On any given night, fans of Memphis music are almost assured to hear the signature, “Yeah, man,” of Charvey McLemore ringing out across the city.
With an ever-present smile, his acoustic guitar and a uniquely diverse set list of cover songs, “Charvey Mac” has spent the past decade-plus making his name as one of Memphis’ most versatile and in-demand musicians. “If I can do this for 20 or 30 years and make a living, that’s great,” he says of his career. “If I can do that and support a family and pay a mortgage, that’s a success. It’s not about being famous.”
A Joliet, Illinois native, McLemore discovered his love of music when he was 8 years old, seeing Ramsey Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie with his father. “That magic, man. You see it on stage and go, ‘Wow,’” he says.
Learning piano and guitar in his youth, McLemore found his voice after his family moved to Memphis in 1994 and, at 12 years old, he joined the youth group at Cordova’s Advent Presbyterian Church. “That kind of started the singing and playing together,” he notes. “I wasn’t that great at vocals just yet. I want to be technically correct. I was always trying to chase that. If I ever got the opportunity to get on stage with someone, I didn’t want to look stupid. That fueled me.”
After spending a little time performing at his parents’ dinner parties, he got his first paying gig at 16 — through a friend — at a now-closed coffee shop in Germantown. He was later asked to play at a car lot and began to think he might be onto something with his music. “‘This could be a thing,’” McLemore recalls thinking at the time.
McLemore initially wanted to major in music, transferring from Christian Brothers University to The University of Memphis, but switched to computer network engineering in an effort to set himself up for better jobs after college. McLemore says he was “brainwashed,” falling into the mindset that going to college and joining the workforce was “how it was supposed to be.”
He performed very little during a three-year stretch after college. After failing to find a good job due to the poor economy, he even spent time as a manager of a Backyard Burgers restaurant, finding himself contemplating how he could make the music thing work for him.
“How can I not flip burgers and do this for a living?” he says of his thought process. He convinced management at the TJ Mulligan’s location at Highway 64 and Houston Levee Road to give him a chance, landing some Sunday spots.
He began adding additional shows to his schedule, and was offered an opportunity at the former Superior Bar on Beale Street in 2006, spending several years grinding out the day shift. “That was an education in and of itself,” he acknowledges, adding the crowds could be sparse during the day, with patrons from all walks of life.
McLemore’s schedule picked up around 2010 and he left Superior. He credits his work at the former Sharky’s Gulf Grill with propelling him to the next level, as patrons soon began offering opportunities to play various private events. “That’s when things kind of took off,” he notes. “I started realizing people in Memphis and the Memphis area support music. [I wanted to] try to find out how to play five days a week.”
He has since found himself in high-demand, keeping a full event and festival schedule, while also continuing to play shows across town. “This is bigger than I ever thought,” he says with a smile. “I love every bit of it.”
McLemore recently recorded a double live album at Brookhaven Pub & Grill and Cafe Olé, which is set to be released through SMG Entertainment by the end of 2016. McLemore notes that “nothing’s off limits” when it comes to the music he performs, which spans all genres — from country and R&B to rock and hip-hop. “Pop wasn’t a bad word before boy bands,” he says. “Pop’s awesome.”
Charvey’s latest single, “Weekend Lights” is currently available on iTunes. For more information on Charvey Mac, visit charveymac.com.
Charvey Mac thrives as one of Memphis’ most sought-after local musicians
Story by Michael Ward | Photos Courtesy of Charvey mac