Well, I should start by saying Happy New Year even though January has now departed but, as this is my first blog of 2019 I shall (not for the first time in my life) disregard convention and say ‘Happy New Year’ to you all.
I always think that it is good when January winds its weary way off the calendar and all the fuss of Christmas has been put to bed for another year even though the last remnants of the chocolates are still rattling around in a mostly empty box or – in my case – a big tub of peanuts waiting to be finished.
What has been on my mind as I sit down to write to you? During recent editions of Hillbilly Boogie I have mentioned three artists who have featured significantly in my playlists in my shows but who have also - in different ways – made a big impact on my listening. Three artists of different styles and eras, one of whom (I think) has the potential to become a ‘big name’ in 2019
Of Concrete and Mud, Three Chords and the Truth UK said “Roadhouse country, brazen with an outlaw texture, edges a little closer to the core of CONCRETE AND MUD, eventually morphing into one of those records that you feel will shape the year.”…and I think that they are right. Sam was recently in the UK and we saw him at Fat Lil’s in Witney* courtesy of Empty Rooms Promotions. While Sam was playing the support slot he blew the place apart (others seemed to appreciate him too!). Of the people that I spoke to after seeing Sam on his various dates, they were unanimous in their praise of him and his band. One of the highlights of Sam’s set was Cigarettes on which drummer Matt Tecu really let the sticks fly and, while you can get a flavour in this live recording for radio (as the saying goes) you really had to be there!
*I must give a mention to Fat Lil’s food – Fun Guys (Mushrooms in a chipotle sauce with sourdough bread….it’s a winner, my friends)
There is no doubt that I will be checking out Sam’s other releases (There Is No Map and Ephemeral); by all accounts, these are more contemplative albums whereas Concrete and Mud most definitely rocks. Apart from the excellent music, we were also impressed with the rapport between band and audience. So often, artists will seemingly blow through their set but there was a genuine warmth and these were not po-faced hipster rockers…Oh no! As I said earlier, this is no pastiche. I think that older folks like me will hear echoes of some of the best music ever played but enjoy the fun and freshness of what Sam Morrow brings and younger audiences, hopefully, will do likewise. I have been to too many concerts which have been technically polished but have left me disconnected to the performer – this was not the case at Fat Lil’s. Catch Sam Morrow wherever or whenever you can – he is one to watch.
Next… Adam Steffey
In the world of Bluegrass, Adam Steffey is legendary. If you are not familiar with Adam’s playing, here he is with his wife Tina playing ‘Johnny Don’t Get Drunk’
Adam Steffey’s CV (or résumé, if you prefer) is impressive – at the last count he had won five Grammy’s and won the International Bluegrass Musician Association (IBMA) Mandolin Player of the Year ELEVEN times! He has played with Alison Krauss & Union Station, Mountain Heart, The Lonesome River Band, The Boxcars and others. It was at HoustonFest in Galax, Virginia that I met Adam when I had the great honour of introducing The Boxcars to the festival stage. People say ‘never meet your heroes’; while ‘hero’ conjures up different attributes for me, I am a massive fan of Adam Steffey and meeting him and the other Boxcars was an absolute delight. True gentlemen.
So why am I writing about Adam Steffey?
If you have listened to Hillbilly Boogie, you will know that Mountain Fever artists Volume Five are one of my favourite Bluegrass bands. They deservedly won Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2017 IBMA and – in the same year – won Song of the Year with ‘I Am A Drifter’. In my view, their last three releases – Voices, Drifter and Milestones are some of the best traditional Bluegrass albums around.
So, what’s the connection? Adam Steffey has joined Volume Five!
Until recently, it seems that Adam would step back from playing and, with the recent demise of Highland Travelers, this seemed to be the case but Colby Laney decided that he would move on from guitar duties with Volume Five and game of Bluegrass musical chairs began. Jacob Burleson moved from mandolin to guitar and Adam stepped into Jacob’s place. I can’t wait to hear their next release!...and as I have said before, if it’s on Mountain Fever, you know it’s going to be good (can I have t-shirt please, Mr. Hodges! <grins>)
It is five years ago that Pete Seeger passed away and for anyone growing up in the 60’s the name and voice of Pete Seeger was truly iconic. Even if you were not a folk music fan, songs such as ‘If I Had A Hammer’ and ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ would have been so familiar – not only in the original recordings but through the recordings of Peter, Paul & Mary and even The Byrds.
The Weavers, of whom, Pete was a part were blacklisted by McCarthy but Pete endured though it is said that he left The Weavers when they decided to record and advertising jingle.
The list of those that Pete performed with is a Who’s Who? of modern American music. Woody Guthrie immediately comes to mind, Elizabeth Cotten, Ralph & Carter Stanley, Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt and the Rev. Gary Davis to name just a few but perhaps just as important are those that Pete inspired – not just musically (though there are many that would acknowledge Pete as an inspiration) but also for his social conscience, his support for environmental activism and the rights and well-being of the common man.
Whilst the quality of this video is poor, the music is outstanding; the joy in this performance is everything that I imagine when I think of Pete Seeger – I wish that I could have seen him sing.
For me, Pete Seeger was always more than just a musician – he was an example to us all. He always came across like the grandad that you always wanted, who would be kindly but also eager to teach and never hesitating to remind you of good manners (should the need ever arise). I started this section by talking about growing up in the 60’s and I always feel immensely fortunate that I have seen, heard and experienced some of the iconic performers; I am sorry that I never saw Pete but I am glad that I lived in his time.
Pete Seeger: sadly missed – fondly remembered.
Feel free to drop me a line with any comments about this article or about Hillbilly Boogie – it is always good to hear from listeners.
In the meantime…as ever…Be Good x