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.

Ironing Board Sam Records New Album!

Aaron writes about the trip he and Ironing Board Sam recently took to record a new album in Mississippi.

 IBSMS-3

On the morning of our second day in Mississippi working on Ironing Board Sam’s new record with Bruce Watson and Big Legal Mess records, Sam breezed by my bed on his way to the coffee maker, then out the back for a smoke. He had a certain lift, I could tell from just looking at his back.

The day before, Jimbo Mathus, guitar player, arranger and cook for the session, had made purple hulled peas and a boston butt roast. Today, he was busy making a Jambalaya and boiling a special tea for Sam’s throat consisting of honey and ginger. This special care and deep respect for Sam is so clearly seen through the attitudes and actions of all of the musicians on the project.

Sam responded with nailing every take perfectly. He worked 8-10 hour days taking few breaks and laughing between sessions. The whole crew exuded cheer, the long hours of the studio flew by without notice.

IBSMS-5

The third day recording, Sam complained of a frog in his throat. The solution: a cigarette and a shot of rum. Sam took a swig of rum in his mouth, tilted his head back and gargled it. He swallowed hard, looked over to Jimbo and said, “Ok, I’m ready.”

Bronson, the youthful and chipper recording engineer, sitting in on guitar, relished Sam’s sage wisdom. “77 years and you ought to know what your body likes,” he said.

IBSMS

Here, Bruce and Sam sit together pouring over the words of the current song, working out phrasing and working out the underlying themes of the song. Notes are jotted in the margin, a string around the finger. Looking forward to hearing what came out of those three days – we don’t currently have release date, but we will make sure to let you know as soon as we do!

– Aaron

Dom Flemons on Black History Month

Lead_Belly_publicity_shot
Last year for Black History Month, I dubbed 2014 the year of the folksinger and spoke about the importance of Pete Seeger to music today.  I’m not sure how to dub 2015; so much change has occurred in the United States and the world.  I do want to highlight three people whose influence on music, and on me, are particularly strong: Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, songster Guy Davis and folk song impresario Alan Lomax.  All three of these men influenced or were influenced by Pete Seeger, indicating how strong the links on the chain of folk music truly are. These three men have had a strong impact on m life, and this year I want to honor their work in the arts.
This year Leadbelly will be represented in a brand-new box set from Smithsonian Folkways, so be sure to read the articles that come out about him as this new box set is released to the world. Leadbelly showed me there was a strong secular black folk song repertoire, separate from the blues.
My father’s parents, Raymond and Mamie Flemons, were from East Texas and Arkansas respectively, moving to Flagstaff, Arizona after the Second World War.  When I first heard Leadbelly’s music I was reminded of them instantly.  As I write this, it is my grandmother’s birthday.  I’m so proud of the family I have come from and the country roots that they represent.  Being brought up in the city, it was my interest in folk music and Leadbelly’s music in particular that helped me understand my grandparents’ roots.
DomGuy
With that being mentioned, I have to mention Guy Davis.  Part of what made me want to recommit myself to old-time music fully was my collaboration with Guy Davis on my recent record, Prospect Hill.  Guy came down and worked with me on the record after leaving Pete Seeger’s death bed. Guy also had to leave his mother Ruby Dee, who he was taking care of and who has since passed, to come down to the recording session.  He told me that his heart was open and he would help me realize the album no matter what.
When I hear Guy Davis’ harmonica, five string banjo, guitar and snare drum work on my record it makes my heart swell with pride.  Guy and I have gone on a very similar journey even though we were born three decades apart from each other.  To me, Guy Davis is the greatest living songster following in the tradition of Leadbelly.  Not just with the breath of his work, but because of the collective experiences he has gained over his lifetime.  From our recording session we had last January, I can tell you that Guy Davis is in the prime of his performing life. I would suggest to anyone interested in hearing a great folk songster, run, don’t walk, to Guy Davis’ concerts.  Unlike Leadbelly, Guy Davis is still living.  Take some time and look up Guy’s elaborate career as a singer, songwriter, actor, playwright and quintessential figure of American vernacular music.
That leads me to the final person I would like to celebrate for Black History Month, Alan Lomax. We are celebrating his centennial this year and his work as a folklorist, musician and advocate for folk music from all around the world will be re-examined for a new generation. Lomax, along with his protégé Pete Seeger, created a legacy of American vernacular music. While I believe Alan Lomax had flaws, as we all do, his documentation is spectacular and remains incredibly important to this day. I feel that to ignore those parts of our cultural memory would be the greatest tragedy, especially in these trying times of redefinition and ownership of our country’s history.
Alan Lomax, like Pete Seger, made it part of his life’s work to help elevate black folk song in the United States.  Though not as well-known as his other work, Lomax later in his life made efforts to create the Black Encyclopedia On The Air a radio program focused on teaching inner-city kids in black communities about their country roots.  Around the time that Martin Luther King was assassinated and the Black Power movement began to grow in the early 1970’s, Lomax tried to create an education program that would shine a light on working class black music for future generations. Abandoned at that time due to lack of interest, that project is currently more Important than ever. Just read the introduction to the Deep River of Song CD series and you’ll understand how important Alan Lomax has been to the progress of social change by using his documentation raise the power of the people’s voices. His work helped create the world we live in now.  Lomax’s computer-based Global Jubebox is the root of Pandora, Youtube, and Spotify, technologies that are so ingrained in our culture now that many younger people do not remember a time before they existed.

