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.
You might know more about the blues than you think. It’s a genre of music that seems to invite all people, all walks of life, both ups and downs. Music Maker artists often speak on what the blues means to them. Some say it’s a feeling, and some say the blues is a story. Guitar Gabriel always made it a part of his music to help others understand the connection between the blues and being human. There are some amazing recordings between Tim and Gabe that go into greater detail on this subject. I remember because it was some of the first audio I got my hands on when I started at Music Maker. “The blues is a heart thing, if you listen you can understand”
Gabe’s song “Expressin’ the Blues” gives examples on how, where, when, and why someone might experience the blues. Even a bird in a tree being barked at by a dog can have the blues, you see. The song is conversational, with no rigid structure or formal singing. There’s some wailing in there, traditional of Gabe’s style, but the song is more like listening to a friend give you advice. It’s comforting. You find yourself saying “man, I can relate to that bird. I know how it feels.” I think Gabe knew this feeling as well, and he knew how to use this feeling to help bring people together. Perhaps that’s what the blues is all about.
Big Ron Hunter was the first artist I met through Music Maker, and I was eager to get to know his music after getting a chance to meet him. We met while MMRF’s Founder, Tim Duffy, was taking a tintype of the Bluesman. Looking at an image of his own genuine smile, Ron confirmed what we were all thinking: “That’s really me. That’s the real me.”
I landed on ‘Through My Eyes’ for this week’s Diggin’, a well-worn ballad with all the touches of time-tested love.
A Winston-Salem, N.C. native and Music Maker artist since 2007, Big Ron brings his own style to acoustic blues and this track is no exception. Ron’s persona and smile exude a kind wisdom, and this track is flowing with that same milk and honey. Skillful guitar blends with Ron’s rich and soothing vocals, resulting in a song that’s perfectly fitting for a slow summer afternoon.
Take a listen and get to know the world’s happiest Bluesman!
Jenny Hicks is our public relations intern for Summer 2015. An avid music enthusiast, Jenny grew up surrounded by a myriad of musical styles and developed a love for finding new artists, new albums and new genres to admire. She is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied Communication and Public Relations. Before coming to Music Maker, she worked with Alamance for Freedom and the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation, where she found a love for nonprofit work. Jenny lives in Mebane, N.C., with a few too many cats and spends her free time collecting vinyl, watching Netflix or hiking with friends.
Dom Flemons (right) performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012.
Last year, I traveled to New Orleans with Ironing Board Sam to help with his performance at JazzFest. While checking into the hotel I noticed a short man with a cane and a golfing cap standing by the desk, smiling, while he waited for his traveling party to check in. I immediately recognized this man as George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals. George Wein invented the modern music festival and shaped the musical experience for the entire world. I instantly turned to Ironing Board Sam and said, “You should meet this man.” I introduced the two and told Mr. Wein that Sam would be playing at JazzFest this year. Sam and Mr. Wein discussed how excited they were to be in New Orleans. Unfortunately, Mr. Wein’s traveling party finished checking in and they needed to get settled, so the conversation was quite brief, but nonetheless incredible to witness.
It is such an incredible honor for Music Maker to play this historic and still highly relevant festival. Everyone at the office is just buzzing with excitement. The Como Mamas, Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks, Ardie Dean, Nashid Abdul and Albert White will all be part of this Music Maker Blues Revue with special guest performer/host Dom Flemons!
This is a beautiful gospel song that Guitar Gabriel composed the night his mother passed. It asks the question, Do You Know What it Means to Have a Friend? “A friend will tell you, just what to do, turnaround, they’ll turn their back on you.”
My 25 years with Captain Luke reminds me that I do know what it means to have a friend. Since my 20s, Captain has been the one I turned to talk about everything; my family, the business we built together, other MM artists. Captain himself over the years has been a friend to hundred of music lovers.
This track is from our first album, Guitar Gabriel & Brothers in the Kitchen (Toot Blues on the website.) Captain and I were the “brothers in the kitchen,” and I spent a lot of time with him in his kitchen as he build his tin can ash trays, cooked biscuits, and shared many a beer.
So enjoy this track, as we all remember Captain Luke this week, it seemed appropriate to pull out this song sung by his great friend.
Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015 was a memorable trip. I gave the Revue the pet name “Guitar Heaven,” stealing from Cool John Ferguson’s record title. The show featured guitar slingers from across the South, representing a great diversity of styles and attitudes.Cool John Ferguson gave them a taste of Low Country blues, George Stancell did a dance that sent shockwaves through his pants and likewise the crowd, Vasti Jackson was the first ever to crowd surf at a Music Maker show, Super Chikan wowed with his bedazzled homemade guitars, and Albert White gave them some of that deep South soul. The crowds loved it. I didn’t know the extent of it until I went over to the merch tent to check in on sales and found out there were no Music Maker CDs left; all had been sold by day two!
