It was late January of 2011 and an epic midwest snowstorm was moving in across northern Missouri. The Grand Marquis pulled out of Kansas City as freezing rain dotted their windshield. They were headed down south to the International Blues Challenge, a massive annual competition comprised of nearly 200 of the best blues bands in the world, held in Memphis, Tennessee. That week representing the Topeka Blues Society, they advanced past the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, earning a place in the Finals (top eight) to play the Orpheum Theatre. Their bold, jumpin', swingin' and rootsy sound had Beale Street abuzz, and their original music was turning heads as everyone took notice that the Grand Marquis aren't your run of the mill outfit. Theirs is a style that defies the limitations of category; simultaneously modern and relevant, yet refreshingly familiar and classic. Their songs are bluesy and rhythmic with a jazz sensibility, played with a devil-may-care exuberance that threatens to pull anyone out of their chair to dance.
But before they took the stage in competition that week, the Grand Marquis' first stop in Memphis was 706 Union Avenue. They had always been aware of the history and revolutionary contributions to the pantheon of American music that emanated from that address some fifty to sixty years earlier, so to pass up the chance to record at Sun Studio would have been criminal. After all, the Grand Marquis share much of the same musical ethos, influences and often songbook as those Sun artists. When the last guided tour of the day was done they loaded in their instruments and set up to record. Matt Ross-Spang engineered the session, and did a superb job of capturing the magical sound of the room in the recordings. Throughout the session it was evident everyone was enjoying playing while remaining focused, intent on producing a recording worthy of the standing alongside those made there over the last half century.
So here is The Sun Session: seven songs recorded in about four hours on February 1, 2011. Included in the session are new original songs "The Jungle" and "Easy To Be The Devil," never before recorded. By contrast the original composition "Bad Dream Blues" has evolved over the last decade into the version you hear today. "I'm A Wine Drinker" is an obscure Tiny Grimes jump blues spiced up with some alternate lyrics that really lends itself to the early Sun sound, as does the popular ballad "That's My Desire." Classic Sun songs "Mystery Train" and "Tiger Man" are melded into one rollicking number, and the session is rounded out by the ubiquitously joyous "When the Saints Go Marching In." Interestingly enough, Ben Ruth is the first sousaphone player to record at Sun, and it was discovered later that "That's My Desire" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" were among those played during the legendary December 1956 "Million Dollar Quartet" jam session.
As the Grand Marquis returned to Kansas City the snow had melted off the roads and televisions tuned in to Super Bowl Sunday, but the magic of that one night in Sun Studio will not fade away or be forgotten. Enjoy the music, pictures and video as they transport you back to The Sun Session.