Keep scrolling down the page for our blog/program guide.

Pics, bios, reviews, album art and more! Learn lots about all the folks on the show!


Lil’ Yadkin River Breakdown-Danny Knicely and Jack Dunlap- “Chop, Shred & Split”

Love Me Like A River- Melody Gardot- “Worrisome Heart”
River Hip Mama- Charlie Musselwhite- “Ace Of Harps”
Green River- Creedence Clearwater Revival- “Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits”

Medicine River- Carter Sampson- “Wilder Side”
Watching The River Flow- Bob Dylan- “Greatest Hits, Volume II”
Take Me To The River- The Commitments- “The Commitments”

Peace Like A River- Jerry Lawson- “Just A Mortal Man”
Okolana River Bottom Band- Bobbie Gentry- “Chickasaw County Child: The Artistry of Bobbie Gentry”
Haw River Stomp- Southern Culture On The Skids- “Liquored Up And Lacquered Down”

Ranches And Rivers- Joe Ely- “Letter To Laredo”
Green River- Mark Jungers and the Whistling Mules- “Whistle This”
Swanee River Boogie- Peter Johnson- “Central Avenue Boogie”

Kern River- Emmylou Harris- “All I Intended To Be”
Cry Me A River- Joe Cocker- “Mad Dogs And Englishmen”
River City’s Jumpin’- Sam Lay Blues Band- “Shuffle Master”

Down To The River To Pray- Alison Krauss- “O Brother Where Art Thou”
Down On The Riverbed- Dave Alvin- “West Of The West”
Big River- Johnny Cash- “Live At San Quentin”

Red River Valley- Suzy Bogguss- “American Folk Songbook”
Stono River Blues- Shovels & Rope- “Swimmin’ Time”
Whiskey River- Willie Nelson- “Greatest Hits (And Some That Will Be)”

** Keep scrolling down the page for our informative blog/program guide. Follow along as you listen! **

Lil’ Yadkin River Breakdown-Danny Knicely and Jack Dunlap

danny knicely and jack dunlop- chop, shred and split

Danny Knicely comes from a musical family steeped in a mountain music tradition for generations. He first learned music from his grandfather, A.O. Knicely, who has been playing dances and social events in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia since the 1930’s. Danny has used his roots in old-time and bluegrass to explore various types of music from around the world. He has shared his music and collaborated with musicians in a dozen countries spanning four continents, including U.S. State Department tours in Tunisia, Morocco, and Russia.


Danny is also musical director for the Mountain Music Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving traditional musicians worldwide, and he plays a major role in a feature length documentary film called “The Mountain Music Project”. The film follows two Appalachian musicians on a journey through the Himalayas of Nepal and the mountains of Virginia while they experience the extraordinary connections between these two mountain cultures.


As a multi-instrumentalist, Danny has won many awards for his mandolin, guitar, and fiddle expertise, including first place in the mandolin contest at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

>> Read more…


Danny Knicely

An ambassador of the music, Jack has made a bee-line for success. When he is not playing onstage, he is playing offstage. Jack is the youngest in the group, and is already endorsed by Fairbuilt Guitars, Carey Mandolins and Eastman Guitars, is a hand- chosen apprentice to the legendary Danny Knicely, a mandolin and guitar teacher at Blueridge Community College and a guitar teacher at Divinum Auxilium Academy. He teaches privately all around the Shenandoah Valley. Always forging ahead, Jack blazes his trail with the aid of the influences from Sam Bush, Adam Steffy, Danny Knicely, Frank Solivan, and other bluegrass greats.

