Memphis Musician Loan Program Awards First Loan

By Andy Meek

Memphis musician and Beale Street fixture Eric Hughes is finishing his latest album with help from a non-traditional source.

His group, The Eric Hughes Band, is the first recipient of a Slim’s Front Loan – a new finance product tailored for Memphis musicians that’s the result of a partnership between River City Capital Investment Corp. and the Memphis Slim Collaboratory.

The new program is still in its pilot phase. It was set up to support local musicians like Hughes who might not have any financing alternatives, or who might otherwise choose a high-cost, high-interest rate alternative.

Launched in December, the loan is meant to cover the cost of things like touring, recording and merchandise. For Hughes, the $5,000 loan is supporting production related to his forthcoming fifth record.

The loan terms make it clear it’s a product meant especially for working musicians. The maximum loan is $5,000 and carries an interest rate of only 5 percent for members of the collaboratory – also known as the “Slim House.” For Slim House members who are also Soulsville residents, the interest rate is 3 percent.

The loan program is taking applications for other musicians who could likewise put the money to use. In addition to being members of the collaboratory, eligible applicants must, among other things, provide a work history, a performance history and a repayment plan that shows they’d be able to pay the money back over an 18-24 month period.

The applications are also reviewed and voted on by a loan committee comprised of local musicians, producers and community bankers.

“We’re looking for artists who are serious about their career in music,” said River City Capital business development officer Tracy Buckley. “This loan was created to help build up the music economy.

“Eric Hughes, he’d been gigging for a while – been all over Beale Street – and he needed a small capital injection to get his fifth CD off the ground. Our money went to help him with studio time, with pressing his CDs, and he’s working on that album now.”

Pat Mitchell Worley, as part of her efforts to market the Slim House, told The Daily News at the launch of the loan program that the Slim House – which loan applicants must be part of – is working hard to, as she puts it, be a kind of “community center” for local musicians.

In addition to having access to the Slim House studio, that means the availability of things like space and equipment rental. As part of the Slim House’s mission – to gather musicians, to bring them into Soulsville, to collaborate with each other and work together – Worley also saw a need to create programming that addressed some of those artists’ needs.

The Slim House is the redevelopment home where celebrated bluesman Memphis Slim was born. Today, it’s a membership-based recording studio in Soulsville that opened in April 2014. Its membership now tops 100 people, and it offers access to everything from workshops to studio sessions, performances and rental space.

What it and things like the loan program also represent is a continual building up of resources and infrastructure in Memphis for musicians, such that they’re hopefully able to pursue a career here and not have to leave for an even bigger music town to do so.

“The Slim House is kind of like a professional development resource for musicians,” Buckley said. “We want to be a one-stop shop for them.”