Updated: Jan 18
By Callie Daruk
On Nov. 8, 2019, Adairville resident and accomplished drummer, Gene Chrisman, was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. In the heart of the Beale Street Entertainment District, Chrisman and the surviving members of the world renowned band, The Memphis Boys, were honored for their lifetime musical achievements.
Rooted & Grounded had the privilege of sitting down with Chrisman in his home for an exclusive interview. With great kindness and even greater humility, Chrisman shared his extensive and impressive career as a professional drummer that has spanned more than sixty years and counting. Born Aug. 8, 1940, in Memphis, Tennessee, Chrisman was surrounded by soul.
"I started out playing on pots and pans, cardboard boxes and listening to Chuck Berry, The Platters and Little Richard,” said Chrisman. "Years ago, my mother bought me an old set of drums. I met a guitar player and we would sit out in front of a local Mapco and play. We didn't know what we were doing," he added.
The rest, as they say, is history.
From there, Chrisman got into playing in clubs and one memorable night, he got his big break. Jerry Lee Lewis came in and said his drummer was quitting. Jerry noticed Chrisman's talent immediately and hired him. After working with Lewis for more than a year, Chrisman met Bobby Wood. He would go on to spend the rest of his life befriending and playing with Wood in The Memphis Boys.
Chrisman experienced success many in the music industry only dream of. In a six-year period, while working full-time at American Sound Studio in Memphis, Chrisman and The Memphis Boys had 122 chart records. He recorded with artists such as Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond, George Strait, Julie Andrews, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison, B.J. Thomas, Kenny Rogers, Reba McIntire, Carl Perkins and so many more. In fact, the only list that rivals the number of legendary artists he has recorded with is the number of cities he has played in.
Of all the artist's Chrisman has had the pleasure of working with over the years, one of his favorites was Aretha Franklin.
"I cut three songs with her, “Natural Woman,” “Soul Serenade” and “Dr. Feel Good," he said. "Did you know she played piano on “Natural Woman?” “She was a great musician," he added.
Chrisman's career took him around the world and back as he toured Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. His international travels came primarily from his time with The Highwaymen which included the artists Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Although you would never know it by talking to him with his humble, meek demeanor, Chrisman is no stranger to the spotlight. His television appearances have included Dick Clark's American Bandstand, The Tonight Show, Music City Tonight, Great Legends of Country Music, That Nashville Music and more. He has appeared on countless award shows as is reflected by his awards and gold records.
In addition to his recent induction into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Chrisman was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2007. In 1999, he was also awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Certificate at Elvis Week in Memphis for the recording of "Suspicious Minds." Chrisman's friend and band member of more than sixty years, Bobby Wood, said of him, "He is probably more of a brother to me than my own brother. That's how close we've always been." He added, "We always had fun with whatever we did or whoever came in." Chrisman moved to Nashville in 1979 and to Adairville, Kentucky in 2003. Due to his remarkable talent, he has remained highly sought after in the music industry and still is today. He currently works with Dan Auerback of the Black Keys, Mandy Barnett and other well known artists.
When asked if he ever plans on retiring, he quickly replied, "As long as I can play, I'm going to keep playing.