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Bonus Track

Just Some Pals Mogul-ing Around

July 28, 2002|Randy Lewis

The label: Memphis International Records.

The artists: R&B-soul singer Carla Thomas, guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart, and old-timey folk and blues musician Harmonica Frank Lloyd.

The location: 2200 Union Ave., down the street in Memphis from Sun Records, which launched Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.

The principals: Bob Merlis, one of the deans of record company publicists, and David Less, former executive director of the Memphis-based Blues Foundation

The mission: "MWL," short for "music we like," says Merlis, who took an early retirement offer from Warner Bros. Records last year after 29 years. Memphis International was born out of a call he got last year from old friend Less.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 31, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 7 inches; 268 words Type of Material: Correction
Musician names--A story in Sunday Calendar about Memphis International Records contained two misspelled surnames: guitarist Django Reinhardt and folk-blues singer Harmonica Frank Floyd.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 04, 2002 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part F Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Musicians' names--A July 28 Bonus Track about Memphis International Records had two misspelled surnames: guitarist Django Reinhardt and folk-blues singer Harmonica Frank Floyd.

"He asked me if I'd lost any money in the stock market," Merlis says, "and of course I said yes. Then he asked if I'd had any fun doing it, and of course I said no. So he said, 'I've got an idea: Let's go into partnership on a record label. We could have a lot more fun and maybe not lose any money.' "

Merlis and Less are both lifelong roots-music lovers who now constitute the committee of two that makes all decisions for Memphis International Records. "It's just me and him and our piggy bank."

The plan: They expect to issue a half-dozen albums a year. The initial budget is extremely modest by conventional music-business standards. "It's only five digits to begin with," Merlis says. At Warner Bros., "we spent far more on press kit folders for one Fleetwood Mac album than we anticipate spending to release six albums a year."

The inside joke: "We talk to each other four or five times a week and it's always, 'Hello, Jerry? This is Ahmet' [referring to famed Atlantic Records execs Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun], or 'Hi, Leonard. It's Phil' [Chess Records founders Leonard and Phil Chess]. I saw Jerry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee meeting recently and told him we call ourselves Ahmet and Jerry, but we still don't know which of us is which."

The future: The label's next release will be an album of holiday music played by the jazz group Gypsy Hombres in the style of guitarist Django Reinhart. The title? "Django Bells."

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