MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Drake is one of the biggest stars on the planet, but he’s also been visiting Memphis his entire life.
His father is a Memphis native, and WREG caught up with him while he’s in town this week promoting a new song and reliving some old memories.
Dennis Graham grew up about a mile from Beale Street on Cossitt Place, close enough for him to get a spark for his lifelong passion.
“Now it’s more commercialized from back then, but it used to be so packed that you couldn’t move down there,” Graham said. “I used to hop out my bedroom window at night and come down to Beale Street and listen to music.”
He taught himself to play the guitar and eventually, the drums. But Graham was using a tin bathtub until he had his first brush with fame.
“I was playing outside of a Sheraton hotel one day, and James Brown happened to be there,” Graham said. “He heard us playing on the tub and the box. So he called his drummer outside and made his drummer give me his set of drums.”
From there, Graham started several bands in Memphis. He credits artists like Bobby Blue Bland and B.B. King with influencing his style.
Eventually, he moved to California and started a new band there. When they went on tour, they stopped in Toronto. That’s where fate intervened at a bar one night.
“Trying to see where we could buy a pack of cigarettes,” Graham said. “I asked the bartender where I could buy cigarettes.”
At that point, a woman named Sandi offered him a cigarette. They would start dating and then get married. Soon after, they had a baby boy.
“His grandmother wanted to name him Abraham,” Graham said. “I said, ‘Oh no, you’re not naming my son Abraham.’”
Instead, they settled on Aubrey Drake Graham, whom we all now know as Drake, one of the biggest stars in the world.
“I gave him the name Drake because Drake was my acting name when I was acting,” Graham said. “And I told him when you get older, you’re gonna use Drake instead of Aubrey.”
As his son grew up in Canada, Memphis was never too far from their lives. The father-son pair would drive down to visit family in Whitehaven every summer.
“We used to share the radio,” Graham said. “He would listen to rap music part of the time during the drive, and then he’d have to listen to Otis Redding and Johnnie Taylor half the time.”
Graham said his own influences shaped his son’s musical talents.
“He definitely got it honestly. He was introduced to everything,” Graham said. “He said, ‘That’s what I want to do dad. I want to do exactly what you do.'”
But Graham was critical of his hometown.
For one, he said he’s glad he raised his son away from what he describes as the “bold” racism of the South.
“It was much better [in Canada],” Graham said. “I don’t recall him having a problem.”
He also said musicians can’t earn a decent living in Memphis.
“The club owners here don’t want to pay the bands what they’re worth,” Graham said. “They try to hire a full band for $300 to $500, and that just doesn’t do it for me.”
That’s part of why he said Drake doesn’t come back to town very often, though his paychecks are of course a little bigger.
“It’s $2 million a show,” Graham said. “But Memphis for some reason can’t afford it. That’s going back to the same reason I don’t perform here.”
Both now live in California in the same neighborhood, and Graham just got back from touring with his son in Europe.
He’s in Memphis promoting his own new single, “That on That.”
“It’s actually a funny song,” Graham said. “It’s about a woman peeping through the window.”
Graham hasn’t collaborated with his son yet, but he said that will happen, eventually.
During our interview, Graham’s phone also rang; turns out his ringtone is “Started from the Bottom,” one of his son’s biggest hits.