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.

Diggin’: Guitar Gabriel’s “Expressin’ the Blues”

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You might know more about the blues than you think. It’s a genre of music that seems to invite all people, all walks of life, both ups and downs. Music Maker artists often speak on what the blues means to them. Some say it’s a feeling, and some say the blues is a story. Guitar Gabriel always made it a part of his music to help others understand the connection between the blues and being human. There are some amazing recordings between Tim and Gabe that go into greater detail on this subject. I remember because it was some of the first audio I got my hands on when I started at Music Maker. “The blues is a heart thing, if you listen you can understand”

Gabe’s song “Expressin’ the Blues” gives examples on how, where, when, and why someone might experience the blues. Even a bird in a tree being barked at by a dog can have the blues, you see. The song is conversational, with no rigid structure or formal singing. There’s some wailing in there, traditional of Gabe’s style, but the song is more like listening to a friend give you advice. It’s comforting. You find yourself saying “man, I can relate to that bird. I know how it feels.” I think Gabe knew this feeling as well, and he knew how to use this feeling to help bring people together. Perhaps that’s what the blues is all about.

– Berk

Faultless Spray Starch has a New Spokesperson: Ironing Board Sam

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It’s 6am and Ironing Board Sam is standing in his house clothes putting some finishing touches on his pants when I come in to check on him in his hotel room in Kansas City.

“Aaron, I always ironed my own clothes. Everywhere I go, the first thing I look for is the ironing board.” Sam is getting prepared for his last day shooting commercials for Faultless Starch in Kansas City. He’ll do a photo shoot, record the jingles he wrote and perform in two commercials touting Faultless’ newest line of starch called “Premium.” For Sam, this is the realization of a life’s work.

A few nights prior, during his interview with Chuck Haddix, host of the Fish Fry on KCUR , Kansas City’s favorite blues radio show, Sam recounted the story of how he got his name, and how it led to one of his proudest moments as the celebrity icon for Faultless Premium Spray Starch:

“The starch campaign is an extension of my career (as Ironing Board Sam), a name I hated when I was starting out has now connected me to a great company that started in 1887, a company that’s about clothes. My name is about clothes and my career has been about clothes because I’ve always been about looking good, from 25-75, it took that long. But, it took that time to make my career come to life.”

See Ironing Board Sam’s page on the Faultless website here

A few months ago, I got a call from Faultless’ marketing team asking if Ironing Board Sam was real. As Music Maker’s Artist Services Coordinator, these are the calls I dream of because I spend most of my days looking for gigs and paychecks for Sam and our many other partner artists. When they told me a Google image search for “ironing board” had turned up the photos of Sam, I realized that four years of shooting and posting were totally worthwhile.

Sam was blown away by the complete experience of doing the starch campaign. He loved Kansas City calling it a “city with a groove, like when you’re playing music and you feel the groove, that’s what Kansas City feels like to me. The food is groovy, too.“

Sam’s career has had many ups and downs and he is famous for following an outrageous idea to its glorious realization. Sam sees his relationship with Faultless Starch as something more than just a work opportunity – it’s fate. “The spirit told me about the starch, I had a vision. This can is going to take me to where I want to go. It’s all for a reason.“

- Aaron Greenhood

 

Diggin’: Big Ron Hunter’s “Through My Eyes”

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Big Ron Hunter was the first artist I met through Music Maker, and I was eager to get to know his music after getting a chance to meet him. We met while MMRF’s Founder, Tim Duffy, was taking a tintype of the Bluesman. Looking at an image of his own genuine smile, Ron confirmed what we were all thinking: “That’s really me. That’s the real me.”

I landed on ‘Through My Eyes’ for this week’s Diggin’, a well-worn ballad with all the touches of time-tested love.

A Winston-Salem, N.C. native and Music Maker artist since 2007, Big Ron brings his own style to acoustic blues and this track is no exception. Ron’s persona and smile exude a kind wisdom, and this track is flowing with that same milk and honey. Skillful guitar blends with Ron’s rich and soothing vocals, resulting in a song that’s perfectly fitting for a slow summer afternoon.

Take a listen and get to know the world’s happiest Bluesman!

