The Justus Brothers (from left): Niko Lyras, Steve Potts, Dave Smith, Jason Clark, Pat Register 




Michael Hepworth


Memphis (Perfect Music Today) 5/13/19—Friday of this week (May 10) marks the release of The Justus Brothersthe eponymously titled debut album from an all-star group of stellar Memphis musicians who have joined together to explore new horizons in contemporary jazz. The new album from Memphis International Records underscores the unparalleled musicianship of the group that includes Niko Lyras (guitar), Pat Register (sax) Jason Clark (keyboards), Steve Potts (drums) and Dave Smith (bass).  The album was recorded over a period of three months at Cotton Row Studios in Memphis and was produced by Niko Lyras and the band.

Lyras, recipient of two NARAS Premier Player Awards, two GRAMMY® nominations, a Juno Award, two Félix Awards (Quebec), four Addy Awards and a Film Critics’ Choice Award, commented, “As far as naming the group was concerned, the ‘Brothers’ part was easy as we’ve all played together in one combination or other for more than 30 years.  We thought about a name that would lend credibility to this type of music — it’s groove heavy with an emphasis as much on rhythm as on melody, a kind of ‘groove conversation,’ so ‘Justus” sprang to mind.” 

He continued, “Dave and Steve are probably the most recorded bass/drum combination out of Memphis over the course of the last three or four decades. Steve is literally the inheritor of Al Jackson Jr.’s mantle as he’s the drummer for Booker T. & The MG’s and Dave is the go-to guy, the ultimate hired gun, for bass in this town.”

Lyras has performed and/or recorded with B.B. King, Albert Collins, Luther Allison, Bobby Blue Bland, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Eddy Clearwater, ZZ Top, Al Green, The Barkays, Keb Mo, Mavis Staples, Little Milton, Ike Turner, Pinetop Perkins, Victor Wooten, Booker T & the MGs, 666 Mafia, Tony Joe White and Kirk Whalum.  Born in Athens, Greece, he followed his musical calling and, at the age of 19, immigrated to Memphis where he established Cotton Row Studios almost forty years ago.

He spoke of the other group members, as well.  “Jason is well known in gospel music and is very eclectic. I think most of his strength comes from the church and Pat is the hot one out of the bunch.”  

Steve Potts has long been a Memphis music standard bearer.  Apart from working with Booker T. & the MG’s, he’s collaborated with Al Green, Greg Allman, Mavis Staples, Shemekia Copeland, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Cat Power, Paul Rodgers, Wynonna Judd, Cyndi Lauper and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He is the recipient of five NARAS Premier Player Awards.

Likewise, Dave Smith is recipient of five NARAS Premier Player Awards. Some of the many artists he’s worked with include Buddy Guy, Al Green, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Keo Kotke, John Mayall, Luther Allison, Solomon Burke, Kat Power, Dave Stewart, Ike Turner, Little Milton and Rick Derringer.  His musical diversity is reflected in the fact that the very first bass riff he ever learned was from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” and that he considers Paul McCartney a huge influence.

Grammy nominee Jason Clark’s tremendous versatility is reflected in the fact that he’s as at home in the blues, rock, gospel and orchestral fields as he is in jazz. His credits include work with Kirk Whalum, Martina McBride, Foreigner, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Dave Stewart, Vanessa Amorosi, The Tennessee Mass Choir, Ana Popovic and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. 

Pat Register, whom Lyras describes as “a natural born front man with a golden tone,” has played with Isaac Hayes, Mavis Staples, Rufus Thomas, The Bar Kays, Memphis Horns, Jeff Golub, Miles Jaye, Kirk Whalum and Howard Hewett. “He’s an incredible showman,” Lyras hastens to add.

While obviously not biological brothers, the group’s five core members share musical DNA that keeps them bonded to each other and the music they personally love best. That ethos is reflected in the wide range of moods and styles reflected in the album debut. The album also includes a fresh treatment of Booker T. &  The MG’s “Chinese Checkers” and new arrangements of two Sting selections, “Fragile” and “Fields of Gold,” that are offered as a medley/mash-up.  There’s also a treatment of the Michael McDonald/Chuck Jackson song “I Keep Forgetting” that gets due “Justus,” as well.

Guest musicians of (and on) The Justus Brothers include Latin percussionist Billy Ramirez and Memphis horn ace Scott Thompson whose trumpet has been heard on thousands of recordings over the past three decades.  It was Ramirez who conjured up ”Sabroso,” the album’s third track.  “King’s Strut” is a reflection of Steve Potts’ being acknowledged as the king of Memphis drummers. Niko Lyras spoke of the album as a totality, noting, “We’re proud of it from a compositional point of view and think this is the best we’ve done to date.  We’re mature about it all with none of that ‘I wish I had done something different’ second guessing.”

The Justus Brothers track listing

1.     Fragile/Fields of Gold

2.     Chinese Checkers

3.     Sabroso

4.     Miss L

5.     Askin’ Ain’t I

6.     Hip Pocket

7.     King’s Strut

8.     Garment District

9.     I Keep Forgetting

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