Shawn Cripps

Stripper Session TWELVE ** Memphis Session TWO

Loosing Light

July 7th was my longest day in Memphis. 7:00 AM I drove to Graceland to visit the meditation garden just to the right of the Elvis home. The tourist attraction is free and open to the public everyday from 7:30-8:30. imageimageAt 8:30 I went a few miles down the road to Al Green’s church to see if there was someone there I could speak with about recording the gospel choir at the 11:30 service that morning. No one was around so I took off back to the house.

11:30 back to the church for the service - Bishop Al Green preached for 2 hours.

imageI got to the Civil Rights Museum at 4:00, they close at 5. Wrong place to feel rushed. I was distracted by the clock ticking and unsettled walking around the Lorainne Motel.

Got back to the house at 6 and shut down until my session.

Keep your cool - Keep it short

I hear Shawn Cripps is a trucker and plays in the Memphis band, Limes but that’s about all I know. Other than chatting about mic placement, we didn’t exchange much when I showed up to record him.

We had settled on 7pm but Shawn was having dinner with his daughter and didn’t get back to his place until 8. He came down to meet me at my car and helped carry the cases upstairs and inside.  Shawn was quiet - I wasn’t sure if he was game for the session but he’d let me in so I kept about my business. imageI walked out onto the porch just off the living room. I could see a non-discript intersection from where I stood and liked the idea that the sound of cars in the background might make it onto the track so I suggested setting up there. There was also some evening light to work with. imageI told Shawn I needed a few minutes to get ready and he left the room to go smoke. 

I started to feel strange when he’d been gone for 20 minutes. I killed some time snapping pictures but felt anxious. The light was fading, I was standing on a porch with my gear set up and there was no sign of this guy. I went into the apartment and called out but didn’t hear back. I texted Charles a quick note that said “dude is missing, I’m at ___________(I put down Shawn’s address)”. A cryptic shout out just incase. (in case of what, Wendy?) - I didn’t know this person, I was in his apartment with all of my gear and he’d left? I looked at the mess of chords I had created, rushing myself to get set up - the result of not feeling settled. Now I was wondering if I should pack up, if this guy had just split. I was loosing light and my idea of recording and shooting Shawn on the porch was fading away. 

I walked inside and stood in the large living room. A vintage drum kit with glitter finish, a large elvis wall-hanging, old recording equipment, an issue of MOJO, amps, a velvet couch, a month’s clutter on the coffee table…. The room felt familiar enough to neutralize the bizarre paranoia.  I walked towards the first dark hallway and called out. Nothing. A few more tentative steps and I could see Shawn sitting on a bed with his friend looking at a computer screen. 

"Hey" I said, "I’m all good to go". He replied - "oh, ok" and we walked back to the porch. 

The wave of self-induced anxiety subsided, but I still felt strange.

imageShawn sat on the red metal bench, put an old Gretch amp on a little stool and pulled it close. 

"Sleepy Trucker" followed. One take. I was packed and in my car by 8:45. 

Too bad I got weirded out - this guy’s interesting and I like his songs. Still wondering if he really is a trucker. 

Shawn Cripps sings, “Sleepy Trucker”

Shawn Cripps Session PICS

Chuck Vicious

Stripper Session 11 ** Memphis Session 1

How Many Madisons Does It Take To Get Vicious?

Back story…

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July 3rd I drove from Madison to Memphis to record some gospel music at Bishop Al Green’s house of worship. The Full Gospel Tabernacle Church had agreed to the session two months prior however, when I called to confirm I was told that the choir had cancelled rehearsal due to the 4th of July holiday and so my session was off. I was bummed out but decided to head down anyway. 

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I was staying with Charles Hughes (see Stripper Session NINE) in an area known as Cooper-Young. Some areas in Memphis are mostly bones and no meat. Neighborhoods that once had a life and working limbs but were now skeletons of their former selves. Cooper-Young’s got some meat on its bones. 

