John Minton | Life & Times

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Life & Times

by John Minton

Originals and adaptations in the Southern idiom, blending blues, American & British folk, country & bluegrass, gospel & rock.
Genre: Folk: Traditional Folk
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1. New Cumberland Parkway Blues
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2. Life & Times
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3. Black Night Is Falling (Seven Sisters in New Orleans)
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4. Moon Going Down Slow
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5. Strange Dream Blues
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6. The Leaving of Liverpool
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7. Glory in the Meeting House/Ships Are Sailing
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8. There's A Ship
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9. Birdie
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10. The Devil Been Busy (Down in Carterville)
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11. Ivy Lee
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12. Some Familiar Heart
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
RANKED ONE OF THE TEN BEST ALBUMS OF 2003 BY JEREMY SEARLE OF AMERICANA-UK (www.americana-uk.com)


JOHN MINTON * LIFE & TIMES

ORIGINALS & ADAPTATIONS IN THE SOUTHERN IDIOM

SOUTHERN CAN CDs SCCD 2221

New Cumberland Parkway Blues
Life & Times
Black Night Is Falling (Seven Sisters in New Orleans)
Moon Going Down Slow
Strange Dream Blues
The Leaving of Liverpool
Glory in the Meeting House/Ships Are Sailing
There's A Ship
Birdie
The Devil Been Busy (Down in Carterville)
Ivy Lee
Some Familiar Heart

All songs composed by John Minton/Monkey Knuckles Music ASCAP, except "The Leaving of Liverpool," "Glory in the Meeting House," and "Ships Are Sailing," which are traditional, arranged & adapted by John Minton/Monkey Knuckles Music ASCAP.

JOHN MINTON vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, bass, keyboards, lap steel & percussion

Produced by JOHN MINTON
Recorded, mixed & mastered by TOM TEMPEL at Tempel Recording Studio, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Summer 2003

Although LIFE & TIMES represents his first solo album, John Minton has been performing--and pursuing--American roots music for the past three decades. That dual focus is reflected in his current standing as both a familiar performer in acoustic music venues around northeast Indiana, and Professor of Folklore at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he teaches a variety of courses on world folk and popular music. A bit on the life & times that took him there--

HOUSTON

Minton took up the guitar in the late 1960s in his hometown of Houston, Texas. Although much of his early inspiration came from rock and the urban folksong revival, he also grew up surrounded by the Southern genres shaping those trends--the blues, bluegrass, folk & country music, r & b, gospel & soul--and even in his formative years sensed the essential interconnections within these disparate styles. In his early teens he began regularly attending bluegrass festivals and fiddlers' conventions, as well as soaking up live blues from such local heroes as Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Juke Boy Bonner. Records and concert appearances by other contemporary roots artists led him still deeper into the South's traditions, as did the increasing availability of historic field recordings and pre-World War II "hillbilly" and "race" records on commercial LPs. While still in high school, he began gigging himself at local parties, coffeehouses, and clubs, both as a solo act and with a succession of folk-or-country rock and bluegrass groups.

NACOGDOCHES

That pattern accelerated once he went off to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, a ways north of Houston in the piney woods of rural Deep East Texas. Like most college towns, Nacogdoches has always enjoyed a lively local music scene, in its case complemented by the still-active vernacular traditions of surrounding East Texas and northwestern Louisiana. Minton became involved in both--in later years he would even return to conduct formal fieldwork on the region's rural styles--quickly establishing himself on the scene, whether alone or in the company of others. Most memorable among these groups, he was a founding member of the Fredonia Rebellion, at that time one of the area's premier bluegrass bands. Somehow he also managed to complete his B.A. and M.A. at SFA, authoring as his first formal folklore study a master's thesis on hillbilly-and-race recordings of medieval British (or "Child") ballads.

AUSTIN

In 1980 Minton relocated to Austin, where he initially found work teaching composition and literature at Austin Community College. (Other day jobs during his Austin years included stints as a staff writer with the Texas State Historical Association, as an editorial assistant on the Journal of American Folklore, and as a research associate with the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.) Briefly striking out musically on his own, he was soon joined by other former members of the Fredonia Rebellion. Here, they morphed into Austin's anti-legendary "punkgrass" band the Foves, who, though generally confounding all who heard them, still managed to eke out an extraordinarily devoted if remarkably small following, occasionally even outnumbering the band itself.

