The Memphis Mafia is the next local performer set to hit the ‘Music in the Park’ stage on June 28.
Performances in the series start at 6:30 p.m. on the Lacombe Memorial Centre’s Echo Stage.
“About 2016, Louie (Massicotte) and I had a duo. We played a lot around Red Deer in that classic rock genre. After a few hundred gigs together, we thought it was time we should be forming a band,” explained guitarist Matt Allen.
“We added Dave Gilmore on the bass – he and I had been in previous bands together. Then we picked up Chris Pompetti from Three Hills – he’s an amazing drummer. And next thing you know, we are a full band,” he said.
As to the band’s moniker, it connects to Massicotte being a massive Elvis fan, noted Allen with a chuckle.
“He’s been to Memphis and Nashville, and he can sound just like Elvis when he sings. He’s been to Graceland many times, so it’s really been a passion for him.”
Back through Presley’s heyday through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, he had something of a very dedicated entourage made up of close friends and family that ultimately became known as the ‘Memphis Mafia’.
They would rip around town in their fancy cars, they’d be at all of the parties – they’d rent movie theatres for big parties – you name it.
And as the local foursome covers plenty of Elvis tunes, the name seemed to fit. The classic sounds from that era are at the heart of what the guys do, but they aren’t just about one or two distinct styles.
“We do your classic twangy country/old-time rock and roll – from Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. We also get into the 80s/90s styles of Dwight Yoakam and George Strait.”
The hits of Roy Orbison and Neil Diamond are favourites as well. “It’s an all-ages show. We find that no matter where we play, from young kids to seniors – pretty much everyone knows our music,” he said.
“It’s also timeless music. I think a lot of these songs that we play were the foundation of the beginnings of rock and roll. Many artists from the 70s, 80s, and 90s were influenced by all of these original guys. They were influenced by Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Cash. The big hits by many of these artists have also stood the test of time,” he added.
For example, they often launch into Folsom Prison Blues by Cash and everyone right away recognizes it.
Another audience fave is Blue Suede Shoes – and again, there’s that instant recognizability.
“Everyone just starts dancing because they know the song!”
Allen’s own musical journey was sparked early on.
“I grew up loving rock and roll,” he said. “My first album – I got my mom to buy me Guns ‘n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. I was listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine, and that guitar playing by Slash just mesmerized me.
“So I grew up with that, but also my Dad listened to a lot of old-time Johnny Cash and Jennings. I knew all of those songs and I always had a love for that sound, too.”
He started playing guitar around the age of 12.
“But it wasn’t really until my late 20s and early 30s that I started to really delve into it, and practice those lead guitar parts.
“I started off with some professional lessons and then started gigging live – and I basically learned ‘trial by fire’ – I learned playing live onstage by just being thrown right into the mix. A lot of those times, it was either sink or swim when it came time to play a solo or what-not,” he added with a laugh.
For Allen and the guys, sharing the music is pure joy.
“I would say that there is no feeling like it to be on a stage in front of a large crowd, but also a small crowd too, because they can be more intimate.
“But when people are enjoying the music and you see them singing along, and dancing – everyone’s worries and stresses are – for that moment – gone, and they are just immersed in a song.”
Meanwhile, the guys are pretty much booked up through the summer, including gigs at the Calgary Stampede on July 7 headlining at Mikey’s on 12th Avenue.
”On July 16, we are again in Calgary on 17th Ave. at an outdoor screening of (the Johnny Cash biopic) I Walk the Line.”