The Hub, Hattiesburg MS

Scott Ainslie: Coffeehouse Hosts Rare Treat

“…I am interested in venues that are actively building communities of interest and in expanding my touring while I can,” he said. “Hearing that Hattiesburg was hard hit by the recent tornado, I contacted David Walker at the Coffeehouse to offer to tithe a portion of the evening’s proceeds to tornado recovery for the town.

“I am not well off. I am coming a long way to play. But I have my house and my family is safe. There are those in Hattiesburg today for whom this is not true. We have to all make provisions as we can to help our neighbors, even the ones we don’t know.”

Full Article

The Brain That Changes Itself

BrainThatAs a lifelong student and a teacher of various things over the past four decades, I have an abiding curiosity and affection for the new brain science, for neurobiology, and practical applications of the new science that is being recorded.

Accordingly this book, The Brain That Changes Itself (Viking, 2007), was right in my wheelhouse. Though not restricted to either music, or to Blues history, I found it moving and interesting. I hope, after reading my thoughts on it, you will, too.

The Brain That Changes Itself:
Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
By Norman Doidge, M.D. Viking (2007)

As someone who works with brains (my own and those of others), I found this an amazing read.

In the preface, Dr. Norman Doidge sets out exactly what this scientific mystery story is about:

“This book is about the revolutionary discovery that the human brain can change itself, as told through the stories of the scientists, doctors, and patients who have together brought about these astonishing transformations. Without operations or medications, they have made use of the brains hitherto unknown ability to change. Some were patients who had what were thought to be incurable brain problems; others were people without specific problems who simply wanted to improve the functioning of their brains, or preserve them, as they aged. For four hundred years, this venture would have been inconceivable because mainstream medicine and science believed that brain anatomy was fixed…” p. xiii

But, it is not. The brain is plastic.

And, as scientists learn to take advantage of the sometimes daily, even momentary, plasticity of the brain, that newly discovered property is becoming a stunning resource for the treatment of stroke, autism, dementia, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and learning disabilities, among other ailments. Put simply, our brains are structured by our experience: minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

At the level of neuronal activity and interconnections within the brain, neurobiologists have coined a phrase: “If it fires together; it wires together.” The therapeutic advances that are documented in this work take direct advantage of this simple adage in a variety of ways.

Neuronal researcher Michael Merzenich, PhD. plays a significant role in the discovery of the dramatic and ongoing malleability/adaptability of the human brain. Building on the brain mapping of earlier researchers, Merzenich employed microelectrodes that could be inserted next to or in an individual neuron. Instead of brain scans which map (and may miss) thousands of neuronal events, the tedious and time-consuming micro-mapping of the brain has led to this new and remarkable understanding of how brains work.

There are two key facts to hold on to about brain mapping: 1) maps are topographical, which in the language of neurobiologists means that adjacent body parts are mapped to adjacent areas of the brain, and 2) when an area of the brain is deprived of sensory input, it yearns for and searches for input from adjacent areas.

Through laborious scientific exploration, it turns out that this last discovery accounts for compensations like the heightened hearing of those who lose their sight. When the stimuli coming from the eyes ceases, given the competitive plasticity of the organ, the un-stimulated territory of the brain is re-employed as a processor for sound. This gives the sense of hearing additional neuronal real estate that translates into more processing power, which translates into heightened awareness and sensitivity to sound.

The therapeutic management of sensory input (by either quieting or exciting neuronal activity) is leading to remarkable treatment strategies and advances in addressing what were, heretofore, intractable imbalances and disabilities in the brain.

When it comes down to allocating processing power, brain maps are governed by an acute competition for precious resources. In the zero sum game of neuronal resources, the principle of ‘use it or lose it’ definitely applies.

Doidge writes:

“If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead. If you ever ask yourself, “How often must I practice French, or guitar, or math to keep on top of it?” you are asking a question about competitive plasticity. You are asking how frequently you must practice one activity to make sure its brain space is not lost to another.” p. 59

It matters not just that you practice, but how and what you practice. Inaccurate practice is not ineffective, but the results firmly encode bad habits – which reinforced by each subsequent repetition. Put simply, your brain encodes the errors. As a musician, for instance, every time you stumble over a passage, you are learning to play that passage in that very specific, incorrect way. If you think to yourself, “With enough passes eventually I’ll get it right,” you’re fooling yourself, but not your brain. Your brain is busily building the neural pathways for what you are doing, not what you hope to do.

