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.

Dedicated Volunteer Seeks New Car!

ColemanAsk 2

Macavine Hays, Boo Hanks, Tony Young

In 2006, an unknown Piedmont Blues guitarist joined Music Maker. Now a blues legend, Boo Hanks would not have been known to Music Maker or the world without the efforts of volunteer Tony Young.

On that fateful day in 2006, Tony went to pick up Boo Hanks from his house, then turned around to head for Hillsborough. They arrived at the old Music Maker headquarters where Tony introduced Boo to Tim Duffy and Dom Flemons, who were waiting there for him. After a few words they sat down and started recording what would become Pickin’ Low Cotton, Boo’s first Music Maker release and also his passport to a new life as a renowned country blues guitarist. He has since performed as far as Belgium and in prestigious venues such as the Lincoln Center in New York.

Tony has long been Boo’s biggest fan and a huge help. Tony carries Boo to nearly all of his gigs in his Chevrolet Celebrity Sedan. A few days ago, at 350,000 miles, it kicked the bucket. Tony reached out to let us know he is casting his net wide to look for his next car. He is on a fixed income and has limited funds to work with, so he is looking for a killer deal. We are so grateful to Tony for the many hours of driving he has put in to help Boo in his career, he is a true friend.

Please forward any leads you may have to and we will pass them along to Tony. Thanks!

Diggin’: Dave McGrew’s “Going Home”

Tim's most recent photo of Dave, October 2014

Tim’s most recent photo of Dave, October 2014


The first photo Tim took of Dave, August, 1979

Dave McGrew has spent his life following the harvest as a fruit picker; Lemons, apples, cherries, mangoes, avocados, strawberries, grapes – you name it. His hands have likely been on your fruit. He has also been one of the most die-hard Music Maker supporters and Partners from the beginning. He has helped build two Music Maker headquarters and shared time with countless artists; one of his closest relationships was with Cootie Stark. When Dave was visiting during the Music Maker Homecoming, he told us he had written a song for Cootie and we promptly sat down to record it. We recorded two versions, one with a full band and one with just Tim and Dave. Each take saw Dave overcome with emotion singing through big tears telling Cootie how he’s coming to see him. I have spent entire days listening to this song on repeat, a meditation on brotherly love and longing, unusual and heart-wrenching- enjoy.

– Aaron

Red, White, and BLUES


With the 4th of July right around the corner it’s hard not to talk about the BLUES’ connection to this great day of independence….and BBQ!

Music Maker artist Drink Small recently won a NEA National Heritage Fellowship – one America’s highest artistic honors. This fellowship recognizes the recipients’ artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. Drink’s unique style is a product of a truly diverse country and exemplifies what it means to be an American.  Listen to Drink’s great summer tune “Living in a BBQ World” below.



This 4th of July you can check out Ironing Board Sam & Lakota John and Kin at the Hillsborough Picnic in the Square -

If you happen to be in Athens, GA you can check out Dom Flemons at the Classic City American Music Festival -




Diggin’: Sweet Betty’s “Live and Let Live”


Sweet Betty brings all the heart and soul of electric gospel to life on “Live and Let Live.” The song comes from her album of the same name, which she released after joining the Music Maker family in 2003.

Considered to be one of the finest blues singers in Atlanta, Betty grew up singing gospel and blues, and practice has made perfect. On this track, unwavering horns and driving rhythm from the piano set the stage, and her voice steals the show.

Sweet Betty’s style is characterized by sweetness and strength, and it’s the kind of sound that makes you sit up in your chair. When her voice floats through your speakers telling you, “you got to love one another and try to forgive,” you’d better be paying attention. If you’re not, her powerhouse voice will pick you up and set you on the straight and narrow.

On “Live and Let Live,” Sweet Betty teaches us how to shake off the day and keep living right- and she does it with flair.

– Jenny

Diggin’: Cool John Ferguson & Captain Luke “Still Waters Run Deep”


Cool John Ferguson by Music Maker Tin Type

“Have you ever played your instrument in complete darkness?” I’ve started asking this question to Music Maker artists recently after a conversation I had with one of my friends who introduced me to this practice technique. First I asked Ironing Board Sam, who said he hadn’t tried it but was intrigued and thought it would be an interesting experiment. After a tintype shoot last week I asked the same question to guitarist Cool John Ferguson

Turns out, when Cool was about seven years old he not only played his guitar in the dark, but played for an entire 24 hours straight without a single break, not even to go to the bathroom, from 7pm one night all the way until 7pm the next. Discovering new chords for the first time, he said that each new chord he found would energize him to keep playing, and that he would have probably kept going another full day if his mama hadn’t come in and snatched the guitar out of his hands. “That’s enough of that guitar!” she said, and then proceeded to make him a hamburger sandwich with onions and fixed him up a glass of kool aid to drink on the side.