jack dunlap

Jack Dunlap

Love Me Like A River- Melody Gardot

melody gardot- worrisome heart-2

The story of vocalist Melody Gardot is as remarkable as any who perseveres against abject adversity. Born in New Jersey in 1985, she took up piano and played as a youngster on the nightclub scene of Philadelphia, influenced by jazz, folk, rock, and pop music. At age 19 she was a fashion student at the Community College of Philadelphia. But, on a fateful day, while riding her bicycle, the driver of a Jeep made an illegal turn, hurtling into Gardot and leaving her in the street for dead. As she lay hospitalized for months with multiple head injuries and pelvic fractures, her love for music was the best therapy she could receive. While in her hospital bed, she wrote and recorded songs that would become the EP Some Lessons. Upon her eventual release from intensive care, Gardot found the strength and determination to further her career as an artist. Blessed with a beautiful voice and grand insight as a songwriter, her cognitive powers slowly but surely became pronounced, leading to the independent recording and release of her debut CD, Worrisome Heart, which was reissued in 2007 by the Verve label. Her music could be described as a cross between Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy, and Shania Twain, but goes deeper than mere pop convention. Gardot is hypersensitive to light and noise, thus she wears dark glasses, and uses a cane to walk. On-stage she requires a special seating unit, and wears a Transcutaneous Electro-Nerve Stimulator, a TENS device, to assist in alleviating her neuralgic muscle pain. As amazing as her story is, what is more evident is that she possesses a blue style and persona that reflect not only her afflictions, but conversely the hope and joy of making personalized music that marks her as an individual and original.

>> Read more…

-Michael G. Nastos,




Melody Gardot’s debut recording, released in 2006, came two years after she suffered a near fatal automobile accident, the differently able Gardot triumphing in accomplishing what many others, including her, could only dream of. This project has her singing and playing guitar and a little piano, but more so presenting this project of all original material. Gardot has an interesting personal story, but even more intriguing music that straddles the line between lounge jazz, folk, and cowgirl songs. She’s part sophisticated chanteuse, college sophomore, and down-home girl next door. Her innocence, sweetness, and light are very alluring, much like the persona of tragic songbirds Eva Cassidy and Nancy LaMott. Feel empathy for Gardot, but don’t patronize her — she’s the real deal much more that many of her over-hyped peers.

>> Read more…

– Michael G. Nastos,

melody gardot- show 242

River Hip Mama- Charlie Musselwhite

charlie musselwhite- ace of harps

Fifty years of nonstop touring, performing and recording have reaped huge rewards. Charlie Musselwhite is living proof that great music only gets better with age. This man cut his (musical) teeth alongside Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and everyone on the south side of Chicago in the early 1960’s – thank your lucky stars he is still with us telling the truth with a voice and harp tone like no other.


Charlie Musselwhite may be the only musician to get a huge ovation just for opening his briefcase. Fans know that’s where he keeps his harmonicas and they’re about to hear one of the true masters work his magic on the humble instrument.


Musselwhite is, and always will be, a bluesman of the highest order. But he’s taken blues harp from the clubs on the Southside of Chicago (where “Memphis Charlie” and Mike Bloomfield backed Big Joe Williams) to places it’s never been before, both musically and physically.

>> Read more…






Harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo can recollect a leaner time when his record collection had been whittled down to only the bare essentials: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s South Side Band. Butterfield and Musselwhite will probably be forever linked as the two most interesting, and arguably the most important, products of the “white blues movement” of the mid- to late ’60s — not only because they were near the forefront chronologically, but because they both stand out as being especially faithful to the style. Each certainly earned the respect of his legendary mentors. No less than the late Big Joe Williams said, “Charlie Musselwhite is one of the greatest living harp players of country blues. He is right up there with Sonny Boy Williamson, and he’s been my harp player ever since Sonny Boy got killed.”

>> Read more…

-Dan Forte,

charlie musselwhite- photo by peter amft

Photo by: Peter Amft

Green River- Creedence Clearwater Revival

creedence clearwater revival- chronicle- 20 greatest hits

At a time when rock was evolving away from the forces that had made the music possible in the first place, Creedence Clearwater Revival brought things back to their roots with their concise synthesis of rockabilly, swamp pop, R&B, and country. Though the music of CCR was very much a group effort in their tight, punchy arrangements, their vision was very much singer, songwriter, guitarist, and leader John Fogerty’s. Fogerty’s classic compositions for Creedence both evoked enduring images of Americana and reflected burning social issues of the day. The band’s genius was their ability to accomplish this with the economic, primal power of a classic rockabilly ensemble.

>> Read more…

-Richie Unterberger,

creedence clearwater revival- photo by jim marshall

Photo by: Jim Marshall

Medicine River- Carter Sampson

carter sampson- wilder side

Carter Sampson is an Okie-born singer/songwriter with a big voice.


