Memphis native and Hollywood veteran puts talents to work for iconic local studio

Actor, comedian, film and TV producer and native Memphian Jonathan Pekar lobbied Ardent Music founder John Fry to open a film department at the well-known Memphis recording studio. As Ardent’s film director, Pekar has helped the studio garner industry awards, including an Emmy. (Photo by Michael Donahue)

By Michael Donahue

Memphis Commercial Appeal

Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:32 p.m., updated February 21, 2013 at 12:10 a.m.

Jonathan Pekar spent two decades in Los Angeles doing work he loved — acting, comedy and working behind the scenes in television and film. But now he’s back home in Memphis, combining those skills he learned in Hollywood with his first love: music.

Pekar, 42, returned to Memphis a couple of years ago and is now the first director of film at Ardent Music. He and Ardent recently took home an Emmy for a commercial he wrote and produced for the Memphis Music Foundation. The video he made for Lucero’s song “Women and Work” currently airs on CMT. And “Kids of Memphis,” a TV series he created and is producing, is slated to debut in December.

Ardent founder John Fry praised Pekar’s talent. “The work he has done since he’s been here is outstanding,” Fry said. “We’ve had one commercial that won an Emmy award. I certainly never had that experience.”

A love of music, and skateboarding, is where it all began for Pekar. “Skateboard and punk rock was absolutely everything” when he was a kid. “I grew up in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot skateboarding and trying to sneak into the Antenna to see bands.”

He put together Distemper, a punk band, when he was 13 so he finally could get into the famed Memphis nightspot. His band, in which he was the lead singer, included Steve Selvidge, Mike McCarthy and George Cole. They opened for Dag Nasty, the Descendents and other mid-1980s groups.

Pekar was surrounded by music from the beginning. His father, Ron Pekar, then Ardent’s graphic designer, created the studio’s logo as well as the logo for the legendary band Big Star. The late singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Alex Chilton lived with the Pekars when Jonathan was a baby. “My dad and Alex and John Fry all hung out together and did art and music stuff. My mom and dad loved Big Star and loved Alex and loved the Box Tops.”

Pekar was “always very alert and observant and curious,” said Ron Pekar, now art coach for the Imagineers and feature animation at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. “He was doing with his friends everything kids do all the time, plus he was investigating other possibilities — theater and sports. And (he) was always drawing and coloring and painting.”

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