The Stumble

And the first shall be last… to paraphrase.  This was the 1st tune the guys laid down at the recording session I was filming last spring and it’s the last one I have left to post. They used the old Freddy King tune, “The Stumble” as a kind of warm up. It worked because they were hot by the end, Hadley Hockensmith guitar, Phil Driscoll keys & trumpet, Bill Maxwell drums, Michiko Hill piano, and Pee Wee Hill bass.

Once again, just as on all the other songs from this session, the guys were playing with their ears, not their eyes, since there were no charts to work from.  It was a great day in the studio with some soulful blues tracks laid down.  My only regret is that there weren’t more tunes recorded, meaning there are no songs to post from that day.  However this was so good, I have no choice but to try and convince everyone to get together again soon and make some more music.  Hopefully they all enjoyed playing together as much as we like listening to them.

Looking for the Beat

I went to the home of musician Giba Conceicao in Salvador, Brazil to get a percussion lesson so I could more fully join in the festivities of Carnival this year.  What I got was yet another lesson in humility.  Because it seems as if everyone is beating a drum or shaking a rattle or simply shaking their body to the beat of the Samba at carnival time, I thought with some help from Giba I would soon be able to blend right in to the rhythm of the locals.

Giba gave me a quick demonstration of what sounds could be made on several of his different percussion instruments so I could get an idea of which ones I might want to try.  Let me admit up front that for me they were all harder to play than they looked.  I began the session thinking, “Really how hard can it be to just shake a rattle or beat a drum with one stick or with your hands.  These are like the first instruments ever played by humans.  Surely I can match musical chops with my Neanderthal ancestors.”  Wrong.  Or at least wrong if Neanderthals ever mastered the Samba.

The Samba is the driving force of Carnival, but it soon became apparent that I should not be allowed behind the wheel of the Samba car.  I need to use a designated driver.  Or if I can’t resist the music and insist on shaking something, then it is essential I get fully into the spirit of Carnival and wear one of the elaborate masks.  With a mask there is always plausible deniability.

I tell the story of Carnival in Brazil and my attempts to learn the rhythm of the Samba this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend, but this video has some of the highlights of my musical adventure in Brazil.

Sun & Magic: Rusted Root

Rusted Root did a live performance of their new song, “Sun and Magic” when they stopped by the National Geographic Weekend radio studio a few days ago.  This song will be on their album scheduled to come out in September of 2012.  We’ll play part of the song to close out our radio show this week, but here for your dinning and dancing pleasure is the entire performance as recorded live at National Geographic.  enjoy!

Open Hands: Meet the Band

Individually the members of the band Open Hands have enjoyed great success playing and recording with some of the biggest names in music, but together as Open Hands they are at their creative best.

Good musicians who can look at notes and lines on a sheet of paper and transform those hieroglyphics into beautiful music always impress me, in part because that ability eludes me.   Even more impressive to me are the musicians who can hear a tune in their head and then reproduce that melody on an instrument.  But there is another skill that a very few musicians possess that to me takes playing to a whole different level, to a realm only the most talented inhabit.  These are the musicians who start with notes on a page and them begin to improvise as a group and somehow make it all work together, or sometimes they don’t even have the notes as a jumping off point, they just call out a key and go to work.  That’s the kind of musicianship that describes Open Hands.

In this video the members of Open Hands demonstrate their technical skills, show their improve ability and talk about how they do what they do. This is an introduction to Open Hands: Greg Mathieson, Justo Almario, Abraham Laboriel, and Bill Maxwell.

Sippie Wallace Blues Pioneer

Sippie Wallace recorded her first record in 1923.  It was a blues classic with the songs “Shorty George” and “Up the Country Blues.”  Fifty-seven years later I met Sippie in Detroit where she was still belting the blues in nightclubs on Saturday nights and then playing the organ and leading the choir on Sunday mornings.  I spent some time with her in both the club and the church and then stopped by her home where she talked with me about her extaordinary career.

It was Sippie who first told me the only difference between the blues and gospel, the only difference between the music she sang on Saturday night and Sunday morning was the words.  She said in the clubs she was singing “Baby” and in church she was singing “Jesus”  She sang both for me for a series we were doing on American music for the Today show.  This clip is another find from the Boyd closet of old tapes.  Scott Goldstein was my producer at the time and we both were just looking for an exscuse to go meet some of the pioneers of the “roots” music we loved.  The series also included stops in the “Windy City” for Chicago Blues and a stop in Louisiana for Cajun music.  The series would become the inspiration for our regular weekly segment, “On the Record”.

Sippie was one of the big influences on singer Bonnie Raitt who would record one of Sippie’s songs, “Woman Be Wise,” and would also take Sippie on tour as an opening act.  Two years after this story Sippie Wallace would be nominated for a Grammy and six years later she would suffer a stroke following a concert in Germany.  Less than a month after the stroke, on her 88th birthday, she died in a Detroit hospital.  Her contribution to the blues lives on in some of her most famous songs like, “Suitcase Blues”, “Woman Be Wise, “Up the Country Blues”, and “I’m A Mighty Tight Woman.”