The Music Maker Revue closed the Jukejoint stage 4 of the 5 nights they performed at the festival, playing to capacity crowds that were transfixed, dancing with eyes closed and smiles ear to ear. Going on at 10pm every night meant relaxed mornings, long breakfasts and walks down the thoroughfare of the bustling tourist town of Coolangatta. One morning, Ardie took all of the guys to the funky music store we had discovered the year before. Motorcycle Music is run by Gary, a cantankerous beach bum who has seen and worked on every guitar and amp made in the past 60 years. Walking in the store is like opening up a treasure chest piled high with vintage guitars, amps, drum kits, accordions and bits and pieces of music detritus strewn about everywhere. On the fourth day, George Stancell returned from the store with a new guitar he had traded for the one he brought with him, the smile of a proud new owner on his face.
Knowing that this trip was my opportunity to get to know three Music Maker Discovery artists, I brought the Music Maker digital camera setup with plans to record some video of the guys playing. The first day, I set out to find a great location. Hotel rooms are ok, but not very original. I had to walk all the way to the end of the road where I found a barbershop; about 8 feet wide, the shop had a barber’s pole made out of the leg of a table attached to the insides of an old singer sewing machine – it was spinning with a little wobble, and I was intrigued. The place was run by a young barber named Clement; he and his wife had converted a breezeway into a sardine can barbershop, the back of which was a stage set four feet off the ground and large enough for one person. Clem, a musician himself, was excited to hear I was with a group of American blues musicians and said he would love for our artists to perform so I could shoot video. So we returned the following day; Vasti Jackson, George Stancell and Super Chikan all did sets, performing informally for a crowd that gathered in the small space. Here is the first video we have cut together; it features Super Chikan performing his song SippiSeeKinsaw on his homemade 6-string Diddly Bo.
This engagement was supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Tad Walters was one of the first Music Maker artists I saw perform, at a SOOTS event in 2011 in Raleigh. Tad is a Next Generation artist, and he performed his own set at that show while also backing up the other MM Musicians, including the late George Higgs, on harmonica. Since then, I haven’t seen Tad live but I stumble across tracks of his in our archive now and again. This one popped up on my iTunes while I was working on a press release for our Freight Train Blues series (in Carrboro this spring), and since Tad is performing in that series as well as this weekend with John Dee Holeman at the Birthplace of Country Music, it seemed fitting to make it this week’s Diggin’!
Check out Tad Walters’ classic blues tune, and don’t forget to catch one of his shows!
I had just met Guitar Gabriel the week before in the Piedmont Housing Projects in Winston-Salem, NC. While driving down Cleveland Avenue, Guitar spotted a dapper, muscular black man coming out of at store with a packet of cigars. Gabe had me pull over and he introduced me to Captain Luke. They were old friends, had played together for years in Drink Houses around town. Captain invited us over to his home; I set up my tape recorder and microphone and we recorded this version of “Careless Love” in one pass.
I was stunned by his arrangement of this timeless classic; over the years Captain interpreted a wonderful collection of standards all totally his own. They stand with the best, up along Rod Stewart, Brook Benton and Joe Simon.
I went to see the Captain this week. He was extremely alert and was so happy to hear from so many fans. He had mentioned last week to us that he really never knew how many people loved his music.
We arrived to Mr. Drink’s house and he was happy to have us visit! We chatted for a bit and soaked up his poetic “drinkisms” and enjoyed hearing his stories.
Lakota John asked Mr. Drink if he would like to jam and he was excited to get started. Papa John gave him his guitar and he “shook the strings!” Papa John said, “he’s killing it, my guitar never sounded so good!”
Lakota: “You can’t explain Mr. Drink. You have to experience and spend time with him. Drink is Drink and there ain’t another one like him!
We spent about 3 hours with him, laughing, jamming and laughing some more! He was the perfect host and we can’t wait to visit him again.
Alabama Slimis one of many Music Maker artists that knows how to tell a story. Storytelling can be just as much a source of subject matter as it can be a delivery technique. The song “Mr. Charlie” off of the album The Mighty Flood has subtle elements that help bring vivid details to a portion of Slim’s travels as a young man. You see, Slim was staying and working on a “Mr. Charlie’s” sawmill when one day he came to find the entire mill had gone up in flames. As Slim approaches Mr. Charlie, who is busy eating lunch, to explain what’s going on, Slim’s nervous. Slim’s voice quivers as he attempts to butt into Mr. Charlie’s conversation. “Hey Mr. Charlie…,” but no response. He tries again “Hey Mr. Charlie…,” but is ignored once more. Each time Slim asks, his nervousness is emphasized with a shaky and shivery delivery.
“Mr. Charlie” has a form that’s half song, half conversation, but the balance is spot on. It delivers in a real way and gives light to the travels of a young blues man. Listen through to find out what happens to Slim after finally grabbing Mr. Charlie’s full attention.