In the 90s, Memphis’ music scene was about to change location. Up through the 80s the infamous Antenna Club was the place where countercultures had flourished. But when Barristers opened its doors in the early 90s, it quickly became the city’s most adventurous source of live entertainment.
Barristers was a small bar and music venue tucked away in an alley underneath a parking garage, in downtown Memphis – blink and you’ll miss it! It was a dingy bar, described as a place you’d never want to see with the lights up all the way, but everyone played there.
At one point in the 90’s, Barristers was an important place for the youth of Memphis, where they saw the local punk bands or even lucky to catch bands on their way through the United States. In 1995, New York’s own Sonic Youth was in town to record their album Washing Machine, here they took a break from the days in the studio to give a very crammed surprise gig at Barristers.
In February 1997, Jeff Buckley moved to Memphis to begin work on his second album and to get away from New York, with all its expectations and pressure from the record label. Goodbye New York and hello Memphis.
As author Robert Gordon wrote about the creative culture of Memphis: “You can come here and be a star or amount to nothing; either way it’ll have no impact on the greater community! ”
In Memphis, he was just the guy who did a wicked Cher impression. And he felt at home in a city where he was treated as a friend more than a spectacle.
Buckley found himself a house on Rembert Street, where he wrote a lot of new material and recorded demos on his 4-track recorder in preparation for a forthcoming session with Andy Wallace – the producer of ‘Grace’.
At Barristers Jeff quickly found Monday nights residency and because the place was as it was, he did not have to think about pleasing anyone. Often arriving on stage with stacks of writing done the previous week, using the audience to refine and test new songs on the 30 or so locals that would gather. He would also do covers or try older material with a different take, and if there was a drum kit on stage, he would use that for a song.
On May 26 1997, Buckley is performing one of his regular Monday nights shows at Barristers. It’s a smal set of only six songs, consisting of both new songs and cover versions. Among them is the song ‘The Sky is a Landfill’, which later opens the posthumous album ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk’, and also his cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah – by many magazines hailed as one of the best covers of all time! Sadly it would be the last time an audience would be graced by Jeff Buckley (1966-1997).
Barristers took over the Antenna Club in 1996 as Barristers East, but was forced to retreat to its old location only a few months later due to landlord difficulties. Barristers closed around 1999, and the building is now razed.
Put a part of music history on your wall – buy the Barristers poster in the web shop:
by Dennis Mejdal 2021