“Cold & Lonesome,” a hit for venerable Southern Rock pioneers, The Outlaws, is here performed by its writer, Harvey Dalton Arnold. Just Harvey, a guitar and a slide. When you talked about cold and lonesome feelings, there is no better way. He weeps for bouncing from one woman to another, night after night and never getting tied down to the right one, and the guitar cries back. This was recorded back a few years ago for Harvey’s first solo acoustic record. One of my favorites!
The blues call us to face the reality of mistreatment. Blues songs are full of people doing one another wrong—mistreatment from lovers, strangers, systemic structures, and, of course, from oneself. But by calling it out and making it plain—we humans don’t treat one another right—the blues exert an opposing force. They help us glimpse the world that we’d like to live in, one where people do right by themselves and their sisters and brothers.
At least that’s how I feel when I listen to Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen. Certainly, Cohen has seen her share of mistreatment. She’s completely open about what she’s been through—sexual assault as a young woman, being fired under false pretenses, being displaced by Katrina, losing her house to fire. “It’s just life,” she says. “And if you can’t keep it real, if you can’t tell the truth about yourself, what can you tell the truth about?” She tells the truth when she sings, too. There’s nothing sad about her blues, nothing weepy or self-pitying. With the confidence and regality of blues pioneers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, Cohen’s voice conveys the message, “yeah, the mistreatment is real, but it’s never going to stop me.”
Cohen’s blues, full of power and resilience, are the kind that fill you up and make you feel good. She loves to make her audience happy. “It makes me happy to make other people happy,” she says, “It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. I give it. It comes back. I give it. It comes back.” This kind of reciprocity is something Cohen talks about a lot. She calls it “planting seeds,” and she sees everything she does as an opportunity to plant seeds. She sings regularly at nursing homes in her area, for example. “I do all songs that they know, or things that I’ve handpicked just for them,” she explains,
And the people really appreciate it, because folks in these nursing homes, they don’t get the opportunity to hear really good music that often. And someone asked me, ‘Why are you doing that if they’re not paying you?’ And I said they are paying me. Maybe not with money, but they’re paying me. Because I leave out of there some days so filled up; so full, you understand? I’ll come out of there so full that the tears are just coming out of my eyes.
Before Hurricane Katrina, she would draw huge crowds in New Orleans clubs and was often called “The Queen of Bourbon Street.” She lived in the Ninth Ward, though, and lost everything in the 2005 storm. She was displaced to North Carolina where she had two brothers. “A lot of people don’t really understand what the word displaced is all about,” she says,
It’s being somewhere where you are totally out of sorts. Like they dropped you off in outer space. You don’t know anything. You don’t know where the stores are. You don’t know where you’re going to live. You don’t anybody in your town. You don’t know musicians, or where you’re going to play. You don’t know anything.
Eventually, she hooked up with Big Ron Hunter at a club in Winston Salem and he introduced her to Tim Duffy. Music Maker has been able to help her find gigs and even sent her to Europe and Australia with the Music Maker Revue. Still, she’s remained intimately acquainted with the struggles that so many musicians face. “This has not been the easiest life,” she muses, “It’s almost like when you devote yourself to being an artist, you take a vow of poverty. Like a monk.” The Music Maker Sustenance Program has pitched in to help Cohen with things like getting heat in her home and a vehicle to make it to gigs. Music Maker also helped offset the costs when she recently lost her house to fire. “Most of my life,” Cohen says, “I never had to ask anybody for anything, I’ve always made it myself. But sometimes, things happen where you could use a helping hand. And it is nice to know that there is somebody out there looking out for you.”
Cohen keeps a quote on her mirror that reads, in part, “Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we respond to it. The single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude.” She reads it every morning and sets out to live by it. And I hear it when she sings the blues. She’s responding to a harsh world by exerting an opposing force. This is how the best blues work, I’ve always thought. By telling the truth about how people treat each other, they make us want to do better.
Music Maker nurtures of a community—Pat Cohen calls it a “family”—of great artists who tell these truths. And in the same way that the blues exert a counterforce to mistreatment, every contribution to Music Maker exerts a counterforce to the struggle that so many artists have endured for so long. “I really and truly, truly appreciate Music Maker,” Pat Cohen says, “To me, they’re like family. And the artists in Music Maker, we’re like a family. It’s a community and it’s a family, and I’m proud to be a part of it.” She goes on, “and for those that contribute to Music Maker, I want them to know, they’re not just contributing to a foundation, they’re contributing to people’s lives.” To return to Cohen’s favorite metaphor, every contribution is a seed. Together these seeds grow into a bountiful harvest that we all reap.
— Will Boone
Everyone has a favorite holiday song, Come All Ye Faithful is mine. You won’t hear an elaborate symphony or full chorus on this version by Cool John Ferguson – just one guy, his guitar, and a simple, peaceful melody. Cozy up and enjoy!