I was pretty much speechless upon hearing this story, but I wasn’t surprised. There are few who can hold a candle to Cool John’s abilities on the guitar, and I’d imagine those who can have also spent some sleepless nights alone with their instrument. I wanted to include “Still Waters Run Deep” to wrap up this post, one of my favorite songs from Captain Luke and Cool John’s album Live at the Hamilton. It’s a beautiful song from a legendary duo, a combination that will surely be missed amongst Music Maker supporters. If you are still craving more Cool John guitar mastery, check out the “Hey Joe” solo video to have your mind completely blown.

– Berk

PS – “Still Waters Run Deep” can be found on Live at the Hamilton in our store here!

Music Maker Tintype Featured in View Camera Magazine


Music Maker Tintype photographers Tim Duffy & Aaron Greenhood were thrilled to be featured in View Camera Magazine’s January/February 2015 publication alongside some incredible photographers. The feature shows the mission behind Music Maker Tintype and tintype photos of several Music Maker artists.

See the entire article here

Diggin’: Benton Flippen’s “Fortune”


Last week Aaron, Tim, Denise and I traveled up to the Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention. I remember first meeting Tim years ago at Mt. Airy, the same Fiddlers Convention that Benton Flippen would always attend. This classic old-time  fiddle tune can be heard at numerous camp sites at any given moment while walking around the Convention. “Fortune” is exemplary as a song in the Old-Time genre and Benton’s version sets the bar for great Old-Time music. Benton, who passed away in 2011, attended the Convention every year and would never hesitate to play with any musician, young or old.

– Corn

Diggin’: Sam Frazier, Jr. “Cabbage Man”


Sam Frazier, Jr. grew up in a humble mining town  just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. His father was a coal miner and his mother ran a tavern out of the back of their house. There, laborers would gather before and after work and on the weekends; itinerant musicians would show up and little plastic cups of moonshine were passed around. This was where Sam first heard and fell in love with music; blues, country, country blues, all kinds. It was also there that Sonny Boy Williams gave Sam a harmonica and showed him how to play his first notes.

Sam has been pursuing that love ever since. Over the years he has released records on several small labels, appeared as a regular on the “Country Boy Eddie” tv show and performed in the Johnny Otis Revue all while holding down minimum wage jobs to pay the rent. Success never came his way but he doesn’t have a drop of bitter in him. When I talk to him about the future he tells me he’s always dreamed of being onstage at the Grand Ole Opry and that he’s ready to do the work to get there. We are thrilled to be working with him and looking to the future. This track is one of his originals that we recorded at our first gathering, featuring Dom Flemons on guitar.

You can catch Sam Frazier live at Duke Gardens on June 10th alongside Cool John Ferguson – more info and tickets available here!
- Aaron

Diggin’: Guitar Gabriel’s “Expressin’ the Blues”


You might know more about the blues than you think. It’s a genre of music that seems to invite all people, all walks of life, both ups and downs. Music Maker artists often speak on what the blues means to them. Some say it’s a feeling, and some say the blues is a story. Guitar Gabriel always made it a part of his music to help others understand the connection between the blues and being human. There are some amazing recordings between Tim and Gabe that go into greater detail on this subject. I remember because it was some of the first audio I got my hands on when I started at Music Maker. “The blues is a heart thing, if you listen you can understand”

Gabe’s song “Expressin’ the Blues” gives examples on how, where, when, and why someone might experience the blues. Even a bird in a tree being barked at by a dog can have the blues, you see. The song is conversational, with no rigid structure or formal singing. There’s some wailing in there, traditional of Gabe’s style, but the song is more like listening to a friend give you advice. It’s comforting. You find yourself saying “man, I can relate to that bird. I know how it feels.” I think Gabe knew this feeling as well, and he knew how to use this feeling to help bring people together. Perhaps that’s what the blues is all about.

– Berk

Faultless Spray Starch has a New Spokesperson: Ironing Board Sam


It’s 6am and Ironing Board Sam is standing in his house clothes putting some finishing touches on his pants when I come in to check on him in his hotel room in Kansas City.

