A “Night of Arkansas Stars” might be a push. Of the five acts the Oxford American has assembled to help celebrate the release of the magazine's 11th annual Southern Music Issue on Saturday, only Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers even approach household-name status (recognizing the Newport natives as Sun Records pioneers is Arkansas Music History 101). But that's the beauty of the latest Oxford American; it unearths the stories and the music (in an accompanying CD) of dozens of acts that were or are big names in some alternate universe where talent and charisma are all that matter.
Saturday in Argenta, the magazine hosts its biggest music issue party to date, featuring, in addition to Burgess and the Pacers, should-be, could-be stars like Jim Mize, the True Soul Band, Larry Donn and Sleepy LaBeef.
Mize should be familiar to regular readers of the Times entertainment section (in full disclosure, I wrote about him in the Oxford American, too). The Conway native might be our state's finest living songwriter. He sings in a ragged, but affecting voice on elemental themes — things coming together, things falling apart. His band, a revolving cast of tenured locals, backs him with a sturdy, blues-influenced brand of rock 'n' roll.
Oxford American editor Marc Smirnoff says he's excited to see “why all the Europeans love Larry Donn.” The Bono, Ark., native is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, but a far bigger deal abroad. His material, Smirnoff writes in the OA, recalls Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis back when they were “fresh” and “insistent.”
Original pressings from True Soul, Little Rock's late '60s, early '70s answer to Stax, are in high demand by record collectors. For Saturday's concert, label founder Lee Anthony has assembled an old school revue that'll include, among others, local guitarist John Craig, whose song “Sockin' Soul” features on the OA CD, and Anthony's son Tim Anthony, a longtime musician on the scene who's recently been playing keys with 2009 Musicians Showcase winner Velvet Kente.
Smirnoff says he's particularly excited to see Sleepy LaBeef. The 6'7” roots performer has been known, alternately, as the Bull, the Road Warrior and the Human Jukebox.
“He's such a showman,” Smirnoff says. “His grittiness doesn't always come across in his recordings. But [live], he definitely taps into something I've never seen — his voice, his persona. He's a real throwback.”
The concert jumps between Reno's Argenta Cafe and Cornerstone Pub and Grill throughout the night. An all-access pass is available via oxfordamerican.org, by calling 320-5730 or at 301 Main St. in North Little Rock, which will also serve as will call.
UPDATE: Rockabilly vet Bobby Brown was added to the bill after our print deadline.
Oxford American's “Night ofArkansas Stars”
Saturday, Jan. 16, $20
7 p.m. Larry Donn and Bobby Brown, Reno's
8 p.m. Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers
9 p.m. Jim Mize, Reno's
10 p.m. True Soul Band, Cornerstone
11:30 p.m. Sleepy LaBeef