eight-man band that has revived the soulful sounds of Memphis from the 1960s and 1970s.

The trumpet player’s name is Marc Franklin, a Sylvan Hills High School graduate who is one of the younger members of the Mid-South’s greatest soul band, which includes several veterans from the Stax and Hi Records era.

Franklin, who’ll turn 36 on Sunday, is a former Sherwood resident who graduated from Sylvan Hills in 1993 and attended Memphis State, where he soaked up the city’s unique musical sounds.
He has toured with veteran soul-blues singer Bobby (Blue) Bland — they appeared together at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena a few years ago — but now spends his time teaching and recording in Memphis and touring with the Bo-Keys.

Ben Cauley, the other trumpet player in the Bo-Keys, is the only surviving member of the Mar Keys, who perished with Otis Redding in a plane crash in 1967.

The musicians are young and old, black and white, who put on a funky show at the park with veteran soul singers Otis Clay, William Bell and Percy Wiggins.

The free program drew a large crowd to the Levitt Shell, where Elvis Presley performed on July 30, 1954, which many people consider the first rock-and-roll show.

The Bo-Keys evoke the sounds of such instrumental groups as the Bar Kays, Mar Keys and Pac Keys, who backed Redding, Isaac Hayes, Al Green and other soul greats who made the Memphis sound.

Band members also include such Memphis soul veterans as guitarist Skip Pitts (who recorded “Shaft” with Isaac Hayes), keyboardist Archie (Hubie) Turner and drummer Howard Grimes, as well as bassist and band leader Scott Bomar and saxophonists Jim Spake, Derrick Williams and Kirk Smothers.

“I received an excellent music education at Sylvan Hills High School,” Franklin told us later. “Our band director for my sophomore and junior years was Mr. David Stuart. He instilled in us the importance of a strong work ethic and also a love of many different styles of music. This is evident in the amount of former students who still are involved with teaching, playing or engineering music.

“He had an incredible collection of LPs in his office,” Franklin continued.

“This was the first time I heard some of the great soul and funk music of the 60s and 70s. Little did I know that just a few years later I would be working with some of the artists in his record collection.

“Mr. Stuart left my senior year and was replaced by Mr. Tom Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds was a pretty good jazz piano player and worked in and around Little Rock. At the time, I really wanted to be a jazz musician, and it was great to get his insights,” said Franklin, who plays through the side of his mouth, like his mentor Scott Thompson.

The Bo-Keys have just released their soulful “Got to Get Back!” (Electrophonic), which is available on CD and vinyl. The record jumps and shouts with amazing vocal support from several soul and blues veterans: “Got to Get Back to My Baby” with Otis Clay, “Catch This Teardrop” with Spencer Wiggins, “Weak Spot” with William Bell and “I’m Going Home” with Charlie Musselwhite.

Musselwhite was the only vocalist on the record who couldn’t make it to Memphis.

The music sounds better than ever, perhaps because recording technology has greatly improved since Stax and Hi started making records some 50 years ago.

The Bo-Keys continue to tour around the country. They’ll perform again in Memphis on July 23 at the Blues on the Bluff.