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.
(left to right) Sugar Blue, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, BB King.
Shortly after the news about BB King’s passing Tim Duffy (MMRF’s Founder) spoke to Taj Mahal about this incredible Bluesman. Both Taj Mahal and BB King are Music Maker Advisory Board Members. We were incredibly honored to have our photo exhibit We Are the Music Makers! at the BB King Museum in Indianola, MS last year. Here is what Taj Mahal had to say about BB King’s Legacy:
A global original!! B.B.’s music spoke to everyone, everywhere whose souls were alive! All praises due-pass unto the light from whence you came, my dear Brother! You certainly left this earth so much the better than you found it!
I and so many others are most thankful for the memories of your awesome graciousness, welcoming warmth, hugs, smiles, positive compliments, encouragement and most of all the purest of pure music. That music will continue to live within those of us who have known the privilege of a lifetime to be in your magnificent presence!
B, you will be more than just sadly missed – you’ll be a milestone in the history of humanity on planet earth!
This is a beautiful gospel song that Guitar Gabriel composed the night his mother passed. It asks the question, Do You Know What it Means to Have a Friend? “A friend will tell you, just what to do, turnaround, they’ll turn their back on you.”
My 25 years with Captain Luke reminds me that I do know what it means to have a friend. Since my 20s, Captain has been the one I turned to talk about everything; my family, the business we built together, other MM artists. Captain himself over the years has been a friend to hundred of music lovers.
This track is from our first album, Guitar Gabriel & Brothers in the Kitchen (Toot Blues on the website.) Captain and I were the “brothers in the kitchen,” and I spent a lot of time with him in his kitchen as he build his tin can ash trays, cooked biscuits, and shared many a beer.
So enjoy this track, as we all remember Captain Luke this week, it seemed appropriate to pull out this song sung by his great friend.
Luther “Captain Luke” Mayer passed away early in the morning on May 12th at the age of 87. Captain Luke was the very heart of Music Maker, and he has been with us since the beginning. He appreciated so much all the love and thoughts everyone sent his way during his illness, he said he never truly realized how much his music meant to people until recently. He will be sorely missed.
Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015 was a memorable trip. I gave the Revue the pet name “Guitar Heaven,” stealing from Cool John Ferguson’s record title. The show featured guitar slingers from across the South, representing a great diversity of styles and attitudes.Cool John Ferguson gave them a taste of Low Country blues, George Stancell did a dance that sent shockwaves through his pants and likewise the crowd, Vasti Jackson was the first ever to crowd surf at a Music Maker show, Super Chikan wowed with his bedazzled homemade guitars, and Albert White gave them some of that deep South soul. The crowds loved it. I didn’t know the extent of it until I went over to the merch tent to check in on sales and found out there were no Music Maker CDs left; all had been sold by day two!
The Music Maker Revue closed the Jukejoint stage 4 of the 5 nights they performed at the festival, playing to capacity crowds that were transfixed, dancing with eyes closed and smiles ear to ear. Going on at 10pm every night meant relaxed mornings, long breakfasts and walks down the thoroughfare of the bustling tourist town of Coolangatta. One morning, Ardie took all of the guys to the funky music store we had discovered the year before. Motorcycle Music is run by Gary, a cantankerous beach bum who has seen and worked on every guitar and amp made in the past 60 years. Walking in the store is like opening up a treasure chest piled high with vintage guitars, amps, drum kits, accordions and bits and pieces of music detritus strewn about everywhere. On the fourth day, George Stancell returned from the store with a new guitar he had traded for the one he brought with him, the smile of a proud new owner on his face.
Knowing that this trip was my opportunity to get to know three Music Maker Discovery artists, I brought the Music Maker digital camera setup with plans to record some video of the guys playing. The first day, I set out to find a great location. Hotel rooms are ok, but not very original. I had to walk all the way to the end of the road where I found a barbershop; about 8 feet wide, the shop had a barber’s pole made out of the leg of a table attached to the insides of an old singer sewing machine – it was spinning with a little wobble, and I was intrigued. The place was run by a young barber named Clement; he and his wife had converted a breezeway into a sardine can barbershop, the back of which was a stage set four feet off the ground and large enough for one person. Clem, a musician himself, was excited to hear I was with a group of American blues musicians and said he would love for our artists to perform so I could shoot video. So we returned the following day; Vasti Jackson, George Stancell and Super Chikan all did sets, performing informally for a crowd that gathered in the small space. Here is the first video we have cut together; it features Super Chikan performing his song SippiSeeKinsaw on his homemade 6-string Diddly Bo.
This engagement was supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Tad Walters was one of the first Music Maker artists I saw perform, at a SOOTS event in 2011 in Raleigh. Tad is a Next Generation artist, and he performed his own set at that show while also backing up the other MM Musicians, including the late George Higgs, on harmonica. Since then, I haven’t seen Tad live but I stumble across tracks of his in our archive now and again. This one popped up on my iTunes while I was working on a press release for our Freight Train Blues series (in Carrboro this spring), and since Tad is performing in that series as well as this weekend with John Dee Holeman at the Birthplace of Country Music, it seemed fitting to make it this week’s Diggin’!
