More about the show
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Jam Messengers
Friday, 9 p.m. at the Hi-Tone Café, 1913 Poplar Ave. Tickets: $15 at the door or at hitonememphis.com. For more information, call 901-278-8663.
Released last fall, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's most recent album Meat and Bone is the product of many months in the studio — but, really, it's the result of a couple decades of music making.
"We've been playing in the Blues Explosion for more than 20 years," says Spencer. "All those years and miles and shows and experience, it adds up. I think it's all in there in some way. It's in our performances, and it's in this record."
Spencer and the rest of the New York City-based band — guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins — will stop in Memphis on Friday for a concert at the Hi-Tone Café. "What's special and unique is the combination of three individuals and three personalities," says Spencer of the group. "The three of us sparking off each other and reacting to each other makes this band what it is."
The Ivy League educated Spencer (he attended Brown) has always been a student of rock and roll history. From his earliest days fronting Pussy Galore, to his work in projects like Boss Hog and the Honeymoon Killers, he's been warping and mutating that history magnificently.
In the late-'80s, after the end of Pussy Galore and before the launch of the Blues Explosion, Spencer decamped to Memphis for a time. "There was a year or so I was between bands, and I spent some of that time playing with (Bluff City band) the Gibson Brothers, and Jeffrey Evans," he says. "Music was what drew me to Memphis — the rich heritage and history the city offers, primarily Sun records and Stax records. It was very important. For me, it was a very fertile, very exciting time."
Spencer went on to lead the Blues Explosion on 10 studio LPs between 1991 and 2004, while the band collaborated with everyone from R.L. Burnside and Beck, to Solomon Burke and Elliot Smith. After a three-year hiatus following the release of Damage, the band resumed playing again in 2008.
In 2009, Spencer began working on a series of expanded album reissues documenting the band's first decade and records like Extra Width, Orange and Now I Got Worry. "The reissues were a big project. I was very much involved and I didn't want to just put out the same records again. I wanted to tell the story of the band and where we've been and what we'd done for those first 10 years," he says. "And we'd been a very busy band, so there was a lot of material that was recorded around each one of those records."
For Spencer, exploring his own back pages proved a revelatory experience. "It had been such a long time and my memory's not good," he says, chuckling, "at times it felt like I was working on another band's catalog. So there were some surprises — some things I'd totally forgotten about and some things we were definitely reminded of."
The release of the reissues (on the Shout Factory label) and the subsequent Blues Explosions tours in 2010 and 2011 provided the momentum to record a new album. "I think working on the reissues was an influence on our writings songs for Meat and Bone," says Spencer. "But Meat and Bone is not a rehash, it's very much a product of today. It's a record of the here and now."
"When the band started up again in 2008, we did it because we wanted to go out and play some shows and we continued doing that because it felt good. We made this new record in that same spirit. Its not that we're under a contract to anybody or under some obligation."
While the Blues Explosion's reach and influence (on artists like Jack White, the Black Keys and the Jim Jones Revue) is palpable, Spencer, for one, isn't overly concerned about the band's legacy. "We definitely believe in the band and are protective of what we do. We don't go around day to day with that conscious in our minds, but it's in there. We don't want to do anything against what the Blues Explosion is or what we believe rock and roll should be.
"There have definitely been some records and some bands that have touched my life and opened up my mind and been very special and important to me. And I guess that I always try to do something similar; to try to create something that I believe in, and that might move somebody else."
Spencer says the Blues Explosion will continue to move forward, allowing for the possibility that the band may endure for another 20 years. "We're not ruling anything out," he says, of the group's future. "I suppose it's wide open."