The Oklahoma City-based artist is blessed by a musical family legacy that includes talents like Roy Orbison.


Her journey as a naturally independent, free-spirited musician has seemed almost predestined at times. At age 15 she began experimenting with sound as a way to pass the time; now her creativity has matured into the dedicated and passionate performance that makes her a favorite female vocalist.


“I’m pretty much the same me working on the same goals … maybe a little more grown up. I think I am more confident than I was when I first started playing. I’ve always been brave, but I’m more sure of myself now,” Sampson exuded.


As a relatable artist, her empowering music appeals to a wide range of folks, who are incredibly and admirably loyal to her and her work. She’s the founder and director of Oklahoma City’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, which always partners with nonprofit organizations that empower girls and women through music education.

>> Read more…





Hot on the heels of Margo Prices’ superb Midwest Farmer’s Daughter comes another classic female country album. Carter Sampson has been working, recording and touring relentlessly in recent years without achieving the deserved industry breakthrough. Like Price, Zoe Muth and Elizabeth Cook, Oklahoma born Sampson possesses a glorious country voice which certainly packs a punch on the ten tracks on Wilder Side. Her love of the traditional country queens Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and fellow Okie Reba McEntire is evident throughout the album.

>> Read more…

-Declan Culliton, Thursday, May 5, 2016,

carter sampson

Photo by: Kyle Chaufty

Watching The River Flow- Bob Dylan

bob dylan- greatest hits volume 2

Bob Dylan’s influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist’s role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock. And that just touches on the tip of his achievements. Dylan’s force was evident during his height of popularity in the ’60s — the Beatles’ shift toward introspective songwriting in the mid-’60s never would have happened without him — but his influence echoed throughout several subsequent generations, as many of his songs became popular standards and his best albums became undisputed classics of the rock & roll canon. Dylan’s influence throughout folk music was equally powerful, and he marks a pivotal turning point in its 20th century evolution, signifying when the genre moved away from traditional songs and toward personal songwriting. Even when his sales declined in the ’80s and ’90s, Dylan’s presence rarely lagged, and his commercial revival in the 2000s proved his staying power.

>> Read more…

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

bob dylan- ken regan-camera 5

Photo by: Ken Regan/Camera 5

Take Me To The River- The Commitments

commitments- album cover

Alan Parker’s adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s crackerjack novel The Commitments kept its focus on the music — the classic American R&B and soul the titular workingman band cranked out in pubs across Ireland. As a book and film, The Commitments was all about love of music, so it didn’t matter if the soundtrack offered workmanlike versions of oldies the band and audience knew by heart: as long as it was done with some, well, soul, the film would work, and the soundtrack would too. In that sense, the Commitments were a cousin to the Blues Brothers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s tribute to the very same music but where Jake and Elwood managed to hire Stax’s house band (such are the perks of stardom) , the group Parker assembled were working Irish musicians.

>> Read more…

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,


Peace Like A River- Jerry Lawson

jerry lawson- just a mortal man

After 40 years and 20 plus albums Jerry Lawson, original lead singer, arranger and producer of the legendary a cappella group The Persuasions has moved on. The man who led the celebrated quintet – and recorded and toured with numerous artists such as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Liza Minnelli, Joni Mitchell and Frank Zappa – is heading in many new directions. “I left the Persuasions in order to perform and record the tunes I love with instruments. I’m singing Jazz Standards, traditional Soul, Rhythm & Blues, Country and many beautiful songs that deserve nothing less than a full orchestra.”


Anyone who has been privileged to experience The Persuasions knows that their signature sound was defined by Lawson’s sweet and smoky baritone. As music writer Rip Rense put it: “By any fair measure Lawson is really one of the best singers of the last fifty years—up there with Sam Cooke, David Ruffin, Brook Benton, Jerry Butler, Roy Hamilton & Nat King Cole.”

