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Interview with

Preston Shannon

In 1999 Memphis Bluesman Preston Shannon was in the running for three Grammy nominations stemming from his third record "All In Time", which was produced by Willie Mitchell. Quite a feat for an authentic Soul Blues singer these days. It looked like Shannon could possibly crossover into the coveted B.B. King-Thrill-Is-Gone/Robert Cray-Smoking-Gun mainstream success echelon. Then something remarkable happened...nothing. There was no follow up record to keep momentum. The iron grew cold. Shannon kept playing, ever solidifying his musical prowess on the Memphis concert scene (named "Entertainer of the Year" countless times by the Beale Street Merchants Association) but no further recordings until now. Finally Preston is back with another superb dose of authentic Soul/Blues- the kind that can only come from the famed Beale Street. Many may have quit the music business due to the obvious inequity but not Shannon- it's too much a part of him.

Blessed with a raspy Bobby Womack-like voice and able guitar fingers, Preston was originally born in Olive Branch, Mississippi. Shannon's family moved to Memphis when he was eight. Shannon cut his teeth with a local bar band called Amnesty, followed by other Memphis-area bands while working days at a hardware company. But he became a full time musician when he scored a spot in Soul great Shirley Brown's band. It wasn't until 1991 that he put together his own band and began playing the clubs on Beale Street and other hot spots. In the early 1990s, he was discovered playing a blues club by producer Ron Levy who brought Shannon to Rounder Records. "Break The Ice" came in 1994 featuring the Memphis Horns and it made certain the live magic of Shannon's show carried over to the studio. Next Shannon was fitted with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell (Al Green, Otis Clay) and delivered one of the best Soul Blues records of the past 25 years. In fact it is ranked #8 on Blues Critic's "Greatest 100 Soul Blues & Southern Soul Albums 1980-2005". The record was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1999 came "All In Time", again with Mitchell, and further accolades were heaped upon this new artist- the next big thing? Fast forward through an inexplicable 7 years to his brand new CD "Be With Me Tonight", which picks up right where he left off. Blues Critic took the opportunity to interview Shannon prior to the release date.


The interview: 

BC = Blues Critic

Preston = Preston Shannon

BC: The first question has to be: "where you been?" Your album "All In Time" put you in the running for three Grammy nominations. Why was there no follow up record until now?

Preston: Well, I'm not with Rounder Records anymore. We were suppose to do another record but they were dragging their feet so I got a release in 2001. As far as the Grammy's I was on the first leg in the nomination process. There's several legs leading to the show. I didn't make it to the final leg.

BC: Bullseye Blues was an off shoot of Rounder. Wasn't that Ron Levy's label?

Preston: Yeah, I was playing a club on Beale Street. I was doing my show and he was there. I didn't know nothing about Rounder Records or Ron Levy. Two weeks after that he introduced himself to me and said he liked what I was doing and said he wanted to record me. But I didn't pay attention to that. I'd heard that so much, you know (laughs). But a couple months after that he called me and said he was ready to record me. So I said, "Okay I'm ready to!".

BC: Prior to "Break The Ice" had you recorded before? Any demos?

Preston: That was the first recording for "Preston Shannon". I played with other bands. I was in the group The Memphians for seven years.

BC: Were you the singer?

Preston: No just the guitar player.

BC: Wow! That must not have heard you sing.

Preston: Well, you know I went on the road in 1988 'cuz I had been playing locally with a group called Amnesty but we hadn't done any recordings. I went on the road with Shirley Brown and I played with her until 1991. But being on the road with her she was doing the Chitlin' Circuit, you know. There was Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor, Marvin Sease and I saw the money they were making. It was not a lot of money but it was more than I was making. That was good money for not playing an instrument but just vocalizing. Well, I can sing and play a little guitar so I decided to do my own thing.

BC: Who's idea was it for you to work with Willie Mitchell on "Midnight In Memphis"?

Preston: It was my idea. I was working at his club and told him I needed to do a couple more CDs and asked if he'd produce 'em and he said: "I'd be glad to produce them" and that's all I needed to hear! And you know on those two CDs ("Memphis" & "All In Time") much of the material was written by Willie and some friends he collaborated with.

BC: We just compiled a list of the "100 Greatest Soul Blues & Southern Soul Albums" of the past 25 years and "Midnight In Memphis" was ranked in the Top 10.

Preston: Really? Wow. Thanks. I thought it was well produced album myself but you know how it is. You have a CD it could be the best but if it don't get no airplay...The public has to hear it.

BC: Your next record "All In Time", also produced by Willie Mitchell, was a little more mainstream-minded wouldn't you say?

