Archive for December, 2014

uber ute

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ute lemper.

Ute Lemper committed one small oversight when she agreed to forsake her New York home tonight to perform here with the Lexington Philharmonic.

“Somehow this performance was booked without the consent of my children,” said the internationally acclaimed singer, actress, visual artist and songwriter. “When they found out, they said, ‘You won’t be here for New Year’s Eve?’

“Actually, I used to be able to see the fireworks out my kitchen window, but now it’s all downtown. I thinking I’ll just bring my children with me and we will celebrate in Lexington. I think you should be having some better weather there.”

Times Square, it seems, will just have to make do this year without Lemper, widely recognized as one of the foremost revivalists of Kurt Weill songs and German cabaret music of the pre-war Weimar era. But such accolades merely represent the starting point of a remarkable career as one of the most versed and versatile crossover artists of the past 50 years.

Lemper has eight touring repertoires at her disposal, which run from separate programs devoted to Weill and political poet/playwright Berthold Brecht to shows featuring the tango music of the great Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, string quartet sets (where she sings everything from Debussy to Billie Holiday) to programs that set the stylistically disparate poetry of Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda to music. There are orchestral collaborations, as well, like the one Lemper will perform with the Philharmonic. That program will be split evenly between the French chanson music of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and the songs of Weill and Brecht she grew up with in Germany.

“It has been my mission to further the revival of this music,” Lemper said of the latter repertoire. “Artists like Weill were forced to leave Germany after the Weimar era. Much of his music was hid away after World War II until the 1980s, so there was a great responsibility on my part to be a tool for this revival. I love performing this music for my generation and for the world.”

But even Lemper’s wildly diverse performance repertoire doesn’t signal the artistic range her career has explored. Initially a student of dance, she has been celebrated for a variety of stage roles. She has portrayed Sally Bowles in the original Paris production of Cabaret and then played Velma Kelly in Chicago, which took Lemper to London (where she won the Lawrence Oliver Award) and New York.

“I never cared much for the musicals, I must tell you. Performing a show eight times a week got to be almost boring. When you do that for three months in order to get to the bottom of a character, it becomes very difficult and very hard on your voice.”

Then how about a more exclusive and singular engagement, like Roger Waters’ 1990 staging of the Pink Floyd epic The Wall at the site of the Berlin Wall?

“He (Waters) was trying to get performers representing different countries. I was quite visible in Europe then, so I was invited. It was unlike anything I had done, but I was very grateful for the experience and the opportunity to meet all the other wonderful performers (which included Van Morrison, The Band and British actor Albert Finney).

Awaiting Lemper in 2015 is the completion of a new recording of music she wrote based on The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, a project the singer views as “a collaboration of the soul.”

But there was still jet-setting to do before Lemper brings 2014 to a close in Lexington. In the weeks leading up to tonight’s Philharmonic performance, she performed her program of Neruda love poems in Paris, presented Last Tango in Berlin (a mix of Piazzolla and chanson music) in Geneva and sang her Berlin Cabaret Songs show in London.

“It has been such a long, wonderful journey,” Lemper said of her career. “But as I get older, my hunger for this kind of musical exploration only gets more intense.”

The Lexington Philharmonic with Ute Lemper perform 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Tickets: $25-$75. Call (859) 233-4226 or go to

kennedy center honors: the music translates

kennedy ctr honors

the 2014 kennedy center honors recepients. back row: tom hanks, sting, al green. front row: patricia mcbride, lily tomlin.

As always is the case at the annual Kennedy Center Honors, music translates best. Of course, beginning last night’s telecast by paying tribute to Soul Man No. 1 Al Green meant triggering a celebration was all but inevitable.

As with all Honors ceremonies, the performances are tributes with the honorees separated from the action and forced to bask in the glow of admiration from box seats next to President Obama.

