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.

A Music Maker Newcomer Comes to the Homecoming Pt. 1

Maybe it was the captivating music; maybe it was the welcoming people; or maybe it was the place and the laid-back, everyone’s like family attitude that made me fall in the love with the Roots Blues and ‘soul of the American music’ that the Music Maker Relief Foundation represents. But honestly, I think it was a combination of it all.


The Music Maker Panel at the Carrboro ArtsCenter


Diggin’: Leyla McCalla – Manman Mwen


Leyla McCalla’s debut album, Vari-Colored Songs is one of the most well rounded a intellectually stimulating records I have heard in a long time. The elegant simplicity of the traditional tune, “Manman Mwen,” exhibits Leyla’s deep understanding for this music while still allowing the interpretation to sound fresh. This song features Leyla on the tenor banjo and vocals while Rhiannon Giddens plays the shaker and sings backing vocals. This song needs nothing more than it has and its simple instrumentation complements “Manman Mwen” in a very intentional way.

Leyla McCalla will be embarking on a 9 city tour starting November 15th at Serenbe Pavillion in Chattahoochee Hills, GA.

Check out all of her tour dates here

You can purchase Vari-Colored Songs here

- Corn Lewis

Remembering George Daniels


When we learned that George Daniels had passed away last month, I thought back to my first meeting with him. I went to look for George Daniels in 1995 as I was re-tracing the trail of the great folklorist and blues researcher George Mitchell, who had discovered many great blues artists in Georgia and Alabama. George Daniels became a long-time friend of Music Maker; we helped him every month for medicine for nearly 20 years. As I only got to visit him a few times, I never spent the amount of time with him as his friend, the great folklorist/writer Fred Fussell, did. Fred wrote this piece and I present it here as it really gives you an idea of the wonderful man George Daniels was. He is sorely missed here at Music Maker.

-       Tim Duffy


Video Diggin’: Alabama Slim’s “Come On and Rock With Me Baby”

We’ve been working hard to edit and post video from the Homecoming Celebration – and this clip of Alabama Slim performing is one of the first we finished. In this video, Slim is performing at our exhibit launch and performance* at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC.

I love to see Alabama Slim perform, but it’s rare that I get a chance, as he’s not often up here in NC. That night, Slim was on his game, bringing the crowd to their feet to dance in the aisles and, at the very least, assist with percussion by tapping their toes. It is a great, classic tune, and Slim’s stage presence just jumps off the screen. You can see why he has such a loyal following in New Orleans!

We were so thrilled Slim could be there for our Homecoming Weekend! Enjoy the video.

- Corinne


*Support for We Are the Music Makers! exhibit and launch event provided in part by the NC Humanities Council, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Orange County Arts Commission, Catherine Elkins and Cathead Vodka.

The Regular Gig


Ironing Board Sam performs his weekly Thursday gig at Hot Tin Roof

Having a regular, reliable gig is something working musicians depend on to keep make ends meet. In the South, many of our artists are paid to play every Sunday in the church. No matter how late or how far away they performed on Friday and Saturday, they are getting home to play Sunday morning.

Not every musician is equally adept in both secular and gospel material, what South Carolina Blues Legend Drink Small calls, “The Hallelujah Boogaloo,” so artists not playing in the church look for weekly shows around town at small bars or restaurants to supplement their income. Eddie Tigner, at 88 years old, has been performing every Sunday at Fat Matt’s in Atlanta for over a decade. Our friend Mudcat just celebrated playing every Wednesday at The Northside Tavern for 20 years! (more…)

Diggin’: Ironing Board Sam and the Sticks “The Creature”



On yonder hill there stands a creature,

Who she is I do not know.

I go and court her for her beauty,

She must answer yes or no…


These words could conjure a beauty standing atop a sand dune glistening in the blinding haze of a hot July. Or, as the groove would suggest, something darker. She’s unidentifiable. A woman? Yes. Human? Inconclusive. Beautiful? Again, yes. Friend or Threat? The tension is stiff, how will she answer. He has made himself vulnerable, clearly nervous, what will the outcome be. “The Creature” runs for almost seven minutes. Tension like this can last a lifetime.


