Years ago, Adolphus Bell, the Worlds Greatest One Man Band, drove up from Birmingham, Alabama to do a recording session with us. While here he delivered a cassette and promo photo of Dr. GB Burt, a fellow that had helped him fix his broken down van. Listening to the cassette later that week, I was blown away. It was the worst sounding demo I had heard in my life, recorded on the cheapest cassette, which had been recorded on over and over, the guitar was blaring and distorted, the vocals we muted and clear as a bell at the same time. The incredible purity and talent somehow transcended the medium. I had to meet this guy.
The next month Adolphus drove Dr. Burt up to Music Maker to record. My first question was how did he get his incredible raunchy guitar sound. He smiled and showed me his beautiful electric 12-string guitar. I asked what amps he used and he smiled again, I used two Marshall Stacks (these are the most powerful amps that were designed by Pete Townshend of The Who). I asked him where did you do that? He smiled, and said “In my kitchen.”
We tried to recreate that sound on his first record; we got close but not all the way.
Over the weekend, Music Maker artist Cary Morin visited us at the Music Maker Grotto to have Aaron and I do a Tin Type session with him. We were fortunate to have interns Swathi and Thomas on hand to help!
Cary is of the Crow Nation of Wyoming. He has toured since he was in his early 20s with different bands. With his last kid off to college, Cary and his wife got rid of most of their possessions, bought a small Winnebago, rented out their house and have hit the road, touring throughout the States going town to town, state to state, show to show.
Last month T-Bone Burnett called up Rhiannon Giddens and asked her to be part of a special concert at The Town Hall in NYC to be filmed by Joel and Ethan Cohen that will be aired on Showtime in December. This concert special is in support of their incredible film “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I had the privilege to go a preview of this film earlier in the year at the GRAMMYs. It is a remarkable film on the often underlooked era of the folk music movement before Bob Dylan came around. Justin Timberlake, who plays Jim Berkey in the film, looks like Paul Clayton, one of my favorite performers of this era. Paul was the man that first recorded Etta Baker, so I have always been intrigued by this man. I could talk on and on about this film.
Rhiannon had just finished months of touring and was back in Ireland with her husband where her daughter has just started school. She flew back to NYC specifically for the show. The rehearsals were amazing, with such incredible talent hanging around. Sitting around with Joan Baez, Elvis Costello, the Punch Brothers, Gillian Welsh and so many others.
photo by Tom Ciaburri
While in the grocery store the other day, my husband and I had an encounter that wasn’t extraordinary, but to me further solidified the impact Music Maker has on our artists and on the outside world.
We had just gotten back into town from vacation, and realized we literally had no food in our house. Normally we don’t love to buy groceries on Sunday afternoons – everyone shops on Sunday afternoons here, and the stores, from the parking lot to the lines, are completely nuts. But, we braved it and fought valiantly to get a suitable number of things to get us through the week. We spent about 40 minutes in line, and we were not in great moods by the time we were greeted by the cashier. My husband was sporting some shin-bruises from those tiny shopping carts they have available for children, and he was anxious to get to the car.
It’s been a busy month for us here at Music Maker – then again, any given month is a busy month. A couple of weeks ago, we were pleased to hold an extremely successful benefit show at The Hamilton in Washington, DC. The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Ironing Board Sam packed the house full and put on a fun and energetic show for all of our supporters. I was happy to be a part of the action while manning the merchandise/information table. It was a great way to meet many of our D.C.-based supporters and greet folks new to the Music Maker mission, whether they were Chocolate Drops fans or coming in blind for a night of good music and good food.
Check out some photos from the event, taken by Aaron Greenhood, below:
I was driving home from work the other day and was feeling a bit worn out by the CD that’s been sitting in my car’s CD player for the last two months, so I did the unthinkable: I turned on Top 40 radio to keep myself company. “Cups,” by actress Anna Kendrick, has been floating around the airwaves now – despite her version having originated in the movie Pitch Perfect, which was released in 2012. It was a catchy song and, besides that, I was confused by the fact that an actress had a Top 40 hit, so a little bit later I looked the song up and happened to run into this article over on the NY Magazine entertainment blog, Vulture. (And, later, this story on NPR’s All Things Considered.)
It wasn’t until later, when I was talking about it in the office, that Corinne pointed out the direct link between the origin story of this Top 40 pop song and our mission as a non-profit to keep roots music alive and relevant. It’s not a new idea that there exists a popular canon in American music and that sometimes these songs leak into what’s hip and top-grossing – but sometimes you find it in the least expected of places, like a song sung by an actress from a movie released a year and a half ago based on a youtube video inspired by a hand game added to an old appalachian tune inspired by a song about death. (Whew.)