Initial performances to Green by Earth, Wind & Fire (Love and Happiness), Jennifer Hudson (Simply Beautiful) and Usher (Let’s Stay Together) were, respectively, groove-centric, dramatically stoic and purely serviceable. But having elders Mavis Staples and Sam (Sam & Dave) Moore turn Take Me to the River into a full gospel-esque tent revival complete with choir was a joy.

The surprise, though, was the evening’s only other exclusively musical segment, a show-closing tribute to Sting. A proven pop songsmith, Sting has taken on an air of celebrity in recent years that has made him increasingly unappealing. Even in an otherwise gushing introductory speech by Meryl Streep, the singer was noted, despite all his commercial success for his “scowling.”

Yet the music, once you got past Lady Gaga’s overblown, self-involved take on If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, was wonderful. Bassist/singer Esperanza Spaulding, accompanied by Herbie Hancock on piano, quickly found the lovely but brittle of delicacy of Fragile while Bruno Mars, the only performer in the segment to dig into the honoree’s early music with The Police, sounded eerily like the young, rock/reggae-fied Sting of the late ‘70s.

But the killer was the Boss. In the evening’s runaway highlight, Bruce Springsteen pulled out a Sting obscurity, a ballad of murder and remorse called I Hung My Head. The chiseled drama Springsteen delivered made the song sound as though the Boss had penned it during his Nebraska days.

In between were segments devoted to three mostly non-musical honorees – a wildly convoluted tribute to Tom Hanks, a celebration of Lily Tomlin that was far simpler (ending with Jane Lynch, Reba McEntire, Jane Fonda and Kate McKinnon all blowing raspberries to the artist) and a lovely dance tribute to ballerina Patricia McBride.

Host Stephen Colbert had little to do except oversee brief opening and closing segments. He also snuck onstage beside David Letterman (the man he will replace as host of The Late Show in 2015) as the latter was set to pay tribute to Hanks. Colbert was dismissed playfully with two words by Letterman. “Not yet.”

critic’s picks 255: gov’t mule, ‘the dark side of the mule,’ and grateful dead, ‘houston, texas 11-18-1972’

govtBrevity has never been in the best interest of jam bands. From the ’60s dawn of the Grateful Dead to the present day adventures of Gov’t Mule, jam-savvy live shows have essentially been lab experiments where grooves are extended, mutated and often restructured with little concern for economy. If it took 10, 20, even 30 minutes to accomplish that within the confines of a single song, so be it. It’s just that the Dead and the Mule usually kept such an exercise from disintegrating into pure indulgence.

Of late, such a philosophy has extended to live albums as well, from lavishly packaged compendiums of entire Dead tours that carry price tags in the hundreds of dollars to more modestly priced three-to-six disc sets of Mule engagements.

So it is refreshing to have new live recordings of varying vintages by both bands that keep the onstage exploration to a single disc.

Admittedly, Gov’t Mule’s Dark Side of the Mule also comes in a massive 3 CD/1 DVD package that presents you literally everything from a Halloween concert in 2008. But the single disc version, which is reviewed here, gets directly to the performance’s point of distinction – specifically, a set where the band musically masqueraded as Pink Floyd.

The title suggests a straight tribute to the 1973 Floydian classic The Dark Side of the Moon. Instead, guitarist Warren Haynes and company go tripping through all of Pink Floyd’s more storied ‘70s albums, from the obscure country-esque psychedelia of Fearless (off of 1971’s Meddle) to warhorse staples like Comfortably Numb (the crescendo tune from 1979’s The Wall).

In between, though, are some stunners that really stretch the Mule’s sound, as on the nine-part Shine on You Crazy Diamond. It augments the band’s quartet makeup with a trio of back-up vocalists, a saxophonist and considerable reliance on keyboardist Danny Louis. But Haynes still has plenty of room to roam, making Dark Side an altogether enlightening Mule escapade.

deadThe Dead’s Houston, Texas 11-18-1972 is a limited edition CD version of an even more limited edition vinyl recording released exclusively for Black Friday sales. Available only through the band’s website, the CD gives a brief second life to what had been an instant collector’s item.

