Friday, March 30, 2012
Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass banjo player whose hard-driving picking style influenced generations of musicians and helped shape the sound of 20th-century country music with his guitar-strumming partner, Lester Flatt, died on Wednesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 88.
Heidi Schumann for The New York Times
Mr. Scruggs and Mr. Flatt probably reached their widest audiences with a pair of signature songs: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” a rollicking number that they recorded in 1949 with their group the Foggy Mountain Boys and that was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”; and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.” (Mr. Scruggs and Mr. Flatt appeared on the show several times.)
But he also helped shape the “high, lonesome sound” of Bill Monroe, often called the father of bluegrass, and pioneered modern banjo playing. His innovative use of three fingers in an up-picking style, rather than the mostly two-fingered claw-hammer down-picking technique, elevated the five-string banjo from a part of the rhythm section — or a comedian’s prop — to a lead or solo instrument. What became known as the syncopated Scruggs picking style helped popularize the banjo in almost every genre of music.
Mr. Scruggs, who had played banjo since the age of 4 in rural North Carolina, got his big break when he joined Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, in 1945. The band included Monroe, who sang and played the mandolin; Mr. Flatt on guitar; Howard Watts (a k a Cedric Rainwater) on bass; and Chubby Wise on fiddle.
When Mr. Scruggs stepped up to play during an instrumental section, “listeners would physically come out of their seats in excitement,” Richard D. Smith wrote in “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’: The Life of Bill Monroe.”
Mr. Scruggs stayed with the Blue Grass Boys for two years as they starred on the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show and recorded classics like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Blue Grass Breakdown” and “Molly and Tenbrooks (The Race Horse Song)” for Columbia Records. He also sang baritone in the group’s gospel quartet.
Early in 1948 he and Mr. Flatt, weary of the low pay and exhausting travel, decided to strike out on their own, despite Monroe’s pleas to stay. Angry and hurt, Monroe refused to speak to them for the next 20 years, a feud that became famous in country-music history.
Although the two said they had not planned to get together after they quit, they ended up forming the Foggy Mountain Boys, naming the group after the Carter Family song “Foggy Mountain Top.” Aided by the former Louise Certain, the group’s manager and booking agent and eventually Mr. Scrugg’s wife, they surpassed Monroe in popularity, helped partly by the corporate sponsorship of Martha White mills. (That sponsor persuaded them to join the “Grand Ole Opry.”) In 1954 they appeared in a Broadway show, “Hayride.”
Five years later the group appeared in Rhode Island at the first Newport Folk Festival, an offshoot of the Newport Jazz Festival, and introduced the Scruggs style to the folk-music revival of those years. Soon young folk musicians were adopting his style, and the Foggy Mountain Boys began to play the college folk-festival circuit. Mr. Scruggs also began to work with his growing sons, Gary, Randy and Steve, and he recorded material by Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers.
Mr. Flatt, by contrast, disliked the new music and felt it was alienating the band’s grass-roots fans. In 1969 the two broke up — they had also performed as Flatt & Scruggs — and Mr. Scruggs, with his sons, formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a mostly acoustic group with drums and electric bass. It broadened his repertory to include rock, and the group played on bills with acts like Steppenwolf and the singer-songwriter James Taylor, sometimes before audiences of 40,000.
The group stayed together for the rest of Mr. Scruggs’s career, performing at Carnegie Hall and, in 1969, at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in Washington. Mr. Flatt died in 1979.
Earl depended on a two-fingered picking style until he was about 10. Then one day he found himself in his bedroom picking a song called “Lonesome Ruben” (or “Ruben’s Train”) using three fingers instead of two — the thumb, index and middle finger. It was a style, indigenous to North Carolina, that he had been trying to master.
He learned to emphasize melody by plucking it with his strong thumb in syncopation with harmonic notes picked with his first two fingers. The sound was like thumbtacks plinking rhythmically on a tin roof.
As Earl’s mastery of the banjo grew, he began playing at dances and on radio shows with bands, among them Lost John Miller and His Allied Kentuckians. In December 1945, after the Miller group disbanded, Mr. Scruggs quit high school and joined the Blue Grass Boys for $50 a week. His career was on its way.
In 1992 Mr. Scruggs was among 13 recipients of a National Medal of Arts, and in 2005 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was selected for the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
He continued to play into the 21st century. In 2001 he released a CD, “Earl Scruggs and Friends,” his first album in a decade and an extension of the Earl Scruggs Revue. In 12 songs, he collaborated with Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Vince Gill, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Johnny Cash and the actor Steve Martin, a banjo player.
Mr. Scruggs’s wife, Louise, died in 2006; his son Steve died in 1992. In addition to his sons Gary and Randy, survivors include five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
At an 80th birthday party for Mr. Scruggs in 2004, the country singer Porter Wagoner said, “Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball.”
