Phillips kin take over Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC - By Bob Mehr mehr@com­mer­cialap­peal.com 901-529-2517

Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional Records will be en­joy­ing a re­birth this fall.

The long-run­ning Bluff City record la­bel — founded in 2001 by Mem­phian David Less and West Coast PR muck­ety-muck Bob Merlis — was sold late last year to Jeff Phillips. Phillips is a third-gen­er­a­tion mem­ber of the pre­em­i­nent Mem­phis mu­sic fam­ily and a long­time em­ployee of the Phillips-owned Se­lect-o-hits record dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany.

In 2015, Jeff Phillips’ fa­ther, Johnny Phillips, him­self a long­time Se­lect-o-hits ex­ec­u­tive, be­came aware that Less was look­ing to sell the la­bel, ini­tially to a Mu­nich, Ger­many-based group.

“Our big thing was to fig­ure out how to keep the la­bel in town,” says Johnny. “I con­tacted two or three peo­ple about try­ing to buy it. Fi­nally, Jeff and I were talk­ing, and he said, ‘I can do it.’ He ba­si­cally bor­rowed on his 401(k) to buy the la­bel.”

“I had to do it,” Jeff Phillips says. “We all felt like, you can’t have Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional based in Ger­many.”

The sale — which in­cluded the pur­chase of all the la­bel’s as­sets, cat­a­log (nearly 30 al­bums by Jim Dick­in­son, Carla Thomas, Alvin Young­blood Hart, and oth­ers), un­re­leased ma­te­rial, and web­site — was fi­nal­ized in Novem­ber. The first few months of Phillips’ own­er­ship have seen the la­bel tend­ing to over­all house­keep­ing, start­ing with switch­ing their U.S. dis­tri­bu­tion from Sony to Se­lect-o-hits.

“We went through and low­ered the list prices on every­thing, phys­i­cally and dig­i­tally, to where it needed to be,” Johnny says. “We also set up Euro­pean dis­tri­bu­tion, all that type of stuff.”

Hav­ing so­lid­i­fied things, Jeff Phillips be­gan look­ing to the la­bel’s first pro­ject un­der his own­er­ship. “We didn’t buy the la­bel just to live off the cat­a­log,” he says. “We want to keep it go­ing; we want to have an ac­tive Mem­phis la­bel. Bob and David did a great job with that, in terms of pre­serv­ing the his­tory but cre­at­ing new his­tory as well.”

Johnny Phillips seized on the idea of do­ing a trib­ute to the Sil­ver Fox, Char­lie Rich — the one­time Sun la­bel artist and later coun­try hit­maker who died in 1995. “I’m a huge Char­lie Rich fan — the whole (Phillips) fam­ily is,” he says. “Un­cle Sam (Phillips) al­ways said that Char­lie and Howlin’ Wolf were the two most tal­ented peo­ple he worked with.”

At last year’s Mem­phis Mu­sic Hall of Fame cer­e­mony, dur­ing which Rich was in­ducted, Johnny, his cousins Knox and Jerry Phillips, and Char­lie Rich Jr. “be­gan talk­ing, try­ing to fig­ure out if we could do this,” says Johnny. Those dis­cus­sions quickly snow­balled, and by Jan­uary, “we fi­nally were able to start work­ing on the pro­ject …and wrapped up work on it last month.”

On Oct. 14, Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional will re­lease “Feel Like Go­ing Home: The Songs of Char­lie Rich.” The 13-track trib­ute fea­tures per­for­mances by Rich Jr., Jim Laud­erdale, Shooter Jen­nings, Keith Sykes, Will Kim­brough, the Mal­pass Brothers and Su­san Mar­shall, among oth­ers. “Every artist on there jumped right on it,” says Johnny. “Peo­ple love Char­lie Rich; he was a mu­si­cian’s mu­si­cian.”

The bulk of the record was tracked lo­cally at the Phillips Record­ing Ser­vice, with some over­dubs done in Nashville and Bos­ton. The pro­ject was pro­duced by Michael Di­nal­lao (who has worked with Stax star Ed­die Floyd among oth­ers), but the Rich trib­ute ef­fort is very much a fam­ily af­fair, with liner notes penned by Knox Phillips and Johnny Phillips, and la­bel and pro­duc­tion work by an­other gen­er­a­tion of Phillips kids: “The al­bum is kind of a full cir­cle for the Rich and Phillips fam­i­lies,” Johnny said. “Un­cle Sam recorded Char­lie’s first record­ings and now the third gen­er­a­tion of Phillipses, Jeff, and Jerry’s daugh­ter Hal­ley, helped record the trib­ute. Hal­ley pro­duced one track as well.”

Although plans are not fi­nal, Jeff Phillips hopes to do some promo

events for the al­bum in the fall, in­clud­ing a Mem­phis lis­ten­ing party and a pos­si­ble con­cert event in Nashville for Sir­ius XM.

As to the fu­ture of the la­bel, Phillips notes he’d like Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional to re­lease be­tween two to four al­bums a year. “We’re talk­ing to some artists about record­ing for us,” he says. “We want to keep the tra­di­tion of Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional go­ing, and we feel like the Char­lie Rich record is a great way to start.”

SIMIAN SOUNDS

This past week­end, the three sur­viv­ing mem­bers of The Mon­kees shared a stage in Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia. The buzzed-about per­for­mance — fea­tur­ing Mike Ne­smith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork — cul­mi­nated what has been a suc­cess­ful 50th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion for the group, in­clud­ing the re­lease of a crit­i­cally ac­claimed new al­bum.

Lo­cally this week, mu­si­cian J.D. Rea­ger will pay homage to the band with a show Sun­day night at Lafayette’s Mu­sic Room. “If you know me, you know that the Mon­kees are my all-time, desert is­land fa­vorite band,” says Rea­ger. “Do­ing this show with my band the Cold-blooded Three is a long­time dream.”

Join­ing Rea­ger for the con­cert, billed as “A Trib­ute to the Mon­kees,” will be fel­low Mon­kee-phile Jeremy Scott, whose band the Sub­trac­tions will also per­form. “Ad­di­tion­ally, we’ve have a few spe­cial guests — Mark Akin of the Sub­teens, Chris Davis of Papa Top’s West Coast Turn­around, Ja­son Pul­ley of Glo­ri­ous Ab­hor and oth­ers — set to get up and do songs with us,” says Rea­ger.

Showtime is 8 p.m. at Lafayette’s (2119 Madi­son). Cover is $5.

SUB­MIT­TED PHO­TO­GRAPH

Lo­cal mu­si­cian J.D. Rea­ger presents a trib­ute to ’60s pop fa­vorites the Mon­kees on Sun­day at Lafayette’s.

Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional’s Char­lie Rich trib­ute al­bum will be out in Oc­to­ber.

BOB MEHR

MEM­PHIS MU­SIC BEAT

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