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.
Last weekend at Shakori was about one of the best experiences I have ever had at Music Maker. As most of you know, our dear friend and mentor Captain Luke is in the final chapter of his life. The Captain has attended every single Shakori Hills as part of the Music Maker Blues Revue and is always a major highlight for this great festival.
Tim and I decided it would be great if there was some way to get the Captain involved with the show, even if it was just in a small way. Before heading out to Shakori I procured the technical gizmos that allowed us to pipe the Captain in on the PA system.
In true Captain Luke fashion he stole the show!
Cracking jokes and telling everybody that he loves them, the Captain even took a solo on his phone during one of Lakota John’s songs. Every time I went back to check on my phone the Captain was still on the line jamming out to the show.
I had just met Guitar Gabriel the week before in the Piedmont Housing Projects in Winston-Salem, NC. While driving down Cleveland Avenue, Guitar spotted a dapper, muscular black man coming out of at store with a packet of cigars. Gabe had me pull over and he introduced me to Captain Luke. They were old friends, had played together for years in Drink Houses around town. Captain invited us over to his home; I set up my tape recorder and microphone and we recorded this version of “Careless Love” in one pass.
I was stunned by his arrangement of this timeless classic; over the years Captain interpreted a wonderful collection of standards all totally his own. They stand with the best, up along Rod Stewart, Brook Benton and Joe Simon.
I went to see the Captain this week. He was extremely alert and was so happy to hear from so many fans. He had mentioned last week to us that he really never knew how many people loved his music.
Many places in the US stake claim to the blues, but none more so than the Mississippi Delta. The crossroads where Robert Johnson is fabled to have sold his soul to the Devil sits in the Delta, in a little town called Clarksdale. I had the privilege of going down to Clarksdale with Music Maker recently for the annual Juke Joint Blues Festival.
After a six-hour stint south on I-85, Corn and I picked up Albert White from his home just outside of Atlanta. Then two hours west to Birmingham, where we bedded down for the night. The next morning, we scooped up Sam Frazier, Jr. and drove the rest of the way to Clarksdale. Ardie Dean, who drove to meet us from his home in Huntsville, Alabama, joined us there.
Corn and I rose early on Saturday morning to set up the Music Maker booth. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, and everyone we met was full of anticipation for Juke Joint. Around ten, I went back to the hotel to pick up Albert and Sam. As I approached Albert’s hotel room door, I could hear Sam’s harp blasting from within. I listened from the hallway for a minute; I could make out the sound of Albert’s unplugged electric guitar playing behind Sam’s harp. After knocking several times, the guys started laughing and Albert came to open the door. Sam was glowing and grinning from ear to ear. He looked at me earnestly: “Man, I haven’t had fun like this in ages. Just this right here already made the whole trip worth it.” It occurred to me that, even after decades of playing music through thick and thin, these guys still love playing the blues more than I could imagine.
Back at Juke Joint, Albert, Sam, and Ardie played all through the afternoon, consistently drawing a crowd of upwards of 100 people. The energy between the three guys was incredible, especially considering that Sam had just met for Albert for the first time the day before. True professionals. Many folks stopped by to tell us the Music Maker guys were putting on the best show of the festival—and these are people who know their blues.
The Como Mamas, a gospel trio from Como, Mississippi, also made an appearance at the Music Maker tent. Only Esther and Angelia could make it, but they still had an amazing performance. The deep southern spirituals, sung with such powerful voices, captivated the crowd as the festival started to wind Corn and I drove all the way back to Hillsborough the next day, a full twelve hours on the road, with stops in Birmingham and Atlanta to drop off Sam and Albert. The time went fast, though, as we had an awesome weekend to reflect on and laugh about. Music Maker had created an enormous presence at Juke Joint, all thanks to Albert, Sam, and Artie playing world-class blues. It was definitely a weekend that will be remembered, by myself as well as anyone that heard them play.
If you haven’t heard already Dom Flemons is releasing What Got Over, an EP of extra cuts from his 2014 release Prospect Hill for Record Store Day. Big Head Joe’s March is the first track from this exclusive album and does NOT disappoint. Dom explores some of the deeper roots of American music by pairing independently played bass and snare drums with quills and an intoxicating banjo riff played on none other than his freakishly large banjo, Big Head Joe.
We arrived to Mr. Drink’s house and he was happy to have us visit! We chatted for a bit and soaked up his poetic “drinkisms” and enjoyed hearing his stories.
Lakota John asked Mr. Drink if he would like to jam and he was excited to get started. Papa John gave him his guitar and he “shook the strings!” Papa John said, “he’s killing it, my guitar never sounded so good!”
Lakota: “You can’t explain Mr. Drink. You have to experience and spend time with him. Drink is Drink and there ain’t another one like him!
We spent about 3 hours with him, laughing, jamming and laughing some more! He was the perfect host and we can’t wait to visit him again.
