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.

Crawling the Blues at Southern Pines

Coleman at Southern Pines

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.

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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!

- Jenny


Diggin: Wayne and Max Henderson – Wayfaring Stranger

wayne and max henderson

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!!
– Aaron

Diggin’: Carolina Chocolate Drops – Black Annie


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!

– Corn

Dedicated Volunteer Seeks New Car!

ColemanAsk 2

Macavine Hays, Boo Hanks, Tony Young

In 2006, an unknown Piedmont Blues guitarist joined Music Maker. Now a blues legend, Boo Hanks would not have been known to Music Maker or the world without the efforts of volunteer Tony Young.

On that fateful day in 2006, Tony went to pick up Boo Hanks from his house, then turned around to head for Hillsborough. They arrived at the old Music Maker headquarters where Tony introduced Boo to Tim Duffy and Dom Flemons, who were waiting there for him. After a few words they sat down and started recording what would become Pickin’ Low Cotton, Boo’s first Music Maker release and also his passport to a new life as a renowned country blues guitarist. He has since performed as far as Belgium and in prestigious venues such as the Lincoln Center in New York.

Tony has long been Boo’s biggest fan and a huge help. Tony carries Boo to nearly all of his gigs in his Chevrolet Celebrity Sedan. A few days ago, at 350,000 miles, it kicked the bucket. Tony reached out to let us know he is casting his net wide to look for his next car. He is on a fixed income and has limited funds to work with, so he is looking for a killer deal. We are so grateful to Tony for the many hours of driving he has put in to help Boo in his career, he is a true friend.

Please forward any leads you may have to and we will pass them along to Tony. Thanks!

Diggin’: Dave McGrew’s “Going Home”

Tim's most recent photo of Dave, October 2014

Tim’s most recent photo of Dave, October 2014


The first photo Tim took of Dave, August, 1979

Dave McGrew has spent his life following the harvest as a fruit picker; Lemons, apples, cherries, mangoes, avocados, strawberries, grapes – you name it. His hands have likely been on your fruit. He has also been one of the most die-hard Music Maker supporters and Partners from the beginning. He has helped build two Music Maker headquarters and shared time with countless artists; one of his closest relationships was with Cootie Stark. When Dave was visiting during the Music Maker Homecoming, he told us he had written a song for Cootie and we promptly sat down to record it. We recorded two versions, one with a full band and one with just Tim and Dave. Each take saw Dave overcome with emotion singing through big tears telling Cootie how he’s coming to see him. I have spent entire days listening to this song on repeat, a meditation on brotherly love and longing, unusual and heart-wrenching- enjoy.

– Aaron

Red, White, and BLUES


With the 4th of July right around the corner it’s hard not to talk about the BLUES’ connection to this great day of independence….and BBQ!

Music Maker artist Drink Small recently won a NEA National Heritage Fellowship – one America’s highest artistic honors. This fellowship recognizes the recipients’ artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. Drink’s unique style is a product of a truly diverse country and exemplifies what it means to be an American.  Listen to Drink’s great summer tune “Living in a BBQ World” below.



This 4th of July you can check out Ironing Board Sam & Lakota John and Kin at the Hillsborough Picnic in the Square -

If you happen to be in Athens, GA you can check out Dom Flemons at the Classic City American Music Festival -




Diggin’: Sweet Betty’s “Live and Let Live”


Sweet Betty brings all the heart and soul of electric gospel to life on “Live and Let Live.” The song comes from her album of the same name, which she released after joining the Music Maker family in 2003.

Considered to be one of the finest blues singers in Atlanta, Betty grew up singing gospel and blues, and practice has made perfect. On this track, unwavering horns and driving rhythm from the piano set the stage, and her voice steals the show.

Sweet Betty’s style is characterized by sweetness and strength, and it’s the kind of sound that makes you sit up in your chair. When her voice floats through your speakers telling you, “you got to love one another and try to forgive,” you’d better be paying attention. If you’re not, her powerhouse voice will pick you up and set you on the straight and narrow.

