As threatened some weeks ago, today’s offering takes another look at the musical history of Memphis, before, during and after the two Kings, Elvis and B.B.
Florence, Alabama, native W.C. Handy, “Father of the Blues,” was well known in Memphis; Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues” was a mainstay of Enterprise High School’s Wildcat Marching Band while the late Bob McMillan directed it, 1958-73.
Besides Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, soul musicians operating in Memphis those same years included Johnny Ace, Junior Wells, KoKo Taylor, Hank Crawford, Alex Chilton (Box Tops), and Ollie & the Nightingales.
Don Williams did some recording in Memphis; country singer Deborah Allen was born there in 1953; and disco’s Anita Ward followed in ’56.
Partial credit is given to the Mississippi River for inspiring various styles of music spawned in Memphis in the same way the Tennessee River influences the Muscle Shoals Sound in northwest Alabama.
Those big rivers may be part of it, but Jeff Cochran, in “Poor Otis – Dead and Gone,” wrote “… the blood of Southern soul runs through the veins of the region’s residents …”
Some Memphis natives ain’t just musicians and singers.
Linda Thompson, songwriter/lyricist, beauty pageant winner, actress, one of the “Hee Haw Honeys” and, drumroll please, from 1981-86, Bruce Jenner’s wife, was born in Memphis in 1950.
Frederick W. Smith, FedEx inventor; Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inns of America); and Avron Fogelman, one-time Kansas City Royals owner, hailed from Memphis
Thespians Kathy Bates, Morgan Freeman, Cybill Shepherd, Annette Jones (“Saturday Night Live”), Shannen Doherty, Megan Fox, Dixie Carter, Lane Smith and George Hamilton were born in Memphis, as were football’s Michael Oher, baseball’s Tim McCarver and Vada Pinson, and wrestlers Jerry “The King” Lawler, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and “Sputnik” Monroe are Memphis connected.
Roscoe Monroe Merrick’s dad was killed a month before Roscoe was born in Dodge City, Kansas, Dec. 18, 1928; 17 years later, his mother’s new husband adopted him, making “Brumbaugh” Roscoe’s new last name.
Roscoe, billed as “Rock” Monroe, took up professional wrestling in 1945; he became “Rocky” Monroe in 1949; and in 1957, due in no small part to the space race another name change to “Sputnik” (as in the Russian satellite) Monroe helped his career soar in and around Memphis.
“Sputnik,” his real brother, Gary “Jet” Monroe, and two wrestling brothers, “Rocket” and “Flash,” spent much time in Houston County’s Farm Center, and at WTVY’s studios late Saturday afternoons.
“Sputnik” arrogantly described himself as being made of “twisted steel and sex appeal,” which antagonized audiences throughout the Wiregrass Area and beyond.
On our recent Memphis sojourn we found a display of “Sputnik’s” cape, pink tights and other memorabilia in the Memphis Rock “n” Soul Museum, by Smithsonian, not because “Sputnik” was a soul singer or rock and roll musician.
“Sputnik” was chosen because he pretty much led the movement that ultimately integrated wrestling audiences in the Mid-South and elsewhere.
Monroe, posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018, was often arrested in Memphis on a variety of charges for his civil rights activities and once was cuffed for “mopery.”
Those pink wrestling tights surely favored a pair “Sputnik” wore one Saturday afternoon when a bunch of his teenage fans from Enterprise cheered him on at WTVY.