The roots of The Justus Brothers date back 40 years, in the birthplace of soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll: Memphis. The musicians who comprise the band dropping the eponymous debut album on October 11 on the iconic Memphis International Records/Select-O-Hits labels met long ago in the sweaty blues and smoky jazz clubs on Beale Street. Together, they electrified Memphis churches with rousing musical sermons and tracked in fabled Memphis recording studios alongside an incomparable list of hall of famers, Grammy winners and chart-topping legends. Before they backed a galaxy of stars in sold-out arenas, the members of The Justus Brothers paid dues playing long hours, night after night, sharpening their chops and earning virtuosity while forming a brotherhood built upon rhythm and groove.
Guitarist Niko Lyras and The Justus Brothers produced the ten songs on their self-titled set, a balance of original tunes and choice covers given the full Memphis makeover. Already garnering playlist adds is their soul-powered jam session workout “Chinese Checkers,” a revival originally recorded by Memphis’s Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Several members of The Justus Brothers have ties to Booker T. & the M.G.’s, including drummer Steve Potts, who was a longtime member of the outfit.
The chemistry between the five “brothers” sizzles throughout the collection. Lyras, Potts and bassist Dave Smith have been playing together the longest. Thirty years ago, hornman Pat Register(tenor, alto and soprano sax and flute) and keyboardist Jason Clark completed the family.
“The Justus Brothers are direct descendants of the great Memphis soul fathers, having played with just about all of them, receiving their blessing and having the torch passed directly from them. For decades, we have been a not-so-well-kept secret ingredient on hundreds of R&B and blues-flavored records. Together, we finish each other’s musical phrases and know each other’s soul. We are brothers. Even with busy schedules, we have not stopped playing together live or in the studio through the years. And even though we’ve worked with many of the world’s best-known artists, we know that something magical happens organically whenever we interact with each other,” said Lyras.
The Justus Brothers stoke the fire by weaving Memphis history throughout the album. Opening with a Sting mashup of “Fragile” and “Fields of Gold,” Lyras explains, “From the time The Policepulled up at a small Memphis club with their amps in a station wagon, to the time they returned to play for 20,000 people, there has always been a Memphis connection. Sting sought out the raw soul sound of the Memphis Horns, who were longtime friends and collaborators of The Justus Brothers. In the early 90s, we were the opening act for Andy Summers’ Memphis shows. Combining two Sting classics into one seamless piece came naturally.”
Inspiration for the band’s crackling royal funk dance, “King Strut,” came during a Beale Street gig last summer after a power failure. Potts, who is widely considered the current king of the Memphis drum throne, kept the packed dancefloor filled all on his own in the dark for five minutes until the electricity was restored. “Steve never stopped grooving. As if we had rehearsed it, when the power came back, I went into an infectious funky riff and Dave jumped right into it on bass. Before long, Jason and Pat had made up a theme on top of that. The crowd responded to it instantly, as if they had known and danced to it for years.”
The mood downshifts to romance on “Miss L,” a shuffling, amorous jazz and blues song that Lyras wrote while playing a guitar serenade for his girl as the moon hovered over the Mississippi River. The tune is evident of The Justus Brothers’ commitment to melody and emotion, not just deep rhythmic pockets and all-night grooves.
The Justus Brother take great pride in their Memphis lineage. Lyras said, “Memphis musicians have always stood out for boldly fusing several styles to form a new, unique brand. That couldn’t be truer in our case.”