top of page
Black Sky_edited_edited.jpg
  • Writer's pictureJennifer

Detroit to Memphis - Authenticity, Making Music, This World

I haven't been blogging but thats not because life hasn't offered plenty of inspiration. The past year has brought breathtaking highs and subterranean lows in our music journey as well as personal victories I have cherished for myself and Dylan that don't provide the dramatic Hollywood finish. In real life, you may look around to see you weathered the storm but after a moment of celebration, you have a roof to fix. Not the stuff of inspirational memes and too precious to be put out as fodder. The ups and downs have left me exhausted and my reserves are for moving ahead.

I always have something to say! But I choose carefully on social media. What counts? What is going to make a positive moment in my life or a positive moment in someone else's and what's best kept for my own contemplation? When is it more meaningful to post a cute cat video (answer - almost always).

We are here on this same earth for a short time and I wish to always be motivated by love for and hope in our fellow man, while acknowledging things can be ugly, and embracing my individuality which requires a nuance social media is not built for. Those are things I am going to strive to express here as authentically as I can. And with that being said, lets start with last weekend in Memphis!

Detroit Singer Jennifer Westwood, Memphis singers Reba Russell and Susan Marshall, Producer Bunky Hunt at Memphis Magnetic Recording
Jennifer Westwood and friends at Memphis Magnetic Recording Studio

Studio Time

We traveled with Bunky (who has been recording us in Detroit) to to Memphis Magnetic Recording to tackle backing vocals on 5 songs with a couple super talented women. Reba Russell and Susan Marshall have lended their soulful harmonies to recordings with highly acclaimed bands and household names, as well as holding their own as artists. They did not disappoint.

My big takeaway was their professionalism and respect for one another. Watching and listening to them work was inspiring especially as a woman. They have each others backs with the common goal of creating something beautiful. It was a bit of a therapy session for me and I was also so happy they enjoyed the songs.

There is often a learning curve when you step into the studio with someone new and personalities can hinder the best end result. I've observed people push their weight around, intimidate out of insecurity or dampen creativity with indifference to the point you wonder why they don't just go flip burgers. Pass....

In my opinion this can be especially challenging for women in this male dominated environment, or those less experienced in the studio. I have had first hand experience in being in a business meeting, the one that created the music for a project yet treated like I was there to serve coffee. It's a challenging situation for anyone, to learn to assert yourself in that environment and remind yourself of your value when it is easier to shrink.

I want to be the person that's pragmatic, doesn't shrink and also lights a fire instead of dousing it. What I saw immediately with them was a creativity I admired and didn't want to be the one to hinder...I wanted to see it let loose to the fullest extent. I found myself envious in a good way, wishing I could spend a week with them listening, learning and making music, maybe just move in. Dangit!


On A Personal Note - Memphis

I've always found it to be warm, soulful and earthy and plan to enjoy it many times to come. The history there is complex, like Detroit's. The music heritage so rich I want to soak in a hot tub of it. It has been the incubator if not launching pad of Americana music, much of modern music and whose roots run deep throughout the region. The "Crossroads" are not far. So much substance.

Part of what I love about Memphis is that you can still feel it. When you visit a place like Nashville it seems Nashville is being buried beneath high-rises and chain restaurants. You visit Broadway to perhaps stumble upon the next Hank drunkenly warble a future hit as he covers rent from earnings at a honky tonk, but instead you stumble into a bachelorette party singing Sweet Caroline in a big corporate owned something or other. Its like buying a ticket to Vegas and expecting to see Sinatra at the Sands.

Please don't mistake this as a brushing off of Nashville. That town is full of the best talent coming in from all directions, there are great places to hear up and coming artists off the tourist path, and its where deals happen. You can still get surprised by celebrity talent at a place like Robert's Western World. Also, Beale Street isn't necessarily the place to see the best of Memphis. Most working musicians in both cities feel the same. There is plenty of strife to go around other music communities as progress marches on, taking no prisoners as it paves over "paradise", raising rents along the way....

Yet the best music seems to not be born from a high rise but out of hardship, struggle and sacrifice. The major music industry at large doesn't have time for that and maybe that's why cities like Memphis don't always meet the agenda.


What's Going On?

I'll get right to it. Our visit to Memphis was cut short due to our partners vehicle being burglarized along with about 40 other vehicles in his hotel parking lot in a nice area. Nothing was stolen from his truck. The main target for the thieves is guns, then other valuables and cash. Apparently, they succeed as its an almost nightly trend. It took police 2.5 hours to arrive at the scene to take reports. They weren't interested in dash cam footage. This delayed our day in the studio which in the big picture is just an inconvenience.

Dylan and I generally stay in less attractive neighborhoods. We prioritize lighting and security reviews over amenities and often follow the lead of contractors who have expensive tools and trucks to protect. The hotels are worn in but we rest easy. So it was quite a surprise that as we returned to our hotel in this nice neighborhood to get our bags to leave and in broad daylight yet another vehicle near the entrance was burglarized. I appreciated the staff's honesty about the situation from the start (its more common than not) but I was saddened by the sense of resignation over it.

Coming from a city like Detroit and more specifically an area known locally as cursed with blight and poverty within a city with a world-wide reputation for blight and poverty, I have been baffled at times as we have traveled the country observing drug issues, blight, poverty and crime in small towns and rural areas as my hometown is viewed as the poster child of hell holes. Dylan and I live now in a modest working class neighborhood a 15 minute drive from downtown Detroit when the traffic is light. I feel safe everywhere I go, and a little street smarts takes you further. Increasingly, I feel saddened by the problems plaguing others and grateful for my living situation.

Its easy to feel sorry for yourself but also I wonder, what drives any person, but especially a kid, to view any chance of incarceration or an untimely death as a reasonable risk to potential reward. You have to be pretty hopeless and limited in opportunities, but also maybe you consider the low rate of resolving crimes in the area, an understaffed police force, and knowledge of gun laws. Where are they learning it from (One story in the last year involved a 12 year old being involved with an armed car-jacking). I'm sure each time you get away with it becomes a little more practical, even as you destroy your own community and rob your neighbors and city of the opportunity to flourish.

While I hurt for Memphis and hope they are able to get their situation under control (Vehicle thefts and burglaries have doubled in the last year) I've come to realize its virtually in everywhere and cities like Detroit or Memphis with denser populations are used as a distraction to point at and say, "we are better than them". I can't say I am totally surprised that by state, Michigan's violent crime rate isn't in the top 10.

At some point, it hurts all of us. In spite of all this I have seen more human kindness over the years of travel that remind me we are in this together and for me, it is important to be my brother's keeper whenever I can.

I will be back to Memphis and look forward to it, and won't let a bad experience rob me of a wealth of good ones.

That's all for today. I hope to have important news for you very soon! Thanks for reading and please follow on Facebook and Instagram

@thejenniferwestwood on instagram - QR code below <3

QR code for Jennifer Westwood on Instagram
TheJenniferWestwood instagram account


bottom of page