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.
Robert Lee Coleman is the distillation of the cool 70s soul style that born out of Macon, GA. Playing for James Brown and Percy Sledge for many years, Robert has all the chops and deep groove of a genuine pro. In January the Music Maker Blues Revue (including Robert Lee) played a showcase at Webster Hall for globalFest. I recall Bob Boilen, the creator of NPR’s premiere music show All Songs Considered being in the front row when Coleman stepped out to play his set wearing a bright red pin striped suit. When Coleman comes on stage he has the look of a prize fighter entering the ring with only one thing on his mind, a 1st round knockout. Bob Boilen recognized this Coleman’s intensity and getup and immediately exclaimed,”Whoa!”. If there was one word to describe Coleman’s performance Mr. Boilen nailed it. That performance garnered a feature on All Songs Considered’s review of globalFest.
Over the years, Music Maker has had many incredible interns pass through our doors, helping us with a wide array of projects from graphic design to event support and helping to find community services for our artists in need. Their hard work and dedication allows us to accomplish so much more than we could otherwise achieve on our own. Music Maker interns walk away from their time with us armed with many skills and experiences from having spent time with our incredible American artists. Thanks to Abby for all she has done for us this past six months!
Gail Ceasar, of Pittsville, VA is Music Maker’s newest Next Generation Artist partner. A country blues phenom and distinct singer, in her playing she honors and celebrates the music of her family and South Central Virginia. We are thrilled to be partnering with her. This past week she introduced Music Maker Communications Coordinator Corn Lewis and myself to her Uncle Joe, one of her earliest influences and a wonderful gospel musician who has been playing for nearly 80 years.
“When I played blues, I played like this,” Uncle Joe made an ‘E’ chord shape on the guitar, “when I got saved, I started playing like this,” Uncle Joe then made a ‘C’ chord shape on the guitar. He never went back to ‘E.’
Uncle Joe, also known as Joe Witcher, is an 83 year-old retired sawmill worker from Pittsville, Virginia. The oldest of 15, he grew up looking after his younger siblings, pouring concrete and playing guitar any chance he could get. Later, when he had his own family of 12 children to care for and feed, he traveled around the South looking for the best pay to send home to his family. Along the way, he also performed at churches and radio stations.
Lucille Lindsay was the first artist page on the Music Maker website I clicked on. I had just been invited to interview for the position of Development & Communications Coordinator in 2011, and while I’d heard of Music Maker before, I really didn’t have familiarity with the artists they served and wanted to know what they were all about. Being a graduate of a women’s university, I of course gravitated towards the female artists listed and Lucille caught my eye.
I saw on Lucille’s artist profile she was Guitar Gabriel’s sister, and so through her I learned about Music Maker’s founding artist. I also clicked the link to listen to one of the songs she performed on, and so this is the first Music Maker recording I ever listened to. Five years have passed since then, and now my journey is taking me away from Music Maker to new challenges. I have listened to countless Music Maker songs, albums and live performances since that winter day in 2011, and I am a better person for those musical experiences.
Please enjoy this track, which includes both Guitar Gabriel and his sister, Lucille Lindsay. Tim says Guitar Gabriel wrote this spiritual after their mother died, and it was the first song they sang together when the siblings found each other after many years apart. I’m sure we’ve written Diggin’s on this track before, but it’s worth a new listen; it will always be a special memory for me.
Music Maker is a small organization that does big things. As a result, the bond that Music Maker’s small team share with one another and our talented artists is strong and deep. We are saddened to announce that Corinne Everett Belch, Music Maker’s Communications and Development Coordinator for the past five years, is relocating to New Bern, NC with her husband. Music Maker’s staff and artists will miss Corinne dearly.
Jessica Roy recently joined Music Maker as Advancement Coordinator. Jessica was formerly the Community Engagement Fellow for the United Way of the Greater Triangle and received a BA in Anthropology and Biology from UNC Chapel Hill. Music Maker is thrilled to have Jessica on the team!
Tim recently suggested that Aaron and myself go visit guitar player, Gail Caesar in Pittsville, VA. Gail is the niece of Music Maker artist Pete Witcher, an incredible guitar player in his own right, he taught Gail how to play. Gail was also mentored by some other musicians in her community giving her a unique and versatile style. Gail flows seamlessly between bluegrass and blues with incredible precision and feeling. We are excited to be headed back to Pittsville tomorrow, Gail is going to introduce us to her Uncle Joe who is 82 years old and plays electric gospel music. So stay tuned for another post about Gail and her Uncle Joe!
