01 February 2019


"A rare film for blues buffs.

Between the Civil War and World War II, many gifted and restless young black musicians found careers in the traveling patent-medicine shows, a favorite entertainment in the rural and small-town South. They sang and recited comic routines and danced to attract a crowd for the pitchman and his sales of wonder-cure "snake oil."

"Born for Hard Luck" includes highlights from Peg Leg Sam's performance at a North Carolina county fair in 1972, the only film record of a live medicine show. It gives excerpts from his comic routines, a mock chanted sermon, "toasts," folktales, three buck dances, and his brilliant harmonica playing and singing of "Reuben Train," "Greasy Greens," "Hand Me Down," "Who Left My Backdoor Running," and "Froggie Went A-Courting."

Peg Leg Sam seems most proud of his skill on the harmonica: "I've met a heap of good harp players, but they were scared of me when I came into town. I was a young fellow and could suck on a harp! I was playing two harps--one in my mouth and one in my nose." Other harp players could justifiably be scared of his tour-de-force "Fox Chase" (on both Flyright LP-505 and Trix 3302), performances probably unmatched on records. But Peg's incidental criticism of other musicians during a jam session at Chapel Hill in 1973 showed that he is also aware of his own superior sense of pitch and rhythm. And he is a master of vocal and instrumental tone color and phrasing. Jackson also shows great individuality and freedom in reworking older pieces. His "John Henry" (Flyright LP-507A) opens like a fairly stock version of the ballad, but the death of the hero gets lost amid intricate train imitations and demonstrations of Peg's ability to play the harmonica through his nose and without hands and to drop the instrument and catch it without losing a beat of the song. His two recordings of "Back Door" (Flyright 508B and Trix 3302) share few beyond their opening stanzas. Peg even stamps "Froggie Went A-Courting" with his signature in its final verses. Conversely, in his spoken narrative he makes an artistic performance of even accounts of his own experiences--establishing setting, mimicking voices, punctuating the accounts with his medicine-show refrains ("Funny things happen in this world!") and doubtless freely inventing grotesque episodes, as when he tells of scratching the old lady's nose with his claws when he left Buffalo." Via 

27 December 2018


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The Current State of Our Preservation Efforts via Your Friends at DUST-TO-DiGiTAL:

As 2018 draws to a close, we wanted to give you an update on the work our nonprofit Music Memory has been doing. So far, almost 50,000 recordings from 78 RPM records have been digitized and preserved for posterity.

Looking ahead to 2019, we are continuing our work with collectors whose records we plan to transfer digitally, and we are in discussions with several outlets that can assist us with building the database so that listeners and researchers will be able to access the recordings easily.

If you are in a position to make a donation, your contribution would be greatly appreciated! Music Memory is a 501(c)(3) organization, so any amount you give is tax deductible. If you would like to learn more about our mission, you can visit our website and watch our new video.
Music Memory’s mission is to preserve audio recordings for present and future generations. We are continuing the work started by the collectors and researchers in the 1950s and ’60s. We share their passion to keep the history of our musical heritage from being forgotten and are committed to preventing that from happening.

As of 2018, we have digitized more than 49,000 recordings on location at the homes of some of the world’s most prominent record collectors.

Our goal is to build a database complete with audio, discographical information, artist and composer biographies, song lyrics and notation. Our hope for this database is that it will serve as a musical Rosetta Stone for future generations by showing the links and cross-influences of the many musical styles captured on phonograph records in the first half of the 20th century. While the database is being constructed, we have been able to supply digital recordings to discographers, writers, and publishers such as Bear Family, Dust-to-Digital, Omnivore, and Oxford American.

In July 2011, Music Memory’s application for tax exempt status was granted by the Internal Revenue Service. Music Memory is exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to Music Memory are deductible under section 170 of the Code.

