After a life of traveling across the country playing music, one thing has become apparent to me. For my entire life, I have been groomed to tell the story of how American music became American music. It isn’t a simple story, and a great responsibility toward being historically accurate comes along with it. But as I said, I have spent my life, up to this point, unknowingly being prepared to tell this story.
I was born near the Black River in Northeast Arkansas. That river is the dividing line between the Mississippi River Delta and the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The eastern banks of that river taught me how African music came to the southern United States and out of struggle, in that same river delta that I called home, a music called the blues was born. The rasp of a slide on a resonator guitar blew into my life like the dust from the delta on a windy day. I never have swept it from the corners of my heart. The western banks of that river taught me how Irish music filtered into America through the mountains and from tiny little isolated valleys and hollows, an array of different sounds would one day combine to form old-time country music.
Once these two types of music were introduced to each other the world would never be the same. Since then virtually all popular music spanning multiple continents has been based on their collaboration.
I grew up the musical legacy of a gospel/bluegrass family who saw fit to be baptized in Muddy Waters. I spent my adolescence riding a greyhound bus through the gates of Memphis, TN down into the cradle of the blues playing honky tonks and juke joints all over the delta. I immersed myself in not only the musicality of the blues, but in the history of it as well. I learned to play guitar from bluesmen who had been taught to play the blues by the men that had created it, such as Son House and B.B. King. Their stories were an education that can’t be bought.
Although I had immersed myself my blues education, the sounds of the mountains never left my soul. My first memories are the vocal harmonies of a gospel quartet. My father was a piano player. His dad, my mother, sister, and a friend of the family who was an accomplished local tenor singer traveled all over the mid-south singing for tips, or “love offerings”, and occasionally opening for internationally touring gospel acts. My mother’s family did the same but instead of being based around vocals, they played Bill Monroe’s brand of bluegrass. My uncle would come to visit and bring his banjo. The sounds that erupted from it planted a seed that began to sprout once my blues roots were firmly established.
In my late adolescence I realized that all of the signs were pointing to Nashville, TN. Not for fame or fortune, but because Nashville TN is ultimately the hub of the music industry because it is one of the central-most located cities in the historical converging of mountain and delta music. It is not only a musical playground but a music history playground as well. I have toured for the past fifteen years as an artist, a musician, and a songwriter individually and collectively. During this residency, I have been blessed to work with some amazing talent within the country music and bluegrass industry. I have often literally had a backseat view to how Irish fiddle music made a transformation into bluegrass and then country music. And then how when old-time bluegrass/country music mixed with delta blues it began a series of events that expanded into the musical identities of cultures all over the world.
It is with this knowledge base that I begin to tell this tale. I hope you will join me for an evening of songs and stories about how our music became our music.