Music Maker Relief Foundation is a 501(c)3 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.
Monthly archive November, 2013

Traveling with Essie Mae Brooks


It’s the holidays, and we know that will mean a lot of traveling for many of our supporters. We’d love to revisit some of our favorite stories of traveling with artists in the spirit of hitting the road, the skies, or the rails!

A number of years ago the Music Maker Blues Revue was honored to perform a series of shows in France. Essie Mae Brooks, an elderly gospel singer from Georgia, was with us and it was her first trip abroad.

When we went to pick up Essie Mae for the trip, she had two huge suitcases and one was so heavy it took two of us to load it into the van. After traveling to our third hotel, we carted this extremely heavy case to her room and I asked Essie what made the bags so heavy. Essie said, “well, my beaded gowns weigh a great deal, and this other one is so heavy because it is full of canned goods.” I said, “Canned goods?” Essie replied, “You told me the food here was going to be different so I came ready, but you were wrong, the food here is wonderful!”


Sam the Dot Man

Guitar Gabe posing with a Sam McMillan artwork featuring his likeness

Guitar Gabe posing with a Sam McMillan artwork featuring his likeness

In 1991, Guitar Gabriel and I were playing at a public radio station where we performed in front of a live audience. After the show, an old black man dressed completely in dot-painted clothing introduced himself as “Sam McMillan the Dot Man.” He was a famous outsider folk artist who had enjoyed our show.

At that point, I had just heard the news that Gabe and I were scheduled to be performing at Carnegie Hall. When he heard that, Sam offered Gabe, our piano player and myself custom painted suits for our show. We brought him our suits, shoes, and ties, and a few weeks later we were dressed up head-to-toes in the beautiful duds, ready to perform at the prestigious venue.


Axel Küstner – Friend of Music Maker

Axel Kustner

In 1991, I was down in Mississippi visiting my friend David Nelson, who was at the time the editor of Living Blues Magazine. He introduced me to a German postal worker named Axel Küstner. Axel had done the most important blues research out of anyone in the 1970s and 1980s. He had lived with Big Joe Williams at his Mississippi home on Highway 61 for a time, when he was in the U.S. searching out Blues musicians. Axel was the most brilliant documentary photographer I ever met. He went deep; he would spend weeks at an artist’s home, where he captured moments that very few photographers achieve. During his time as an employee of the German postal service they had a phone that had free international calls. On Axel’s night shift, all his fellow workers would get drunk and fall asleep – but Axel would use that phone to call bluesmen all over the U.S. Axel would save up his vacation time and would visit the U.S. for three months or more, driving around in a huge old station wagon that he would store with a bluesman such as Eugene Powell (who actually recorded highly collectible 78s in the 1930s).


Captain Luke’s Birthday Brings People Together


As we approach Captain Luke’s 86th birthday, I was thinking about the first time I ever encountered him, or Music Maker.

I used to work at a music store in Durham, NC. The store was flanked on either side by restaurants, one deserving Michelin stars and the other one a cavernous failing music venue; the kind of place that smells like stale beer and bleach if you get there too early.

Seeing as I lived a ten-minute walk from where I worked, this was my neighborhood bar and my place to grab a beer after clocking out. I’d even go there occasionally when I hadn’t worked that day. Most of the time, the bar was empty and any manner of musician was touting their wares on the stage. Usually, the music felt more disruptive than anything else. Looking at the performance calendar one day, I noticed something that stuck out to me: “Music Maker hosts Captain Luke’s 80th birthday party.” I liked the look of that.


Blues Buffet Series Continued – Recipes and Checklist!

party food pic2

Denise has catered parties large and small (and huge) throughout Music Maker’s history. Feeding musicians has been a large part of recording sessions, gigs, and gatherings for the past 20 years. So, Denise put together a series of blog posts with recipes, tips, timelines and checklists for any party you might host – she’s got it down to a science. Just in time for the holidays!

Read the first post in the series here.

Read Denise’s Buffet menu and menu notes here.

Below, see two original recipes from Denise as well as a party-planning timeline for you buffet!