>> Read more…




Although 2015 is still young, Jerry Lawson’s new album Just a Mortal Man already wins the award for top soul album of the year. Having spent 40 years as the lead singer of the a capella group The Persuasions, having performed on the same bill as Joni Mitchell, Solomon Burke, The Grateful Dead, and Ray Charles, among others, and having spent ten or so years singing in local clubs in Phoenix and then with the San Francisco-based a capella group, Talk of the Town, Lawson now sails solo, backed by many of Nashville’s finest musicians. The power of this album lies in Lawson’s powerful and passionate interpretation of each of the album’s 13 tracks. Not only does he know his way around a song, but he possesses a genius for understanding the heart of the song’s lyrics and singing them straight to the hearts and souls of his listeners. Lawson calls Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and David Ruffin his heroes, but one listen to this album and you’ll hear why Lawson stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them, often transcending musically the achievements of his heroes.

>> Read more…

-Henry Carrigan, April 27, 2015,

jerry lawson

Okolana River Bottom Band- Bobbie Gentry

bobbie gentry- chickasaw county child- the artistry of bobbie gentry

Bobbie Gentry remains one of the most interesting and underappreciated artists to emerge out of Nashville during the late ’60s. Best-known for her crossover smash “Ode to Billie Joe,” she was one of the first female country artists to write and produce much of her own material, forging an idiosyncratic, pop-inspired sound that, in tandem with her glamorous, bombshell image, anticipated the rise of latter-day superstars like Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Of Portuguese descent, Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in Chickasaw County, MS, on July 27, 1944; her parents divorced shortly after her birth and she was raised in poverty on her grandparents’ farm. After her grandmother traded one of the family’s milk cows for a neighbor’s piano, seven-year-old Bobbie composed her first song, “My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog,” years later self-deprecatingly reprised in her nightclub act; at 13, she moved to Arcadia, CA, to live with her mother, soon beginning her performing career in local country clubs. The 1952 film Ruby Gentry lent the singer her stage surname.


After graduating high school, Gentry settled in Las Vegas, where she appeared in the Les Folies Bergère nightclub revue; she soon returned to California, studying philosophy at U.C.L.A. before transferring to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. In 1964, she made her recorded debut, cutting a pair of duets — “Ode to Love” and “Stranger in the Mirror” — with rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds. Gentry continued performing in clubs in the years to follow before an early 1967 recording a demo found its way to Capitol Records producer Kelly Gordon; upon signing to the label, she issued her debut single, “Mississippi Delta.” However, disc jockeys began spinning the B-side, the self-penned “Ode to Billie Joe” — with its eerily spare production and enigmatic narrative detailing the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister, who flings himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge, the single struck a chord on country and pop radio alike, topping the pop charts for four weeks in August 1967 and selling three million copies.

>> Read more…

-Jason Ankeny,




The figure of Bobbie Gentry cuts a particularly enigmatic swath across the landscape of American popular music. She has written one of the bona fide archetypes in American folk-blues songs in “Ode to Billie Joe,” an eerie, spooky tale whose secret — who or what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge — has never been revealed by Gentry. This song is the song for which she is best known, and in the late summer of 1967, it ruled the airwaves and caused more than its share of discussion and speculation. Its resultant album topped the charts for two weeks and went platinum in the same year that Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were released. But, unknown to most, Gentry issued eight of her own albums between 1967 and 1972 and one of duets with Glen Campbell; all of them were worthwhile, and revealed a wealth of musical styles, songwriting, song interpretations, and production.

>> Read more…

-Thom Jurek,

bobbie gentry

Haw River Stomp- Southern Culture On The Skids

southern culture on the skids- liquored up and lacquered down

The Chapel Hill, NC trio Southern Culture On The Skids has been spreading the rock and roll gospel since 1983. Rick Miller – guitar/vox, Mary Huff – bass/vox and Dave Hartman – drums, play a greasy mix of surf, rockabilly, R&B and country fried garage with a side of psych. It’s a musical gumbo Miller calls, “Americana from the wrong side of the tracks.” For over 30 years, the band have toured everywhere from the NC Prison System to Mt. Fuji, Japan, delivering what Rolling Stone calls “a hell raising rock and roll party.”


Since 1983, when they formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, SCOTS have played their unique hybrid of Americana, surf, R&B, rockabilly, and swamp pop (the band describes their sound as “toe sucking geek rock – kinda weird, but it feels good when you’re doing it”), all the while driving fans into ecstatic, sweat-drenched paroxysms of joy. Assisted by his cohorts in chaos — drummer Dave Hartman and bassist/singer/heartbreaker Mary Huff — Miller and crew have been prolific and ubiquitous for over twenty years.