14 November 2018


Tintype of Algia Mae Hinton by Timothy Duffy
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Music Maker Relief Foundation is celebrating twenty-five year of great works with the release of Blue Muse, a book of tintype photographs made by Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF) chief Tim Duffy, a terrific music CD featuring 21 tracks recorded by Music Maker Relief artists plus some guy named Eric Clapton and another guy named Taj Mahal, as well as the great Don Flemons, and a graphic novel on the origin story of MMRF written by Tim and Denise Duffy with art by Gary Dumm, all in honor of Music Maker Relief Foundation's Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, and several of the artists that, thanks to you, MMRF has been able to assist.

Music Maker has provided support for over 400 artists over the course of its 25 years. This fantastic collection of releases should go far in continuing that great work. MMRF has provided financial support via over eleven-thousand financial grants, nearly six-thousand live performances, and releasing 2,357 songs all supporting elderly and indigent musicians. 

Want a taste? Let's start with this exclusive Taj Mahal cut from this stellar, essential collection!

Music Maker Relief Foundation – the non-profit organization that helps traditional, southern musicians who live in poverty and has been featured on PBS News Hour, CBS News, and NPR – will release a compilation celebrating its 25th anniversary entitled ‘Blue Muse’ on February 1. The album features contributions from Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and 17-time GRAMMY winner Eric Clapton (in a previously unreleased track), Blues Hall of Famer, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Americana Music
Tintype of Captain Luke by Timothy Duffy
 Association Lifetime Achievement Award winner Taj Mahal, “more than convincing” (NY Times) soul man and Dan Auerbach favorite Robert Finley, and GRAMMY-winner founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops Dom Flemons. In keeping with Music Maker’s mission to preserve the musical traditional of the south by supporting the musicians who make it, the album spans a range of living southern music culture and fans will hear blues, folk, songster, jump blues, soul, Appalachian, garage blues, and gospel musics here.

The 21-track set features liner notes by Vogue and Guardian writer Rebecca Bengal
Big Legal Mess Records has signed several Music Maker artists such as Finley, Willie Farmer, Ironing Board Sam, Sam Frazier, Jr., and Theotis Taylor. Other highlights include top 20 Billboard hit “Route 66,” performed here by Atlanta’s pianist and World War II veteran Eddie Tigner. Sam is a veteran of several performances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the 1970s and 2010s and at Lincoln Center. John Dee Holeman is a National Heritage Fellowship award winner. Boo Hanks has performed at Newport Folk Festival.

‘Blue Muse’ accompanies a photography book of the same name by Tim Duffy coming out February 25 on UNC press in association with the New Orleans Museum of Art; and an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art premiering April 25. 
Tintype of Alabama Slim by Timothy Duffy

Notable session musicians include guitar great Cool John Ferguson on Captain Luke’s “Old Black Buck,” Producer/artist Jimbo Mathus and former Al Green drummer Howard Grimes on “Age Don’t Mean a Thing” by Finley, GRAMMY-nominated bluesman Guy Davis on Flemons’ “Polly Put the Kettle On,” Mahal joining John Dee Holeman for “Hambone,” Will Sexton accompanying Farmer on “I Am The Lightnin,” and garage legend Jack Oblivian lends his guitar to Ironing Board Sam’s “Loose Diamonds.”

1. La Collegiale - The Grotto Sessions (featuring Guitar Gabriel, Ironing Board Sam, Etta Baker, Captain Luke, Alabama Slim, Neal Pattman)
2. Spike Driver Blues - Taj Mahal
3. Old Black Buck - Captain Luke
4. Route 66 - Eddie Tigner
5, I Got The Blues - Alabama Slim
6. Age Don’t Mean A Thing - Robert Finley
7. Polly Put The Kettle On - Dom Flemons
8. Hambone - John Dee Holeman
9. Snap Your Fingers - Algia Mae Hinton
10. I am the Lightning - Willie Farmer
11. D.O.C. Man - Dave McGrew
12. Sweet Valentine - Martha Spencer & Kelley Breiding
13. I Wanna Boogie - Boot Hanks w/ Dom Flemons
14. Mississippi Blues - Eric Clapton w/ Tim Duffy
15. Landlord Blues - Guitar Gabriel
16. Widow Woman - Drink Small
17. Cabbage Man - Sam Frazier, Jr.
18. Sing It Louder - Cary Morin
19. Loose Diamonds - Ironing Board Sam
20. I Know I’ve Been Changed - The Branchettes
21. Something Within Me - Theotis Taylor

