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.
Jontavious struck the last note of “Big Road Blues” and both Boo Hanks and Jontavious burst out laughing. A musical connection has a beautiful way of closing an age gap of 70+ years. Here they were in Boo’s living room, just two passionate musicians trading songs and stories, quizzing each other on blues history.
Jontavious Willis, 19 years old, from Greenville, Georgia is a natural musician. His guitar remains in conversation with his smooth tenor throughout each song, so natural it feels like hearing a familiar song for the first time. He’s entirely self taught. A couple weeks ago Jontavious called the Music Maker office and said that he had been watching all of the youtube videos we have posted and that he would love to come visit some of the artists we work with. So, we planned a visit. As we rode up to Boo’s place from Hillsborough, Jontavious told us that he has watched every Music Maker video on youtube at least twice. With ungoverned excitement, he listed off his favorites and proceeded to rattle off dates and bios. He stopped to apologize for his enthusiasm.
Boo Hanks was the first blues musician Jontavious had ever met, and he couldn’t hide his joy.
This was an historic moment. When it was time to go, we had to pry them apart.
It’s getting so hot, I believe the cotton is high. The heat feels like being wrapped in a hot wash cloth. At this point, it can only be taken in spurts. The nights are hot, the mornings steam, the afternoons spur delirium – dizzy, sun blinded and giddy we wander around for our cars. Inside, at once feeling what the chicken feels inside a pressure cooker if it wasn’t already lifeless. Cooked alive! Salt and pepper me and hand me a bouquet of parsley! We promised ourselves we wouldn’t complain about the heat this Summer, that we’d relish it, take it day by day and remember those cold months when we didn’t want to go outside even to gather more firewood. These days are really testing that resolve.
This version of Summertime is a little nugget of a jam Ironing Board Sam had with Ben Sollee when he passed through a couple of years ago. They were introduced down in the MM studio and after some niceties, they sat down and were musical kin before we could even hit the ‘record’ button.
Sam’s keyboard playing is lush and full of intensity, spurred on by Ben’s staccato rhythmic pulsations on his cello and then all at once it opens up into atmospheric ringing notes, and then Sam begins to sing. Genius! We look forward to getting these guys back together again.
In 2006, an unknown Piedmont Blues guitarist joined Music Maker. Now a blues legend, Boo Hanks would not have been known to Music Maker or the world without the efforts of volunteer Tony Young.
On that fateful day in 2006, Tony went to pick up Boo Hanks from his house, then turned around to head for Hillsborough. They arrived at the old Music Maker headquarters where Tony introduced Boo to Tim Duffy and Dom Flemons, who were waiting there for him. After a few words they sat down and started recording what would become Pickin’ Low Cotton, Boo’s first Music Maker release and also his passport to a new life as a renowned country blues guitarist. He has since performed as far as Belgium and in prestigious venues such as the Lincoln Center in New York.
Tony has long been Boo’s biggest fan and a huge help. Tony carries Boo to nearly all of his gigs in his Chevrolet Celebrity Sedan. A few days ago, at 350,000 miles, it kicked the bucket. Tony reached out to let us know he is casting his net wide to look for his next car. He is on a fixed income and has limited funds to work with, so he is looking for a killer deal. We are so grateful to Tony for the many hours of driving he has put in to help Boo in his career, he is a true friend.
Please forward any leads you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass them along to Tony. Thanks!
Dave McGrew has spent his life following the harvest as a fruit picker; Lemons, apples, cherries, mangoes, avocados, strawberries, grapes – you name it. His hands have likely been on your fruit. He has also been one of the most die-hard Music Maker supporters and Partners from the beginning. He has helped build two Music Maker headquarters and shared time with countless artists; one of his closest relationships was with Cootie Stark. When Dave was visiting during the Music Maker Homecoming, he told us he had written a song for Cootie and we promptly sat down to record it. We recorded two versions, one with a full band and one with just Tim and Dave. Each take saw Dave overcome with emotion singing through big tears telling Cootie how he’s coming to see him. I have spent entire days listening to this song on repeat, a meditation on brotherly love and longing, unusual and heart-wrenching- enjoy.
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.