It isn’t breaking news that Elvis Presley changed the landscape of music history. Artists have been influenced by Elvis’ voice, charisma, and style for the better part of five decades. It’s well noted that much of Elvis’ musical influence has been credited to his upbringings in Tupelo, Mississippi. The rich artistic community he was surrounded by may not have been nationally acclaimed but it shaped the material he built his legacy upon.
|Greg Dillard performing live.|
That spirit hasn’t left Tupelo as artists are still finding inspiration here. Greg Dillard, a Tupelo High School teacher, was born and raised in the Tupelo area and is making a name for himself playing his music here. When Dillard began creating music he had a Caribbean style, but decided to make it a little more “radio-friendly.” He began creating trop-rock, a style that he said he is often compared to Jimmy Buffett meets Jack Johnson. The Trop-Rock Music Association has even nominated the title track of his latest album, “Trapped In Paradise Again,” for Trop-Rock Song of the Year.
Trop-rock grooves may seem out of place in Tupelo, a town several hours from a beach, but to Dillard it is a very diverse genre that explores everything from R&B, rock, soul, and country. The teacher/rocker said he believes the northeast region of Mississippi, specifically Tupelo, is so uncommonly blessed when it comes to music and creativity that to be surrounded by talented musicians and artists who are pursuing their dreams is an inspiration to be creative in and of itself.
Brandon Bennett, an Elvis Tribute Artist and rising country musician, can attest to the inspiration from collaboration of artists in Tupelo. Bennett, a lifelong country fan, was performing his Elvis tribute act at the BancorpSouth Arena when he met Paul Overstreet, a country singer-songwriter. Desiring to take his career to the next level and record his own album, Bennett piqued Overstreet’s expertise on the country music business. The two began working together on an Elvis project, but Overstreet saw the potential in Bennett and since then, the two have been preparing songs to record for Bennett’s first country album.
|Brandon Bennett performing his country|
act at the 2014 Tupelo Elvis Festival.
Although not a native of Mississippi, Bennett, a Louisiana boy, has developed a fondness of Tupelo and said if given the opportunity he’d own a house in the town in a heartbeat. “I just wish I could find the word to describe how I feel about Mississippi – it just feels like home,” he said with a smile. “There’s something about when you’re at home that just allows you to relax and be yourself. That enables you to just allow whatever it is that allows that creativity to come out easily.”
As Bennett has been preparing his debut album, he said he’s been channeling that love for the Magnolia State as a source for his inspiration. “You drive along some of these areas and the pine trees and the rolling hills and being just a beautiful state for nature – all of that connects what I feel like is my country roots,” Bennett said.
To Greg Dillard, it’s those very same roots and emotions that cause people from the South to have a unique experience that they can’t get anywhere else. “I think that in the South we have a very unique and simple way of life,” he said. “Of course, not everyone lives it, but if they’re from the South they can relate to the experiences of it. Not everyone can say they went mud-riding in pickups, but they can appreciate it because it is a Southern thing.”
The South may often be nationally perceived as a genre defining country or blues but towns like Tupelo are looking to break the mold and inspire artists on a genre-spanning platform. When asked what Tupelo’s sound is, Dillard said the greatest metaphor for Tupelo’s music scene is Elvis himself, because he was such a melting pot of genres. “You have the blues and R&B influence, you definitely have your country influences and there are some rock/Americana styles now,” Dillard said. “All of those are highly represented in Tupelo, and I don’t see there being any one genre because it’s all widely represented.”
Tupelo has positioned itself as a town with a history to find inspiration for searching artists, but it also opens its doors to those just coming for an experience. “When you come here, you experience the true generosity of everyone and the downhome feel of the history of Elvis and the blues,” Bennett said. “I just can’t explain what it is but it’s just a feeling you have when you’re in Tupelo that makes it a really special place.”