From 1991-94, Guitar Gabriel, Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes and I would spends days, upon weeks, upon months and years when we were not doing a show, going from drink house to drink house. We’d visit friends and I was always on the lookout for musicians; I met many. These drink houses are just someone’s home – you go in and sit in the kitchen or living room, and people are hanging around. Some are sleeping, some are sharing some food – it’s kind of a local elderly community center. Each drink house has a personality, some are rough, some are open 24/7, others just in the afternoons with great food, some only all night. They would sell dollar shots of moonshine, vodka and beer for the most part.
Last night was a very special and exciting moment here in our Music Maker Grotto. Earlier in the afternoon our partner Tom Ciaburri stopped by the office. He had just come back from two weeks in Israel working on a film on reconciliation.
I wanted to do another tintype session and had been thinking of mirrors and how they could help bounce light off our flash units. Tom said he just gave a mirror to Ironing Board Sam, so we headed over to Sam’s apartment. When Sam answered the door, I noticed that his back door was closed and I asked why. Sam said that was his meditation space now and that it was filled with mirrors. He then brought out a very large mirror from his collection and lent it to us. Tom and I headed back to the studio and set up lights and mirrors for a couple hours. Aaron came down to mix chemicals and Tom took off. Later that night Aaron and I were well into a tintype session. In walked Sam, Tom Ciaburri and intern Thomas.
We know this is the biggest travel season of the year – and so, in the spirit of the season we continue with our series of posts reminiscing about our 20 year history of traveling to gigs around the world, helping elderly Roots musicians share their talents.
In March of 1991 I met bluesman Guitar Gabriel on the streets of Winston-Salem, NC. In just a short time we became partners, produced an album and were performing at clubs and festivals. To our delight we were invited to perform at a festival in Holland – but Gabe needed a passport. After much research we found his birth certificate; however, it was totally illegible and the passport agency would not accept it. We appealed to our Congressman who introduced us to the Clerk of Court in Winston-Salem. After examining the document, the Clerk determined that whoever filled out the form was illiterate and misspelled everything including his name, illegible scrawl which she declared “No Name.” She instructed us on how to legally change this to Robert L Jones – his real name. The passport followed, and we were on our way.
I came in the office one morning to find a very interesting drawing on my desk; it was scrawled on a piece of legal lined paper. An isosceles triangle encased in an egg-shaped oval; atop it was written “The Universe.” It was interesting, but finding mysterious drawings and notes on my desk is not entirely unusual so I went about my day and asked Tim about it when I had a chance.
Tim told to me that the night before, Ironing Board Sam had explained his theory on the shape of the universe and how it works. The triangle contained within the oval rotates back and forth creating the energy that flows through all things. This same movement is what triggered the Big Bang.
Sam shared with us that he’d like to make a unique piece of jewelry using this design. We got together with Jeannine Rogers at Spiral Studios in Hillsborough, NC to assemble the design. Sam and Jeannine discussed the design and its symbolism and she was immediately on board. The result of this collaboration is a beautiful pendant handcrafted in silver. It is an object of deep beauty and an everlasting symbol.
It’s the holidays, and we know that will mean a lot of traveling for many of our supporters. We’d love to revisit some of our favorite stories of traveling with artists in the spirit of hitting the road, the skies, or the rails!
A number of years ago the Music Maker Blues Revue was honored to perform a series of shows in France. Essie Mae Brooks, an elderly gospel singer from Georgia, was with us and it was her first trip abroad.
When we went to pick up Essie Mae for the trip, she had two huge suitcases and one was so heavy it took two of us to load it into the van. After traveling to our third hotel, we carted this extremely heavy case to her room and I asked Essie what made the bags so heavy. Essie said, “well, my beaded gowns weigh a great deal, and this other one is so heavy because it is full of canned goods.” I said, “Canned goods?” Essie replied, “You told me the food here was going to be different so I came ready, but you were wrong, the food here is wonderful!”
In 1991, Guitar Gabriel and I were playing at a public radio station where we performed in front of a live audience. After the show, an old black man dressed completely in dot-painted clothing introduced himself as “Sam McMillan the Dot Man.” He was a famous outsider folk artist who had enjoyed our show.
At that point, I had just heard the news that Gabe and I were scheduled to be performing at Carnegie Hall. When he heard that, Sam offered Gabe, our piano player and myself custom painted suits for our show. We brought him our suits, shoes, and ties, and a few weeks later we were dressed up head-to-toes in the beautiful duds, ready to perform at the prestigious venue.
