Do the words make the song or the notes? What does it take to tell a good tale in music or about music? We put those questions to a few writers of both songs and stories. Singer-songwriter and memoirist Rosanne Cash sits down before a live audience to tell us about her authorial journey, then we chat with novelist Cyril Vetter on translating a musician’s life into fiction. And New Orleans bluesman Little Freddie King spins a few tall tales from the juke joint.
We’re bringing the blues from the clubs to the church this week on American Routes. The Campbell Brothers, from Rochester, NY, are masters of sacred steel. With both pedal and lap steel guitars, they summon the spirit in voice and sound. We’ll talk about growing up in the church and playing gospel blues on the guitar. Then, New Orleans bluesman Walter “Wolfman” Washington stops by the American Routes studio for a conversation about his life in the music and in the clubs around town.
We’re sitting down this week with two bands who make their hometowns proud. The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, from Akron, Ohio, have roots in the blues and rock but construct a sound all their own. We chat with them backstage at a performance in the Crescent City. Then New Orleans brass band innovators the Soul Rebels talk about bringing the sounds of the streets to clubs around the world.
As the muddy Mississippi winds its way past us in New Orleans, we’re reminded of the power and place of these waterways in American culture. First, we seek the source of the mighty river at the headwaters in Minnesota. Then listen to stories of steamboat captains, riverboats and rural fisherman. And learn about New Orleans own relation to the river with Tulane professor Richard Campanella. Plus river tales from Captain Doc Hawley, Aaron Neville and Al Green.
The late Richie Havens, on “Trouble in Mind,” recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
You can really believe that people who hurt really do hurt. Things are not always as bright sounding but it is forgiving sounding if you can accept it.
We were fortunate enough to speak to Richie Havens in 2010 about his tenure as a Greenwich Village portraitist, and his legendary opening act at Woodstock.
We’re seeking out the “American” in American music with two eclectic artists: Elvis Costello and Carla Bley. For British songman Elvis Costello, American music has shaped much of his musical creativity. We’ll hear about his love of American country and blues, his musical upbringing in Liverpool, and his current fascination with P.T. Barnum. For the inventive and eccentric jazz composer Carla Bley, the National Anthem proves an unlikely source of inspiration. Bley brings wry humor to a conversation about the challenges of writing for her very big bands, her early days as a cigarette girl in NYC jazz clubs, and why America might be famous for baked beans.
I went to Nashville on a 2-week leave I had, and it changed my life. It was like I suddenly knew I was home because it was a town that was where creative people were all about the love of the songs…a total absence of ego and selfishness. You know, people liked other people’s songs just as much as they liked their own. It was just a wonderful atmosphere.