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.

Young Bluesman Jontavious Willis Visits With Elder Music Makers!


Jontavious Willis by Aaron Greenhood

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.

— Aaron

Diggin’: Ironing Board Sam with Ben Sollee “Summertime”


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.

— Aaron

Diggin’: Adolphus Bell – Hurt Before You Heal


I found out today that my long time beloved car is dying. Her trip to the mechanic this week would turn out to be her last. She was my first car, and we’ve had some great memories on the road together, but it’s time for us to finally part ways and say our goodbyes. I wanted to write a diggin’ on a Music Maker artist that also had a special relationship with their car. I chose Adolphus Bell, “the One Man Band,” who began touring the country in a van he bought with lottery winnings. He had painted “One Man Band” on both sides to advertise his music to others while on the road. This advertising helped Tim spot Adolphus driving on the highway back in 2004. Although on the opposite side of the road, Tim saw the van long enough to later track down Adolphus’s number and bring him on board to partner with Music Maker. I never got a chance to meet Adolphus, but I’ve heard amazing things about him and have also really enjoyed hearing more of his music recently.


The song “Hurt Before You Heal” was a natural choice after receiving the news about my car today. It might sound silly feeling sad about losing my first car, but to me it feels like saying good bye to a close friend. We’ve been through a lot together. I’d like to think that this song would help anyone going through a tough time with loss, especially if it’s something more serious than just a dying car. It’s a beautiful song, and it’s amazing to listen to “The One Man Band” perform with all these instruments together on his own.

– Berk

Diggin’: Slewfoot and the Angels – Give Your Love Away



Slewfoot was a legendary New Orleans street musician that could blend genres effortlessly. Give Your Love’s slinky sound is reminiscent of someone wobbling their way down Bourbon St. The tune’s lyrics are an insider’s take on the hard streets of New Orleans and the difficult life that can come with them. This song is a plea for human compassion – everyone, no matter who they are needs help at some point. Towards the end of the song Slewfoot testifies that when you need someone you’ve got to give yourself up and a higher power will come to the rescue.

— Corn

Thank You App State and Turchin Center for the Visual Arts!


We were so pleased that our photo exhibit We Are the Music Makers! was at the Catherine J Smith Gallery in the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts at Appalachian State University from June 1, 2015 to August 3, 2015. The exhibit was absolutely beautiful!

Thank you Appalachian State and Turchin Center for the Visual Arts!


Crawling the Blues at Southern Pines

Coleman at Southern Pines

I recently was able travel with the Music Maker crew to Southern Pines, NC for the 15th annual Sunrise Theater Blues Crawl. After helping to coordinate the event, it was exciting to see months of planning fall into place.

When we arrived in Southern Pines, we made our way around to every venue, speaking with friendly staff members, setting up sound equipment, and enjoying the buzz of conversation throughout town. The sunshine and warm breeze had brought out a crowd long before any show started, and people were excited about a night of good blues and fun.

As we got closer to showtime, artists began to arrive and I was able to meet more Music Makers than I ever had in the past. It was a bit like a family reunion, with people asking who was already in town and who had yet to arrive. Everyone seemed to be excited for everyone else’s shows, and the scale and uniqueness of the event really hit me- this was a special occasion, a time of celebration and fun, with some of the most talented blues artists I’ve ever heard.

Down at the Sunrise Theater, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen was getting ready for her set, the first of the night. As she made her way on stage, I learned very quickly why Mother Blues got her name, and experienced culinary heaven on earth- her homemade jambalaya which she brought with her backstage.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 2.25.13 PM

As the night got going, we made our way around town, and were impressed by the large crowd that was already out for the Crawl. As the sun set, we made our way to several shows: Robert Lee Coleman making his guitar sing at the Jefferson Inn, the Screaming J’s rollicking tunes at Rhett’s Restaurant, and the peaceful and powerful presence of Boo Hanks, with just his guitar and hundreds of stories to tell, at the Eye Candy Gallery.

After Cool John Ferguson’s lively and life-altering set at the Sunrise Theater, I had a moment to say hello to his drummer for the night, Bubba Norwood. “I was born with drumsticks in my hands, he told me, as he described how he comes alive when he plays the drums. This is how it seemed with every artist that night- a dedicated passion and commitment to the craft was evident in every solo, in every beat.

When the night came to a close, and the drive back to Hillsborough was underway, I was able to reflect on what I had experienced for the past 8 hours. I was able to witness firsthand the wonderful relationships that have been built through Music Maker, and appreciate afresh the importance of its mission- these traditions are too precious to lose!

– Jenny


Diggin: Wayne and Max Henderson – Wayfaring Stranger

wayne and max henderson

It’s festival season, a very important time for fiddlers and pickers throughout the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. From about the first weekend in June to the end of September, there is a fiddle festival every weekend  in a municipal park or on the side of some mountain where the keepers of mountain music traditions have gathered, sometimes for generations, to have a little friendly competition, share a meal and reunite with old friends.

Competition categories include folk song, fiddle tune, banjo, solo guitar, old time band and bluegrass band. It is not uncommon to the same few songs interpreted by more than a few in every category. One of the most popular across all of the categories is “Wayfaring Stranger.” Interestingly, “Wayfaring Stranger” has had many treatments throughout the pop world as well, interpreted by a Norwegian death metal band, electronic music artist Pretty Lights, pop star Ed Sheeran, psychedelic rock band H. P. Lovecraft, Hip Hop artists Spearhead, Neil Young and many others. One of my favorite versions is this one by the brother duo, Wayne and Max Henderson. All mandolin and guitar, performed without superfluous adornment, it is faithful, somber and beautiful. Check it out!!
— Aaron

Diggin’: Carolina Chocolate Drops – Black Annie


No band in recent memory has carried the torch of traditional music more than the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Under master fiddler Joe Thompson’s tutelage the Carolina Chocolate Drops learned about old-time string band music straight from the source. The band’s rendition of Black Annie is an incredible driving tune that genuinely represents what this music should sounds like –  raw, gritty and FAST! Listening to this song it is obvious as to why the Carolina Chocolate Drops became so popular – so turn your stereo up and stomp your feet!

— Corn

Dedicated Volunteer Seeks New Car!

ColemanAsk 2

Macavine Hays, Boo Hanks, Tony Young

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 and we will pass them along to Tony. Thanks!

Diggin’: Dave McGrew’s “Going Home”

Tim's most recent photo of Dave, October 2014

Tim’s most recent photo of Dave, October 2014


The first photo Tim took of Dave, August, 1979

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.

— Aaron

Red, White, and BLUES


With the 4th of July right around the corner it’s hard not to talk about the BLUES’ connection to this great day of independence….and BBQ!

Music Maker artist Drink Small recently won a NEA National Heritage Fellowship – one America’s highest artistic honors. This fellowship recognizes the recipients’ artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. Drink’s unique style is a product of a truly diverse country and exemplifies what it means to be an American.  Listen to Drink’s great summer tune “Living in a BBQ World” below.



This 4th of July you can check out Ironing Board Sam & Lakota John and Kin at the Hillsborough Picnic in the Square –

If you happen to be in Athens, GA you can check out Dom Flemons at the Classic City American Music Festival –




Diggin’: Sweet Betty’s “Live and Let Live”


Sweet Betty brings all the heart and soul of electric gospel to life on “Live and Let Live.” The song comes from her album of the same name, which she released after joining the Music Maker family in 2003.

Considered to be one of the finest blues singers in Atlanta, Betty grew up singing gospel and blues, and practice has made perfect. On this track, unwavering horns and driving rhythm from the piano set the stage, and her voice steals the show.

Sweet Betty’s style is characterized by sweetness and strength, and it’s the kind of sound that makes you sit up in your chair. When her voice floats through your speakers telling you, “you got to love one another and try to forgive,” you’d better be paying attention. If you’re not, her powerhouse voice will pick you up and set you on the straight and narrow.

On “Live and Let Live,” Sweet Betty teaches us how to shake off the day and keep living right- and she does it with flair.

— Jenny