Musician Hope Clayburn’s Soul Scrimmage brings energetic soul funk rock to Memphis.
Hope Clayburn is writing her own story.
She’s talented, creative, versatile, and always remembers to thank those who have supported her. She’s both a nurse and a musician, but music is her passion. And she is having a moment. Her music video for the song “Nobody” debuted this summer, and her album Y’all So Loud, with her band Soul Scrimmage, comes out in December, with a show at the Green Room at Crosstown on December 16.
Like any good Southern child, she says she started singing in church, and then fell in love with the saxophone when playing in her junior high school band in North Carolina. From high school in Richmond, she went on to college at the University of Virginia, and graduated with a degree in neuroscience, while playing in area bands. She says that, lucky for her, the mid-’90s in Charlottesville was a real hotbed of music with Dave Matthews and other great music happening. She played in a jazz band, got connected with local musicians, and played in her first ever rock band, Baaba Seth. People said they would be the next Dave Matthews. She says they weren’t that fortunate but they still do reunion shows and have been together almost 30 years.
“I would play until 3 a.m. on Beale Street and then have to go to nursing school at 7 a.m. to take an exam. That’s what you do as Memphis musicians. You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Clayburn decided to forego medical school to tour with some bands in the Northeast, including a band called Deep Banana Blackout. They signed to a small record label associated with the drummer of the Allman Brothers Band, so they got to tour with the Allman Brothers, and play music all over the world. But the band fizzled out, she says, like bands do, and that’s when she realized right around 9/11 that she couldn’t stay in New York. “That reminded me how much I love the South. I’m from the South. I like the space and the pace of the South.”
Clayburn’s sister is a physician in Memphis and invited Hope to stay with her while she figured out her next steps. She decided to get her nursing degree from UT Health Science Center nursing program in the early 2000s and then worked at the Med in the Trauma Center for about 13 years until right about when the pandemic hit. She loves medicine and science but her first love is music. Nursing helps her to fund her projects. Although she took a hiatus from nursing during the pandemic, she plans to return in 2024.
She played in bands throughout nursing school and jokingly says she didn’t sleep for three years. “And that’s the whole thing. I’m never not going to play [music].” When she first moved to Memphis, Richard Cushing, founder and leader of FreeWorld, a legendary Memphis band that still plays on Beale Street, reached out and asked her to play with them. “I would play until 3 a.m. on Beale Street and then have to go to nursing school at 7 a.m. to take an exam. That’s what you do as Memphis musicians. You gotta do what you gotta do. The grit and grind of the Memphis musician is the true grit and grind of this city.”
Through FreeWorld she met other musicians, including Robert Allen Parker Jr., now one of Clayburn’s best friends and one of the best guitarists in town. He approached Clayburn after seeing her play and asked if she wanted to put together her own band. She did, and Soul Scrimmage was formed from the musicians who routinely showed up to play with her at the Full Moon Club, which has since closed. Cushing connected Clayburn to other musicians including the Lucky 7 Brass Band.
Eventually through playing around town, she bumped into Victor Sawyer of the Lucky 7 when both were playing with different bands. A couple years later, Sawyer asked her to play with them and she said of course, “I’ve always loved that style of music. New Orleans brass band mixed with Memphis hip hop. I mean you can’t go wrong with that. I’m very honored that Victor asked me. He’s an amazing musician and he had amazing understanding to make a good band.”
Clayburn was very busy this summer playing all around Memphis, and her entertaining video for the single “Nobody” was released in August. The video was inspired by the Memphis wrestling scene, and partnering with local wrestlers was a childhood dream come true for Hope. As a kid, she would turn on MTV videos and watch weekend wrestling as comfort TV. Her father was in the military and they moved every two or three years. Music videos and wrestling were how she was able to relate to new people. Her music video director, Yubu Kazungu, came up with a concept that represents Memphis in a way that hasn’t been done before. They were welcomed by the folks at Memphis Wrestling and it all came together.
“The song ‘Nobody’ invites the idea that you don’t need nobody to tell you that you’re somebody. You gotta believe in yourself and gotta be able to take the good and the bad and make something positive out of it.”
The whole wrestling community has inspired her, and she was able to train with them to learn the moves as she became the Mistress of Mayhem battling Nyxx, the Goddess of the Night. Clayburn says Memphis Wrestling plans to air the episode where she interacts with Nyxx, Goddess of the Night, and she hopes to be in a regular rotation and continue to train with them. She says, “The song ‘Nobody’ invites the idea that you don’t need nobody to tell you that you’re somebody. You gotta believe in yourself and gotta be able to take the good and the bad and make something positive out of it. I feel very grateful that the video is being received well and that it gets to show my band. My band has some great musicians, and I am hoping to get them the opportunity to get out there and get their music out there.”
Her new album set to come out in December is titled Y’all So Loud and contains mostly original songs. She’s been writing music since she was very young and loves to have this outlet. “I actually had this album recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis almost eight years ago. It has taken me a while between nursing and everything to save up the money to finally get it out there. That’s how long it can take to actually get enough original music to make your own album. I don’t write enough where I can put an album out every year. But I feel great that these are songs that I’ve written over the years and arranged with the band, so they’ve become kind of our little staple song set.” She classifies it as “soul funk rock with a Memphis twist and I’m really inspired by a lot of international music. It has little hints and tinges of African and reggae music. I’m trying to create basically a new kind of Memphis sound. I don’t want to be arrogant–oh, I’m making a new Memphis sound. But you know it kind of combines what we’ve learned from playing in Memphis–the blues, soul, a little bit of other flavors from all the experiences I’ve had in different bands– African, salsa, reggae. It’s soul music with a down home, but also international, feel to it. And it’s energetic. Energetic soul funk rock is where I would put it.”
She says she feels lucky to have found her place and to have this moment in Memphis: “I was just going to stay for a year and then 20 years later, here I am. I feel very lucky and owe it all to the 901.”
The Hope Clayburn’s Soul Scrimmage Y’ALL SO LOUD Album Release Party is Saturday, December 16 at Crosstown in The Green Room, 1350 Concourse Ave., Suite 280 Memphis, TN 38104 .
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