This tale of senseless sacrifice reveals the world through a child’s eyes. While still an innocent child, the irony of the “holy kiss” is not lost on this boy who must give up his best friend for a corrupt opportunist. What’s for dinner tonight?
You take one look at Guitar Lightnin’ Lee and immediately get the impression that this is one of the meanest dudes on the planet. His stocky frame and rock and roll get up lead you to this assumption, but the reality is that Lee is about one of the sweetest guys you could ever meet. This tune represents Lee’s softer side, a heartfelt love song to his mama and the universal feeling of homesickness. This one is for all the mothers!
— Corn Lewis
George Higgs is one of the lesser known artists that Music Maker has partnered with. That doesn’t mean that George wasn’t an amazing artist though. His dark slide guitar and haunting voice on One Kind Favor makes for an incredibly deep Blues song. George passed away in January of 2013, he was from outside Speed, NC – a slow town with a fast name.
— Corn Lewis
Yesterday our good friend Lonnie Holley came to visit the MM office to say hello. Lonnie is an amazing artist based out of Atlanta, GA. During his visit he showed us his latest video, focused on a new art piece. The piece is titled In the Grip of Power and symbolizes the struggle minorities have had with the voting process.
This struggle is deep and has been had by many Music Maker artists. Sit with any of them and they will tell you how difficult it has been to be involved with the political process.
Cary Morin is one of the most amazing guitar players I have ever seen play the instrument and his songwriting is matches his playing ability. Sing It Louder is all about love, unity, and bringing people together through song. Whenever I get down and out I always just put this song on and listen as my anxiety drifts away. “Sing It Louder and believe!”
— Corn Lewis
Robert Finley arrived like it was any other night, excited, grinning from ear to ear, guitar in hand. He wore pressed jeans, cowboy hat and boots and a Western shirt accented by a belt buckle larger than my hands. He looked like he was ready for the rodeo.
Finley led the band through the 9 songs from the record and a few special numbers he worked up with them the day before. Though the band and Finley were playing live together as a unit for the first time, these were the cats who pulled his record together, some of the most revered Memphis session musicians, and they revealed no handicaps. They were tight and hot!
Nobody can tear the house down like Beverly. If you ever been lucky enough to see her play you know how it feels to have your socks blown off by one of the most impressive performers in music today! AND she’s old enough to be your grandma. Miz Dr. Feelgood is a classic electric blues number with rocking piano and ripping electric guitar with Beverly’s growling voice leading the way. Sit back and listen to this one and think about what it would be like to see Beverly shredding this tune with a guitar behind her head.
— Corn Lewis
Anyone that has ever traveled knows the joy it can bring alongside the subsequent heartache of home sickness. Blown Back With the Breeze carries you across the entire United States and then on to places much further. The elegance of their musicianship is unparalleled in its beautiful simplicity that carries you along from start to finish. Spencer Branch hails from Whitetop Mountain and you can sure hear that real mountain sound in Blown Back By the Breeze.
Several weeks ago the Music Maker staff was making calls to artists impacted by the Louisiana Flood. Upon making these calls we learned that Buckwheat’s house had experienced significant damage. Buckwheat was unable to work since April due to his battle against throat and lung cancer, leaving him in a very difficult place when the flooding occurred. Music Maker immediately sent down an emergency relief so that his family could start to rebuild their home. Unfortunately, Buckwheat never returned home – he passed away on September 24. Buckwheat was a consummate showman and true torch bearer for the Zydeco community, spreading his joyful sound across the entire world.
Lee Gates’ insistent music is always compelling. Between his shredding guitar and pleading vocals, you know he means what he’s singing. Lee is a tough guy; over six feet tall and strong as can be. “You Gotta Love Me Baby” is resolute, but also shows a glimpse of another side of Lee. His mesmerizing guitar work and the pumping rhythm make a pretty compelling case. It’s true; you gotta love Lee Gates.
Harvey Dalton Arnold is a true Southern rocker. A member of the Outlaws for many years, listening to the acoustic sounds on Harvey’s album Outlaw is tantalizing. How does an acoustic guitar rock SO hard? If you have ever seen Harvey perform you have surely been blown away by his screeching vocals and raunchy picking. Not only is Harvey a great musician, he is also an incredible parter to the elder musicians that we work with.