For more information on Music Maker Relief Foundation, please contact Nick Loss-Eaton at nick.losseaton@gmail.com or 718.541.1130 or Cornelius Lewis at 919.643.2456.

11 October 2018

iLLiNOiS JOHN FEVER - Out Here Nobody Knows (2017)

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reverbnation // 

"You know the downward spiral is essentially a chain reaction. 
One thing begets the next. A man has a weakness, he's flawed. That flaw leads him to guilt. The guilt leads him to shame. The shame he compensates with pride and vanity. And when pride fails, despair takes over and they all lead to his destruction. It will become his fate... Something's gotta stop the flow. "

"If you like some gnarly country Rolling Stones and Dave Edmunds and crazy Iowa hillbilly rants from an overworked and underpaid blue collar psycho then this is your Exile on Main Street."
-Dale Beavers

Flowing like literate punk rock gospel medicine show shouters, Illinois John Fever (IJF) swangs and rolls, gees and haws, steps, stops and hollers words out of a dirty, yellowed, cloth-bound book of handwritten lies scrawled across the back of a '
Stones & Son House of Used Cars receipt, a stack of gold-embossed bar napkins, and a couple faded funeral programs.

Illinois John Fever play pre-war music, but they're not about to say just which war. Like an alt punk rock post-grad-student folk blues hymnal whittled out of Exile on Main Street, a turbo Corvair, and a lot of books
IJF make music for car crashes, for Saturday night knife-fighting -Mumblety-Peg or otherwise- or driving through the woods at night, or drinking in the big booth in the back of the bar by the jukebox, or for a good-timey literary society keg party out by the old round barn with the dextrous Gennell braying and bossing, and drummer Hall so in the pocket his beats sound drunk.

Illinois John Fever is Sean Preciado Gennell on guitar and vocals, and Bobber Hall on drums. Hailing from Iowa City, Iowa, Gennell and Hall make their own small town mid-west country blues, akin in theory to fellow Iowan Greg Brown's soulful storytelling folk blues, if only Brown was once a bookstore busking punk.

Below is an interview we did slowly over the last few months:

#### Interview w/ Illinois John Fever #####

RS:: (Rick Saunders) The first question that comes to mind is why the Hawkeye state, fellas?

SPG:: (Sean Preciado Grinnel) - Singer, songwriter, guitar player for IJF) I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and never dreamed of moving here. I came because of the University’s writing program only to find out the undergrad program was kind of a racket for the graduate program, in that they only took kids from Iowa. So I went to graduate school in New York. Once I learned about the rackets out there, I moved back here.

RS:: Based on your lyrics and delivery I was wondering if perhaps you were in Iowa for its renowned writing program. It's amazing how many notable authors have come out of that scene. Your songs seem very character driven,  like rural, poetic short stories.

SPG: That’s not how we started out, but that’s where we’ve gotten to, or maybe back to. Before IJF, both my fiction and music festered and frothed with meaning, with very-important-shit, and I needed to break that off to go on living in the real world. When IJF started, we went for delivery over meaning, for spirit over substance, maybe, and with lots of hard to catch hollering. I took my early cues from Royal Trux, most likely. We wanted to sound raw and frantic, like the music played when a truck crashes off the freeway. Music for knife-fighting, or driveway fires. But we’ve grown a lot: The characters are all folks driven to mostly hard ends, and their stories are told so as to carry the weight for the delivery if that makes sense.