It’s a grand a performance, too, providing you can make it past Donna Jean Godchaux’s pitch-deficient singing. With bassist Phil Lesh propelling the performance as much or more than guitar chieftain Jerry Garcia, the recording strolls through a jovial Bertha, tightens for a dramatic Jack Straw and then explodes during a 25 minute reading of Playing in the Band that becomes an instrumental playground for Garcia.

There you have it – two single discs packed with nearly 80 minutes of music each. That’s a lot of playing in the band for your buck.

joe cocker, 1944-2014


joe cocker.

For the longest time, I thought Cry Me a River was a Joe Cocker song. More than that, I was convinced the tune my dad cherished as an Ella Fitzgerald classic was written to be played as a boozy, barrelhouse rocker with a soul-scabbed voice like Cocker’s out front. Cocker just had that way with songs.

After all, this was the Englishman that turned the Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends into a psychedelic soul free-for-all at Woodstock by eschewing pop references in favor of scorched R&B. He also turned the Box Tops hit The Letter into earth rumbling soul carnival at the dawn of the ‘70s. And when Cocker turned sweet, as he did in his most prized radio hit, 1974’s You Are So Beautiful, he sounded like was on the losing end of a prizefight – bloodied, beaten up yet so soulful you could just sob.

Of course, Cocker underscored the coarse texture of his singing with a lifestyle that was equally ragged. By the mid ‘70s, you couldn’t tell if he was entranced onstage by the music he was making or simply inebriated. Unfortunately, rock bottom was played out in public when John Belushi popularized a drunken, buffoonish impersonation of him during the second season of Saturday Night Live. The comic even performed it in front of Cocker when the singer was a guest on the program in 1976. It was beyond painful to watch.

“I got on a downward spiral after You Are So Beautiful,” Cocker told me in an interview ahead of his 2000 Rupp Arena performance with Tina Turner. “I was still making music, but I just had a bad attitude about life. I used to wake up and start drinking beer at 10 in the morning. I lived in a cloud. 

“Kids in Germany and a few other places would still come to see me even when I was stoned out of my mind and forgetting the words to songs. Then it dawned on me. The realization hit that I should give these kids something back. I knew I had to give a good performance. So slowly and surely, I got better.”

That translated into an ‘80s renaissance that included Cocker’s biggest hit (1982’s Up Where We Belong), one of his best albums (1982’s Sheffield Steel) and a renewed reputation internationally as a concert performer that lasted right up until his death yesterday at age 70 from lung cancer. That also meant getting the last laugh as Cocker outlived Belushi by some 33 years.

“It fascinates people just what happened in the ’70s,” Cocker said in our interview. “To be honest, that whole period bemuses myself.”

in performance: adrian belew power trio

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adrian belew. photo by gary and jill bandfield.

For a guy who was winding up his most extensive North American tour in three years and now was less than 48 hours away from his 65th birthday, Adrian Belew was looking awfully spry last night at the 20th Century Theatre in Cincinnati.

Was that because the Covington native was essentially back in his old stomping grounds for the last night of a two month tour? Perhaps. Was it because the youthful vigor of his Power Trio was rubbing off on the guitarist? Very likely. Could it be that without a new recording to promote (save for the variations of song and sound fragments available on his new Fuse app), Belew was getting a charge out of showcasing a generous portion of his 30+ year recording career within a single stage program? Well, sure.

All of those elements came into play. But the driving force behind the two hour performance was the simple fact that Belew displayed an obvious love of performing. Of course, there were generous displays of his guitarwork, from long improvisational squalls to processed bits of chatter and syncopation. But it was the sense of playfulness, especially when he locked horns with drummer Tobias Ralph (reflected especially keenly during a lengthy Beat Box Guitar) or the giddiness that erupted out of a decades-old big-beat pop piece like The Lone Rhinoceros that gave the performance such an animated feel..

