Liner Notes: “Dirt Road Blues”
When we were kids growing up in southern Indiana we’d travel a few hundred miles south to Hazel, Kentucky a few times a year and visit my great aunt Marjorie. This was dad’s birthplace straddling the Kentucky – Tennessee state line. It was the surrounding land that helped the family stave off the grinding effects of the Great Depression. Both sides of my family were farmers – folks who dug their fingers into the soil. The land was their music.
My adopted Aunt Eva hummed her way through a variety of daily chores from sloppin’ the hogs to bringing in firewood. I’d tag along just to listen to her address her thoughts. My grandmother Era moved to the more urban environs of Jeffersonville, Indiana after World War 11 and looked after the grandchildren while my parents worked. All day long she sang hymns and played away on the upright piano. I’d sit at her feet and listen as she turned a mournful phrase while peering straight ahead through wire framed glasses at a hymn book opened to the appropriate page. The tones and words she uttered scattered about the house and found there way inside me. I heard it on radio in those bleeding country tunes where each bend of a note and crooked phrase spoke of great sorrow and loss. Dad called it hillbilly music- I heard it as our language.
As the Vietnam War was closing in on us boys about to graduate high school a buddy of mine brought Bob Dylan’s recording ‘Freewheelin’ by the house. Both of us were wary of being carried off to war. The news was all bad – everyday or so some young man from the area died on foreign soil – a place we couldn’t even locate on the map. Music offered refuge.
Dylan’s songs – ‘Blowin’ In The Wind, Masters of War – The Times They Are A- Changin’ A Hard Rain’– connected every young person from coast to coast. We soon became a fraternity quoting lines and trading opinions. This wasn’t something you took home to the family. Peter, Paul and Mary were all over the planet singing ‘Blowin In The Wind’. Dad would remind us Mary Travers was from Louisville the biggest celebrity since Lionel Hampton.
As the war intensified Dylan’s message rang clear. “We have to stop killing each other and wasting young lives. Let the politician’s fight their own conflicts.”
The summer of 1964 President Lyndon Johnson visited my home town and gave one of those ‘war is us’ speeches. Johnson didn’t garner the same enthusiastic hoorahs lavished on Harry Truman who motored down Main Street a few years prior. I just happened to be standing outside Ragwood School of Music – the local accordion academy – as Truman’s hat lifted off causing the crowd to scramble into action. None of us students had yet to embrace any politician after the loss of JFK.
It’s now forty-three years later and Dylan’s music still rings true. The songs on ‘Dirt Road Blues’ for the most part come from the blues side of Dylan and those stacked against war. Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘I Just Cant’ Keep From Cryin’ is a melody that crawls about my nervous system and brings me back to my dad’s habitat. The three Eddie Hinton numbers are our connection to soul music. Hinton was a genius. The two instrumentals – ‘Memphis Ivory Jag’ and ‘KCAS Blues’ are all about the rhythm section which on its own is The Rockit 88 Band. ‘Jag’ is my definition of that beat we play – swing on top and rock underneath. Few can play this with the authority drummer Mike Sloski brings.
‘Dirt Road Blues’ is our gift to all who still believe living free of fear and hate is the better option.
‘Dirt Road Blues’ would still be a hope and a prayer if it weren’t for the generosity of Standard Broadcasting’s Gary Slaight. I don’t know of any individual in the music industry who does more for the music and people he loves. My good buddy Neil Chapman – the most passionate musician on earth. Shakura S’Aida - a true music soul. The guys – Howard Ayee, Mike Sloskie – the incredible horns – John Johnson, Bob Brough, Chris Gale and William Sperandi and the girls – Ali Slaight, Kelly Bartley, Ama Otobrah, - for the lovely backgrounds.
‘Dirt Road Blues’ is my gift to William senior – who played the minstrel shows in his youth, traveled the South with guitar in hand and brought his love for music to our home. Until his passing at eighty-nine we talked music and photography right up to the end. This is also to comfort my sister Karen who passed late last summer and whose bright smile, kindness and support inspires every day. We are family – Kristine, Jesse, Rita, Virginia, and Wayne. I love you all.