FORT WAYNE

After the Foves disintegrated in 1982, Minton continued to play around Austin, sometimes by himself, more often with various one-off ensembles; however, much of his time was now spent earning a doctorate through the Center for Intercultural Studies in Folklore & Ethnomusicology at the University of Texas. In 1990 he accepted an appointment at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, eventually rising to the rank of Full Professor, primarily on the basis of his sizable published research on American folk and popular music. His fieldwork, conducted mainly in Deep East Texas and around the Gulf Coast, has ranged from the remnants of rural blues and ballad traditions to the zydeco music of Houston's Creole community, supplemented by his historical research and travels throughout the South. While focusing on music, he has also studied such related forms as oral narrative, folk belief, and festival & ritual. Besides his many articles, he has published two books with the prestigious Folklore Fellows' Communications monograph series of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He is currently completing a book on the phonograph's impact in the pre-World War II South, and beginning another on the traditional roots of rock & roll, intended as a text for a course he regularly teaches on the subject.

LIFE & TIMES

Since arriving in Fort Wayne, Minton has also continued his checkered musical career, infiltrating the local coffeehouse and festival circuit, in the process achieving some local notoriety--he is, for instance, regularly a featured performer at the area's foremost venue for acoustic music, the Toast & Jam coffeehouse in Fort Wayne. Successfully or otherwise, he tries to bring to his musical gropings the same reach characterizing his academic interests. Such is hopefully the case with LIFE & TIMES, produced at Tempel Recording Studio in Fort Wayne and featuring Minton on vocals and all instruments (acoustic & electric guitars, bass, keyboards, lap steel & percussion). Comprising ten original songs, plus three traditional adaptations (the Anglo-Irish folksong "The Leaving of Liverpool" and a medley of the fiddle tunes "Glory in the Meeting House" and "Ships Are Sailing"), the album's influences span blues and bluegrass; American and British folk; gospel, country, and rock; and Minton's own musical bad habits (what's sometimes been charitably misidentified as "his own style"). More particular inspirations are drawn from artists as diverse as Delta blues great Charley Patton, legendary Kentucky fiddler Luther Strong, and little-known Texas folksingers Maggie & Foy Gant. LIFE & TIMES is not, however, intended as an academic exercise; rather, it attempts a contemporary, ever respectful--and hopefully not altogether misguided--take on the Southern idiom by someone fortunate enough to have experienced it throughout his lifetime.


JOHN MINTON-SELECTED PUBLICATIONS Books * The Coon in the Box: A Global Folktale in African-American Tradition (with David Evans), Folklore Fellows' Communications No. 277. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2001 * "Big 'Fraid and Little 'Fraid": An Afro-American Folktale, Folklore Fellows' Communications No. 253. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1993 * Articles & Book Chapters * "Zydeco on CD," Journal of American Folklore 111 (1998): 417-34 * "Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African American Urban Popular Style," in New Perspectives on the Blues, ed. David Evans, 480-526. Special issue, American Music 14 (1996) * "West African Fiddles in Deep East Texas," in Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore, ed. Francis E. Abernethy, Patrick B. Mullen, and Alan B. Govenar, 191-213. Publications of the Texas Folklore Society No. 54. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1996 * "Lullaby," "Shape-Note Singing," "Worksong," and "Zydeco," in American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, ed. Jan Harold Brunvand. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996 * "Creole Community and `Mass' Communication: Houston Zydeco as a Mediated Tradition," Journal of Folklore Research 32 (1995): 1-19 * "The Reverend Lamar Roberts and the Mediation of Oral Tradition," Journal of American Folklore 108 (1995): 3-37 * "That Amazing Texas Version of Child 84, `Boberick Allen,'" in Ballads and Boundaries: Narrative Singing in an Intercultural Context, ed. James Porter, 61-75. Proceedings of the 23rd International Ballad Conference of the Commission for Folk Poetry (Société internationale d'ethnologie et de folklore), University of California, Los Angeles, June 21-24, 1993. Los Angeles: Department of Ethnomusicology & Systematic Musicology, University of California, 1995 * "`The Waterman Train Wreck': Tracking a Folksong in Deep East Texas," in Songs About Work: Essays in Occupational Culture for Richard A. Reuss, ed. Archie Green, 37-76. Special Publications of the Folklore Institute, No. 3. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993 * "Cockaigne to Diddy Wah Diddy: Fabulous Geographies and Geographic Fabulations," Folklore 102 (1991): 39-47 * "The Fause Knight Upon the Road: A Reappraisal," Journal of American Folklore 98 (1985): 435-55 * "`Our Goodman' in Blackface and `The Maid' at the Sookey Jump: Two Afro-American Variants of Child Ballads on Commercial Disc," JEMF Quarterly 18 (1982): 31-40 *


