For Labor Day weekend, we take a break from the grind with a sonic salute to the heroic “Factory Girl” and those all too familiar with the “Workin’ Man Blues.” We explore the pains and joys of labor with tunes about coal miners, undertakers, chain gangs, and paydays. We hear a tribute to Cesar Chavez and the 1969 farm workers strike in Delano, CA. And we time travel with Lord Invader to 1940s Brooklyn to attend the West Indian Labor Day Carnival. Finally, we settle under the neon signs of New Orleans’ famed Chickie Wah Wah club to hear a live set from Telecaster master and rockabilly journeyman, Bill Kirchen.
This week on American Routes, we’ll ride along with fiddler and singer Alison Krauss on her journey through bluegrass and country, from small-town Illinois all the way to Nashville. Then it’s Hurray for the Riff Raff, a New Orleans folk band fronted by Alynda Segarra, whose roots are in the Bronx. Segarra tells of her own time traveling as a teenager and what has inspired her to reconnect with her Puerto Rican heritage. En route we’ll hear tunes from Chuck Berry, Bob Wills, Nina Simone and Tom Waits.
The great Texas river city is a mix of Mexican, German, Anglo and African American cultures, among others. Home to the Texas Conjunto Festival and the International Accordion Festival, San Antonio is best known for Tex-Mex or Tejano music played by squeeze box masters like Flaco Jimenez, Narciso Martinez and Mingo Saldivar among many. We’ll speak with Flaco, who in collaborations with Doug Sahm, Ry Cooder, and Los Super Seven, has carried the music worldwide. “Chicano brown-eyed soul” performers like Sunny and the Sunliners and other groups describe music that connected New Orleans and Louisiana Swamp Pop with San Antonio and East Los Angeles. We’ll also talk with Vox organ legend Augie Meyers who worked in the high hippie era with Doug Sahm as part of the Sir Douglas Quintet and later in the Texas Tornadoes. The conversation comes full circle with Max Baca, the leader and bajo sexto player of Los Texmaniacs who was influenced by both Flaco and Doug Sahm. The Grammy-winning family band sticks with tradition, but finds ways to include country, blues and rock. Plus music from Sam the Sham, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Freddie Fender and Willie Nelson. Vamos!
Wilco frontman, Jeff Tweedy tells of the impact on his songs of growing up in the blue-collar town, Belleville, Illinois. Music became his creative outlet in high school and lead to founding the seminal Americana band, Uncle Tupelo. We hear from Jeff in his Chicago studio “The Loft” about the emergence of Wilco and the place that making music has in his life, including work with Woody Guthrie’s lyrics and producing records with Mavis Staples. In Bentonia, Mississippi, playing blues and running the Blue Front Cafe, has been a lifetime role for guitarist Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Duck talks about juke joints and moonshine in the Jim Crow South til now- and how he got the name Duck. We’ll also hear music of jukes, honky-tonks and nightclubs from Hank Williams and George Jones to Bessie Smith and Mary Lou Williams.
At the peak of the summer season, American Routes is riding the airwaves to exotic destinations, swinging and surfing to all manner of beachside rhythms from the Beach Boys, Toots and the Maytals, Wilco, and the Kinks. We also stay home to bask in the sultry heat of “Summertime,” composed by George Gershwin and novelist Dubose Heyward in 1934 for the opera Porgy and Bess. It’s one of the most covered tunes in the American songbook with over thirty thousand renditions. We’ll hear takes from Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, and the Zombies.