Tuesday, 05 April 2016 10:02

Memphis Roots: Lucero Headlines at Bell’s Brewery

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Although the road has become their home over the last 18 years, hard-touring alt-country-rockers Lucero are still rooted in the musical legacy of their hometown of Memphis.

“We are stewards of Memphis and Memphis music no matter where we go,” bassist John C. Stubblefield told Revue. “It’s who we are and it’s definitely what we represent. Our stage show is sort of a sovereign travelling state of Memphis, Tenn.”

One of the original birthplaces of rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis has always influenced Lucero. From their very beginning — when they came together as kids at afternoon punk shows — the band has tapped into the city’s deep history in everything from country to soul. And throughout their career, they’ve continued to break down the unspoken barriers separating those genres with every turn.

“Geographically, Memphis has allowed us to tour on our own and kind of build it up one town at a time, one fan at a time,” Stubblefield said of the band’s strong DIY work ethic. “Within the proverbial pond of America, it’s allowed us to do what we do.”

Through all their whiskey-soaked blues and open-road drives, the core of the band — vocalist/guitarist Ben Nichols, Stubblefield, drummer Roy Berry, and guitarist Brian Venable — have remained intact, giving Lucero their own rugged, lived-in history, even as they’ve expanded to include horns and other instrumentation on some of their recent releases. 

wsg. John Moreland
Bell’s Brewery, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo
April 7, 8 p.m. doors, 9 p.m. show
$22 advance, $25 day of show
bellsbeer.com, (269) 382-2332

“That’s the difference between a band and a group,” Stubblefield said about Lucero’s original members sticking by one other through thick and thin. “You know a band is the same (guys) and the chemistry of those four players. I truly believe that Lucero is Lucero because it’s the core four and the sound that happened there. If it was changed or replaced by somebody else, it wouldn’t be the same thing or the same sound.”

Their latest record, and eleventh studio LP, All a Man Should Do, came out last fall on ATO Records. The set has been described by critics as something of a love letter to the city of Memphis itself. Stubblefield agreed that the quieter, often acoustic new songs have a deeply reflective feel compared to the rowdier sound of their last few releases.

All a Man Should Do was recorded at Ardent Studios — the legendary Memphis location where Stax Records icons and groups like ZZ Top, Big Star, R.E.M. and the Replacements have all put their passion to wax. The new record felt like a full-circle moment for Lucero. 

“It’s pretty amazing because Ardent is right here in our neighborhood, (so) to have a world-class studio like that is a real blessing,” Stubblefield said. “Just to come into a place of such reverence — there’s so much history there, you can feel it. Some people may say it’s just a building but there’s stuff that you can feel and it informs the sound and the vibe of the record. We truly believe all that stuff sticks to tape.”

The band recorded a cover of Big Star’s “I’m In Love With a Girl” for the album and found themselves accompanied by none other than Big Star’s own Jody Stephens, who came in to sing backup on the track. 

“Jody actually works (at Ardent) and we’ve gotten to be friends with him over the years,” Stubblefield said. “It came out great.”

Later this spring, they’ll host their Second Annual Family Block Party back home in Memphis, where they’ll welcome fans and some of their favorite bands from all across the country to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of Memphis. Afterwards, they’ll take some time off this summer to rest and recharge before working on their next album in the fall.

Until then, they’re happy to bring a little bit of Memphis flavor to our neck of the woods when they hit the stage at Bell’s in Kalamazoo April 7.

“We’re coming up on 18 years as a band and still the live performance is very refreshing,” Stubblefield said. “Every time we take the stage, it’s very humbling to have people singing back, participating and being such a part of it. I really do feel like we’re providing a little bit of music therapy for folks.” 

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