Many people do not realize that documentation requires several elements.  You must have the performer, the advocate, and the song. These three men used these elements to become legends in their own time.  I have learned from them and apply their lessons in my work, which is why I must celebrate these men this year for Black History Month.
While Leadbelly and Alan Lomax have found a place in history, I’d like to take the role of the advocate, to highlight Guy Davis as a true inspiration, a good friend and someone who I hope will receive all the acclaim that he deserves.
Here’s to the New Year of the Folksinger!
Dom Flemons
The American Songster
Feb 23, 2015

Diggin’: Captain Luke & Cool John’s Live “Poke Salad Annie”

cover

Poke Salad Annie is a song that has been sung and played so many times by so many great artists, it is almost unthinkable that a defining version of this classic southern standard could exist. Brook Benton, who had his first big hit with this song, is most likely the artist everyone would remember first when thinking of this track. Captain Luke is one of Brook’s biggest fans, yet after 40 years of entertaining in the drink houses of Winston-Salem, NC, Luke had made this song more than his own. Luke’s melted chocolate voice has a depth and feel that Brook never came close to, and then there is Cool John Ferguson.

 

 

Cool John is ripping his guitar like a machine, destroying steel plates with utter ease; you have never heard a guitarist drink deeper from the black river of song. Guitar heroes have chops, and Cool John has all of that, but his prowess is really just an afterthought of the music he delivers; the arrangements, finding utter joy in performing and composing on the fly around Captain Luke’s free floating verses, Cool John shows us what timing is really all about, before folks started counting beats.

I hope you enjoy this track from Live At the Hamilton, the new CD from Captain and Cool. It was recorded at a Capitol Blues Night in 2012, and we knew even then that it was going to be a great album. We’ve got another Capitol Blues Night coming up, featuring Cool John and Ironing Board Sam – you can get tickets here, it is going to be a great show.

–Tim

Tim Talks About Black History Month Pt. 2

dr. burt gregg roth

Dr. Burt, from Birmingham, Al, grew up during the historic fight for Civil Rights. His mother was very involved in the movement and worked directly with Corretta Scott King; as a young man he learned about non-violence, became a believer, led marches, and was shot at. The first bullet luckily missed his ear, but another bullet went through his right hand. That made it difficult for him to strum the guitar, but he never stopped playing, and he never stopped believing in peace. He was a victim of a hate crime; five white men attacked him, but at the end of the fight it was Dr. Burt who was arrested and sent to jail with a five-year prison sentence. Dr. Burt had no animosity in his heart, only love.

Watch this documentary short about Dr. Burt

After beginning work with Music Maker, Dr. Burt traveled and performed outside of his community for the first time. When he walked on stage at Lincoln Center, slim, nearly seven feet tall, and with a smile that radiated love like Buddha, the entire crowd all rose to their feet in thunderous applause He hadn’t even begun to perform yet! Burt’s sheer presence affected them. It was like that everywhere – he radiated love and triumph over hate, he lived through some of the most powerful moments in the Civil Rights Movement and we learned so many lessons from him. Dr. Burt changed the lives of all at Music Maker, the staff, the interns, and the supporters that met him.

