For the past few years, Greg Cartwright has kept a low profile, playing on and producing a handful of records for other artists, but remaining largely behind the scenes. In 2009, however, Cartwright is set to come back into the spotlight -- and in a big way.
The Memphis-bred garage rock polymath will be releasing a trio of records in the coming months, including the first new studio album from his band the Reigning Sound in five years. In June, Cartwright will also reunite with his former group, The Oblivians. The Memphis trash rock legends -- which include Goner Records co-owner Eric Friedl and Tearjerkers leader Jack Yarber -- will launch their first full-scale tour since breaking up over a decade ago, with a pair of shows at the Hi-Tone Café, then performances in Detroit and Europe.
News of the Oblivians reunion has certainly excited garage rock aficionados all over the world. Fans from as far as Japan and Australia are expected to attend the two Memphis shows, and tickets for the June 19 and 20 concerts are already close to selling out.
In the meantime, Cartwright will be in Memphis this week, playing a special solo show on Thursday at the Hi-Tone, and spinning records with DJ Buck Wilders.
For Cartwright, the road to releasing the forthcoming Reigning Sound album, Love & Curses, was a long one.
Following the critical acclaim and commercial success of the group's 2004 studio effort, Too Much Guitar, the band released an album of odds and ends called Home for Orphans in 2005 and a vinyl-only concert record, Live at Goner in 2006 (that album is finally getting a CD release this month from the local Goner label).
In the interim, Cartwright was also in demand, working and producing records for rock and R&B veterans like Mary Weiss and George Soulé, and younger bands like the Detroit Cobras and Goodnight Loving. "I got busy trying to help other people with their records and that took up a lot of my time," Cartwright says.
Another reason for the long gap between LPs came as a result of Cartwright's decision to move himself and his young family from Memphis to Asheville, N.C., in 2005.
The move essentially broke up the original Reigning Sound lineup, which included a notable crew of local musicians including bassist Jeremy Scott and drummer Greg Roberson, and forced Cartwright to rebuild the band.
"I was really waiting until I had a real solid group before I recorded anything new," says Cartwright. "I wanted to know the new band was clicking and could do the record and tour."
Cartwright eventually found that chemistry with drummer Lance Willie, bassist Dave Gay and the group's most recent addition, keyboardist Dave Amels. In late 2007, that version of the band began work on Love & Curses in Memphis, recording at Midtown's Ardent Studios with producer Doug Easley, before completing the bulk of the album at Asheville's Echo Mountain studio.
The resulting 14-track disc will feature all Cartwright originals, except for a cover of "Stick Up For Me" a nugget from '60s Detroit band The Glass Sun. The record is due in July from Los Angeles-based label In the Red.
Before the Reigning Sound album hits stores, however, Cartwright, will be reuniting with his former band The Oblivians. Though the group has been offered lucrative one-off gigs in the past, the band's upcoming tour is its first since 1997, and will pair them with fellow reunited garage rock icons, Detroit's The Gories.
"From my perspective, it'll be great fun to see The Gories," says Cartwright. "So it's totally selfish reasoning on my part for doing it."
The Oblivians reunion has sparked talk of both a live record from the tour, and possibly new recordings from the band. "I can't guarantee anything," says Cartwright, "but who knows?"
Cartwright, in town to start Oblivians rehearsals next week, will be using the opportunity to play a solo show. The timing of the gig is fitting since Milwaukee's Dusty Medical label will be releasing a live Cartwright solo album recorded in 2006 next month. "I didn't put anything for a long time, and now I've got a bunch of records coming out at once, basically," says Cartwright, laughing. "It's a media blitz!"
Greg Cartwright and DJ Buck Wilders
9 p.m. Thursday at the Hi-Tone Café, 1913 Poplar Ave. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at hitonememphis.com or by calling 1-800-594-TIXX.