There was an intriguing structure to the show as well. Much of the repertoire was grouped in songs of four or five. The trio was able to get through roughly half of a song before a processed sound resembling a needle being yanked from a vinyl record or screeching brakes signaled it was time to move on. The transitions were actually pretty smooth and resulted in several unexpected mix tape-like medleys, like the mash-up of two 1982 songs with a post punk party feel, The Momur and Big Electric Cat, that opened the performance. Equally arresting were side-by-side snippets from Belew’s extended tenure in King Crimson, 1982’s Neurotica and 1995’s Walking on Air, that shifted from torrents of guitar frenzy to a pool of ambient pop cool.

What Belew didn’t skimp on were wicked instrumentals like b and e that balanced furious but organic trio interplay with jams augmented by looped melodies, mutated pop hooks and general improvisational mischief.

So, yes, youthful drive and an impending birthday filtered through the finality of a tour’s closing night might explain away some of Belew’s onstage cheer. But you also got the impression the guy would likely experience the save level of fun any night he found himself onstage.

big belew nation

adrian belew 1

adrian belew

The ingredients were all there – the impending homecoming of Kentucky-born guitar hero Adrian Belew, a gray Saturday afternoon and a desperate need to place holiday madness on hold for a few hours. It all provided the ideal setting for me to become reacquainted with the sublime music Belew has created over the past 35 years.

To many, the Covington native is best known for the vocabulary of guitar sounds – from twang bar-happy solos to animalistic roars – that have colored his solo recordings (dating back to 1982’s The Lone Rhino) as well as the audacious works cut during a 33 year tenure with prog mainstay King Crimson (beginning with 1981’s Discipline).

Dig deeper, though, and all kinds of treasures reveal themselves, including seminal recordings with three of the pioneering acts Belew played with during the formative days of his career, specifically Frank Zappa (on 1979’s avant pop carnival record Sheik Yerbouti), David Bowie (the magnificent 1978 live set Stage) and Talking Heads (the progressive funk performances captured on the 1981 concert album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads).

But it was during and around King Crimson’s scattered periods of activity that the heart of Belew’s music fully revealed itself. The scorching nature of his guitar work had become a given. His compositions, however, began exhibiting strong echoes of Beatles-esque pop. While such inspiration was never imitative, you heard it powering through songs like Member of the Tribe (the joyous finale to 1992’s Inner Revolution album), I See You (the Lennon-esque power chord party piece off of 1994’s Here) and the Under the Radar (the rich psychedelic meditation from 2005’s Side One).

Belew has also remained very active over the decades as an instrumental composer and performer, stretching the pop inferences of his playing to more unexpected and sometimes abstract plains, as on The Gypsy Zurna (the one man Eastern safari tune from 1986’s Desire Caught by the Tail), Ring Around the Moon (an ambient slice of processed guitar music from 1995’s The Guitar as Orchestra) and b (a groove epic showcasing Belew’s Power Trio from 2009’s live-in-the-studio e).

Finally, there are the delicacies underscoring his gift as a collaborator. From that camp came Holy (one of Belew’s finest all around vocal performances featured on the 1989 Mike Oldfield album Earth Moving), Walking on Air (a gorgeously serene refection from the 1995 King Crimson reawakening record Thrak) and Life in a Nutshell (a powerhouse pop workout with his Cincinnati-based pals in The Bears from 2001’s Car Caught Fire).

The biggest rediscovery though was a bit of a revelation – a revision of The Rail Song, a bittersweet but anthemic remembrance of a lifelong fascination with trains originally featured on 1983’s Twang Bar King. But the version that hit me last weekend was an unadorned version from 1993’s The Acoustic Adrian Belew that stripped the tune down to a stark confessional while enhancing the song’s very natural sense of drama.