RS:: Case in point, your song Champ Jackie.

SPG:: I’d written a short story about a boxer whose life’s glory was having beat Champ Jackie in the ring. The name came out of the air and drew me in, making me interested in his story, the champ who was sure he could beat anybody, and lost. And while I didn’t base the song on anyone in particular, I’ve seen camps like the one he’s living in after prison. This was back when I was driving a cab. And I mean it like it sounds, just a weird pop-up of tents on a dead-end road and populated with drunks and other people with no place to go.

RS:: I hate to even spoil it but tell me about the opening line, which is you shouting a capella, Bring The Ghost Home Now!

SPG:: Oh that -- haha, that's Bobber's only line in our entire catalog. It was something he'd holler while we wrote the song, and it stuck. Like an incantation for calling the dead.

RS:: It's great. It fits the album so well, and makes one cognizant of the fact this ain't no old timey potpourri country blues whatever. You do bring the ghost home...I don't know what it's a ghost of but...

SPG:: I've pressed Bob on this and we both agree he's hollering up the ghost of Champ Jackie. But we also agree that the 'ghost' was always more than that, and that hollering it up is part of our ritual, and that bringing up the ghost is at the heart of our mission.

RS:: Let's talk influences.

The great Dale Beavers compared the album to Exile on Main Street? Are the 'Stones high in the playlist?

BH:: (Bobber Hall) - The Stones are imprinted in our DNA since early childhood, never really listened to them intentionally myself. I think Sean and I were both most influenced by early 80's to mid 90's punk rock, post-punk, and psychedelic. Sean?  My formative years influence playlist probably looks like The Ramones, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Hendrix, Fear, Sex Pistols, Warsaw (more to come, need coffee 😉 )

I’ll draw from any well that will quench a thirst, and I visit the Stones a lot. Especially their early 70s material. I like anything dirty and weird and dangerous. Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, for example, which turned me onto Pink Anderson, not coincidentally. DK is also in my list of punk favorites but I love Big Black, Circle Jerks, Naked Raygun, ST. Sometimes I admit I still listen to the Exploited. Growing up in Chicago, I was lucky to hang around WaxTrax and Medusa’s so got sucked in by industrial and techno. Of note, that droning, noisy, psychedelic machine-driven stuff is likely what later drew me to Fred McDowell’s style.

RS:: Do you hear a connection between them, industrial and Fred?

 I hesitate to draw any direct connect between them. I mean, from intent to instrumentation the genres are far apart. That said, I do think there is a kinetic energy between the two. And I'm sure old purist farts from either sideline will call me a tourist for saying this, but here goes: 

Take "Headhunter" by Front 242, which uses mixed time signatures. The knifing bass line sticks to 4/4 and contrasts with an atmospheric twinkle dotting out a longer rhythm on top. At the chorus a deeper bass line drops in at 8/4 with lyrics also delivered in different time signatures. The mood is intense, the song is about a guy who captures other people and sells them, but the beat doesn't want to kill you. And it compliments yet refuses to match the bass riff, none of that dmp-dmp-dmp-dmp. (Is that how you spell "EDM?") 

Now take Fred McDowell's "Shake 'em on Down." Specifically the '64 version played with Johnny Woods, and recorded by Chris Strachwitz. Our pal Dusty Busch claims the greatest songs played never get recorded, but here's one that got caught. The fucker just hops like a spring-loaded machine. Fred nails the 1-2 bass line while working that slide, his shukka-shukka, and he's muting a bunch of notes that get expressed more like elements of rhythm. 

Meanwhile, Johnny's harmonica tone beautifully meshes with the jangle of the guitar. The rhythm pushes and drags, kind of shoving around but at a clip. They just sling it back and forth like they're on a wire all day, and never mind for how many measures. 

