Impala was formed in Memphis, TN in the early 1990s. Their first longplayer, El Rancho Reverbo, was co-produced by the legendary Roland Janes (Jerry Lee Lewis’ guitar player and session player at Sun Records) at Sam Phillips Recording Service. After receiving rave reviews and gaining exposure playing one-niters across the South East, Impala was picked up by West Coast label, Estrus Records. The band’s first release on Estrus was Kings of the Strip, recorded at famed Easley Studio in Memphis. Following the release of this album, Impala toured relentlessly, appearing at Garage festivals such as Garage Shock, Sleezefest, Crap Out and Dixie Fried and appearing on shows with guitar legends Dick Dale and Davie Allen and the Arrows. Over the past decade numerous films and television shows have featured the band’s music. Most notable is Impala’s arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Experiment in Terror” in the George Clooney’s, Chuck Barris biopic, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
When Impala surfaced on the Memphis garage scene in 1993, local audiences hardly knew what hit them. The group built a sonic time machine that, once you paid the cover charge and crawled on board, might deposit you in 1955, 1967, or 2239. With just one song, they could turn gritty, dumpy Barristers into West Memphis’ time-honored Plantation Inn, the home of their musical ancestors like the Mar-Keys, the Packers, and the Royal Spades. Another tune would drop you into Ennio Morricone’s wasteland desertscapes; still another would transport you to a New Orleans whorehouse, on a magical night when all the girls were turning tricks for free. Instrumentals exploded from the amplifiers with a rumbling guitar, a honking sax, the type of drumbeat that liberated strippers from their spangled costumes, and a steeped-in-Memphis tradition bass line. The kind of nervous energy that could propel a sensible Catholic schoolgirl into the arms of a dangerous man, make a sailor catapult off the mast into a stormy sea, or cause a veteran gunslinger to fire madly into the air before plunging over a rocky cliff. The ‘party now, because we’re gonna pay later’ attitude that pervades the Southern consciousness, from Tennessee Williams’ plays to Jerry Lawler’s ringside antics.
Estrus Records released Kings of the Strip (recorded at Easley-McCain Recording Studio) and Square Jungle (cut at Sam Phillips) soon followed. Impala proved perfect for then-nascent filmmaker John Michael McCarthy, who needed a score for his movie Teenage Tupelo. Several years later, George Clooney tapped Impala’s back catalog for a medley of Henry Mancini’s “Experiment in Terror” and Duane Eddy’s “Stalkin’” which ended up in the Chuck Barris bio pic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Another song, “Incident on the Tenth Floor” was used in the trailer for the indie flick Way of the Gun.
The time spent offstage was never dull, the men of Impala amused themselves with genuine Italian switchblades (purchased, naturally, at an Arizona truck stop), intra-vehicular fireworks (Missouri’s Boom Land was a favored stop), and detours to shake joints, BBQ stands, and Norman Petty’s recording studio (where Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and the Fireballs laid down infamous tracks) in Clovis, New Mexico.
A mythology, hammered home with songs like “Ronnie and the Renegades” and “Last Tango in Turrell,” was carefully built, then carelessly laid to waste by beer-fueled gigs and burnt roadmaps, even as Impala wrote tunes like “Wild Night at the Bloody Bucket,” an homage to onetime Carl Perkins’ pianist Bill Grantham, who worked alongside Bomar at Select-O-Hits, and “King Louie Stomp,” a salute to fellow musician King Louie Bankston of New Orleans’ Royal Pendletons. “Choctaw” turned Jorgen Ingmann’s momentous “Apache” inside out and regionalized it, while “Cozy Corner” acknowledged the Bluff City’s best pork ribs. The never-before-released “Amarillo,” meanwhile, proved to be the final nail in the coffin – cut at the end of the session for Impala Play R&B Favorites, released on Estrus in ’99, it languished in the vaults for years as the last number Impala ever recorded. Combust or be combusted, these songs instructed. Destroy yourself before the music destroys you. Praise the drumbeat, and pass a bottle of booze to the stage. One final album, an anthology called Night Full of Sirens, was released on Bomar’s label, Electraphonic, in 2006.
Then Impala disappeared. The band was put on ice. Members of the group found other ways to make a living: Bomar, the group’s bassist, began producing and running his own studio, formed the seminal blues-soul combo the Bo-Keys, and began composing, creating scores for films such as Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan and Mississippi Grind. Other members turned to bail bonding in Memphis, doing private detective work, and freelancing for various combos at honkytonks and “adult-themed” nightclubs across the U.S.
Yet their muse pursued them like a siren’s call. Unable to resist, Impala reformed in 2017, and after woodshedding with a series of local gigs, returned to the recording studio to create this brand-new album, aptly titled In the Late Hours. Recorded at Bomar’s Electraphonic Studios in downtown Memphis, In the Late Hours features ten intoxicating guitar- and sax-driven R&B songs, born out of that golden era of Memphis music when rockabilly, rhythm and blues, jazz, garage and soul music collided. These songs channel potent ghosts—namely, Packy Axton, Willie Mitchell and Ike Turner, all pioneers of Memphis’ instrumental scene—but they’re hardly derivative. They bristle with urgency and make your heart beat fast. They’ll make you wish for a time long past—when men wore hats in the street and women wore silk stockings fastened with a sexy garter belt. It’s music that is a remedy for hard times. Put it on, and let your mind wander. Take refuge in those darker places. Pour yourself another drink. And make sure the door’s locked—it’s later than you think.
-Andria Lisle, Memphis, TN