As a newbie here at Music Maker, one of my first assignments was to learn the Music Maker story by watching our documentary “Toot Blues”. As I was watching, one character in particular caught my attention – Willa Mae Buckner. I immediately recognized her as “the lady with the snakes” from photographs around the Music Maker office. What I did not know, until I watched Toot Blues, was what a fascinating and talented woman she was.
In her youth, Willa Mae traveled with an all-black tent show and performed as a blues singer, burlesque dancer, and snake woman (just to name a few). Her lyrics and musical style are both playful and risqué. She was a woman singing, unapologetically, about female sexuality, which would have been especially bold at that time in the rural South.
I am always a fan and champion of strong women so, especially during Women’s History Month, lets take a moment to enjoy the fierce lady that was Willa Mae Buckner.
If James Taylor could play the guitar with the virtuosity and creativity of the celebrated inventor of bossa nova, Gilberto Gil, that amalgam would be exemplified in Cary Morin.
“This Train” shows off Cary’s great talent. His ability to tell a story is remarkable. I asked Cary about the song on a recent phone call. The story is not his own, but his brother’s. His brother had a job up on the Bering Straight. His girlfriend was living far down the coast in Alaska. After the end of a long day on the water walked into his local watering hole to find his girlfriend sitting there. He was very surprised. She told him she couldn’t wait to see him and she took the soonest flight. When he asked how she could afford to make the trip, she told him she financed the journey by selling his Ford Thunderbird. That was when the reunion hopped on the train to nowhere.
Women’s History Month is a perfect time to shine a light on the female musicians who have contributed so much to American musical culture, so often without recognition. Those that did make it to the stage and staked a claim there are the names we remember, but so many more female blues musicians of the last century were unheard outside their homes and communities. The stereotypical picture of the blues player is a wandering, itinerant musician, traveling with his guitar, playing his music and spreading the musical styles of the South across the nation. What we don’t realize is that this 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.
Music Maker is always looking for new ways to give music fans access to our vast catalog. Our catalog features recordings of the many legendary artists we have worked with over the years. Their music is part of the fabric of our society and deserves to be heard. Being a small non-profit that also functions as an independent record label makes it difficult for us to compete with major record labels that have full access to digital distribution.
Music Maker lost one of our dearest friends and supporters in February. Denise and I met JohnCreech when we first moved to Winston-Salem, NC in 1988. We became fast friends, played a great deal of music together, and he introduced us both to Winston-Salem as only a true insider could. John was around in my early days with Guitar Gabriel and became close friends with Gabe, his wife Dorothy and all the other Winston-Salem musicians: Macavine Hayes, Willa Mae Buckner, Mr. Q, Jahue Rorie, Preston Fulp and Captain Luke. John stood in the commodity cheese lines with me and the artists, ventured out in winter storms to deliver kerosene heaters and oil to them. He was a band member of Guitar Gabriel & Brothers in the Kitchen. He traveled with Guitar Gabriel and I on our first tour of Holland. John remained a loyal friend to Denise and I and many Music Maker artists from those days till his passing. John was a Marine who survived three tours of Vietnam, he was a master furniture maker, a poet, a dedicated 12-string guitarist, a gardener, and a painter. He has two sons, Sol and Jonathan Creech, who are both talented musicians. Sol has worked closely with Music Maker since he was a teenager and remains an active, touring musician today. John’s passing is a tremendous loss to his family and friends. To Denise and I, it is like losing a true brother for we could always count on John to help our musical brethren in Winston-Salem during times of great need for he would venture into places we could not ask anyone else to go. He did it all with a smile, bringing his bright light into the darkest corners. We love you John and your spirit with live on forever through all the wonderful music you were instrumental in documenting and sharing with the world.
Etta Baker’s style and grace on guitar is exemplified on Police Dog Blues. The melody bobs along like a leaf floating down the river and then progresses into the most delicate harmonics. The technical depth of her playing on this tune is incredible yet tasteful. This particular version of Police Dog Blues was never released until earlier this year when Music Maker put out Etta’s first and only full length 12′ vinyl album – Railroad Bill