Sunday, January 16, 2011
Rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson will join the Broadway cast of the musical Million Dollar Quartet, playing at the Nederlander Theatre for a special encore performance on Thursday, January 20.
The production is directed by Eric Schaeffer. The show was inspired by the famed 1956 recording session that brought together Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley -- along with Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records.
The cast currently features Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Levi Kreiss (Jerry Lee Lewis), Jared Mason (Carl Perkins), James Moye (Sam Phillips), and Elizabeth Stanley (Dyanna).
Darlene Love @ Million Dollar Quartet last month:
Maria Sansone of “LX New York” got to visit the cast of Million Dollar Quartet, the musicalization of the 1956 recording jam session featuring Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening), Johnny Cash (Lance Guest), Carl Perkins (Robert Lyons) and Jerry Lee Lewis (2010 Tony Award winner Levi Kreis).
Sansone got a peek at how Kreis, Lyons and guitarist Cory Kaiser make their music, even getting a chance to play the piano with some Jerry Lee Lewis flair. Million Dollar Quartet is currently running at the Nederlander Theatre.
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"It's been eye-opening to me as I get older," said Coleman, 25, a piano player who's helping perpetuate his maternal grandfather's legacy and unique style. "As a kid, I didn't realize the immensity of granddad's music among so many different people, cultures and places."
Cramer (1933-97), a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, remains one of America's most revered musicians - especially in Nashville, where his signature piano stylings graced the recordings of major country-music entertainers during five decades.
Not surprisingly, the nostalgia maxes out when Coleman plays Cramer's "Last Date," which "really catapulted him into fame." An instantly engaging instrumental - with lush string accompaniment - it became a gold record and rose to No. 2 on Billboard magazine's mainstream chart in 1960.
"It's amazing," Coleman said during a recent phone conversation from San Diego, his first date ever in California as part of a 70-show Live on Stage-promoted national tour. "It's such a simple, simple song. A little repetitive song. When I play the first two notes, though, you can just feel the room change.
"There's lots of nostalgia, which is the most fun for me, because a lot of it was before my time. It's amazing to see how people respond so positively."
The three-minute instrumental even has been re-tooled with lyrics by artists such as Emmylou Harris, Skeeter Davis and Conway Twitty.
Coleman's two-hour show - which includes "fun" storytelling, Power Point images and pre-recorded accompaniment - focuses on Cramer's music and other popular country records his piano stylings helped sweeten.
That ranges from Cramer's other top-10 mainstream hits ("On the Rebound" and "San Antonio Rose," both 1961) to Hank Locklin's "Please Help Me, I'm Falling" and songs that Cramer's distinctive keyboards helped make famous: by Elvis Presley ("Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "Love Me Tender"), Bob Wills, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline ("Crazy," "Sweet Dreams," "I Fall to Pieces") and others.
Coleman, whose middle name is Floyd, said his granddad provided "huge encouragement" - but wasn't "very pushy" - when it came to music. Coleman began tinkering with the family piano on his own, "as soon as I was tall enough to reach the keys."
Coleman remembered accompanying Cramer when he was 5 ("I sang a little kid song"). At 9, Jason was part of his granddad's Christmas TV special, doing a duet on "What Child Is This?" ("I wore a really nice Christmas sweater. No. No rhinestones.").
Those childhood experiences created a lasting impression.
"I very vividly remember, you know," said Coleman, who made his Grand Ole Opry debut at 17. "As a kid it was one of the coolest things to actually be back in the trailer with all those celebrities when they were getting all fixed up."
Cramer, a native of Shreveport, La., who grew up in Huttig, Ark., was a self-taught piano player. He helped formulate the classic Nashville Sound. He died Dec. 31, 1997, from lung cancer.
"I was 12 when he passed," said Coleman, who stopped taking piano lessons then. "We had a really great, close relationship. I enjoyed my time with him. He lived a very normal lifestyle. You would not have known he was a celebrity."
Coleman, who studied music business at Nashville's Belmont University, did realize his granddad's unusual style - called "slip-note" - was special.
"He had a saying: 'Hit the wrong notes first and slip up to the right notes,' " said Coleman. "He played it like a steel guitar. He'd bend the note and give it that country twang. I even sort of picked up his style."
Aside from his younger brother, Josh, 22, Coleman's the only grandchild retracing Cramer's musical path.
"I guess it's just always been in me," said Coleman, who's married and lives in Hendersonville, a Nashville suburb. "It's a part of me. It's definitely genetics. I can't remember a time I haven't played piano.
"I've loved it all my life and wanted to do something with it when I grew up. I don't think I've ever grown up, but it's just what I know and what I love."
His family stays involved. His mom, Donna - Floyd Cramer's youngest daughter - and grandmother, Mary, now 74, alternately accompany him on the road, handling logistical and business details and selling his five self-recorded CDs.
His wife, Natalie, is a seventh-grade teacher in Hendersonville, and dad Joey builds aircraft wings in Nashville.
Josh plays electric keyboards in the band Jason leads at Nashville's Parkway Baptist Church, where he's a part-time pastor.
Coleman's college courses have paid off.
"You learn what goes into the music industry in Nashville," he said. "My albums have been self-made, so it's been pretty self-fulfilling that way. It's sort of satisfying in that the different steps I've taken have been successful."
Songwriting hasn't been one of them. Yet.
Coleman has written and recorded one tune - "All I Need Is You (Natalie's Song)" - on his and Natalie's wedding day.
"I haven't had much of a writing bug," he said. "I've never made the time. I've never really pushed it. It could be a mental thing. It's just not an avenue I've explored yet."
That's because there's so much of his granddad's legacy from which to choose.
The recently released "Live at Langdale," a two-CD set recorded in Valley, Ala., captures the essence of Coleman's tribute to his granddad. It's his best-selling CD (jasoncolemanmusic.com).
Of course, "Last Date" is included.
"It's really just been eye-opening," Coleman sad. "One little melody. How in the world could it be this powerful and this significant to all these people?"
Cowboy Jack Clement is "back in Memphis" to record at Sun Studio with singer/songwriter Chris Isaak. Chris plans to record a collection of songs by the likes of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, and wants to try out some of the new material on his fans. But he also promises to delve into his extensive back catalog, welcoming 2011 with rarities, familiar covers and hits such as "Wicked Game," "Somebody's Crying" and "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing." Many of you may know Chris for his many tributes to Elvis (some you can see below) or you may know him from touring with Lisa Marie Presley for her debut album. Either way, we look forward to this album especially since the legendary Cowboy is back in Memphis and at Sun Studio where it all started!