I’m not sure why, but I get really sad when session musicians die. Maybe it’s because I think they never got the credit they deserved, or at least that they got less acclaim than the headlining stars who might have never hit the heights they did without the studio guys who laid down the foundation. For all I know, the session guys are fine with that and would just as soon not have all the attention placed on them. But I still want to fight the fight for them, even when there’s no real fight being fought. In fact, these are the kinds of fights I enjoy most.
The death of Bobby Emmons Monday at the age of 72 particularly bums me out because I had just seen him and the equally great Dan Penn play to a nowhere-near-full-enough-to-my-liking crowd at Joe’s Pub in December. I knew more about Penn going in, but when I saw that Emmons was playing with him, I did some research and found a man with a hand (well, two hands, mostly, since he played keyboards) in a bunch of hits as part of the studio band known as the Memphis Boys at American Sound Studio in Memphis. Here’s a few: “Suspicious Minds,” “In the Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “I Gotcha,” and “Angel of the Morning.” And there are dozens more.
And before he did all that stuff, he toured as a member of Bill Black’s Combo, whom I’ve recently become enamored with (I’m a touch behind the times) thanks to some cuts heard on the SiriusXM 60s on 6 channel. And while doing so, he appeared with the band in the movie “Teenage Millionaire.” Early rock movies really are the best. There should be a channel that just shows them all on a loop.
Plus, he co-wrote “The Wurlitzer Prize” and “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” the latter of which I was happy to hear him play at Joe’s Pub. When I got him to sign my ticket stub afterward, I told him as much, and brought up how much I loved “The Wurlitzer Prize,” too. He seemed happy to hear that, and asked if I didn’t think he played “Luckenbach” too fast. I told him it sounded great to me. And I thought he and Dan Penn did a bang-up job on “Late Show with David Letterman” that same week.
So, here’s to you, Bobby Emmons. I hope you got all the love and praise you wanted while you were here, and I’m certain your contributions to music history will never be forgotten.