 

- Tim Duffy

Diggin’: Dom Flemons – It’s a Good Thing

maxresdefault

This song from Dom Flemons (Founding Member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) sheds light on how some of America’s older music is connected to modern day Hip-Hop. The rapid fire approach of the lyrics shows this relationship. Dom even had Guy Davis jump in on this track as a hype man, a technique that is often used in Hip-Hop music today.

 

Tim Talks About Black History Month Pt. 1

When I think of Black History month, I often reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders down in Birmingham, AL. Over the years Music Maker has had the great pleasure of performing in Birmingham with Taj Mahal. One of the greatest Music Maker Blues Revues ever lasted over 5 hours; Taj told me that the folks love the blues and they were there to have fun – and what a time we had.

Exhibit-25-copy

Adolphus Bell. Photo by Tim Duffy

In recent years we worked with Adolphus Bell, the Greatest One Man Band in the World. Adolphus was from Birmingham, he often told me stories of his youth. As a young teenage boy, he had the fire hoses set upon him and the dogs chase him during those historic marches we can only experience through old TV clips. Adolphus lived it, and could bring it to life for me as I listened to him speak of those times. Adolphus had been living in his van for 15 years when we met him, then soon after beginning work with us was literally touring the world, all over Europe, Australia, Central America, the United States. Every show he would tell the audience about his beloved hometown; he would tell the crowd of the hate and fear that characterized the Birmingham he grew up in, but he would explain that Birmingham had grown past this and now was a city of love. He would tell every crowd that everyone loved each other in Birmingham; everyone should love each other everywhere. He meant it, was proud of it, and never forgot it; it defined him.

Sadly, Adolphus recently passed away from lung cancer, and not long after his friend Dr. Burt followed. Adolphus introduced us to Dr. Burt……

 

 

Meet Sam Frazier Jr.!

 

SamFJ

Music Maker supporters are often curious how we meet the artists we work with. There is a different story for every artist. This past week, we had the opportunity to begin work with Sam Frazier, Jr., a harmonica player and country singer from Edgewater, Alabama, a small mining camp outside of Birmingham.

After learning about Music Maker, Sam’s daughter-in-law mailed us a CV, complete with photos, a list of the many prestigious venues where Sam had played over the years and his astonishing bio. This one really stood out; we knew we had to meet him. This past week we assisted Sam in getting up here to Hillsborough to begin working with us on an album and press kit.

We are all excited to start working with Sam. He is kind, energetic and eager to work and he comes with the good stuff. He has a dynamic and expressive voice and can speak through a harmonica! This week, we are sorting through the recordings, the video and the photos and talking with Sam as we plan our next step.

Sam has been a musician all his life, but as the music industry changed he found it became harder and harder to continue working in the industry. He is struggling to make ends meet on social security income, and is excited to work with Music Maker to elevate his career.

– Aaron

Diggin’: Como Mamas’ “Well, Well Don’t You Worry About Me”

ComoMamas-1

Listen: Well, Well Don’t You Worry About Me

Chances are, if you visited the Music Maker offices any time in the last few months, a track from the Como Mamas was playing, set to loud. Chances are also very good that it was this track. We think it’s spectacular, and is an incredible example of these ladies’ talent. The Mamas have had a great year – they’ve performed all over the country, including at the Apollo theater, and spent time in the studio working on a new album.

Go ahead and take a listen to this track – we think it will transport you to a hot summer Sunday in Mississippi, which is something we all bask in when it’s below freezing outside!

– Corinne

Alabama Slim, Big Ron Hunter & Leyla McCalla in France!

Big Ron Hunter, by Jimmy Williams

Big Ron Hunter, by Jimmy Williams

Often the Music Maker artists we cherish and love are not seen the same way in their own communities. This perception has an impact on the way these artists see themselves. Opportunities like the one Big Ron and Alabama Slim are enjoying right now in France, with Raphael Imbert’s “Music is my Home” tour, show these musicians, and their communities back home, that their music is important, highly regarded and still has an audience.

Raphael Imbert, French saxophonist and jazz impresario, first visited with Music Maker artists Alabama Slim, Big Ron Hunter and Layla McCalla in 2010 as part of a research mission, sponsored by the French National Research Agency, studying the relationship between improvisation and new technologies. Since, he has been looking for another opportunity to play with these artists and bring them to France.  For the past three years he has been planning a tour and concept album that would celebrate these musical friendships. The project is called “Music is My Home.”