I’ve heard many responses for “What is blues?” My favorite comes from John Dee Holeman, “The blues is a good man feeling bad.” To me, that answer speaks to the contention that music is the language of the heart and at its best shortens the distance between two souls.


Happy Halloween!!


- Aaron

Ironing Board Sam & the Underwater Blues Show!

Ironing Board Sam preparing to enter the water tank. Photo by Walter Lenk

It is always interesting when stories are told and there is no photographic evidence to validate the story. This is particularly true when the story is so outrageous that it is borderline unbelievable. This was definitely the case with Ironing Board Sam’s infamous underwater blues show. I always believed that Sam actually performed this show given that there is nothing too crazy for Sam to pull off, but I did postulate over the years as to how this incredible feat was accomplished.


We Are the Music Makers at B.B. King Museum!

bbkingTim Duffy and BB King in 1995

I met B.B. King in 1995 at Ocean Way Studio in Los Angeles, CA when he was recording with the Rolling Stones. I showed him photographs and played him our first CD from Music Maker, A Living Past. He immediately embraced our mission and introduced me to all the incredible musicians on his duets record, Deuces Wild. He even used the photos I took during the sessions on his CD. Nearly 20 years later, B.B. has the greatest museum of the blues in the world, and they are hosting our We Are the Music Makers! exhibit, which opened there on October 23rd. It is the greatest honor in my career to have our show at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, MS – where visitors will experience the stories and songs of the musicians we have been working with for 20 years.

God Bless you B, you are truly the greatest!

- Tim

Diggin’: Etta Baker’s Railroad Bill


I never got the chance to meet Etta Baker but was a long time fan of her music even before I started to work at the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Her style of guitar playing is the most eloquent and parred down that I have ever heard. Only after listening after many years of listening to Etta did I truly grasp the complexity of her playing. Most have heard of the Piedmont Blues Guitar style but non one played it quite like Etta Baker did.

- Corn Lewis


From the Pages of We Are the Music Makers!



J.C. McCool composed the fiddle standard “the Black Mountain rag.” he began his career when he was just 10 years old playing with Walter Davis and Clarence Greene, who recorded in the 1930s as the Blue Ridge Mountain entertainers. When I first came to Swannanoa, NC in 1981 to go to college, I was introduced to Walt Davis, Ray Greene and J.C. by my new fiddler friend Jeff Robbins. We went out to ray’s on the weekends and helped him build a cinderblock building in his backyard. there, ray hosted a pickin’ party for old time musicians to get together and play every Monday night ever since, for more than 20 years. after I started Music Maker, I visited J.C. and found him crippled with arthritis and nearly blind. he told us his fixed income was too little to afford groceries. We offered him a monthly stipend to help out. While he accepted the checks, he admitted being uncomfortable accepting money from an organization that primarily supported African American musicians. Several years later on another visit, he spoke his heart – that after a lifetime of being prejudiced he had an awakening and changed churches to one that embraces all people. J.C. thanked us for being part of his enlightenment.

Diggin’: Albert White’s “Dr. Feelgood”


Albert White  - Atlanta, GiorgiaPhoto by Jimmy Williams

Listen: Dr. Feelgood

This track was on our Listener’s Circle #6, which I was listening to the other day as we were printing this month’s Listener’s Circle CDs. Albert White is a Music Maker artist I have seen many times live – the first time, I saw him perform in London, which was the first time I’d seen the MMRF Blues Revue show. It was just after I started at Music Maker, and my husband and I headed overseas to visit our Goddaughter. The Blues Revue was touring Europe, and it coincided with our trip dates, so we headed to Shepherd’s Green to see them! We got well and truly lost attempting to find the venue, but it was worth it (of course.) The show was wonderful, and Albert White was one of the many highlights – hosting the show, introducing each artist and getting everyone out of their seats each number.


Diggin’: Sol – Black Mattie













Listen to Black Mattie 

Even if you are not a fan of Hip-Hop music you can still appreciate the deep grooves of this song. Robert “Wolfman” Belfour’s unmistakable moaning voice on top of  raunchy acoustic guitar lick and a sharp drumbeat makes for an incredible fusion of Blues and it’s much younger step child, Hip-Hop. (more…)