AN­TENNA CLUB ROCKS AGAIN

OLD FRIENDS, BANDS GATHER FOR MID­TOWN ‘FAM­ILY’ RE­UNION

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr

/ mehr@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

FOR CAMERON HIN­SON, LIKE SO MANY other Mem­phis mu­sic fans and bands, this week­end will be a home­com­ing.

Mid­town’s fondly re­mem­bered and long-lamented An­tenna Club will once again come alive with fa­mil­iar sounds, as more than two dozen bands from the club’s hey­day per­form as part of an An­tenna Club Re­union.

The event, organized by Hin­son and Benny Carter of Mur­phy’s (which will also be host­ing a stage as part of the fes­ti­val), will mark the sto­ried his­tory of the club on Madi­son near Avalon, which be­gan book­ing bands 30 years ago.

“It’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing ver­sion of ‘old home week,’” says Ross John­son, a mem­ber of the Pan­ther Burns, per­haps the An­tenna’s ear­li­est and most in­fa­mous band.

John­son, who’s been do­ing re­search and in­ter­views for an oral his­tory of the An­tenna, points out that the club had ex­isted un­der a num­ber of names and guises be­fore bands be­gan per­form­ing there — and its rep­u­ta­tion was al­ways fear­some.

“It had been a strip club and a biker bar, and var­i­ous in­car­na­tions,” says John­son. “It was a real tough place.”

In the win­ter of 1979, own­ers Frank and Jackie Du­rand be­gan book­ing bands at the venue, then named The Well. A hand­ful of Mid­town out­fits pro­vided the en­ter­tain­ment, in­clud­ing Randy Band and John­son’s Pan­ther Burns, the lat­ter led by per­for­mance artist Tav Falco and for­mer Box Tops/Big Star leader Alex Chilton.

As John­son notes, the bands and clien­tele in those days were wild, and re­minders of the club’s even wilder past were ever present. “There was al­ready a stage there be­cause of the strip­pers, and there was a mir­rored glass back, also be­cause of the strip­pers,” re­calls John­son, laugh­ing. “For the first cou­ple of years when I sat down to play drums, I would look back and see my bloated sweat­ing face and go, ‘Oh yeah, strip­pers.’”

The Du­rands ran the venue un­til early 1981, when pro­mot­ers Jimmy Barker and Phillip Stratton took over and re­named it the An­tenna Club. Al­though they con­tin­ued book­ing lo­cals, Barker and Stratton also be­gan bring­ing in out-of-town acts. “They were pay­ing big money, and maybe over­paid on guar­an­tees. And so they were (out of the club) af­ter a few months,” says John­son. “That’s when Steve McGe­hee came in. And that’s when it re­ally changed; it got more se­ri­ous.”

The Frayser-bred McGe­hee — who’d cut his teeth as a waiter at TGIFri­days — and later, his brother Mark, would run the club for the next 14 years, es­tab­lish­ing the An­tenna as the “CBGBs of the South” — a ref­er­ence to the fa­mous New York punk venue.

For­tu­itously for the McGe­hees, their stew­ard­ship of the club co­in­cided with the rise

of Amer­i­can in­die rock and a grow­ing tour­ing cir­cuit that brought bands like R.E.M., the Re­place­ments, Black Flag, the Min­ute­men and the Meat Pup­pets into the An­tenna reg­u­larly.

While the mu­sic on stage was of­ten mag­i­cal, the makeup of the au­di­ence was equally no­table. “It was a cul­tural mish-mash, with peo­ple from Frayser and East Mem­phis trust fun­ders, gays, straights — ev­ery­body seemed to get along,” says John­son. “It was a very un­likely mix.”

Through­out the ’80s and into the ’90s, the club also be­came a fo­cal point for up-and-com­ing lo­cal tal­ent, pro­vid­ing a home base for no­table Mem­phis groups like The Grifters, Com­pul­sive Gam­blers, Im­pala and the Obli­vians.

As time wore on, the An­tenna faced com­pe­ti­tion in the form of other clubs like the Loose End and weath­ered the fad­ing for­tunes of live en­ter­tain­ment in Mid­town. Ul­ti­mately, though, af­ter a decade and a half of mu­sic, the An­tenna closed in the sum­mer of 1995.

For most of the An­tenna’s for­mer denizens, the club re­mained a fond but dis­tant mem­ory. The build­ing it­self has re­opened and changed names nu­mer­ous times — it’s cur­rently called Noc­tur­nal — and the An­tenna Club’s old sign even­tu­ally took its place at neigh­bor­ing Mur­phy’s, which car­ried on the An­tenna’s loose spirit of live mu­sic. Ear­lier this year, Mur­phy’s owner Benny Carter even be­gan book­ing oc­ca­sional rock shows at Noc­tur­nal.

It was also early this year that Cameron Hin­son un­wit­tingly helped spawn the An­tenna re­union. Hin­son was a Navy brat who ended up in Mem­phis as a teenager in the mid-’80s, and be­came an An­tenna reg­u­lar. She left Mem­phis al­most 15 years ago, and lost touch with many of her old friends. In Jan­uary, she de­cided to hop on the so­cial net­work­ing site Face­book to see if she could get in touch with a few for­got­ten pals.

“And im­me­di­ately I was in con­tact again with hun­dreds of friends from the An­tenna days,” says Hin­son. “One day, I just thought ‘What about a re­union of th­ese peo­ple?’”

Orig­i­nally con­ceived as a mod­est re­union of friends to be held at Mur­phy’s, Hin­son con­tacted a cou­ple An­tenna bands like Pezz about per­form­ing. “And then more peo­ple asked me to play, then more peo­ple saw who was play­ing, they got ex­cited. I thought if this re­ac­tion is go­ing on, why not take the next log­i­cal step and make it An­tenna re­union.”

Hin­son sought the bless­ing of Steve McGe­hee, who owns copy­right to the An­tenna name and logo, and a full-fledged re­union fes­ti­val was on.

The con­cert event, set for tonight and Satur­day, will be a day-night af­fair tak­ing place at the for­mer An­tenna site and across the street at Mur­phy’s. The lineup will be head­lined by a re­union of the Com­pul­sive Gam­blers, as well as ap­pear­ances by Im­pala, Pezz, Hedge­creep and more than 20 other acts.

Hin­son’s work on the re­union has a per­sonal bonus: She re­con­nected with a high school sweet­heart and the cou­ple are now en­gaged to be mar­ried.

“The An­tenna was a re­ally spe­cial place for all of us,” says Hin­son. “So this is long over­due.”

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For one nos­tal­gic week­end, the old An­tenna Club in Mid­town will live anew in a re­union con­cert of fa­vorite bands from the club’s hey­day and the pa­trons/friends who pop­u­lated the wild and crazy venue. The site now houses Noc­tur­nal.

Com­pul­sive Gam­blers are among bands booked for a week­end re­union of the An­tenna Club — now Noc­tur­nal — and also at Mur­phy’s.

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