On “Live and Let Live,” Sweet Betty teaches us how to shake off the day and keep living right- and she does it with flair.

– Jenny

Diggin’: Cool John Ferguson & Captain Luke “Still Waters Run Deep”


Cool John Ferguson by Music Maker Tin Type

“Have you ever played your instrument in complete darkness?” I’ve started asking this question to Music Maker artists recently after a conversation I had with one of my friends who introduced me to this practice technique. First I asked Ironing Board Sam, who said he hadn’t tried it but was intrigued and thought it would be an interesting experiment. After a tintype shoot last week I asked the same question to guitarist Cool John Ferguson

Turns out, when Cool was about seven years old he not only played his guitar in the dark, but played for an entire 24 hours straight without a single break, not even to go to the bathroom, from 7pm one night all the way until 7pm the next. Discovering new chords for the first time, he said that each new chord he found would energize him to keep playing, and that he would have probably kept going another full day if his mama hadn’t come in and snatched the guitar out of his hands. “That’s enough of that guitar!” she said, and then proceeded to make him a hamburger sandwich with onions and fixed him up a glass of kool aid to drink on the side.

I was pretty much speechless upon hearing this story, but I wasn’t surprised. There are few who can hold a candle to Cool John’s abilities on the guitar, and I’d imagine those who can have also spent some sleepless nights alone with their instrument. I wanted to include “Still Waters Run Deep” to wrap up this post, one of my favorite songs from Captain Luke and Cool John’s album Live at the Hamilton. It’s a beautiful song from a legendary duo, a combination that will surely be missed amongst Music Maker supporters. If you are still craving more Cool John guitar mastery, check out the “Hey Joe” solo video to have your mind completely blown.

– Berk

PS – “Still Waters Run Deep” can be found on Live at the Hamilton in our store here!

Music Maker Tintype Featured in View Camera Magazine


Music Maker Tintype photographers Tim Duffy & Aaron Greenhood were thrilled to be featured in View Camera Magazine’s January/February 2015 publication alongside some incredible photographers. The feature shows the mission behind Music Maker Tintype and tintype photos of several Music Maker artists.

See the entire article here

Diggin’: Benton Flippen’s “Fortune”


Last week Aaron, Tim, Denise and I traveled up to the Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention. I remember first meeting Tim years ago at Mt. Airy, the same Fiddlers Convention that Benton Flippen would always attend. This classic old-time  fiddle tune can be heard at numerous camp sites at any given moment while walking around the Convention. “Fortune” is exemplary as a song in the Old-Time genre and Benton’s version sets the bar for great Old-Time music. Benton, who passed away in 2011, attended the Convention every year and would never hesitate to play with any musician, young or old.

– Corn

Diggin’: Sam Frazier, Jr. “Cabbage Man”


Sam Frazier, Jr. grew up in a humble mining town  just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. His father was a coal miner and his mother ran a tavern out of the back of their house. There, laborers would gather before and after work and on the weekends; itinerant musicians would show up and little plastic cups of moonshine were passed around. This was where Sam first heard and fell in love with music; blues, country, country blues, all kinds. It was also there that Sonny Boy Williams gave Sam a harmonica and showed him how to play his first notes.

Sam has been pursuing that love ever since. Over the years he has released records on several small labels, appeared as a regular on the “Country Boy Eddie” tv show and performed in the Johnny Otis Revue all while holding down minimum wage jobs to pay the rent. Success never came his way but he doesn’t have a drop of bitter in him. When I talk to him about the future he tells me he’s always dreamed of being onstage at the Grand Ole Opry and that he’s ready to do the work to get there. We are thrilled to be working with him and looking to the future. This track is one of his originals that we recorded at our first gathering, featuring Dom Flemons on guitar.

You can catch Sam Frazier live at Duke Gardens on June 10th alongside Cool John Ferguson – more info and tickets available here!
- Aaron

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


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