- Jenny

Jenny Hicks is our public relations intern for Summer 2015. An avid music enthusiast, Jenny grew up surrounded by a myriad of musical styles and developed a love for finding new artists, new albums and new genres to admire. She is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied Communication and Public Relations. Before coming to Music Maker, she worked with Alamance for Freedom and the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation, where she found a love for nonprofit work. Jenny lives in Mebane, N.C., with a few too many cats and spends her free time collecting vinyl, watching Netflix or hiking with friends. 

Music Maker at Newport Folk Festival hosted by Dom Flemons

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Dom Flemons (right) performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012.

Last year, I traveled to New Orleans with Ironing Board Sam to help with his performance at JazzFest. While checking into the hotel I noticed a short man with a cane and a golfing cap standing by the desk, smiling, while he waited for his traveling party to check in. I immediately recognized this man as George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals. George Wein invented the modern music festival and shaped the musical experience for the entire world. I instantly turned to Ironing Board Sam and said, “You should meet this man.” I introduced the two and told Mr. Wein that Sam would be playing at JazzFest this year. Sam and Mr. Wein discussed how excited they were to be in New Orleans. Unfortunately, Mr. Wein’s traveling party finished checking in and they needed to get settled, so the conversation was quite brief, but nonetheless incredible to witness.

It is such an incredible honor for Music Maker to play this historic and still highly relevant festival. Everyone at the office is just buzzing with excitement. The Como Mamas, Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks, Ardie Dean, Nashid Abdul and Albert White will all be part of this Music Maker Blues Revue with special guest performer/host Dom Flemons!

- Corn  Lewis

Taj Mahal Remembers BB King

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(left to right) Sugar Blue, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, BB King.

 

Shortly after the news about BB King’s passing Tim Duffy (MMRF’s Founder) spoke to Taj Mahal about this incredible Bluesman. Both Taj Mahal and BB King are Music Maker Advisory Board Members. We were incredibly honored to have our photo exhibit We Are the Music Makers! at the BB King Museum in Indianola, MS last year. Here is what Taj Mahal had to say about BB King’s Legacy:

A global original!! B.B.’s music spoke to everyone, everywhere whose souls were alive!
All praises due-pass unto the light from whence you came, my dear Brother!
You certainly left this earth so much the better than you found it!

I and so many others are most thankful for the memories of your awesome graciousness, welcoming warmth, hugs, smiles, positive compliments, encouragement and most of all the purest of pure music. That music will continue to live within those of us who have known the privilege of a lifetime to be in your magnificent presence!

B, you will be more than just sadly missed – you’ll be a milestone in the history of humanity on planet earth!

Love,
Taj Mahal

Diggin’: “Do You Know What It Means To Have A Friend?”

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This is a beautiful gospel song that Guitar Gabriel composed the night his mother passed. It asks the question, Do You Know What it Means to Have a Friend? “A friend will tell you, just what to do, turnaround, they’ll turn their back on you.”

My 25 years with Captain Luke reminds me that I do know what it means to have a friend. Since my 20s, Captain has been the one I turned to talk about everything; my family, the business we built together, other MM artists. Captain himself over the years has been a friend to hundred of music lovers.

This track is from our first album, Guitar Gabriel & Brothers in the Kitchen (Toot Blues on the website.) Captain and I were the “brothers in the kitchen,” and I spent a lot of time with him in his kitchen as he build his tin can ash trays, cooked biscuits, and shared many a beer.

So enjoy this track, as we all remember Captain Luke this week, it seemed appropriate to pull out this song sung by his great friend.

- Tim Duffy

Ironing Board Sam is Up to Something…

Here’s a sneak peek at what Ironing Board Sam has been up to. We can’t say anything right now, but stay tuned for a big announcement, coming soon!

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Remembering Captain Luke

Luther “Captain Luke” Mayer passed away early in the morning on May 12th at the age of 87. Captain Luke was the very heart of Music Maker, and he has been with us since the beginning. He appreciated so much all the love and thoughts everyone sent his way during his illness, he said he never truly realized how much his music meant to people until recently. He will be sorely missed.

Read articles about Captain Luke’s passing on WUNC, the Winston-Salem Journal and the Herald Sun.

