I’ve just heard that this show has been cancelled due to illness. No details yet. Bummer! DB – 8 p.m. July 9, 2012
A group of legendary Piedmont blues musicians are coming together for an evening of music, storytelling and camaraderie – the likes of which most of us never get to experience. On July 21 the Legends of the Piedmont Blues Show at the Mauldin Cultural Center will feature Pop Ferguson, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Mac Arnold, Boo Hanks and Drink Small. Prepare to be amazed at the combination of talent, energy, and love on the stage.
It’s a sad fact of life that if we manage to bypass illness, disease, accident and worse, we’re going to grow old and die. But life also gives us the opportunity to leave a legacy behind, evidence of what we brought to the table. This lineup is proof that life is, indeed, what you make of it.
Pop Ferguson has traveled the country playing juke joints, fish fries, coal fields and street corners. At 84, he’s one of the last practitioners of true traditional blues of the N.C. foothills. On stage his energy is only surpassed by his unpredictability.
Boo Hanks is 83. He’s said to be a descendant of Abe Lincoln (on his mama’s side). Boo bought his first guitar by selling little packets of seed and grew up picking and singing songs he learned in the tobacco fields. You can still find him sitting out front of the country store with a bologna sandwich. Listen closely, you’ll hear Blind Boy Fuller in his finger-style guitar work.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is 72. She was still in high school when she was introduced to Piano Red (later known as Dr. Feelgood), who had his own radio show on WAOK in Atlanta, Ga. She joined his band and began building a name for herself in the blues community for her searing guitar riffs and James Brown moves. (Visit her website)
The Blues Doctor – 78-year-old Drink Small – plays a mean blues guitar with a voice to match. He has performed at some of the country’s top music festivals including Chicago Blues Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival, Smithsonian-Folklife Festival and Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. Drink has played Lincoln Center and Central Park in N.Y.C. His profiles have been published in Downbeat, Metronome, Blues Revue, Il Blues, Juke Blues, Soul Bag and Blues News. (Drink’s MySpace page)
Mac Arnold, at 69, is the youngster in this posse. When he was 24, Mac joined the Muddy Waters Band and helped shape the electric blues sound that would provide inspiration for a generation of rock guitarists. He played on the iconic John Lee Hooker album Live at the Café Au GoGo. (Mac’s website)
This is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime evening of musical performances, personal commentary and surprises. I mean, you never know what Drink is going to say.
Tickets are $20 general admission (or two for $35/five for $80) or $40 VIP, which includes an event T-shirt, pre-show meet and greet with one glass of wine. The VIP reception begins at 6:30 p.m. Doors open to the public at 7:30.The show runs from 8 to 10:30 p.m. Mauldin Cultural Center is located at 101 E. Butler Road, Mauldin, S.C. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.piedmontlegends.com. Tickets will also be available at the door. cutline:
Clyde “Pop” Ferguson is a legend. Never mind that you may not know his name. He’s a legend anyway. At 84 years old, he’s still playing the blues, and let me make it as clear as possible. He’s the real deal. He’s not someone who’s been influenced by those early authentic bluesmen; Pop Ferguson is authentic blues.
So gas up your Hummer or the pickup, whatever your vehicle of choice; mark your calendar for June 8 and 9 and set the Garmin for the historic city of Lenoir, N.C. in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains for the fourth annual free Pop Ferguson Blues Festival.
This Festival is unique in that its goal isn’t simply to provide a venue for blues acts. According to festival organizer (and Pop’s son) Clyde Ferguson, Jr., the Pop Ferguson Blues Festival also charges itself with the mission of reconnecting today’s culture with the true heritage of the blues.
To that end, five of the nine acts are considered elders of the genre, playing a range of blues, and all connecting to the past.
Eighty-four-year-old Pop Ferguson is one of the last practitioners of traditional blues in the N.C. foothills. Growing up in the African American community of North Wlikesboro, he played for local revivals, all the time yearning for the blues. As a young man, he traveled all around, playing juke joints, fish fries, coal fields and street corners in the northeast. He shared the stage with Papa John Creach and Etta Baker. Playing at first in the local Piedmont blues style (thumb and finger), he adopted popular techniques and developed his own style of blues gospel.
“With my dad,” Ferguson, Jr. laughs, “you never know what you’ll get. He may start a song that you think you know, but then he just does his own thing.”
The Festival lineup also includes the inimitable Drink Small, South Carolina’s much loved blues doctor (age 79); from the N.C. Piedmont, finger-style guitarist James Arthur “Boo” Hanks (age 83); Beverly “Guitar” Watkins (age 72), playing straight ahead blues and telling it from a woman’s P.O.V.; and Mac Arnold, playing modern day jump blues that reach back to the old days. At 69, he’s the baby of the group.
There will also be gospel, traditional acoustic folk music, storytelling, country blues and the introduction of a special young talent – Miss E.
How the Festival was born is especially touching.
“My dad and I starting playing together about six years ago,” says Ferguson, Jr. “My parents got divorced when I was really young, and I visited my dad and heard him play, but we didn’t spend ‘time’ together. I went away to school, started teaching, had kids. In 2006, we came back together, started to have a real relationship.
