Photo | David McClister
Band: Southern Avenue
Date: Friday, Aug. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 916 Charleston St., callaghansirishsocialclub.com
Tickets: $12 at the door
Memphis is considered one of the nation’s most legendary music cities as the “birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll” and the “home of the blues.” And Southern Avenue is bringing a modern take on their city’s classic sounds with great results.
When the band arrives in the Azalea City, Southern Avenue will seduce the crowd with prime cuts from their catalog, including the group’s latest release, “Keep On.” According to guitarist/founding member Ori Naftaly, the live setting allows Southern Avenue to explore any musical possibilities that may arise.
“When we’re live, we really open up everything,” Naftaly said. “We’re more like a soulful, rock ‘n’ roll jam band. It’s just a different experience between the record and live shows.”
Naftaly’s musical legacy did not begin in Memphis. This talented guitarist established a reputation with the Ori Naftaly Band in his home country of Israel. When he relocated to the U.S., Naftaly had a relatively endless lineup of music-centric cities from which to choose.
However, the allure of Memphis’ rich, eclectic music scene attracted him. In addition, Naftaly feels Memphis has an edge that is lacking in more well-known music scenes like Nashville and Austin. He views Memphis “as real as it gets,” with local artists focusing more on the music than fame. He also thinks the scene’s sense of community is stronger than other cities.
“Nashville is amazing, but it’s not like it used to be,” Naftaly explained. “New York, L.A., Chicago and Denver are amazing music cities, but they’re just in a different phase, as far as the music community. For me, Memphis was the best place to grow as a person and a musician.”
Southern Avenue formed after Naftaly felt “kinda stuck musically” with the material he was performing in his former band. After he and his former bandmates agreed it was time to part ways, Naftaly asked a drummer friend who the best singer in Memphis was. The drummer’s response led him to Tierinii Jackson.
In those days, Naftaly says Jackson was focused more on pop and rhythm and blues. However, he knew an epic blues singer existed at Jackson’s core.
“I called her, and she said that she’s not a blues singer or soul singer like that,” Naftaly said. “I was doing mainly blues at the time. I told her, ‘No, no! You’re the best blues singer that I have heard in my life.’ I brought her back to her roots without even knowing.”
After bringing drummer Tikyra Jackon (Tierinii’s cousin) and keyboardist Jeremy Powell into the fold, Naftaly sold his band trailer and received a loan from his father to lay down tracks for a debut EP. After being signed to the iconic label Stax Records, Southern Avenue filled a 2017 self-titled full-length with all the sounds that made Memphis great.
While the introductory tracks from their EP and full-length are steeped heavily in classic blues, Tierinii emptied her soul into a warm delivery of satiny, sweet vocals, which gave the album a refreshing infusion of classic soul and R&B.
Once the full-length was released, Naftaly says the band instantly focused on the follow-up, “Keep On.” While they logged hundreds of live shows on the road, they kept future tracks vivid on a “subconscious level.”
When it came time to enter the studio, the band members tapped producer Johnny Bell (Jessie J, Daughtry, Estelle) to join them at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis.
Southern Avenue collaborated in the studio with seasoned Stax artist/Grammy-winner William Bell, whose extensive musical legacy includes co-writing “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones. Naftaly says Bell’s guidance in the studio was an inspiring experience. Naftaly says longtime session horn players Art Edmaiston (JJ Grey & Mofro, Gregg Allman) and Marc Franklin (The Bo-Keys, Gregg Allman) completed the overall sound of “Keep On.”
“Me and Jeremy, the keyboard player, are really more blues guys,” Naftaly said. “The girls have more gospel and R&B influences. Having the horn players bring that Memphis sound really kept things together on the record.”
A majority of “Keep On” continues Southern Avenue’s delicious musical concoction of classic blues, soul and R&B with a modern edge. However, songs such as “Jive,” “Switchup” and “Too Good for You” provide Southern Avenue fans with a musical aspect that might be new to them but is familiar to the band, as they add a dose of funk into their unique formula.
“When we sit down and work on a song, we get inspired, whether it’s from a lick or a lyric or something that inspires us,” Naftaly said. “Then, we just take it from there not knowing how it’s going to come out. When it comes out, we try to arrange it, so it serves the song the best. For example, with ‘Jive,’ we just came out wanting to write a song for the shows that is very uplifting and danceable and funky, and that’s what came out.”
Naftaly admits Southern Avenue has enough material for the next record but also adds the band is having too much fun translating the tracks of “Keep On” in the live setting to get back in the studio just yet.
“We’re really still experimenting with what we released,” Naftaly said. “We don’t feel rushed. It’s not like every show we play the same songs the same way. That way, we’d already be bored with it.”
Southern Avenue will bring this soulful, sound experiment to Callaghan’s on Friday, Aug. 23.
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