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) CattailMusic.com.

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.”

Scott Ainslie in Readsboro VT, Friday-June 19, 2015

Readsboro Press ScansExperience the diversity of the blues this weekend
by Rolf Parker

Deerfield Valley News, June 12, 2015

READSBORO, VT–There are several things about a Scott Ainslie concert that make it different from many others. For one thing, no one knows what songs bluesman Ainslie will lay at the E. J. Bullock building on June 19, not even Ainslie.

“I can’t give you a set list because they generally don’t exist. When I take the stage, I generally know what I’m going to start with and how I’m going to end a set. What happens in between is almost entirely driven by a combination of my instincts and my relationship with the audience.”

To kindle this relationship, Ainslie takes the time to meet with people in the audience before the show, instead of waiting until curtain time, waling on stage and starting to play, as many performers do.

“I always go out to meet people before the show. It allows me to know who I’m going to be playing for and it influences my choices. We are in this together,” said Ainslie.

This does not mean that he will play any and all requests for people’s favorite songs.

“When asked for a favorite song by someone, I will make note of it without a promise that it will be in the set. In that sense, there is no ‘show.’ We are sharing a space and a couple hours of our lives together. We influence each other. A request will become part of that dance, whether I play the tune or not.

“In between songs, my attention is on the audience. Somewhere in their faces, I find the next tune.”

While Ainslie may not have a complete set list, his knowledge of the blues gives him many blues songs to choose from. In 1967, when he was only 15, he heard Piedmont Blues musician John Jackson play three songs.

“I view the work of an artist the way a Shaman or Griot might regard their work in a more traditional society. In some tangible and intangible ways, we hold up a mirror to the world, the society, or an individual and we ask, ‘Are you happy with this? This is who we are. Are we Doing Well? Could we do better?’”
– Scott Ainslie

Continue Reading

Thoughts on “Slave Nation”

Slave Nation:
How Slavery United the Colonies
& Sparked the American Revolution

SlaveNation coverAlfred W. & Ruth G. Blumrosen, (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005).

by Scott Ainslie

Fiat Justitia, Ruat Coelum [1]*
[Latin: Let Justice be done, though the heavens may fall.]

No one in America – black, white, red, yellow, or brown – gets to grow up without having to struggle in some way with racism, and attending issues pegged to the color of one’s skin.

This very stubborn truth troubled the authors of Slave Nation.

Continue Reading

Gateway To Freedom

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Eric Foner (©2015, W. W. Norton & Company)

Gateway To Freedom Book CoverHistorian Eric Foner has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Lincoln Prize for his distinguished works on the Civil War period of American history. As the Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, he has consistently brought little known histories to light and with Gateway to Freedom, he does so again.

Integrating fresh evidence–including a secretly kept accounting of escapees created by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key figures in the New York City network of organizers and activists who were helping escaped slaves to freedom–Foner carefully exposes the myths about the Underground Railroad and elevates it from folklore to history. Americans, who are more interested in our actual history than the mythology that generally obscures it, will enjoy this work.

Continue Reading

First You Make a Roux - Gumbo!

What about the recipes?

We’ve combined the content from ScottAinslie.com and CattailMusic.com into this new site, but friends panicked because they didn’t see the link to Scott’s other site: What’s Scott Cooking Tonight?

The cooking blog hasn’t gotten much attention lately, but the recipes are still there, so if you need a refresher on the New York Times no-knead bread, or Barb’s fancy braided “Bert’s Coffee Cake”, or the encouragement to try gumbo…. head on over to cooking.cattailmusic.com!

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