Vinaigrette MacCheese


Party Planning Timeline:


SOOTS – Future generations engaging with Roots music

soots-logo-with-Lightnin-WellsThis past week Aaron and I went to speak to the Raleigh Charter High School’s SOOTS (Sustaining Roots Music Community Project) program. The group was founded by teacher Charles Montague in 2006 to not only support Music Maker with fundraising activities organized by students, but to encourage youth participants in the group to engage with traditional music and musicians.

One of the wonderful things we do at Music Maker (and there are so many!) is work to educate young people about the musical heritage we support. Aaron and I love to help further this mission by speaking to SOOTS students regularly, not just about Music Maker but about how we got into our careers, what paths we followed to get to where we are, and any advice we have for them.

Going to SOOTS is always so much fun, and though it’s hard to follow up the presentation by world-renowned photographer Jimmy Williams, we tried. Seeing the students’ dedication to the music, their reverence of the artists we serve, and their engagement with us is always inspiring. It was a great way to end the week!

Get Your Party Started!

Did you miss part one of our Celebrate with the Blues series? Check it out here!


Menu Notes

For menu items I am not providing recipes for, but you want to prepare and not purchase, I recommend the Epicurious, Martha Stewart or Fine Cooking websites. Do choose recipes for simplicity and ALWAYS check out the reviews. Don’t bother with any recipe that less than 80% of people “would make again”. If 3 out of 4 reviewers said it was better when they doubled the spices or cooked at lower heat, I would take their advice.

Roast Turkey (14-16 lbs) (Gravy Optional) – I use a hybrid of my Grandma Durocher’s method and Martha Stewart’s Turkey 101.  Really all you need to do is wash the bird, salt the interior and cover the skin with some sort of fat (I prefer softened butter) and add some sort of liquid (I use white wine and turkey broth made from the neck & gizzards) by basting or add to drippings later if you want gravy. Turkey breasts do not have enough fat to make good gravy, so I make mushroom gravy if I am not roasting a whole bird. Epicurious has a great roasting chart and general Turkey Info page. I usually start with a high oven temp (450 degrees) for first 30 minutes, then lower oven to 350 degrees for remainder of cooking. This makes for a shorter cooking time and nice crispy, brown skin without drying the bird out too much. Always plan to pull the turkey out 1 1/2 hrs to 2hours before serving. That way you will have ample time if it needs longer to cook and still be able to let it rest before carving.


Celebrate with a Blues Buffet!

cootiechristmasNobody loved a holiday more than Guitar Gabriel. He loved to put on his suit and go out on the town or party hopping for 4th of July, Memorial Day, or MLK Day. Gabe thought that even minor holidays should be celebrated, Columbus Day, President’s Day – he didn’t skimp on any of them, but when late November hit, the party ramped up and didn’t quit ’til the year was done and gone.

Music and spirits were central to the good times, but the only way to keep your strength up through this marathon season of celebration is with a righteous buffet.

I do like gourmet cooking, but when a big crowd is descending, it is NOT time to try that 37 ingredient, 7-page-long Julia Child recipe you have always dreamed of serving. Save that for a small dinner party of 6 in February when there is nothing else to do but cook.  For larger holiday gatherings I tend toward “comfort and joy,” and nothing makes a Bluesman’s belly happier than old-fashioned American home cooking with a heavy Southern accent.


Discovering Artists – Music Maker’s Future

LC Ulmer

LC Ulmer – A Discovery Artist

When a Music Maker Partner artist passes away, folks always ask me, how many artists do we still have with us and is this the end of Music Maker? This is exactly why I started the Music Maker Relief Foundation in 1994. Blues fieldworkers in the 1970s and 1980s such as Peter B. Lowery, George Mitchell, Axel Kustner and Bill Ferris all did incredible work finding wonderful artists. However, these artists they found still remained in total obscurity. The ones that lived until the late 1990s found some great recognition, such as Son Thomas, R.L. Burnside, Othar Turner and Precious Bryant. Most passed away with very few knowing of their incredible talent. There is this thought that when the old generation passes, it is gone for good. This is very much the case with the blues. Many ardent blues enthusiasts thought that when Son House and Mississippi John Hurt passed that it was all gone – no one had told them about the many authentic blues talents that still existed but were shadowed by poverty and geography.


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November 2013
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