Music Maker Relief Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of the Blues gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs. Our blog is dedicated to keeping the conversation about these artists alive & thriving.
When longtime Music Maker supporter and Advisory Board member Taj Mahal heard about Jontavious, he wanted to meet the extremely talented young artist in person. We sent Jontavious to a Taj Mahal show at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, where he was able to meet one of his idols. Jontavious told us that the experience was absolutely wonderful and he was very honored to meet Mr. Taj.
L to R: Lashawn Hopson, Taj Mahal & Jontavious Willis
Here is a video of Jontavious from his visit to MM headquarters last month.
Lakota John Locklear’s take on the blues classic “Crossroads” shows that he’s not the new kid on the block- he’s a talent that is here to stay.
His proficiency is proven on tracks like this- every note, every slide brings you closer to that crossroads- late summer heat, walking down a dusty road with just a guitar in your hand and the blues in your soul.
At the tender age of 9, Lakota John picked up his first guitar, and soon after embraced the sounds of slide guitar. Joining the Music Maker family as a Next Generation Artist in 2009, he’s further solidified his place in the world of Southern traditional music. Now at 18, he’s got the heart of a tried and true bluesman, and it pours out through his gutsy vocals and skillful guitar on this track.
This week marks the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that shook a nation and changed the lives of New Orleanians forever. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed, it’s even harder to believe that New Orleans has yet to fully recover from this event. For many people living in the 9th Ward, it still seems like Katrina happened yesterday. When I traveled to New Orleans four years ago (my first visit) to assist with a documentary short on Little Freddie King, I was shocked by the state of disrepair that the Lower 9th Ward was still in. Across the street from Freddie’s house, there were still abandoned buildings with the worn-out spray painted markings that indicated how many bodies were found inside the home, a constant reminder of the true damage Katrina caused. Several Music Maker artists’ lives were drastically impacted by Katrina- Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen left New Orleans a day before the storm hit and has never returned permanently. Little Freddie King and Alabama Slim were temporary displaced, eventually returning to New Orleans after a long period of uncertainty while the city regained its necessary infrastructure. The Mighty Flood (audio below) is Alabama Slim and Little Freddie King’s account of what happened the day Katrina hit.
Major Handy, a legendary Zydeco player from Lafayette, LA had his entire livelihood jeopardized by Katrina. Major Handy’s musical income came from playing on cruise ships whose ports were located in Louisiana and were destroyed by the hurricane. Major Handy has struggled the last 10 years to rebuild the stream of gigs that he once had and is only now getting back to where he was before Katrina. Music Maker helped Major Handy get a new professional instrument and has worked with him to book new gigs, including a private event at the New Orleans Superdome shortly after it reopened.
Little Freddie King & Tim Duffy at Freddie’s home in the Lower 9th Ward
Little Freddie King and Alabama Slim both relied on playing shows at various clubs and festivals in New Orleans and are considered by many to be a major part of the New Orleans scene. Their livelihood was put on hold during the uncertain months post-Katrina, their musical connections all having fled the city in different directions. Music Maker supported them during their exile from New Orleans, and has continued to help book them and promote their music in the 10 years that have followed.
Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen was known as a Bourbon Street Queen, performing regularly at clubs and events across the city. When I spoke to her yesterday she told me that the night before the storm, she heard a voice telling her to leave the city. Luckily, Pat took heed of this eerie voice and left immediately. She later saw what was happening to New Orleans on the news and was in denial- still believing that her home was somehow untouched. She finally returned to her neighborhood two months after the storm hit to see the destruction for herself; her house had been completely destroyed. She gathered up what she could from her flooded house and headed back to North Carolina where her brother lives, and tried to build a new life and career.
After Katrina, Music Maker stepped into high gear by creating the New Orleans Musicians Fund and assisting over 150 artists with relocation efforts. Pat Cohen says the help Music Maker gave her was incredible and she is incredibly appreciative of the Foundation’s efforts. Pat speaks about an immeasurable benefit from Music Maker’s work: “My whole community was destroyed, and Music Maker introduced me to a whole new musical community.”