“Aaron, I always ironed my own clothes. Everywhere I go, the first thing I look for is the ironing board.” Sam is getting prepared for his last day shooting commercials for Faultless Starch in Kansas City. He’ll do a photo shoot, record the jingles he wrote and perform in two commercials touting Faultless’ newest line of starch called “Premium.” For Sam, this is the realization of a life’s work.

A few nights prior, during his interview with Chuck Haddix, host of the Fish Fry on KCUR , Kansas City’s favorite blues radio show, Sam recounted the story of how he got his name, and how it led to one of his proudest moments as the celebrity icon for Faultless Premium Spray Starch:

“The starch campaign is an extension of my career (as Ironing Board Sam), a name I hated when I was starting out has now connected me to a great company that started in 1887, a company that’s about clothes. My name is about clothes and my career has been about clothes because I’ve always been about looking good, from 25-75, it took that long. But, it took that time to make my career come to life.”

See Ironing Board Sam’s page on the Faultless website here

A few months ago, I got a call from Faultless’ marketing team asking if Ironing Board Sam was real. As Music Maker’s Artist Services Coordinator, these are the calls I dream of because I spend most of my days looking for gigs and paychecks for Sam and our many other partner artists. When they told me a Google image search for “ironing board” had turned up the photos of Sam, I realized that four years of shooting and posting were totally worthwhile.

Sam was blown away by the complete experience of doing the starch campaign. He loved Kansas City calling it a “city with a groove, like when you’re playing music and you feel the groove, that’s what Kansas City feels like to me. The food is groovy, too.“

Sam’s career has had many ups and downs and he is famous for following an outrageous idea to its glorious realization. Sam sees his relationship with Faultless Starch as something more than just a work opportunity – it’s fate. “The spirit told me about the starch, I had a vision. This can is going to take me to where I want to go. It’s all for a reason.“

- Aaron Greenhood


Diggin’: Big Ron Hunter’s “Through My Eyes”


Big Ron Hunter was the first artist I met through Music Maker, and I was eager to get to know his music after getting a chance to meet him. We met while MMRF’s Founder, Tim Duffy, was taking a tintype of the Bluesman. Looking at an image of his own genuine smile, Ron confirmed what we were all thinking: “That’s really me. That’s the real me.”

I landed on ‘Through My Eyes’ for this week’s Diggin’, a well-worn ballad with all the touches of time-tested love.

A Winston-Salem, N.C. native and Music Maker artist since 2007, Big Ron brings his own style to acoustic blues and this track is no exception. Ron’s persona and smile exude a kind wisdom, and this track is flowing with that same milk and honey. Skillful guitar blends with Ron’s rich and soothing vocals, resulting in a song that’s perfectly fitting for a slow summer afternoon.

Take a listen and get to know the world’s happiest Bluesman!

- Jenny

Jenny Hicks is our public relations intern for Summer 2015. An avid music enthusiast, Jenny grew up surrounded by a myriad of musical styles and developed a love for finding new artists, new albums and new genres to admire. She is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied Communication and Public Relations. Before coming to Music Maker, she worked with Alamance for Freedom and the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation, where she found a love for nonprofit work. Jenny lives in Mebane, N.C., with a few too many cats and spends her free time collecting vinyl, watching Netflix or hiking with friends. 

Music Maker at Newport Folk Festival hosted by Dom Flemons

2011_07_31 Newport Folk-6-S

Dom Flemons (right) performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012.

Last year, I traveled to New Orleans with Ironing Board Sam to help with his performance at JazzFest. While checking into the hotel I noticed a short man with a cane and a golfing cap standing by the desk, smiling, while he waited for his traveling party to check in. I immediately recognized this man as George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals. George Wein invented the modern music festival and shaped the musical experience for the entire world. I instantly turned to Ironing Board Sam and said, “You should meet this man.” I introduced the two and told Mr. Wein that Sam would be playing at JazzFest this year. Sam and Mr. Wein discussed how excited they were to be in New Orleans. Unfortunately, Mr. Wein’s traveling party finished checking in and they needed to get settled, so the conversation was quite brief, but nonetheless incredible to witness.

It is such an incredible honor for Music Maker to play this historic and still highly relevant festival. Everyone at the office is just buzzing with excitement. The Como Mamas, Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks, Ardie Dean, Nashid Abdul and Albert White will all be part of this Music Maker Blues Revue with special guest performer/host Dom Flemons!

- Corn  Lewis