Again, from Doidge’s chapter “Redesigning The Brain”:

“When a child learns to play piano scales for the first time, he tends to use his whole upper body – wrist, arm, shoulder – to play each note. Even the facial muscles tighten into a grimace. With practice, the budding pianist stops using irrelevant muscles and soon uses only the correct finger to play the note. He develops a ‘lighter touch,’ and if he becomes skillful, he develops ‘grace’ and relaxes as he plays. This is because the childe goes from using a massive number of neurons to an appropriate few, wellmatched to the task. This more efficient use of neurons occurs whenever we become proficient at a skill, and it explains why we don’t quickly run out of map space as we practice or add skills to our repertoire.” p. 67

When a new skill is attempted the entire outer cortext of the brain fires in a lightning storm of awareness and alertness. When you were learning to drive a car, you were likely hyper-alert, unsure of what to pay attention to, having to learn to move feet, hands, eyes (and the vehicle!) in time and space. After driving for years, it is entirely likely that you can move a car safely and effectively through space while thinking of paying your phone bill, changing radio stations, or listening to books on tape. You have learned what to pay attention to in the new environment/skill and what you can safely ignore.

As a new skill becomes focused, what it takes to achieve success boils down to just the discrete neural network of interconnections in the brain required. No more. The activity in the brain moves inward and down into just the networks required. The cortex quiets down and becomes available for the next new experience. In this way, when we explore new territory in the world, we build new connections in the brain.

What neurobiologists have found out by micro-mapping the brain is – the brain is micro-mapping us (our world and our experience) in real time.

Based on the experimental work with plasticity, a number of training principles have emerged: 1) training is more effective if the skill closely relates to everyday life; 2) training should be done in increments that gradually increase in complexity; and 3) work should be concentrated into a short time (a training technique known as “massed practice” which has shown itself to be far more effective than long-term, but less frequent training). p. 155-6

“In all of medicine, few conditions are as terrifying as a stroke, when a part of our brain dies. But [Edward] Taub has shown that even in this state, as long as there is adjacent living tissue, because that tissue is plastic, there may be hope that it might take over.” P. 162

One of the strategies being used to develop new wiring in a brain area is ‘constraint-induced therapy’. It is being used to address both physical and language deficiencies in stroke patients.

In the case of physical incapacities, therapists strategically constrain the use of the unaffected limb (strapping it down physically to the body) and force movement and neural input, however limited and fragmentary, from the affected limb.

As the stimuli come in from the affected limb, they reach for receptors in the brain. Finding them unresponsive, they extend their reach into adjacent areas. Experimental studies have shown remarkable, unanticipated progress among stroke and brain-damaged patients, some of whom have recovered capabilities that they had been assured were irretrievably lost years before, capabilities that have involved both language and movement that were catastrophically lost prior to this constraint-induced retraining of the brain.

Reflecting on this, it seems important to note that we don’t actually “break” a bad habit (or a learned or physically-induced incapacity). Instead, we purposefully send the neurons down a new and different path while quieting input to the old path (either with physical incapacitation or, in cases of language loss, with strictly adhered to and graduated rules about language use).

With concentrated therapy, repetition, and attention, we can establish a new pathway for neurons that, left to our inattention or instincts would follow their previous route.

Over time, in the competitive plastic environment of the brain, the former and now disused pathway will become available for a new use. Essentially, the old habit we own (and hope to ‘break’) will be returned to ‘the commons’ while the newly built and carefully reinforced pathway will become the dominant and preferred route. We don’t break habits. We make new ones.

When it comes our habits of being and our neural networks, we don’t actually fight fire with fire: we fight fire with water. Rather than act in direct opposition, magnifying and reinforcing the problem, our efforts instead move to the opposite side of the body, to an opposite tack, to a new part of the brain, and we establish new connections that over time will effectively render the old pathways obsolete.

In the context of the two adages cited earlier [1.‘If it fires together, it wires together,’ and 2. ‘Use it, or lose it.’], we are beginning to understand that the brain is not machine-like – fixed in time or space – but a living, responsive, and adaptive mechanism for dealing with change. We succeed in establishing a new way of being not by concentrating or getting stuck on the old habit, but by refocusing, by learning to work around the problem, and establish a new path, literally – a new neural pathway.

