Back Porch Music Newsletter

April 9, 2018
WUNC-FM, Keith Weston & Freddy Jenkins
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC

Scott Ainslie 

by Freddy Jenkins

I’ve been a fan of Scott Ainslie’s music since I heard his first solo CD, Jealous of the Moon, when it was released in 1995. That recording has fantastic renditions of three Robert Johnson songs in addition to interpretations of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” the standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times, Come Again No More” and a version of “Wayfaring Stranger.”

Ainslie has subsequently released five more, fine CDs—Terraplane (1997), You Better Lie Down (2002), The Feral Crow (2004), and Thunder’s Mouth(2008). These recordings offer a mix of blues, African-American traditional songs, and originals delivered with skill and emotion. His most recent collection, 2014’s The Last Shot Got Him, has a couple more Robert Johnson tunes, as well as compositions by Irving Berlin and Fats Waller. This CD takes its title from a ragtime blues by Mississippi John Hurt and contains a handful of his tunes as well. Ainslie’s own “Late Last Night” is outstanding.

Scott Ainslie was inspired to take up guitar when he heard the blues artist John Jackson play in 1967. According to his bio, though, Ainslie’s mother found him at the family piano picking out melodies from the records she listened to during the day when he was just three years old.

It seems that music and music education have always been a part of his life. He is a Phi Beta Kappa and honors graduate of Washington & Lee University. He is versed in Southern Appalachian fiddle and banjo traditions, and East Coast and Delta Blues.

Ainslie gives classes and workshops in schools for teachers and students that explore the African and European roots of the music of the American South. He has also received awards and grants to acknowledge and fund his work including support from the National Endowment for the Arts and The North Carolina Arts Council.

I enjoy Scott Ainslie’s music and it is a pleasure to share it on Back Porch Music. But as you can tell there is much more to Scott Ainslie than just the recordings that I play.

Rather than offer a few YouTube clips, I’m going to suggest you head to his website where you can learn much, much more about him, and find links to video performances, instructional sessions and his music.

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

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

Last Shot Got Him – Living Blues Review

by Frank Matheis
March Issue, Living Blues Magazine

Last Shot Got Him [has Scott Ainslie] putting down six swift Mississippi John Hurt songs, paying homage to the old master starting with The First Shot Missed Him.

There has been a flurry of John Hurt covers lately, some lovely and some over the top with weird phonetic mimicking of Hurt’s voice and dialect that seem almost farcically, culturally misplaced, but Ainslie sings Hurt with dignity and does justice to him musically and artistically. It’s a respectful tribute with superior guitar instrumentation.

He captures Hurt’s music closely to the original while making it his own, bringing on Avalon Blues, Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me, Honey Right Away, Got the Blues and Monday Morning Blues and every moment is a sweet spot.

He has perfectly mastered the lilting, syncopated, alternating bass-picking style of Hurt. Ainslie wakes up that Gibson and makes it chime and ring, with his fingers dancing over the fretboard in a away that this guitar may not have experienced in its 80 years of life. Continue Reading

Huffington Post Interview, 2014

A Conversation with Scott Ainslie
by Mike Rogogna 
The Huffington Post, December 24, 2014

Mike Ragogna: Scott, your latest album The Last Shot Got Him was released back in October. What’s the reaction been to it so far?

Scott Ainslie: From the moment the first copies have gone out I’ve received very positive responses from listeners. The quality of the recording and the performances have both garnered considerable praise. And The Last Shot Got Him was chosen as the December, 2014 “Recording of the Month” by Rad Bennett at SoundStage! Ultra–at

MR: How did the material come together for the project and what was the recording process like?

SA: I recorded 17 tracks to choose from for this record and released fourteen of them. The guiding principle was the voice and vintage of the guitar, a 1934 Gibson L-50. All the tracks are songs and tunes that the guitar might have been asked to play when it was young–ca. 1928-1941.

My process? I record all the tracks in my studio at Cattail Music in Vermont. I rough mix them and then Julian McBrowne and I mix the tracks together. For this project, I went to Toby Mountain for mastering. Both of these engineers are masters who believe in using a light touch with acoustic music and we have good results to show for that approach. Continue Reading

Blue Ridge Outdoors Interview

To call Scott Ainslie a musician is to shortchange his abilities; along with being a world class blues guitar player, Ainslie counts himself an author, historian, storyteller, and teacher.

The Brattleboro, Vermont, resident – whose roots run deep right here in Virginia – was introduced to the blues as a teenager. Since that foundational moment when he was fifteen, Ainslie has maintained a passionate love affair with early American blues music, going so far as to transcribe the original works of the legendary Robert Johnson in his book Robert Johnson: At The Crossroads and produce an instructional DVD on Johnson’s playing techniques.

Ainslie has also released five recordings, won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council, and has traveled the U.S. and Canada to share his brand of American folk music.

Recently, Ainslie released his latest record, The Last Shot Got Him, a collection of tunes originally recorded in the early twentieth century by such luminaries as Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Fats Waller, and more.

Ainslie I corresponded by email this week and I must admit to being transfixed by his responses to my questions. His understanding and appreciation of musical history virtually seeped through my monitor.

