Cootie Stark was an incredible Piedmont blues singer and guitarist whose repertoire harkened back to his youth, when he learned his music from the legendary Baby Tate. Cootie was the only fellow I have known that regularly traveled by Greyhound to visit me. When we did not have shows, Cootie would call me up to pick him up from the bus station in Durham. He loved staying with us; he enjoyed the meals, and most of all sitting in the studio and recording and listening to his music. . After over 50 years of playing street corners and having many disappointments in his musical career, he just loved to sit back and enjoy his life’s work.
From 1991-94, Guitar Gabriel, Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes and I would spends days, upon weeks, upon months and years when we were not doing a show, going from drink house to drink house. We’d visit friends and I was always on the lookout for musicians; I met many. These drink houses are just someone’s home – you go in and sit in the kitchen or living room, and people are hanging around. Some are sleeping, some are sharing some food – it’s kind of a local elderly community center. Each drink house has a personality, some are rough, some are open 24/7, others just in the afternoons with great food, some only all night. They would sell dollar shots of moonshine, vodka and beer for the most part.
Last night was a very special and exciting moment here in our Music Maker Grotto. Earlier in the afternoon our partner Tom Ciaburri stopped by the office. He had just come back from two weeks in Israel working on a film on reconciliation.
I wanted to do another tintype session and had been thinking of mirrors and how they could help bounce light off our flash units. Tom said he just gave a mirror to Ironing Board Sam, so we headed over to Sam’s apartment. When Sam answered the door, I noticed that his back door was closed and I asked why. Sam said that was his meditation space now and that it was filled with mirrors. He then brought out a very large mirror from his collection and lent it to us. Tom and I headed back to the studio and set up lights and mirrors for a couple hours. Aaron came down to mix chemicals and Tom took off. Later that night Aaron and I were well into a tintype session. In walked Sam, Tom Ciaburri and intern Thomas.
We know this is the biggest travel season of the year – and so, in the spirit of the season we continue with our series of posts reminiscing about our 20 year history of traveling to gigs around the world, helping elderly Roots musicians share their talents.
In March of 1991 I met bluesman Guitar Gabriel on the streets of Winston-Salem, NC. In just a short time we became partners, produced an album and were performing at clubs and festivals. To our delight we were invited to perform at a festival in Holland – but Gabe needed a passport. After much research we found his birth certificate; however, it was totally illegible and the passport agency would not accept it. We appealed to our Congressman who introduced us to the Clerk of Court in Winston-Salem. After examining the document, the Clerk determined that whoever filled out the form was illiterate and misspelled everything including his name, illegible scrawl which she declared “No Name.” She instructed us on how to legally change this to Robert L Jones – his real name. The passport followed, and we were on our way.
I came in the office one morning to find a very interesting drawing on my desk; it was scrawled on a piece of legal lined paper. An isosceles triangle encased in an egg-shaped oval; atop it was written “The Universe.” It was interesting, but finding mysterious drawings and notes on my desk is not entirely unusual so I went about my day and asked Tim about it when I had a chance.
Tim told to me that the night before, Ironing Board Sam had explained his theory on the shape of the universe and how it works. The triangle contained within the oval rotates back and forth creating the energy that flows through all things. This same movement is what triggered the Big Bang.
Sam shared with us that he’d like to make a unique piece of jewelry using this design. We got together with Jeannine Rogers at Spiral Studios in Hillsborough, NC to assemble the design. Sam and Jeannine discussed the design and its symbolism and she was immediately on board. The result of this collaboration is a beautiful pendant handcrafted in silver. It is an object of deep beauty and an everlasting symbol.