“He is the best there ever was,” Mr. Wagoner said, “and the best there ever will be.”
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Jazz Fest 2012 Releases Schedule Cubes, Pres Hall to Close Gentilly on May 6th
This morning, the 2012 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival unveiled the schedule cubes at the annual “Month-Out” Press Party held at the Fairgrounds, signifying that Fest is only a month away. After a brief performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the Fairgrounds paddocks, Jazz Fest Director Quint Davis immediately answered the question on everyone’s minds, announcing that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band would be taking over the coveted responsibility of closing down the Gentilly Stage on the festival’s final day. To commemorate the band’s yearlong 50th Anniversary celebration, the band will invite a slew of special guests to join them, and Davis named a few including My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames, Ani Difranco, Bonnie Raitt and several more. Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen and very special guest Mayor Landrieu (on tambourine) then joined PHJB for an a.m. version of “Bourbon Street Parade” followed by a few words from the Mayor, Hasting Stewart of Shell and Nancy Marinovic before a couple more songs by Pres Hall, some red beans and rice (courtesy of Zatarain’s) and a photo opp (see below) of the festival poster subjects posing in front of this year’s official Jazz Fest and Congo Square posters.
The first thing that jumps out from the cubes is the overall strength of 2nd Sunday, with the opportunity to see Rotary Downs, Red Stick Ramblers, Glen David Andrews, Galactic, funky METERS, The Bounce Shakedown with Big Freedia, Katey Red, Keedy Black and DJ Poppa, Foo Fighters, Bonnie Raitt, The Neville Brothers, Preservation Hall & Friends 50th Anniversary Celebration and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings all in the same day. Pretty solid way to close down the 43rd year of Jazz Fest. Also, the festival’s first Sunday is totally stacked and anchored by the strength of a 2 1/2 hour set by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Besides The Boss on April 29th patrons can take in sets by Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, a very special “Tribute to Alex Chilton”, Bill Summers & Jazalsa, Dr. John & the Lower 911, Papa Grows Funk, Sonny Landreth, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians, Gary Clark Jr., Janelle Monae and Al Green among others.
Now with a tangible schedule at our disposal, the “New Orleans version of 30 Days ’til Christmas” (as Davis described it) has officially started and the always-enjoyable task of strategically planning out 7 days of festival-going begins.
A few notable conflicts that jump out (trust me people, these are good problems to have):
Saturday, April 28th: Midnite Disturbers (Jazz & Heritage) v. Carolina Chocolate Drops (Fais Do-Do) v. Bobby Rush (Blues Tent)
Sunday, April 29th: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Acura Stage) v. Janelle Monae (Gentilly Stage) v. Al Green (Congo Square)
Thursday, May 3rd: Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Acura) v. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk (Gentilly)
Friday, May 4th: Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. (Gentilly) v. Bunny Wailer (Congo Square)
Saturday, May 5th: My Morning Jacket (Gentilly) v. Herbie Hancock & his Band (WWOZ Jazz Tent) v. The Levon Helm Band with special guest Mavis Staples (Blues Tent)
Sunday, May 6th: The Neville Brothers (Acura) v. Preservation Hall & Friends 50th Anniversary Celebration (Gentilly) v. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (Blues Tent) v. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (Congo Square)
As always, gonna be splittin’ some time to catch multiple sets but all-in-all just beholding this massive 7-day spreadsheet is a huge thrill in itself. Can’t wait!
The Jazz Fest performances were scheduled, 'cubed,' and released today on the Fest's main website.
The first performance will be at the Economy Hall Tent at 4:25PM on Saturday, May 5th.
The Second performance of the Hall band will at the Gentilly Stage on Sunday, May 6th, and will feature many Hall friends, including...
Jim James of My Morning Jacket
...and More to be Announced
The Sunday performance will be a special 50th anniversary jam that will close out the festival, so please join us at the Gentilly Stage.
