Entertainment luminary Herb O'Mell will be honored with a Beale Street Brass Note on the historic street's Walk of Fame on Sunday, June 10, 2012. The event will be from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Band Box at 142 Beale (near Club 152).
His note is the 118th to be awarded and he joins honorees that include composers, producers, singers, instrumentalists and music supporters in genres ranging from blues and gospel to jazz and rock.
O'Mell's is being honored for his long and varied career in entertainment in Memphis and the Mid-South. His involvement and contributions have been historic and he continues to be active in promoting Memphis music and entertainment culture.
Here are just a few of his accomplishments: He was a founding member of the Memphis NARAS Chapter and he put together the city's first integrated band. He has served on the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission for 25 years, six of them as chairman.
He's been personal manager to Jerry Lee Lewis, Ronnie Milsap and Jim Dickinson. He was business manager of Dan Penn and for Chips Moman and his 3-Alarm Studio. He is also producer of the TV show Memphis Sounds with George Klein. O'Mell has also been a music promoter and publisher, nightclub operator, casino insider, travel agent, movie location scout and Little League coach.
His involvement in the local entertainment industry goes back to after he graduated from Central High School and went to what was then called Memphis State University. He paid his tuition by promoting dances at the old Chisca Hotel. ''I had Elvis Presley playing there for $100 a night before he cut his first record," Herb told The Commercial Appeal in an interview in 1993. "They liked him, but weren't wild about him then."
After college, O'Mell operated a nightclub, The Penthouse, then another, T.J.'s, where Elvis once came to a New Year's Eve party with singer Ronnie Milsap in the club's house band.
O'Mell helped manage Milsap to a recording contract and was business agent for legendary music producer Chips Moman, all while running his own music publishing house, which owns one Elvis song. Herb told the CA, ''It's called If You Talk In Your Sleep, Don't Mention My Name. I'd hate to try to feed my family on any royalties from it."
Memphis' first integrated band came together in the early 1960s because of O'Mell's efforts. The Ben Branch Band included Ben Branch on sax, Floyd Newman on bass sax, Big Bell James on drums, Duck Dunn on bass guitar, Charlie Freeman on guitar and Mickey Collins on keyboard. They played at O'Mell's Penthouse nightclub in Midtown.
While O'Mell is usually behind the scenes, he has made a few contributions to the performing arena. Once he won a twist contest at The Palladium in New York and that got him noticed by producers of the '60s TV series Route 66 who hired him for bit parts in several episodes. ''I never had a line," he told the CA. "They said I couldn't even say 'uh-huh' without a Southern accent.''
One of those producers later hired O'Mell as movie location scout for The Reivers and The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones. Eventually he helped scouting for locations in Memphis and the Mid-South with Linn Sitler of the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission.
In 1988, Sitler had a staff of one when producers of Great Balls of Fire asked her to scout sites around Memphis. Board member O'Mell's experience came in handy. ''He offered to help and showed up with a duffel bag with a compass, maps, snacks, a phone book and film," Sitler told the CA. "He was amazing."
O'Mell also recruited high-rollers for casino gambling trips to Las Vegas, the Caribbean, Monte Carlo and Atlantic City. On one of these trips, he met his future wife, Laura, who went to work as his secretary and helped set up junkets before becoming his wife in 1980.
Judy Peiser, executive director of the Center for Southern Folklore, told the CA: ''If you tell Herb you need help, he says, 'What can I do?' And he gets things done in a world where a lot of people promise things and don't do anything.''
O'Mell's paternal grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Russia who came to Memphis as a cobbler and later became a liquor store owner on South Main. The grandfather's last name had been something like ''Maltik,'' O'Mell told the CA. ''But he didn't read or write English. He hired an Irish painter to paint the front of his store, and the Irishman went with him to get a bank loan. Somehow when he got the loan he also got the Irishman's name.'' Herb's father, William O'Mell, owned Dixie Loan and Luggage, a pawn shop and leather goods store.
The story in the CA quoted Herb's cousin, Charlie Wexler, as saying young O'Mell once ran his tricycle through fire, setting the family garage ablaze after seeing a stuntman leap through flaming hoops.
But he tamed those impulses and was "a good student, a member of student government at Memphis State University, a track star and a 'free spirit' with a flair for showmanship," Wexler said.
The Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame was founded in 1986 by Performa Entertainment Real Estate to tie the current entertainment district to the musical heritage of the district. The note program is now administered by the Memphis Music Foundation.
More information on the note program and honorees can be found at www.bealestreet.com.