James Cotton is now in his 69th year of performing. The latest album by the Mississippi-born, Chicago based bluesman is called Cotton Mouth Man.
Conjure up a list of all time great blues harmonica players, and high up on it, you’ll see the name James Cotton.
Cotton’s music begins at the source: He was born in Tunica, Mississippi and started playing harp at the age of 9, learning directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II. He eventually made his way to Chicago, where he played for a dozen years in Muddy Waters‘ band before he struck out on his own.
James Cotton is now in his 69th year of performing. Throat cancer has captured his singing voice, but his harmonica continues to wail. Or, as he tells it: “The voice is gone, but the wind’s still there.”
Cotton’s latest album on Alligator Records is called Cotton Mouth Man. It features guest appearances by — among others — Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and Keb’ Mo’. NPR’s Scott Simon spoke with James Cotton and Keb’ Mo’ about making the new album; click the audio link on this page to hear their conversation.
rainy May morning-
sets in muddy garden
Frenchman Street, New Orleans
Napoleon’s boudoir upstairs.
Studying Birds, With a Drone’s Help: Drone technology, developed for warfare, is now being used to study the natural world. In Colorado, sandhill cranes are counted with a small drone called the Raven.
Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Colo. — An electric whir filled the air of this high desert valley as Jeff Sloan, a cartographer for the United States Geological Survey, hurled a small remote-controlled airplane into the sky. The plane, a four-and-a-half-pound AeroVironment Raven, dipped; then its plastic propeller whined and pulled it into the sky.
There, at an altitude of 400 feet, the Raven skimmed back and forth, taking thousands of high-resolution photographs over a wetland teeming with ducks, geese and sandhill cranes.
The Raven, with its 55-inch wingspan, looks like one of those radio-controlled planes beloved of hobbyists. But its sophisticated video uplink and computer controls give it away as a small unmanned aerial system, better known as a drone. Drone technology, which has become a staple of military operations, is now drawing scientists with its ability to provide increasingly cheaper, safer and more accurate and detailed assessments of the natural world.
“This is really cutting edge for us,” said Jim Dubovsky, a migratory-bird biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for the health of more than a thousand bird species.
Designed to monitor enemy positions from afar, the early Ravens, from about 2005, which cost $250,000 per system, were slated for destruction when an Army colonel thought they might be better used for scientific research and were donated to the Geological Survey. They were retrofitted for civilian life with new cameras and other gauges. Their first noncombat mission was counting sandhill cranes.
When illustrator Ralph Steadman accepted an assignment with writer Hunter S. Thompson at the Kentucky Derby, he never imagined the weekend that would ensue. Here, Steadman depicts the race’s winner, a colt named Dust Commander.
In the spring of 1970, a British illustrator named Ralph Steadman had just moved to America, hoping to find some work. His first call came from a small literary journal called Scanlan’s. It was looking for a cartoonist to send to the Kentucky Derby. Steadman had heard of neither the race nor the writer he was to accompany, a fellow named Hunter S. Thompson.
Steadman hadn’t read any of Thompson’s work, and he certainly didn’t know that the writer had a bit of a drinking tendency, but he agreed to go.
One booze-riddled weekend later, Scanlan’s published the essay and launched Thompson into stardom. “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” so fascinated audiences that one Boston Globe writer deemed it “gonzo” — a term that would stick with Hunter S. Thompson for good.
‘The Real Beasts Perform’
Steadman and Thompson flew into Louisville separately and met at Churchill Downs to pick up their press credentials. As Thompson led Steadman around the racetrack, it quickly became clear that the two wouldn’t be watching much horse racing.
“We went into the inner field first to just look at the people,” he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Kelly McEvers. “We were really looking for odd faces. People that were kind of weird, you know? That seemed to become our real purpose.”
It was Thompson’s idea. They’d seek out the “whiskey gentry,” as the writer called them, and there they’d find that face: “a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis.”
That search became the central narrative of the essay. “We didn’t give a hoot in hell what was happening on the track,” Thompson wrote. “We’d come to watch the real beasts perform.”
A self-portrait of Steadman.
Cartoon Museum ……….READ/LISTEN TO THE STORY………
April 30, 2013 Taj Mahal’s influences are drawn from many places around the world, from California to Africa to the Pacific Islands. But in this archival Mountain Stage performance from 1995, he pays tribute to his roots with a lively set of blues and boogie songs.
Little Freddie King at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 2013, photographed by Skip Bolen.
The 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival wraps up Monday. This weekend and last, 12 stages have mixed such marquee names as Fleetwood Mac, Phoenix and Los Lobos with dozens of local bluesmen, soul belters and Cajun fiddle players. Some of the most iconic images of New Orleans musicians have come from Jazz Fest — thanks to photographers who jumble together at the apron of the stage, vying for the best shots.
