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.
In celebration of Black History Month, I’ve been listening to the Music Maker catalog nonstop, going through tons of incredible material. Today I stumbled upon Ben Payton; what a voice! You can literally feel the grit of his words pour out of the speakers. Cradling a slower rhythm in “You Lost a Good Man Baby,” there’s ample space to enjoy Payton’s guitar creep around his lyrics of loss. Like many bluesmen though, there’s always hope, and Payton seamlessly transitions from sadness into optimism towards a new future love. “You Lost a Good Man Baby” tells a story, and speaks to love, life, and loss in a way that underlines the simple fact that no matter what, life always goes on.
Our country was colonized by the nations of West Africa under brutal, horrible conditions. Over 12.5 million slaves were brought to America, and it is they who built the huge financial base of our country. More importantly, the culture they developed defined the greatest cultural attributes of our nation. After Emancipation and through the greatest migration of people in our nation’s history, their influence in religion, food ways, speech, and music touched every corner of the world.
The musical culture that has evolved in the American South through the centuries has roots that go deep into the very founding of our nation. Here at Music Maker, we glory in the partnerships we have with Music Makers whose direct ancestors taught our nation songwriting, singing, rhythm – the music that made America famous. So we celebrate Black History Month, a time to reflect, and cherish who we are as a nation, the struggles folks have been through. As my good friend Guitar Gabriel used to tell it, “We came so far, but we have a long way to go, we have a living past and a future coming in.”
Mary joined Music Maker this week as our new Giving Coordinator. With more than 20 years as a development and communications professional with North Carolina nonprofits, Mary is looking forward to applying her experience toward building relationships and support for Music Maker Relief Foundation. Most recently, Mary served as Director of Marketing and Communications at United Way of North Carolina, the membership organization serving North Carolina United Ways. Previously, she served as Director of the North Carolina State Employees Combined Campaign and as Institutional Advancement staff at Shodor Education Foundation in Durham. She is a University of Kentucky graduate with a BA in editorial journalism. She and her family have enjoyed living in Hillsborough since moving to the area from Wilmington, NC in 2001. We’re thrilled to have her on our team!
While rehearsing in NYC for globalFESTRobert Lee Coleman showed us what is was like to work for James Brown. Having toured with Brown for many years Coleman has adopted some of the same ideas of perfection that Brown was notorious for. At the start of one tune the band was supposed to come in with some real punch. I thought it sounded great but Coleman did not. He wasn’t being mean to the band, but his passion for his music was obvious. He told the band, “when you come in you got to STICK it!”. They did it again and Coleman shook his head and stood up, “When you come in you got to stick it!” I saw what he was getting at and so did the band. The next time around they stuck it with incredible precision and you could hear the difference. Take a listen to Coleman on this killer track.
Lil’ Joe is as cool as they come. Anyone who has seen him perform knows that he is the essence of smooth. “Mr. Magic” exemplifies his versatility and total command of the trombone. Joe’s career is nothing short of astonishing. He played with greats such as Junior Wells, Bobby Womack, Joe Tex, Otis Clay, and toured with B.B. King for 10 years. Currently he tours with the Music Maker Revue. He is truly in a league of his own.
Backstage at the studio in Webster Hall, the oldest nightclub in America, the members of the Music Maker Blues Revue huddled together in anticipation of their GlobalFest 2016 performance. The walls backstage were plastered with band stickers from all over the globe. String lights were draped across the room, lighting the wings in festive colors. The whole building, a historic landmark, is decorated in an amalgamation of styles from 1886 when it first opened to its most recent renovation in 1992, creating a timeless and vibrant atmosphere. As we watched the clock tick down to show time, the excitement was steadily building. That afternoon, the group had rehearsed the set in preparation and it was quickly clear that everyone was ready for an audience. The show had sold out well in advance, and once the audience had squeezed into the space, elbow-to-elbow, it was go time. It was a cold and snowy night in New York City, but as soon as the Music Maker Revue took the stage, the music was red hot.
It was an exciting night for everyone. It was new artist, Robert Finley’s first time on tour with Music Maker. For Robert Lee Coleman, it was his first time in New York City since 1971 when he played with James Brown on his album “Revolution of the Mind” recorded live at the Apollo. The thrilling feeling in the air was palpable. Backstage, the artists eagerly cheered each other on between songs. The show was one for the books; an electric performance. We were amidst performers from all over the world representing our own American blues flavor. Through the unique opportunity of Globalfest, we were able to showcase the incredible talent of the Music Maker Blues Revue to a wide audience of producers, agents, press, and fans. We certainly made an impression on them!
Last week, more than a couple of my friends started posting pictures of delicious looking King Cakes to their Facebook feeds, we reminded me that it will be Mardi Gras in less than a month! I’ve never had the chance to visit New Orleans, but with so many amazing Music Maker artists who hail from the region, I can visit through music on a regular basis. Major Handy is a wonderful Zydeco artist, seeing him live is truly a treat. For a day when it’s hardly getting above freezing, I recommend tapping your feet vigorously to this tune (which is what I’m doing to keep them warm.) Enjoy!
