ADVENTURES WITH FRENCHY IN MEMPHIS
By John Sinclair
Frenchy and I have been close friends for the entire 21st century, starting in February 2000 when he painted my “Burning Down The House” benefit at the House of Blues and gave me his painting at the end of the night. But we really got to know each other when we met up in Memphis one afternoon early in 2001.
The Meters were being honored by NARAS, the group behind the Grammys, with a lifetime achievement award at the Pyramid center on the Mississippi River. I had been commissioned to write the story of The Meters for the program booklet, and in lieu of an appropriate fee I had negotiated myself a trip from New Orleans to Memphis on the Amtrak train to attend the festivities.
There was to be a performance by The Meters in the evening, following the afternoon awards ceremony, and I had noted that the Triple-A Memphis Chicks would be playing an afternoon ballgame in their new downtown stadium. Memphis has a very short streetcar line that runs along the river from downtown to the Pyramid and back, so after the ceremony I hopped on the streetcar and headed downtown for the ball game.
The cars on the line are old-fashioned open-air models, and I was about halfway to downtown when I heard my name called out from the river side of the tracks. I couldn’t imagine who was hollering at me—a couple of cats sitting at a picnic table by the river enjoying a refreshment—but when I looked closer it was Frenchy and Pete Bechnel laughing and pointing at me.
I jumped off the streetcar at the next stop and dashed back to their spot by the tracks to pay my respects and have a few laughs. Frenchy was in town to paint The Meters performance that evening, and I forgot about the baseball game to spend the rest of the day and the night with the cats from New Orleans. The high point, as always, was watching Frenchy at work as he translated the imagery and energy of the performance into a brilliant painting that captured everything good about the occasion for all time.
The next time we were in Memphis together I was there to document a recording session by the great bluesman Willie King in order to compose the liner notes for his next album, and Frenchy had been commissioned to paint B.B. King in performance in a rare appearance at his blues club on Beale Street.
When we got to the club Frenchy installed me in a seat right at ringside to take in the entire presentation by my idol, the Beale Street Blues Boy, and his fantastic orchestra while Frenchy captured them in paint. This was one of the most perfect musical experiences I’ve ever enjoyed, and once again I got to watch Frenchy up close while he worked his magic on the music. Thanks, French!
June 18, 2016