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.
Author Archive

The Kerosene That Saved Willa Mae (and her snakes)


In the winter of 1995, I discovered how a simple gift can be the difference between life and death for our elderly artists. In that year, there was a terrible ice storm in Winston-Salem, NC and many parts of town were without electricity. The first day after the storm MM artist Willa Mae Buckner, who lived in an old drafty house, was struggling to keep herself and her two giant pythons alive with blankets. The news reported that there might be outages for some days yet, and I knew we had to do something for our artists.

I called my friend John Creech, an early supporter of Music Maker. Driving was very hazardous, so with John along one of us could push the car when we got stuck. We headed down to the hardware store and got Willa Mae and another artist, Mr. Q, kerosene heaters and 5 gallons of kerosene. When we arrived at Mr. Q’s after some difficulty navigating the icy roads, we found he had been trying to drag an old wood stove into the house, and was happy to see we had brought him a safe source of heat.Willa Mae was also happy to see us, though she was more concerned about keeping her pet snakes warm.  

That night the temperature dropped severely and power was still not restored. The next afternoon while checking on Willa Mae, I noticed an ambulance parked in front of her neighbor’s house. Willa Mae was noticeably shaken, she told me the woman next door also had not heat and had frozen to death.

The realization that the simple gift of a heater and kerosene might have saved Willa Mae’s life gave me the inspiration to formally create Music Maker’s Sustenance Program, to help artists in need, who often have nowhere else to turn. This winter, we will help many artists purchase heating oil to keep them safe and warm. Help us do this, and make your year end gift today!

- Tim Duffy

Photos from the Como Mamas’ Apollo Debut!

Como Mamas head to their Apollo debut

Como Mamas head to their Apollo debut



Diggin’: Bishop Dready & Marie Manning – Hard Luck & Trouble

Bishop Dready and Marie Manning

Photo by Jimmy Williams

Hard Luck & Trouble exemplifies the blues with Marie Manning’s haunting vocal performance accompanied by the Bishop’s quintessential driving guitar licks. Marie Manning’s sporadically placed claps throughout the tune serve as the rhythmic foundation while she sings.  The Bishop’s guitar playing comes straight from the South and represents his life as juke joint musician and moonshine salesman before from his previous life before joining the Church and exclusively playing Gospel music.


A Music Maker Newcomer Comes to the Homecoming Pt. 2


The next day was the big event, which included even more musical and life revelation for me than night before. Being able to mix and mingle with some of the most talented guys and gals who bring us the real, true Southern American Blues and to hear their music and first hand stories of how MMRF has helped them personally was absolutely life changing. Having my “We Are the Music Makers!” book signed by the artists who played that day was just the icing on the cake. They were so elated just to be asked to sign, and that’s when the best conversations were had. It was clear through every note played and every smile and story shared by every artist that weekend – Alabama Slim, Eddie Tigner, Pink & Big Ron, Robert Lee Coleman, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen, Little Freddie King, Cool John Ferguson, John Dee Holeman, and the many more – that music is their life, and that their life is given to them through the support of MMRF. It really made me think about the things that are truly important in life.  (more…)

Diggin’: Cootie Stark – Silent Night


Cootie Stark was a dear friend to Music Maker. A blind blues bard who spread joy and hope, and inspired everyone he met. Not one to stay home, Cootie would often call me from the Durham, NC Greyhound Bus station. Cootie would take the bus up to come visit me and my family at my home in rural Hillsborough, North Carolina. We had a guest house out back next to our studio and that is where Cootie would stay. One holiday season Cootie was with us on such a visit. With a few phone calls, Macavine Hayes, Whistlin’ Britches, John Dee Holeman, Cool John Ferguson and Captain Luke all were over with Cootie at my studio busily working on ringing in the Holidays. My brother Dan, my friends Donnie Saverese and Katie O’Brasky were there as well.


A Music Maker Newcomer Comes to the Homecoming Pt. 1

Maybe it was the captivating music; maybe it was the welcoming people; or maybe it was the place and the laid-back, everyone’s like family attitude that made me fall in the love with the Roots Blues and ‘soul of the American music’ that the Music Maker Relief Foundation represents. But honestly, I think it was a combination of it all.