My first morning I’m out on the porch drinking coffee and I notice a vintage Kawasaki 1100 parked across the street from Charles’ house so I walk over for a closer look. image

I aways wonder who’s behind a cool bike. When Charles got up I asked him about the owner and he said he didn’t know who it was but he often heard the rider trying to start the bike, I guess it was a bit stubborn.  Later that morning I saw him in his white helmet riding off somewhere. 

I scrambled to meet Memphis via food, museums, drives and walks. 4 days is not a lot of time when you’re in the belly of American soul and civil rights history. 

I started with Kreature Comforts Lowlife Guide To Memphis. At 32 pages, it’s pretty comprehensive and led me to some great areas and people. Madison at Goner Records was super helpful, too.  I called to describe The Stripper Project and she recommended a couple of locals, the first one being Chuck Vicious. 

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Chuck has a band, Data Drums, but also plays out on his own. She suggested I swing by The Lamplighter Lounge on Madison Avenue (I leave Madison only to liaison with two more “Madisons” to get to Vicious - following me? Crazy), a bar where he works and sometimes plays.  The night we stopped in he wasn’t around but there were three nice woman there who all endorsed Mr Vicious. Now I just needed to find him. At some point I got a phone number from someone (maybe one of the women at the bar?) and when I got back to the house I called it.  

It’s funny cold calling someone about The Stripper Project - there’s this “you don’t know me but I want to get intimate with you” feeling - at least on my end.  I chatted with Chuck for a few minutes - he sounded sweet and agreeable. I asked if we could record the next day and he said, great - I said I was staying in the Cooper-Young area and he said that he lived there, too - I said I was on XX street and he said he was too - I asked him what the house number wasand when he told me, he was just one number off from the house I was staying at. I looked out the window and then, feeling so strange, asked if he owned a vintage Kawasaki motorcycle and he said, “yes - that’s my bike”.  We got off the phone, walked outside and carried on our conversation.

The Session and The Shoesimage

First think I noticed was about 30 pairs of stylin shoes - were they Chuck’s? No - they were his housemate’s. I didn’t have an opportunity to meet her but her extensive walking wardrobe was very amusing. We exchanged a bit while my eyes wandered around the room and the coffee table:imageimage Chuck brought a couple of amps down from upstairs and got set up - Guitar through an electric amp, vocal mic through another electric.  I secretly hope for acoustic sessions but never request them so as not to insert myself. The amplification can scare me with the set up I have - live and learn.  

In Chuck’s own words:
"I’m 29
I live in Memphis because the Tree’s keep me cool and calm.
I grew up in Memphis.
I’m influenced by myself, and the music theory that I have learned over the years from reading books.  
I also have learned a lot from my friend, and bass player Rick Suggs.
I like Picasso, Antique Road Show, and Paris, Socrates, Dr Seuss.
I like Bauhaus, Futurist , and Decco.
I am influenced by argument.
I  play music because my grandma bought me an electric guitar when i was 12, and she told me I’d better fucking play the thing.
I like to eat anything I can afford.
I’m not a fan of eating jellyfish, in which I have tried, and I don’t eat cereal for breakfast.
I like a real breakfast, with eggs florentine, potatoes, bacon, and hot sauce.
Gourmet Pizza’s are probably towards the top of  my list of favorite foods.
The dogs in the house are not my dogs, they are my roommate, Mackenzie’s. I feel as though I should protect them from the Media, but if you must know, their names are Booger, and What.
What do I think about Memphis, is an interesting question.   I don’t believe that I think about it too much, as that I am here all the time.  It’s kinda like asking, “What do you think of  your right foot”   You don’t really think about it, unless you have a blister or something, then your like, “this blister sucks”.  I see that with a lot of people who live here, they might only notice bad things and don’t think about the fact that Memphis keeps them and over a million people alive, and decently healthy and wealthy.  I won’t say wise, cause there must be a stupid gene here.  And I’m not saying there are just a few people who are dumb around town.  EVERY SINGLE PERSON from here, including myself,  is an IDIOT.    Prove me wrong.”

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Of the four songs Chuck played for me, I went with “Equestrian (Polo)”.  He played it twice, the first take had a nice punchy start, so there you go. 

It was over so fast - the songs were short and he had band practice butted up against The Stripper Session, so when his bandmate showed up I gathered my gear and scooted back over the road.

