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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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

Diggin’: John Dee Holeman plays “Going Down To New Orleans” live

John Dee Holeman photo

John Dee Holeman

John Dee Holeman is 87. He speaks softly. When he picks up his guitar, it’s a different story. John Dee’s brand of blues swings and shuffles to where you have no choice but to stamp your feet or jump up and dance. It’s that way by design. Before his legs retired from dancing, he was known far a wide for his deft buck dancing, a colloquial form of dance that’s the origin of tapping.  John Dee has rhythm in every inch of his body. Check out this track from our Homecoming Revue Show.– Aaron

The Kerosene That Saved Willa Mae (and her snakes)

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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

 

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Remembering George Daniels

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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

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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.