>> Read more…



True to their name, North Carolina’s Southern Culture on the Skids offers an affectionate parody of local white-trash trailer-park culture, matching their skewed outlook with a wild, careening brand of rock & roll. SCOTS’ music is a quintessentially Southern-fried amalgam of rockabilly, boogie, country, blues, swamp pop, and chitlin circuit R&B, plus a liberal dose of California surf guitar, a hint of punk attitude, and the occasional mariachi horns. Following an early incarnation as a relatively straightforward roots rock outfit, they morphed into a raucous, sleazy, tongue-in-cheek party band obsessed with sex and food; in fact, fried chicken became a crucial part of their live performances, whether it was used in eating contests or tossed into the audience. Southern Culture may play chiefly to an underground rock audience, but their gonzo tributes to the South aren’t as smug as some of their peers working similar territory, since the band has genuine roots in the area.

>> Read more…

-Steve Huey,




Those who like their music on the humorous side will more than enjoy the raucous seventh release from Southern Culture on the Skids. To label this North Carolina-based quartet under the category of Southern rock would be limiting. On Liquored Up and Lacquered Down, Southern Culture on the Skids melds different styles into its core Southern rock sound and breaks many traditional rules of the genre. One of the talents of Southern Culture on the Skids lies in its ability to musically venture way out there — industrial-like processed vocals, high-reverb surf guitar, Spanish-style horn parts, and other un-Southern rock-like treatments — and bring the songs back home.

>> Read more…

-Liana Jonas,

southern culture on the skids

Ranches And Rivers- Joe Ely

joe ely- letter to laredo

Country-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Ely was born Earle R. Ely on February 9, 1947, in Amarillo, Texas. His family had worked for the Rock Island Line railroad dating back to the start of the century. When he was 12, the family moved to Lubbock, Texas, where his father ran a used clothing store. Inspired by seeing Jerry Lee Lewis perform when he was a child, Ely aspired to a musical career, and he briefly took violin and steel guitar lessons before turning to the guitar. His father died when he was 14, and his mother was institutionalized for a year due to the trauma, so he and his brother were forced to stay with relatives in other cities. When the family came back together in Lubbock, he took a job washing dishes to bring in some money.


He also dropped out of school and began playing music professionally in local clubs, forming a band called the Twilights that became successful enough for him to quit being a dishwasher. Soon after, however, he became sufficiently restless to begin traveling, at first to other cities in Texas, then California, and later New York, with even a trip to Europe working for a theatrical company. This peripatetic period in his life lasted a full seven years, from 1963 to 1970. In the summer of 1971, back in Lubbock, he teamed up with a couple of singer/songwriter friends with whom he was living, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, along with some other musicians, to form the Flatlanders, a country-folk group. They attracted interest from the small Nashville record label Plantation Records and in March 1972 went to Nashville and cut an album that Plantation barely released, credited to Jimmie Dale & the Flatlanders. (The album is reputed to have been issued only as an eight-track tape.)


Ely returned to rambling around the country, but he was back in Lubbock by 1974, when he began putting together a permanent backup band to play there and around Texas.

>> Read more…

-William Ruhlmann,

joe ely

Green River- Mark Jungers and the Whistling Mules

mark jungers and the whistling mules- whistle this

In life and in art, Mark Jungers is a reality dealer. A trailblazing Americana singer, songwriter and musician with By God sod busting roots, Jungers lays out the perils, the pitfalls and the pleasures of life in equal measure. And, accompanied by a like-minded music-making crew, Jungers uses a mixture of country, folk, rock and more to get that reality across with soul, conviction and a solid backbeat.
Jim Beal, Jr.
Freelance music journalist
KSYM- Third Coast Music Network D



Mark Jungers’ songs are full of finely developed characters, whose beautiful desparation shine through the authenticity of Jungers’ voice. Texan, via Minnesota, Jungers has honed his rock tinged country songs for the last 20 or so years.
… Songs like, “I Don’t Want To Live There” and “Do You Still Care” are perfect examples why more folks should be aware of Mark Jungers.
Adam Dawson