Continue Reading

Metronome cover

Metronome Interview with Brian Owens, 2014

Blues singer-songwriter-guitarist and historian Scott Ainslie is an innate musician and a true gentleman. After listening to John Jackson play at a high school assembly while in his teens, Ainslie found his way to music and never looked back. Over the years, he’s played with John Jackson, Ernie Hawkins, Etta Baker, Mike Seeger and the Fly By Night String Band, among others. He’s a gifted storyteller and an exceptional musician whose musical journey has enriched his life (and others) beyond his wildest dreams. We talked at length one winter day and he explained how he came to choose music as his calling….

Continue Reading

The Graham Weekly Album Review #1385

( Ainslie: The Feral Crow
by George Graham(Cattail Music 2004 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/8/2004)

In the music business, it pays to be versatile, to be able to play different kinds of music, since the opportunities for performing in any single genre tend to be limited. But at the same time, this can be confusing to audiences, who tend to like their performers to play one kind of music and maintain the sound that was won those fans in the first place.

This week, we have a CD by a performer who shows his versatility by jumping from one style to quite another. Scott Ainslie’s new release is called The Feral Crow.

Scott Ainslie, who was formerly based in North Carolina but relocated to Vermont recently, has developed a reputation as a blues historian, being the author of a book on Robert Johnson and having produced an instructional video on Johnson’s guitar technique. His previous releases also tended toward traditional blues. But his new CD is very much in the singer-songwriter vein, imbued with some lyrics in the folk protest song tradition. It’s also a particularly fine example of an intelligent, literate singer-songwriter with very tasteful instrumental backing.

As Ainslie points out in an interview, before he got into playing the blues and being a blues historian, he had developed a reputation as an old-time style fiddle player and clawhammer banjo player, and said that before that, he was a folk musician. Now that comes around again on The Feral Crow, and the result is a memorable album that recalls the style of Richard Shindell, with Ainslie’s rich baritone voice and often powerful lyrics, touching on subjects from a motorcycle accident to the kidnapping of a South African human rights advocate, with even a couple of love songs.

He is joined by a excellent backing band of musicians from the Woodstock, New York, area, including bassist and producer Scott Petito, plus drummer Jerry Marotta, who has worked with people like Peter Gabriel, Marc Shulman on guitars, Peter Vitalone on keyboards, and Leslie Ritter, a fine singer-songwriter in her own right and formerly half of the duo Amy and Leslie, on backing vocals.

In Ainslie’s own publicity material for the CD, he notes that even though it is not the blues stylistically, the songs touch on some of the same subjects. But The Feral Crow is more expansive lyrically. These are songs that Ainslie has been working on for a long time, some of which go back to the 1980s. There are also some semi-topical songs, including a song for peace, and one about the aftermath of Vietnam. And musically the songs get into some fairly sophisticated territory that is a long way from three-chord blues.

The CD commences with a song called Exit 178. One needs to go to Ainslie’s website to find out the background behind the unconventional lyrics of this piece. It turns out that the title is a reference to an exit on Interstate 85 near Durham, North Carolina, where one night, as he was driving along, he came upon a motorcyclist who had had an accident and was lying on the road. Ainslie and his friend tried their best to stop traffic. <<>>

Perhaps the CD’s most pointed protest song is Don’t Obey, which Ainslie said was inspired by a line by author C.P. Snow, “More heinous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than ever have been committed in the name of rebellion.” He invokes some of the events of recent history in this powerful song. <<>>

In the more conventional area of a love song is Over Again, which seeks to take things back to the way they were before a breakup. <<>>

The title track The Feral Crow is another protest song, in this case about a particularly destructive mining technique in West Virginia, it speculates on how it affects one particular species of wildlife. Ainslie combined a spacey synthesizer ambience with his traditional clawhammer-style banjo. <<>>

Another song that was inspired by the news is It’s My World Too, about steelworkers in Pennsylvania who lost their jobs to the forces of globalization. <<>>

One of the highlights of the album is another song that takes up the topics addressed by protest singers over the years, the Vietnam War. In this case, it takes a more hopeful tone. The song is called Rice Grows Again in Vietnam, which was inspired by a refugee Ainslie got to know. <<>>

Another song that pretty much requires the explanation provided by Ainslie’s website is Confession. It’s about the kidnapping and murder of South African civil rights leader Stephen Biko. It was inspired by the South African Truth Commission, who was looking into the crimes of the apartheid era. In the case of Biko’s murderers, they never convicted. <<>>

Looking for a Rose is a tasteful philosophical song whose thesis that to get at the roses, you have to go through the thorns. <<>>

Bluesman Scott Ainslie has definitely made a stylistic shift on his new CD The Feral Crow, but it shows his versatility. Far from being a bluesy album, the new CD is a particularly fine example of the singer-songwriter genre, with Ainslie doing both jobs very well. His lyrics are articulate and often powerful, and his vocal style is pleasingly warm. Add that to the very tasteful backing musicians, and one has a memorable album even in the very crowded singer-songwriter field.

Our grade for sound quality is an unqualified “A.” It’s one of those now increasingly rare examples of great care being taken with the sonic presentation, and the temptation was resisted to pump up the volume on the CD. It’s a treat on a good sound system.

Irrespective of Scott Ainslie’s reputation in the blues, his new CD The Feral Crow shows that he can also be counted upon as another worthy example of how the current period has become the golden age of singer-songwriters, with new music rivalling anything from the Sixties or Seventies.

(c) Copyright 2004 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
This review may not be copied to another Web site without written permission.

<<>> indicates audio excerpt played in produced radio review

Comments to George:


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