Purchase Jazz Fest Tickets Here
Today's free track is entitled, Tiger Rag, and it comes from the 2009 release, New Orleans Preservation Vol. 1, by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Download Tiger Rag
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New Orleans Preservation Vol. 1 is AVAILABLE on iTUNES ($9.99), as well as at Preservation Hall's ONLINE STORE
1. Short Dressed Gal
2. My Sweet Substitute
3. El Manicero
4. Sugar Blues
5. Choko Mo Feel No Hey
7. Tailgate Ramble
8. Blue Yodel #9
9. I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
10. I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire
11. Tiger Rag
12. Westlawn Dirge
13. What a Friend
14. Ice Cream
About New Orleans Preservation Vol. 1
Having assembled the archival CD/DVD package Made in New Orleans: The Hurricane Sessions after salvaging tapes from the damaged Preservation Hall, Benjamin Jaffe, son of Allan Jaffe, who ran the hall originally, now executive produces and plays on the first of a series of new Preservation Hall Jazz Band recordings, this one recorded at the hall itself in January 2009. That, of course, is a statement unto itself, as New Orleans continues to recover from Hurricane Katrina nearly four years after its devastation. But the band, now an octet featuring trumpeter Mark Braud, bassist Walter Payton, and drummer Joe Lastie, Jr., uses the opportunity simply to make a classic New Orleans jazz album of traditional material, which is as it should be. The Dixieland sound of several horns soloing at once is often heard, but this is also an eclectic music in which the traditional country of Jimmie Rodgers ("Blue Yodel #9") rubs shoulders with '40s pop (the Ink Spots' "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire"), along with jump blues and early rock & roll ("Choko Mo Feel No Hey," "Halloween"). Braud's growling trumpet on "Sugar Blues" even recalls '20s jazz, and the big showcase number is a version of the earliest jazz tune, "Tiger Rag." Throw in a traditional New Orleans funeral procession ("Westlawn Dirge") and a gospel tune ("What a Friend"), and the album presents a set that covers all the bases for this traditional outfit, playing in its traditional home.
Monday, March 26, 2012
It's been written before but I'll write it again: There are only two American musical traditions worth talking about:
1) The African-American tradition, historically centered in the Mississippi River Delta;
2) and the Scots-Irish tradition of the Appalachian Mountains.
That's it. Everything else that's come out of this country that's worth listening to - jazz, R&B, gospel, rock ‘n' roll, bluegrass, country - has its roots in one or the other, or both, of these.
(The undeniable fact that both of them are Southern traditions is yet another reason for you non-Southerners to be happy we allow y'all to stick around here. You're welcome.)
Popular portrayals and conventional wisdom insist that we should consider those two traditions as somehow in opposition to each other. But in another of those adventurous double bills for which SMF Director Rob Gibson is becoming famous, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans and Del McCoury's bluegrass ensemble joined forces at the Trustees Friday night for one of the biggest barn-burners in recent SMF history, one which defied lazy explanation.
While the alliance of the two groups actually happened well before this evening -- with their American Legacies recorded collaboration and a Letterman appearance -- the overwhelmingly rapturous reception of the show was by no means a given considering the generally conservative nature of many typical SMF audience members.
It's true that many SMF audiences tend to skew a bit older, but it's just as true that I can't recall another crowd at the Trustees Theatre -- even for rock shows -- demand an encore in as spirited and vociferous fashion as the crowd did this night.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The takeaway from this show is twofold: A) the Preservation Hall Jazz Band remain a bunch of smiling, genteel killers who can play with anyone, anywhere, and B) it is a very pleasant surprise just how well these two fine ensembles melded America's two seminal musical traditions.
Indeed, one woman in the audience said to me right after the show, as people were still clapping: "I didn't think this would work. But boy was I wrong. Really really wrong."
Never have so many people been so glad to be wrong! While many of us went into the Trustees expecting to see a fairly contrived event involving both bands taking turns, the reality was different, and inspired. For the most part during this intermission-free show, both ensembles maintained a varying sort of overlap, with members of each coming over to join the other.
Occasionally the two groups would literally take turns playing -- as with a twinned rendition of one of their recorded collaborations, "Banjo Frisco" -- but largely this show really did have the air of a more informal jam and lick-trading session, whether it be Preservation vocalist/clarinetist Charlie Gabriel sauntering over to join the elder McCoury, once one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, at the mic (a couple of Del's sons are also with him onstage), or my new hero, Preservation's trumpeter nonpareil Mark Braud coming over for an extended and humorous mute solo.
I will say that the musical crosstalk, for mostly practical reasons, seemed to involve Preservation Hall members joining in with the McCoury band, rather than the other way around. I chalk this up not only to the huge advantage in volume that the horn players enjoyed over the string band, but to the more tonally fungible and rich nature of the jazz idiom itself -- which Braud at one point described as "puttin' a little gumbo juice on it."
And while bluegrass music was named for the eponymous cover crop of Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, it's also true that bluegrass contains its own share of the "blue notes" that distinguish the African-American musical tradition, whether in blues or jazz. It was nice to see in person, in real time, how clearly those blue notes spoke to each other, over the miles and over the alleged cultural barriers. This cross-pollination was especially well-displayed in the grand finale of the gospel classic "I'll Fly Away," with some awesome vocals by regular Preservation Hall saxman Clint Maegden.
In any event, as both bands came out for an extended rousing encore including -- of course -- "When the Saints Go Marchin' In," all anyone could hear was the sound of brass ringing, the sound of their own clapping and yelling, and the sound of America itself.