Whether it’s as innocuous as preserving our artists’ music so that maybe one day it will go on to inspire continued reinterpretation (a staple of oral tradition, a kind of telephone game of song) or as straight-forward as pairing developing next generation artists with mentors steeped in the tradition, the bottom line is that the music remains important and alive. And sometimes it’s still just catchy as all get out.
Sometimes the link between traditional tunes and top hits isn’t much of a surprise and sometimes it’s buried beneath such a saga of origination that it’s almost impossible to see. Are there any other top 40 hits with old-time, folk, or blues roots that are hidden by the glitz and glamour of the Billboard charts? Share them with me in the comments – I’d love to know!
I was just having a conversation with our intern, Margot, about our weekly Diggin’. (Margot, it should be said, is so devoted to MMRF that despite having ended her internship in June, she still comes in whenever she’s got time in between her other internships and job hunting.) She was in this afternoon and we talked about writing a Diggin’ – she was concerned that she didn’t have anything much to say musically about the track because she is not as familiar with Roots music as, say, Tim or Aaron.
I pointed out that she’s probably more knowledgeable than I am, and I’ve been writing Diggins for two years. (Sorry folks!) All kidding aside – the idea behind our Diggins isn’t to get very technical or fact-heavy about each track. (Although sometimes we definitely do try to be as educational as possible.) We have an enormous amount of recordings here at Music Maker. And while we love it when people buy CDs or join our Listener’s Circle and Record Club to support the artists we serve, one of our main missions is to preserve Southern Roots music. And part of preservation is getting it out there, to you, to the public, and to people who haven’t heard it before.
The last piece from our collaboration with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University is an audio snippet captured by the students who worked with Mississippi blues man Ben Payton, who recently relocated to Hillsborough, NC to work with Music Maker.
“honey almond salmon”
Ben Payton fondly remembers a celebrity moment in Morocco, where he toured during his first career. Ben and Humphrey Bogart might just have a little something in common.
Listen to the audio clip here
Most of the material that came out of the class with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University was video, true, but we also got some insightful photos, snippets of audio and art projects. In today’s piece, graduate student Candice catches a moment in the life of Ms. Puddin’s social club in Winston-Salem, where Teresa Mayer (daughter of MMRF artist Captain Luke) sings one of her favorite songs. I’ve heard Teresa sing this song a few times and there’s nothing quite like the magic of silence falling over a crowded living room when she starts it.
Listen to the song here.
Wildflower is the song that best sings the life of Teresa Mayer.
When Teresa was twelve years old, the American band of rhythm and blues, New Birth, released this single in 1973, which the Canadian group, Skylark, originally sung one year before.
But New Birth’s version captured Teresa’s heart as a young girl from Winston Salem. Little did she know then it would be the first song she performs for an audience in a small 52nd street club in Philadelphia almost two decades later.
It was the first song her father ever heard her sing. Teresa is the youngest daughter of Captain Luke and his closest confidante – his very own wildflower.
We’ve got another one of the side-project pieces from the class at the Center for Documentary Studies. This one is a snapshot of Ironing Board Sam during his interview; Ironing Board Sam doesn’t own many things, but the things he does own have a special significance to him. One of the students noticed a large rock sitting on his floor and asked him what it meant, so he told them.
On another interesting note, I’d never heard of Sam’s hometown of Rock Hill, SC. But at his gig the other night, the announcement of Rock Hill, SC was met with an enthusiastic cheer and a “GO ROCK HILL!” so the Rock Hill diaspora is alive and thriving.
Musicians need instruments. Without them, they cannot fully realize their potential. It’s pretty straightforward. Sadly, the poverty that many Music Maker artists live in, does not afford them the luxury of owning a working instrument. In the past few years, Music Maker has been able to replace stolen instruments for Ron Hunter, Pete Whicher, Cedell Davis and get much needed new instruments to Ironing Board Sam, Robert Lee Coleman, Major Handy, Dr. Burt, Lakota John, Cary Morin, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Alabama Slim, Guitar Slim, Jr, Guitar Lightnin’ Lee, John Dee Holeman and as you see in this video, Harvey Arnold enjoying his new custom Gibson Firebird Studio donated by Music Maker supporter Zak Alistair.
Having an instrument that works is as important to an artist’s stable and sustainable existence as adequate transportation, good nutrition, and a roof over their head. Check out Harvey tearing up his new guitar.
A part of the learning process when picking up a camera is when you get surprisingly beautiful, unexpected shots. It seemed like a consensus among the other CDS students and MMRF staff when we saw these shots of Ben Payton in the group video that this was one of those moments when the light looked right, Ben was performing for the camera and the angles added something new and interesting that was artful without even really intending to be.
Check out the video below:
Hannah Nemer is a junior Peace, War, and Defense and American Studies double major at the University of North Carolina. Hannah loves working with film, and can often be seen with camera in hand. After graduation she hopes to study visual and material anthropology so that she can better explore how the use of narrative filmmaking in conveying the stories of distinct communities.