The Flaming Lips will attempt to set the world record for most concerts in different cities in 24 hours, playing eight sets in eight cities in the U.S. South, beginning tomorrow at 7:30 PM ET (watch it live at the O Music Awards site). Each of the cities they’re playing has at least a bit of musical history attached to it.
The Lips’ tour begins in Memphis, Tenn., at Handy Park Pavilion. That’s an auspicious name for an attempt to make musical history: the “Handy” is for W.C. Handy, the Memphis-born trumpeter who’s known as the “Father of the Blues.” It was a century ago, in 1912, that Handy published the sheet music for his composition “Memphis Blues” –one of the very earliest blues songs to be published. Here’s a 1914 recording of it by the Victor Military Band.
In Clarksdale, Miss., the Flaming Lips will be playing at Ground Zero Blues Club, an intentionally rundown-looking juke joint adjacent to the Delta Blues Museum. (Super Chikan, a flag-waving blues revivalist, plays there on a pretty regular basis.) Clarksdale has been promoting itself as “the birthplace of the blues” for a few decades; that’s debatable, but it does include a bunch of locations with blues historical significance, including the hotel (a former hospital) where Bessie Smith died in 1937. As for the intersection where the highways Old US 49 and Old US 61 merge — well, Clarksdale would love you to believe that it’s the Crossroads, although that’s also open to debate. Blues fanatics Jimmy Page and Robert Plant named their 1998 album Walking Into Clarksdale; here’s a live performance of the title track.
The next stop is Oxford, Miss., where the show will be at The Lyric — once a livery stable (William Faulkner’s family supposedly owned it), later a silent movie theater, and most recently a performance space. Oxford’s the home of the University of Mississippi, and its most famous musical connection is one it might prefer to live down: In 1962, James Meredith became the first African American admitted to the university, and his arrival for registration led to riots. The folk magazine Broadside put out an open call for songs about Meredith, of which the best-known response was Bob Dylan’s “Oxford Town.” Phil Ochs, though, also came up with a song for Broadside: “Ballad of Oxford, Mississippi.”
Duling Hall, in Jackson, Miss., will be the Lips’ first show of on Thursday. And there’s one very obvious piece of music associated with the city: Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s 1968 hit “Jackson.”
As the sun comes up on Thursday, the Flaming Lips will be playing at Benny’s Boom Boom Room in Hattiesburg, Miss. A handful of notable musicians hail from Hattiesburg, including Van Dyke Parks, but the city’s most famous musical native at the moment is arguably Portlandia’s Fred Armisen, who was born there in 1966. Armisen was a professional musician before he was a comedian — he was Trenchmouth’s drummer in the early ’90s. Here he is playing a pretty amazing one-man-band version of the Equals’ “Police On My Back” (also covered by the Clash) in New York City last year.
Hattiesburg is followed by a show at the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Miss. (The casino’s displays include a guitar that’s supposedly B.B. King’s famous Gibson “Lucille”; I hate to break it to everyone, but King has had a lot of Lucilles over the years.) A coastal vacation spot, Biloxi hasn’t been home to very many notable musicians, although one remarkable singer-songwriter was born there: The legendary busker Ted Hawkins. Here’s a recording of him covering, appropriately enough, Jesse Winchester’s song “Biloxi.”
In the early afternoon on Thursday, the Lips will hit the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge, La. The city is the home of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, but as the second-largest city in the state, it’s surprisingly light on musical history of its own Louisiana’s heavy hitters have been concentrated in New Orleans for a long time. Baton Rouge was, however, the home of Slim Harpo — a blues singer and harmonica player whose records were covered by dozens of rock bands — and John Fred and the Playboys, who spent 20 years playing R&B with little national success, but had a #1 pop hit in 1968 (as John Fred and His Playboy Band) with the bubblegum-psychedelic one-off “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses).”
The final stop on the Flaming Lips’ frantic ramble will be the House of Blues in New Orleans, a city whose musical history could fill an encyclopedia. (The short version: jazz was invented there, rhythm & blues and rock ’n’ roll couldn’t have turned out anything like they did without the substantial contributions of a whole lot of musicians there, and the city’s hip hop scene has been pretty incredible for the past decade or two.) There have been innumerable songs written about the city, too, but here’s a movie performance of one of the greatest: Billie Holiday and (New Orleans native) Louis Armstrong doing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”