Coupled with footage of “The L.B.J Poverty Tour” the New York Times recently released an article about McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, and the balance between struggle and poverty that has crippled the county’s communities for generations, specifically focusing on the small city of War, West Virginia. The article touches on the after effects of the quick decrease in mountain population as the steady work of coalmines and saw mills slowly declined in the early 1960s. The article paints a dreary and rather hopeless picture, but the depiction is unfortunately quite accurate.
Last fall we found out that Ironing Board Sam was invited back to the 2014 New Orleans Jazz Festival; they made a special request for him to come with a big show. Early in Jazzfest’s history Sam played the blues underwater in a huge aquarium, performed while lifted up on a 50-foot cherry picker, floated above Jackson Square in a hot air balloon playing down to his fans, and set his drums on fire. All of his suggestions this year just could not work out with the festival such as skydiving into the festival, walking a tight rope on stage while singing, being sawed in half in a box and still playing the piano, or building a huge juke box for him to perform in. Jazzfest was just a few weeks away when Sam stopped by the office with one last idea. He wanted to bring back his invention of the portable keyboard. Today this is very common but in the early 1960s no one had seen one. He also added that he wanted to us to “bead him up” for New Orleans.
MaryAnne is our spring intern, and she has helped us immensely with PR and artist services! Week before last she headed to Juke Joint with Aaron and several artists, and we asked her to write about her experience.
I’ve had a couple of days to regain my thoughts (and sleep) from our recent trip to Mississippi. Aaron and I took two of our artists, Ironing Board Sam and David Bryant, to play at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, MS. We had to detour through Atlanta to pick up David, so the trip was about 16 hours each way. But luckily we had Sam and David to keep us entertained. This was their first time meeting but you’d never know it. They swapped stories and played off each other so well; it was an instant bond. I feel the need to mention our stop for dinner at a Jamaican restaurant in David’s hometown. It was noteworthy because of two things I encountered for the first time: 1) Jamaican-style oxtail and 2) reggae-style Celine Dion. Both were surprisingly pleasant.
We arrived at David Bryant’s house just before sunset and he was sitting on his porch waiting for us. “Yes, mm hmm,” he said, and waved a greeting. We were picking up David on the way to the Juke Joint festival, along with Ironing Board Sam and our intern MaryAnne.
David’s little dog danced around me as we helped him bring his things to the car; then we got together for a photo in the beautifully raked garden. David insisted that we go inside to see just a few pictures of his grandfather. He wanted to show Ironing Board Sam who he was. Once inside David pulled some buttons from his pocket. Two sets tied together with string. This really got the conversation going.
Aaron, Intern MaryAnne, Ironing Board Sam and David Bryant are on their way to the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, MS! They’ll be playing off and on all day tomorrow. We thought we’d share some pics of their road trip!Ironing Board Sam, MaryAnne and David Bryant – the second day on the road in Talladega, AL!
My name is David Guillaume; I am a junior at the Berklee College of Music. I was recently invited to take part in what would become the single most rewarding vacation of my life. The premise was simple enough: head down to North Carolina, soak up some good music and eat some good barbeque. Don’t get me wrong, my colleagues and I got an abundance of both, but it was the unsung gestures of hospitality and warmth that I will carry with me always.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was born in 1940 in Atlanta, Georgia. She began a lifelong love of music at the age of eight, when her aunt gave her a guitar; the very first song she learned to play was the blues classic “John Henry.” Learning from her family, and even the local coal deliveryman, helped her develop a unique, hard-playing guitar style.
Algia Mae Hinton was born on August 29, 1929 in Johnston County, North Carolina. Her parents, Alexander and Ollie O’Neal, were farmers who raised tobacco, cotton, cucumbers and sweet potatoes. Mother Ollie could play many stringed instruments and began teaching Algia when she was just nine years old. Algia was the youngest of fourteen children and worked the fields from an early age. Her musical and agricultural upbringing set the stage for her adult life. Algia married Millard Hinton in 1950. Her husband died in 1965, forcing Algia to raise her seven children alone by working long hours on the farm. Despite these trying circumstances, Algia kept the music alive and passed it on to her children. Together, they fought off the hard times by entertaining the people of their community. Over the years Algia’s music has gained international recognition.
Etta Baker is perhaps one of the most well-known women in Blues of the last century, but that is not a large crowd. Etta, born in Appalachian North Carolina in 1913, grew up in a musical family in a racially diverse area. She told NPR in 2005, “Where we lived was a white section, but everybody was one family. I played with my sister Cora and Daddy at big dances for both white and blacks.”
Etta picked up a guitar at the age of three, learning from her father, a clawhammer banjo player, and her community. Diverse musical influences make up Etta Baker’s style – African-American Blues, white country picking and English fiddle tunes can been seen and heard in her unique finger picking, and her father passed on a love of mountain music and Piedmont blues that stayed with her all her life. Etta Baker became the “finest finger-style Piedmont Blues guitarist to come out of North Carolina,” writes Susan Simone.
We think of the blues player as a wandering, itinerant musician, traveling with his guitar, playing his music and spreading the musical styles of the South across the nation. What we often don’t realize in that scenario is that the stereotype is possible because a woman was in the home, caring for his children, working the fields or the factory, and harboring her own musical talents that were shadowed by obscurity.
B is off to Atlanta this week visiting more artists, but while she’s away we wanted to share with you her thoughts about her first days as part of the Music Maker team! See the video she shot on the trip below.
When I came down to North Carolina at the beginning of this year essentially the first thing I did as a Music Maker team member was embark on a road trip with Tim Duffy and Aaron Greenhood. It was an experience I hadn’t had before. The first day we went to South Carolina to visit Drink Small; the only other time I’d been to South Carolina was to visit Charleston with my family. I had my first experience with homemade soul food at a hole in the wall off the highway that first day – it was amazing! Afterwards we headed over to Drink’s to do a photo shoot; when we arrived he was sitting slouched way back in his couch. He had recently gone blind, so he seemed a bit disoriented, and a little down. Tim started joking around with him, and soon Drink was smiling. Tim also started talking with Drink about his recent blindness, and asked him if he remembered what he (Tim) looked like. Drink said yes, and then Tim went on to say how it must be strange to hear your friend’s voice and not be able to see him anymore. It made me so sad to hear about Drink’s blindness, but I knew that we would be able to cheer him up. Soon, he was playing and singing with Tim.