An interview with Les McCann from the Kentucky Music Issue.
All through high school the band teacher and I were very good friends. He received tickets to all the bands and brought me to concerts. I was in perfect heaven. I never said no to anything. And my mother was a fake opera singer. She’d listen to the opera every Sunday while she cleaned house and wooooo, oh my God, it was great! Everybody was into something. Right across the street from our house was the Elk’s Club, so every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night you’d hear a beautiful organ trio playing.
A lyric essay supplement to our 2018 North Carolina Music Issue—plus H. C. McEntire covers Led Zeppelin.
God is right there, in the brier. Turn the rows, change the tires, bow the heads, feed the mouths. Only the rhythm will yield the harvest. Go on, now. Shoot the hog between the eyes. It’s easiest that way.
Serve them all.
A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
I wanted to start with the wild weeds and the creaking wood on the front porch, walking up to Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina. I wanted to start where she started, imagining her daddy playing jazz standards on the piano, her mama cooking something good and greasy in the cramped kitchen with siblings zooming around. I envisioned myself, like Alice Walker looking for Zora Neale Hurston’s unmarked grave, shouting Nina in the derelict home, hoping somehow she would appear, gloriously phantasmagoric, and answer all of my incessant probing questions.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
I first heard Wesley Johnson’s name in 2008 while speaking with Carlotta Fleming (née Samuels) about her vocal group, Odyssey 5. After recording their lone LP, First Time Around, for Brunswick Records in 1974, she’d spent a few years in Italy singing in a group called Wess Machine, the namesake disco ensemble of a man named Wesley Johnson—a Winston-Salem native who’d been moving and shaking to some degree in Italy. I didn’t get tied up in the few details Fleming had to offer, so I was floored a decade later to encounter a box of Wesley Johnson LPs—all Italian pressings—in a Jamaican record shop. These beautiful, gatefold affairs revealed that Johnson was not some draft dodger or bail hopper, but a prolific expat whose overseas success story remained mostly unknown back home. In Winston-Salem, his sister Linda told me the best person to speak to about Wesley would be his best friend, Carl Ray Johnson, whom I knew as the drummer and primary songwriter for the Eliminators, another important local soul combo from the seventies. Luckily, I was already in touch with Carl.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
I yanked down a shoebox of old letters, and a tiny folded sheet of paper floated out: a hand-drawn cartoon card that Scott had given me the year I played with Frightened Rabbit in Austin, Texas on my birthday. I kneeled down and doubled over, suddenly blinded with tears. This casual display of unprompted thoughtfulness for another human being had made the magnitude of loss apparent.
As I sing my first note from the stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of Louisiana’s 400 festivals, I watch as people are drawn to the music. They come from every walk of life; tall, short, thin, round, young, old, hippie, yuppie, folkie, and foreign. Everyone is different, yet they’re all here, in Louisiana, to enjoy our little piece of heaven on Earth. The smell of roux and fried seafood intertwine with the dancers, sweat and dust. Cypress crafts pepper the backdrop of multi-colored tents. In this moment, there are no worries—just complete happiness. Food for my soul…my plate is full.
—Yvette Landry, Author, Educator, Ambassador, GRAMMY-Nominated Songbird, and Breaux Bridge Native
A video supplement to “Folk Witness” by John T. Edge, published in the Fall 2018 issue.
“Joints and shacks offer witness to the environments where design and operation incongruities . . . often bespeak honesty. The creative responses of that grocery store manager and that breakfast joint operator confirm that humans are at the helm in such spaces, singular and complicated souls capable of responding to circumstance and necessity with brilliance.”
—John T. Edge, “Folk Witness”
A poem from the North Carolina Music Issue.
It rises from dust, rakes in the populace,
feeds them fried Twinkies, fried trees if they could
put them on a stick and powder them in sugar.
Bodies bunch up: the perfumed, the balmy,
the whole way to watch the potter at his wheel,
the carver and his knife, the knee-high rope
around an old America.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Around the close of the 1950s, if you wanted to hear the beginnings of the funk music that James Brown would soon introduce to the world, you wouldn’t find much of it on his records. Brown’s late- ’50s recordings with the Famous Flames, like his plaintive “Try Me” and the shatteringly sweet “I Want You So Bad,” are indisputably cool, and they spill over with the vocal histrionics that would characterize his performance style for decades to come. But the overall aesthetic of his music from that era is still redolent of doo-wop and ducktails. He’d only just begun to take some sandpaper to the smooth sheen of ’50s pop music.
No, if you wanted to hear funk music before 1960, your best bet might be the Maola Ice Cream talent show in Kinston, North Carolina.
An excerpt from Mesha Maren's new novel Sugar Run.
The woman leans forward, elbows on the table and black hair slicked back under a cap. She’s been there for three days, winning more than half the hands she plays, and her presence carves a space in the room disproportionate to her size.