Animal studies have shown that beings with smaller brains have developmental windows of adaptability that open and close, never to reopen. (Raised with one eye sewn shut, kittens will be totally blind in that eye, not because the eye has been damaged or isn’t sending signals to the brain, but because the part of the brain that would be receiving those signals has been permanently taken over, usually by the sensory input from the other eye. No amount of retraining has succeeded in rendering the perfectly healthy eye that was sewn shut useful again.)

But new understandings of brain science in humans point to the fact that there is nothing a newborn brain can do that one oughtn’t expect of the brain of an 80 year old.

The plasticity of the human brain – its responsiveness to new situations and stimuli – is a life-long trait. And, in the cascading system of neural real estate, whatever goes un-used, will become available for a new use. And new stimuli will reach out in the brain to find real estate in which to establish itself.

Writing about OCD, Doidge notes that: “With obsessions and compulsions, the more you do it, the more you want to do it; the less you do it, the less you want to do it…it is not what you feel while applying the technique that counts, it is what you do…”

“The struggle is not to make the feeling go away. The struggle is not to give in to the feeling – by acting out a compulsion, or thinking about the obsession. This technique won’t give immediate relief because lasting neuroplastic change takes time, but it does lay the groundwork for change by exercising the brain in a new way…” p. 173

Resisting the compulsion for a minute, twenty minutes, thirty minutes – that effort is what appears to lay down new neural circuits that strengthen with consistent practice and effort.

In his chapter on Imagination, introducing the work of Alvaro Pascual-Leone, chief of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, Doidge turned my attention back to music:

“Pascual-Leone taught two groups of people, who had never studied piano, a sequence of notes, showing them which fingers to move and letting them hear the notes as they were played. Then members of one group, the ‘mental practice’ group, sat in front of an electric keyboard, two hours a day for five days, and imagined both playing the sequence and hearing it played. A second ‘physical practice’ group actually played the music two hours a day for five days.

“Both groups had their brains mapped before the experiment, each day during it, and afterward. Then both groups were asked to play the sequence, and a computer measured the accuracy of their performances.

“Pascual-Leone found that both groups learned to play the sequence, and both showed similar brain map changes. Remarkably, the mental practice alone produced the same physical changes in the motor system as actually playing the piece. By the end of the fifth day, the changes in motor signals to the muscles were the same in both groups, and the ‘imagining’ players were as accurate as the ‘actual’ players were on their third day.

“The level of improvement at five days in the mental practice group, however substantial, was not as great as in those who did physical practice.

“But when the mental practice group finished its mental training and was give a single two-hour physical practice session, its overall performance improved to the level of the physical practice group’s performance at five days. Clearly mental practice is an effective way to prepare for learning a physical skill with minimal physical practice.” p. 201-2

In his chapter, Rejuvenation, Doidge addresses neurogenesis – the establishment and uses of neural stem cells in creating new connections in the brain, citing the work of Frederick Gage, among others:

“Gage’s colleague, Gerd Kempermann, raised aging mice in enriched environments, filled with mice toys such as balls, tubes, and running wheels for only forty-five days. When Kempermann sacrificed the mice and examined their brains he found they had a 15% increase in the volume of their hippocampi and 40,000 new neurons (also a 15% increase) compared with mice raised in standard cages.

“Mice live about two years. When the team tested older mice raised in the enriched environment for ten months in the second half of their lives, there was a fivefold increase in the number of neurons in the hippocampus. These mice were better at tests of learning, exploration, movement, and other measures of mouse intelligence than those raised in un-enriched conditions. They developed new neurons, though not quite as quickly as younger mice, proving that long-term enrichment had an immense effect on promoting neurogenesis in an aging brain.” p. 251-2

“If we lived in this room only,” [Gage] told me [the author], “and this was our entire experience, we would not need neurogenesis. We would know everything about this environment and could function with all the basic knowledge we have”…in order to keep the brain fit, we must learn something new, rather than simply replaying already-mastered skills.” p. 252

In a series of significant Appendices following the text, Doidge presents a number of fetching, and sometimes troubling, ideas. In the Culturally Modified Brain appendix he writes:

“Civilization is a series of techniques in which the hunter-gatherer brain teaches itself to rewire itself. And the sad proof that civilization is a composite of the higher and lower brain functions is seen when civilization breaks down in civil wars, and brutal instincts emerge full-force, and theft, rape, destruction, and murder become common place.

