Southern Exposure 

Music Makers book and CD document the work and lives of overlooked blues musicians

Music Makers book and CD document the work and lives of overlooked blues musicians

If Tim Duffy’s founding of Music Makers’ Relief Fund about a decade ago guaranteed his entrance into blues heaven, the publication of Music Makers—and its entire backstory—earns him a higher place there. A beautifully produced collection of photographs (many by Duffy), biographical anecdotes and commentary, preluded by B.B. King’s foreword, Music Makers is much more than a blues geek’s coffee-table book. Along with its companion 23-track CD, the volume serves as a record—in some cases, the only record—of the artists for whom MMRF has procured food, clothing, medical assistance, loans, gigs and even musical instruments. Some of Duffy’s initial discoveries, sadly enough, hadn’t played for years because they’d been forced to hock their guitars and harps and pianos. “If it ain’t been in a pawnshop,” the recently deceased Frank Edwards is quoted as saying, “it can’t play the blues.”

The very first of Duffy’s discoveries was Piedmont bluesman Guitar Gabriel, with whom Duffy became not only a close friend but also a business partner; the two men had a simple management contract that permitted Guitar Gabriel to shoot Duffy if he ever cheated him. The former introduced the white UNC-Chapel Hill folklore major to his world of drink houses and commodity lines, as well as to artists like Macavine Hayers, Mr. Q, the inimitable Willa Mae Buckner and Captain Luke. “I became deeply disturbed,” Duffy writes of his immersion in this world, “by the difficult choices they had to make each month: food or medicine, rent or the car, heat or the telephone.” And so Duffy dedicated himself to finding means of assisting these blues players and singers, in the process meeting more and more and more of them.

Even though MMRF has released 20 albums at this point, Duffy feels keenly the lack of attention many of the artists endure, and he’s quite explicit about his hopes that Music Makers will help their careers and reputations. One of the delights of Duffy’s work is the geographical range represented by the artists in the book and on the CD: yes, Mississippi; and yes, Duffy’s home turf of North Carolina; but also Georgia (James Perry, Precious Bryant and the late Edwards), South Carolina (Cool John Ferguson) and Alabama (“Birmingham” George Washington Connor, Cora Fluker, Jerry “Boogie” McCain and Willie King). Like Duffy a “practical idealist,” Willie King holds the Freedom Creek Blues Festival every June to benefit his own rural community project; just a few hours’ drive away in Old Memphis, Ala., the annual event features many of the MMRF performers included in Music Makers.

For more information on the book, visit www.musicmaker.org. To find out about MMRF artists’ appearances at Freedom Creek, call King at (205) 373-2521.

—Diann Blakely

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