Barbecue pit master, vinyl records enthusiast, festival founder, and all around important individual to help keeping a distinct dialect of American roots music alive, Chris Johnson, has died. The quintessential fan turned organizer, through his various ventures, Chris Johnson became…
It was the summer of 2012, and I was stationed behind a double axle flatbed trailer dubbing as a festival stage in the capacity of a volunteer stage manager at the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN. Dealing with the remnants of a tropical storm that had made its way into the middle Tennessee region, it had been a wet afternoon and early evening.
Before they were melting the faces of appreciative crowds, before they were being featured on Breaking Bad and being touted beside bands like The Black Keys as one of best blues power duos of our generation, and before they were signed to powerhouse label Alive Records, Ft. Wayne, Indiana’s smash blues maestros Left Lane Cruiser put out a raw, unfettered debut album called Slingshot.
In the 12 years since Hillstomp’s inception, John Johnson, and guitar player Henry Christian have become one of the Pacific Northwest’s most well-known underground roots duos, garnering a loyal following and making fast fans from their avant-garde approach to blues that combines elements of punk, trance, and most notably, a beat that is delivered by a drum set centered around a bucket instead of a snare drum.
The Ten Foot Polecats out of Boston bring the serious, full-tilt North Mississippi deep blues mojo on their new chest-pounding, groove-infested long player rightly entitled Undertow. As the name implies, this bad boy sucks you down and doesn’t quit tugging you asunder until you wholly submit to the deep muddy abyss of booty-shaking rhythms.
Take the insane punk blues of the two-piece Left Lane Cruiser, add the shirtless, sweat-drenched James Leg from the Black Diamond Heavies, and then put them in charge of reviving some of the most legendary songs in blues music, and you’ve got an album dangerous enough to require a prescription. Painkillers, the new cover album due out 6/26/12 on Alive Natural Sound Records.
Mississippi blues legend T Model Ford, who became a roots icon along with R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and many other older blues artists from Mississippi through Fat Possum Records, has suffered a stroke and remains in the hospital. This is not the first stroke T Model has suffered, but the people around him are describing the always-jovial, 90+ years-old blues player’s spirits as “uncharacteristically low.”
From the outside looking in, one may look at the lineup of The Muddy Roots Festival for example, and wonder how all these bands could all be booked right beside each other and it work seamlessly. This illustrates the dramatic sonic and geographical diversity that goes into creating what we know now as the underground country roots, or “Muddy Roots” world.
.357 String Band, Ben Prestage, Black Diamond Heavies, Bob Wayne, Bobby Bare, BR549, Calamity Cubes, Dale Watson, Deep Blues Festival, Emmylou Harris, Fat Possum Records, Greg Garing, Hank3, JB Beverley, Junior Kimbrough, Justin Townes Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Legendary Shack Shakers, Lone Wolf OMB, Loretta Lynn, Los Duggans, Mike Ness, Muddy Roots Festival, Pickathon, Rachel Brooke, Ramseur Records, Restavrant, Reverend Horton Heat, RL Burnside, Rusty Knuckles, Scott H. Biram, Slackeye Slim, Some Velvet Evening, Split Lip Rayfield, Steve Erale, Supersuckers, t Model Ford, Ten Foot Polecats, The Avett Bros, The Black Keys, The Devil Makes Three, The Everymen, The Goddamn Gallows, The Pine Box Boys, The Ryman, Those Poor bastards, Tompall Glaser, Trampled by Turtles, Waylon Jennings, Wayne Hancock, Whitey Morgan & The 78's, Willie Nelson, Yep Rock
Indie doesn’t really have its own traditions, its own infrastructure like country, blues, or even Texas music. And in this music climate of massive contraction, this is not the time to be creating new infrastructure that may not be sustainable moving forward. So the solution appears to be to incorporate existing infrastructure that was built years ago for roots and country artists, ostensibly squeezing the support for these types of artists out of the picture.
Sure, the attrition is slow and calculated.But over time, as you look at the yearly schedules for things like Austin City Limits, or ACL Fest, or Pickathon…
ACL Fest, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Budweiser, Cheap Trick, Dave Matthews Band, Dr. Dogg, Fat Possum, Hayes Carll, Jan Reed, Junior Kimbrough, Matthew Johnson, Pearl Jam, Pickathon, RL Burnside, Robert Earl Keen, Saturday Night Live, The Black Keys, The Improbably Rise of Redneck Rock, Vegoose