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American Roots Music

on July 12, 2019 Comments Off on American Roots Music
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Kris Kristofferson narrates this definitive 4 episode PBS documentary series looking at the history of America’s popular music; from blues, bluegrass, Cajun through to country and gospel. Features clips of musicians such as Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Muddy Waters, BB King, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Mahalia Jackson, Clifton Chenier and Woody Guthrie.

With the documentary American Roots Music and its spinoffs (including a book and CD collection), producers Jim Brown and Sam Pollard clearly were influenced by the popularity of the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its music. You won’t be seeing Eminem and Mariah Carey here, or even Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, but rather a comprehensive, if flawed, four-part documentary examining the various cultural and ethnic folk traditions that blended together to create the rich, multi- flavored brew that is American music.

Narrated by Kris Kristofferson, each of the four parts is a little less than an hour long. Episode One offers a brief overview before detailing topics like the spread of music via Victrolas and radio, the early days of country music and the Grand Ole Opry, the rise of black gospel music, and seminal blues musicians like Son House, Mamie Smith, and Robert Johnson. Episode Two deals with western music (Gene Autry, Bob Wills), Bill Monroe and bluegrass, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and more blues (Leadbelly, Sonny Boy Williamson, B.B. King). Episode Three, perhaps the best of the lot, takes on urban blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf), black spirituals, and the early ’60s folk boom, while Episode Four studies Cajun, zydeco and Tex-Mex styles, along with Native American music and more.

The style is standard documentary, with interviews and photos interspersed with new and old live footage. The producers tout the presence of “rare performances” by Guthrie, Waters, Monroe, Clifton Chenier, and many others, and they’re fascinating. But for whatever reason (lack of time or maybe lack of faith in viewers’ attention spans) none is presented in its entirety. It’s a drawback that is remedied to some extent by the addition of six bonus clips (three on each DVD) that are complete, including wonderful vintage films of Western Swing master Bob Wills and the remarkable gospel singer/guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. –Sam Graham

 

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We are rocked to the core to hear of the passing of our dear friend, bandmate and musical genius, Mike Finnigan. He fought his long illness with the same fearlessness and ferocity he brought to every part of his life. Our deepest condolences go out to Candy, Kelly, Bridget and all his family.

Mike was one of the most powerful, virtuosic soul/gospel/blues singers and Hammond B3 players you’ll ever be blessed to hear. Respected and emulated by musicians the world over, his legacy of staggering
performances across his 60+ years career will stand the test of time. He stopped our show nearly every night. There was simply no one like him.

He was whipsmart, incredibly articulate and funny as hell. He was as devoted to his beloved family and friends as he was to helping so many struggling to get and stay sober. He and his wife Candy were instrumental in my own sobriety and I will be forever grateful.

Rest in peace, dear Mike. I know you’ll be shaking that Heavenly Choir to new heights as only you can do.

Here’s a clip from our 2013 Slipstream tour, where he tore up the place every night with Ray Charles’ iconic “I’ve Got News for You.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCz0TyBI1FA
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