That was as much Belew as I could squeeze into a single afternoon. Left untested in this Belew review was Fuse, the new computer app he designed that delivers tunes in an infinite number of variations. That means the guitarist will have an especially keen job condensing a catalog of such masterful music into a single performance this weekend. His Sunday concert at the 20th Century Theatre will conclude a two month tour in his old Cincy stomping grounds with his comparatively newer Power Trio mates, bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph.

Then again, exploring the generous terrain existing between power pop accessibility and groundbreaking instrumental technique, composition and improvisation has always been the driving force behind the music of this Kentucky guitar pioneer.

In essence, that is Belew’s life in a nutshell.

Adrian Belew Power Trio with Saul Zonana perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at the 20th Century Theatre, 3021 Madison Rd. in Cincinnati. $24, $28. Call (513) 731-8000, (800) 745-3000 or got to

in performance: shemekia copeland

shemekia 1

shemekia copeland .

“You’re not going to want dessert after this,” remarked blues empress Shemekia Copeland last night at Natasha’s as she launched into a tune called Lemon Pie. Needless to say, it wasn’t an ode to culinary devotion. But the song also wasn’t some innuendo-filled grinder that has become stereotypical of many blues and soul stylists. No, Copeland’s Lemon Pie was a tartly topical rocker that explored the kinds of class struggles where real life blues dwell.

A similar plain speaking spirit dominated Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo and its sobering portrayal of domestic violence or Somebody Else’s Jesus with its references to less-than-loving religious diatribes. All of these songs derived their blues power not from standard tales of self-pity set to tired 12 bar soundscapes. These were sagas that balanced themes of contemporary urgency with a celebratory musical foundation that allowed Copeland to roar like blues royalty.

In many ways, the latter attribute won out last night. The range, detail and assurance of Copeland’s singing have matured remarkably over the years. Always a vocalist of great guttural power,  Copeland displayed a heightened sense of phrasing during  the 95 minute set that dispensed bravado more gradually. A fine example was Married to the Blues, which began as an Otis Rush-style slow blues burner that unleashed Copeland’s vocal potency in waves until it towered with wailing ferocity.

Similarly, an extended version of father Johnny Copeland’s Ghetto Child allowed the singer to leave the microphone and perform the song’s chorus repeatedly like a mantra as she strolled, unamplified, through the audience.

The rest of the program mixed a trio of holiday tunes (including the show-opening Merry Christmas Baby), a blast of tambourine-shaking gospel (Big Brand New Religion, a sort of Pentecostal Beatles rave-up) and a tune of obsessive love penned from a predominantly non-blues standpoint (a groove-centric cover of Lucinda Williams Can’t Let Go).

The variety and depth of the material certainly placed the concert in the upper echelon of blue performances. But it was Copeland’s singing, which peeled away youthful edge and huskiness to reveal a more learned and versatile vocal clarity, that gave this expert program such an honest and absorbing voice.

it’s good to be the queen

shemekia 2

shemekia copeland.

Should you desire a crash course in the extremes that define Shemekia Copeland’s brand of the blues, just check out the two tunes that bookend her fine 2012 album, 33 1/3.

At the beginning sits Lemon Pie, a big beat blast of blues-infused funk that powers some socio-economic hardball (“others get the steak, you get the bone”). But as it concludes, Copeland turns down the rage with a light, wiry stroll through Bob Dylan’s classic I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.

Such are the temperaments that make up just part of the musical voice belonging to the present day Queen of the Blues. Admittedly, her majesty has received some fine tutelage. She took to heart the vocal phrasing and performance inspirations of her father, the famed Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland. There were also lessons – in life as much as much as music – soaked up from the previous Queen of the Blues, Chicago sensation Koko Taylor. Mostly though, Copeland learned the blues by living them. She essentially grew up in public, performing and recording alongside such greats as Dr. John, Steve Cropper, Ruth Brown and others to become a multiple W.C. Handy Blues Award winner and Grammy nominee.

