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Music Review: Various Artists – Truckin’ My Blues Away

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Truckin’ My Blues Away is a mesmerizing and compelling work which draws you in, like a spider drawing you into her web, until there’s no escape. It’s devastatingly effective and will leave you pensive, energized, and determined to drive right down to North Carolina and offer your help to Tim, Denise, their staff, and volunteers, which I’ll explain below.

Truckin’ My Blues Away is an hour-long podcast and radio show featuring four of Music Maker’s many mainstay musicians. The musicians featured in this broadcast include Boo Hanks from Virgilina, Va.; Captain Luke from Winston-Salem, N.C.; Eddie Tigner from Atlanta; and Little Freddie King from New Orleans. “In their own words and performances, these men bring us the story of a music, an era and a culture that are uniquely American.” Here’s a link to a slideshow with an accompanying podcast that you can listen to. In addition, there’s a written article and a downloadable podcast. It’s the story of Music Maker Foundation, described briefly below and in full at the website, and the personal stories about how these four musicians have been assisted by Music Maker. Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc., is a benevolent organization set up by Tim and Denise Duffy, which “helps the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs.”

The podcast begins with a standing-room-only crowd at the Broad Street Café in Durham, North Carolina, on New Years Eve, 2009. Captain Luke opens with “Poke Salad Annie," with Tim Duffy on guitar. From there, it pulls you into the story and into the lives of the musicians and of Music Maker.

Duffy’s life changed radically while he was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina studying folklore. He met an old bluesman by the name of James “Guitar Slim” Stevens, who some would say started Duffy on the road to perdition. Duffy says differently. He considers it the road to salvation. That road was the same road that others in the Delta region of Mississippi walked before him, except Duffy’s road started in the Piedmont and took him to various locations in the East. Both groups of people, however, were in search of the same thing: authentic bluesmen.

Music Maker currently supports 30 musicians who, along with all those that preceded them, Duffy calls the bedrock, the aquifer of modern music. From an introduction by Guitar Slim to Guitar Gabriel is where Duffy’s story begins. Duffy recorded Guitar Gabriel, made some cassettes of the music and put an ad in a blues magazine. Copies of the cassette eventually made their way to a couple of concert promoters, and Guitar Gabriel eventually got bookings all over the U.S. and even in Europe. That put “Paid” to Duffy’s teaching career, and he hasn’t looked back since. Duffy went from graduate student at UNC to guardian angel of a group of Piedmont musicians.

Duffy didn’t originally have the goal of becoming what he’s become; it just kind of happened. He tells the story of how he and a musician once had a playing gig lined up. When he went to pick up the musician, Duffy discovered the musician had to get his wife some medicine. But in order to get the medicine, the musician had to pawn his guitar, so Duffy took him to the pawnshop. Then they went and bought the medicine for the man’s wife, took it to her, then went to another musician’s house to borrow a guitar for the performance. That incident seems to be the defining moment when Duffy decided he wanted to become involved in the lives of these musicians. As the announcer says at one point, “Originally, Duffy set out to preserve the roots of American music and support some of the musicians who play it. What he created in the process was a family.”

There’s a point in the broadcast that brought memories rushing back to me.  When I was young, a few friends and I would sometimes jump trains for fun.  We’d jump the train in our hometown, ride it to a point where it slowed enough and jump off.  Then we’d reverse our route.  We’d often meet hobos and there was usually a bottle of cheap “mus-i-tel” or Thunderbird wine making the rounds.  In the broadcast, Little Freddie King talks about that very wine (muscatel) in the broadcast.  Talking about one of the musicians, Duffy’s brother wrote, “It’s like looking at a familiar rock.  And then, when they get onstage, the rock sprouts nine wings and starts soaring through the heavens, and you’re just uplifted, and your life has changed, and you feel good about yourself.”  Doesn’t that sound like something you’d rather be listening to than the manufactured, packaged, “product” that’s broadcast all over these days? 

Although Music Maker’s CDs, DVDs, and other merchandise are all available through Amazon and various other outlets, they are also available directly from the Music Maker Relief Foundation website. 

 “Truckin’ My Blues Away” was written and produced by Richard Ziglar and Barry Yeoman.  This broadcast was engineered by Dave Tilley of Bogue Sound Studios in Durham, North Carolina, where the narration was recorded, and by Ben Pizzuto of AARP Radio.

All quotes are from the URLs shown above.

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About Lou Novacheck

  • Thanks for the mention. I am one of the co-producers for Truckin’ and I just wanted to let you know of another documentary, this one focusing on blues artists in New Orleans and South Louisiana. It has not aired yet but you can find out how to hear it on our website. Also we have a FB site too. In addition to the documentary, we also have extra audio on the website you can listen to right now.

    Thanks for your time,

    Richard Ziglar