Friday, March 23, 2012
The hits just keep on coming for those lucky enough to have tickets to this year's Hangout Music Festival. Today, the third-year festival, headlined by the likes of String Cheese Incident, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White, The Flaming Lips and STS9, announced the official pre-party featuring a slew of talented acts that won't be on the festival's main bill.
Big Gigantic, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, BoomBox, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Perpetual Groove, Zoogma, Nobody Beats the Drum, Delta Rae, The Kingston Springs and Tauk will get the weekend started right on May 17, just one day before the main event.
[READ Headstash Magazine's review of last year's Hangout Festival.]
Additionally, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes have been added to the main bill making this year's festival, once again, the most diverse and top-heavy festival out there. Tickets for The Hangout are sold out through the main website but apparently a small allotment of tickets are still available for purchase through Kaiser Realty for $209.00 plus taxes and fees if you decide to stay in one of their beach-front condos.
Tickets to the pre-party will be available via the festival's website today, Friday March 23, for only $15.00. For full lineup information for The Hangout and all your favorite summer festies check out our 2012 Festival Guide. See ya on the beach!
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Download Lord, Lord, Lord, You Sure Been Good to Me
Copy and Paste download to SHARE with FRIENDS:
Here Come Da Great Olympia Band is available EXCLUSIVELY on iTunes for $9.99
1. Everything's Lovely
2. Down By The Riverside
3. Just a Closer Walk with Thee
4. The New Second Line
5. Lord, Lord, Lord, You Sure Been Good to Me
6. Precious Lord Take My Hand
7. Olympia On Parade
8. Westlawn Dirge
9. Didn't He Ramble
*Four BONUS TRACKS and a DIGITAL BOOKLET are included with an iTunes purchase of Here Come Da Great Olympia Band
About Here Come Da Great Olympia Band:
Founded in 1958 by alto saxophonist Harold “Duke” Dejan, The Olympia Brass Band operated continuously for more than 45 years before Hurricane Katrina scattered its last remaining members to new homes across the country. Boasting an all-star lineup and an intense New Orleans parade repertoire, The Olympia Brass Band was truly one of the greatest in a long tradition of New Orleans marching organizations. Through their standing Sunday night engagement at Preservation Hall, appearances in films like the James Bond feature “Live and Let Die,” and their many European tours, The Olympia Brass Band brought the vibrant street music of New Orleans to music lovers all over the world. Recorded in 1974, at the height of their glory, Here Come Da Great Olympia Band features leader Harold “Duke” Dejan backed up by a dozen legends of New Orleans Brass and traditional jazz, including Emmanuel Paul, Milton Batiste, and Kid Sheik Colar. Also, included here for the first time, the digital version of this classic album is accompanied by three previously unavailable tracks from the Olympia Brass Band’s 45rpm single, Mardi Gras 77.
*Must be a Louisiana state resident to qualify
The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus presents:
THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ CONTEST
Entry Fee: Free
Start: Monday, March 19, 2012
End: Friday, April 13, 2012
Winner Announcement: Friday, April 20, 2012
In celebration of New Orleans‘ great Jazz history, upload your original songs for your chance to shine as a songwriter!
Our grand prize winner will win an Avid prize pack containing an MBox with Pro Tools 10, an M-Audio Key Station Mini along with Sibelius 7! Also, the GPW will receive an Epiphone “Inspired By” John Lennon Casino guitar, an ATM510 microphone from Audio-Technica, a Lennon Bus Live on-board recording session and a free entry into either Session I, 2012 or Session II, 2012 of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest!
The two (2) finalists will a free entry into either Session I, 2012 or II the JLSC where they will contend to win huge prizes packs and our $20K Song of the Year Prize.
Open exclusively to Louisiana state residents, the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and John Lennon Educational Tour Bus are offering you this special opportunity for free!
Songs will be judged by the renowned New Orleans jazz musicians, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and evaluated based on melody, composition, originality and lyrics (when applicable) to determine the Grand Prize Winner and two (2) finalists.
A completed entry consists of recorded music, lyrics (when applicable) and contact information. Please note, the quality of performance and production will not be considered during judging. For additional information, please refer to the Rules and Regulations.
Monday, March 19, 2012
02 One Big Holiday
04 The Way That He Sings
05 Off the Record
06 It Beats 4 U
08 Lay Low
09 Losin’ Yo Head (Monsters of Folk)
10 I’m Amazed
12 Friends Again
13 Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. I
14 Thank You Too!
16 Smokin’ from Shootin’
17 Run Thru
19 Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt II
20 encore break
21 Wordless Chorus
22 Evil Urges (w/ Prez Hall Jazz Band)
23 Highly Suspicious (w/ Prez Hall Jazz Band)
24 Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield) (w/ Prez Hall Jazz Band)
25 Mother-in-Law (Herman’s Hermits) (w/ Prez Hall Jazz Band)
26 Carnival Time (Al Johnson) (w/ Prez Hall Jazz Band)