>> Read more…

mark jungers

Swanee River Boogie- Peter Johnson

pete johnson- central avenue boogie

Pete Johnson was one of the three great boogie-woogie pianists (along with Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis) whose sudden prominence in the late ’30s helped make the style very popular. Originally a drummer, Johnson switched to piano in 1922. He was part of the Kansas City scene in the 1920s and ’30s, often accompanying singer Big Joe Turner. Producer John Hammond discovered him in 1936 and got him to play at the Famous Door in New York. After taking part in Hammond’s 1938 Spirituals to Swing Carnegie Hall concert in 1938, Johnson started recording regularly and appeared on an occasional basis with Ammons and Lewis as the Boogie Woogie Trio. He also backed Turner on some classic records. Johnson recorded often in the 1940s and spent much of 1947-1949 based in Los Angeles. He moved to Buffalo in 1950 and, other than an appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, he was in obscurity for much of the decade.

>> Read more…

-Scott Yanow,

pete johnson

Kern River- Emmylou Harris

emmylou harris- all i intended to be

Though other performers sold more records and earned greater fame, few had as profound an impact on contemporary music as Emmylou Harris. Blessed with a crystalline voice, a remarkable gift for phrasing, and a restless creative spirit, she traveled a singular artistic path, proudly carrying the torch of “cosmic American music” passed down by her mentor, Gram Parsons. With the exception of only Neil Young — not surprisingly an occasional collaborator — no other mainstream star established a similarly large body of work as consistently iconoclastic, eclectic, or daring; even more than four decades into her career, Harris’ latter-day music remained as heartfelt, visionary, and vital as her earliest recordings.


Harris was born on April 2, 1947, to a military family stationed in Birmingham, Alabama. After spending much of her childhood in North Carolina, she moved to Woodbridge, Virginia while in her teens and graduated high school there as class valedictorian. After winning a dramatic scholarship to the University of North Carolina, she began to seriously study music, learning to play songs by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Soon, Harris was performing in a duo with fellow UNC student Mike Williams, eventually quitting school to move to New York, only to find the city’s folk music community dying out in the wake of the psychedelic era.


Still, Harris remained in New York, traveling the Greenwich Village club circuit before becoming a regular at Gerdes Folk City, where she struck up friendships with fellow folkies Jerry Jeff Walker, David Bromberg, and Paul Siebel.

>> Read more…

-Jason Ankeny,

emmylou harris- photo by veronique rolland

Photo by: Veronique Rolland

Cry Me A River- Joe Cocker

joe cocker- mad dogs and englishmen

After starting out as an unsuccessful pop singer (working under the name Vance Arnold), Joe Cocker found his niche singing rock and soul in the pubs of England with his superb backing group, the Grease Band. He hit number one in the U.K. in November 1968 with his version of the Beatles’ “A Little Help from My Friends.” His career really took off after he sang that song at Woodstock in August 1969. A second British hit came with a version of Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” in the fall of 1969 (by then, Russell was Cocker’s musical director) and both of his albums, With a Little Help from My Friends (April 1969) and Joe Cocker! (November 1969), went gold in America. In 1970, his cover of the Box Tops hit “The Letter” became his first U.S. Top Ten. Cocker’s first peak of success came when Russell organized the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of 1970, featuring Cocker and over 40 others and resulting in a third gold album and a concert film.

>> Read more…

-William Ruhlmann,

joe cocker- photo by olaf heine

Photo by: Olaf Heine

River City’s Jumpin’- Sam Lay Blues Band

sam lay blues band- shuffle master

Sam Lay was born March 20, 1935, in Birmingham, Alabama, and began his career as a drummer in Cleveland in 1954, working with the Moon Dog Combo. In 1957 he joined the Original Thunderbirds and stayed with that group until 1959, when he left for Chicago to work with the legendary Little Walter.


Lay began to work with Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 and spent the next six years with that group. He and bassist Jerome Arnold were hired away from Wolf’s band by Paul Butterfield in 1966 and became part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, recording that classic first album. Lay toured with Butterfield until late year when he accidentally shot himself.


Lay backed Bob Dylan at the historic 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when Dylan first introduced electric rock to the folk crowd. He went on to record with Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited. He can be heard on more than 40 classic Chess blues recordings, and his famous double-shuffle is the envy of every would-be blues drummer.

