Maybe I’m just jealous.
Pinetop Perkins Foundation Blues Workshop
We returned to the scene of the crime.
Those of you who read “www.motoringwithmarla.com” recall that in 2018 I attended a harmonica camp in Clarksdale, MS, birthplace of the blues (sort of). You also recall that since retiring from full time employment I have a thing about guitars. We just completed 5 days at the Shake-up Inn in Clarksdale for the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop: Masterclasses in Piano, Guitar, Harmonic, Bass and Drums. I was keen to improve my guitar skills, but funny — I missed that word Masterclasses when I signed up.
So, who is Pinetop? He was a blues pianist who originated in Clarksdale and toured with Muddy Waters before enjoying many years in a solo career. He died without heirs, but surprisingly for a blues artist he had a lot of money. He set up a foundation with two goals: 1) to enable upcoming young blues musicians, and 2) to help with medical needs of older blues musicians. What a great guy!
The musical director for the workshop is Steady-Rollin Bob Margolin, also a former member of the Muddy Waters band and now a solo artist, record producer, etc. What a talent and what a character! Bob Margolin is a damn good musician and band leader. He is also clever, witty, and perceptive, and one of the sweetest guys around. When we shook hands when leaving Ground Zero, he apologized for not having time to coach me on proper palm muting of a Chicago Blues lump-de-lump. How many Grammys and blues awards does he have?– and he is apologizing to me? If you would like to check out his web site, click here.
Sophisticated Guitar Players
The Pinetop Workshops are targeted to the young and the young at heart. This year was no exception There were forty-two participants, with about five of us over the age of 25. There were 18 people in the guitar workshops. I was the least young by about 40 years.
But what about skills? These kids could play. From the ages of 10-22 years, they could play blues solos all over the guitar. And they had the equipment. Pinetop offers scholarships to cover the workshop fee and housing so I assumed it was a program to help the disadvantaged. (au contraire) These kids had $500 to $2500 guitars, and $1000 amplifiers. Several in the group were already professionals. Many were repeat offenders. They had been at Pinetop workshops several times in the past. Pinetop is grooming these kids to be the next stars. They came from across the USA and the world, including France, the UK and Japan.
So, what is a workshop anyway you ask? I assumed the classes would be mostly blues guitar lessons, while learning new skills/techniques to move from basic to intermediate, to advanced. Not exactly. Each of the three days followed the same format.
Morning session starting at 10:00 AM (no early start for musicians) was a “How to be a Musician/band member session” featuring life and storytelling from Bob Margolin, Fiona Boyes (more on Fiona later) and Anson Funderburgh. It was interspersed with blues music of a particular style with everyone given a chance to solo.
When Bob Margolin had the stage, he recounted a story of the Muddy Waters Band opening for Eric Clapton on a 10-week European tour. Bob arranged for Muddy to meet Eric. He said he had the photo on his phone but couldn’t find it. Yours truly happened to have Bob’s “Chicago Rhythm Blues” book with the photo of Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters and Bob Margolin. The book was circulated. I now have the book with Bob’s autograph on the photo. (sweet)
To start the morning sessions, the 18 guitarists, sat in a circle, 2-3 inches apart, guitar in hand, plugged into their 50 to 100-watt amplifiers. Everyone was warming up, or showing off with different riffs simultaneously, with the amps gradually getting loader and loader until the session started. The wonder of the event is that 15 teenage boys sat with their guitars slung across their shoulders for ninety or so minutes while listening to life lessons talk from elders without banging on their guitars.
In the afternoon, we broke into three groups for 2.5 hours of hands on blues guitar skills lesson. I was in the 3-person, entry level group. We learned 8 and 12 bar blues, ways to add some ornamentation to the 12-bar blues, and a little slide guitar.
Each evening was a jam session, with the Friday session on the stage at Ground Zero. Ground Zero is Mecca for blues artists, and has been voted the best Blues Club in the nation. If you have the skills and the means, blues artists must play at Ground Zero once in their life. I have now done it twice!
Fiona, Fiona, Fiona
Fiona Boyes was the director of the guitar workshop. She hails from Australia and plays a broad range of blues styles on a collection of guitars including cigar boxes. Fiona is described as Bonnie Raitt’s evil twin sister. That may apply to her guitar style, but she was gentle, caring, humorous, and inspirational in managing the workshop filled with “guitar heroes.” She managed the program with a smile on her face and a wink in her eye, adapting to the situation when demanded. She is a strong woman in a field of men.
My Thoughts (Photo below is from Ground Zero)
So, am I jealous of the youngsters?
I grew up in a lower middle-class family. No money for any kind of camps or any instruments. But I was able to get a great education, have a fantastic career, travel the world, and share the experience for the past 38 years with the most wonderful companion I could imagine. (“Is he kidding?” says Marla.)
No reason to be jealous, right. But if I could only manage to get my hands on an Eighty-five-Watt Fender Twin Reverb….
As always this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge and Thomas C. Hemling
Our next posts will probably come from the great country of Canada.