Reviews


to write a review

Jason Hoffman, Whatzup: Heartland Art, Entertainment & Recreatio


When Life & Times by IPFW professor John Minton came across my desk I immediately feared the upturned and haughty nose of academia. The artwork was very professional and bore (gasp) a real barcode, and the press kit came complete with a detailed bio sheet and a Life & Times postcard. A postcard? "Surely," I thought as I shared an International Coffee moment with myself, "this is grant money gone horribly awry." My fears were proven to be unfounded by the time the first track soaked into my head. Minton's thin, gentle voice serves as a friendly introduction to his world where scholarly study refuses to interfere with good music, showing why he is so popular at acoustic venues such as Toast & Jam.
With lap steel lending its lonely sound to the uptempo "New Cumberland Parkway Blues," Minton rounds out the song with acoustic guitar and a backhills bass, all played by himself and recorded in a very simple, clean style by Tempel Recording Studios. The song ends with an extended instrumental section where Celtic-influenced guitars play nicely with lap steel to create a sense of longing in the listener. "Black Night Is Falling (Seven Sisters In New Orleans)" and "The Devil Been Busy (Down In Carterville)" are bluesy numbers featuring electric guitar lead lines, light organ, piano accompaniment and backing vocals. Although still sparse, these are probably the most complex tracks, as most rely on only one or two guitars and vocals, effectively capturing the live sound that Minton brings to local venues. Such a song is the traditional "Glory In The Meeting House/Ships Are Sailing," an impressive display of finger-picking prowess that shows little sign of overdubs. As much a poet as a musician, Minton has an amazing ability to tell an entire story with just a few lines. A prime example is "Birdie," where Minton sings a novel of political corruption and the senseless death of "that armless hippie" in only four minutes.
Many of the songs are sweet love confessions that portray a tired but earnest smile, each sprinkled with gentle, healing humor. "Moon Going Down Slow," with light acoustic guitar and a sunny melody, gives the feeling of a relaxed summer day spent with your love. "Some Familiar Heart" takes a dark turn with an ominous and hypnotic melody that sounds like it was recorded in the dead of night by the light of a single sputtering candle. Perhaps the strongest song (and it's difficult to choose) is the endearing "Ivy Lee," whose cathartic melody and lyrics of rejection will draw tears from the very marrow of your bones, all carried by a frail guitar accompaniment.
By drawing from a wide pool of influences Minton has created a unique sound with Life & Times. Although the instrumentation and rhythms are Americana, the melodies and hooks are inspired by classic pop, making these songs enjoyable to all but the heaviest metal head. If you aren't inclined to beg for candy or bang your noggin', stop by Toast & Jam October 31 at 8:30 for the CD release party and hear these haunting melodies for yourself.

Steve Penhollow, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Sunday, November 16

Captivating confusion the magic of Minton's music
When you get your first look at the photo on the cover of John Minton's winning new CD "Life & Times," you may think, as I did: "Well, John certainly looks authentic enough."