Earlier this year I traveled to New Orleans and got to see Ernie Vincent at the legendary Bourbon Street club, Chris Owens. Ernie is a force. This great tune – Dap Walk from his early days just oozes the funkiness that is New Orleans.
Ernie will also be a part of the upcoming theater production Walking 2 New Orleans which premieres on September 3, 2015. The production chronicles the musical journeys of Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew.
Jontavious struck the last note of “Big Road Blues” and both Boo Hanks and Jontavious burst out laughing. A musical connection has a beautiful way of closing an age gap of 70+ years. Here they were in Boo’s living room, just two passionate musicians trading songs and stories, quizzing each other on blues history.
Jontavious Willis, 19 years old, from Greenville, Georgia is a natural musician. His guitar remains in conversation with his smooth tenor throughout each song, so natural it feels like hearing a familiar song for the first time. He’s entirely self taught. A couple weeks ago Jontavious called the Music Maker office and said that he had been watching all of the youtube videos we have posted and that he would love to come visit some of the artists we work with. So, we planned a visit. As we rode up to Boo’s place from Hillsborough, Jontavious told us that he has watched every Music Maker video on youtube at least twice. With ungoverned excitement, he listed off his favorites and proceeded to rattle off dates and bios. He stopped to apologize for his enthusiasm.
Boo Hanks was the first blues musician Jontavious had ever met, and he couldn’t hide his joy.
This was an historic moment. When it was time to go, we had to pry them apart.
It’s getting so hot, I believe the cotton is high. The heat feels like being wrapped in a hot wash cloth. At this point, it can only be taken in spurts. The nights are hot, the mornings steam, the afternoons spur delirium – dizzy, sun blinded and giddy we wander around for our cars. Inside, at once feeling what the chicken feels inside a pressure cooker if it wasn’t already lifeless. Cooked alive! Salt and pepper me and hand me a bouquet of parsley! We promised ourselves we wouldn’t complain about the heat this Summer, that we’d relish it, take it day by day and remember those cold months when we didn’t want to go outside even to gather more firewood. These days are really testing that resolve.
This version of Summertime is a little nugget of a jam Ironing Board Sam had with Ben Sollee when he passed through a couple of years ago. They were introduced down in the MM studio and after some niceties, they sat down and were musical kin before we could even hit the ‘record’ button.
Sam’s keyboard playing is lush and full of intensity, spurred on by Ben’s staccato rhythmic pulsations on his cello and then all at once it opens up into atmospheric ringing notes, and then Sam begins to sing. Genius! We look forward to getting these guys back together again.
I found out today that my long time beloved car is dying. Her trip to the mechanic this week would turn out to be her last. She was my first car, and we’ve had some great memories on the road together, but it’s time for us to finally part ways and say our goodbyes. I wanted to write a diggin’ on a Music Maker artist that also had a special relationship with their car. I chose Adolphus Bell, “the One Man Band,” who began touring the country in a van he bought with lottery winnings. He had painted “One Man Band” on both sides to advertise his music to others while on the road. This advertising helped Tim spot Adolphus driving on the highway back in 2004. Although on the opposite side of the road, Tim saw the van long enough to later track down Adolphus’s number and bring him on board to partner with Music Maker. I never got a chance to meet Adolphus, but I’ve heard amazing things about him and have also really enjoyed hearing more of his music recently.
The song “Hurt Before You Heal” was a natural choice after receiving the news about my car today. It might sound silly feeling sad about losing my first car, but to me it feels like saying good bye to a close friend. We’ve been through a lot together. I’d like to think that this song would help anyone going through a tough time with loss, especially if it’s something more serious than just a dying car. It’s a beautiful song, and it’s amazing to listen to “The One Man Band” perform with all these instruments together on his own.
