My taste in music run far and wide. If I was a black man, I would sing the Blues, but I’m not, so all I can do is play them on my Lowden and Gibson guitars. In London, I played guitar in Folk Clubs around the city, and whenever I could, I would listen to the best (in my humble opinion) to Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davy Graham. On his site right now, you can here Anji, one of my all time favorite songs to play. Davy went off for years traveling in Europe and North Africa, but like the others, and me, found his voice again and was performing again, and producing new work until his untimely passing in late 2008. Sometimes things in life take time to work out, and like them, be patient and never give up!
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve also listened to Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Elizabeth Cotton, and the songs which have strangely brought me to Washington DC, where a lot of blues people played - along with Duke Ellington!
I learned that Washington , a rather bleak “village” when I arrived from London in 1969, was a center for the Piedmont Blues, and a long time later, I connected with a wonderful man who today, epitomizes this style: John Cephas. He plays with a Harmonica sidekick Phil Wiggins. But taking lessons with John (in return for teaching him how to use his Mac), rekindled my love for this incredible music. As I write this, John passed away today. Sad.
Here are a couple of songs from Reverend Gary Davis: ”Candy Man Blues” and “I heard the Angels Singing”, and here is a song from Sonny Terry and Brownie MgGhee - “Keys to the Highway”. Sonny played by himself after Brownie passed away, and here he is with “Hootin’ The Blues”. Another of my favorites is Skip James and here he is with “Crow Jane”. Finally, there is a song from Jesse Fuller - famous for writing San Francisco Bay Blues. This song is Linin’ Track. If you like them, these and other videos can be purchased from Stefan Grossman’s site to whom I’m very grateful for giving me permission to use this material.
That's Stefan on the left. I'm very grateful to him for giving me permission to share the videos in this section. I lecture on Earth and Space sciences in DC area schools (as part of my NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador function), I feel it's important that kids get a fuller picture of their own cultural heritage as a basis for boosting their own self-confidence and esteem. That way, they believe me a little bit more when I talk about their own lives and career possibilities I'm also acutely aware of what its like to "parachute" into schools -- make myself feel self-important without leaving the kids anything tangible. I want to leave the kids with this site. My feeling is that if more young people got involved in these music roots, they may feel more connected to a positive side to their heritage. Then maybe, they will start to believe me as I;m trying to persuade kids to stay in school and that there are exciting possibilities for them in a large (Eclectic) planet. When I came to the US in 1969, I’d been working in the computer industry in England for 4 years, at that time, a rare feat for a 20 year old! I flew to DC to meet Harry Hayman, who I’d met at a wedding and who told me he was a programmer - like me - but at NASA!!! The scientists and Engineers at NASA and these musicians were and are my heroes, (as well as the Beatles and the Stones), but on the day I arrived, I found Sonny and Brownie, along with Elizabeth Cotton singing on the Mall. Ms. Cotton - playing here - appropriately Washington Blues, was famous for writing Freight Train while working as a housekeeper! Notice how she plays left handed. Unlike Paul McCartney, she just turned the guitar upside down and learned to play chords upside down! See, there are different ways to learn!!
Anyway, I had arrived during the height of the second American Folk Life Festival.
A free concert with some of my music idols only 10 feet away. I later met Harry, who turned out to be the Chief Programmer for the part of the Apollo program that was the lift off from the moon to the rendezvous with the orbiting command module, but that’s another story.
Many years later, Harry told me I should write a book. Well, this site is it perhaps not in the format he imagined, but it’s dedicated to him and all the people at NASA.
At the other end of the spectrum, I love to make electronic music. Ever since I heard Kraftwerk (play in their site then close their window to return here) in the late 70s, and local Washington Bands (Urban Verbs and Tiny Desk Unit around the same time, and being a geek, I wanted to learn how to make my own computer-based music. Today, I use Apple’s Logic and Melodyne, as well as Bias stuff. I’m not good enough yet to plop a song on the site, but one day..
For a great overview of music from around the world, and music for kids, I heartily recommend the Putumayo offerings.
Many countries have their own versions of the Blues, or current music that is a credit to their culture. Greece, where I spend a lot of time, has Rembetika, which was born out of forced migrations of Turks and Greeks based on religion back in 1922. Here is a great example of a Rembetis (a Rembetika player) Marcos Mamvakaris playing Φραγκοσυριανή . Don’t ask, my Greek is pretty basic. Rembetika songs are wistful, but often amusing, telling stories of wine (Retsina), women and hashish. It was banned several times by the authorities or occupying forces, but is now enjoying a resurgence. Φραγκοσυριανή is an example.
In the lands of the far east, there is a ton of music that we never get to here, for example Balinese and Javan. In Northern Asia, there is Tuvan folk music, and you have to listen to the music of Huun Huur Tu. Play around in their site too, listen to their music. It’s songs dedicated to the land and to their mothers. See if you can find them playing “Eki Attar”. Their web site shows an up-coming US tour so, if you can, go see them.