Check out Tad Walters’ classic blues tune, and don’t forget to catch one of his shows!
Last weekend at Shakori was about one of the best experiences I have ever had at Music Maker. As most of you know, our dear friend and mentor Captain Luke is in the final chapter of his life. The Captain has attended every single Shakori Hills as part of the Music Maker Blues Revue and is always a major highlight for this great festival.
Tim and I decided it would be great if there was some way to get the Captain involved with the show, even if it was just in a small way. Before heading out to Shakori I procured the technical gizmos that allowed us to pipe the Captain in on the PA system.
In true Captain Luke fashion he stole the show!
Cracking jokes and telling everybody that he loves them, the Captain even took a solo on his phone during one of Lakota John’s songs. Every time I went back to check on my phone the Captain was still on the line jamming out to the show.
I had just met Guitar Gabriel the week before in the Piedmont Housing Projects in Winston-Salem, NC. While driving down Cleveland Avenue, Guitar spotted a dapper, muscular black man coming out of at store with a packet of cigars. Gabe had me pull over and he introduced me to Captain Luke. They were old friends, had played together for years in Drink Houses around town. Captain invited us over to his home; I set up my tape recorder and microphone and we recorded this version of “Careless Love” in one pass.
I was stunned by his arrangement of this timeless classic; over the years Captain interpreted a wonderful collection of standards all totally his own. They stand with the best, up along Rod Stewart, Brook Benton and Joe Simon.
I went to see the Captain this week. He was extremely alert and was so happy to hear from so many fans. He had mentioned last week to us that he really never knew how many people loved his music.
Many places in the US stake claim to the blues, but none more so than the Mississippi Delta. The crossroads where Robert Johnson is fabled to have sold his soul to the Devil sits in the Delta, in a little town called Clarksdale. I had the privilege of going down to Clarksdale with Music Maker recently for the annual Juke Joint Blues Festival.
After a six-hour stint south on I-85, Corn and I picked up Albert White from his home just outside of Atlanta. Then two hours west to Birmingham, where we bedded down for the night. The next morning, we scooped up Sam Frazier, Jr. and drove the rest of the way to Clarksdale. Ardie Dean, who drove to meet us from his home in Huntsville, Alabama, joined us there.
Corn and I rose early on Saturday morning to set up the Music Maker booth. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, and everyone we met was full of anticipation for Juke Joint. Around ten, I went back to the hotel to pick up Albert and Sam. As I approached Albert’s hotel room door, I could hear Sam’s harp blasting from within. I listened from the hallway for a minute; I could make out the sound of Albert’s unplugged electric guitar playing behind Sam’s harp. After knocking several times, the guys started laughing and Albert came to open the door. Sam was glowing and grinning from ear to ear. He looked at me earnestly: “Man, I haven’t had fun like this in ages. Just this right here already made the whole trip worth it.” It occurred to me that, even after decades of playing music through thick and thin, these guys still love playing the blues more than I could imagine.
Back at Juke Joint, Albert, Sam, and Ardie played all through the afternoon, consistently drawing a crowd of upwards of 100 people. The energy between the three guys was incredible, especially considering that Sam had just met for Albert for the first time the day before. True professionals. Many folks stopped by to tell us the Music Maker guys were putting on the best show of the festival—and these are people who know their blues.
The Como Mamas, a gospel trio from Como, Mississippi, also made an appearance at the Music Maker tent. Only Esther and Angelia could make it, but they still had an amazing performance. The deep southern spirituals, sung with such powerful voices, captivated the crowd as the festival started to wind Corn and I drove all the way back to Hillsborough the next day, a full twelve hours on the road, with stops in Birmingham and Atlanta to drop off Sam and Albert. The time went fast, though, as we had an awesome weekend to reflect on and laugh about. Music Maker had created an enormous presence at Juke Joint, all thanks to Albert, Sam, and Artie playing world-class blues. It was definitely a weekend that will be remembered, by myself as well as anyone that heard them play.
If you haven’t heard already Dom Flemons is releasing What Got Over, an EP of extra cuts from his 2014 release Prospect Hill for Record Store Day. Big Head Joe’s March is the first track from this exclusive album and does NOT disappoint. Dom explores some of the deeper roots of American music by pairing independently played bass and snare drums with quills and an intoxicating banjo riff played on none other than his freakishly large banjo, Big Head Joe.
We arrived to Mr. Drink’s house and he was happy to have us visit! We chatted for a bit and soaked up his poetic “drinkisms” and enjoyed hearing his stories.
Lakota John asked Mr. Drink if he would like to jam and he was excited to get started. Papa John gave him his guitar and he “shook the strings!” Papa John said, “he’s killing it, my guitar never sounded so good!”
Lakota: “You can’t explain Mr. Drink. You have to experience and spend time with him. Drink is Drink and there ain’t another one like him!
We spent about 3 hours with him, laughing, jamming and laughing some more! He was the perfect host and we can’t wait to visit him again.