Slewfootwas a legendary New Orleans street musician that could blend genres effortlessly. Give Your Love’s slinky sound is reminiscent of someone wobbling their way down Bourbon St. The tune’s lyrics are an insider’s take on the hard streets of New Orleans and the difficult life that can come with them. This song is a plea for human compassion – everyone, no matter who they are needs help at some point. Towards the end of the song Slewfoot testifies that when you need someone you’ve got to give yourself up and a higher power will come to the rescue.
We were so pleased that our photo exhibit We Are the Music Makers! was at the Catherine J Smith Gallery in the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts at Appalachian State University from June 1, 2015 to August 3, 2015. The exhibit was absolutely beautiful!
Thank you Appalachian State and Turchin Center for the Visual Arts!
I recently was able travel with the Music Maker crew to Southern Pines, NC for the 15th annual Sunrise Theater Blues Crawl. After helping to coordinate the event, it was exciting to see months of planning fall into place.
When we arrived in Southern Pines, we made our way around to every venue, speaking with friendly staff members, setting up sound equipment, and enjoying the buzz of conversation throughout town. The sunshine and warm breeze had brought out a crowd long before any show started, and people were excited about a night of good blues and fun.
As we got closer to showtime, artists began to arrive and I was able to meet more Music Makers than I ever had in the past. It was a bit like a family reunion, with people asking who was already in town and who had yet to arrive. Everyone seemed to be excited for everyone else’s shows, and the scale and uniqueness of the event really hit me- this was a special occasion, a time of celebration and fun, with some of the most talented blues artists I’ve ever heard.
Down at the Sunrise Theater, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen was getting ready for her set, the first of the night. As she made her way on stage, I learned very quickly why Mother Blues got her name, and experienced culinary heaven on earth- her homemade jambalaya which she brought with her backstage.
As the night got going, we made our way around town, and were impressed by the large crowd that was already out for the Crawl. As the sun set, we made our way to several shows: Robert Lee Coleman making his guitar sing at the Jefferson Inn, the Screaming J’s rollicking tunes at Rhett’s Restaurant, and the peaceful and powerful presence of Boo Hanks, with just his guitar and hundreds of stories to tell, at the Eye Candy Gallery.
After Cool John Ferguson’s lively and life-altering set at the Sunrise Theater, I had a moment to say hello to his drummer for the night, Bubba Norwood. “I was born with drumsticks in my hands,” he told me, as he described how he comes alive when he plays the drums. This is how it seemed with every artist that night- a dedicated passion and commitment to the craft was evident in every solo, in every beat.
When the night came to a close, and the drive back to Hillsborough was underway, I was able to reflect on what I had experienced for the past 8 hours. I was able to witness firsthand the wonderful relationships that have been built through Music Maker, and appreciate afresh the importance of its mission- these traditions are too precious to lose!
It’s festival season, a very important time for fiddlers and pickers throughout the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. From about the first weekend in June to the end of September, there is a fiddle festival every weekend in a municipal park or on the side of some mountain where the keepers of mountain music traditions have gathered, sometimes for generations, to have a little friendly competition, share a meal and reunite with old friends.
Competition categories include folk song, fiddle tune, banjo, solo guitar, old time band and bluegrass band. It is not uncommon to the same few songs interpreted by more than a few in every category.One of the most popular across all of the categories is “Wayfaring Stranger.” Interestingly, “Wayfaring Stranger” has had many treatments throughout the pop world as well, interpreted by a Norwegian death metal band, electronic music artist Pretty Lights, pop star Ed Sheeran, psychedelic rock band H. P. Lovecraft, Hip Hop artists Spearhead, Neil Young and many others. One of my favorite versions is this one by the brother duo, Wayne and Max Henderson. All mandolin and guitar, performed without superfluous adornment, it is faithful, somber and beautiful. Check it out!!
No band in recent memory has carried the torch of traditional music more than the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Under master fiddler Joe Thompson’s tutelage the Carolina Chocolate Drops learned about old-time string band music straight from the source. The band’s rendition of Black Annie is an incredible driving tune that genuinely represents what this music should sounds like – raw, gritty and FAST! Listening to this song it is obvious as to why the Carolina Chocolate Drops became so popular – so turn your stereo up and stomp your feet!