Preston: Well you know people say I'm a Blues singer and I don't mind. But it's so hard for a Blues artist today to get where I would say B.B. King is. 'Cuz first of all there's no daily format for Blues on radio. The format for Blues is on one particular day. Saturday for eight hours like here in Memphis and that's it until the next weekend. Throughout the week you will hear Blues stars who've been around for a hundred years on some stations but new artists you can only hear once a week.

BC: But of course there's a couple cuts on "All In Time" that could've crossed over to mainstream R & B radio like "Just Between Me And My Woman".

Preston: Definitely so. Because it's not Blues. You know I thought Johnnie Taylor was an R & B artist and Mary J. Blige was a Pop singer.

BC: To me artists like R. Kelly or what have you who make the so-called R & B charts really aren't R & B.

Preston: Right. Some call it Contemporary. Some even call it Hip Hop but I just call it Pop music compared to true R & B like Al Green.

BC: Do you feel the term "Blues" limits your potential, like there's a stigmatism attached?

Preston: Yeah just the name "Blues" itself. But you see Rhythm & Blues there's a different feel to it than Pop or straight Blues but some Blues people feel it's from slavery days...

BC: So you got the legendary Hi Records band, Willie Mitchell producing, Grammy nominations. At that point (1999) you must have thought the next step was going to be through the roof.

Preston: Yeah it could've been like I said, if Rounder promoted it.

BC: What took so long between albums. What were you doing from 2001 when you got your release from Rounder until now?

Preston: Just playing locally, out of town and anywhere we could gig just waiting for an opportunity. Some associates of mine we were talking and they were signed with certain record companies and they're (companies) basically all the same. You got the same thing out of them. I was working with a friend of mine, Chris Cain, he left Blind Pig 'cuz they didn't do anything for them and they're one of the bigger Blues labels

BC: I've heard you're dynamite live. What's your show like?

Preston: There's variety. I do a lot of local stuff and get more gigs that way people come to the club to hear me and say 'can you play my wedding, party, my sorority' ...so I'll do the same material I do at the club which has to include lost of covers, dance songs, people recognize. When I do a festival I'm gonna do mostly Preston Shannon material. Songs from my albums.

BC: So now Clayton McGonigle produced "Be With Me Tonight"?

Preston: I was playing at the Isaac Hayes Music* Food *Passion club four nights a week and a gentleman by the name of James Austin brought Clayton (McGonigle) down to meet me and he said he had a brand new label and he said he wanted to produce me so I said, "Okay, let's get it on!".

BC: I see in the credits someone named Ronnie Godfrey, Kim Morrison-Godfrey, his wife I presume, and others wrote the majority of tracks here and they got you stretching out a bit. While mostly the songs stick to what you're known for- potent Memphis Soul/Blues- but songs like "Luck Ain't No Lady", "Not Tonight, Cause Honey I Got The Blues" they even got you croonin'!

Preston: Yeah, right. I brought out all the things I learned when I was with Willie Mitchell. I think this is one of my best albums vocally.

BC: What song will be pushed to radio first?

Preston: Song by Stacy Mitchhart called "I Might Be Your Husband" that Clayton suggested I do.

BC: Oh yeah that's a burner that could fit in several formats including mainstream Blues-

Preston: You know you can only go to one area really regardless of what CD you do. You notice track 3, "Be With Me Tonight", could go mainstream or Contemporary because it has all the ingredients. Not to mention track 4 "The Way That I Love You" you could even hear that in a doctor's office, grocery store, this CD has the Blues I'm known for but it has potential to branch out into other areas.

BC: Now the last track "No More War" should get some attention. Obviously it was written in reaction to the ongoing Iraq war. You don't have to share you personal feelings but-

Preston: It's fine with me. I heard the track of the song first of all. I thought it would be too political. But people are doing everything these days anyhow so I decided I'm gonna do the song and I think the arrangement is fantastic on this song.

BC: Although the song was written by Godfrey, his wife and James Austin and McGonigle and it doesn't specifically mention Iraq but really is anti-all war period does it express your feelings about the current war?

Preston: Oh yeah definitely so. I was just reading about the war. 14 people got killed just this weekend in the war.

BC: So you don't worry about any backlash?

Preston: No. It probably won't get any airplay anyway (laughs).

BC: Hopefully that's not the case. I want this album to get all the airplay possible. I'm just being selfish I don't want to wait another seven years for the next Preston Shannon record.

Preston: We won't let that happen for sure (laughs)

BC: What has kept you from being bitter about the business and just given up on recording and dealing with record companies?

Preston: Well, I feel like (the title of) my last CD "All In Time", I gotta lot of faith and I believe it's gonna happen in time and I feel my time is here.

PRESTON SHANNON DISCOGRAPHY HERE


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(C) 2018. All written material found on this website is the property of Blues Critic and may only be used with permission and full accreditation (either "Blues Critic" or "Dylann DeAnna of Blues Critic") and link to this website.