American Routes explores the music associated with outlaws and life behind bars, from “Ball and Chain” to “Jailhouse Rock,” from Johnny Cash’s San Quentin show to Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special,” with guests including Merle Haggard and Aaron Neville. Plus a visit to the “Wildest Show in the South”—the Angola, Louisiana Prison Rodeo.
We’re seeking out the “American” in American music with two eclectic artists: Elvis Costello and Carla Bley. For British songman Elvis Costello, American music has shaped much of his musical creativity. We’ll hear about his love of American country and blues, his musical upbringing in Liverpool, and his current fascination with P.T. Barnum. For the inventive and eccentric jazz composer Carla Bley, the National Anthem proves an unlikely source of inspiration. Bley brings wry humor to a conversation about the challenges of writing for her very big bands, her early days as a cigarette girl in NYC jazz clubs, and why America might be famous for baked beans.
Come meet us at the club as we jump into two distinct American musics: go-go and zydeco. From the Nation’s Capital, we’ll visit with the “Godfather of Go-Go,” funk and jazz guitarist Chuck Brown, who’ll explain the finer points of jamming and showing the audience some love. Then we’re back in Louisiana getting down to the Creole sounds of zydeco with the Creole cowboy Jeffrey Broussard, whose fiddle and accordion playing brings the music back its source. The son of the late accordion legend Delton Broussard, Jeffrey knows the deep roots of d’vrais zarico (real zydeco), but also the appeal of tradition in a modern sound.
We’re hauling out the vinyl and giving it a spin this week on American Routes. First we’ll revisit our 2005 interview with the late Jerry Wexler, who produced many soul and R&B hits on Atlantic Records. Then we’ll go down into Maryland record connoisseur Joe Bussard’s basement to sample his wall to wall collection of rare blues and country 78s and massive sound system to play them. Also, a visit in Shreveport, Louisiana with record producer Stan Lewis to learn about his days producing pop, blues and R&B on the Jewel and Paula labels. Plus Bird Brain, the legendary Shreveport DJ who “broke” the records in the local black community… and nationally.
Relax and celebrate work and the music it has inspired on this Labor Day edition of American Routes. Worldly blues man and one-time farmhand Taj Mahal talks about tilling the soil as well as plowing through musical boundaries. The late oral historian and radioman Studs Terkel discusses work in America and his own labors over the decades. And New Orleans tinsmith and trumpeter Lionel Ferbos recalls balancing two careers. You’ll also hear a work-related music mix including Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Nina Simone, Roy Orbison and many more.