Monday, October 24, 2011

Sonny Terry Forever!

Country blues harmonica legend Sonny Terry would have been 100 years old today. Sonny Terry (Terrell Saunders) was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on October 24, 1911.  His early musical training consisted of listening to his father play hoedowns and square dance tunes on the harmonica. Though he played in various string bands around the Shelby, NC area, Sonny had no intention of becoming a professional musician until two separate accidents, at the ages of eleven and sixteen, left him virtually blind in both eyes. Farming was no longer an option. After losing his sight, Terry took to the streets and medicine show circuit where his skilled harmonica playing drew large crowds. Sonny developed a strong rhythmic style that included lots of chugs, whoops, wails, and hollers. He used his hands, harmonica, and voice to create trademark sound effects, from baying hounds to lonesome whistles and driving locomotives. When Sonny was about eighteen years old he got his first taste of the blues and taught himself how to play his harmonica in the cross harp blues style. Sometime in 1937, while out busking on the streets, Terry met his future musical partner – guitarist Blind Boy Fuller. The pair formed a strong musical bond and played together for the next four years, until Fuller passed away in February of 1941 at the unripe not old age of thirty three years. Soon after Fuller's death guitarist Brownie McGhee was asked to accompany Terry on a trip to Washington DC, and so the seminal acoustic blues harmonica/guitar duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee was formed. The pair moved to New York in 1942 and became hugely successful in the New York City folk and blues scene of the 40s and 50s.  Sonny's solo playing had already been a big hit in New York since he performed in John Hammond's famous "Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938. In the 1940s, Terry's unique style landed him a part in the Broadway play "Finian's Rainbow", the show ran for five years. In the next decade Terry and McGhee appeared as a duo on Broadway in a three year run of Tennessee Williams "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

By the time I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee perform together in the 1970s, they were still making great music together, but a rift that had been developing for some time was beginning to take its toll on the dynamic duo. They often argued offstage and by the 1980s they were no longer performing as a duo. Sonny spent his later years living on Long Island and passed away in Mineola, NY, on March 11, 1986. Thankfully, he left behind hundreds of recordings in the pre-blues and early Piedmont blues harmonica styles, as well as a legion of young players, including Phil Wiggins and our good friend Ken "The Rocket" Korb, who have been inspired to carry on the country blues harmonica tradition. Terrell Saunders was a true giant in the history of American music.

Sonny Terry CD: The Folkways Years, 1944-1963

Sonny Terry DVD: Whoopin' The Blues 1958-1974

Little Toby and the Rocket 2011 Reunion on The Long Island Blues Warehouse Show

John Cephas and Phil Wiggins perform at the White House July 1999

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Song Sprouts Artist of the Day

On Friday, October 14th, 2011, The Homegrown String Band will be the Featured Artist of the Day on the independent music site Song Sprouts is a very cool site where music fans can listen and download music that has been posted free of charge by 915 independent artists. If you go to our fan page you can listen to three songs (Praying for Spring, Don't Let Your Deal Go Down, and A minor Catastrophe) from our Ragged but Right CD. If you create a fan account you can download Mp3s of the three songs absolutely FREE! Song Sprouts is a great way to discover new music. Check out the music posted by The Homegrown String Band and about 914 other independent bands and solo artists.

Our local Long Island fans can also get some free live music this weekend as the full band will be doing a free show as part of the West Hempstead Library's Sunday at Two Series. You probably guessed that the show is on Sunday at 2pm. If you did, you would be correct!

West Hempstead Public Library
500 Hempstead Ave
West Hempstead, NY 11552

2:00 pm
 Sunday October 16th, 2011