Skip Bolen is one of them. For him, a day at Jazz Fest starts with three vital tools: iced coffee, a yellow highlighter and the festival schedule.
“We’ve got The Nevilles, Diane Reeves, Kermit Ruffins; B.B. King I definitely want to see,” Bolen says, skimming the day’s events. “Dave Matthews, he’s kind of a boring artist to photograph — [but] if I photograph him I know I’ll make money.”
And that’s how Bolen makes a living: balancing local favorites with venerable elders and, yes, the money shots that will sell. Bolen works for Getty Images, which supplies pictures to news outlets around the world. He’s from Lafayette, La., and has lived in New Orleans for decades. He loves music, but on the job he’s not listening so much as looking.
“Those blues musicians are so dapper,” Bolen says. “They’re dressed in their suits even on the hottest day of the year. They’re just pouring sweat and they’re a lot of fun to photograph.”
The festival is held at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a New Orleans’ horse track — which is kind of appropriate for the way Bolen works, dashing from one show to another. (He calls that part of the gig his “free gym membership.”)
Django patiently waits
of man cave
Dave Carman (recent Ridgway local) and I developed and ran guide training courses at Exum for aspiring guides in 1970’s before the current national certification programs took hold. The photo above is on the summit of Mt. Owen during an early season guides training course, with the North Face of Grand Teton in background. We also developed the rock climbing program, along with Kanzler, at Minnesota Outbound School in the late 1960’s. I ended my guiding career at Exum in 2005, and continued on as a Director and partner until 2009. Dave and I officially retired together from Exum in 2009. This occasion called for a big bash at the Climbers Ranch, in summer 2009.
I entered the American Alpine Club in Golden late one evening into it’s reference room with a “Do Not Remove” sign, to read Peter Lev’s only print copy of “The Next Pitch” given to the AAC. It’s really an incredible slice of history tracing his youthful climbs, many international expeditions/avalanche forecasting days through his time as guide, director and partner in Exum Mountain Guides. Peter’s clarity of words/ideas and his empahsis and belief in mentors and mentoring was a cool refreshment.
Maybe someday, ‘The Next Pitch’ will be in chapbook (a book of popular ballads, stories) form so the many admirers in the mountaineering audience can enjoy a truly colorful history of this pioneer.
This is a very tight N.O. swing band that plays regularly at their homey bar, the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street. Check em’ out. If you like old swing jazz these guys will take you back when it was played properly in the 30′s and 40′s in Europe and New Orleans. J.R.
This band has an excellent sound. Most of the members have been playing together for quite some time (several were in the now-defunct New Orleans Jazz Vipers), and they have a strong rapport that allows them to play nice, tight arrangements while maintaining a very relaxed, swinging groove. The instrumental solos are the main attraction here, but the vocals are surprisingly good; several band members sing, and they take a refreshingly straightforward approach, eschewing the corny histrionics and affectations that younger singers sometimes indulge in when performing traditional jazz. This CD is also recorded just perfectly — it’s wonderfully balanced, and all the instruments are clear and distinct, with great warmth and presence. This is one of my favorite recent releases by any New Orleans jazz band, and I’m really hoping they’ll record a follow-up soon.
International Workers’ Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The police were trying to disperse a public assembly during a general strike for the eight-hour workday, when an unidentified person threw a bomb at them. The police reacted by firing on the workers, killing four demonstrators.
Before the age of computers and vinyl printers, sign painters worked by hand to illustrate storefronts, billboards and banners. Local craftsmen often developed a signature style that could distinguish a neighborhood, or even a city.
But technology made creating signs less expensive — and less expressive. Sign Painters, a new book and documentary written and directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, focuses on dozens of artists who are keeping the art alive.
Before Macon began working on the film, he said never thought much about sign painting.
The Onion published an essay recently called “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.”The piece was satire, but it’s how many of us respond to the question Mason Currey raises in his entertaining new book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. “How do you do meaningful creative work,” he wonders, “while also earning a living?”
A product of the author’s now-defunct blog, Daily Routines, Daily Rituals assembles the regimens of 161 assorted creative geniuses into a lean, engaging volume. Its brief entries humanize legends like Hemingway and Picasso, and shed light on the working lives of less popular contemporary geniuses, like painter Gerhard Richter, choreographer Twyla Tharp and illustrator Maira Kalman.
The book makes one thing abundantly clear: There’s no such thing as the way to create good work, but all greats have their way. And some of those ways are spectacularly weird.
Louis Armstrong smoked pot (“gage,” as he called it) almost daily and couldn’t go to sleep until he had taken his dose of a “potent herbal laxative” called Swiss Kriss. “Armstrong believed so strongly in its curative powers that he recommended it to all his friends,” Currey writes, “and even had a card printed up with a photo of himself sitting on a toilet, above the caption ‘Leave It All Behind Ya.’ “
Researchers say van Gogh painted the walls in his 1888 picture “The Bedroom” violet, not blue.
