Memphis Fast Fiction Home

“Mister Shade! Mister Shade, sir!” The kid called out as Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band walked toward Beale to play a gig.

After two blocks, Shade had finally had enough.

“What the hell, boy? What do you want?” Shade barked out at what he could now see to be not a teenager, but a slight man in his early twenties.

“To play with you, sir, in your jug band.” He replied, sending the other three members of the of the band into a fit of hysterical laughter.

Shade shook his head and sighed. “Alright, then. What’d you play, kid?”

“Kazoo.” The kid said, without batting an eye.

“A ka-what? What the hell is that?” Shade asked with a confused look on his face.

To which the kid responded by pulling out a round thing a bit longer than a man’s finger. Then, without prompting, proceeded to buzz the entirety of “Beale Street Blues” through it.

Which caused them to laugh harder.

“That sounds like a fly with a terrible bit of gas.” Shade frowned.

The kid let out a bit of a whimper.

“But then, the jug sounds like a farting hippo. Let’s give you a shot.”

Memphis Note
In the 1920s, while the rest of the country was enamored with jazz, Memphis had a thing for jug bands, and none were bigger than Will Shade’s rotating group of musicians named the Memphis Jug Band. With a line up that changed daily, the Jug Band was known to busk in Church Park by day, then play high society parties at night. Before the jug band fad dissipated with the onset of the Great Depression, the Memphis Jug Band had recorded near a hundred songs and is considered the best example of the genre – even with the kazoo.

Alpha Newberry

Steam and smoke rolled out from under the hood of the Theater Owners Booking Association bus. Most of the performers had filed off and were milling around the side of the road, but a few hung out of the open windows, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

“It’s ruined!” Declared Fats, as he slammed the hood back down. “We ain’t makin’ the gig.”

“Then we’ll have to walk.” Said a smaller man in a cheap suit, the only white amongst the crowd. “We’ve got an engagement to keep. We’ll deal with the bus tomorrow.”

A murmur of disquiet went through the group. They were miles from their intended stop.

“Like hell I am.” Came a voice from the back. It was Ma Rainey, a corpulent blues singer and one of the circuit’s biggest draws. “The’s a bar a ways back. We’ll play there.”

“No, no. The Barrasso’s won’t like that. We’re booked to play in Mobile tonight. A real theater, not some cliche juke joint.”

Ma Rainey loomed toward the man, seeing to grow larger the closer she got.

“We’re in Mobile. We’re playin’ tonight. That’s good enough. Don’t you agree?”

The small man swallowed and gave a meek nod.

“Thought so.”

Memphis Note
The Theater Owners Booking Association was a Memphis based Vaudeville circuit that catered to black audiences in the South. It was founded by two Italian brothers that saw the strong attendance by blacks to their theaters in Memphis when they booked black acts. Notorious for working their acts to the bone in poor conditions, Ma Rainey was once quoted as saying that TOBA actually stood for “Tough on Black Asses”. The circuit folded during the Great Depression, but its bones became the basis of the loose Chitlin’ Circuit that helped create rock ‘n roll.

Shane Adams

The far bank of the Mississippi River had vanished. Arkansas was lost underneath an expanse of muddy water. No one living could remember anything like this.

A small group of men stood on the crest of the bluff, watching in awe at the river’s power.

“Won’t help the economy any.” The councilman said with a sigh. “No one travels with things like this going on. Hotel are empty, restaurants still. Lord, even Beale Street’s gone quiet.”

“Gonna make shipping hard. Trees, wrecks, all matter of flotsam will’ve gotten moved around. Riverboat piloting’ll be a challenge ‘til they learn the new water.” The wharf master shook his head grimly.

“It is like in the Bible, we’ll have to demarcate between diluvian and antediluvian once the waters subside.” Remarked the preacher.

“If they ever subside,” snarled a cotton man, who’d assuredly lost a fortune in flooded fields.

“We missed the worst of it, utter devastation to the north and to the south. Whole negro communities have been displaced in Mississippi, levees bursting down in Louisiana.” The mayor tapped his foot on the wet grass. “I’ll always be grateful to these mounds of dirt for keeping that monster of a river at bay.”

Memphis Note
The Great Flood of 1927 is arguably the worst flood in United States history, with nearly a million people being affected by the rising waters of the Mississippi. Thankfully, Memphis was left remarkably intact because the bluffs held back much of the flood waters, much in the same way we managed to escape this flooding this last spring.

Joe Leibovich

The car bounced along the ribbon of blacktop, heading back toward Atlanta from Memphis. The day was getting late, shadows were growing long.

In the back of the sedan dozed Tyree Taylor, disgraced federal marshal turned bootlegger, now turned state’s witness.

“Why’d you do it, Tyree?” Asked the driver, glancing back in the rear view mirror.

“Did a lot, have to be more specific.” Tyree said, not opening his eyes.

“Don’t encourage him,” grumbled the marshal sitting next to the driver, shotgun across his lap.

“Any of it. You took an oath to this country. And broke it for what? Money?” The driver watched the road as he spoke, gripping the wheel.

“Not just money. Quite a lot of money.” Tyree leaned forward, his manacles clanking. “When I started, I was there with you. Nothing would be allowed on my watch. But, you spend years working late nights, watching your marriage fall apart, getting drilled down in a city that doesn’t care, and it doesn’t take much to change your mind.”

Tyree stared out the window, frowning. “Just a few dollars in the back of an alley is all it takes some times.”

Outside the window, the shadows grew longer.

Memphis Note
When Tyree Taylor was sworn in as a US Marshal in the mid-1910s, Tennessee was already a dry state. Unfortunately, he was posted to Memphis, where prohibition was about as well enforced as traffic tickets are today. His worked hard, but marriage fell apart, and then one night in an alley behind a hotel, he took his first bribe. Within a few years, he was protecting the entire Memphis bootleg racket, raking in over a hundred thousand dollars in bribes before going on the lam. When he was finally captured, he became a witness for the state, implicating dozens of local, state and federal officials.

Caroline Mitchell

Dear readers, I come before you this day to humbly tell of you a great travesty that has been done, however inadvertently, by the citizens of this fair metropolis.

This past Saturday, I watched the warriors of the Blue and Gray end their year bloodied, bruised, but unbeaten and unbowed, having outscored their foes by nearly six to one over the course of the season. They truly lived up to Coach Lester Barnard’s motto of “Every Man a Tiger”.

And why shouldn’t they? On campus, at games and in student publications they are already known as the Tigers. It is a secret cant for students and alumni, used to glorify their gridiron champions. But, one doesn’t extend beyond the walls of academia. The newspapers of the city refuse to call them anything but the Blue and Gray, and thusly the citizens don’t know any better.

I think it is time for that to change.

I say, if they act like tigers, if they fight like tigers, who are we to tell them that they are not, in fact, Tigers?

Memphis, we should let them be what they already are.

Farewell to the Blue and Gray Warriors. Long live the Tigers.

Memphis Note
The University of Memphis (going to call it that for clarity’s sake) sports team was originally called the Blue and Gray Warriors. Somewhere along the line the students started saying that they fought like tigers, so they became commonly know as “the Tigers” by those that attended the school. But, the local media in town refused to refer to the team as anything but the Blue and Gray, even during Coach Barnard’s time. The team name wasn’t officially changed until 1939.