We visited Drink Small today. I first met Drink in 1981 at Warren Wilson College. I used to tour with him in the early 1990s, with Guitar Gabriel. When Gabe died, I received a telegram from Drink giving me condolences. Cootie Stark, a blind bluesman and Music Maker artist, accompanied me on a visit to Drink’s home around that time. Drink introduced me to other blues artists like Albert Smith, whom we recorded. Throughout Music Maker’s 20 years, Drink and his wife Andrenna played New Years’ parties at our house in Pinnacle, visited our home in Hillsborough, and even were escorted by my brother from South Carolina to Montreal for a gig. We’ve become very close.
This spring when we were planning to visit artists with our week-long road trip, I decided we’d start with Drink. Today, coming in the door with Aaron and B, we found Drink laying far back on his couch, his eyes pointing to the ceiling.
“Tim I have had some hard times, am 82 and just got out from the hospital from surgery to my prostate. I have gone completely blind. I see only black.”
My favorite memory of being on tour with Boo Hanks was when he told me about the time he went to see Louis Jordan as a young man. I’ve known Boo since 2006 and in my mind he is a Virginia songster who has stayed in his community since he was born and played in an esoteric style of music that was born from isolation. Though I should’ve known better, this story turns that notion on its head.
Purchase Boo Hanks & Dom Flemons Album: Buffalo Junction
When you are touring from place to place, you spend a lot of time in your vehicle passing the time through doing things like reading, listening to music and on the rare occasion, talking to each other. I lean toward listening to music as much as I can and I tend to go into burst of different genres, one of them being 40′s R&B, Doo-Wop and Rock ‘n’ Roll. As I was playing some of this music, the song “Saturday Night Fish Fry” by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five came up. Boo mentioned that he had gotten to see him live.
Cootie Stark was an incredible Piedmont blues singer and guitarist whose repertoire harkened back to his youth, when he learned his music from the legendary Baby Tate. Cootie was the only fellow I have known that regularly traveled by Greyhound to visit me. When we did not have shows, Cootie would call me up to pick him up from the bus station in Durham. He loved staying with us; he enjoyed the meals, and most of all sitting in the studio and recording and listening to his music. . After over 50 years of playing street corners and having many disappointments in his musical career, he just loved to sit back and enjoy his life’s work.
Tom Ciaburri, Ironing Board Sam and Thomas Heisler
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.
Tim and Guitar Gabriel during their travels.
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.
Wear it proudly.
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!”
Guitar Gabe posing with a Sam McMillan artwork featuring his likeness
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: