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.

Artist Spotlight: Guitar Lightnin’ Lee

Guitar Lightnin’ Lee exudes an indescribable exuberance. A couple weeks ago he came to visit NC to play for our Freight Train Blues Series presented by Carrboro Parks & Recreation & Music Maker Relief Foundation. It is always a treat to get to hang out with Lee. While here, we got to sit down and talk to Lee on camera, he regaled us with stories about hanging out with Boogie Bill, Little Freddie King and Jimmy Reed back in the day. The local radio station, WCHL scheduled an interview with Lee right to promote Freight Train Blues. Lee, being the pro that he is, nailed the interview. You can listen to the interview here. Tim Duffy, our Executive Director gave Lee an amazing Fender Stratocaster that was given to Music Maker by a generous donor.

Lightnin’ Lee With His New Guitar

Guitar Lighnin' Lee 2-1

Diggin’: Pura Fé – A Love Like Mine

Pura Fé is one of the most mystical artists I have ever met. When you see Pura Fé perform you instantly see that her physical emotion matches her voice. A Love Like Mine is the perfect combination of Blues, Rock and Native American influences. Throw in the unique sound of her Hawaiian lap-steel guitar playing and you get a tune that breaks through to the core of a person who’s been snubbed by a love interest before.

— Corn Lewis

Longtime Partner Cathead Vodka Comes to NC!

We are so excited to share that our long-time partner, Cathead, is now selling their craft vodka in NC restaurants and ABC stores! Read below to find out more. What do you get when you combine a passion for fine spirits, live blues, and southern heritage? Cathead Vodka. Based out of Jackson, MS, Cathead is the first and oldest distillery in the state, producing small-batch craft vodkas. It was founded in 2010 by long-time friends Austin Evans and Richard Patrick who sought out to toss aside the remnants of prohibition (Mississippi was the last state to repeal in 1966) and build a company that truly honored their southern roots. They do this by offering deliciously southern vodka flavors (original, honeysuckle and pecan vodka!) and supporting the blues.

The Blues was born in the Deep South, and Cathead pays respect to this rich musical heritage through their generous philanthropic model. For each bottle of vodka they sell, $1 goes to organizations that support live blues music and artists. Music Maker is proud to be one of those partner organizations. Cathead also supports Music Maker in other ways, through various benefit events and booking gigs for our artists. We were especially honored when the Music Maker Blues Revue was asked to play at their grand opening event in Jackson.

Cathead Group Shot-1

“Cathead is thrilled to be in North Carolina, home of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, incredible music and now – Cathead Vodka!” – Austin Evans (Co-Founder, Cathead Vodka)

We cannot accomplish our mission without support of our partners, and Cathead is one of the most valuable partnerships that we have. We are so grateful for everything they do and so Music Maker would like to extend one big THANK YOU and WELCOME to our home state!

P.S. – We asked Cathead’s NC Market Manager, Owen Jones, for his favorite Cathead summer cocktail, so check out his mouth-watering recipe suggestions below. You should also visit their site for more info like “What is a cathead, anyway?”, even more delicious recipes, and where to find Cathead Vodka near you!

Keep it simple and classic:

catheaddrink“Mississippi Mule”

2oz Cathead Original or Honeysuckle Vodka

4oz Fresh Ginger Beer

Dash of Fresh Lime Juice

For the more advanced home bartender:

“The Hummingbird”

1.5 oz Cathead Honeysuckle

Muddled Cucumber

Splash of Lime Juice

¾ oz Agave Nectar

Top off with Prosecco

Diggin’: Etta Baker – Going Down the Road Feeling Bad

As someone who is a “beginning blues” listener, I can’t speak much to the technical aspects of Etta Baker’s talent. If I knew better, I might discuss her melodies, rhythms, or exactly how she exemplifies the Piedmont Blues Guitar style – but I don’t.

Instead, I will simply say that this is a perfect summer driving song. Be sure to roll down the windows, turn up the volume, and enjoy this lovely tune.

— Jessica Roy

Thank You Music Maker Supporters!

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In the month of May Music Maker received a $5,000 matching gift from a generous donor. With contributions from donors like YOU we were able to meet the match! Without your support Music Maker wouldn’t be able to do the work that helps keep our musical history vital.


Biscuits For Your Outside Man

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Foodways shape all aspects of culture. With the rising popularity of the sustainability movement it is easy to forget that there are many folks that still practice traditional forms of agriculture and cooking. Almost every single Music Maker artist has some sort of connection to agriculture and even though they are too old to farm, many of them still maintain gardens. To pay our respects to the agrarian lifestyle that shapes everything around us, the Music Maker staff harvested the best food-related songs to create the album, Biscuits For Your Outside Man. The title was taken from North Carolina native Algia Mae Hinton’s song, Cook Cornbread For Your Husband. We asked world renowned chef, author, and longtime MMRF supporter Bill Smith to write the liner notes. Read Bill’s reflection of the album and how foodways relate to music:

Food and music have always gone hand in hand around here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Musicians work in restaurants and cooks go to the clubs to hear bands after work in equal measure. I remember one night years ago when there was a show we all wanted to see. I don’t remember the band now, but as soon as we got done, a bunch of us line cooks went tearing down the street to the Cat’s Cradle. We still had our aprons on even. The club was crowded and loud, but I could hear a woman beside me say to her friend, “It smells like someone is cooking a steak in here!” Actually, as usual, it was the music that was cooking.

The language of the Blues is especially effective in using the metaphors of food and cooking. It’s both honest and funny. It may seem elemental and primitive at first, but to me, it is great poetry. This marvelously curated collection presents this at its best. Some songs are sexy, some are silly. All are clever. A few, like “Shortnin’ Bread” are familiar, but many were unknown to me. I don’t remember having heard either “Chicken Pie” or “Cabbage Man” before. Both were cool discoveries. There are narratives like “Old Bill” and the wonderful “Lima Beans” will delight both the cook and the poet alike.

Listen to this collection as a whole. The songs of course can each stand on their own but together they have a wonderful feel of working people intelligently and unselfconsciously examining their lives with music. It makes sense that that thing as elemental as food and the table would find their way into song. Play this music when you sit down to dinner. It’s as satisfying as a T-bone steak.

— Bill Smith, chef, Crook’s Corner, Chapel Hill, NC

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Freeman Vines Documentary Short

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.


Diggin’: Lee Gates – Cool’s Groove

Lee Gates

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…

– Berk

Diggin’: Preston Fulp – Little Darling

“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.

— Abigail Nover

Welcoming Wilbur Tharpe to Music Maker

Wilbur-1-3Music 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.

— Corn Lewis

Diggin’: Ironing Board Sam/Guitar Gabriel – Summertime

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.




Visiting Drink Small: A Dose of Drinkisms from the Blues Doctor


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 see Drink’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.

— Corn Lewis

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