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Bobby Wood remembers well the day he became a member of Chips Moman's American Sound Studios house band of the late '60s and early '70s, The Memphis Boys.
The New Albany, Miss., native recounts in his upcoming memoir, "Walking Among the Giants: From Elvis to Garth: The Bobby Wood Story," his days as a struggling solo artist with one minor hit (1964's "If I'm A Fool For Loving You"), and how Moman, after years of trying, lured him to play piano with his roster of ace session players. Those players included guitarist/bassist/producer Tommy Cogbill, guitarist Reggie Young, keyboardist Bobby Emmons, drummer Gene Chrisman, and bassist/string arranger Mike Leech.
The group will be recognized next week as part of Elvis Week 35th anniversary events. Woods will sign copies of his book, The Memphis Boys will be honored with a brass note on Beale Street, and surviving members of the band will reunite for a concert at Graceland.
Wood's first assignment as a member of The Memphis Boys, also known at times as the American Group or the 827 Thomas Street Band (after the studio's address in North Memphis), was to help them finish a record by a British pop singer looking to reinvent herself.
"I ended up finishing up the Dusty Springfield album," Wood says of playing on Dusty In Memphis, a perennial entry on almost every magazine's list of the greatest records of all time. "It was a good way to start."
With the addition of Wood, the lineup was complete on one of the most successful bands of all time. Between 1968 and the closing of the studio in 1972, the band played on an unmatched 122 Billboard hits, including classic cuts by Springfield ("Son Of A Preacher Man"), B.J. Thomas ("Hooked On A Feeling"), The Box Tops ("The Letter"), Neil Diamond ("Sweet Caroline") and Elvis Presley ("Suspicious Minds").
The streak continued long after American, too. In 1972, the band moved to Nashville — that's where The Memphis Boys name first stuck — and recorded even more hit records by Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. They remain in demand today, both as individual players and as a unit, having recently been called into the studio by Garth Brooks to record some songs with his daughter.
"We didn't realize until we got to Nashville what had happened when some people started digging out the accomplishments and the charts and the hit records that we had," Wood says.
"We just went to work everyday. People ask us why didn't we have any more pictures, and I said we weren't thinking about bringing a camera. We were lucky to come to work."
For all their success, The Memphis Boys remain relatively unknown. General listeners might be surprised to learn that their favorite pop, rock, country or soul records were all recorded by the same group. While other backing groups like New Orleans' The Meters, Motown's Funk Brothers, and Memphis' Booker T. & the MGs and Hi Rhythm Section have long gotten their due, The Memphis Boys' legacy has lived largely in the shadows until lately.
In 2007, however, The Memphis Boys were part of the inaugural class of the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. And in 2010, the University Press of Mississippi published Roben Jones' history of the band and the studio, "Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios." A documentary on the band also is in the works.
Now, in addition to Wood's book, to be published in October by Dunham Books, the group is being honored by Graceland for their role in making Elvis' last No. 1 hit, "Suspicious Minds." At 5 p.m. Monday, the Memphis Music Foundation will present the group with their own brass note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame.
Then on Tuesday, the surviving members of the group, including Wood, Emmons, Chrisman and Young, will reunite for a concert at the Elvis Week Main Stage at Graceland. They will be playing hits from throughout their entire career, joined by vocalists Andy Childs, Terry Mike Jeffrey, The Holladay Sisters, Drea Rhenee and Scat Springs.
"The Memphis Boys haven't gotten their due, primarily because they didn't have a PR person," says Memphis music industry leader Marty Lacker, onetime studio manager of American Sound Studios who has made it his mission in recent years to get the band the credit he believes they deserve.
The Memphis Boys Events
Bobby Wood will sign copies of his book, “Walking Among the Giants: From Elvis to Garth: The Bobby Wood Story,” from 1-3 p.m. Monday at Graceland Plaza. The event is free.
A Brass Note Reception for the band, also free, will be held at 5 p.m. Monday at Alfred’s, 197 Beale St.
And at 7 p.m. Tuesday, a Memphis Boys Salute will be held on the Elvis Week Main Stage, Graceland. Tickets: $30, available at Graceland Guest Services and at the door 30 minutes prior to the start, pending availability.