>> Read more…

-Michael Erlewine,

sam lay

Down To The River To Pray- Alison Krauss

o brother, where art thou- album cover 2

Alison Krauss helped bring bluegrass to a new audience in the ’90s. Blending bluegrass with folk, Krauss was instantly acclaimed from the start of her career, but it wasn’t until her platinum-selling 1995 compilation Now That I’ve Found You that she became a mainstream star. Between her 1987 debut Too Late to Cry and Now That I’ve Found You, she matured from a child prodigy to a versatile, ambitious, and diverse musician and, in the process, made some of the freshest bluegrass of the late ’80s and early ’90s.


When she was five years old, Krauss began playing the violin, taking classical lessons. She soon tired of the regimen of classical playing and began performing country and bluegrass licks. At the age of eight, she began entering talent contests in and around her native Champaign, IL. Two years later, she had her own band.

>> Read more…

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

alison krauss

Down On The Riverbed- Dave Alvin

dave alvin- west of the west

Dave Alvin helped to kick-start the American roots rock scene in the early ’80s with the band the Blasters, and has since gone on to a career as a solo performer, songwriter, producer, and sideman that’s been as well respected as it is eclectic. Born in Downey, California in 1955, Alvin was raised by a family of music fans, and as teenagers Dave and his older brother Phil immersed themselves in blues, rockabilly, and vintage country sounds, collecting rare records and attending nightclub performances by the likes of T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, and Lee Allen. Like many fans, the Alvin brothers wanted to play music influenced by the sounds they loved, and in 1979 they formed the Blasters with fellow Downey residents Bill Bateman and John Bazz. Combining the revved-up energy of punk rock with an enthusiastic embrace of classic American sounds, the Blasters became a sensation in Los Angeles and won an enthusiastic cult following across the United States and Europe.

>> Read more…

-Mark Deming,

dave alvin- photo by brian blauser

Photo by: Brian Blauser

Big River- Johnny Cash

johnny cash- at san quentin-2

Johnny Cash was one of the most imposing and influential figures in post-World War II country music. With his deep, resonant baritone and spare percussive guitar, he had a basic, distinctive sound. Cash didn’t sound like Nashville, nor did he sound like honky tonk or rock & roll. He created his own subgenre, falling halfway between the blunt emotional honesty of folk, the rebelliousness of rock & roll, and the world-weariness of country. Cash’s career coincided with the birth of rock & roll, and his rebellious attitude and simple, direct musical attack shared a lot of similarities with rock. However, there was a deep sense of history — as he would later illustrate with his series of historical albums — that kept him forever tied with country. And he was one of country music’s biggest stars of the ’50s and ’60s, scoring well over 100 hit singles.


Cash, whose birth name was J.R. Cash, was born and raised in Arkansas, moving to Dyess when he was three. By the time he was 12 years old, he had begun writing his own songs. He was inspired by the country songs he had heard on the radio. While he was in high school, he sang on the Arkansas radio station KLCN. Cash graduated from high school in 1950, moving to Detroit to work in an auto factory for a brief while. With the outbreak of the Korean War, he enlisted in the Air Force. While he was in the Air Force, Cash bought his first guitar and taught himself to play. He began writing songs in earnest, including “Folsom Prison Blues.”

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-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,




To put the performance on Johnny Cash at San Quentin in a bit of perspective: Johnny Cash’s key partner in the Tennessee Two, guitarist Luther Perkins, died in August 1968, just seven months before this set was recorded in February 1969. In addition to that, Cash was nearing the peak of his popularity — his 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison, was a smash success — but he was nearly at his wildest in his personal life, which surely spilled over into his performance. All of this sets the stage for Johnny Cash at San Quentin, a nominal sequel to At Folsom Prison that surpasses its predecessor and captures Cash at his rawest and wildest. Part of this is due to how he feeds off of his captive audience, playing to the prisoners and seeming like one of them, but it’s also due to the shifting dynamic within the band. Without Perkins, Cash isn’t tied to the percolating two-step that defined his music to that point. Sure, it’s still there, but it has a different feel coming from a different guitarist, and Cash sounds unhinged as he careens through his jailhouse ballads, old hits, and rockabilly-styled ravers, and even covers the Lovin’ Spoonful (“Darlin’ Companion”). No other Johnny Cash record sounds as wild as this. He sounds like an outlaw and renegade here, which is what gives it power…

