From the first strains of “Memphis Train,” the opening track of her new album, Memphis Rock and Soul, Melissa Etheridge sounds right at home.
Recorded at the city’s iconic Royal Studios and featuring a who’s-who of soul icons, the album is a triumphant application of Etheridge’s signature rasp and substantial guitar chops to this classic genre.
For Etheridge, the choice to cover these influential cuts was an easy one. “My roots are really R&B and soul—a lot of the music where rock and roll came from,” she says. “When the opportunity came up to do this, I thought it was perfect.”
In fact, Etheridge claims Memphis soul has had an impact on some of her best songwriting. “This is where I got the desire to write songs like ‘I’m the Only One’ and ‘Bring Me Some Water.’ It’s that soulful Sam & Dave, Otis Redding kind of you-done-me-wrong blues and gospel with a rockin’ beat.”
As one could imagine, selecting the final cuts for a project like this is a monumental task.
“When I first started looking at all the songs, there were like 150 that I was really considering,” Etheridge says. “I really wanted to hit right in the center, the bulls-eye of what I felt I can deliver in an interesting way. And along with that list of songs were the songs that I had to do, like [Otis Redding’s] ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and [Sam and Dave’s] ‘Hold On I’m Coming.’ ”
The final product is a curation of era-defining treasures and inspired deeper explorations that captures a special energy, and meshes perfectly with Etheridge’s substantial musical prowess and signature style.
Etheridge also had the opportunity to get her hands on the masters for the Staples Singers’ “Respect Yourself” and “I’m a Lover,” and instead of doing a straight cover, created a new interpretation, adding new riffs and lyrics. “The way kids are making music these days, they take pieces of other music, and they sample. And I thought, Well, I have the masters, the ultimate sample. Let me see if I can add a Melissa Etheridge twist and a different approach.”