What appeals to me about both songs is that they use complimentary and contrasting rhythms from which the song emerges as something alive, like a confluence of rivers. So while I don't categorically think the genres of Hill Country blues and Industrial dance have much to do with each other, I do find them appealing for similar reasons. And producing that same confluence of rhythm and tone is something I think we've been chasing for as long as I can remember.

RS:: How'd you guys get started playing, both together, and personally?  Was there something or someone that locked it into place for you?

:: I picked up guitar 25 years ago, same year I moved to Iowa. I thought it was a good way to woo the ladies. So for a while I pushed out a lot of emo-driven, cafe-styled acoustic songster stuff, but soon as I put a band together we were rocking “Careful with that Axe, Eugene.” This scared the shit of my small circle of fans, and ultimately became the direction I’ve headed.

Ten years later, I met Bobber while driving cab. We’ve always been on the same spiritual wavelength, despite our differences in personality. There’s more to the story though suffice to say all good marriages start in friendship, not fucking as it were. I knew he played drums but we wouldn’t jam until 2006. And I wouldn’t learn until six months later that he was the first (and last) drummer for the Iowa Beef Experience. On a personal note, I was listening to IBE at 15 years old, and I abruptly realized I’d been playing with one of my heroes.

RS:: How do you write your songs? Does Sean bring in completed songs, or is it more of an organic team effort, or D. All of the above?

SPG: It’s about 50/50: I’ll write some songs head-to-toe. Other tunes are a mix, where I‘ll work up a riff and some changes, and then we arrange together, which I prefer. I steer away from the James Brown school and just let anybody play whatever they want to play, so long as it sounds right for the song.

Tell me about the band name. Is it a riff on WKRP's Johnny Fever...or...?

SPG: Our name was inspired by Fred McDowell telling how he was born in Tennessee but everybody calls him ‘Mississippi.’ I’m from Chicago, so there’s some of it. But it’s the dissonance that clicks for me. Kind of like how we’re white punks playing traditionally pre-electric black music. And music that traditionally marketed the skill of its artist on the basis of his wellsprings. Plus, you ever heard of Iowa John Fever? Me neither.

RS:: I'm coming over to your house tomorrow. You've got a five-disc cd player. What music will we listen to? Also, I'd like to borrow 3-4 books. What do you recommend?

SPG: Georgia Blues Today; John Jackson’s “Blues and Country Dance Tunes from Virginia”; T-Model’s “Pee-Wee Get My Gun;" this Joseph Spence mix tape I put together; Pussy Galore’s full cover of “Exile on Main Street.” 
And since that last record is fairly unlistenable, we can opt for any related Royal Trux records. (For books) “Manhattan Transfer,” John Dos Passos; “Play It As It Lays,” Joan Didion; “The Freelance Pallbearers,” Ishmael Reed; “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” Chester Himes; “Candide,” Voltaire.

RS:: What is The Museum of Jurassic Technology? 

SPG:: MJT is an art installation out in Century City, CA. Among it’s interesting exhibits is a miniature mobile home gallery and an entire wing dedicated to Athanasius Kircher, which includes a bell wheel that produces the most incredible natural sound I’ve ever heard.

RS:: How's the music scene in Iowa? Anybody good we should know about?
Iowa City has always had a burgeoning music scene. Check out Closet Witch, Acoustic Guillotine, Middle Western.
RS:: Y'all play The Deep Blues Festival, America's premier fest for punk-infected and alt-blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi this weekend.

We play Friday, October 12th at 11am at Cathead and Saturday, October 13th at 2pm at the Rock and Blues Museum.

Thanks, guys!

03 August 2018

ARiZONA DRANE'S He Is My Story : The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes

This wonderful book w/ cd was in my mail today. It's a book about Arizona Dranes, a woman believed to be the first person to record gospel piano. She was also blind. It contains a CD with all of her known recordings.