“Because the plastic brain can always allow brain functions that it has brought together to separate, a regression to barbarism is always possible, and civilization will always be a tenuous affair that must be taught in each generation and is always, at most, one generation deep.”
p. 298


“It has long been assumed that we absorb culture through universally shared, standard-issue, human perceptual equipment, but perceptual learning shows that this assumption is not completely accurate. To a larger degree than we expected, culture determines what we can and cannot perceive. p. 300

“Culture can influence the development of perceptual learning because perception is not (as many assume) a passive, ‘bottom up’ process that begins when energy in the outside world strikes the sense receptors which then pass signals to the ‘higher’ perceptual centers in the brain. The perceiving brain is active and always adjusting itself. Seeing is as active as touching, when we run our fingers over an object to discover its texture and shape.” p. 303

Over the course of the book two outstanding therapeutic neuro-programming tools are prominently mentioned and profiled:

Fast ForWord


Posit Science
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“We worry,” Doidge writes, “because we are intelligent beings.”

“Intelligence predicts, that is its essence; the same intelligence that allows us to plan, hope, imagine, and hypothesize, also allows us to worry and anticipate negative outcomes.” p. 164

Blue Music Magazine, The Last Shot Got Him Review

The Last Shot Got Him/Cattail Music

cd cover: The Last Shot Got HimBrattleboro, Vermont-native Scott Ainslie is a country bluesman of the highest order. Armed with only his superb voice and a 1930s era Gibson L-50 archtop acoustic, Ainslie deftly weavs his way through these fourteen tracks that include one original (“Late Last Night”) along with outstanding renditions of songs by Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Irving Berlin, Oliver Wallace & Ned Washington, Reverend Gary Davis, Fats Waller, and Yip Harburg & Harold Arlen.

At times on The Last Shot Got Him, Ainslie’s sound will remind listeners of the great acoustic bluesman, Keb’ Mo’. But make no mistake, Ainslie is his own man and makes no concession of trying to emulate Keb’ Mo’. It is only their style and delivery that parallels one another’s.

Ainslie has a love for the song crafting of Mississippi John Hurt, and it is these songs that he chooses to cover most frequently. On the album opener, Ainslie enlists a fretless gourd banjo to recreate the vibe and humor of Hurt’s “The First Shot Missed Him.” Other standouts include the masterfully picked and sung “Avalon Blues,” the high steppin’ jaunt of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” the uplifting “Sally Whiskey,” the sweetly executed “Honey, Right Away,” the sunny “Monday Morning Blues,” the expressive “Late Last Night,” and the beautifully performed “Over The Rainbow.”

Scott Ainslie is a veteran touring pro who is frequently found performing in venues up and down the East Coast. With a warm, affable persona, and a wealth of musical knowledge, I highly recommend checking him out when he comes to a town near you. You won’t be sorry.

Brian M. Owens
   Blues Music Magazine, Issue Number Seven

Ainslie Brings Gibson Tour to LCCC

Ainslie brings ‘Gibson Tour’ to LCCC

John Benson/The Chronicle-Telegram

The last time veteran singer-guitarist Scott Ainslie was in Northeast Ohio, he appeared at a late ’90s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum event celebrating the life of Robert Johnson.

“The first time I heard Johnson’s music I sat down on the floor and stared at the turntable for half an hour and then turned the record over and did it again,” said Ainslie, calling from his Vermont home. “I was transfixed. I think everybody who is interested in blues or roots music who hears Robert Johnson’s music for the first time knows where they were. It’s like Kennedy’s assassination or The Challenger blowing up.

“I was fascinated by his work, and I was delighted to be invited to the Rock Hall as a special guest. I had a lot of fun just walking around. What’s fun about coming now is that I get ot atually play.”

Ainslie makes his Northeast Ohio debut with studio theater cabaret shows tonight and tomorrow night at the LCCC Stocker Center. The musician’s “1934 Gibson Tour” is centered around Ainslie’s sixth album, 2014’s “The Last Shot Got Him.”

