The return of soul

by Jordan Green

Terrance & the Tall Boys, a soul band featuring (l-r) Jacob Myrick, Alex Smith, Drew Taylor and Jeremy Jessup, plays a set at the Werehouse before heading out for a second gig at a house party. (Photo by Jordan Green).

The curved and gleaming eminence of the Wachovia Building looms through the tree line from the sloping backyard where a respectable little bonfire is steeping the neighborhood in wood smoke and the party is getting underway.

Out on the street Jeremy Jessup unloads his drums from his Honda sedan. His wife grabs a bass drum when her cell phone begins to beep. She already has an accurate premonition. Her mom is texting; one of the couple’s babies is awake. So much for a night out together. This is the last of the residences that regularly hosts house parties with live music in Winston-Salem, as far as anybody here knows. The woman who lives here, a dandy wearing a low-cut fringe T-shirt and a fedora propped jauntily over her feathered early-Madonna-style bob, would prefer that strangers not be hipped to the deal. The front room of the basement boasts a well-loved foosball table in the middle and a small bar in the corner where keg beer and liquor flow copiously. A labyrinthine path leads to the submerged end of the basement, where a DJ setup occupies a small section enclosed by exposed two by-four studs. Band gear is arranged under a small rectangular window. A couch on one side of the stage area makes up the only seating, and an erect fan works valiantly against the rising body heat. The band known as Terrance & the Tallboys is playing a double-header tonight. By around 9 p.m. they have already knocked out an opening set at a free concert at the Werehouse presented by a group called Friends Repurposing Everything Everywhere to register people to vote and pass out election information. Singer Jacob Myrick is wearing a T-shirt bearing the message “Rock out with your Barack out” to mark the occasion. Dragging on a cigarette on the load-in ramp in front of the Werehouse after the set, guitarist Drew Taylor waxes with anticipation about the house show. It’s an after-party for a downtown cycling scavenger hunt called the Alley Cat Race. “They’ve already gotten drunk and started having a good time after the bike race,” Taylor says. “It’s gonna be really good.” The voter registration concert was fine, and they’re down for the cause, but they all say house parties are where they get into their natural element. They played their first show at a house party on Sprague Street, according to Myrick, and then four or five at tonight’s venue. The cops used to show up, mainly because of noise complaints, the host says, and once she almost got arrested for challenging them. Otherwise, they don’t seem to have much problem with the parties and the last couple times they haven’t shown up at all. Why the music scene thrives at private parties instead of licensed clubs might seem like a good question. An even more obvious query should be: Why not? The bands at house shows tend to be friends in contrast to some clubs, where promoters sometimes care more about maximizing the draw than booking complementary acts. The players like each other’s music and enjoy partying together. There’s little if any markup on the alcohol, and everybody takes advantage of it by drinking more and faster.’ 

Thesound is usually crappy, but the bands play what they like instead ofconforming to formula to please revenue conscious club owners. Thebands tend to curse more onstage, too. The sight lines are atrocious,with low ceilings and support studs blocking view of the band, but theatmosphere is more jagged and thrilling. Nobody gets paid, andsomehow that makes it all the more pure. Besides, you’ve got to workyour connections to find out about these shows, so it feels a bit likea secret society. Terrance & the Tall Boys is a soul band,straight up: in-the-pocket drumming, fluid bass lines, tasteful guitarplaying and vocals pitched high with emotional commitment and pathos.In other ways they are unlike any soul band you’ve likely happenedacross. They don’t go for flashy stage presence or dressy presentation.They drink conspicuously and get intimate with their audience. Thevocals are run through heavy reverb, and the instrumentation retains araw, garagey sound. By the end of the show, the musicians aresurrounded by the crowd. In that way, the concert is a rite ofpassage familiar to any former teenager who once held a fleetingpassion for punk rock. That only one member of the band, Jessup, isblack seems hardly relevant in this underground rock scene where ahip-hop DJ spins records between live sets. The 26-year-old JacobMyrick, who goes by the stage name Terrance Tall, somewhat resembles ayoung Van Morrison with his bushy beard, long hair and fire-hydrantbuild. He drives a powder blue Subaru station wagon with a camper top.He went through a couple different guises before arriving at thisdestination. He began his music career as Fat Hate in a metalband called Apocryphal, then changed his name to Clarence Lee to starta country band called Clarence Lee & Paul Behr & the ClarenceLee & Paul Behr Band. The meaning behind the name of this new bandis pretty straightforward: Myrick is the shortest member and thus theother three are the Tall Boys. Also, they all enjoy drinking beer fromtall-boy cans. During the show, Myrick beckons the audience to come inclose, and one of his cohorts admonishes, “Don’t step on the powercord.” As the band slides into one of its originals, anImpressions-style ballad called “In the Trunk,” Myrick directs audiencemembers to find partners, and practically all of them do. The couples’hands grasp cigarettes and beers, fingers brush against hips. A couplewaltzes up to bass player Alex Smith, the girl drapes her arm aroundhim as he plays, and they dance in a threesome. Then her partner pullsher away and hoists her to a straddling position on his waist. “Realclose,” Myrick breathes, “real close.” He picks up two red plastic cupsoff an amp and lifts them to his lips only to find them both empty.Then he introduces the next song. “This is good for close dancing,” hesays.

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