Minton is a purveyor of folk music and folklore, and the picture is of a craggy person in a straw hat on a wood bench looking grim but holding his guitar with an easy familiarity.
I had never met John before, so I was surprised to find out that he is, in fact, only 46 years old and has a timelessness of face and twinkle of eye that can shave four 4 or five 5 years off his age depending on who's looking at him.
Minton says the photo on the cover is called "A farmer and his children." It was taken in Natchitoches, La., more than 60 years ago and is now stored at the Library of Congress.
In other words, it's authentic enough, but it's not a photo of John.
"So here I've got 1,000-plus copies of the final product, shrink-wrapped in the big boxes UPS just dropped off, all stacked up in my dining room," Minton says, "and I hand a copy to my daughter, Janet. She looks at it and the first thing she says is, 'You know, dad, everyone's going to think that old guy on the cover is you.'
" 'Huh? Well, that seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? I wonder why that never occurred to me?' "
Minton's music generates similar, captivating confusion.
Minton's singing voice could easily belong to an old Southern preacher or a feed store retiree serenading his wife of five decades at a barn dance.
It has eons in it.
But there are intimations of urbanity.
Take the leadoff track "New Cumberland Parkway Blues," for example.
It's a great traveling song that could have been written 60 years ago . . . except for the tasty lap steel lick that provides bittersweet commentary throughout, evoking such slide guitar masters as Duane Allman, David Lindley and Mark Knopfler.
Then there's the wry instrumental breakdown that ends the piece — a chunk of latter-day Chet Atkins.
Minton wrote or arranged all the songs on the CD and played all the instruments (including acoustic and electric guitars, bass and lap steel guitars, keyboards and percussion).
British reviewer Jeremy Searle of Americana UK magazine said of the CD, ". . .(it) is no dry academic exercise, it's an album of the year contender. . . . It's amazing that something this good can come fully formed out of nowhere, but hopefully there will be a lot more where it came from."
The hackneyed phrase "a lifetime in the making" doesn't begin to credit all the living that went into this CD.
Whenever you come across an unclassifiable musical talent like Minton, one of the first things you ask him about is his day job.
You expect him to reluctantly cotton to Office Depot or the like, but what you want him to say is, "Music is my full-time job."
Music is Minton's full-time job in a sense, but it's also his hobby.
Minton is a professor of folklore at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
He came to Fort Wayne 13 years ago, having previously haunted several localities in Texas, where some of the best music in the nation has been made and is still made.
He did his undergraduate work at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
Folklore wasn't quite the bonded academic discipline it has become, but Minton pursued it anyway, earning both his bachelor's and master's at SFA.
He also pursued music in his spare time, tracing artists like Bob Dylan and the Flying Burrito Brothers back to their roots and sources.
"It occurred to me that the music my friends and I were listening to wasn't all that different from the music my grandma and grandpa listened to."
In those days, the mid-'70s, Nacogdoches featured an eccentric collection of confoundingly like-minded people.
"It's not what most people think of when they think of Texas," Minton says. "It's the Deep South area of Texas. These weird bands would form comprised of hippy college kids like me and 60-year-old farmers."
Minton moved to Austin, a hotbed of musical trendsetting and musician misbehavior, in 1980.
Austin had long been a haven for country-loving hippies and drug-loving cowboys, and Minton found much to occupy his mind and satisfy his soul, if not fill his coffers.
"It was like Nashville is today. There were almost more people playing music than wanted to listen to it."
Minton founded the "punkgrass" group the Foves and mingled in a musical community that included Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
"I remember Lucinda Williams and Nancy Griffith playing to empty bars," he says.
Eventually, it was time to "sing or get off the stage" — to freshen an earthy cliche.
Minton had a wife and child to support, so he went back to school and earned his doctorate at the University of Texas.
Next stop, Fort Wayne.
His first few years in the Summit City were consumed with that Herculean task called tenure, so Minton didn't play out much.
"I started playing out a lot more right after I got tenure. Getting tenure tends to relax the mind."
One would think that being a folklore professor and being a folk musician would be complementary states of being, but it just ain't so — to employ a folksy contraction.
Minton says folklore studies is still seen by some pointy heads as akin to basket-weaving: "I'm sure many of my colleagues still think my courses involve sitting in a circle on the floor and singing 'Kumbaya.' "
Touchy folklorists made a loosely concerted effort to professionalize their academic pursuit in the '60s. That meant putting considerable distance between the classroom and the coffeehouse.
Folk-performing professors were suddenly seen as hopelessly non-objective, potential threats to folklore as a discipline.
Minton has never agreed with this view.
"Many of us have managed to achieve some comfort level with both halves of the equation."
Minton sees a lot of value in "being able to enjoy what you study at such a level that you are able to participate in it.
". . . I see nothing wrong with remaining a little subjective," he says. "After all, I really love this stuff and still get a great deal of pleasure out of doing the coffeehouse folkie bit that got me into this business to start with.
"From my point of view, aside from the therapeutic function and sheer enjoyment I get from it, this simply allows me to contribute to a subject I love on another level.
"And where others — especially the public - are concerned, I think it's important in demonstrating that academics aren't just a bunch of joyless pedants. That most of us really do love what we do, and on various levels."
Devotees of the local folk scene learned long ago that Minton is far from a stuffed shirt, and Minton has accrued a couple of observations about them as well.
"One of the really striking things I have noticed is that there are two basic groups of performers: An incredible array of really talented young musicians like Sunny Taylor and Matt Sturm and Matt Gates and then old farts like myself who are raising families and working jobs but still manage to get out."

