America’s Original Sin

Here’s BluesNotes for April, 2004 – I hope this finds you well, curious, and happy. This issue of BluesNotes presents excerpts of an article on three books in the NY Review of Books (March 25, 2004) by George M. Fredrickson entitled, America’s Original Sin.

In his article, Fredrickson notes that each of these books offer its own perspective on “the enslavement and brutal exploitation of millions of people of African descent over a period of almost 250 years,” and goes on:

“From whatever angle it is examined … slavery left deep scars that have not yet healed. Its legacy persists to this day in the failure to extend full equality to African-Americans. Slavery and its consequences, these books tell us, were not incidental or secondary aspects of American history but constitute its central theme. Rather than being an exception to the grander themes of liberty and democracy, slavery and the racism it engendered have exposed the shallowness and narrowness of the national commitment to these ideals.”

Continue Reading

Blue Ridge Now: Musician Caught by the Blues

By Robin Tolleson, Times-News Online, Hendersonville NC

July 22, 2011

Scott Ainslie has a high calling. He’s a blues and traditional roots musician, a bluesvhistorian, storyteller, teacher, record producer and ethnomusicologist. He’s developed a strong voice and conscience to match.

“Folk music has always been a vehicle for commenting on what’s going on,” he says. “It’s not surprising to find musicians invested in social justice causes. I’m just one of those guys.” Continue Reading

Digital Media Archive established at Delta Blues Museum


Shelley Ritter, Executive Director, DBM, 662/627-6820
Scott Ainslie, CEO, Cattail Music, Ltd., 802-257-7391

Blues Guitarists and Singers Give Back:
New Delta Blues Museum Media Archive established to pass the music to a new generation

Delta Blues Museum media archive

Executive Director Shelley Ritter and musician/historian Scott Ainslie examine over 100 instructional DVDs donated to the new Delta Blues Museum Digital Media Archive.

[Clarksdale, MS – May 11, 2011] Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson was born in Mississippi on May 8, 1911. Following closely on the centennial celebrations of Johnson’s birth, a new Delta Blues Museum Media Archive has been established at the Delta Blues Museum as a way of assuring that the legacy of original performers of this great American musical tradition will live for another hundred years. Filled with hundreds of hours of Blues instructional DVDs for guitarists, singers and keyboard players – as well as archival footage of senior performers like Son House, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters – the archive promises to be a windfall for the life of the museum.

Continue Reading

Delta Blues Pilgrimage:

Photographs by Scott Ainslie
Exhibited In Lafayette & Lake Charles Galleries

[DATELINE: LOUISIANA, Spring & Summer 2011]

Scott Ainslie, blues musician, songwriter and scholar, was traveling through the Mississippi Delta in the Spring of 2010, when he shot the photographs that make up his “Delta Blues Pilgrimage,” currently on exhibit through August 20, 2011 at The Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center in Lake Charles, LA. The show was first exhibited at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, LA. These are the first exhibits of Ainslie’s images and constitute his debut as a visual artist.

See photos of the show, and a slide show of the images
with captions at the Delta Blues Pilgrimage website.

Here we find the Tutwiler railroad tracks where W.C. Handy – the man billed as “The Father of the Blues” – first heard a slide guitarist in 1902. And then there’s Dockery’s Plantation where Charley Patton influenced three generations of bluesmen, the black river town of Friars Point, and the towns of Robert Johnson’s birth and death.

Ainslie first came to Louisiana more than a decade ago under the auspices of the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette where his work helped inspire the development of the Louisiana Crossroads concert series.

The Louisiana Crossroads season 11 series poster and program guide contain many of Ainslie’s images as well as his essay “The Walkin’ Blues: Tracing Robert Johnson.” 2011 marks the centennial of Johnson’s birth.

Continue Reading

Branford Marsalis and Friends:

 A Benefit for the NC Symphony

Branford Marsalis and Friends After the ball was over: (L-R) NC Symphony VP for Artistic Operations Scott Freck and Conductor/Musical Director Grant Llewellyn;  Musicians Joe Newberry, Branford Marsalis, Scott Ainslie and Phil Wiggins enjoy each other’s company at the reception following the Branford Marsalis & Friends Benefit for the NC Symphony. (photo: Michael Zirkle)

Marsalis Benefit for the NC Symphony raises $143,000

About a year ago, my friend Joe Newberry, began taking part in a series of conversations with the NC Symphony about broadening the symphony’s musical focus as a way of developing new fundraising opportunities. In addition to being a sturdy and brilliant old-time musician and songwriter, Joe also happens to be the Public Information Officer for the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Facing $8 million in budget cuts this year, the North Carolina Symphony enlisted Branford Marsalis and his longtime collaborator, pianist and composer Joey Calderazzo to help them out with a ‘Branford & Friends’ sort of concert. A lot of the pieces were in place, but the artistic staff at the symphony thought that something else was needed to round out the program.

