Earl Scruggs‘ legendary banjo playing, aptly named “Scruggs Style,” has left its mark on American pop culture and inspired generations of banjo players. In the late 1960s, Scruggs, along with his sons, bravely crossed musical boundaries, but his musical journey really started back at the beginnings of bluegrass, playing with Bill Monroe and later, Lester Flatt. In this American Routes encore, we talk to Earl and his sons, Randy and Gary, about performing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium and why he doesn’t need to crack jokes about the banjo. New Hampshire-born folk singer songwriter Tom Rush may have gone to Harvard and studied with a ballad scholar, but he still knows how to sing the blues. We’ll visit with Rush to learn more about Boston’s folk scene in the 1960s, his time as a radio DJ and his inspired approach to songwriting.
In celebration of Black Music Month and Juneteenth, we honor the struggle for equality with the sounds of freedom. Sixties soul queen Fontella Bass used her gospel background and voice to make freedom statements of her own, such as her biggest hit “Rescue Me.” Then, late jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard talks free form music and freedom of expression. Plus music from John Coltrane, Leyla McCalla, the Staple Singers and more.
In search of blue skies and blue horizons, we explore the sonic hues of the blues in jazz, R & B, country, Cajun and pop. We’ll hear blues inflections in the music of Gene Vincent and George Jones, Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell. Then we crash a blues house party at the National Folk Festival for music and conversation with British rocker Albert Lee, Piedmont harmonica master Phil Wiggins, St. Louis guitarist Marquise Knox, and Cajun accordionist Steve Riley.
A visit with inventive and eccentric jazz composer Carla Bley, for whom the National Anthem proves an unlikely source of inspiration. Bley brings wry humor to a conversation about the challenges of writing for her very big bands, her early days as a cigarette girl in NYC jazz clubs, and why America might be famous for baked beans. Then we head southwest and west to the borderlands of Mexican-American music with a stop for conversation with San Antonio’s Belen Escobedo, a master of the traditional conjunto violin. Plus songs from Freddy Fender, Elizabeth Cotten, Sunny and the Sunliners and Flatt & Scruggs.