Dana Fuchs: Making Magic In Memphis

Dana Fuchs must have lived in Memphis in a previous life. How else to explain the ease and elan, her ability to make such superb music, in this one. The story starts with Fuchs’s producer, Kevin Houston. He heard the girl’s new batch of songs, loved them and knew there was only one environment where these flowers could flourish. That would be the city where Elvis Presley and Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes and Ann Peebles, Tina Turner and Dusty Springfield made records so full of soul, that five decades later they’re still capable of burning your iPod to a crisp. He knew Fuchs would fit right in here. And she does. On her new disc, Love Lives On, this women’s voice, classically raspy and rockin’, anciently bluesy but sporting a contemporary edge, is captured to perfection. So can I get an amen?!

“The idea of recording in Memphis wasn’t something preplanned,” says the voluble Fuchs. “I had this bunch of songs ready, tunes I had co-written with Jon Diamond (who also co-produced the disc), that I was very happy with. I played them for Kevin and he really heard something in them that I hadn’t. He heard a rawness and grit in there that excited him. Almost immediately he felt we should record the tunes in Memphis. I trusted him and gave myself over to the experience. So, this New Yorker packed up and went down South.”

One of the disc’s first standout tracks (although, they may all be standout tracks) is its opener, “Backstreet Baby.” The tune begins by taunting you with a sinuous guitar hook, along with horns that start out seething, then suddenly become angry enough to punch you in the face. It also sports Fuchs’s sand-papery voice (imagine a pissed-off Peppermint Patty) and a sharp lyrical study of a female ex-con going to score while barely out of jail. All of this is startling enough. But the track can best be described by an adjective we all thought was dead: funky. The song is so damn funky! “Calling Angels” keeps up that propulsive groove, like an outtake from Otis Redding’s catalogue. And speaking of Otis, dig the King’s own “Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” More mesmerizing horns, cracking drums and Fuchs’s voice that rips like a razor through your favorite blue jeans. Kids will love how ‘new’ this music sounds. Aging hipsters will cry when they hear it, having thought this classic Memphis sound was gone forever.

“Aside from the songs and the production, a lot of the credit goes to the guys that played on the record,” says Fuchs, still sounding like the whole experience was a wonderful dream-an 11 day dream.

“For instance, we had Reverend Charles Hodges on organ. He’s someone you’ve heard all your life, having played on all those classic Al Green records. Our drummer, Steve Potts, has played with Gregg Allman and Booker T. Then there are the horns, the instruments that really made it sound Memphis. Kirk Smothers plays sax and Marc Franklin is on trumpet. The thing that really amazed me was how fast these guys learned. You’d show them the song and they’d run through it. By the second take you’d think they’d been playing it since the ‘60s. And we were ready to roll tape. It was thrilling to see musicians who had so much soul and innate understanding of this kind of music.”

Then there’s that title. It’s not just a nice bit of alliteration. It refers to Fuchs’s own life. And maybe to yours. In recent years, the singer has suffered a slew of harrowing life events. A number of close family members, including her father and three siblings, died in quick succession. Despite the blinding pain it caused, the losses also managed to impart an epiphany. One invaluable epiphany.

“When my father was dying, it was horrible,” says the singer. “But around the same time. I found out I was pregnant. Somehow it helped me feel a bit better. But more than that, it made me think. That no matter what sort of loss you have, there’s always something to balance it out. Love that lives on. It became my mantra. Then the album title.”

Now that the disc it out, Fuchs (who also cut her chops starring in the play, Love Janis and singing on the soundtrack of the Beatles-leaning film Across The Universe), still has work to do. She has a tour showcasing ‘Love’ that starts in May and rocks until the end of August. But there’s a little more to this enterprise than just selling discs and racking up miles.

“Of course, I’ve been through a very dark time, with all my losses. But there’s a bigger story here. I wanted to make this album universal. Sure, everybody has to deal with the loss of beloved family members. But right now, the country is also cut in two over the direction we’ve been taking. That’s a loss too. When people ask me about the title, the answer is pretty simple. The songs, the decision to make the record in Memphis, just carrying on through hard times, this is proof that, in everyone’s life, there is hope. No matter what hell you’re passing through, there is always hope.”