Dallas Road trip with ELMO & the Shades by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 3/15/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) Above, the band hits the highway. Our last encounters with my old bandleader and friend, Elmo Lee Thomas, were reported here during his CD release party at the Rumboogie Cafe on Beale Street. Here's a link to that article in the American Blues News:

Today we departed from Memphis at an early hour and drove all the livelong day to our destination, the beautiful and monolithic Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. This is the biggest hotel complex I have ever seen. The hotel is replete with fine dining and convention services for very large groups and we were hired to play just such a corporate shindig.

Driving across many agricultural scenes in Arkansas

Rolling into Texas

Tommy Lee Williams breaks out his horn for load in and sound check.

This gigantic room was transformed into a juke joint by teams of skilled workers who brought in shuffleboard tables and electronic dart boards as well as loads of food, drink, chairs and tables. To watch the rapid metamorphosis of the room was truly remarkable. My friend Danny Humphries from Memphis was there working this show and he was extremely helpful to the band, assisting us around the complex. Danny is a fine musician in his own right. He plays guitar in 3 or 4 Memphis bands currently.

Elmo Lee Thomas drove us to the venue and is seen here setting up the gear

After the sound check we headed for the Media Bar and Restaurant inside the Atrium, one of the huge towers that make up the hotel. After a delicious steak we headed back to our rooms to dress for the show.

John Groesse takes the stage and loads in his Genz-Benz bass rig which has a huge, fat sound. John has a fine studio in Memphis and records new material daily.

Tam Riggs, who sang beautifully with the Bouffants, a famous Memphis show band, and the Venus Project, gives the photographer the warning sign. Tam sang some great R& B hits with the band on this night and was super sparkly in her dress of many sequins.

Tam is as talented as she is lovely. She is a great addition to the band.

Stax recording artist Tommy Lee Williams, who played with Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Albert King, played some beautiful saxophone for the fans at the big Dallas show. Look for Tommy Lee's life story in an upcoming book.

Tam belts one out for the huge crowd.

My old college running buddy, Nico Lyras, joined us for tonight's perfomance. He regularly fills in for Skip Pitts who was away at a recording session during this trip. Nico is one of the most gifted guitarists I have ever known and has always been a true blue friend to me. I was one of the first Americans to meet Nico when he arrived in Memphis from his home in Greece to attend Southwestern at Memphis. We shared many happy moments during our college days and he has been very successful as a musician and proprietor of his own Memphis recording studio, Cotton Row. Nico was a notable jazz player when I met him in 1976 and he has expanded his style and mastered R & B and soul while turning out some great hit records in Memphis. It was truly a joy to play with him on stage again.

Nico Lyras

Melvin Robertson played drums with the band tonight and he is superb and fluent on the drums. Melvin is really great to work with thanks to his great attitude and classy demeanor. I have been fortunate to play in a band with his brother, James Robertson, who played drums with Isaac Hayes and is a renown music teacher. James played drums on one of our Reba Russell Band CD's. These guys are first class and Melvin really killed it on the drums this evening. I really enjoyed the rhythm section this night and the fans could not stay off the dance floor.

One of many food stations in the room where chefs carved the roast beast and provided the party-goers with tasty delicacies of all varieties.

Tam presents Elmo with the magic pen during our break.

Melvin and Tommy Lee taking a breather.

Nico and John solving the world's problems and creating good music.

John Groesse, a fine bassist, studio owner and friend

The band takes the stage for another groovin' set.

Mickey Gregory toured with Jimi Hendrix, was a contemporary of Miles Davis and an original member of Rufus Thomas and the Bearcats(named after Sun Records first release), Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes band. Mickey’s trumpet can be heard on the entire Stax catalogue of such legendary artists as Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, and many of the cuts of Otis Redding, and Johnny Taylor. Mickey joined the Isaac Hayes Movement and played on most of the Hayes catalogue at Stax including the megahit "Shaft" and appeared in the documentary "WattStax". Mickey is also a songwriter of note having penned "Drowning on Dry Land" (Albert King) and "Good Love Six Nine Six Nine"(Isaac Hayes).

