- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - A new music series beginning this week will attempt to explore the raw, stripped-down roots of traditional blues music.

The “Salt and Pepper” series is a collaboration between the University of North Alabama, the Alabama Folklife Association, and the Muscle Shoals Music Association. It will take place on every fourth Thursday from February to April at UNA’s Mane Room on Pine Street.

The goal, according to Folklife board member Russell Gulley, is to expose more people to traditional blues music. After all, Florence is the birthplace of the Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy.

“The blues is American roots music,” said Gulley, a founding member of the rock band Jackson Highway.

Gulley said the project began as he and UNA Entertainment Industry Department Head Bob Garfrerick were working on the 2016 Shoals Blues Challenge, a contest for blues artists held during the Handy festival.

“He suggested doing some concerts in the Mane Room,” Gulley said.

At first it was going to be Gulley himself and local blues artist Max Russell, who recently participated in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

But Gulley was sidelined with a health issue and didn’t revisit the idea with Garfrerick until December.

When he was discharged from the hospital, Gulley went through his emails and found a message from Mary Allison Haynie, executive director of the Alabama Folklife Association. Haynie had some money remaining from a National Endowment of the Arts grant she needed to spend.

“She needed to do several other projects under the grant,” Gulley said. “I told her, ‘I’ve got a project.’”

Haynie said the Salt and Pepper series is included in Folklife programs funded in part by a $20,000 NEA grant that is matched by other sources and in-kind contributions. She said the grant will help the AFA present 10 events across the state to showcase Alabama master artists.

“The blues tradition in Alabama is one shared with other states, but offers regional variations based on settlement patterns and the migration of people from rural to urban areas, as well as changes over time as a result of the influences of many other factors associated with historical and cultural processes,” Haynie said.

Garfrerick said the cultural heritage of the blues in the Shoals is unmistakable.

“It begins with with W.C. Handy and comes through Sam Phillips,” he said. “While the Muscle Shoals sound is not blues, it’s blues influenced. Sam recorded blues acts. Historically and culturally, the blues history is strong here.”

Unfortunately, the blues is not a genre many in the Shoals come out to see, he said.

“The Mane Room and I are committed to try to change that,” Garfrerick said. “The fact Russell got grants to do that is a perfect partnership for us. It fits our mission and values system.”

Each show in the the “Salt and Pepper” series will feature artists who have some kind of tie to the state, Gulley said. He said the series name dates back to 1973 when he first moved to the Shoals and met Bob Carl Bailey, who owned WZZA radio in Tuscumbia. He said Bailey suggested they organize a “salt and pepper show,” featuring a white artist and a black artist.

The Feb. 23 show will feature Shoals blues artist Max Russell, and Jock Webb Sr. and his partner, Clarence “Blues Man” Davis.

The March 23 show features the 2Blu duo, which includes guitarist George Dudley and harmonica player Bruce Andrews, who was recently inducted into the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame. The headliner will be Birmingham native and blues legend Sam Lay, who has played with some of the legends of blues, including Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Eddie Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Bo Diddley, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker and Muddy Waters.

“Sam is a little over 80 and while he is in good health he wanted to come back and play in Alabama,” Gulley said.

On April 27, the final show of the series will feature 20-year-old blues guitar sensation Jontavious Willis, who has been taken under the wing of bluesman Taj Mahal.

“He’s taking off like gangbusters,” Gulley said. “Taj said every generation there is a young black blues artist that comes around and brings the blues back to the black community. He has laid that burden on Jontavious.”

Opening will be Gloria Sitz, better known by her stage name Alabama Annie. Sitz plays barrelhouse piano, guitar and resonator.

Advance tickets will be $20 for the three-show series, or $10 per show, $5 for students. The price at the door will increase to $15 the day of each show.

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/


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