Music Maker Relief Foundation is a 501(c)3 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.
For the past year and a half Music Maker has been working with luthier Freeman Vines. Freeman resides in Eastern, NC and fashions guitars from found wood. By hand carving each guitar into amazingly unique shapes Freeman hopes to find a specific sound, his sound. For the past few years Freeman has not been making guitars due to diabetes. Music Maker has been helping him through our Sustenance Program so he can afford the medicine he needs.
The Music Maker catalog has some of the deepest grooves you can ever hope to come across. If you’re lucky, you’ve experienced these rhythms live in person at a Revue Show and know exactly what I’m talking about.
You want to talk about a deep groove? Check out “Cool’s Groove” by Lee Gates, featuring Cool John Ferguson, below. Listeners can expect to experience face squinting, head nodding, foot tapping, air guitars, and other symptoms commonly associated with the deepest of grooves. Maybe save this one for the weekend…
“Little Darling” is one of the sweetest songs in the Music Maker catalogue. The tale of unrequited love is a familiar one, but Preston’s tender and delicate voice draws out warmth that gives this sad story a dreamy twist. He blends East Coast blues guitar style with old-time, creating a distinct and intricate sound. Between the finger-style and the falsetto, affection permeates the song from start to finish.
Music Maker is in the process of developing a partnership with piano player, Wilbur Tharpe. Wilbur has played for many years with Lena Mae Perry of the Branchettes, but since a house fire which resulted in the loss of his traveling piano and his cars, Wilbur has struggled to work as much as he has wanted. For 30 years Wilbur taught North Carolina history as a public school teacher in Raleigh. Wilbur always had a side music gig going whether it be a pig pickin’, family reunion or bar show. As time went on these sorts of gigs dried up as people started hiring DJs or just foregoing music altogether. Music Maker is currently working on getting Wilbur solo gigs, a keyboard and a car to load it up in so he can make it to the show! For our Hickory Museum of Art show a couple weeks ago Wilbur joined the Blues Revue and set the house on fire. Wilbur played the tune “Big Fat Woman” as Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen danced on the side of the stage, the audience exploded with excitement. Keeps your eyes peeled for more news about Wilbur down the line.
We still have a few more weeks of cool mornings. In some places they follow still nights all summer long. Here in North Carolina, the summer is not that gentle. With the long days come heat, damp heat, penetrating heat, heat that makes your clothes stick to you. Heat you had forgotten about. Halting heat, the kind that makes your hair sit flat on your head and your breathing heavy. A walk to the car in this weather is much like darting through the rain. All your pores burst with sweat. The seconds feel like hours as you wait for your air conditioning to wind up. Even so, we spend more time with leisure, by bodies of water, in lounge chairs, in the sand, wearing the sun like a blanket, sipping from a sweaty cup, falling back to sleep. Ah, Summertime!
Rise up singing! Here are two inspiring versions of the George Gershwin classic. Ironing Board Sam’s comes from the Ironing Board Sam and the Sticks recording recorded with Sam’s faithful and loving French friends, Simon Arcache and Raphael Evrard.
The other, Guitar Gabriel plays a spooky rendition accompanied by Michael Parrish on piano and Mark Levinson on trumpet.
Last week Aaron, myself and a food writer traveled down to visit 83 year old Drink Small in Columbia, SC for our upcoming food themed compilation album, Biscuits For Your Outside Man. Upon our arrival we seeDrink’s house, a humble abode in Columbia, SC as we walk through the front door you see that the entire interior is adorned floor to ceiling with local and national music awards – I know I have just entered the house of a living legend. Drink was thrilled to have some guests and from the second we sat down he launched into his philosophies on life, otherwise known as “Drinkisms”. We talked about food, music and life for a solid three hours. Drink’s health has declined in recent years and he has lost his sight and most of his mobility, but that doesn’t stop him from getting excited. Near the end of our visit Drink grabbed his resonator guitar and started plucking away. He’s still got his chops and his finger work just as good as any young bluesman. When I asked him about Music Maker he exclaimed,”It’s a good thing!” Drink also explained that it’s important for undiscovered musicians to know about Music Maker and if they have any questions they can talk to Drink. Watch Drink talking about Music Maker below.