The unique effort was recorded on a rare 1934 Gibson arch top guitar and includes songs by Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, Yip Harburg, Harold Arlen and, of course, Robert Johnson.

Not only is Ainslie a fan of the Delta blues legend, but decades ago he transcribed Johnson’s original recordings and published the book “Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads,” as well as released the instruction DVD “Robert Johnson’s Guitar Techniques.”

As far as that 1934 Gibson guitar, it fits right into Ainslie’s bailiwick, which is exploring old-time Southern Appalachian, black gospel, and blues. The fairly rare guitar boasts a large round sound hole. He ended up buying it from a friend for $1,000 with no regrets.

“Guitars have different voices, different things they’re good at,” Ainslie said. “You can often find a guitar that’s really good at one thing but nothing else. You can find a guitar that’s good at 10 things, but not 12. There’s always something missing. So, this was a vintage guitar made when Robert Johnson was 23 years old. And it sounded so much like the period it was made for.

“I decided when it came time to make a record, to turn over the authority of what should be on the record to the guitar. So, rather than me being sort of the producer, I let the guitar pick things it liked and sort of structured the record around that. There’s a bunch of music from 1928 through 1941.”

He added that at his upcoming show he’ll be performing many of those songs on the guitar, which he won’t fly with (due to the fact that things often get damaged in plane storage compartments. So, instead, Ainslie will be driving to the Buckeye State for the gig.

Considering his ties to the Rock Hall, it’s not a stretch to view the “1934 Gibson Tour” performance as an archival affair that will edify and entertain audiences.

“In one way, yes, but the most dangerous thing for a performer is to be labeled as lecturer or archivist,” Ainslie said. “Archivist sounds a little dusty. I guess I’m a musician who knows the history. I’m an informed singer and player.

“So, you’ll be slyly a little bit better educated about the music you’ve heard. It’s pain-free, I promise.”

contact John Benson at


Lonnie Johnson: Dropped-D

I was trading licks and stories with my dear friend and blues brother, Reverend Robert Jones of Detroit, at the Fox River Folk and Storytelling Festival in Geneva IL over Labor Day weekend. He asked about some Lonnie Johnson licks. We didn’t have time to really explore them together and I promised him a short video. Here it is.

Skype guitar lessons can be arranged by contacting me at scott (at)

The Beacon-News, Sept. 6, 2015

Sound Connection at Folk Festival
by Linda Girardi
The Beacon-News

Performers were having a ‘dialogue’ with their audiences Sunday during the 39th Annual Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival nestled along the banks of the Fox River on Island Park in Geneva, IL.

“Music reaches into the emotional side of our brains and connects it with the spirit in ways words cannot,” blues artist Scott Ainslie said.

The singer and songwriter said the power of music is partly what pulls audiences and performers together for such musical celebrations.

“I wanted to join in the dialogue,” he said.

The tw-day festival for Labor Day weekend features performers with diverse backgrounds representing a spectrum of ‘roots music,’ including bluegrass, Cajun, and Delta blues.

Dance and storytelling performances fill out the festival’s eight stages. There also are interactive music workshops for aspiring artists and puppet-making classes for children. Performances and workshops continue through Monday.

Ainslie, from the artsy town of Brattleboro, VT, performed a selection of songs on a 193`1 National resophonic, one of the first self-amplified steel guitars.

He insists music has been part of his life ever since he began picking out melodies on the family piano from records his mother listened to.

For his Sunday performance he plucked a one-string, handmade diddley bow (a cigar box guitar) to the intrigue of audience members.

“Music is a calling – you make it with whatever instrument and influences surround you,” he said.

A day earlier, he was among several musicians who performed for a live WFMT radio broadcast of “Midnight Special” concert in the Unitarian Church in downtown Geneva.

The gentle creak of floor boards and the blue and white stained glass windows of the 173-year-old sanctuary were a refreshing contrast from the unsual venues of these artists.

“The acoustics are amazing here,” songwriter and musician Joe Crookston said during a sound check for the sold-out concert.

Crookston made the two-day trip from Ithaca, NY to perform in Geneva.

“I am inpsired by the human potential – people tapping into who they really are and then expressing that. The world becomes a more beautiful and magical place,” he said.

Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter.

