We hit up Preservation Hall in the French Quarter for a potent dose of trad jazz, as bandleader and fourth-generation Creole musician Charlie Gabriel tells of his Caribbean roots, jazz funerals, and New Orleans’ hybrid rhythms. Then we head to the Lonestar state to hear the reworking of jazz into Texas swing, as played by the Quebe Sisters. The fiddling siblings tell of their sheltered upbringing outside Ft. Worth and their fiery baptism into western swing. Plus, we spin other pioneering Creoles — Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and Fats Domino — and country & western greats from Bob Wills to Willie Nelson.
This Memorial Day, we celebrate the artists and artisans keeping American roots cultures alive. Every year since 1982 the National Endowment for the Arts has presented Heritage fellowships— America’s highest honor in “folk & traditional arts.” We hear music from past award recipients including swamp boogie chanteuse Carol Fran and bluegrass crooner Del McCoury. And we go live to the 2017 NEA Heritage concert for songs and stories from Puerto Rican percussionist Modesto Cepeda, Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Cyril Pahinui, conjunto accordionist Eva Ybarra, Appalachian buckdancer Thomas Maupin, Danish accordionist Dwight Lamb, Piedmont blues harp player Phil Wiggins, folk music teacher Ella Jenkins, Alaskan weaver Anna Brown Ehlers and Armenian metalworker Norik Astvatsaturov.
We trace the musical DNA and psychic aura of the blues from its Delta roots to Chicago’s electric pioneers, across a patchwork of regional styles and modern day innovators. In an archival interview we talk with blues rockers the Black Keys of Akron, Ohio, about defying genre, eschewing nostalgia, and the blues progenitors who blurred labels like primitive and avant-garde. Age Don’t Mean a Thing for 65-year-old Louisiana bluesman Robert Finley, who caught a big break in the last couple years and is now rocking the mic and hitting the road harder than ever. From Cadillac, Michigan to the Crescent City, Luke Winslow-King recalls the bad times and breakups that gave him a deeper understanding of the blues and inspired him to make I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always. Plus, we load up the jukebox with our favorites from Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy, Johnny Burnette and Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt.
New Orleans’ Neville Brothers—Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril—are famed for their fiery soul and funk, blues and ballads, Caribbean and Crescent City rhythms. Saxophonist Charles Neville recently passed away. He first learned to play music in the family’s uptown Valence Street neighborhood, and quickly took to the stage. By 15 Charles was with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King and Big Maybelle, among others, touring the Jim Crow South. A drug habit landed the sax player in Louisiana’s infamous Angola Penitentiary from 1963 to 1966. It was a reforming and learning experience for him, playing bebop jazz with other inmates and integrating prison bands. In the seventies, Charles and his siblings formed the Wild Tchoupitoulas and then the Neville Brothers, bands that blended the homegrown sounds of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and street life with modern soul, funk and jazz. We pay tribute to Charles by revisiting our interviews with him and his brothers over the years, as the Nevilles tell stories of family life and their adventures in and beyond the city where they learned their craft.
From small town Louisiana to Memphis, from hellfire to honky tonk, we trace the meteoric rise, fall and rebound of rocknroll’s most wayward son—Jerry Lee Lewis. We talk to the Killer about his hits, his misses and being the last man standing of the “Million Dollar Quartet,” which also included Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Jerry Lee’s sister Frankie Jean Lewis, a.k.a. the Chiller, gives us a tour of the family’s homestead in Ferriday, LA. Natchez, MS bluesman Hezekiah Early shares memories of Haney’s Big House, the Chitlin’ Circuit nightclub where underage Jerry Lee sneaked in to hear boogie woogie. Drummer J.M. Van Eaton describes what it was like to record with the Killer during his early Memphis days. Sun Records publicist Barbara Sims recalls the scandal that derailed the pianoman’s career. And Linda Gail Lewis, nicknamed the Thriller, tells of her brother’s second act as a country star and the string of duets they recorded together, as well as her own career as a pianist and dueting with Van Morrison. Plus, we hear Jerry Lee Lewis’s collaborations with Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and Gillian Welch, among others. All killer, no filler, this week on American Routes.