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VOL. 129 | NO. 81 | Friday, April 25, 2014

Slim’s New Place

Memphis Slim house prepares to open as collaboratory

By Bill Dries

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For years, the house at 1130 College St., just north of McLemore Avenue and directly across College from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, has been one of the city’s many musical ruins.

Isaac Daniel of the Memphis Music Foundation unpacks a console that will be used in the recording studio of the Memphis Slim Collaboratory. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

It’s known as the Memphis Slim house – and now as the Memphis Slim Collaboratory.

The $365,000 renovation of the house began in October 2012 when a fallen tree was removed from the front room.

The collaboratory, which formally opens during the Stax to the Max Music & Arts Festival Saturday, April 26, is more an interpretation of the old house than a resurrection.

It’s a house rebuilt for sound on the bones of a home that was a gathering place for Memphis Slim – born John Chatman – and his friends when he returned to his hometown from Chicago and, later, Paris.

The collaboratory, owned by the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corp., features studio and rehearsal space run by Community LIFT – Leveraging Investments for Transformation – working with a set of music nonprofits, including the nearby Stax Music Academy and Visible Music College, as well as the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music and the LeMoyne-Owen College music department.

“It is not a place where you are going to see violin classes. It’s a place for professional musicians who are gigging or who want to pursue music as a career,” said Eric Robertson, president of Community LIFT, which raised the money for the house’s new purpose. “To that end, what we’ve done is put in a membership element so people can become members of the Memphis Slim Collaboratory. With that membership, they get X amount of hours … studio time, rehearsal time. If they want to access the house beyond that, they get discounted rates. The idea is to limit the primary users of the house to real professional musicians or people who are seeking to become professionals.”

The resources in the house include a soundproof rehearsal space for everything from bands to choirs and a training studio to make demo recordings. The Memphis Music Foundation will use the collaboratory for some of its workshops on music publishing, touring and press relations. There is also a small performance venue for showcases with small audiences. And the house is wired with high-resolution audio and video for live video streaming.

Community LIFT worked to secure the grants for the renovation from ArtPlace America, the Kresge Foundation, the Assisi Foundation and the Hyde Family Foundations.

The rehearsal and studio space is much needed in a city that has a world-renowned musical heritage crossing and defining several genres and a music infrastructure, but which does not have a music industry as prominent as Nashville or Los Angeles.

The collaboratory is part of the Memphis Music Magnet Plan, whose goal is to define the Soulsville USA neighborhood in a way that the city has never seen intentionally when it comes to those who make and play music for a living.

“This is the neighborhood’s first attempt to say, ‘We want to have this pipeline of sorts where we are looking to create the next generation of musicians but providing resources to our current generation of musicians,’” Robertson said. “At its core, it’s about making Memphis a music district, making Soulsville USA a music district – the idea that musicians can live in the neighborhood, they can perform in the neighborhood, they can build their career with access to resources in the neighborhood.”

That happened with the original Stax studio that stood where the museum replica is now. But it wasn’t something mapped out by planners and a community development corporation. It was the result of Stax co-founder Estelle Axton talking with those in the neighborhood as she ran the record store that was an early part of the business.

A map in the museum shows the music legends who lived in the immediate area before they became famous.

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