The Yazoo Shakes
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The Yazoo Shakes

Band Blues Soul


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The Yazoo Shakes @ CJ's Lounge

Rockford, Illinois, USA

Rockford, Illinois, USA

The Yazoo Shakes @ Murphy's

Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Memphis, Tennessee, USA

The Yazoo Shakes @ Otherlands

Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Memphis, Tennessee, USA

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



If you like a song by The Yazoo Shakes, you'd better have a good memory. Chances are you'll never hear the song performed the same way again.
"We do a lot of improv in our set," said singer/pianist Clay Ayers, 29. "I'd say 75 percent of our songs I make up all the lyrics while we're playing."
They don't want to play their songs exactly the same way every time. "How can you put yourself into a song by doing that when you perform? It's not a memorization process. Every time we perform we learn something new. We feel something new. We have something else to talk about."
"It's like you have a very small foundation and you build a new house on it every time," said drummer Shaun West, 27.
"This isn't Mozart, you know," Ayers said. "This isn't stuff written down. This is blues. This is modern music. This is the sort of music where there is no composer."
"It's an extension of folk music," said bass and banjo player Alpha Newberry, 25. "We're playing, in a sense, electric folk music with as much spiritual soulful expression as possible."
Their songs feature stream-of-consciousness lyrics, but, "some of them have been so good we've been like, 'We need to keep playing that. We'll give it a name and we'll give it some words,'" said guitarist Taylor Wood, 25.
Ayers, who grew up in Jackson, Tenn., formed a band after his dad took him to see a Bob Dylan concert in the eighth grade. "Just because he thought I should see a Bob Dylan concert and know about that world. It was amazing. The next day I bought Blood on the Tracks. I thought it was the best music I'd ever heard in my life.
"I had no idea that there was this whole world where music wasn't just about breaking up and finding somebody to love.
"I would do things like take his songs and write down the lyrics and turn them into literature class and tell them it was my poetry. I got in trouble, definitely. I thought, 'Nobody knows this guy.'"
Kate Ayers, 25, who plays trumpet in the band, is married to Clay. "When Kate learned that I liked John Prine, that's when she started pursuing me," Clay said.
"He was the only person I'd ever met who knew who John Prine was," Kate said. "And I was like, 'This guy's special.'"
Kate originally wanted to play flute in the school band, but she was assigned the trumpet instead. "I have really thin lips, which is really good for playing the trumpet, so I was really good at it."
She and Clay moved to Memphis so Kate could go to University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences. When he was trying to form the band, Clay included his three favorite songwriters Dylan, Tom Waits and Neil Young in his ads.
Wood, who is from Vicksburg, had been in another Memphis band before The Yazoo Shakes, but it wasn't a pleasant experience. "When I told them I was gonna quit the band they keyed my car," he said.
Newberry performed in ensembles in college, but The Yazoo Shakes is his first "big-time" band. "When I was five I saw the piano teacher's daughter playing piano and I thought, 'I want to be able to make that sound.' So, I started playing piano. I pretty much played an instrument ever since."
In the eighth grade, Wood lived across the street from a guy his age who had a band. "I remember going over there and watching this drummer play and just thinking, 'I can do that. And I can do that better than him,' " he said. "So, anytime they weren't home, I would break in an upstairs window and just play on their drums. They sort of knew. They eventually kicked the other guy out of the band and I became their drummer."
As for a future CD by The Yazoo Shakes, Clay said, "We're trying to get a demo together now. That is kind of weird and we're still working through that. I'm making the lyrics up in the studio as I'm singing them. But once they get recorded, is that the song? It's something we're having to deal with."

by: Michael Donahue - The Commercial Appeal


Look for The Yazoo Shakes EP, Summer 2008.



The Yazoo Shakes are an experiment in catharsis for both the audience and the band. The word "shakes" can mean a fit of religious passion or delirium tremors brought on by severe alcohol withdrawal. That's exactly what you can expect to get from these musicians. Going to a Yazoo Shakes show, one is likely to see any combination of foot-stomping, shouting, convulsing, laughing, and preaching (courtesy Clay Ayers). The Yazoo Shakes are a family of musicians rooted in traditional Southern music and Blues and Jazz improvisation with an eye on heavy-hitting rock. Improvisation is key to music as expression, so no two shows are ever the same, and one can expect to hear some songs for the first and last time. The Yazoo Shakes seek better understanding of music and life through the richness of their various musical sensibilities. They are lenses through which each of the others sees the world. Mostly, The Yazoo Shakes are a community of musicians with an abiding belief in the power of music as curative, challenging, life-affirming, transcendent, rowdy, righteously indignant, and always enjoyable.