“For me, I think the blues is about telling your story,” said Copeland, who returns to Natasha’s for a Friday performance. “When I was a kid, my father used to say, ‘If it wasn’t for the blues, I wouldn’t weigh over 90 pounds.’ He meant that, too. I feel that way about the music, as well. It’s been my entire life, pretty much from birth. It’s everything to me.”

While the Harlem-born singer’s recording career has seen the release of seven albums over the past 16 years (she was 19 when her 1998 debut, Turn the Heat Up!, was released), the sounds instilled by her father – a vocal style both earthshaking and intimate – still guide Copeland’s music today.

“I’ve stolen everything I possibly can from him – his phrasing, everything. But people don’t really recognize that because I’m a woman. If I was a man, it would be different. Also, if I played guitar, I think people would notice more. Dr. John always says that I approach the music vocally the way a man would. And it’s true because I always listen to male singers. My father was a great singer, so yeah, I stole everything from him. He’s in there. He’s in everything that I do.”

The great Taylor proved another profound mentoring figure, from when she befriended Copeland as a blooming talent to the time the former’s title of Queen on the Blues was formerly bestowed on her young protégé. But that wasn’t at all what Copeland treasured most about their friendship.

“Let me just say that woman was amazing,” Copeland said of Taylor. “In terms of talent, she was unmatchable. But what I loved most about her was that she was so kind to me. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know anything about me. She just heard that I was a girl who could sing. So this woman took me under her wings and was kind to me. As I started out, she would call me to see how I was doing. She would call my mom to see how I was doing. She was instrumental in giving me advice on how to survive out on the road. She just went above and beyond what you would think anyone would do for a person.

“Today, I’m just proud to be called a blues singer and a blues artist. So many other people feel being called that limits you. Well, it hasn’t limited me in any kind of way. I sing what I want to sing about. If I want to rock out, I rock out. If I want to be funky, I’m funky. Whatever I want to do, I do it.”

Shemekia Copeland performs at 9 p.m. Dec. 19 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Tickets: $20, $30. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to

critic’s pick 254: the blind boys of alabama and taj mahal, ‘talkin’ christmas’

talkin' christmasIf the home stretch of the holiday season is leaving you in need of a breather, then take a 40 minute time out for Talkin’ Christmas, an unpretentious but solidly sanctified summit between the Blind Boys of Alabama and Taj Mahal.

Talkin’ Christmas is about as subtle and soulful a holiday session as you will find in what has otherwise been a lean year for new Yuletide. It also deviates from the standard blueprint of many seasonal releases, including the Blind Boys’ own 2003 work, Go Tell It On the Mountain. That album was a collection of star-studded duets that, while highly appealing, made you feel as though the veteran gospel vocal group was serving as a support team for the guest list. Talkin’ Christmas sports only one high profile collaborator – longstanding blues stylist, world music journeyman and frequent Blind Boys touring mate Mahal, and even he frequently takes a back seat role within the record’s lean but tremendously complimentary instrumentation.

In fact, Mahal makes his vocal presence felt on only two songs, both new tunes penned by the Blind Boys, celebrated Stax Records songwriter William Bell and Talkin’ Christmas producer Chris Goldsmith.

The first is What Can I Do?, a sparse pop-soul spiritual that is a fine fit for the jagged expression of Mahal’s singing. The other, There’s a Reason We Call It Christmas, places Mahal aside longtime Blind Boys chieftain Jimmy Carter for a light gospel celebration accented by a discreet Caribbean rhythm.

But Mahal’s presence is felt throughout the album. When he isn’t singing, he is adding bits of guitar, ukulele, harmonica and, on a revivalist, ragtime-infused version of Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn, banjo. The song also employs one of the Blind Boys’ newest stars, falsetto singer Paul Beasley, who later guides the group’s gorgeous harmonies on No Room at the Inn. Mahal and drummer Michael Jerome provide the latter’s only instrumental accompaniment.