Last Shot Got Him: Jazz & Blues Report Review 8/2015

cd cover: The Last Shot Got Him

“The Last Shot Got Him” is a project by Vermont singer/songwriter, guitarist/historian Scott Ainslie that was put together over the love of an instrument. The guitar in question was a unique 1934 Gibson archtop, which a friend played for Ainslie.

The material on the disc all dates from 1928-1941 with the exception of the Ainslie original “Late Last Night” from 2008, which is based on the Russian invasion of the country Georgia. That tune, though, has the feel of one from the 1930’s and blends in with the rest of the material.

While a lot of “The Last Shot Got Him” are blues tunes per se, some like Irving Berlin’s “Say It Isn’t So” (made famous by Sippie Wallace) have more Broadway in their roots. Delightful is the remake of “When I See An Elephant Fly” from the 1941 Walt Disney movie “Dumbo.” Included are Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” (or, as you Cream fans know it, “Crossroads”) and Johnson’s “Love In Vain.”

Closing out the proceedings is a heartfelt version of “Over The Rainbow” from “The Wizard Of Oz.” While it won’t make anyone forget Judy Garland (to tell the truth, nor Livingston Taylor’s stab at it), it is great hearing this magical tune (which the stupid suits at MGM almost left out of the flick until saner, smarter voices prevailed).

Mostly done with just Ainslie’s voice & the acoustic guitar (exceptions being the banjo added on “First Shot Missed Him” & “Honey Right Away),” it boils down to if you like old time country blues, you are really going to like “The Last Shot Got Him.”

Jazz & Blues Report, Now In Our 41st Year, July/August 2015 Issue

Traveling With A Guitar

Natl.Blr.LFT2I’ve spent forty-seven years traveling with guitars and working with people who travel with instruments. I’ve had near catastrophes and witnessed many more.

There are things that are obvious to me, that may not be obvious to, um…civilians. I offer these only to be thorough and useful. I’m not assuming you don’t know them. I’m just thinking about preventable disasters and how, if I didn’t mention a few of these, what a bone head I would feel like after something bad happened. I’m an Ainslie. We’re all like this.

As a principle, you’ll profit by thinking of your guitar as the beautiful little 9 month old child. (The good news is, it doesn’t cry. The bad news is, it can’t let you know it’s in trouble.)

A few quick suggestions:

  • If you leave it unattended in car (or any public place), even for a minute, someone will kidnap it.
  • If you leave it in a hot car, it will die.
  • I don’t know why people like black guitar cases, but they are powerful solar collectors. Be careful of the sun.
  • Never put the instrument down behind a vehicle. You will back over it. When you’re loading up, put it next to the front or back wheel on the driver’s side. Nowhere else. You will be sorry. It’s only a matter of time and distraction.

When I’m on the road, every day is Take-A-Guitar-To-Lunch-Day. If the other people didn’t get the memo, their guitars are the ones being stolen out of their vehicles in the parking lot.

You can make good friends with many people simply by taking the instrument with you, even into crowded restaurants. Explain to them that it’s only one year old and it’s afraid to be alone…

Inside, traveling or not, the most common mistake we have all made and most of us have paid for is this:

  • We put the instrument down.

…On a bed, a couch, leaning up against a chair, in a corner, on a table, or in an unlatched case.

The case, which is the best of these options when you go to put the instrument down, will only keep it safe if you close the top and throw at least one latch, even if you’re only putting it down for a minute.

Reread the previous sentence. Make a habit. Then you won’t have to look at me guiltily later. We’ll all be happier.

If you don’t throw at least one latch…

(drum roll please…we’ve all done this; some, sadly, more than once)

…you or someone else will grab the handle of the case, thinking it is latched, and pick it up. This will open the case lid and toss your guitar onto the latches, and thence, the floor.

Look at the latch on the top of your guitar case. Most of them will very effectively punch a hole in the front of your guitar. That latch is just lying in wait for a chance to do it. Don’t trust it. Unlatched, it is evil. Also when you let go of the case, make sure it is resting horizontally. Think of carefully placing it where it would fall, if bumped. (No use breaking the headstock off it for want of forethought.)

Travel with your instrument, but don’t think of it as luggage, think of it as a dependent.

