Motown – Atlanta – Nashville – St. Louis
by Christine Imbs
St. Louis? Is it possible for St. Louis to be mentioned in the
same breath as some of the giants in the music industry? According
to some in the know, it’s not that far-fetched of an idea.
“I really believe St. Louis has the potential,” says St. Louis
entrepreneur Joe Edwards. “It’s much better off than people
think. No, we’re not on one of the coasts, in Nashville, or
Austin. But there are more people making it in the music industry
from St. Louis than most people realize. St. Louis is a great
Edwards says he feels one of the things that makes it so great
is our location. As the Gateway to the West we were not only
part of the whole east to west migration, but part of a north
to south migration that occurred simultaneously. This convergence
of people and cultures resulted in an explosion of creativity
that’s lasted for decades.
Take for example Scott Joplin and ragtime, the rock ‘n roll
of its era. Then there’s the jazz influences coming up from
New Orleans on the riverboats. When a great migration of blues
musicians arrived from the Mississippi Delta region and mingled
with ragtime and jazz, a totally new sound was created—the Saint
Louis Blues, named after W.C. Handy’s famous composition. And
of course, there’s the incredible musicians who’ve made their
marks in music history—Miles Davis in jazz, Willie May Thornton
in gospel, Albert King in the blues, Chuck Berry in rock ‘n
roll, Ike and Tina Turner in rhythm and blues, and Nellie in
hip hop, just to name a few.
“The list just goes on,” says Edwards. “Even over the last few
years there have been groups like Sun Volt, Wilco and Story
of the Year. And look at Gretchen Wilson who came from across
the river in Pocahontas, Ill. You can’t get any bigger than
that. So this area can support all kinds of music.”
Still, there are some who point to the closing of several St.
Louis nightclubs and scoff at the idea that St. Louis has any
potential whatsoever in developing a music industry. But Edwards
“Every city in the country, with the exception of L.A., New
York and a few others, have run articles saying their music
scene is dying because too many clubs have closed, there are
no major recording studios and no major labels in town,” he
explains. “But when you think about the talent that has emerged
from St. Louis, even over the last few years —well, people tend
to forget about that.”
He also adds that the music fans in St. Louis are very supportive
of local talent. At The Pageant they can sell between 800 and
1,000 tickets for a concert highlighting local bands. Other
cities are doing well if they can sell 100. “So as far as fan
support is concerned, St. Louis is not only the best sports
city in America, but it’s the best music city as well,” he says.
So how do we get people to realize what’s in our own backyard?
Edwards suggests getting local media to take notice is a good
place to start. For instance, take Chuck Berry. Rolling Stone
Magazine voted Berry among the top five “gods of rock ‘n roll”
along with the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Elvis.
His song, “Maybellene,” recorded in 1955, is considered one
of the top most pivotal moments in rock ‘n roll history. And
his monthly concert in the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill has become
a legendary series written about in Rolling Stone and Japanese
newspapers, covered by Japanese television and England’s BBC,
and is attended by Berry’s fans from across the world. Yet there
is no mention of this in the local media.
“It’s that way in other cities, too,” Edwards comments. “If
it’s a local person, we tend to think that they’re not as exotic
or talented as someone from someplace else. But we have some
great musicians, singers, songwriters, and studios right here.
We just need to get a good sense of pride about it.”
Phil Minardi of New Music Talent, a production company helping
local artists get noticed, says when it comes to music, St.
Louis also needs to be willing to try something a little different.
“Most nightclubs only want cover bands,” he says. “There are
places where you can play original music, but the rooms are
small and the sound systems are terrible. The Pageant is probably
the only place you can play original music in a nice room with
a good sound system.”
Minardi’s own band, Plastic, is a cover band. He says it’s the
only way they can get work. “I do it for the fun of it, but
we have a lead singer, John Kreuse, that’s incredible. When
you hear him you wonder why he’s not famous. Well, you have
to play something original to get the attention of a major recording
label. But you can’t make money here unless you’re in a cover
band. It’s a catch 22.”
Apparently St. Louis radio sometimes also hinders the recognition
of local talent. Country singer Kelly Ryan, another of Minardi’s
up-and-coming artists, is currently getting a lot of play on
KFZA, a small independent radio station in Wentzville, as well
as on Internet radio. But so far, St. Louis radio has turned
a deaf ear.
“As an artist, you’d like to get some help in your own backyard.
But you just don’t hear about a lot of the great musicians and
artists in this town,” she says. “We have the potential. We
just need to get the right kind of attention to spotlight us.
I’m planning a trip to Nashville to see what’s going on there.
I don’t want to leave St. Louis, but I may have to.”
It’s things like this that really rankles Minardi. “Kelly’s
being played all over Internet radio stations, from Australia
to Germany, but I can’t get the local country stations to give
her a try, even at 10 o’clock at night,” he states emphatically.
“So if St. Louis wants to be part of the music scene, if it
wants to attract major music industry attention, one thing it
has to do is get the local radio stations on board. It’s going
to take people knowing that the talent is here and the local
radio stations saying, ‘Check this out.’ If they start doing
that, well, that’ll change the whole scene here.”
Ira DeWitt of Notify, another St. Louis music production company,
understands Minardi’s frustration. St. Louis radio is controlled
by out-of-state corporations who generate playlists based on
what’s currently hot. Still, she says other cities manage to
promote their own homegrown originals. “They set aside a day,
a show or a time devoted to unsigned acts. But not in St. Louis,”
she comments. “It’s even difficult to get club DJs to play your
DeWitt adds that she feels good live music venues are the way
to go. They’ll not only give local talent a chance to be heard,
but will entice major record labels to the area if St. Louis
“If we get behind our local artists we’ll develop the reputation
as a place for new music talent. That will help us get the attention
of the coasts,” she explains. “And think of all our neighboring
towns and the revenue it would bring. So it’s very important
for St. Louis to promote its music industry. We’re actually
working with the Cardinals right now to get something like the
House of Blues downtown, where we can show off some of our local
acts. But that’s not 100 percent yet.”
According to the Recording Industry Association of America,
music touches every person of every culture on the globe to
the tune of $40 billion annually. The U.S. recording industry
accounts for fully one-third of that world market. Eric Rhone
of Vision Management Group believes this alone could be enough
to make St. Louis sit up and take notice.
“You can’t look at the music industry and not think, wow,” he
says. “And we have great potential here not only in music, but
entertainment in general. For instance, film companies use soundtracks.
If we can offer them a package of tax incentives to film here
and the facilities to record their music, which we do have,
then we can approach major labels like Universal or Sony to
open up satellite offices here. It would be a great benefit
to the area and compliment our attempts to revitalize the region.”
Rhone says St. Louis businesses are very good at promoting themselves
and capitalizing on their particular industries. But he says
the problem is they too often get caught up in a kind of vacuum
where they think that’s the only component. In reality, people
only work a third of their lives. And although work is critical
it’s the other two-thirds—where they play, how their kids are
educated, and a diverse arts and culture experience —that make
human life a complete life.
“Cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas have figured
it out. You’ve got to have a well-rounded experience, not just
focus on work, work, work,” Rhone stresses. “People work so
they can make money and then live their lives. Music and entertainment
is a key component in that. We have the potential. We just need
to make up our minds that this is an industry we want to go