Benny Metten, Ctrl.Alt.Country, Hasselt, Belgium, December 2003


Rating: 3 out of 5 smiley faces = "Just Plain Good Stuff." Je zal het niet vaak tegenkomen, maar het staat er echt wel: John Minton is niet enkel een graag geziene gast als performer van akoestische rootsmuziek in z’n thuisstaat Indiana, hij is ook professor aan de Indiana University – Purdue University in Fort Wayne, alwaar hij een veelheid aan colleges geeft met betrekking tot folk en andere populaire muzieksoorten. Een hoogst interessante verschijning dus! Vreemd genoeg heeft Minton er zelf zo’n dertig jaar over gedaan om met een CD op de proppen te komen. Zijn onlangs verschenen debuut “Life & Times” kreeg als ondertitel het bijna wetenschappelijk aandoende “Originals & Adaptations In The Southern Idiom” mee. Gelukkig voelt het album zelf een stuk minder stijf aan. Het gaat integendeel om een geheel waar een zekere warmte van afstraalt. Zeker wanneer de man zijn akoestische gitaar omgordt en zich in zijn eentje door folky stuff als titelnummer “Life & Times” of “Moon Going Down Slow” werkt. Dan hang je binnen de kortste keren geboeid aan zijn lippen. Minton bespeelt trouwens alle instrumenten hier zelf: van de akoestische en de elektrische gitaar over bas en keyboards tot de lap steel en de percussie. En dat dwingt vooral het nodige respect af in bluesy deunen als “Strange Dream Blues” of “Black Night Is Falling (Seven Sisters In New Orleans)” of in de van heerlijk pickwerk voorziene versie van het klassieke “The Leaving Of Liverpool”. Best wel een aangename CD dus voor al wie bij tijd en wijle een potje pretentieloze rootsmuziek tot zich neemt en een ideale gezel ook voor de late uurtjes. (You won't find it often, but it's for real: John Minton is not only a popular performer of acoustic roots music in his home state Indiana, he's also a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne, where he teaches a variety of classes on folk and other kinds of popular music. Thus a most interesting release! Strangely enough, Minton has performed for about thirty years without doing a CD. Recently, though, there has appeared his debut, "Life & Times," which has as its subtitle the almost scientific sounding "Originals & Adaptations in the Southern Idiom." Fortunately the album itself is hardly that stiff. To the contrary, as a whole it radiates a certain warmth. Certainly things work when the man straps on his acoustic guitar and, all by himself, plays folky stuff like the title number "Life & Times" or "Moon Going Down Slow." Then you hang, captivated, on his every word. As a matter of fact, Minton plays all the instruments here: from acoustic and electric guitars to bass and keyboards to lap steel and percussion. And that's especially essential in reinforcing bluesy tunes like "Strange Dream Blues" or "Black Night Is Falling (Seven Sisters in New Orleans)," or providing the delicious pickwork on his version of the traditional "The Leaving of Liverpool". Best of all, though, this is a pleasant CD for those with the time and an interest in unpretentious roots music in and of itself, and also an ideal companion for the late hours.)

Jeremy Searle, Americana UK (Liverpool), October 2003

An album of the year contender...
John Minton is Professor of Folklore at Indiana University. But this, possibly his debut album, is no dry academic exercise, it's an album of the year contender. The front cover has a black and white 1940 photograph of a farmer on his porch holding his guitar, his two young sons next to him, and it is precisely the music that the picture conjures up that you'll find on this album. Better produced, yes, more instruments, yes, but the feel and tone are right there. There's a sparse emptiness around the songs, lots of open space, no unnecessary notes. Ten of the twelve tracks are self-penned, but they could have been around forever. Musical echoes abound, from Charley Patton to David Rawlings, but John Minton is very much his own man, and brings a unique sensibility to the music. Standouts include "Birdie" (about an uninvestigated death) and "Some Familiar Heart" (a wonderfully brooding love song). There's also a cover of "The Leaving of Liverpool," which in these surroundings appears in a whole new light, reclaiming its place as a vital part of the shared American/British musical heritage. But to pick out individual tracks is invidious as there isn't a weak moment, or even second, on the album. It's amazing that something this good can come fully formed out of nowhere, but hopefully there will be a lot more where it came from.