AMSTERDAM — “The Bedroom,” Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting, with its honey-yellow bed pressed into the corner of a cozy sky-blue room, is instantly recognizable to art lovers, with his signature contrasting hues. But does our experience of this painting change upon learning that van Gogh had originally depicted those walls in violet, not blue, or that he was less a painter wrestling with his demons and more of a deliberate, goal-oriented artist?
These questions are raised by a new analysis, eight years in the making, of hundreds of van Gogh’s canvases as well as his palette, pigments, letters and notebooks by scientists at Shell, the oil company, in collaboration with the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency and curators at the newly renovated Van Gogh Museum here, which owns the world’s largest collection of works by that Dutch Post Impressionist.
The research did not lead to “earth-shattering new insights” that rewrite van Gogh’s life story, said the director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rüger, but it could shift the understanding of van Gogh’s temperament and personality. The results of that study will be revealed in an exhibition, “Van Gogh at Work,” which opens on Wednesday and features about 200 paintings and drawings, 150 of them by van Gogh and others by contemporaries, including Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard.
“You discover more clearly that van Gogh was a very methodical artist, which runs counter to the general myth that he was a manic, possibly slightly deranged man who just spontaneously threw paint at the canvas,” Mr. Rüger said. “He was actually someone who knew very well about the properties of the materials he used, how to use them, and also he created very deliberate compositions. In that sense it’s a major insight in that it gives us a better notion of van Gogh the artist. He was very goal-oriented.”
13 Cartoon Portraits of Legendary Blues Artists So good, you’d think illustrator William Stout made a deal with the devil. —Michael Mechanic
Before I read the author’s note, there was something that confused me about William Stout’s great new book, Legends of the Blues, due out May 7 from Abrams ComicArts (with an intro by music journalist Ed Leimbacher). Where were Memphis Minnie, Mississippi John Hurt, and Reverend Gary Davis, three of my personal faves? How could he overlook them? Also, why did the artwork feel so familiar, yet so different from other stuff I’d seen from Stout—an acclaimed comics, fantasy, and pop-culture artist and illustrator whose work you’ve undoubtedly seen. And then it hit me: Robert Crumb! This, as it turned out, was the answer to both questions.
Way back when, cartoonist Crumb, a blues and old-time music freak who has drawn his share of artists and album art (you can view some of them here along with our Crumb interview), created a series of 36 Heroes of the Blues trading cards. They included, among others, Memphis Minnie and John Hurt; Stout, an avid blues fan, had loved Crumb’s cards and didn’t want to replicate them. But the others were fair game. Rhino Records founder Richard Foos, a friend of Stout’s, ended up licensing Crumb’s portraits for a series of greatest hits CDs for Shout! Factory. And since Crumb had moved on to other stuff, Foos approached Stout to produce some additional ones in a style similar to Crumb’s.
That’s how it started. But after his assignment was complete, Stout kept it up. He was hooked. While recovering from cancer treatments, he cranked them out, imagining that he would produce a bunch of new trading-card sets. In the end, Denis Kitchen, another friend (and the guy who commissioned Crumb’s original cards) suggested that Stout make them into a book instead.
Legends… profiles a whopping 100 blues artists—many of them you’ll recognize and many you won’t. It’s a must for blues fans or even dabblers—although Stout cautions that purists might be upset by his inclusion of crossover artists. Hey, whatever. The format is simple: Each spread contains the artist’s vital stats; recommended tracks; notable tributes and covers by other artists; and a short, punchy mini-profile of each one. The book comes with a 14-track CD compilation, with some nice gritty old tunes from the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, and Rev. Robert Wilkins—I’m listening to it right now!
But the real treat is Stout’s Crumby (sorry) portraits. Colorful, evocative, playful, they pay homage both to the original cards and to the great musicians Stout came to admire. There’s the badass blues guitarist Robert Johnson, said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his chops. Champion Jack Dupree, who made the unlikely leap from pro boxer to pro musician. The highly talented yet modest sideman Papa Charlie McCoy. And Lucille Bogan, notorious for her raunchy lyrics. The Crumb effect runs especially strong with certain portraits—for instance, Slim Harpo, whose tunes were covered by a who’s who of 1960s rock icons. Here’s the Stones doing Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” way back when.
So, okay, I missed those few musicians, but I also learned about plenty of folks I’d never heard of—including a good number of blueswomen. And the poor chap had to crank out 100 portraits. You could hardly ask him to do more. Except that he did so anyway. By the end of Stout’s drawing marathon, he had produced 150 portraits, so maybe a sequel is in the cards. Talk about collecting ‘em all!