Raphael, Big Ron, Alabama Slim and Leyla are currently in the studio working on an album set to be released on the Harmonia Mundi label, while performing four tour dates in France. Later this summer they will follow up with a more extensive tour throughout Western Europe.

After their first show I received emails from Raphael, his assistant Olivier and Big Ron all gushing about the performance and the French reception. We are thrilled to be partnering with Raphael and seeing our artists return to France where new audiences will learn about the hidden talent we celebrate.

Alabama Slim & Aaron Greenhood

Alabama Slim & Aaron Greenhood

Every time a Music Maker artist returns from a performance on a big stage or from a trip abroad, they rave about the experience to us for weeks. Their faces glow when they talk about the people they met and the food they ate, sites they saw. Their giddy enthusiasm is contagious! As with Ironing Board Sam’s recent trip to France in September, there are also significant publicity opportunities as well, multiple appearances in magazines and on French national television. This is the stuff that gives the musicians we work with the juice to keep honing their craft and performing, enriching all of our lives.

Thanks to your support, it is all possible!

– Aaron

 

Diggin’: Little Freddie King and Alabama Slim “The Mighty Flood”

alabamaslimtintype

Alabama Slim – Music Maker Tintype

Listen: The Mighty Flood

The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina can be felt in many of the songs and stories here at Music Maker. If you’re familiar with Alabama Slim and Little Freddie King, you might already be familiar with the impact that Katrina had on their friendship. The two are very best friends, and together they survived The Mighty Flood, way down in New Orleans.

Alabama Slim and Little Freddie King have become one of the many incredible duos here at Music Maker. The song “The Mighty Flood” off the self-titled album paints the picture for how these friendships can be more important than just music. Simply put, Alabama Slim saved Little Freddie King’s life.

You can hear the details calmly laid out in the lyrics: “I called Little Freddie King, I told him to come on by me. He’s my very very best friend. The city had out a curfew. No one on the street after 6pm. I told Little Freddie King he had 15 minutes to make it here, and he was there in 10.”

I remember how during the homecoming when Little Freddie King was out of reach in between flights, Aaron told me “Just call Slim. That’s always the best way to get in touch with Little Freddie King.”

littlefreddietintype

Little Freddie King – Music Maker Tintype

At the time, I didn’t know the particulars of their friendship, but since the Homecoming, The Mighty Flood has been on repeat in my car for months. The title track sets the tone for the entire album, and after hearing their stories, it’s clear why these two musicians mean so much to each other.

“The Mighty Flood will always be on my mind.”

 

– Berk

Diggin’: Guitar Gabriel – Ain’t Gonna Let No Woman (Original Version)

GGblog-2

Guitar Gabriel at the Vancouver Folk Festival. Photo by Tim Duffy

I am sure many of you have heard the more recent recording of this tune on several of Guitar Gabriel’s albums and Music Maker compilations. While these versions have lyrical similarity, the guitar work that Gabe does on each version is completely different. Both unique in their own way the guitar riff and voice of Guitar Gabe on the older version of “Ain’t Gonna Let No Woman“, released in 1970 on the album My South, My Blues defines Guitar Gabriel as an incredibly unique artist. Have a listen to both versions and let us know what you think!

 

 

Captain Luke Comes Home

CaptHome

Capt. Luke & His Daughter Teresa Leaving the Rehab Clinic. Photo by Aaron Greenhood

Tim and Aaron have been running around all week, checking on the Captain and getting his new home ready for his arrival. We got word this week that Captain would be ready to return home from the rehabilitation clinic in Winston-Salem, NC, and Music Maker helped facilitate a new apartment for him that has amenities geared towards dealing with senior citizens. Captain Luke greatly enjoyed all your well-wishes and is happy to be in his new home!

CaptLukeHome2

Captain Luke in His New Home. Photo by Aaron Greenhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captain Luke checks out his new kitchen

Captain Luke checks out his new kitchen

Captain Luke and his daughter Teresa Mayer

Captain Luke and his daughter Teresa Mayer

Captain Luke getting comfortable in his new home

Captain Luke getting comfortable in his new home