Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Brenton Jordan, the stick-man and sometimes lead songster of the McIntosh County Shouters, respects the form’s history and understands his responsibility to its integrity, yet, as master performers of vernacular art do, he is willing to advance the tradition through personal expression.
Gordon Tanner was seventeen when he found himself thrust before a microphone, fiddle in hand, at a makeshift Bluebird recording studio in San Antonio’s Texas Hotel. His father Gid—cofounder of the original Skillet Lickers—stood beside him, along with the blind guitarist and singer Riley Puckett, a prolific recording artist and bona fide hillbilly star.
Deacon Lunchbox shared crass, nonsensical, and insightful truths, and believed artistic expression wasn’t just for the highbrow. He once told Creative Loafing that working-class Southern expression is unexpected: “I’ve lived in rural areas most of my life, and the idea that working-class people aren’t creative or imaginative is ridiculous.”
Ray Stevens is a slippery one. He’ll don an endless succession of zany personas, then suddenly play it straight and savvy when you least expect it. In the music video for “The Streak” he’s all over the place, making his entrance as a voluble TV news reporter, chasing down the scoop on a flashing incident at the local Bi-Rite.
Last winter, the metal band Black Tusk went on a six-week tour of Europe, where they’ve established a strong following over the past decade. As most any band would today, they shared a candid visual diary on social media. But the trio’s followers on Facebook and Instagram (there are more than 54,000 of them) weren’t just seeing the expected performance photos, landscape shots, party pics, and show promos. Black Tusk had a mission abroad, which they christened #ripathon.
During Sweet Auburn’s heyday, a brotherhood of gifted guitar-playing soul singers, though largely unknown by a wide audience today, formed a loose collective. They wrote songs together, recorded them, encouraged one another, and competed fiercely, each believing in a coming personal glory that never came.
Alice Swoboda discusses her brief recording career and her stunning song “Potter’s Field.”
My manager at that time told me that we’re in the wrong location. He said, “You’re writing light years ahead of your time and you would be better recognized if we were in the Bay Area.” But it is what it is, and it was what it was.
Bessie Jones nurtured a prodigious repertoire of songs—hundreds of them, for work, play, worship, instruction—as both a rite and as a vocation. Her vision was one of radical egalitarianism, inspired by the enduring collective, expressive folk traditions—occupational, recreational, spiritual—of the black rural South and her ardent faith in a kind of ecstatic liberation theology, which found activist application in the civil rights movement.