Sadly, it didn't come with a download code so I was forced to find a non-Chris King produced copy, and I'm really curious about his mix. I'd imagine there's only so much that can be done with it, but he's done a terrific job with what he's got to work with on other recordings. Dranes' sound is a raw, rollicking, barrelhouse piano propelling Drane's tough, high plaint cutting through her strident, raw boogie, and setting the stage for those who came after, notably her fellow Church of God in Christ congregant Sister Rosetta Tharpe (who begat Chuck Berry, who begat etc etc) who Dranes must have mentored, as well as Thomas A. Dorsey, and later on Clara Ward, Jerry Lee Lewis, and any other washed in the blood gospel musician.

Only recording 16 sides between 1926-1928, Arizona Drane (sic) had been all but forgotten to history, but this recording, which has actually been out since 2012, revived her enough for another pass. Thanks to Tompkins Square Records, she lives again. #YesLord!

If you like serious old-timey gospel, and weird old American music in general you need to give Tompkins Square your money. Any of the gospel recordings are real shouters, and their award winning collection of disaster songs and murder ballads People Take Warning! is essential, as is Arizona Dranes' He Is My Story : The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes. Get hit in your soul.

10 July 2018

CROSSCUT SORES - Dead Slick in the Autodrome - 2018


When Crosscut Sores 2017 album Raunch Date came out it was the gnarliest of a long spate of gnarlyass punk blues acts, bands like: Jim Jones Review, Chickensnake, 20 Miles, Black Mekon, and scruffy upstarts like Jooks of Kent - Tim and Scarlet from Crosscut Sores' previous formation - all set the guitar volume to STUN, and bury the needle in sludge blues and pop monster rod riffage, that frankly requires an ear adjustment, like a tilt of the head, or a blast from the headers on Tim and Scarlet's homebuilt hotrod to get it thru yr skull. It's thick, and sounds like it was recorded on a killer Hi-Fi boom box in the practice space, then mixed at a million buck studio. It sounds like what music probably sounds like in a ramshackle hotrod at eighty miles an hour on a gravel straightaway.

Crosscut Sores' 2018 volume Dead Slick in the Autodrome squawks, grinds, tear-asses, halts, explodes, and swings in overblown but controlled Crampsian fury.

Like Raunchdate, their second album is taut, with a stony, headphoned undercurrent of menace, but here they've distilled it...whatever "it" is...and banged it with a ball-peen hammer, slapped it with a soft chamois, and buffed a little bit of shine to it, but it's the same Beefhearty garage demo blast of bent alt-blues and rock & Roll as ever.

The low boogie guitar and Stoogesish boat-horned saxophone keep the barn door blown open, while cheap-mic'd vocals ghost in, out, and shout! The bass drum thumps like boots on the front porch at midnight, like falling dishware the cymbals clatter, the piano crawls the parking lot looking for loose change, as buzz-saw guitar and backward-tape effects sail through the thick, grimy, south England fog, dragging its leg behind it, a finger on one hand jabbing skyward, the other hand a hard-knuckled clenched fist.

Crosscut Sores. 

17 tracks made of busted leather and greasey selvedge cuffs ground down at the heel but pressed sharp as a blade up front. Get it.

18 June 2018

CASPAR & The Howling - Down On My Knees

I was looking thru my list of drafts...stuff I've started but not finished, and came across this band from 2012. I don't know what happened, why I didn't write about them, but it's evidently too late now because them don't seem to exist anymore.

   No FB page...just a handful YouTube videos, a few things on soundcloud but they're mostly repeats of the videos, and one song on BandCamp: The semi-pro shot dark black and white one, the semi-pro-shot intimate augmented practice session one, the semi-pro-shot intimate black and white and scratchy gray two dudes playing on an old bus looking like they're from the late 30s one, one in a lovely light sepia playing a lovely cover of I Want To Dance With Somebody that looks all ready for the sadly ill-fated Couch By CouchWest to come back..someday one, and the pro-shot intimate practice session color video one.  They've vanished mysteriously, Caspar & The Howling. Enjoy, better late than never.