Memphis Movement

Bomar cultivates path forged by groundbreaking film

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

Memphis musician Scott Bomar recently produced a blues album for Cyndi Lauper, which was recorded at his Memphis studio, Electraphonic Recording. The album is currently Billboard’s No. 1 blues album.

Photos: Lance Murphey

Memphis music producer Scott Bomar considers “Wattstax,” the concert documentary about Stax Records’ 1972 concert in Los Angeles, the “pinnacle of the Memphis music business.”

“This is right after ‘Shaft’ came out,” said Bomar at his South Main Street studio, Electraphonic Recording. “Memphis and Stax had become bigger than just a label. This is more than putting out records. It was a movement.”

Bomar, who is enjoying fresh success from his recent production with pop star Cyndi Lauper, will introduce “Wattstax” at this week’s screening of Reel to Real, the monthly film series at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The film will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m.

The legendary concert at the center of the film was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Aug. 20, 1972, to commemorate the Watts riots seven years earlier.

The concert’s invocation by Jesse Jackson points to the cultural significance of the event. A decade before, blacks had gathered to protest for civil rights. By 1972, African-Americans celebrated their identity as well as their cultural and economic accomplishments.

“Wattstax,” part of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s Reel To Real series, will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m. Film admission is $6 for members and $8 for nonmembers.
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“At the time of any later historic recording, one never really grasps the full significance. ... It’s rather more of ‘another day at work,’” said Terry Manning, the film’s music supervisor and Stax producer whose other credits include Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top. “Of course I really enjoyed it, and I knew it was vital, but it takes years to see it in perspective.”

While Berry Gordy’s Motown had pioneered the selling of black-owned music to white audiences, the later Stax material was serving a new African-American consumer. This was not the “race records” category any more.

“Wattstax” was screened at Cannes and won a Golden Globe. Memphis was mainstream.

“Looking back, I am so proud of Stax for being able to showcase the amazing talents that came out of our little place on McLemore Avenue; at the same time showing the world that people could truly overcome anything. Fun times,” said Manning.

The film was directed by Mel Stuart, who two years earlier had directed the suddenly ubiquitous “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Fast forward to 2010, and Bomar is among his generation’s most accomplished contributors to Memphis music. He has played with Stax royalty, including Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice.

Scott Bomar works in his South Main studio, Electraphonic Recording. On Thursday Bomar will introduce “Wattstax” at Reel to Real, the monthly film series at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Bomar’s band the Bo-Keys is a classic West Memphis-derived R&B outfit in the tradition of The Plantation Inn house band, the Mar-Keys and Booker T & The MGs.

A distinguished producer and film composer whose soundtrack work has garnered an Emmy and a Grammy nomination, Bomar also serves as president of the Recording Academy’s Memphis Chapter.

Recently, Bomar received some mysterious phone calls – a producer had “an artist” who wanted to work in Memphis. Those calls led to his collaboration with Cyndi Lauper on her latest album “Memphis Blues,” a collection of standards featuring a pantheon of blues masters.

“I was nervous to talk to her,” said Bomar. “It was surreal. I remember being a kid watching MTV. It was Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.”

Lauper also was impressed with her producer.

“He’s very talented and really was so very generous with me, sharing his insider’s view of the great city, the great music and the great musicians,” said Lauper.

Contributors to “Memphis Blues” included B.B. King, Allen Toussaint and Charlie Musselwhite.

“But core band was all Memphis,” Bomar said. “You had half of Isaac Hayes’ band and half of Al Green’s band.”

“Memphis Blues” is currently the No. 1 blues album according to Billboard magazine. It has been on top of the charts for seven weeks – a fitting place for Bomar, who provides a critical link between the city’s past and present music legacy.