You weren’t really worried. This wasn’t a hurricane, not even a tropical storm—no roof-ripping tornado, no tower-toppling earthquake, no fire-spewing eruption—it was just rain. And it doesn’t flood around here. It never has before.
Even as the water came up higher and higher—higher than anyone ever thought it would—you, like most folks, were basically safe. You tried to salvage what you could. When the military vehicles and boats started coming through, you considered evacuating. But you talked with your family and decided to stay in your home. Gradually, the water receded and you went to work doing what needed done—tossing damaged furniture, appliances, and carpet; ripping out floors and walls. When you finally took a break from the work, you looked down the street. It was a valley between two mountains of refuse. This was a world of total devastation. And that’s when the flood—which had already become ancient history to the 24-news cycle—started to seem like a present reality for you. You’d awakened from a nightmare, only to find that the events of the dream actually happened.
Several people I talked to from the Baton Rouge-area describe something like the story above. Yet, despite the level of catastrophe, they all make a point of putting things in perspective—recognizing that it could be worse (and is for some folks), and that mostly what they lost were “only material things.” Toughness and optimism are thick in that part of the world. But while the talk of “moving on” and “counting blessings” feels absolutely heartfelt, what comes across even stronger is a sense of shock. There was no possible way to prepare for this event. No one thought it would ever happen. Even after it did happen, it still seemed impossible. It was just rain. How can rain cause this much destruction? How could rain completely derail your life?
Of course, the majority of folks hit by the August floods in Louisiana didn’t have flood insurance. They didn’t live a flood zone; there was no reason to think they’d ever need it. FEMA is providing some relief, but in most cases they’re offering people nowhere near what it’s going to take to return their homes to a livable condition. People are tough and optimistic, but they’re facing extreme setbacks.
For a lot of musicians in the Baton Rouge-area, things were not easy even before the flood. With the exception of a few big names that get steady, well-compensated work, most Baton Rouge musicians have to supplement their income with non-music gigs if they’re able, or struggle to eke out a living. Even a veteran artist like Larry Garner, with over a dozen acclaimed albums to his credit, can’t sustain himself playing in the States. His label and most of his gigs are in Europe. “I find a lot more work over there,” he told me. “Some years it’s more, some years it’s less. This year’s been pretty good. I guess the All-Knowing All-Seeing knew that I was going to need every penny I could make to get through this.” Garner’s house sustained major damages in the flood. The 64-year old, who’s had open heart surgery, paused from ripping out drywall to talk with me on the phone. His 83-year old mother’s house got it even worse. She’s had to relocate to California, where she’s staying with family for the foreseeable future. “It’s a life-changing event,” Garner says. He’s working tirelessly now, trying to restore his home as much as possible before he goes back overseas to tour France in October.
Larry Garner was able to keep his guitars out of the water, but his Fender Deluxe amp was not so lucky. Ruined equipment is a major issue for Baton Rouge’s flood-soaked music community. “Those are the tools that people make a living with,” remarks Lee Allen Zeno, a renowned bassist in the area who’s been with Buckwheat Zydeco’s band for decades. “And for most folks, insurance is not going to cover that stuff.” Zeno lost several bass amplifiers himself. Some musicians lost every bit of gear they owned. Every musician I talked to lost something.
The impact of these losses extends beyond live performance, reaching facets of the music community such as education and recording as well. Not only were schools flooded, but individual teachers lost instruments, sheet music, and other necessary tools of their profession. Eric Baskin, for example, the director of jazz studies at Baton Rouge Community College, lost sheet music, keyboards, and an amplifier. Recording studios, such as the famed Dockside Studio, also flooded. Amazingly, despite having two feet of water inside, it looks like Dockside—birthplace of 11 GRAMMY-award-winning albums and a favorite studio of legends like B.B. King and Dr. John—will survive. In the midst of the flood, wheelchair-bound owner Steve Nails communicated by cell phone with his wife, Cezanne, and 16-year old son, Dylan, to coordinate an heroic rescue effort. The two stood in rising water and, with increasingly blistered hands, removed and stacked out of harm’s way 150 40-pound modules from the recording console. After the water receded, an army of volunteers—mostly musicians—showed up to get Dockside’s rebuilding underway. “We’re so fortunate,” Cezanne Nails told the Arcadian Advocate, “People are coming from everywhere. There’s an amazing outpouring of musicians. Musicians really are some of the heroes in our community. They’re always the first to volunteer.”
