Posts Tagged With: Doc Watson

The mural version of “Step It Up and Go”

Scott Nurkin at work painting Libba Cotten on a wall in Carrboro.

If a picture paints a thousand words, as the old saying goes, you could say that the North Carolina Musician Murals project is a much more efficient version of my book “Step It Up and Go.” Beautifully painted on exterior walls all over the state, these public-art murals tell the story of North Carolina music.

This mural project, which I just wrote about for the Orange County Arts Commission, is the work of Charlotte native Scott Nurkin — drummer in bands including Birds of Avalon and Dynamite Brothers as well as a renowned painter of murals. Painting portraits of North Carolina’s most iconic musicians has been a hobby of Nurkin’s going back more than a decade, when he began painting them on an interior wall of Chapel Hill’s Pepper’s Pizza.

The first time I interviewed Nurkin was in 2009 for a story in the News & Observer, conducted one afternoon over a couple of slices of pizza (which he got for free, as partial payment). George Clinton, Max Roach, Randy Travis, Doc & Merle Watson, James Taylor, Ryan Adams, Thelonious Monk, Ben Folds and Etta Baker were among the subjects on the wall at Pepper’s — but no “American Idols,” who Nurkin deemed “not worthy.”

Nurkin’s portraits on display at Pepper’s Pizza about a decade ago.

After Pepper’s closed in 2013, Nurkin’s portraits wound up on display at the University of North Carolina music department. So he decided to supersize his portraits into outdoor murals. He started this year and has painted murals including John Coltrane in Hamlet, Earl Scruggs in Shelby, Roberta Flack in Black Mountain, Betty Davis in Durham and, most recently, Piedmont blues legend “Libba” Cotten in Carrboro.

Check the story about this here. There are more murals to come and I can’t wait to see who Nurkin will paint next.

ADDENDUM (1/13/2021): Thanks to the Together Raleigh public-art program, a bus shelter in Raleigh has a similarly cool North Carolina music mural, by the artist Kiara Sanders. See below!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On The Beach

Depending on how you reckon it, I either spent three or 28 years writing “Step It Up And Go.” Yes, there were the last few years at the end, when I was directly working on the book. But that was preceded by a quarter-century were I was kind of writing “the first draft of history” of it all in the News & Observer, with features about the “5” Royales, Doc Watson, Nina Simone and more. That produced a body of work I could use as a roadmap in various chapters.

There were a few chapters, however, where I had to basically start from scratch and build them from the ground up — most notably Chapter 7, “Breaking Color Lines at the Beach: The Embers and Beach Music.” Being a snob (and also not too bright), I didn’t take beach music all that seriously for a lot of years. Nevertheless, when it came to the book, beach was just too important a subject to pass over.

The beach chapter actually turned out to be one of my favorites in the entire book, tracing the style’s origins as a product of its era of Jim Crow segregation in the years after World War II. And it fit very neatly alongside Chapter 5 about North Carolina’s most important 1950s-vintage r&b group, Winston-Salem’s “5” Royales, who have a few songs in the beach-music/shag-dancing canon.

If you’re interested in a demonstration showing more about what beach music is and where it came from, the North Carolina Museum of History just opened an exhibit about it that’s well worth checking out. “Beach Music: Making Waves in the Carolinas” will be on display through next September, with an impressive array of artifacts. Here’s a piece I did about the show for the city of Raleigh.

I’ll be doing an online talk about the museum’s beach-music exhibit and my book’s beach chapter at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 14 — History @ High Noon: Breaking Color Lines at the Beach.” The event is free (as is the exhibit to attend), but it does require advance registration to get the Zoom link.

Drop on by (virtually) and ask some questions.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Step It Up and Go” and the universal interconnectedness of all things

Step“Step It Up and Go” is subtitled “The Story of North Carolina Popular Music” rather than “The History” for a number of reasons. The biggest is that it’s not a comprehensive A-to-Z history, which seemed like too much to bite off for the amount of space I had. I was less interested in doing a Wikipedia-styled encyclopedia trying to cover everything than in telling a story where I could give each subject some room.

To that end, it unfolds in episodic fashion with 16 chapters covering about a 100-year timeline. Don’t tell UNC Press this, because they have a no-memoir policy — but yeah, it’s kind of a memoir of my decades covering music across North Carolina for the Raleigh News & Observer.

After coming here 30 years ago knowing little about North Carolina beyond Doc, Earl, The dB’s and Let’s Active, I came to regard the state’s musical history as one large and ongoing story with a through-line of hard-headed blue-collar practicality linking disparate styles — rock, soul, blues, bluegrass, country, jazz and all the rest. Raleigh writer Tracy Davis picked that idea up and ran with it in a very nice feature/interview in the current issue of Raleigh’s city magazine Walter. I’m grateful to her for taking the time, and to Walter for including so many pictures from the book. It starts on page 74 of the September issue.

Also related to “Step It Up and Go” is a feature I wrote myself for the current issue of Our State magazine. “Buskers and Music at the Crossroads” is about some of the historically significant busking spots across North Carolina, where acts including Blind Boy Fuller, Doc Watson, Avett Brothers and Charlie Poole earned their pre-fame performance stripes playing for the pocket change of people passing by. The story starts on page 158 of Our State’s September issue.