The Half Has Never Been Told – A Review

HalfThe Half Has Never Been Told:
Slavery & The Making of American Capitalism

Edward E. Baptist, Basic Books (2014)
Review by Scott Ainslie

In the introduction to Cornell historian and Durham NC native Edward Baptist’s new history, the author explains his title by citing part of a 1937 WPA interview with Lorenzo Ivy, born in 1850 in what later became the last capital city of the Confederacy, Danville, Virginia.

Interviewed by writer Claude Anderson, Ivy said:

“They sold slaves here and everywhere. I’ve seen droves of Negroes brought in here on foot going South to be sold. Each one of them had an old tow sack on his back with everything he’s got in it. Over the hills they came in lines reaching as far as the eye can see. They walked in double lines chained together by twos. They walk ‘em here to the railroad and ship ‘em south like cattle. Truly, son,” Ivy said, “the half has never been told.” – p. xxi

The history Baptist unfolds in this work itself is a sort of desegregation of historical events that have long been kept separate in the preferred history of the United States within the United States. The publisher’s flyleaf text begins:

“Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution–the nation’s original sin perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.
. . .

“In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial and capitalist economy…Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw materials of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.”  Continue Reading

It’s Gonna Rain – The Louisiana Connection

It’s been ten years.

In June of 2005, blues singer and guitarist Scott Ainslie wrote his remarkable song, “It’s Gonna Rain.” A rhythm and blues song about love lost in southern Louisiana, it was a poetic and lyric evocation of the culture where “people drag themselves to the graveyard,” as Ainslie often says, “and dance their way home.”

Six weeks later Hurricane Katrina hit. It scraped the Gulf Coast clean. The levees failed in New Orleans, inundating the Lower 9th Ward and creating a modern day diaspora out of the city that has only partially been reversed. That was ten years ago this August.

Overnight, without changing a word, “It’s Gonna Rain” became a song – not about losing somebody – but about losing a city.

“And for my money,” Ainslie says, “one of the coolest cities in the world. A place where people follow the band down the street in what they all the ‘Second Line;’ where people don’t just tolerate differences – they celebrate them! New Orleans has always given America more than its taken. This song is for them.”

Playing with Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo in a benefit performance for the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh three years ago, “It’s Gonna Rain” brought the house down. For Marsalis, born near Bayou Teche, a native of Breaux Bridge, raised in the music of New Orleans, the song was a natural fit.

“Playing that particular song with Branford and Joey was a dream come true for me. I’d spent years working and making lifelong friends in Breaux Bridge and Lafayette, LA,” Ainslie says. “I was channeling that when I wrote the song: the Spanish Moss hanging in the Live Oaks, the cotton wood trees, the smell of the rain on the streets. It’s all there.

“I just didn’t know how much the meaning of the song would shift when the levees failed in New Orleans – levees that repair money had been appropriated for by the Clinton Administration. The George W. Bush administration wouldn’t release the funds. There were something like 143 editorials in the Times-Picayune in the years before Katrina hit, begging the Federal government to release the money to repair those levees.”

Expressing a sentiment with which devotees of the blockbuster cable TV series Treme (on the post-Katrina Lower 9th ) will be familiar, Ainslie quietly notes, “This wasn’t a natural disaster. The worst of the storm had past when the levees failed. This was an unwitting, but very real political assassination of a largely black, democratic city. Call it what it was.”

And Ainslie’s latest CD, The Last Shot Got Him (Fall-2014), is entirely recorded on a little arch top 1934 Gibson from Louisiana.

“The guitar came to me from Linda Handelsman, a fine composer, arranger and musician who lived in Lafayette at the time. I played three chords on it and it sounded more like Robert Johnson’s recordings than any other instrument I had ever touched. It was made when Johnson was 23.

“The voice of this little Louisiana guitar was perfectly suited to the music of its time. So, I let it choose the songs for The Last Shot Got Him: Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis, as well as Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and Fats Waller. It’s a lovely instrument,” Ainslie says, “that came to me from one of my favorite places in the world.”

“Without planning it, I’ve become sort of an informal ambassador, an advocate for New Orleans and south Louisiana. I have friends who left and went back, as well as friends who left and won’t ever go back. The 2005 hurricanes, then the Deep Water Horizon explosion and Gulf oil spill have kept the troubles of Louisiana close at hand for me.”

Ainslie says, “Keeping all this in mind, I raise my voice and sing the blues.”

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