In late April, I got a message on my answering machine from Joe. He was apparently sitting with conductor Grant Llewellyn puzzling over what the last piece of the musical puzzle might be, when he thought of me.

“Scott: this is Joe, buddy. Listen, I’ve got a proposition for you – and I want you to say ‘Yes’ without thinking about it. Just say ‘Yes,’…..” and Joe briefly laid out the date, the players, and the cause.

Yes, was the word.

So, we emailed mp3 files and song ideas back and forth and came up with a program. When asked, I wrote that in a perfect world, I would love to hear Joey and Branford play “It’s Gonna Rain” with me, a song off my latest release, “Thunder’s Mouth,”– a paean to New Orleans. Branford’s a Breaux Bridge boy. I got friends – actually more family than friends – on Bayou Teche. It’s a song I hoped we could meet in.

We all assembled at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh at around 2:30 on the day of the show. And we rehearsed all afternoon. Really. Until almost 6:00.

These guys are good.

So, on the evening of June 8th, a sold out crowd of 1700 enjoyed a varied program featuring Marsalis playing original jazz pieces with Calderazzo, Mozart with the symphony’s string quartet, an old-time string band, a female gospel soprano, a blues singer-guitarist, and a harmonica virtuoso. The evening raised more than $140,000 as the symphony closed in on narrowing the budget gap with sacrifices from the musicians, donations from the corporate world, and the sustaining support of musicians, patrons and the community.

Under the title, “Jubilant Success for Marsalis Fundraiser,” on June 10th, NC Symphony President and CEO David Worters, wrote:

“From the first minutes of our June 8 benefit concert, I think everyone in that sold-out concert hall suspected they were in for a musical adventure like none other. Some three hours later, the audience knew that to be true, having heard an amazing array of music performed by some of the most brilliant artists in the world.

“I don’t know how to really do justice to what took place, so let me just start by saying thanks to everyone who played a role on stage: our leader Branford Marsalis and his stupefyingly talented pianist Joey Calderazzo, Joe Newberry and his incomparable string band Big Medicine, our NCS string quartet of Rebekah Binford, Karen Strittmatter Galvin, David Marschall and Bonnie Thron that played so beautifully, the unstoppable Phil Wiggins on harmonica, Tina Morris-Anderson and her heart-stopping vocals, our new best friend Scott Ainslie – and of course our own Grant Llewellyn: emcee, host, pianist (!), and guest vocalist.

“It’s truly impossible to cite just a few moments as the highlights of what took place on stage at Meymandi Concert Hall…the evening was a spell-binding musical journey and made for a remarkable tribute to an orchestra – the North Carolina Symphony – that these artists all share as a common passion.”

Worters went on to thank the corporate sponsors and community leadership for their support of the symphony and this particular concert.

Late in the second set, Branford, Joey Calderazzo and I (all with heartfelt connections to Louisiana) did play “It’s Gonna Rain”– my song about lost love in New Orleans and south Louisiana that morphed into a requiem for the city after Katrina. The poignancy of the piece has been amplified by the oil continuing to pour into the Gulf of Mexico and the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire. The performance was greeted with sustained applause.

At the end of the evening, I had the privilege of leading off with the first verse in an encore of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times, Come Again No More,” with the full string quartet, Calderazzo on piano and Marsalis on sax, the string quartet and all hands on deck. Even Grant Llewellyn took a verse. The show closed in a torrent of applause.

We are all hoping to be able to work together again. There is already some talk of a Blues program with the full symphony down the road. And I’ll drive or fly anywhere to play with Joey and Branford again. Many new friends made on-stage and off. Musical meetings and friendships are rarely so easy, so quick, and so deep. So much good came of the evening, it’s hard to know where to start counting.

More pictures on the Symphony website.

