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.
“The blues tell you the truth,” the woman on the screen said with conviction. Even though I was watching Precious Bryant’s nearly twenty year-old interview on a giant iMac screen, it felt as if she was speaking directly to me.
I’ll admit– up until this summer, I had not considered myself much of a blues fan. Heresy, I know. (Tim has called me out on this several times.) How can somebody who aspires to be an American music scholar not enjoy one of the most seminal genres in American music? A valid question. In my defense, up until this summer, I only had a vague idea of what the blues were and what they could be. I was aware of famous blues icons and familiar with the music’s basic structural components. However, last week’s concert featuring MMRF-sponsored artists John Dee Holeman and Ironing Board Sam made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about the blues.
Next Generation Artist Jeffrey Scott and Intern Masyn during a video shoot in June
Music Maker has been blessed with some great summer interns, and it’s time for us to introduce them to you! Masyn and Erica will be working with us until they head back to school in the fall, helping us with our summer music series, keeping up with artists’ health needs, and working with PR for upcoming releases. Welcome Masyn and Erica!
On my very first day of interning with the Music Maker Relief Foundation I was offered a chance to drive down to Mississippi and meet the Como Mamas. All I knew was they were a female gospel trio from the Delta who have been singing together for decades. I hurriedly agreed without putting much thought to it, what a rare opportunity to experience firsthand one of America’s oldest musical traditions.
This past Thursday and Friday, Music Maker had the pleasure of hosting Piedmont blues master, Jeffrey Scott. Jeffrey, nephew of National Folk Heritage fellow John Jackson, is the heir to his family’s musical tradition. He is a great storyteller and a masterful guitar player. Currently, the majority of Jeffrey’s time is split between managing his 100 acre farm where he raises Texas Longhorn beef cattle, working as a mortician, driving a truck and raising his two sons with his wife.
On the way to the Juke Joint Festival, we stopped off in Como, Mississippi, to meet the Como Mamas – sisters Della and Angelia and cousin Ester Mae, all the grandchildren of Miles Pratcher. Pratcher was a seminal blues musician recorded in the 50s by Alan Lomax. Through great talent and good fortune the Mamas captured the attention of the soul revivalist and super hip Daptone music label. In 2013, Daptone released their first album, a recording made on a hot morning inside the Mt. Moriah church in Como. The album was a critical success and the Mamas have been receiving many offers to perform all over the world.
The group was looking for some management help, though, and we decided I had to go have a face to face with them and discuss what they wanted to do.
In October 1995 my friend the audio pioneer Mark Levinson was working hard to help me launch the Music Maker Relief Foundation. He had recently moved his audio company Cello to a brownstone on 61st St in New York and outfitted it with showrooms and an amazing recording studio. By chance he met Eric Clapton lunching at a local bistro. Mark showed him our first CD and book, “A Living Past”, a compilation of my field recordings that Mark had stunningly remastered. Mark told Eric about Music Maker’s work, and Eric said that he wanted to hear more about the foundation. Eric was on his way to Chicago, then Tokyo to perform before heading back to London but asked Mark if they could meet when he returned to New York on November 15th.
Tim Duffy & Eric Clapton – Mississippi Blues
In November, Mark flew my wife Denise and I up for the day, and he intro ducted us to Eric. We sat and listened to my recordings in Mark’s main stereo room and I explained Music Maker’s mission. After a delightful lunch of ravioli prepared by Denise in Mark’s apartment upstairs, Eric noticed the 1930 Martin 00-18 sitting in the corner. He told us he had not played guitar in some months and he asked Mark if he could check it out. When Eric began to play it was spell binding and among the most amazing musical moments of my life. I picked up my guitar and quickly tuned it a 1/2 step up to match his and began to play some back up guitar licks that I learned from Guitar Gabriel. After a few songs, Mark asked Eric if he would like to record a few songs.Eric said that would be great! Mark recorded with a pair of Bruel & Kjaer omni microphones through his Cello Encore line preamp. We played a few tunes and Eric, very generously, he chose songs that I could follow. This particular cut began with Eric playing a slow blues in the key of A, and I backed him up with my simple rendition of the piece “Mississippi Blues” by Willie Brown. Eric knew the tune, I told him I learned it from a Stefan Grossman recording, and Eric knew the album.
This impromptu recording session with Eric led to numerous relationships that would further the mission of the Music Maker Relief Foundation and help many musicians living in poverty.
International travel is tricky. In the best of circumstances you can expect that there will be many transfers, visas, customs interrogations, passport inspections and the occasional pat down/strip search. The stories Tim and Denise tell about getting through airports with Macavine Hayes and Guitar Gabriel are hilarious and hair-raising. It probably sounds fatalistic, but because of these stories and the general circumstances of international travel, I am always prepared in my mind for something to go wrong. That said, I was still surprised when I got a call from Corn back at the office while I was standing at the ticket counter having just arrived at the airport to head out on the first leg of my 36 hour journey to Byron Bay, Australia for the 25th Byron Bay Bluesfest.
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.
I was honored to accompany Ironing Board Sam as his road manager for the 45th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this past weekend. Tim and I had been working so hard “beading up” Sam, decorating his portable keyboard, and I couldn’t wait to see the crowd’s reaction.
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.