Back in the summer of 2010, we flew out to Memphis to embark on a project that’s still unfolding as we type this. The trip was coined ‘Soul University’ by our friend John Hubbell, who has spent the past 6 years working on a feature length documentary about Southern soul giant John Gary Williams, one of the key voices of legendary Stax vocal group The Mad Lads. From ’64 to ’72, The Mad Lads expertly combined sweet soul, doo-wop and eventually a little bit of psych. Hubbell, along with John Gary, invited a number of us to Memphis to sow the seeds for what’s shaping up to be a brilliant doc entitled I See Hope.
That 2010 Memphis trip was a life-changing experience for all of us. John Gary immediately opened his heart (and his memory bank), taking us around to his old haunts – some positive and others intensely harrowing. John Gary’s story is incredibly moving, one of those larger than life stories that was made for the big screen.
*Photo courtesy of Stax Museum
While The Mad Lads were riding high on the charts, he was drafted into Vietnam and eventually returned years later to rejoin The Mad Lads. But his newly discovered political consciousness also led him to The Invaders, a Memphis offshoot of the Black Power Movement. In August ’68, John was involved in a shooting which he tried to stop. He took the rap and went to jail. Upon returning, he cut a powerful self-titled solo LP in ’73 for Stax imprint Truth. The album included one of our favorite all-time soul tunes, “The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy,” and “I See Hope,” from which the new documentary takes its name.
*Photo courtesy of John Gary Williams
Stax was in a slew of problems, causing the album to go largely unnoticed. His music career fizzled. For a time, John Gary moved out to Los Angeles and worked as a cab driver. Then he moved to Iowa to work at a meat packing plant. Then years later the world finally started catching up to his musical genius. That’s a tiny thumbnail of John Gary’s life. The doc I See Hope is hoping to get his story told and give the man another chance.
The film team have put together a Kickstarter page in hopes of raising funds and awareness about the project. Please take a look! http://www.kickstarter.com/johngarywilliams
All of this reminds us: we’ve gotta get back to Memphis. We’re currently missing so many things from that epic 2010 visit like that BBQ pork sandwich from Payne’s, stories from Robert Gordon, Gus’s Fried Chicken, the wonderful Deanie Parker & Tim Sampson, and the greatest tour guides on planet earth: Andria Lisle & Scott Bomar. Why don’t we live in Memphis?!?!
Below is as the Kickstarter trailer for I See Hope, as well as a few of our favorite tunes from The Mad Lads and John Gary’s ’73 solo LP.
The Mad Lads – “Don’t Have To Shop Around”
The Mad Lads – “Gone! The Promises of Yesterday”
John Gary Williams – “The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy”