Poke Salad Annie is a song that has been sung and played so many times by so many great artists, it is almost unthinkable that a defining version of this classic southern standard could exist. Brook Benton, who had his first big hit with this song, is most likely the artist everyone would remember first when thinking of this track. Captain Luke is one of Brook’s biggest fans, yet after 40 years of entertaining in the drink houses of Winston-Salem, NC, Luke had made this song more than his own. Luke’s melted chocolate voice has a depth and feel that Brook never came close to, and then there is Cool John Ferguson.
Cool John is ripping his guitar like a machine, destroying steel plates with utter ease; you have never heard a guitarist drink deeper from the black river of song. Guitar heroes have chops, and Cool John has all of that, but his prowess is really just an afterthought of the music he delivers; the arrangements, finding utter joy in performing and composing on the fly around Captain Luke’s free floating verses, Cool John shows us what timing is really all about, before folks started counting beats.
I hope you enjoy this track from Live At the Hamilton, the new CD from Captain and Cool. It was recorded at a Capitol Blues Night in 2012, and we knew even then that it was going to be a great album. We’ve got another Capitol Blues Night coming up, featuring Cool John and Ironing Board Sam – you can get tickets here, it is going to be a great show.
Dr. Burt, from Birmingham, Al, grew up during the historic fight for Civil Rights. His mother was very involved in the movement and worked directly with Corretta Scott King; as a young man he learned about non-violence, became a believer, led marches, and was shot at. The first bullet luckily missed his ear, but another bullet went through his right hand. That made it difficult for him to strum the guitar, but he never stopped playing, and he never stopped believing in peace. He was a victim of a hate crime; five white men attacked him, but at the end of the fight it was Dr. Burt who was arrested and sent to jail with a five-year prison sentence. Dr. Burt had no animosity in his heart, only love.
Watch this documentary short about Dr. Burt
After beginning work with Music Maker, Dr. Burt traveled and performed outside of his community for the first time. When he walked on stage at Lincoln Center, slim, nearly seven feet tall, and with a smile that radiated love like Buddha, the entire crowd all rose to their feet in thunderous applause He hadn’t even begun to perform yet! Burt’s sheer presence affected them. It was like that everywhere – he radiated love and triumph over hate, he lived through some of the most powerful moments in the Civil Rights Movement and we learned so many lessons from him. Dr. Burt changed the lives of all at Music Maker, the staff, the interns, and the supporters that met him.
- Tim Duffy
This song from Dom Flemons (Founding Member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) sheds light on how some of America’s older music is connected to modern day Hip-Hop. The rapid fire approach of the lyrics shows this relationship. Dom even had Guy Davis jump in on this track as a hype man, a technique that is often used in Hip-Hop music today.
When I think of Black History month, I often reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders down in Birmingham, AL. Over the years Music Maker has had the great pleasure of performing in Birmingham with Taj Mahal. One of the greatest Music Maker Blues Revues ever lasted over 5 hours; Taj told me that the folks love the blues and they were there to have fun – and what a time we had.
In recent years we worked with Adolphus Bell, the Greatest One Man Band in the World. Adolphus was from Birmingham, he often told me stories of his youth. As a young teenage boy, he had the fire hoses set upon him and the dogs chase him during those historic marches we can only experience through old TV clips. Adolphus lived it, and could bring it to life for me as I listened to him speak of those times. Adolphus had been living in his van for 15 years when we met him, then soon after beginning work with us was literally touring the world, all over Europe, Australia, Central America, the United States. Every show he would tell the audience about his beloved hometown; he would tell the crowd of the hate and fear that characterized the Birmingham he grew up in, but he would explain that Birmingham had grown past this and now was a city of love. He would tell every crowd that everyone loved each other in Birmingham; everyone should love each other everywhere. He meant it, was proud of it, and never forgot it; it defined him.
Sadly, Adolphus recently passed away from lung cancer, and not long after his friend Dr. Burt followed. Adolphus introduced us to Dr. Burt……
Music Maker supporters are often curious how we meet the artists we work with. There is a different story for every artist. This past week, we had the opportunity to begin work with Sam Frazier, Jr., a harmonica player and country singer from Edgewater, Alabama, a small mining camp outside of Birmingham.
After learning about Music Maker, Sam’s daughter-in-law mailed us a CV, complete with photos, a list of the many prestigious venues where Sam had played over the years and his astonishing bio. This one really stood out; we knew we had to meet him. This past week we assisted Sam in getting up here to Hillsborough to begin working with us on an album and press kit.
We are all excited to start working with Sam. He is kind, energetic and eager to work and he comes with the good stuff. He has a dynamic and expressive voice and can speak through a harmonica! This week, we are sorting through the recordings, the video and the photos and talking with Sam as we plan our next step.