I had the pleasure of meeting Albert over the summer when he came up from Atlanta to play at the Freight Train Blues series in Carrboro, NC. Albert and some other artists had just arrived from Atlanta, and we took them to have lunch at Waffle House, somewhat of a Music Maker tradition. I sensed right away that Albert was a kind and gentle soul. Later, at the show, I realized that he was also one incredible musician.
Albert will be turning 74 this December, and has been performing the Blues for over 50 years. He got his start in high school, influenced by his Uncle, Piano Red, who was one of the great pioneers of R&B. Albert would drive his uncle around the country for his shows, playing guitar along the way.
After his uncle passed Albert found work at a warehouse, but still continued to perform every weekend in Atlanta. He is retired now, and lives in a small working class home that he once shared with his wife, who has now passed away.
Albert has been part of the Music Maker family since 2000, touring with the Blues Revue as a guitarist and backing up dozens of Music Maker artists with his incredible rhythm guitar playing. Once a younger member of the family, Albert is now an elder. He is losing eyesight in one eye due to glaucoma, his hips are giving out, yet he still gets out there to play gigs. His love for music keeps him pushing forward.
Like many of our aging artists, Albert receives monthly support through our Musician Sustenance Program to help cover expenses for his increased medical needs. Over the years, we have also provided him with guitars and a replacement laptop in order to stay connected despite his more limited mobility.
Albert is a gentleman, a man of class and distinction, and an amazing Blues artist. Music Maker will continue to ensure that his needs are met, so that he may live in comfort and remain an active, vital member of the Music Maker family.
Learn more about our Musician Sustenance Program here, or make your tax deductible contribution – here and help amazing artists like Albert White
This tale of senseless sacrifice reveals the world through a child’s eyes. While still an innocent child, the irony of the “holy kiss” is not lost on this boy who must give up his best friend for a corrupt opportunist. What’s for dinner tonight?
For our Listener’s Circle this month members got exclusive access to an unreleased album from Big Boy Henry! Don’t miss out, sign up today and support our roots – here.
You take one look at Guitar Lightnin’ Lee and immediately get the impression that this is one of the meanest dudes on the planet. His stocky frame and rock and roll get up lead you to this assumption, but the reality is that Lee is about one of the sweetest guys you could ever meet. This tune represents Lee’s softer side, a heartfelt love song to his mama and the universal feeling of homesickness. This one is for all the mothers!
— Corn Lewis
George Higgs is one of the lesser known artists that Music Maker has partnered with. That doesn’t mean that George wasn’t an amazing artist though. His dark slide guitar and haunting voice on One Kind Favor makes for an incredibly deep Blues song. George passed away in January of 2013, he was from outside Speed, NC – a slow town with a fast name.
— Corn Lewis
Yesterday our good friend Lonnie Holley came to visit the MM office to say hello. Lonnie is an amazing artist based out of Atlanta, GA. During his visit he showed us his latest video, focused on a new art piece. The piece is titled In the Grip of Power and symbolizes the struggle minorities have had with the voting process.
This struggle is deep and has been had by many Music Maker artists. Sit with any of them and they will tell you how difficult it has been to be involved with the political process.
Cary Morin is one of the most amazing guitar players I have ever seen play the instrument and his songwriting is matches his playing ability. Sing It Louder is all about love, unity, and bringing people together through song. Whenever I get down and out I always just put this song on and listen as my anxiety drifts away. “Sing It Louder and believe!”
— Corn Lewis
Robert Finley arrived like it was any other night, excited, grinning from ear to ear, guitar in hand. He wore pressed jeans, cowboy hat and boots and a Western shirt accented by a belt buckle larger than my hands. He looked like he was ready for the rodeo.
Finley led the band through the 9 songs from the record and a few special numbers he worked up with them the day before. Though the band and Finley were playing live together as a unit for the first time, these were the cats who pulled his record together, some of the most revered Memphis session musicians, and they revealed no handicaps. They were tight and hot!
Nobody can tear the house down like Beverly. If you ever been lucky enough to see her play you know how it feels to have your socks blown off by one of the most impressive performers in music today! AND she’s old enough to be your grandma. Miz Dr. Feelgood is a classic electric blues number with rocking piano and ripping electric guitar with Beverly’s growling voice leading the way. Sit back and listen to this one and think about what it would be like to see Beverly shredding this tune with a guitar behind her head.
— Corn Lewis
Anyone that has ever traveled knows the joy it can bring alongside the subsequent heartache of home sickness. Blown Back With the Breeze carries you across the entire United States and then on to places much further. The elegance of their musicianship is unparalleled in its beautiful simplicity that carries you along from start to finish. Spencer Branch hails from Whitetop Mountain and you can sure hear that real mountain sound in Blown Back By the Breeze.