Continue Reading

Acoustic Guitar Interview, June 2010

Acoustic Guitar Magazine, June, 2010
Examples online at

Profile: Scott Ainslie
By Doug Young

Like his music, Scott Ainslie is a study in contrasts.

A soft-spoken gentleman offstage, his performances use an aggressive, bluesy playing style to support his powerful voice. Both a music historian and modern-day bluesman, Ainslie can channel Robert Johnson with the best, and his own compositions seem to convey a deep appreciation of tradition and a sense of cultural roots.

His songs can be hauntingly beautiful or gritty and brash, but they are always thought provoking, whether he’s interpreting traditional tunes or contemplating current social and political issues through his compositions.

A thoughtful scholar and schooled musician, Ainslie has recorded five albums including his latest, Thunder’s Mouth, which features originals and songs by Son House, J.B. Lenoir, and others. He is also the author of a book, Robert Johnson: At the Crossroads, and a DVD lesson about Robert Johnson’s guitar techniques.

I talked to Ainslie about his approach to arranging, including the use of tension and contrast, while exploring his version of the traditional tune “Wayfaring Stranger,” which he arranged for his first album, Jealous of the Moon. Continue Reading

Kerrville Folk Festival, 2008

Scott Ainslie: Interview
Kerrville Folk Festival, 2008

The Land That I Love: Social Activism and Music

Scott at Kerrville 2008Scott had been instructing in the Blues Guitar Workshop for several days, but in his first appearance at Kerrville’s Kennedy Theater, he showed his other side, that of activist songwriter.

FAF: You have a new song, which you performed for your encore.

SCOTT: This was the first performance of the song.

FAF: And you haven’t decided on the title for this song?

SCOTT: I haven’t quite decided yet. It’s a song that begins with the NAFTA Treaty and its impact on Mexicans. And what NAFTA has done, there were deals cut under the table that weren’t advertised, and that lowered the tariffs on American corn getting into Mexico.

And so great big huge corporate farms are competing with little tiny, hand [tilled] farms – family farms – in Mexico. And of course they are undercutting the sale of corn that’s grown an acre away from the market.

And people can’t stay on their farms and so they’re walking through the Sonoran Desert out in Arizona and crossing the border to try and make some kind of a living while the corporations are raking the cream off the market in Mexico. So this song, the working title for me is, “The Land That I Love,” which, it really is written from a migrant’s point of view. And it felt good to sing it tonight. I think it’s a song that works. Continue Reading

The Artful Mind Interview

Interview with Scott Ainslie
by Barbara Dean

Barbara Dean: In 1967, while still in high school, you heard Virginia bluesman John Jackson play for the first time.He became your friend and mentor.Can you describe his influence on you?

John Jackson was an unadvertised guest at a Mike Seeger concert for the folk club at Groveton High School in the spring of 1967. At the time, John dug graves for his living, collected Civil War bullets, buttons, belt buckles and things that he found digging graves (later using a metal detector) in the battlefields around his home in Fairfax Station, Virginia. He very quickly made his money playing music. He toured Europe and all over the US.

John was a kind and happy man. He was like a Black Buddha. He tended always to excuse any sort of slight or insult. More than just a coping skill for a Black man growing up in Virginia in the early 20th Century, this was his personal kindness showing through. He loved to laugh and tell stories. And musically, he was a wonderful and spirited player and performer. 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:


Michael Witthaus Interview, The Eagle Times 2004

Scott Ainslie at the Windham Tonight
by Michael Witthaus, The Eagle Times

It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of popular music owes a debt to American blues, but few have set about repaying it with Scott Ainslie’s sense of purpose.  He brings his musical teach-in to the Windham on the Square in Bellows Falls tonight at 8.

Ainslie, whose live shows channel the ghosts of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and other icons of the blues canon, explains that it’s “about redressing our musical history,” and acknowledging that he’s made a career in “a musical culture I wasn’t born in – I played my way in.  Presenting blues to non-blues audiences is 90 percent of the work I do,” and  he tries to “introduce songs in ways that open them up to audiences both emotionally and historically.” Continue Reading

Sign up for Email List

...for news of products, upcoming gigs in your area and live-stream events.

We sort our announcements by zipcode, if you provide one.
We use MailChimp and you'll always have the option to be removed from the list.

Please re-open this tab to confirm submission.
NOTE:  if you're already on our list, the Subscribe button won't work.  Don't worry, we've already got your email address!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required