FolkWorld #69 07/2019
T:-)M's Night Shift
»So many bluesmen and blueswomen have given their hearts and souls to this music. Unfortunatly many never rise from obscurity or have only a brief moment in the spotlight and thus face hard times when they can no longer perform... This selection from the MMRF archives takes me back to the farms, the drink houses, the front porches, the kitchen tables where I first heard this music and began making it myself.«
B.B. King @ FROG
Timothy Duffy (ed), Music Makers - Portraits and Songs from the Roots of America.
UNC Press, 2019,
ISBN 978-1-4696- 5169-9, pp194, US$30.00
When guitar player Timothy Duffy started documenting roots music in North Carolina in a series of field recordings in the late 1980s,
he soon recognized that too many elderly artists were living in poverty forgotten and ignored by the music business, the media and an audience
beyond their immediate vicinity. As a result, Duffy established the Music Maker Relief Foundation to meet basic needs and revive performance careers.
The road that led to the formation of the Music Maker Relief Foundation has been a long one. The journey started in 1989 during my last semester of study for a master's degree in folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I documented James "Guitar Slim" Stephens for the university's Southern Folklife Collection.
... On his deathbed he urged me to seek out his friend Guitar Gabriel if I wanted to continue my education.
... I became a close friend to Gabe and he took me under his wing. It was not that easy at first. Folks in the community thought I must be a narc. Initially, Gabe could not even get me through the door of most of the drink houses–the owner would just slam it in my face. The police thought I must be in the neighborhood to buy drugs and pulled me over on a regular basis.
... Gabe was a truly bright light and a very intense, warm man. He had spent a lifetime on the road performing his blues as he hoboed from town to town.
... We became inseparable friends and business partners. We had a simple management contract: if I ever cheated Gabe, he could shoot me. During the next few years we played at clubs and festivals throughout the Southeast, traveled to Europe, and even performed at Carnegie Hall. When we were not performing, Guitar and I were looking up the many old performers that he knew.
... Every one of them had a great story and every story was different. In addition to their love of music, they shared the constant struggle to make ends meet.
... "Singing songs of the times for nickels and dimes," there was never enough money, even for the basics. I became deeply disturbed by the difficult choices they had to make each month: food or medicine, rent or the car, heat or the telephone. I dedicated myself to finding a way to help these artists.
... Music Maker Relief Foundation was set up to help the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern musical traditions gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs.
Born in 1970, this memoir by American singer-songwriter and left-wing activist Ani DiFranco might come a bit early and premature.
However, she has always been an outspoken individual and already lived an eventful life to the age of thirty (the timespan covered).
At the age of 9, Ani DiFranco started busking with her guitar teacher and playing cover songs;
at 14 she was writing her own songs; at 19 she set up her own label, Righteous Babe Records.
DiFranco's music falls somewhere inbetween folk and punk. Her lyrics are often critical of society, addressing issues such as
racism, death penalty, sexual abuse, abortion rights and homophobia – she came out as bisexual herself. At the same time
she spoke at rallies and performed many benefit concerts.
No Walls and the Recurring Dream is forthright and straight to the point. Its often funny episodes are peopled
with colourful characters, including musical heroes such as Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.
The narrative is interspersed with thought-provoking comments and one line or another of Ani's most significant lyrics.
Ani DiFranco, No Walls and the Recurring Dream.
2019, ISBN 978-0-735225-17-6, pp320, US$28.00
English singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg cites Bob Dylan as early influence on his topical songwriting,
but was particularly inspired by punk group The Clash to utilise music for political and social issues.
Three years ago, Faber and Faber published Bragg's Roots, Radicals and Rockers, a history of the British skiffle movement.
Now, the first of Faber Social's new series of political pamphlets, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, is a short but sweet
polemic paper in which Billy Bragg reminds us beneficiaries of Western democracy – threatened by authoritarians and algorithms – to
look beyond a one-dimensional notion of what it means to be free
and to reconnect liberty to equality and accountability – the said three dimensions of freedom!
Billy Bragg, The Three Dimensions of Freedom.