The next day I asked for a shot of him on the moto.image

Chuck Vicious sings, “Equestrian (POLO)” 

Chuck Vicious Stripper Session - July 6th, 2012

"You can kill people with sound. And if you can kill, then maybe there is also the sound that is opposite of killing. And the distance between these two points is very big. And you are free—you can choose. In art everything is possible, but everything is not necessary."

― Arvo Pärt

Loren Wollerman

Stripper Session TEN

Nervous energy, christmas lights and a six pack.

When you’re used to being in a band it’s a challenge getting used to not being in a band. The relationship with music changes and there’s a lot more space to work with (or hide from).

First time I heard Loren Wollerman was when her band, Whore Du Jour, was playing a show in Madison. There she was wailing away on stage - I had no idea. 

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The project featured a weighted line up of Madison musicians (Pete Ress, Chad Ovshak, Travis Kasperbauer, Christian Burnson) who were all connected to a handful of other bands. It was a cool mix of rock, pop and layered electronica. They were active for a few years and then dispersed, leaving a lonely myspace page behind.

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Born and raised in “the most geographically isolated community in all of Wisconsin”, Park Falls was home until she moved to La Crosse in 6th grade, leaving behind a paper mill, her dad’s third-generation heating and plumbing business and the only two stoplight-controlled intersections in the county.

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But there’s nothing small town about Loren’s voice. Maybe it was the influence of an expansive rural environment or a wild, northern territory close by. I’m not trying to be poetic, really - but when I heard “Take The Ink” for the first time it had a wildness about it, and I sometimes wonder where that soulful sound is rooted. 

After the band dispersed in Madison, Loren and Pete moved to Kenosha, WI to be closer to Pete’s family. Right now, working two jobs and as she puts it, “nesting”. She’s also between bands and so it was an interesting time to work with her.  Selfishly, I love that Loren’s unique and powerful voice can’t be denied in this post - it can’t be mixed back or to the left, coated with reverb or delay.

There were few songs to choose from - she played the first and I got nervous. The electric guitar and vocals were very dynamic and I wasn’t sure if they would translate in a way that supported the piece. She played the second and I didn’t need to hear anything else. 

Thanks, Loren. 

Loren sings, "Take The Ink"

Charles Hughes

Stripper Session NINE

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                                                 Wausau, WI.

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"Not sure how it happened, but growing up in the outback of Wisconsin, Charles Hughes managed to soak in and send out the spirit of Memphis rock and soul." - Craig Werner, Professor Afro-American Studies

Charles was playing violin at age 3 and although his uncle was a serious musician and living nearby, the influence and rivalry that can push creativity came from his best friend Chuck. From the age of 12 to about 18 the two were joined by their thirst for music and the envy of each other’s young talent. 

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In 2008 we were introduced by Craig Werner at Music Club - a sort of monthly get together of friends extremely passionate and well versed in American music and cultural history. Some clubs were themed (80’s hip-hop featuring female vocalists; obscure 60’s soul out of Detroit; etc) while others were more of a musical grab bag. It was a decent way to connect with people and hear a ton of music.

I’d like to give a nod (because I’m not sure when I’ll ever be able to do this in a Stripper post) to that mutual friend, Craig Werner. His powerful ways of teaching and engaging via music and friendship changed the course of both our lives.  Charles’ take….

"I met Craig when I was a freshman at UW, and he quickly became one of my most trusted mentors and a very good friend. To me, his greatest gift to me as both a musician and teacher is his insistence that music - as both something we make and something we hear - is a supremely important part of our broader experiences as human beings. It doesn’t need to be self-consciously "important" music, either. It just has to be based in something true that resonates both for the musician and the audience. That idea, and its implications, has become part of my core."

It wasn’t till a year after we met that I saw and heard Charles perform. Always an enlightening experience after you’ve known someone a while. A whole new layer of their life is revealed and it’s usually the most important (and the most honest) one. For Charles, this was Blixie  -  a cross-racial, cross-gender, cross-regional musical collective aiming to rewrite the rules of American music. 