The last word, however, goes to Carter. He concludes the record by leading the pack through another original, Merry Christmas, which shuffles along to the second line groove set up by Jerome under a homespun yarn that is earnestly celebratory. “Hope you’re happy in your house,” Carter sings with sage-like candor, “because I’m having a ball in mine.”

Talkin’ Christmas takes its cue from I’ll Find a Way, the 2013 record that restored much of the Blind Boys’ artistic identity after a string of more duet-heavy projects. The new record, curiously, isn’t as wintry sounding as the former work. It is lighter, more unassuming and quietly straightforward, especially in its view of holiday sentiment.

In other words, Talkin’ Christmas is just sayin’.

the message of music maker


tim duffy of the music maker relief foundation.

If anything impacted Tim Duffy more than the glorious roots and blues sounds he grew up with in the Carolina region, it was the poverty so many of the music’s most versed but obscure practitioners lived in.

“Poverty in America… people don’t think about it,” he said. “But it’s very, very real.”

Experiencing the deep struggles of rural blues artists – not just in getting their music heard but in maintaining a sustainable existence – prompted Duffy and wife Denise to form the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization that has recorded the authentic roots music of over 300 artists during its 20 year history that would otherwise never be heard. But that’s just part of the mission.

“There is poverty throughout the world, but that’s not the whole gist of what we do. If you follow any popular music around the world – world music, blues, jazz – it’s born from the working class people of our nation. Go into those working class communities today and you will find people that kept the old traditions going.

“If someone doesn’t have medicine or heat and there is no one in their community they can turn to for help, maybe we can with a simple grant for medicine. Maybe in the wintertime, we can help so they can stay warm. That keeps the guitar out of the pawn shop. That’s our sustenance program.”

Music Maker also has a professional development program that helps get the music of these artists recorded and packaged as well as a cultural access program that provides forums, especially at radio stations, for the resulting music to he heard.

“At the heart of it, Music Maker is really a social justice organization, because these people are invisible,” Duffy said. “Audiences don’t know who these people are. They won’t go into their neighborhoods, so we have to give them a voice. We do that with the music and the songs.”

Duffy will further explain Music Maker’s work at Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. But the fruits of his project will be perhaps best reflected by live music from three of the artists the organization has helped nurture – Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks and Big Ron Hunter.

“Big Ron Hunter very much has a sense of joy about life,” Duffy said. “He’ll talk about the red clay of North Carolina and the squirrels chasing each other above the trees. He’ll talk about how he incorporates that in his music. Then there’s Boo Hanks. He is a living example of a Blind Boy Fuller, who created such great music in the ’30s. So Boo is a great, great Piedmont blues artist. And Ironing Board Sam… now here is a totally eccentric artist from South Carolina that started in the Winston-Salem drink houses. He’s like Sun Ra (the eccentric jazz stylist from Alabama who insisted he came to earth from Saturn). He’ll tell you how, in his first life, he was there at the Big Bang and how he visits this plain every 20,000 years or so. His music is all over the place. He can play simple down home blues, pop music, weird jazz, anything.”

The support of such blue celebrities as B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Taj Mahal has helped spread the word on Music Maker. So has the breakout of Duffy’s most visible discovery for the organization, the now-popular Carolina Chocolate Drops. But his work still boils down to providing a platform for unheralded and unknown artists.

“The artists we chose to help don’t really have a spit in hell’s chance of making it in the music industry, so we live completely outside of that. I’ve helped a lot of people. But to tell you the truth, all this work has helped me much more. I’ve gotten a lot more than I’ve given through all the people I’ve gotten to know very deeply.

“My grandfather used to tell me it’s not what you get out of this life, it’s what you leave behind. In other words, you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

The Music Maker Relief Foundation featuring Tim Duffy, Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks and Big Ron Hunter will be showcased at 6:45 tonight at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets: $10. Call (859) 252-8888.

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