Faber & Faber,
2019, ISBN 978-0-5713-5321-7, pp112, GB£6.00
Since 1995, the Music Maker Relief Foundation has developed several programs, such as providing grants for necessities as food and medicine,
purchasing and repairing instruments, and offering services to tour and record again. Folks such as blues guitarist B.B. King became big supporters of MMRF.
What is most rewarding to volunteers, patrons, and us is the transformation that takes place when the musical gifts of an artist who has been isolated and inactive for many years are suddenly rekindled. Fingers that haven't touched a fret board in ages become once again limber and articulate. Songwriters who haven't composed in twenty years rediscover their voice and realize that they still have much to share. What seems to make the difference is not the amount of monetary assistance received, but that someone cares and is interested in their musical expression.
Music Makers - Portraits and Songs from the Roots of America presents 69 artists,
from Little Pink Anderson
(whose father Pink Anderson, and another obscure bluesman named Floyd Council, inspired the name of a certain British art rock band)
to John Lee Zeigler
(of whom Taj Mahal says that his music is the last footprint of the African Music before it took the next step into Southern music).
Most of them were beneficiaries of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, plus a few younger artists (and veteran performer Taj Mahal) who support their mission.
Everyone has a picture taken over the last decade and biographical notes, some at great length, some rather short.
Timothy Duffy wrote most of the accompanying text.
To give you a better idea, I would like to quote just one example.
Here's an artist I recognize, that is the late blues pianist Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins (1913-2011).
Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins
When you're born down in Mississippi, you've got the blues even if you can't sing 'em.
JOE WILLIE "PINETOP" PERKINS
was born in Belzoni, Mississippi, in 1913. As a young boy he witnessed the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson
perform at his school on the Stovall plantation. Pinetop started as a guitar player and after being cut in his left arm with a knife
by an outraged chorus girl in the mid-forties he switched to piano. Perkins played with singer and slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk,
playing on Nighthawk's KFFA radio show in Helena, Arkansas. He was later invited by harp legend Sonny Boy Williamson to appear with him
on the King Biscuit Time radio program. Like many Delta musicians he migrated to Chicago where he was fortunate to replace Otis
Spann in Muddy Waters' band in 1969. Guitar Gabriel and he ran into each other at a blues festival and they were both happy to see one
another as they used to play together in the fifties on Maxwell Street in Chicago.
Timotyh Duffy has laced a nice bundle with beautiful black & white photographs.
Pictures and words reveal all the passion and enthusiasm behind his mission
honouring the memory of the American South's musical pioneers as well as
making life worthwhile for those who are still around us.
I will give Guitar Gabriel (born Robert Lewis Jones, 1925-1996) the last word:
Blues will never die because it is a spirit. It is an uplift and the way you feel it, that is the way it is.
And it brings a lot of joy to people. Music is made to make happiness, make you smile and forget your troubles.
In the Good Book it says to make a joyful noise. It doesn't say what kind of noise, just as long as you make one.
So that is about the size of it. That is what we are trying to do.
P.S: From Timothy Duffy and the University of North Carolina Press is also available:
We Are the Music Makers! Preserving the Soul of America's Music;
Blue Muse: Timothy Duffy’s Southern Photographs.
Music Maker Relief Foundation is thrilled to announce that Duke Performances will present MUSIC MAKER 25 - a weeklong music series and exhibition
from 4th to 8th December 2019 celebrating their 25th anniversary at The Fruit, Durham, North Carolina.
“We’re proud to celebrate Music Maker’s critical work over the last quarter century championing and supporting artists of this region and beyond,”
said Eric Oberstein, Interim Director of Duke Performances, “and we’re excited to transform The Fruit in downtown Durham to present a diverse range of artists from the Music Maker family and to tell the stories of those individuals whose lives Music Maker has impacted."
The lineup includes an incredible array of Music Maker partner artists and friends, including: Pura Fé, Dom Flemons, Cary Morin, Alexa Rose, Alabama Slim, Lonnie Holley, Pat "Mother Blues" Cohen and many more!
(1) B.B. King,
(2ff) Book/CD Covers,
(5) Timothy Duffy,
(6) Ani DiFranco,
(7) Billy Bragg,
(8) Guitar Gabriel,
(9) Music Maker Relief Foundation,
(10) Cary Morin,
(11) Pura Fé,
(12) Dom Flemons
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