Nails’ assertions about musicians are echoed by a lot people in the Baton Rouge area. Self-described “gypsy singer” Dusty Lightfoot Cashio expresses deep gratitude for her “music friends” who have been helping her through this crisis. “Music people are the greatest people God ever created on this earth,” she intones. Cashio fights to stay positive, but the flood hit her hard. “I’ve been through all those things that you go through in life, and I’m usually never shook,” she declares, “But this thing really kicked my butt.” The water rose rapidly in her area. “When it started coming through the windows,” she half-laughs, “I knew we were in trouble.” Fighting with the rising water, she tried to prepare her autistic son and 7 animals for evacuation. The first military vehicle that came through claimed they could only take humans. She decided to hold out and see if she could rescue her animals. They said another vehicle would come in an hour or so. “For the first two hours,” Cashio says, “I was tough. After four hours, I was thinking that staying with my animals may not have been such a hot choice.” Eventually, into the night, another vehicle arrived. She felt the wake roll through her living room. Her son was loaded in first, then her animals, then she followed.
Born in Mississippi and raised in Louisiana, Cashio moved to L.A. as a young woman to have a go at the music business. She sang on stages large and small and brushed shoulders with giants of rock world. After her son was born, though, she felt the sounds, sights, and smells of Louisiana calling her back home. “When it comes to music, it’s the heart,” she says, “But I love everything about it. I love the Spanish moss. I love the big Oak trees. I even love the alligators.” She pauses. “But the one thing I never planned for was: we’re going to have the worst flood in history.”
A devoted music fan and side-woman for decades, Cashio had amassed a unique and irreplaceable collection of memorabilia over the years—things like a guitar that once belonged to a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a speaker cabinet that once belonged to KISS. The flood took it all. It also took her 100-year old upright grand piano. “That was the last thing we took out of my house,” she says, “I made the men open it up so they could see her heart before they took her out.” The flood took Big Bertha, too—her vintage Cadillac with a custom Corvette engine that she’d driven for 20 years. “When I got back from the shelter, I opened Big Bertha’s door and a river poured out.” For days, Cashio tried to convince herself that the car was salvageable. But, eventually, she had to let it go like everything else.
Cashio’s son is a painter who lives with autism and severe hearing impairment. “The thing that hurt the most,” Cashio begins, and then fumbles for what to say next. “I saw his paintings floating in the water… And I’ve tried to do all these things to make his life safe and predictable… And he thought I could stop this flood. The look on his face. He was waiting on me to get it done. All I could say was, ‘honey, it’s an act of God.’”
As I talk to folks in Baton Rouge, I keep thinking of Zora Neale Hurston’s account of the hurricane in her famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. As the storm rages and floodwaters rise, Hurston’s characters sit in the dark with “their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
What can you do when you’re put face to face with your own powerlessness; when you’re swallowed up by forces far beyond your grasp? I think the music that comes from down there in Louisiana gives us a pretty good idea of what people will do. Those gut-wrenching blues that acknowledge all the hardship in the world but never cave to it. The wild celebratory freedom in their jazz music. That propulsive, irrepressible zydeco beat. Put on Buckwheat Zydeco’s “Ma Tit Fille.” Listen to Lee Allen Zeno’s bassline—driving, repetitive, trance-inducing. Feel how it locks in with the rubboard and the drums, how the accordion playfully dances in their groove. That sound comes from a place that’s as strong as any flood.
The musicians I talked to all expressed deep gratitude for Music Maker and all the people and organizations that have jumped into help. No one is ashamed to admit that they definitely need it. But with a little help, their strength and resilience and optimism with shine through as strong as ever.
Will Boone holds a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Musicology. He is currently teaching a wide array of music history classes at NC State University and freelance writing.