Sam has been a musician all his life, but as the music industry changed he found it became harder and harder to continue working in the industry. He is struggling to make ends meet on social security income, and is excited to work with Music Maker to elevate his career.
Chances are, if you visited the Music Maker offices any time in the last few months, a track from the Como Mamas was playing, set to loud. Chances are also very good that it was this track. We think it’s spectacular, and is an incredible example of these ladies’ talent. The Mamas have had a great year – they’ve performed all over the country, including at the Apollo theater, and spent time in the studio working on a new album.
Go ahead and take a listen to this track – we think it will transport you to a hot summer Sunday in Mississippi, which is something we all bask in when it’s below freezing outside!
Often the Music Maker artists we cherish and love are not seen the same way in their own communities. This perception has an impact on the way these artists see themselves. Opportunities like the one Big Ron and Alabama Slim are enjoying right now in France, with Raphael Imbert’s “Music is my Home” tour, show these musicians, and their communities back home, that their music is important, highly regarded and still has an audience.
Raphael Imbert, French saxophonist and jazz impresario, first visited with Music Maker artists Alabama Slim, Big Ron Hunter and Layla McCalla in 2010 as part of a research mission, sponsored by the French National Research Agency, studying the relationship between improvisation and new technologies. Since, he has been looking for another opportunity to play with these artists and bring them to France. For the past three years he has been planning a tour and concept album that would celebrate these musical friendships. The project is called “Music is My Home.”
Raphael, Big Ron, Alabama Slim and Leyla are currently in the studio working on an album set to be released on the Harmonia Mundi label, while performing four tour dates in France. Later this summer they will follow up with a more extensive tour throughout Western Europe.
After their first show I received emails from Raphael, his assistant Olivier and Big Ron all gushing about the performance and the French reception. We are thrilled to be partnering with Raphael and seeing our artists return to France where new audiences will learn about the hidden talent we celebrate.
Every time a Music Maker artist returns from a performance on a big stage or from a trip abroad, they rave about the experience to us for weeks. Their faces glow when they talk about the people they met and the food they ate, sites they saw. Their giddy enthusiasm is contagious! As with Ironing Board Sam’s recent trip to France in September, there are also significant publicity opportunities as well, multiple appearances in magazines and on French national television. This is the stuff that gives the musicians we work with the juice to keep honing their craft and performing, enriching all of our lives.
Thanks to your support, it is all possible!
The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina can be felt in many of the songs and stories here at Music Maker. If you’re familiar with Alabama Slim and Little Freddie King, you might already be familiar with the impact that Katrina had on their friendship. The two are very best friends, and together they survived The Mighty Flood, way down in New Orleans.
Alabama Slim and Little Freddie King have become one of the many incredible duos here at Music Maker. The song “The Mighty Flood” off the self-titled album paints the picture for how these friendships can be more important than just music. Simply put, Alabama Slim saved Little Freddie King’s life.
You can hear the details calmly laid out in the lyrics: “I called Little Freddie King, I told him to come on by me. He’s my very very best friend. The city had out a curfew. No one on the street after 6pm. I told Little Freddie King he had 15 minutes to make it here, and he was there in 10.”
I remember how during the homecoming when Little Freddie King was out of reach in between flights, Aaron told me “Just call Slim. That’s always the best way to get in touch with Little Freddie King.”
At the time, I didn’t know the particulars of their friendship, but since the Homecoming, The Mighty Flood has been on repeat in my car for months. The title track sets the tone for the entire album, and after hearing their stories, it’s clear why these two musicians mean so much to each other.
“The Mighty Flood will always be on my mind.”
I am sure many of you have heard the more recent recording of this tune on several of Guitar Gabriel’s albums and Music Maker compilations. While these versions have lyrical similarity, the guitar work that Gabe does on each version is completely different. Both unique in their own way the guitar riff and voice of Guitar Gabe on the older version of “Ain’t Gonna Let No Woman“, released in 1970 on the album My South, My Blues defines Guitar Gabriel as an incredibly unique artist. Have a listen to both versions and let us know what you think!
Tim and Aaron have been running around all week, checking on the Captain and getting his new home ready for his arrival. We got word this week that Captain would be ready to return home from the rehabilitation clinic in Winston-Salem, NC, and Music Maker helped facilitate a new apartment for him that has amenities geared towards dealing with senior citizens. Captain Luke greatly enjoyed all your well-wishes and is happy to be in his new home!
This track by James Davis is on our 20th Anniversary compilation, We Are the Music Makers!, as well as Davis’ album on the Music Maker label, Georgia Drumbeat. I was just discussing with our new board member Nick about how James Davis’ album, Georgia Drumbeat, would sound so great on vinyl. I have to take his word for it, because I don’t actually have a record player, but I do know I love this track from James Davis – not just for the title, which admittedly catches my attention – but for its driving rhythms and funky style. I’ll listen to James Davis however I can!