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Blixie was active while Charles was in Madison working on his dissertation which focused on race and the recording industry in the U.S. South from 1960 to 1980. As he puts it, “exploring the relationship between country and soul music, and African-American and white musicians, in recording studios in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.” Hell yeah, Charles.

The inescapable influence of the deep south was the current that pulled a Wausau man away from the heart of Midwest and down to the belly of the US - where all that this country’s bitten off gets chewed, broken down, digested, then spit out for the world to hear. 

Session NINE was recorded in Madison at our friend Brian’s house. Rhodes College was on spring break and Charles was in town with his partner Ari visiting friends so we made a plan to record, “Stereo”.  It was a simple set up in the living room with Charles using Andy Ewen’s (Stripper Session 3) guitar.  

Thanks for making the time, CH - See you in TN when I come down to record the Memphis Series for the project !

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BTW - Charles is in the very early stages of a book project about the history of professional wrestling in the United States.  Dawg. 

Charles Hughes sings, "Stereo"

Jennie Wood

Stripper Session EIGHT

The best thing about Boston, MA is Jennie Wood.

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The last time I was there I was 15, in a relationship with an asshole and attending Berklee College Of Music for one of their summer programs I eventually dropped out of.  

I arrived after dark on the night of January 4th and met up with Jennie after an 8 year lag.

image We first met in 2001 when she was one of the organizers of Ladyfest Chicago. I was speaking on a panel and can remember her band, Heather’s Damage,  approaching me with “we want you to record us” as an ice-breaker. One of my favorite introductions, especially coming from a female pack. In 2004 the band came to Madison to record the EP, Her Father’s Son, and the session spawned a decent friendship. 

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If there’s one quality (gift, trait, vibe - whatever) that makes a band of women penetrate, it’s fearlessness. I don’t care so much what you’re into, if you’re fearless (not ‘badass’, that’s totally different) I want to work with you. And I’ll work cheap. Aim, Steph and Jennie were fearless when it came to their music, lyrics and intention. They also didn’t need to check their egos at the door because those egos weren’t going to fuck with the work, they would drive it. Egos, talent and a baseline determination to nail the project. Check out the CD

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It’s Boston because Jennie lives there with her partner Natalie. We all wake up Saturday morning and prepare for the session at noon. Jennie’s been sick with some upper respiratory thing so she’s pounding tea and tinctures. I’m hoping I don’t forget anything.

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Jennie’s search for space on craigslist resulted in the perfect place to park and record. We drive to a mixed-use warehouse in the Eagle Hill section of Boston and load in to Condor Street Studio -  managed by Phil Gutowski. For this sesssion we’d be doing a few songs but only one would join The Stripper Project - here’s the back story on why:

When I emailed Jennie in early 2012, The Stripper Project was in its infancy and would only be casting a local net, so I was really just saying hi after years of not talking. She’d been busy writing and releasing her first graphic novel,  Flutter. The short synopsis: 

Fifteen year-old Lily shape-shifts into a boy to get the girl. Chaos ensues from pretending to be someone she’s not. While coming to terms with who she really is and what she’s done, Lily learns that life as a boy is just as difficult. 

Flutter

 
When Greg Davies (Geeks of Doom) writes that “this release could well prove to be the
most important comic publication of the decade,” take note. Jennie’s introducing a
gender-bending character in a genre featuring few, and if anyone was going to crush the mold….
 
She was also shopping her first novel, A Boy Like Mewritten from the point of view of a transgender. Jennie’d written some songs from the perspective of a main character and suggested recording them with me either in Madison or Boston. The CD of songs would companion the release of the book. I was driving east in December for a month of visitation so we nailed down the January date, deciding that one of the recorded tracks would also be released via The Stripper Project.

imageBitter Sweet’s got that raw, Jennie Wood vocal that has always hooked me. A pure, relaxed voice with an underlying angst softened by her poetic lyrics. She strummed a simple chord progression on a stratocaster, leaving herself just enough space to deliver.

After 4 hours in the warehouse, we were happy with a few different versions of each song but The Stripper post ended up being the very first take we did that day. 

Jennie Wood sings, “Bitter Sweet”