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VOL. 132 | NO. 40 | Friday, February 24, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: 'Sun Records,' Ole Miss's Lack of Control and Haslam in 2018

By Bill Dries

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I am not going to be one of those people who at this late date in the history of television dramas based on real people points out every departure from reality. The first episode of the CMT television series “Sun Records” Thursday was a scene-setter and introduction of sorts to an ensemble cast with plenty of opportunities to name that place in Memphis. That usually means a pretty complex story line to come and there are more than enough memorable characters in the story of Sun.

What Memphis was at the time is also far enough in the past for the city of the 1950s to seem like another place from the Memphis we know – although you might find some of the same underlying challenges and conversations in a different form these days.

In many ways, the story is still moving. Consider that by this time next week, the largest Elvis Presley museum in the world will be open in Whitehaven directly across Elvis Presley Boulevard from Graceland. And it will include plenty of items from the Sun Records years from the family of Sam Phillips.

Several years ago, we wrote about the community where Johnny Cash grew up in Dyess, Arkansas where the family home is now a museum. We wrote about it as his daughter, Rosanne Cash, visited the city for a show at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park after a Grammy-winning album that explored her childhood in Memphis during the Sun years.

So, I think, in addition to spotting familiar places and maybe even faces, this will probably also prompt many of us to read more about the real story and look up the real music recorded at Sun.

That’s not a put down of CMT. It doesn’t take long for the past to have several versions and that is certainly the challenge for anyone writing about this.

For instance, if you have read Peter Guralnick’s excellent 2015 biography “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” – among other books – you know that there are conflicting versions from Phillips and Marion Keisker about which one of them first recorded Elvis Presley – the record he made for his mother. There are conflicting versions also about who was there and who wasn’t there at the time.

If you ever encountered Sam Phillips, you can hear him in Chad Michael Murray’s voice as the character that the show revolves around. Here’s a Rolling Stone Q-and-A that includes the voice work and the show’s unexpected encounter last summer with the Memphis of today. Also lots of links to other features about the show and Sun Records.

We’ve written a lot over the years about the city’s unique legacy of protest in the 1960s that was different from most cities during the civil rights era. Some of that was a function of Memphis being more of an NAACP town than SNCC or SCLC – although in the city’s style of going its own way, Memphis became in many ways a very important destination for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the end of King’s life.

So as we consider the federal lawsuit over the City Hall lawsuit, we’ve framed many of the questions in the last week about the list and the issues it raises around the last year of protest in Memphis that a new generation has made its own.

Gear Head Alert: We got a look around the new TVA plant under construction in southwest Memphis this week and there is a lot going on there and a lot of heavy machinery as well as about 500 people working, who constitute an $89 million payroll toward the construction of a $975 million power plant. Given the controversy over the water wells TVA has drilled there to tap directly into the Memphis aquifer to cool the engines of the plant, we also found TVA’s general manager of major projects to be willing to talk about the technology behind the federal agency’s decision.

It was also a chance to update our coverage of what was a historic decision by TVA to retire the nearly 60-year old coal-fired plant on the other side of Riverport Road that got a cover story treatment in September of 2014.

No contest Thursday in Cincinnati – Bearcats over the Tigers 87 – 74.

In our Friday Sports Section:

In his “Press Box” column, Don Wade says Ole Miss has met its match in the NCAA, which is investigating the Ole Miss football program for a “lack of institutional control” – boosters giving cash to recruits, among other things.

This is a four-year old case that in many ways began with an NFL draft in which Laremy Tunsil, projected to be a top draft pick who would go on to play for the Miami Dolphins, had a nightmarish evening televised live with the football program joining him in the sizeable crater he found himself in after the smoke cleared. Sports Illustrated reviews and recaps.

The Grizz after the All-Star break and David Fizdale’s leadership which draws some comparison to Hubie Brown.

David Climer on Joshua Dobbs vow to make an NFL roster with a “blue collar approach” to football despite some doubts about his potential.

Dave Link in Knoxville on Big Orange softball and Caylan Arnold’s 0.00 ERA.

FedEx extends its contract with the U.S. Postal Service. The afternoon roll-out of FedEx jets at Memphis International Airport that is the most visible feature of this contract is an awesome thing to behold. The contract generates $1.5 billion in revenue annually for FedEx.

Speaking of the airport, the booze light is on in the councourse starting next month.

Resurrection Health founder Rick Donlon first talked with us in September 2015 about his goal of expanding primary physician care in Memphis, in part with a residency program. That effort got a big stamp of approval this week on its way to becoming a sustainable reality.

A $2.1 million building permit Thursday for Southern Elegance Event Center at Tchulahoma and East Holmes Roads.

In the Tennessee Legislature:

House Speaker Beth Harwell at the annual Tennessee Press Association meeting this week talking about the House investigation of former state Rep. Mark Lovell of Shelby County. Even though Lovell’s abrupt resignation seemed to be the end of any jurisdiction by the House to compel Lovell to answer questions about the alleged sexual harassment of a state employee – touching a woman inappropriately – the House investigation continued because Lovell’s personnel file with the state remains open through the end of this month.

The committee found Lovell did what he was accused of doing. Lovell continues to deny it.

Also at TPA this week, Gov. Bill Haslam is asked about his political future with his second and final term ending next year and Haslam doesn’t rule out a possible run for the U.S. Senate in 2018 or 2020. But he also says he’s not spending a lot of time thinking about it. This is such a game of dominoes and with Republicans holding all three statewide non judicial offices, all but two of the state’s nine Congressional seats and super majorities in the state House and state Senate, the GOP has a lot of dominoes in a row. One of those dominoes is U.S. Senator Bob Corker whose Senate seat in on the 2018 ballot and who is being talked about as a candidate for governor in 2018 by some.

Our Nashville correspondent, Sam Stockard, reports an alternative to Haslam’s gas tax proposal hit the skids in House committee Wednesday. This was the alternative proposal to take money from the sales tax to devote to the road projects Haslam would fund with the gas tax hike. The committee considering this adjourned after an amendment to instead roll back the sales tax rate on baby formula.

Those under 21 could get a different kind of driver’s license under a bill moving in the state Senate.

Nobel Prize winner and Secretary of State Cordell Hull has become a controversial character on capitol hill 62 years after his death.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant wants the Legislature there to consider a state lottery.

A bill in the Arkansas Legislature to collect online sales taxes has failed again.

“Behind The Headlines” is a reporter’s roundtable about the list and other topics that includes Bernal Smith of The New Tri-State Defender. Smith turned up in our pages this past week for his view on Beale Street’s future expressed during city council committee sessions. So we will talk with him about that – a bit of role shifting around the table to keep things interesting. The show airs Friday at 7 p.m. on WKNO TV.

The cover story of our weekly, The Memphis News, by Andy Meek is about businesses that have survived and the lessons from their survival and beyond that point the way for other entrepreneurs.

The PDF of the new issue is already up on this website. The hard copies go in the racks Friday morning and the cover story goes online Friday afternoon.

PROPERTY SALES 91 293 13,051
MORTGAGES 58 168 8,171
BUILDING PERMITS 99 744 30,678
BANKRUPTCIES 34 156 6,220