Thursday, June 21st
255 N. Front St.
Doors: 8 p.m. • Show: 9 p.m.
$20/adv., $25/day of
On early Lucero albums, a molasses-style drawl evidently takes over frontman Ben Nichols’ tone, filled with grit, grime and gruff of his call to the Memphis underground. Such elements pour through on the record “Tennessee,” where heartache molds lyrics just as it does in traditional blues and country.
As the name implies on the 2006 disc, “Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers,” punk influences escape a bit more via rougher guitar and bass lines—but with the addition of keys, Southern soul seeps through, clearest in the track, “What Else Would You Have Me Be?” The punk is also amplified in 2009’s“1372 Overton Park,” seemingly a blend of ska and Springsteen.
This year marks the release of perhaps Lucero’s most dynamic album yet. “Women and Work,” which hit stores in early March, is both well-rounded and well-written. Upbeat and energetic layers emerge as the band allows each instrument to shine in its own right. It’s quite a list of musical machines, too: Brian Venable (guitar), John C. Stubblefield (bass) and Roy Berry (drums) are three original members—completed by Nichols—all of whom supply the necessary foundations for the band. Over the years, Lucero added Rick Steff (piano, organ, accordion), Todd Beene (pedal steel guitar), and Jim Spake and Scott Thompson mastering a melange of horns.
Their latest record even employs the vocal punch and prestige of a large, all-female gospel choir. It’s a certain tip-of-the-hat to the nonsecular yet equally riveting portion of Memphis’ rich musical history. It all comes forth after 14 years of playing together, as Lucero finally realizes its roots.
“Memphis is definitely so diverse, which I think comes out in some of our tunes,” Stubblefield shares over the phone in an interview last week. “There are so many different influences growing up, you almost take it for granted. I think this album is kind of a realization and acceptance—and making a statement about—where we’re from. We have a renewed sense of regionalism, if you will, and want to share it with the world.”
Stubblefield implies that, contrary to how it may seem, it didn’t exactly take the members so long to recognize their hometown influences. In fact, he says the notes were there from day one. “All the way back to our first record, I’m playing upright bass and it’s kind of stripped down. Listening back to it now, it was an unintentional homage to Sun Records.”
After all, the slogan of the city is, “Home of the blues, birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.” It laid claim on Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbinson, Al Green and so many other pivotal musicians. “Each catalog was so huge—the Sun Records catalog, and then there’s Stax Records, and then the Hi Rhythm catalog. If you just take those three, even within those three umbrellas, they’re incredibly diverse. It takes years to digest it all and make sense of it,” Stubblefield quips.
Naturally, music pulses through the veins of Memphis natives—Lucero being no exclusion. Stubblefield’s final test for his high-school jazz band was founded on that idea. One by one, the teacher called his students into his office. The bassist recalls that each kid would leave without speaking a word to the others.
“We were all puzzled and confused; I’m sure he had different questions for everybody,” he remembers. “I had a music scholarship; I was planning on continuing to play music. So when I went in, he said to me, ‘John, here’s your final exam. It’s a two-part exam. This first part is, if you can imagine your life without playing music, don’t do it.’ And, then, the second part was, ‘OK, now leave campus without getting caught.’”
Jokes aside, the teacher’s words resonated for years thereafter. “At different turning points, when I’m weighing things out or things get kind of rough, I’ve always thought about him saying that to me in his very serious tone,” Stubblefield says. “‘Can you imagine life without music?’ I’ve never been able to imagine not doing this.”
It’s a good thing—because he and the rest of Lucero are still rocking hard. Known for their incessant touring schedule and an outpour of original records, the band ain’t quitting its day job. “Every day, to me, is a blessing that we get to play another show or make another album,” Stubblefield says. “After 14 years, I’m thankful for every day that we’re still together, the original four. It’s a miracle of sorts.”
Lucero begins its summer tour in North Carolina, hitting Carrboro before making a stop at Soapbox Laundro-Lounge on Thursday, June 21st. All members will embark on the trip, completing the “whole Lucero rock ‘n’ roll orchestra,” as the bassist calls it. Tickets in advance are $20, or $25 on the day of the show. Those under 21 should remember to tack on a $3 surcharge.
Looking forward to their upcoming ILM show, Stubblefield signs off with one thing assured: “We’re definitely a band of brothers.”