WalterMe

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Step It Up and Go” — the Spotify playlist

StepYou can’t publish a book about music nowadays without at least one Spotify playlist to go with it. So after my folks at University of North Carolina Press told me I should put one together to accompany “Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk,” I went through the book jotting down artists and songs.

That quickly got out of hand as the list swelled to more than 250 titles, which seemed like a bit much. So I whittled that down by around 80 percent, shooting for something more manageable that a normal non-obsessive person might actually listen to.

Thus we have the Spotify playlist Songs From “Step It Up & Go,” a comparatively modest 54 songs ranging from Charlie Poole to Corrosion of Conformity. The selections touch on all 16 chapters, plus the Prologue and Epilogue. James Taylor to Jodeci, The Drifters to Doc Watson, Let’s Active to Little Brother, Etta Baker to Ben Folds Five — those and more are all there. Check it out.

Down the road, I might do more detailed playlists that get a little more into the weeds of each chapter. But for now, I think this one is a nice overview.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/playlist/7MYqYqBUenZB1ZtC8WVy3A

 

 

SpotifyUNCP

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Next up: “The Big Book of North Carolina Music”

ncblueNot quite a year ago, I found myself at an industry convention gathering with some of my rock-writing peers, doing what we all do at these things — swapping stories, telling lies and catching up about projects we had in the works, real as well as imaginary. Talking to another writer I knew, I mentioned that I was working on a book proposal for a history of North Carolina music. His reaction was…surprising.

“Yeah,” he scoffed, “that’ll be a short book.”

Words were exchanged, some of them unpleasant; no, it didn’t go especially well. But almost a year later, I am pleased to report that this “short book” has taken a major step from abstraction to reality. I’ve come to terms and shaken hands with University of North Carolina Press for a book with the working title “The Big Book of North Carolina Music,” which will have a format similar to UNC Press’ 2008 best-seller “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.”

uncpressWhile this won’t be an encyclopedic A-to-Z history of North Carolina music, my “Big Book” will cover a lot of ground in its 16 chapters — from Charlie Poole in the 1920s to “American Idol” nearly a century later, with Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis, Arthur Smith, “5” Royales, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs, the dB’s and Let’s Active, Superchunk and Squirrel Nut Zippers and Ben Folds Five, Nantucket and Corrosion of Conformity, beach music, 9th Wonder and J. Cole and more in between. It should come in at close to double the heft of my Ryan Adams book “Losering”; and while that still isn’t nearly as long as it could be, it’s nevertheless the most ambitious book project I’ve ever taken on.

But the beauty part is I’ve already been working on this book, piecemeal, for more than a quarter-century. I moved to Raleigh in 1991 to take the News & Observer music-critic job, and my first day was Jan. 15 — two days before Operation Desert Storm started in Kuwait. That was a time when the Worldwide Web wasn’t much more than a gleam in Paul Jones’ eye, back when most people still got their news by reading it on paper or watching the 6 o’clock news.

I must confess that I didn’t come here thinking the News & Observer would be a long-term destination, but it just worked out that way. Back when newspapers were still prosperous, the desired career trajectory was to spend five years or so at a mid-sized paper like the N&O before trying to move up to the New York Times or some other prestige publication. For a variety of reasons, that never happened. Most of the opportunities that came my way over the years felt like they would have been lateral moves rather than upward ones, although I did get a call from the Washington Post in 1999. But that was right after the birth of my twins, Edward and Claudia. At that moment, starting over in a big city was just not in the cards.

So I stayed in Raleigh and I’ve never regretted it, in large part because North Carolina music turned out to be fascinating and beguiling in ways I never imagined before I lived here. When I arrived, I was fairly well-versed in the North Carolina music I’d heard from afar on college radio — Connells, Let’s Active, Flat Duo Jets and such — without knowing much of anything about the history from farther back. So I’ve spent my years here filling in the history, bit by bit, learning as much as I could about North Carolina’s wildly varied music.

Despite the many variations of this state’s music, I do see all of it as of a piece and part of the same continuum — and “The Big Book of North Carolina Music” will, I hope, tie it all together as one story. I’ve spent the past few months going through my archive of stuff to get it organized (see below), and now begins the real work. TBBoNCM will be my side-project for the next two years, the thing keeping me up late nights and weekends and days off. If all goes according to plan, it will be done and dusted by the end of 2018, with publication to follow in 2019. Fingers crossed!

And yeah, whenever it’s done: I’ll be sending an autographed copy to that colleague.

archive

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

More nice company: Uprooted Music Revue

Here’s another nice little Christmas present, placement on the year-end list of the 15 top books of 2012 as determined by Uprooted Music Revue (which also ran a nice interview back in November). “Losering” appears alongside books by and/or about Willie Nelson, David Byrne, the Louvin Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Alan Lomax, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Gram Parsons, Woody Guthrie, Bettye LaVette, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger and Jonah Lehrer. Journeyman that I am, I’m darned glad to be keeping company like that. Check it out.

ADDENDUM: Chris Mateer was also kind enough to make me one of his top 25 interviews for the year.

UprootedTop15

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.