This week on American Routes, we’re keeping the beat with drummers and rhythm makers across the genres: everyone from Sun Records’ Rockabilly drummer JM Van Eaton, to jazz percussionist Ben Riley, who had to keep up with the unconventional rhythms of Thelonious Monk. In between, we hear live in-studio from New Orleans’ King of Treme, Shannon Powell, whose music takes us from the church to the streets and beyond. The funky backbone of The Meters, Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste tells us what it really means to hit a groove, and we’ll play an encore presentation of our interview with New York City percussionist, Tito Puente, El Rey de los Timbales.
We celebrate the songmaker, piano “professor” and producer from New Orleans who passed away suddenly in November, 2015. A beloved Creole gentleman, Allen Toussaint was a hometown hero and giant on the American music scene. He wrote over 800 songs and produced regional and national hit records such as “Java” (Al Hirt), “Mother-in-Law” (Ernie K-Doe), “I Like it Like That” (Chris Kenner), “It’s Raining” (Irma Thomas), “Yes We Can” (Lee Dorsey) among others. Toussaint worked closely with the Meters, Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. He is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and received the National Medal of Arts. Allen Toussaint’s famed autobiographical song is “Southern Nights.”
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.” We revisit our 2000 interview with the late-Merle Haggard, and then talk to Aaron Neville about his experience with incarceration. Plus a visit to the “Wildest Show in the South”—the Angola, Louisiana Prison Rodeo.
An encore presentation from the American Routes archives: Since the earliest blues and minstrel tunes to clawhammer bluegrass and forward to traditional jazz and newgrass, the banjo has been a part of American music. This week we recall our visit with Creole jazzman Don Vappie and hear how the instrument is used in New Orleans traditional jazz. And feel the zeitgeist in our interview back when with San Diego-based Nickel Creek during a live set about building onto their bluegrass base and moving beyond—which they have all surely done since.