Big things are happening on the Rock Block. At the end of last year, The Horton Group, led by Radio Lightning cofounder Ned Horton, acquired the Exit/In and began making long-overdue renovations on the legendary Elliston Place club. Even if there’s been some grumbling about the building’s new Day-Glo exteriorwhich one bystander described as “a paintball drive-by”the 26-year-old nightspot is drawing larger crowds and a better variety of artists than it has in years. This year alone, the Exit/In has brought in talents as diverse as proto-punk guitarist Link Wray, zydeco wizard Geno Delafose, the weekly Women Who Rock concert series, and the successful hip-hop/urban-bohemian showcase The Spot.
Now, my friend, comes The Endthe club formerly known to a generation of Nashville skatepunks as Elliston Square. Most recently called Amie’s, Elliston Square hosted an early series of punk matinees in the mid-1980s and served as a reliable venue for touring thrash and indie-rock acts. After months of repainting and fixing up, The Horton Group is reopening the club Saturday with a show by Chapel Hill indie-rockers Superchunk.
So far there’s no word on what the club’s musical focus will be. “We’ll try a lot of different things at first,” says Horton Group spokesman Jim Hester, who adds that The End will serve partially as a breeding ground for talent that can be moved across the street to the Exit/In. Longtime Exit/In fixture Bruce Fitzpatrick has signed on as The End’s booker and manager.
Meanwhile, across the street, the Exit/In has completed its new outdoor deck. Next door, The Horton Group is in the midst of retooling the defunct barbecue joint Red Hot & Blue into a late-night eatery along the lines of 12th & Porter. Tentatively called the Rock Block Café, it may be open by late summer. Hester says the additions and renovations are intended to make the Exit/In “more of a concert hall than a beer dive.”
The coming weekend offers a hint of the kind of excitement two thriving rock clubs could bring to Elliston. This Saturday, while Superchunk performs at The End, the Exit/In hosts the Elliston Place Street Festival and Block Party, an outdoor show on the club’s new deck. The scheduled headliners are two new Sony Music funk-rock acts, Dag and Getaway People. Sunday night brings a rare club show by Emmylou Harris at the Exit/In. And in two weeks, June 11-13, the sister clubs will host the massively hyped “Monsters of Pop” event, a summit meeting of some two dozen local, national, and international pop acts, including Marshall Crenshaw, Bill Lloyd, the Luxury Liners, and the Japanese band Hicksville. (More on that next week.) If The Horton Group’s efforts are successful, Elliston Place’s answer to Baltic and Mediterranean could become its Boardwalk and Park Place.
If you’ve ever seen Afro-Beat Videos, the world-beat video show that runs 9 p.m. Saturday nights on cable-access Channel 19, you’ve probably heard the music of host O.J. Ekemode, the Nigerian saxophonist, songwriter, and bandleader who relocated to Nashville in his fourth decade of making music. Ekemode is sometimes called “the Father of Afro-Beat” for his role in the development of the brash, densely rhythmic sound popularized by the late Fela Kuti; he has performed with or opened for a roll call of musicians that includes James Brown, Hugh Masakela, and Carlos Santana.
Ekemode has just released a new album, Orlando Julius Ekemode: The Legend Continues, that combines new songs with remakes of some of his early-’60s Nigerian hits such as “Jaguar Nana.” To celebrate, he’ll host a special taping of Afro-Beat Videos 3 p.m. Sunday at Marathon Village, featuring coproducer/dancer LaToya Gill-El and Ekemode’s full Nigerian All-Stars band. Also appearing will be the African dance troupe Osumare and juggler/comedian Frank Oliver. Admission is $5, and all ages are welcome. For more information, call 320-9296.
Tenor saxophone great Tommy McCook, one of the founding members of the Skatalites, died of heart failure May 5 at his home in Atlanta. Galvanized by the honking, jazz-inspired riffing of McCook and fellow tenor-sax player Roland Alphonso, the Jamaican combo all but invented ska, the syncopated, relentlessly upbeat dance music that gave birth to rock steady and reggae.
Formed in Kingston, the Skatalites played on practically every Jamaican recording session cut between 1963 and 1967; they backed up superstars such as the Maytals, the Wailers, and the Heptones. The Skatalites also had numerous Jamaican hits of their own, including “Confucius,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Ball o’ Fire.” A 1967 single, “Guns of Navarone,” was a pop hit in England even as the band was calling it quits.
After the Skatalites split up, McCook fronted the Supersonics, a group that served as the house band at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio in the late ’60s. In 1975four years after the death of original Skatalite bandleader Don DrummondMcCook, Alphonso, Lloyd Nibbs, Lester Sterling, and Lloyd Brevette briefly reunited under the group’s original name. The group reformed again during the 1980s, releasing an album on Alligator records in 1984 and an outstanding live set on the ROIR label in 1986. Musical innovators, McCook and company made some of the most jubilant music on the planet.
At first glance, “Southeastern ska” seems about as dubious a proposition as Jamaican grits. But the same ska revival that produced No Doubt and Save Ferrisand introduced a new audience to the reconstituted Specials and the Mighty Mighty Bosstoneshas been percolating underground for years in such unlikely hot spots as Nashville and Ft. Lauderdale. Groups from several of these ska outposts are gathered on Southeast USA Ska!, a new compilation from Nashville-based Red Raygun Records, a label founded by local ska enthusiast Buster Skandals (a.k.a. Brandon Mauldin).
The Nashville ska scene is represented by Rockin’ Bones, A.K.A. Rudie (an offshoot of the popular ’80s reggae group Freedom of Expression), and Eartha Baxter. They join such Tennessee skasters as The Skam (from Memphis), Dimples Malone (from Cookeville), and The Fisticuffs (from Germantown). I’m not a fan of the ska-pop movement, and to these jaded ears a lot of the bands suffer from a shiny, plastic cutesinessa forced jollity best suited to bellowing fratboys in shades and flowery shirts. At least there are no jokey ’70s remakes.
That said, there are some standout bands here: Ft. Lauderdale’s King 7 & the Soulsonics, whose “Spooky Tricks” zeroes in on the aspirations of their spring-break beer-bust demographic; Tallahassee’s tight, bouncily wistful The Double Deckers; and Georgia’s Skagnetti, with its offbeat harmonica flourishes and burly, Clash-like backing vocals. According to Mauldin, some of the tracksincluding A.K.A. Rudie’s “Dance Hall Ruler,” which cops the intro of Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”are already receiving airplay at college radio stations. Skameisters who dig the two-tone beat should contact Red Raygun at 2010 1/2 Richard Jones Rd., Suite 220, Nashville, TN 37215, or e-mail the label at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elliptical dispatches: With Emmylou Harris commandeering the Exit/In Sunday night, the 20th edition of The Spot has been relocated across the street to The End for the evening. Special guests include Stone Deep and Utopia State, and once again DJ cool.out will be playing “Name That Groove” with the House Band With No Name. The show starts at 7 p.m....
Headbangers Medicine Mann bring their “Medicine Show” rumble to 328 Performance Hall Saturday. The six-band pileup includes Bowling Green’s Sixth Floor and local acts Hollis Chapel, Lowboy, Icabod, and Fat Sam; the 18-and-over show gets under way at 7 p.m. Medicine Mann will release a CD of old and new material later this year....
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