In 1991, I was down in Mississippi visiting my friend David Nelson, who was at the time the editor of Living Blues Magazine. He introduced me to a German postal worker named Axel Küstner. Axel had done the most important blues research out of anyone in the 1970s and 1980s. He had lived with Big Joe Williams at his Mississippi home on Highway 61 for a time, when he was in the U.S. searching out Blues musicians. Axel was the most brilliant documentary photographer I ever met. He went deep; he would spend weeks at an artist’s home, where he captured moments that very few photographers achieve. During his time as an employee of the German postal service they had a phone that had free international calls. On Axel’s night shift, all his fellow workers would get drunk and fall asleep – but Axel would use that phone to call bluesmen all over the U.S. Axel would save up his vacation time and would visit the U.S. for three months or more, driving around in a huge old station wagon that he would store with a bluesman such as Eugene Powell (who actually recorded highly collectible 78s in the 1930s).
As we approach Captain Luke’s 86th birthday, I was thinking about the first time I ever encountered him, or Music Maker.
I used to work at a music store in Durham, NC. The store was flanked on either side by restaurants, one deserving Michelin stars and the other one a cavernous failing music venue; the kind of place that smells like stale beer and bleach if you get there too early.
Seeing as I lived a ten-minute walk from where I worked, this was my neighborhood bar and my place to grab a beer after clocking out. I’d even go there occasionally when I hadn’t worked that day. Most of the time, the bar was empty and any manner of musician was touting their wares on the stage. Usually, the music felt more disruptive than anything else. Looking at the performance calendar one day, I noticed something that stuck out to me: “Music Maker hosts Captain Luke’s 80th birthday party.” I liked the look of that.
Denise has catered parties large and small (and huge) throughout Music Maker’s history. Feeding musicians has been a large part of recording sessions, gigs, and gatherings for the past 20 years. So, Denise put together a series of blog posts with recipes, tips, timelines and checklists for any party you might host – she’s got it down to a science. Just in time for the holidays!
Read the first post in the series here.
Read Denise’s Buffet menu and menu notes here.
Below, see two original recipes from Denise as well as a party-planning timeline for you buffet!
Party Planning Timeline:
This past week Aaron and I went to speak to the Raleigh Charter High School’s SOOTS (Sustaining Roots Music Community Project) program. The group was founded by teacher Charles Montague in 2006 to not only support Music Maker with fundraising activities organized by students, but to encourage youth participants in the group to engage with traditional music and musicians.
One of the wonderful things we do at Music Maker (and there are so many!) is work to educate young people about the musical heritage we support. Aaron and I love to help further this mission by speaking to SOOTS students regularly, not just about Music Maker but about how we got into our careers, what paths we followed to get to where we are, and any advice we have for them.
Going to SOOTS is always so much fun, and though it’s hard to follow up the presentation by world-renowned photographer Jimmy Williams, we tried. Seeing the students’ dedication to the music, their reverence of the artists we serve, and their engagement with us is always inspiring. It was a great way to end the week!
Did you miss part one of our Celebrate with the Blues series? Check it out here!
For menu items I am not providing recipes for, but you want to prepare and not purchase, I recommend the Epicurious, Martha Stewart or Fine Cooking websites. Do choose recipes for simplicity and ALWAYS check out the reviews. Don’t bother with any recipe that less than 80% of people “would make again”. If 3 out of 4 reviewers said it was better when they doubled the spices or cooked at lower heat, I would take their advice.
Roast Turkey (14-16 lbs) (Gravy Optional) – I use a hybrid of my Grandma Durocher’s method and Martha Stewart’s Turkey 101. Really all you need to do is wash the bird, salt the interior and cover the skin with some sort of fat (I prefer softened butter) and add some sort of liquid (I use white wine and turkey broth made from the neck & gizzards) by basting or add to drippings later if you want gravy. Turkey breasts do not have enough fat to make good gravy, so I make mushroom gravy if I am not roasting a whole bird. Epicurious has a great roasting chart and general Turkey Info page. I usually start with a high oven temp (450 degrees) for first 30 minutes, then lower oven to 350 degrees for remainder of cooking. This makes for a shorter cooking time and nice crispy, brown skin without drying the bird out too much. Always plan to pull the turkey out 1 1/2 hrs to 2hours before serving. That way you will have ample time if it needs longer to cook and still be able to let it rest before carving.
Nobody loved a holiday more than Guitar Gabriel. He loved to put on his suit and go out on the town or party hopping for 4th of July, Memorial Day, or MLK Day. Gabe thought that even minor holidays should be celebrated, Columbus Day, President’s Day – he didn’t skimp on any of them, but when late November hit, the party ramped up and didn’t quit ’til the year was done and gone.
Music and spirits were central to the good times, but the only way to keep your strength up through this marathon season of celebration is with a righteous buffet.
I do like gourmet cooking, but when a big crowd is descending, it is NOT time to try that 37 ingredient, 7-page-long Julia Child recipe you have always dreamed of serving. Save that for a small dinner party of 6 in February when there is nothing else to do but cook. For larger holiday gatherings I tend toward “comfort and joy,” and nothing makes a Bluesman’s belly happier than old-fashioned American home cooking with a heavy Southern accent.