“For Christmas that year, I wanted to give him a special present. I learned to play guitar so we could pick together and on Christmas day I sat down to play for him. When I was done, he turned to me and said, ‘Boy I believe that song goes like this.’”
Clyde is laughing out loud as he remembers. “Well, my feelings were hurt, but Merry Christmas anyway! I went back to his house on New Year’s Eve, with a bass guitar and this time he said, ‘Play that again.’ And then we started playing together.
“Within 30 days we had a harmonica player, a guitarist and Pop Ferguson Blues Revue was created. So we started playing.
“This guy was following us around everywhere we went. And a little while later, we get this notification he was going to be recognized by the Smithsonian Institute.”
Turns out the guy who was following them around was with StoryCorps Griot Project and he was researching Pop for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. So Pop Ferguson’s life story, recordings and works will be preserved by the Smithsonian.
This year’s Festival theme is Celebrating the Blues Heritage of the Appalachians. What a terrific way to not only learn, but experience the heritage of the area.
The Festival is free. Just head into downtown Lenoir and volunteers will be onsite to direct you toward the stages and events.
(5 – 8 p.m.)
Patrick Crouch. Slide blues guitar
Jaret Carter. Country blues guitar
Max Hightower. Blues “Hohner” harmonica
Main Street Stage
3:45 Pop Ferguson
5:15 Drink Small
6:00 Boo Hanks
6:45 Beverly “Guitar” Watkins
7:30 Pop Ferguson
8:15 Mac Arnold
9:00 Blues Jam Session
Sweet T’s Stage
4:00 Strictly Clean & Decent
5:00 Mt. Pilgrim Choir
6:00 Jaret Carter
7:00 Smith Memorial Choir
4:00 Jaret Carter
5:00 Diana Banner & Sisters
6:00 Life Center Choir
7:00 Strictly Clean & Decent
Venti’s Casa Stage
4:00 Pop Ferguson w/Miss E
5:00 Life Center Youth Choir
6:00 Storytelling – Diana Banner
West Avenue Stage
5:00 Jacob Johnson Band
Piedmont Blues refers to a regional subcategory of blues, which is characterized by ragtime-based rhythms associated mostly with African-American musicians of the southeastern U.S.
Freddie Vanderford is Piedmont blues. Born in the tiny town of Buffalo, S.C., he grew up listening to his grandad playing harmonica, though more of a mountain style than blues. Freddie started playing guitar at ten years old, appearing on the Farmer Gray show on WSPA radio in Spartanburg, S.C. and the Bob Ledford TV show on Channel 13 in Asheville, N.C.
He credits “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson as an important musical influence in his life.
“I met ‘Peg Leg Sam’ when I was about 15,” Freddie tells me.
Jackson was a percussive harp player with a talent for storytelling. A rough sort of character who played in a traveling medicine show, he lost his leg in a hoboing accident and part of an ear in a shooting.
“I first heard him play harmonica on this little AM radio station. I found out that he lived close by, so I started going to see him. At first he wouldn’t play for me. I played for him.
”He was a crazy old guy, but a good guy,” Freddie says, laughing, “I started carrying wood for him, I’d take him to buy liquor, I’d take him to gamble. Guys would have their straight razors and pistols out on the table. Didn’t see a lot of cheatin’,” he laughs.
“Eventually, he’d play, and then I’d play. We’d go out to where they sold moonshine. Someone would pull out a dollar. And then someone else would pull out a dollar, and this would go on all day.
“Greasy Greens was one of Peg Leg Sam’s tunes, and that’s why it’s the title track on my album.”
Greasy Greens is an album that’s chock full of Piedmont harmonica blues and more, and I love every minute of it. The 16-track recording includes originals by Freddie Vanderford, some traditional blues and some unexpected covers.
The opening track, and one of my favorites is the traditional tune “She Can Cook Good Sallett.” And by the way, that’s Upstate guitar sensation, Brandon Turner on acoustic guitar. “Trouble Come Knocking,” one of Freddie’s own pieces, rocks the room and “Greasy Greens” made popular by Pink Anderson is another fave.
The Josh White adaption, “One Meatball” is just pure pleasure. Freddie offers up a tasty version of Percy Mayfield’s “Lost Mind” and does Townes Van Zandt proud with “White Freightliner Blues.”
Johnny Cash fans, you’ll be happy to hear Vanderford’s versions of “Delia” and “I Still Miss Someone.”
Freddy Vanderford is the 2010 recipient of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award for his Piedmont blues harp work and is being featured in a special B&C Art Museum exhibition melding S.C. music and visual art.
Players on the CD include: Freddie Vanderford (lead vocals, harp); Brandon Turner (acoustic, electric, resophonic and steel guitar; banjo; acoustic bass; snare drum; bongos; djembe and backing vocals); Matthew Knights Williams (acoustic guitar, backing vocals); Don McGraw (electric bass); Fayssoux McLean (backing vocals); T.J. Jeter (kick drum and hammers; drums and bongos); David Ezell (acoustic guitar, backing vocals); Wes Wyatt