The author and his old friend Tommy Lee Williams

Tommy Lee Williams

From Elmo and the

"Born in Eads TN ,Tommy Lee's first band was a local group known as The Impalas whose members included what later would become The Hi Rhythm Section. He then went on to Tennessee State University on scholarship, played with many Nashville R&B groups and was a member of The King Kasuals, featuring a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. After a stint in the army, at the invitation of Andrew Love of Memphis Horns fame, Tommy Lee became a fixture at Stax records. His horn and flute can be heard on many Otis Redding songs including "Dock of the Bay," as well as the entire Stax catalogue of such notable artists as Sam and Dave("Soul Man," "Hold on I'm Comin") and EddieFloyd's "Knock on Wood." Other songs of note Tommy Lee appeared on were The Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There", Isaac Hayes' "Shaft," as well as arrangement and performance credits on Albert King's legendary album "I'll Play the Blues for You." Tommy Lee joined The Isaac Hayes Movement in 1970 and appeared in the 1973 documentary "Wattstax." Tommy Lee played locally for former Stax recording artists Eddie Harrison and the Shortcuts. Tommy Lee joined Elmo and the Shades in 1996."

Mickey Gregory and the author break into song.

Mickey and Tommy Lee are the "Memphis Sound" that is heard on so many STAX hits. They also recorded for many other labels and produce a unique horn blend that is indescribably cool and cannot be duplicated. It comes from years of soul felt collaboration, thousands of gigs and countless hours in some of the greatest recording studios to have produced American music. I am humbled and deeply honored to share the stage with them and so proud to have them as my friends.

Tam shows off some dance moves.

Elmo and Nico play off one another, each man's style complementing the other.

Elmo Lee Thomas has led this band for over 27 years and he is a powerful vocalist who does not ever hold back. He has had some of the finest Memphis musicians in his band including the late Carl Watson and Larry Lee. It's no exaggeration to say that Larry was a legend among Memphis musicians. After playing with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, Larry became the guitarist and band leader for Rev. Al Green. Larry Lee passed away on October 30, 2007.

Melvin laying down the good groove.

John Groesse has one of the fattest tones I have ever heard emanate from a bass cabinet. It has to be heard to be believed.

Here's the view from my Hammond organ and Leslie. What a great sounding big band.

Behold the magic sound of STAX, Mickey Gregory and Tommy Lee Williams

John Groesse is a native of Los Angeles but relocated to Memphis in the early seventies with his band Magpie to pursue a true understanding of the blues as well as explore the opportunities the Memphis music scene. In L.A. he worked at Capital Records and had production and performance credits on projects that included Steve Miller ,Charlie Musselwhite, Dave Mason, and many others. While in Memphis he played with his critically acclaimed group Magpie and has worked with such Memphis stalwarts as Randy and The Radiants and Coon Elder with Brenda Patterson.

Melvin Robertson

Melvin Robertson

Nico Lyras rips on a solo

Elmo & the Shades

Bringing the Memphis R & B to Dallas

Tam goes for her pistol

Elmo Lee Thomas

Elmo is a tireless veteran of the Memphis live music scene. He is also the harmonica accompanist to world renown and Grammy winning blues historian and recording artist Dr. David Evans. Elmo Lee also performs with Dr. Evans in Memphis's own Last Chance Jug Band.

Beautiful decorations inside the Hilton Anatole

This picture was actually taken indoors. This place is enormous. Next time I am bringing a Segway or at least a unicycle.

Lifelong friends, Elmo Lee Thomas and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Elmo's new CD, "Blue Memphis" is truly one of the finest recordings to come out of Memphis in a long time. you can look for more from this record and this band in the near future. There is no other band I know of that does such a great job with funk, R & B, and classic soul music.

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American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

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