The Music Maker Panel at the Carrboro ArtsCenter


Diggin’: Leyla McCalla – Manman Mwen


Leyla McCalla’s debut album, Vari-Colored Songs is one of the most well rounded a intellectually stimulating records I have heard in a long time. The elegant simplicity of the traditional tune, “Manman Mwen,” exhibits Leyla’s deep understanding for this music while still allowing the interpretation to sound fresh. This song features Leyla on the tenor banjo and vocals while Rhiannon Giddens plays the shaker and sings backing vocals. This song needs nothing more than it has and its simple instrumentation complements “Manman Mwen” in a very intentional way.

Leyla McCalla will be embarking on a 9 city tour starting November 15th at Serenbe Pavillion in Chattahoochee Hills, GA.

Check out all of her tour dates here

You can purchase Vari-Colored Songs here

- Corn Lewis

Remembering George Daniels


When we learned that George Daniels had passed away last month, I thought back to my first meeting with him. I went to look for George Daniels in 1995 as I was re-tracing the trail of the great folklorist and blues researcher George Mitchell, who had discovered many great blues artists in Georgia and Alabama. George Daniels became a long-time friend of Music Maker; we helped him every month for medicine for nearly 20 years. As I only got to visit him a few times, I never spent the amount of time with him as his friend, the great folklorist/writer Fred Fussell, did. Fred wrote this piece and I present it here as it really gives you an idea of the wonderful man George Daniels was. He is sorely missed here at Music Maker.

-       Tim Duffy


Video Diggin’: Alabama Slim’s “Come On and Rock With Me Baby”

We’ve been working hard to edit and post video from the Homecoming Celebration – and this clip of Alabama Slim performing is one of the first we finished. In this video, Slim is performing at our exhibit launch and performance* at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC.

I love to see Alabama Slim perform, but it’s rare that I get a chance, as he’s not often up here in NC. That night, Slim was on his game, bringing the crowd to their feet to dance in the aisles and, at the very least, assist with percussion by tapping their toes. It is a great, classic tune, and Slim’s stage presence just jumps off the screen. You can see why he has such a loyal following in New Orleans!

We were so thrilled Slim could be there for our Homecoming Weekend! Enjoy the video.

- Corinne


*Support for We Are the Music Makers! exhibit and launch event provided in part by the NC Humanities Council, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Orange County Arts Commission, Catherine Elkins and Cathead Vodka.

The Regular Gig


Ironing Board Sam performs his weekly Thursday gig at Hot Tin Roof

Having a regular, reliable gig is something working musicians depend on to keep make ends meet. In the South, many of our artists are paid to play every Sunday in the church. No matter how late or how far away they performed on Friday and Saturday, they are getting home to play Sunday morning.

Not every musician is equally adept in both secular and gospel material, what South Carolina Blues Legend Drink Small calls, “The Hallelujah Boogaloo,” so artists not playing in the church look for weekly shows around town at small bars or restaurants to supplement their income. Eddie Tigner, at 88 years old, has been performing every Sunday at Fat Matt’s in Atlanta for over a decade. Our friend Mudcat just celebrated playing every Wednesday at The Northside Tavern for 20 years! (more…)

Diggin’: Ironing Board Sam and the Sticks “The Creature”



On yonder hill there stands a creature,

Who she is I do not know.

I go and court her for her beauty,

She must answer yes or no…


These words could conjure a beauty standing atop a sand dune glistening in the blinding haze of a hot July. Or, as the groove would suggest, something darker. She’s unidentifiable. A woman? Yes. Human? Inconclusive. Beautiful? Again, yes. Friend or Threat? The tension is stiff, how will she answer. He has made himself vulnerable, clearly nervous, what will the outcome be. “The Creature” runs for almost seven minutes. Tension like this can last a lifetime.


I’ve heard many responses for “What is blues?” My favorite comes from John Dee Holeman, “The blues is a good man feeling bad.” To me, that answer speaks to the contention that music is the language of the heart and at its best shortens the distance between two souls.


Happy Halloween!!


- Aaron

Ironing Board Sam & the Underwater Blues Show!

Ironing Board Sam preparing to enter the water tank. Photo by Walter Lenk

It is always interesting when stories are told and there is no photographic evidence to validate the story. This is particularly true when the story is so outrageous that it is borderline unbelievable. This was definitely the case with Ironing Board Sam’s infamous underwater blues show. I always believed that Sam actually performed this show given that there is nothing too crazy for Sam to pull off, but I did postulate over the years as to how this incredible feat was accomplished.