Scroll down the page to see photos and videos of Captain Luke

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Music Makers at Jazzfest 2015

Check out some photos of Major Handy and Ironing Board Sam from last week’s Jazzfest!

Major Handy on the Fais Do-Do stage

Major Handy on the Fais Do-Do stage

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Ironing Board Sam debuts his silver suit to a packed Blues Tent

Ironing Board Sam's drummer Kerry Brown lights his sticks on fire!

Ironing Board Sam’s drummer Kerry Brown lights his sticks on fire!

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Alabama Slim, Aaron Greenhood, Tim Duffy and Ironing Board Sam backstage at the festival

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Ironing Board Sam’s daughter and granddaughters traveled from Alabama to see him!

With the Blues Revue at Byron Bay

 

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Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015 was a memorable trip. I gave the Revue the pet name “Guitar Heaven,” stealing from Cool John Ferguson’s record title. The show featured guitar slingers from across the South, representing a great diversity of styles and attitudes. Cool John Ferguson gave them a taste of Low Country blues, George Stancell did a dance that sent shockwaves through his pants and likewise the crowd, Vasti Jackson was the first ever to crowd surf at a Music Maker show, Super Chikan wowed with his bedazzled homemade guitars, and Albert White gave them some of that deep South soul. The crowds loved it. I didn’t know the extent of it until I went over to the merch tent to check in on sales and found out there were no Music Maker CDs left; all had been sold by day two!

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The Music Maker Revue closed the Jukejoint stage 4 of the 5 nights they performed at the festival, playing to capacity crowds that were transfixed, dancing with eyes closed and smiles ear to ear. Going on at 10pm every night meant relaxed mornings, long breakfasts and walks down the thoroughfare of the bustling tourist town of Coolangatta. One morning, Ardie took all of the guys to the funky music store we had discovered the year before. Motorcycle Music is run by Gary, a cantankerous beach bum who has seen and worked on every guitar and amp made in the past 60 years. Walking in the store is like opening up a treasure chest piled high with vintage guitars, amps, drum kits, accordions and bits and pieces of music detritus strewn about everywhere. On the fourth day, George Stancell returned from the store with a new guitar he had traded for the one he brought with him, the smile of a proud new owner on his face.

Knowing that this trip was my opportunity to get to know three Music Maker Discovery artists, I brought the Music Maker digital camera setup with plans to record some video of the guys playing. The first day, I set out to find a great location. Hotel rooms are ok, but not very original. I had to walk all the way to the end of the road where I found a barbershop; about 8 feet wide, the shop had a barber’s pole made out of the leg of a table attached to the insides of an old singer sewing machine – it was spinning with a little wobble, and I was intrigued. The place was run by a young barber named Clement; he and his wife had converted a breezeway into a sardine can barbershop, the back of which was a stage set four feet off the ground and large enough for one person. Clem, a musician himself, was excited to hear I was with a group of American blues musicians and said he would love for our artists to perform so I could shoot video. So we returned the following day;  Vasti Jackson, George Stancell and Super Chikan all did sets, performing informally for a crowd that gathered in the small space. Here is the first video we have cut together; it features Super Chikan performing his song SippiSeeKinsaw on his homemade 6-string Diddly Bo.

 

– Aaron

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This engagement was supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

 

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Diggin’: “Slap ‘Em Down” by Tad Walters

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Tad Walters was one of the first Music Maker artists I saw perform, at a SOOTS event in 2011 in Raleigh. Tad is a Next Generation artist, and he performed his own set at that show while also backing up the other MM Musicians, including the late George Higgs, on harmonica. Since then, I haven’t seen Tad live but I stumble across tracks of his in our archive now and again. This one popped up on my iTunes while I was working on a press release for our Freight Train Blues series (in Carrboro this spring), and since Tad is performing in that series as well as this weekend with John Dee Holeman at the Birthplace of Country Music, it seemed fitting to make it this week’s Diggin’!

Check out Tad Walters’ classic blues tune, and don’t forget to catch one of his shows!

- Corinne

Captain Luke – Live From Shakori Hills

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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.

WE LOVE YOU CAPTAIN LUKE!

 

- Corn Lewis