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.
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Diggin’: Captain Luke’s “Careless Love”

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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.

Enjoy this track!
Tim

 

Lakota John & Kin Visit Drink Small!

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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.
- Tonya Locklear

 

Diggin’: Alabama Slim’s “Mr. Charlie”

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Alabama Slim is 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.

– Berk

At Home with Little Freddie King

Tim took this photo last week, when visiting Freddie in New Orleans. Find out more about Little Freddie King here!

Little Freddie

A Great Time Revisit “Toot Blues”

We were just visiting Captain Luke at hospice, and he has a TV/DVD player in his room, so we brought along Toot Blues to watch together. While Captain chatted on the phone with his many admirers wishing him well, we watched the documentary on Music Maker that most of us hadn’t seen in a couple years.

It was wonderful to see Captain’s eyes light up when he saw his old friends on screen, some still with us, others having passed on. We all laughed when we heard the story again about trying to find Captain’s preferred brand of cherry-blend cigars on tour in Argentina. It made me think that, instead of a Diggin’ this week, I should re-post the Toot Blues documentary on our blog. This inspiring movie doesn’t lose anything on a repeat viewing; there were several parts I couldn’t remember and loved seeing with new eyes (George Higgs‘ amazing performance), and then others that I knew well but can never see too many times (Willa Mae’s snakes and her risque song.)

So, if you have a bit of time to relax, put your feet up and watch Toot Blues – even if you’ve seen it before – I highly recommend it.

– Corinne

Video Diggin’: Cary Morin’s “Old Guitar”


 

Cary Morin’s “Old Guitar” is a great video to see some of the outstanding picking that goes on amongst the guitarists at Music Maker. “Old Guitar” is one of Cary’s original songs and some of the shots of his fingers picking through the different riffs are just incredible to watch. During certain solos, the momentum of his playing speed builds quickly, yet remains in control while still maintaining a continuous and natural feeling. Different parts of the song call for different playing styles, which adds a very smooth variance to the story of his ol’ guitar. For example “sing for me baby soft and sweet” cues a quieter portion of the song to mimic the communication between Cary and his guitar and builds on the story the song works to convey. The shots used in the video highlight all of this action as well, with an up close perspective down the neck of the guitar, which spotlights what Cary and his “Old Guitar” are both truly capable of.

- Berk

Video Diggin’: Cool John Ferguson


Cool John Ferguson grew up in the Georgia Sea Islands and has spent the majority of his life living near the salty shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Cool’s music has been described as “a living bridge between the Gullah tradition, the rock, psychedelia, blues, and R&B of his childhood, and the present,” in the pages of Premier Guitar magazine. What strikes me most are the vast spectrum of sounds he pulls from his guitar, sounds that I often liken to the music that would accompany a Jacques Cousteau underwater adventure, one with great drama.

The video featured in this Diggin’ is a solo taken on “Hey Joe.” On display is Cool John’s amazing artistry, his musical vocabulary and those deep sea sounds that make me so excited. Whether you hear the oceanic sounds I hear or not, what you will no doubt hear is something jaw dropping.

Cool John Ferguson performs with Ironing Board Sam March 12 at Clydes of Gallery Place in Washington, D.C. as part of Capitol Blues Night, a very special Music Maker Fundraiser. If you can make it, don’t miss it – get your tickets here!
-Aaron

Ironing Board Sam Records New Album!

Aaron writes about the trip he and Ironing Board Sam recently took to record a new album in Mississippi.

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On the morning of our second day in Mississippi working on Ironing Board Sam’s new record with Bruce Watson and Big Legal Mess records, Sam breezed by my bed on his way to the coffee maker, then out the back for a smoke. He had a certain lift, I could tell from just looking at his back.

The day before, Jimbo Mathus, guitar player, arranger and cook for the session, had made purple hulled peas and a boston butt roast. Today, he was busy making a Jambalaya and boiling a special tea for Sam’s throat consisting of honey and ginger. This special care and deep respect for Sam is so clearly seen through the attitudes and actions of all of the musicians on the project.

Sam responded with nailing every take perfectly. He worked 8-10 hour days taking few breaks and laughing between sessions. The whole crew exuded cheer, the long hours of the studio flew by without notice.

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The third day recording, Sam complained of a frog in his throat. The solution: a cigarette and a shot of rum. Sam took a swig of rum in his mouth, tilted his head back and gargled it. He swallowed hard, looked over to Jimbo and said, “Ok, I’m ready.”

Bronson, the youthful and chipper recording engineer, sitting in on guitar, relished Sam’s sage wisdom. “77 years and you ought to know what your body likes,” he said.

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Here, Bruce and Sam sit together pouring over the words of the current song, working out phrasing and working out the underlying themes of the song. Notes are jotted in the margin, a string around the finger. Looking forward to hearing what came out of those three days – we don’t currently have release date, but we will make sure to let you know as soon as we do!

– Aaron

Meet Sam Frazier Jr.!

 

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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.

– Aaron

Diggin’: Como Mamas’ “Well, Well Don’t You Worry About Me”

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Listen: Well, Well Don’t You Worry About Me

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!

– Corinne

Alabama Slim, Big Ron Hunter & Leyla McCalla in France!

Big Ron Hunter, by Jimmy Williams

Big Ron Hunter, by Jimmy Williams

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.

Alabama Slim & Aaron Greenhood

Alabama Slim & Aaron Greenhood

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!

– Aaron

 

Diggin’: Little Freddie King and Alabama Slim “The Mighty Flood”

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Alabama Slim – Music Maker Tintype

Listen: The Mighty Flood

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.”

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Little Freddie King – Music Maker Tintype

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.”

 

– Berk