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-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

johnny cash- photo by don hunstein- show 242

Photo by: Don Hunstein

Red River Valley- Suzy Bogguss

suzy bogguss- american folk songbook

One of the most acclaimed female country singers of the late ’80s and ’90s, Suzy Bogguss was able to balance country tradition with a contemporary mainstream sensibility, thereby satisfying both audiences and critics. Bogguss was born in Aledo, IL, in 1956, and began singing in her church choir at age five. Encouraged by her parents, she learned piano and drums as a child, and took up guitar as a teenager. While studying art at Illinois State University, she performed in local coffee houses and clubs, and after graduating in 1980, she hit the road, playing wherever she could find a gig around the Midwest, Northeast, and even parts of Canada. She moved to Nashville in 1985 and worked as a demo singer while playing in clubs by night; she later took a job singing at the Dollywood theme park and sold tapes of her own music, one of which got her signed to Liberty/Capitol when a label executive heard it.

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-Steve Huey,

suzy bogguss

Stono River Blues- Shovels & Rope

shovels & rope- swimmin' time

Charleston, South Carolina-based indie folk duo Shovels & Rope consist of married singer/songwriters Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. Like Trent, who also played with the indie rock band the Films, Hearst had spent the years prior pursuing a solo career, utilizing her raw yet melodious and expressive voice to deliver a handful of albums, one of which landed a single, “Hell’s Bells,” in the 2010 season of True Blood. Inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, the Cramps, and the soulful harmonies of Johnny Cash and June Carter, the pair provided tour support for like-minded artists such as Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, and the Felice Brothers before heading into the studio to lay down the tracks for their debut. The resulting O’ Be Joyful, which channeled country, bluegrass, and blues through a nervy indie rock prism, was released in 2012.

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-James Christopher Monger,




Not unlike their 2012 breakthrough album O’ Be Joyful, Shovels & Rope’s second album for Dualtone, 2014’s Swimmin’ Time, suggests Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst bought some privately published guidebook on “How To Write and Records Americana Music Like The Professionals” and have carefully followed the template to the letter. The arrangements have the correct balance of rootsy acoustic flavors and messed-up electric noise, the melodies are steeped in tradition but have a self-consciously clever indie rock edge, and the lyrics deal with the usual themes of natural disasters, human failings, small town eccentricities, and our land’s checkered past.

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-Mark Deming,

shovels & rope

Whiskey River- Willie Nelson

willie nelson- greatest hits ( and some that will be)

As a songwriter and a performer, Willie Nelson played a vital role in post-rock & roll country music. Although he didn’t become a star until the mid-’70s, Nelson spent the ’60s writing songs that became hits for stars like Ray Price (“Night Life”), Patsy Cline (“Crazy”), Faron Young (“Hello Walls”), and Billy Walker (“Funny How Time Slips Away”) as well as releasing a series of records on Liberty and RCA that earned him a small but devoted cult following. During the early ’70s, Willie aligned himself with Waylon Jennings and the burgeoning outlaw country movement that made him into a star in 1975. Following the crossover success of that year’s Red Headed Stranger and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Nelson was a genuine star, as recognizable in pop circles as he was to the country audience; in addition to recording, he also launched an acting career in the early ’80s. Even when he was a star, Willie never played it safe musically. Instead, he borrowed from a wide variety of styles, including traditional pop, Western swing, jazz, traditional country, cowboy songs, honky tonk, rock & roll, folk, and the blues, creating a distinctive, elastic hybrid. Nelson remained at the top of the country charts until the mid-’80s, when his lifestyle — which had always been close to the outlaw clichés with which his music flirted — began to spiral out of control, culminating in an infamous battle with the IRS in the late ’80s. During the ’90s and into the 2000s, Nelson’s sales never reached the heights that he had experienced earlier, but he remained a vital icon in country music, having greatly influenced the new country, new traditionalist, and alternative country movements of the ’80s and ’90s as well as leaving behind a legacy of classic songs and recordings.

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-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

willie nelson- photo by e.j. camp

Photo by: E.J. Camp

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