In 2011, Precious Bryant and I were steady penpals. I was working to get a new mobile home for her to replace the damaged and worn one she and her son Tony had been living in for many years. The mobile home was made possible by a generous grant from Bonnie Raitt, a longtime fan of Precious and loving supporter of Music Maker’s programs. The process was deeper than I could have ever imagined. Seeking out the right home, pulling the correct permits, scheduling inspections, hiring removal and installation and coordinating with Precious’ demanding dialysis schedule (3 times a week, usually requiring 8 hour stretches).
The home was installed, a beautiful screened-in porch built and a long graded wheelchair ramp to the driveway. When I got there, she was seated on her couch with a sock cap on, the Bible open on the table in front of her. She welcomed me in her soft voice and even though we had never met in person before, it was as if we were old friends. Afterall, we had together worked through this whole process of getting the new home.
The great relief she felt in her place was present in her relaxed attitude and I could see the pride and comfort in her eyes. This time of year, when the cold creeps through the cracks in the floor and the space between the door and the frame, I think about how critical it is for our artists to have heat and properly weatherized homes, something that is not a given for many.
While on the way to Jackson, MS for Cathead Vodka’s Distillery Grand Opening Tim and I decided to stop and visit David Bryant. David’s mother, Cora Mae Bryant was a Music Maker artist for many years. Music Maker helped her by donating a vehicle, fixing her home, producing three albums, and giving her a sustenance check when she fell ill. Music Maker currently helps David by giving him a monthly sustenance check.
David Bryant’s home is not unlike a shrine. He greeted us from his porch, as we pulled up to his meticulously crafted front yard, replete with lawn ornaments, flowers, and his own artwork. Wind chimes twinkled in the breeze. Inside, David’s walls are lined with family portraits; memorializing each family member for generations back. As we examined each photograph, he lovingly told us all about his family history and memories of the people adorning his walls. David was incredibly close with his mother, Cora Mae Bryant, and since her passing has kept all of her hats neatly on a hat rack in the living room. A guitar that Tim decorated for David with a picture of Cora Mae and all sorts of buttons (arranged in David’s signature folk art style) sits elegantly on display. David’s relationship with his mother and the rest of his ancestors is deeply spiritual and wonderfully joyful. Listening to him share that with us was a privilege and a moving experience.
Early in Music Maker’s history, blues legend Taj Mahal traveled to visit. My wife Denise and I were renting an old farmhouse in Pinnacle, NC that was both our home and Music Maker’s headquarters. It was not fancy, in fact it was very rural, but it worked for us; during his visit Taj graciously slept on a pallet on the floor of our spare room. We spent each day of his visit bringing Music Maker artists over to the house to record with him. Macavine Hayes, Cool John Ferguson, Etta Baker, John Dee Holeman, and one beautiful spring morning Algia Mae Hinton arrived with her old friend Lightnin’ Wells. Taj played an upright bass, Lightnin’ was on the harp and Algia Mae sang and played her 12-string guitar. It was one of our most incredible jam sessions. Taj still exclaims to this day, “Algia Mae plays deep in the pocket!” referring to her impeccable blues timing.
Algia Mae grew up as an agricultural worker in the flat farmland East of Raleigh, NC. She learned the blues from her mother, and throughout her life Algia has played and written incredible songs with titles such as, “Cook Corn Bread for your Husband, Biscuits for your Outside Man!” or “If You Kill Me A Chicken, Save Me the Head!” Algia is pure, deep American roots music, a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother of the blues. Despite tremendous hardships all around her, Algia’s optimistic, hopeful personality and her deep religious faith keep her spirits high.
Algia Mae is the kind of artist and person who Music Maker is extremely proud to have been able to partner with since our founding in 1994. Over the years we have helped her secure innumerable performances, gifted her a banjo, and for 16 years we’ve made sure she has needed medicine each month. Besides all these small things that have indeed made everyday life, especially in her elder years, a bit easier, what really has been important to Algia has been friendship. I visited Algia recently and all she wanted from us were t-shirts of the other artists and CDs of their music. She called after I left to inquire again, “Tim, you said you were going to send me a video of the Snake Lady [Willa Mae Buckner]; wow, I love to see her with her snakes. I’m so sad that Captain Luke passed; make sure you send me both of his CDs. I really miss Etta [Baker] I want to give her CD to a friend of mine.”
The most important and joyful part of our work is creating a community of peers. Artists that have spent their lifetimes treasuring and nourishing archaic musical traditions from the Deep South, while often isolated in their own communities. Through Music Maker, artists from across these traditions can meet, share stories and songs, play together and learn from each other. Deep, lasting friendships are created that truly change lives, and that is no more apparent than during the Holiday Season. It is truly a joyous thing to behold.
This is by far my favorite version of “Old Time Religion.” The song itself has managed to stay popular since the mid 1800s. It’s been featured in a handful of movies, television shows, and plays. There are hundreds of recorded versions, and yet the Goins’ version stands on its own. Their simple, stripped down style emphasizes their passion and devotion, perfectly matching the essence of the song. It is an unparalleled performance.
“If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” by Elder Anderson Johnson is a song that packs a full punch. For fans of musicians that let it all out, this one is right up your alley. As the song progresses, Johnson pushes harder and harder on his vocal range, reminiscing to younger times where he would overhear his mother’s prayers. I can’t even imagine what this must have been like to record. The song also is laced with some beautiful slide guitar playing that compliments Johnson’s lyrics seamlessly.