|Sunday 05 February 2017 @ 02:00pm : -
Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons w/ Phil Wiggins
The history of American roots music in the early 20th century could never fit into an encyclopedia. it’s too ramshackle, too rambunctious, too radical. Fiddlers, guitarists, banjo players, and all kinds of folks rambled those early roads, learning from each other, inspiring each other, and pushing the music in new directions. Music constantly switched back and forth across the racial divide, beholden only to the beat and the dance. It’s this fevered period of musical exchange that inspires Northwest roots music duo Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons. The songs on their new album, The North Wind & The Sun, tap into everything from Memphis Jug Band blues to work songs recorded in Southern prisons. They also touch on an 1861 composition used to recruit black troops for the Civil war, an original adaptaton of old topical songs about corrupt clergymen, and an early jazz composition of Duke Ellington. All of these traditions are tied together in the swirling musical whirlpool of pre-war American music. In January of 2016, the Washington Blues Society sent Ben and Joe to the 26th annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. There, they were awarded 1st place—out of 94 solo/duo acts representing 16 countries—for their unique blend of pre-blues a cappella field hollers, fiddle & banjo breakdowns, and duet distillations of early jazz.
Ben and Joe have been playing together for almost 5 years, the last 3 of which sent them to the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival, learning at the feet of the elders of the acoustic blues tradition. They found an affinity in the many branches that tied into the blues and created this duo as a way to explore these branches. Their musical kinship and sense of joy in interpreting this music is evident and was the basis of an invitation Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) to tour and record for his album Prospect Hill. Last year, they launched an ongoing documentary film project to explore modern day music along the Mississippi River. Rather than thinking of their music as blues, it’s best to situate Ben and Joe as American songsters. A songster traditionally refers to an artist whose repertoire is much broader than the old blues, and spans many of the genres that Ben and Joe Inhabit. Uncle Dave Macon and Robert Johnson are classic examples of songsters. Whatever you want to call it, Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons make American music. They make music that hews to the rough-and-tumble collisions of musical inspirations from the early 20th century; music that paved the way for everything we enjoy today.
Special Guest for this tour, Phil Wiggins is arguably America’s foremost blues harmonica virtuoso. He was born on the 8th of May, 1954 in Washington, D.C. His parents had moved to Washington from Titusville, Alabama in 1941. “The closer the time came for, going 'home', the stronger my mother's southern brogue got. Whenever my mother used the word 'home' she was talking about Titusville." Phil spent many of his childhood summers in Titusville and cites the time he spent there as one of the main reasons for his strong connection with blues. “I would walk my grandmother around the corner to the church on Thursday evenings for prayer meeting. I would wait outside and hear the elder women of the church singing prayers and praises. The context was religious, but the sound was deep blues.”
During the early years of his development as a musician, Phil was constantly playing with and learning from some of the most notable acoustic blues musicians that made their homes in the Washington area: Flora Molten, Mother Ester Mae Scott, Wilber “Chief” Ellis, John Jackson, Archie Edwards, John Cephas, and others. He was mentored as well by many other musicians who frequented the D.C. area: Johnny Shines, Sam Chapman, Sunnyland Slim, Henry Townsend, Robert Lockwood, John Dee Holeman, Algia Mae Hinton, Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan, Etta Baker, and others. “I have always been amazed by and grateful for the generosity of these masters of traditional blues. They welcomed me and shared freely of their knowledge and abilities."
Phil performed with Flora Molten at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. every summer from 1972-1976. It was there in 1976 that he met and joined with Chief Ellis on piano, John Cephas on guitar, and James Bellamy on bass, forming the group Chief Ellis and the Barrelhouse Rockers. The group performed at several venues and festivals in the D. C. area until Chief retired and moved back home, coincidentally to Titusville, Alabama. Soon after returning home, Chief suffered a heart attack and passed on.
Not long after Chief‟s passing Phil and John Cephas formed the duo Cephas and Wiggins. This duo performed together for over 30 years, becoming America's premier blues duo. As ambassadors of the Piedmont blues, Cephas and Wiggins took their music all over America as well as all over the world. “John and I have performed on every continent except Antarctica.” Some venues of note include Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall, and the White House.
“Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons aren’t so much a throw-back to the music of the pre-war era songster tradition as they are alchemist-shamans, seemingly sent from those times to the 21st century to wake us up to the music that is embedded deep within us. It is our national heritage. They have been the same wide-eyed children caught by the magic of the songs they learned from their elders. They have grown to be today’s songsters.” ~ Terry Roland of No Depression
“These are musicians who would rather you clap your hands, or see you dance, than play in such a way that holds up the invisible wall between performer and audience. Hunter and Seamons have cast a huge net around traditional songs from a variety of genres . . . What I thought would be a folk album sounds more like a blues album played with folk instruments. ~ American Standard Time
“Hunter and Seamons expertly perform with a joyous missionary zeal.” ~ Steve Hunt, fRoots
“Hunter and Seamons present the kinds of songs that invite participation, and they give lots of indications of the various forms participation might take. A hand slapping a knee on “Some of these Days,” a gloriously goofy kazoo on “Jungle Nights in Harlem” a pair of bones on “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues,” the solo callouts on “Jazz Fiddler” ~ whether you actually do grab something and play along, the point is made that this is not music for the stage, it’s music for the living room, specifically your living room, not just theirs. The very sympathetic production across the album underscores that idea. For those of us who aren’t able to be in the room with them, this disc is so inviting, so intimate, that you’ll feel like you were.” ~ Glen Herbert, Sing Out!
“Phil is among a very small handful of virtuosos whose command of his instrument takes my breath away. His talent rivals that of any artist I’ve encountered in my career in Classical music, in my view placing him in the company of the Yo-Yo Mas and the Joshua Bells of the world.” ~ Scott Freck, Vice President for Artistic Operations & General Manager North Carolina Symphony
"An acoustic harmonica-guitar blues duo who are uniquely able to showcase the synthesis of African and European elements that co-exist in the blues, Phil Wiggins & Corey Harris are among the most dynamic live blues musicians of our time. They represent the next generation of blues musicians, simultaneously steeped in the tradition while bringing a renewed vitality and creativity to the genre. This new partnership is a must-hear!" ~ Triangle Arts and Entertainment