Part 3: Detroit Country — A Musical Melting Pot
Interview with Craig Maki about new book on Detroit country music.
Published: December 10, 2013
MT: I can’t think of any female lead electric guitar players at the time. And leading her own bands after a while? I don’t think she thought she was doing anything different, that was just what she did. She had a raw approach, but very skilled at picking. She was a childhood friend of Chet Atkins, and they certainly influenced each other a bit musically. Another somewhat forward-looking performer was Rufus Shoffner. His “Shotgun Wedding Blues” is pretty emblematic of his work. Characterized by some as “old-timey,” but it’s also futuristic in that he’s got that rockabilly slap bass along with a banjo and a fiddle.
Maki: Similarly, “That Old Heartbreak Express” by Buster Turner is an interesting record. When my research collaborator and friend Keith Cady was interviewing Buster Turner, he asked him about that record and Turner said that they carried an electric guitar player with them in the nightclubs in Detroit because they needed to be more versatile than just a bluegrass group. They needed to play waltzes and popular tunes of the day and that’s what people expected. So that record is basically a bluegrass group with an electric guitar. And there were a few other examples of this from the mid- to late ’50s.
MT: And it’s funny because one of the things that I love the most about “traditional bluegrass music” is how untraditional it often is, in that they’re not obeying all the “rules” that, later on, people sort of shackled themselves to. You’d never hear that now. You’d be thrown out of a bluegrass festival, in some cases, if you had an electric guitar. You have these neo-traditionalists trying to protect the history of it. But what makes this music you write about so hardcore is that, no matter what they’re doing, you can just feel that rawness and energy and experimentation.
Maki: Yeah. A lot of the records made at Fortune, like “That Old Heartbreak Express,” the label owner, Jack Brown, would just let the bands go. So what you got on the record was what the band sounded like in the nightclubs where they played. At the Fortune studio, he would just turn on the tape and let them go.
Craig Maki and Keith Cady will be present a book signing event, including a tribute to Chief Redbird starring Chief Redbird’s daughter and guitarist Al Allen, at 4-6 p.m. Dec. 13, at D:Hive 1253 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-962-4590.
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