By JACK W. HILL SP
ECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE Thursday, May 12, 2011
LITTLE ROCK — Keith Sykes, one of Memphis’ best-known music veterans, is on the line from Texas and wonders if it can be true – what he has heard about the road being closed from Memphis to Little Rock.
Of course, much can change in the week before he’s scheduled for another of his weekend showcases of songwriters in Hot Springs.
The featured songwriters this year will be Roger Cook, Buzz Cason, Jed Zimmerman, Grace Askew, Delta Joe Sanders and Shannon Boshears. Sykes and the other songwriters traditionally sit in a semicircle and take turns singing their songs, accompanied by one another, or at least by the ones who know each other’s songs.
Sykes is best known for co-writing “Volcano,” a hit for Jimmy Buffett, and other songs recorded by John Prine, The Judds, Jerry Jeff Walker,George Thorogood and others, and for his own songs on albums that include I’m Not Strange, I’m Just Like You and It Don’t Hurt to Flirt.
Of the participating songwriters, the British-born Cook wrote a song that became one of the world’s best-known commercial jingles: “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” along with “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress),” a hit for The Hollies; “I Believe in You,” a Don Williams hit; “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” and “You’ve Got Your Troubles,” both hits for The Fortunes; and “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” a hit by White Plains.
Cason wrote Carl Carlton’s “Everlasting Love” and has sung backing vocals for Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, Conway Twitty and Buffett.
Zimmerman, Askew and Sanders are part of the Memphis singer-songwriter scene and Boshears is one of the best-known Arkansas bluesrock singer-songwriters.
“Everything else is going to hell in a handbasket,” Sykes notes, referring to the weather and perhaps other current events. “But things are pretty good right now for me. I’m in Port Aransas Texas, where I go to work on songs, sort of a retreat, for solitude and so on. I’m getting pretty much a song a day written, taken from snippets of stuff I write all year long, things I’ve gathered together.
“So I’m sort of working Monday through Friday and then take the weekends off, so it’s been good. I’ve got enough songs now for a traditional songwriter album, but it’s time to find a fresh sound for those songs.”
Sykes has been visiting Hot Springs for most of the past two decades, first to celebrate the birthday of his wife, Jerene and to also tie in some time when the horsesare running at Oaklawn Park. But this year he changed the schedule, moving his gathering of himself and like-minded singer-songwriters about a month, into mid-May.
“We got a lot of positive feedback last year when we mentioned we wanted to move it,” Sykes explains. “A lot of our fans were not even going to the track, since we had so much going on in the hotel. Plus the old weekend was also the time of my wife’s birthday, along with the big celebration of Jerry Jeff [Walker]’s birthday in Austin, Texas, and I hated to miss that.
The event got started through Sykes’ friendship with Rusty Mathis, general manager of Ben E. Keith Food Service Distributors. Mathis had formerly been the manager of the now-defunct Sawmill, a legendary watering hole, restaurant and music venue in The Spa City’s old train depot.
The silent auction, whichwill feature music-related memorabilia and other donated treasures, is a fundraiser with proceeds going to the Tim Mathis Memorial Scholarship Fund. Tim Mathis, son of Rusty Mathis, was killed in a car wreck.
Sykes, who earlier this year was part of two events – a cruise and a festival – hosted by his pal, singer-songwriter Larry Joe Taylor, is finishing up a new blues album, which he expects will be released after the Hot Springs weekend. It will be his first digital downloadonly release, at least for a time before a traditional CD release.
“I wrote all but one of the songs and the one I didn’t write is called ‘Bucksnort Blues,’ the title cut, and it was written by Jed Zimmerman, who will be part of the Hot Springs weekend,” he says. “And no, he’s not related to that Zimmerman fellow from Minnesota, who goes by that name, Bob Dylan.”