Eric "Scrappie" Hughes - Memphis Blues Society Founder Feature Story
(Originally published in the February 2013 Memphis Blues Society Newsletter)
As told to Mark E. Caldwell, December 2012
I recently had the pleasure to talk with Eric Hughes before a Saturday gig with Guy (Venable) Jr. at the Superior Bar of Memphis. Eric is the founder of the Memphis Blues Society. As a Memphis native, Eric has always been a blues fanatic and blues lover. When he was 11, he received his first guitar but never played it. It ended up in the attic. When Eric was younger he spent many summer weekends at his grandfather’s ‘Ponderosa’ hunting camp (and tree farm) near Holly Springs in Galena, MS. In the early 1980’s he first heard blues played live by hired bluesman James ‘Son’ Thomas at the hunting camp. While at the ‘Ponderosa’, Eric snuck out on occasional evenings to see local bluesmen Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside play at nearby juke joints.
His interest in playing the blues came at age 21 while away in the Marines in Cherry Point, NC. He was missing home and the music of Memphis. He bought a guitar at a local pawn shop so he could learn to play the music he missed. Eric says that guitar changed everything. Soon his one and only focus was to play the guitar. He wanted to play the blues that he was so fond of. Eric says “My influences are Howlin’ Wolf, Furry Lewis, Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Junior Kimbrough, Doors, and also Memphis Music of all types. Some of my ‘blusier’ influences are Brad Webb & Blind Mississippi Morris, Muddy Waters, and ‘Son’ Thomas.” I asked Eric if he had a mentor that influenced his music “I never really studied under anyone, unfortunately, and never had lessons. I have learned a lot from Brad Webb, though, as far as the music business, being a bandleader, and gigging biz. I learned a lot about harmonica from Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms and Blind Mississippi Morris. Guy Venable has shown me a lot about jug band music. Songwriting, which may be my strong suite, I learned by spending time with Memphis Songwriters Association.”
Eric first played in a rock band in Little Rock in the mid to late 1990s.The blues influenced band played together for a couple of years. He came back to Memphis afterwards. In 2001 he started playing on Beale Street, and has continued to do so since. To pay his keep, Eric works for his family’s company. He plays multiple instruments, but primarily plays guitar and harp. He shares his time now playing in a duo with Guy (Venable) Jr. as well as with the Eric Hughes Band. The Eric Hughes band is Walter Hughes, Leo Goff, Guy Venable, Doug McMinn, Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms, Jeremy Powell and Eric Hughes. Eric’s schedule keeps him busy playing on Beale and other mid-south venues. Each summer he also travels to Wisconsin for a week where he performs at local venues.
When Eric was younger and just starting to play guitar, he was visiting his grandfather’s hunting camp one weekend. He was at the local ‘Wagon Wheel’ or ‘Big Bird’ store nearby and came across R.L. Burnside. Eric asked R.L for an autograph. Eric had a Sharpie marker; neither Eric nor R.L. could find a piece of paper for the autograph. R.L. then reached inside his jacket, pulled out his snub-nose and took a cartridge out. R.L. took the pen and wrote R.L. on the cartridge. Eric thought that was cool. Eric also met David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards and opened a show for him.
In 2003 or 2004, Eric was setup on the sidewalk in front of Blues Hall. While playing guitar, an unusual couple came up and dropped an unexpected $20-30 tip in Eric’s guitar case. Eric remembers the woman was so beautiful, he was afraid to look up at her. The man was tall and thin with long hair, and a wild hat on. The man was signing along, and carrying a good tune with Eric’s guitar playing. After a couple of minutes the couple walked away. Seconds later, the employees of Rum Boogie Cafe ran out and asked Eric if he realized Chris Robinson (Black Crowes) and Kate Hudson had just visited with him.
The Memphis Blues Society was set up by musicians for musicians…
Eric founded the Memphis Blues Society in 2005. Several years prior, local blues jams occurred regularly. Participating musicians included Dave Bennett, Tom Stafford, Leo Goff, Robert Nighthawk, Guy Venable, Tom Stafford and others. Eric says “Carson & Preston (Lamm) really have been behind the MBS from the beginning. They both have always believed in me & my music, too. Gary Kabakoff, Sonny Hanks, Keven Eddy, James Cunningham and Mike Forrest were all there at the beginning too.”
During one of the jams in 2005, no doubt some liquid refreshment had been consumed; Eric and other musicians realized ‘Memphis’ didn’t have a Blues society. Tom Stafford spoke up and said “let’s start a blues society.” So they got together and petitioned the Blues Foundation for a permit to start the Memphis Blues Society. The MBS was focused on blues jams, contests and sending an MBS member band to the IBC. The first year of the MBS, Delta Highway was sent to the IBC. Other jam contests were held. On one occasion, MBS members landscaped the grave of ‘Furry’ Lewis. During this time, Dave Bennett, Leo Goff, Robert Nighthawk, Guy Venable and other musicians all helped Eric with the MBS. Eric had a vintage ‘59 Gibson and ‘65 ‘Deluxe’ amp on hand to entice everyone to play at many of the jams (Eric stills uses his ’59 Gibson amp on stage now.) Eric started the MBS blues jams at the ‘Daily Planet’. Jams then moved to ‘The Belair’, followed by ‘TJ Mulligans’ (on Highway 64) and then on to ‘Neil’s Bar and Grille’ on Madison Ave. ‘Neil’s’ was a better location than previous spots. It had equipment, a better stage and Richard Butler was on sound. All combined made for great MBS blues jams at Neil’s. The jams were held at ‘Neil’s’ until a fire closed the venue in September 2011. Soon after, the jams moved to the present location on Beale Street at ‘Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall and Juke Joint’.
Credits and Recordings…
Credits to Eric include: March 2001- Winner, Memphis Songwriter's Award; Summer 2002 -Finalist, Beale Street Blues Society; 2003- Nominated ‘Best Local Band’ and ‘Best Local CD’ (The Memphis Flyer); 2004-Winner ‘Best CD’- Rosedale Blues Society; 2007-Winner ‘Battle of the Blues Competition’- Memphis Blues Society.
The Eric Hughes Band has (3) albums available, ‘Paycheck Boogie’ (2002), ‘Two in the Morning’ (2007) and ‘Live on Beale Street’ (2009). Eric also has a duo album titled ‘Scrappie Hughes & Guy Jr.’ (2011) recorded at his home studio. Eric is recording a new album titled ‘Drink Up’. The album is to include (8) original & (2) traditional tracks, including a Furry Lewis tune. I asked Eric what inspired the recording of the new album. “I recorded dozens of original songs at home using Apple's ‘GarageBand’ over the last three or four years. After I signed with the I-55 label, I presented what I thought were the best 20 or so to Brad Webb and Steve Bryson. We selected the songs you'll hear on ‘Drink Up’, and we began rehearsing in October. We recorded at Brad Webb’s studio, as I did with ‘Paycheck Boogie’ and ‘Two in the Morning’”. Eric is editing and mixing the album with Brad Webb and Dawn Hopkins. ‘Drink Up’ is scheduled for release March 30, 2013.