Fifteen Bands Keeping the Spirit of American Music Alive, As Chosen by Pokey LaFarge


Pokey LaFarge - JO MCCAUGHEY
  • Jo Mccaughey
  • Pokey LaFarge

(Editor's note: This weekend, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three is celebrating the release of a seven-inch, "Pack It Up" b/w "Chittlin' Cookin' Time in Cheatham County." The record is being released by Third Man Records, the label founded by Jack White. In fact, the White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather frontman produced the seven-inch, and LaFarge and crew went to Nashville and recorded it in White's studio. In this week's paper, LaFarge shared some of the artists and musicians who have meant something both to him personally -- and to the music he's creating. Below, he elaborates on modern artists, both local and national, who excel in bringing old-time swing, soul and blues to the masses. Tonight's release show is at 9 p.m. at Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. It's $10 for 21 and up and $13 for those under 21. -- Annie Zaleski)

There's a lot of music being made today that reaches out and grabs people and makes them know that they're alive, but it's on the underground. If you'd like to see a list of today's performers who I feel are keeping the real spirit of American music alive, check out the following list.

1. Frank Fairfield. One of the best live performances is in a quiet venue; he'll take you to another place with old-time banjo, guitar, fiddle and singing. From Los Angeles, California.

2. Blind Boy Paxton. Pretty much a genius. He's just a kid, and he's so damn good at what he does: country blues and ragtime guitar. He's a stride pianist and singer. From Los Angeles, California.

3. St. Louis music. Rum Drum Ramblers: The ever-evolving group just made a great record.

Little Rachel: She's R&B, soul and jump blues. This little gal with the big voice has a great band behind her.

Swing DeVille: It's gypsy jazz, Western swing and more -- great for swing dancing. This hot band features virtuoso fiddler Justin Branum.

Colonel Ford: The Farrar brothers play in this honky-tonk group, which also sometimes features in-lap steel-guitar player Bob Breidenbach.

Miss Jubilee: A great dance band for jump blues, R&B and soul.

4. Hot Club of Cowtown. A great Western swing and jazz trio. Whit Smith, the guitar player, is a monster. From Austin, Texas. Dom Flemons:

5. Foghorn Trio. The leading string band incarnation in the world. Formerly, they were the Foghorn Stringband. If you like old-time fiddle music, then this is the band for you. From Portland, Oregon.

6. Dom Flemons Though he now lives in New York City, he's a one-man music machine, a multi-instrumentalist and a current member of the Grammy-winning band Carolina Chocolate Drops. From North Carolina.

John Dee Holman from Durham, North Carolina, and Virginia's John Jackson are keeping the Piedmont Blues style alive. Woody Pines is all about ragtime blues and swing, as well as novelty tunes.

7. Crow Quill Nightowls. They're ragtime millionaires who exhibit extraordinary groove when they play. From Port Townsend, Washington

8. Red Stick Ramblers. One of the most versatile bands out there. Great Louisiana dance band known for Western swing, 20s- and 30s-style jazz tunes, Cajun and old-time music.

9. Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns. New Orleans jazz with a great singer and a band featuring St. Louis' own trombone sensation Charlie Halloran. Tuba Skinny is another versatile New Orleans band. They do some great renditions of old jazz and early blues made famous by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.

10. The Modern Sounds. Holding it down for Chicago. Perhaps the most versatile guitar player in the world, Joel Patterson is in this band. This band can back up any band playing in the old styles. They also have a great jazz band called Fat Babies. Two Man Gentleman Band:

11. Jimbo Mathus. "God bless Mississippi, and pass the antiseptic," as Jimbo would say. He made it big with Squirrel Nut Zippers, and now he does his own brand of Mississippi blues. For more of his old-school sound, I recommend picking up the album Songs for Rosetta. Also check out his band with Alvin Youngblood Hart, South Memphis String Band.

12. Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. I prefer more of his Western swing stuff. He tours through here pretty often; when he does, don't miss the show -- he is an astute showman.

13. Deke Dickerson is a Missouri boy now living in Los Angeles, California. With his trademark double-necked guitar, he performs great Western swing, rockabilly and honky-tonk. I just saw him perform with the Modern Sounds. It was fantastic.

14. The Wilders from Kansas City, Missouri. These world travelers a serious butt-kicking, snot-slinging good time of an old-time string band. Betse Ellis, of Arkansas, is an encyclopedia of Ozark fiddle tunes.

15. Two Man Gentleman Band from New York City. This vaudevillian swing comedy duo put on literally one of the best live shows out there today. They sing about anything from chocolate milk to songs about mathematics. They are also topnotch musicians.

Also from NYC, the Wiyos. Toured with Dylan, and continue to keep the old music alive and well.

Cangelosi Cards is '20s jazz featuring Tamar Korn, one of the best vocalists I've ever seen live.

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