Lee Gates grew up in Pontotoc, MS, his father African-American, his mother a Native American. He is first cousin to the blues legend Albert Collins.
In his 20s he migrated up to Milwaukee, WI where he found work in the Steel Mills. He soon joined the blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson as his guitarist. Through this association and being his legendary guitarist cousin, musicians such as John Lee Hooker, BB King, Buddy Guy, a whose who of blues legends found their was to Sonny Boy’s jam session. Lee was there, working all day, playing guitar all night. I met Lee a number of years ago and I was stunned by the ferocity of his guitar. He joined the Music Maker Blues Revue and we performed in Australia, Italy, Canada, France, Washington DC, Costa Rica.
A song about traveling is more than appropriate for pianist Eddie Tigner. Eddie traveled his whole life as a US Army band member and as a member of the original Inkspots. Eddie’s demeanor oozes sweetness, the same sweetness that tickles the keys ever so slightly on this American classic. After years of touring Eddie has settled in Atlanta, GA and plays local gigs regularly. With Music Maker, Eddie had been able to travel and play some of the biggest stages in the world during his golden years. Music Maker has also helped Eddie with medical needs and monthly sustenance grants.
YOU can help artists like Eddie Tigner continue to share their music with the world! Thanks to a generous donor, all donations made during the month of May will be matched up to $5,000.
A couple of weeks ago I got my hands on some footage that Tim and Abigail shot of David Bryant in his home town in Oxford, GA singing “Cold and Rainy Day,” a song David learned from his mother Cora Mae Bryant. You can check out the video of David’s version of the song here, but since you don’t often get mother/son covers of the same song, I thought I’d write a little bit about his mother’s version of the song as well and point out a few of the variations between the two.
Cora Mae’s version feels much more light hearted, a little more universal, as if she’s speaking from life lessons learned long ago. In David’s video, you can definitely feel how much he misses his mother, as he puts on a much more subdued and intimate performance. It’s side-by-sides like this one where you can really hear how both performances stem from the same family tree, a critical component to the evolution of southern roots music.
Overall, I really love the message behind this tune. What’s longing without hope? One cold and rainy day, that long gone soul might just show back up on your doorstep, and what a surprise that would be. Or who knows, maybe someones patiently waiting for your return?
Little Freddie King was recently featured in Beyoncé’s new visual album Lemonade. Lemonade was filmed in New Orleans and features many people and places that represent New Orleans culture and heritage. Little Freddie King has a prominent cameo in the film, playing guitar in the shadows while Beyoncé sings. Music Maker helped Little Freddie with emergency assistance when his home in the Lower 9th Ward was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Watch this great documentary short Music Maker produced on Little Freddie King:
“Things in Life” by Don Stover, sung here in beautiful harmony by Kelley Breiding and Martha Spencer with simple accompaniment is a sentimental reflection on life’s only guarantee, its expiration. At Music Maker, we have the privilege of working with spectacular human beings in the twilight of their lives. It is heartening and inspiring to see the passion they put toward life, music and relationships as death looms on the horizon. The other theme that appears in “Things in Life” is longing. Perhaps, the idea of an afterlife can be distilled into the longing to one-day reunite with our departed loved ones.
When Music Maker’s Executive Director, Tim Duffy, heard that partner artist Albert White’s laptop had “died,” Tim realized it was an issue that required an immediate solution. Thanks to Music Maker’s Musician Sustenance program, a refurbished laptop was immediately in-the-works for Albert.
“The motherboard went out and they told me it would be cheaper to replace it than repair it,” explained Albert.
Albert, a Music Maker partner artist, is known for wowing audiences with his guitar performances. His stamina and unstoppable energy does not reveal that off-stage, mobility can be an issue for him. As a result, online payment of bills and communication by email is a critical service to him.