In a must-see event for piano and organ lovers, the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series wraps up its six-month run on Dec. 2, 2016 at the historic Douglass Theatre in Macon with a soulful “keyboard summit” featuring “Master of the Hammond B3” Ike Stubblefield, Alabama Shakes’ touring member Lloyd Buchanan and award-winning blues artist Lola Gulley. The three keyboardists will swap songs “in the round” before being joined by a backing band for an improv jam session, so audience members should expect spontaneous grooves to erupt as the Georgia virtuosos play off of one another. The show begins at 8 p.m.; tickets are $15 in advance here and $20 at the door.
In a multi-faceted career spanning more than 50 years, Ike Stubblefield has racked up six Grammy awards. Born in Toledo, Ohio, he got his start in 1968 on keyboards with Motown legends such as The Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He went on to play Hammond B3 organ with B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton, among other marquee names, and he eventually took to the studio, producing, composing and writing songs with Phil Spector and Quincy Jones.
“One of my goals is always to demonstrate just how versatile a B3 organ can be,” he says. “You can do so many things with a B3.” After living all over the country, Stubblefield settled in Atlanta in 1999 and decided to put down roots in Georgia. Today, he lives in Conyers, where he enjoys stargazing on quiet nights. “I came here for the diversity in music in Atlanta,” he says. “I think of music like cooking—mixing together different ingredients to get different sounds. My cooking seems to taste better when I put it in the oven in Georgia. I like the Southern Rock feel and the overall Southern charm of Georgia.” He also prefers to collaborate with the state’s homegrown artists such as Col. Bruce Hampton, Widespread Panic and CeeLo Green. “Georgia is full of talented musicians to work with, so I stay busy,” he says. For the Douglass show, he plans to present a wide variety of sounds. “My technique is all over the place,” he says, “so I’m planning to do a little Latin, a little funk, some R&B and some old-school jazz.”
Lola Gulley grew up in Alabama, the daughter of a funk musician. As a child, she played drums and trumpet with her father’s band before shifting to the keyboard, where she quickly learned to dazzle audiences with a high-energy, hard-edged approach to traditional blues and contemporary R&B. She put herself through college playing for area churches, which inflected her sound with a gospel flavor. Later, Gulley toured around the country with the soul great Johnnie Taylor, who taught her how to work a crowd into a frenzy. After she won a nationwide talent contest on BET television in 1996, Motown signed her. Around this time, she played in Atlanta, and she liked what she saw and heard. “I realized how many great venues there were in Georgia,” she says. So she decided to stay, becoming an anchor of the Northside Tavern, where she hosts a popular jam session every Monday night. “I chose to plant myself here,” she says, explaining that two of her albums, “Give Her What She Wants” and “Cleanin’ House,” were produced by soul legend William Bell and released on his Wilbe Records label in Atlanta. In 2014, Gulley was named winner in the “Best Vocal Perfomance – Female” category by Blues Critics, and she was selected as best contemporary/traditional blues artist by the Jus Blues Music Awards. For the Douglass show, she says, “I’d like to do some simple but juiced up 12-bar blues numbers along with some classic soul.”
Lloyd Buchanan grew up in Manchester, Georgia. “I spent my childhood in church,” he says, “both Pentecostal and A.M.E. churches. Those experiences really influenced my work, with the deep soul sound, impromptu singing and the call-and-response structure.” He studied jazz improvisation at LaGrange College and eventually became a session player at the Loft Recording Studio in Columbus. As a result, his B3 organ, piano, bass and vocals can be heard on hundreds of recordings emanating from southwest Georgia. Earlier this year, Buchanan wrapped up a whirlwind 100-city tour of the world with Alabama Shakes. He also has toured with the Heavy, Oleta Adams, A7 and Wet Willie. “Macon holds a special place in my heart because of its history as the birthplace of Capricorn Records, where Wet Willie got their start,” he says. “That was one of my favorite gigs, touring with Wet Willie.” He has appeared on the BBC, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Conan and Black Entertainment Television. When Buchanan is home in Columbus, he leads the acclaimed R&B group Cubed Roots, and he is a guest artist-in-residence at Columbus State University. For the Douglass show, Buchanan plans to unveil a wealth of new material. “I’ve really been writing a lot of new stuff lately for my next album, which will be recorded at the Loft,” he says. “It’ll be a classic soul record that is the sum of my experience so far.”
The Douglass Theatre opened in 1920 and was named for its founder, impresario Charles Douglass, the enterprising son of a former slave in Macon. A popular stop on the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit,” it was the premier movie theater and vaudeville hall open to African-Americans in the region. Over the years, the venue has hosted Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. Later on, the Douglass showcased area artists such as Otis Redding, Little Richard and James Brown. The theater closed its doors in 1972, but it was revived and restored to aesthetic splendor by preservationists in 1997. Today, the Douglass, with its crystalline acoustics, welcomes all entertainment seekers with a mix of marquee-worthy musicians and art-house movies.