Alabama Slimis one of many Music Maker artists that knows how to tell a story. Storytelling can be just as much a source of subject matter as it can be a delivery technique. The song “Mr. Charlie” off of the album The Mighty Flood has subtle elements that help bring vivid details to a portion of Slim’s travels as a young man. You see, Slim was staying and working on a “Mr. Charlie’s” sawmill when one day he came to find the entire mill had gone up in flames. As Slim approaches Mr. Charlie, who is busy eating lunch, to explain what’s going on, Slim’s nervous. Slim’s voice quivers as he attempts to butt into Mr. Charlie’s conversation. “Hey Mr. Charlie…,” but no response. He tries again “Hey Mr. Charlie…,” but is ignored once more. Each time Slim asks, his nervousness is emphasized with a shaky and shivery delivery.
“Mr. Charlie” has a form that’s half song, half conversation, but the balance is spot on. It delivers in a real way and gives light to the travels of a young blues man. Listen through to find out what happens to Slim after finally grabbing Mr. Charlie’s full attention.
We were just visitingCaptain Lukeat hospice, and he has a TV/DVD player in his room, so we brought along Toot Blues to watch together. While Captain chatted on the phone with his many admirers wishing him well, we watched the documentary on Music Maker that most of us hadn’t seen in a couple years.
It was wonderful to see Captain’s eyes light up when he saw his old friends on screen, some still with us, others having passed on. We all laughed when we heard the story again about trying to find Captain’s preferred brand of cherry-blend cigars on tour in Argentina. It made me think that, instead of a Diggin’ this week, I should re-post the Toot Blues documentary on our blog. This inspiring movie doesn’t lose anything on a repeat viewing; there were several parts I couldn’t remember and loved seeing with new eyes (George Higgs‘ amazing performance), and then others that I knew well but can never see too many times (Willa Mae’s snakes and her risque song.)
So, if you have a bit of time to relax, put your feet up and watch Toot Blues – even if you’ve seen it before – I highly recommend it.
Cary Morin’s “Old Guitar” is a great video to see some of the outstanding picking that goes on amongst the guitarists at Music Maker. “Old Guitar” is one of Cary’s original songs and some of the shots of his fingers picking through the different riffs are just incredible to watch. During certain solos, the momentum of his playing speed builds quickly, yet remains in control while still maintaining a continuous and natural feeling. Different parts of the song call for different playing styles, which adds a very smooth variance to the story of his ol’ guitar. For example “sing for me baby soft and sweet” cues a quieter portion of the song to mimic the communication between Cary and his guitar and builds on the story the song works to convey. The shots used in the video highlight all of this action as well, with an up close perspective down the neck of the guitar, which spotlights what Cary and his “Old Guitar” are both truly capable of.
Anyone that has had some sort of involvement with Old-Time Fiddle Music knows the name Benton Flippen, and would also surely be familiar with his song, “Benton’s Dream“. Rarely is such a classic melody written in modern times. If you listen closely you can hear this how this song captures the ups and downs that one experiences during a dream. The song quickly bounces around from being uplifting to somewhat dark and then back up again. Benton was an incredible figure in the Old-Time community and continued playing in his home community of Surrey County, NC until his death in 2011. Although Benton has passed, his legacy lives on as you walk through the campground at the Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Convention and hear this great tune being played.
It all started last year at the North Carolina Folk Heritage Awards. John Dee Holeman and his girlfriend Joan needed a ride to the annual ceremony, and due to some last minute complications, I was asked to be the couple’s chauffeur for the night. I didn’t know it at the time, but that night would mark the first of many trips the three of us would make around the triangle.
Car rides with Joan and John Dee are a one of a kind means of travel. John Dee comes equipped with a full tank of jokes, and Joan always has updates from a recent estate sale, fishing trip, or batch of preserves to share. I like to ask John Dee about his past, sometimes as far back as his child hood. One story that comes to mind is how John used to mess with his mother when he was very very young. He told me he used to tie a piece of dental floss to a strand of his mother’s hair while she would take a nap. John Dee would take the other end of the floss and wait in the back yard for his mother to wake up so that he could yank her hair out without her knowing it was him. Needless to say, he never got away with it. His mother would say “John Dee I don’t know who pulled my hair out, but I know it was you!”
With the weather warming up, I’m looking forward to spending more time traveling with John Dee and Joan. The song “Shotgun Blues” is just one of my personal favorites from John Dee’s catalog, and I always really enjoy it when I get to hear him perform the tune live!
Cool John Ferguson grew up in the Georgia Sea Islands and has spent the majority of his life living near the salty shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Cool’s music has been described as “a living bridge between the Gullah tradition, the rock, psychedelia, blues, and R&B of his childhood, and the present,” in the pages of Premier Guitar magazine. What strikes me most are the vast spectrum of sounds he pulls from his guitar, sounds that I often liken to the music that would accompany a Jacques Cousteau underwater adventure, one with great drama.
The video featured in this Diggin’ is a solo taken on “Hey Joe.” On display is Cool John’s amazing artistry, his musical vocabulary and those deep sea sounds that make me so excited. Whether you hear the oceanic sounds I hear or not, what you will no doubt hear is something jaw dropping.
Cool John Ferguson performs withIroning Board SamMarch 12 at Clydes of Gallery Place in Washington, D.C. as part of Capitol Blues Night, a very special Music Maker Fundraiser. If you can make it, don’t miss it – get your tickets here! -Aaron