American Routes

Fridays at 12:00 Noon
  • Hosted by Nick Spitzer

American Routes is a weekly two-hour public radio program produced in New Orleans, presenting a broad range of American music — blues and jazz, gospel and soul, old-time country and rockabilly, Cajun and zydeco, Tejano and Latin, roots rock and pop, avant-garde and classical. Now in our 15th year on the air, American Routes explores the shared musical and cultural threads in these American styles and genres of music — and how they are distinguished.

Nick Spitzer - Host of American Routes

The program also presents documentary features and artist interviews. Our conversations include Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, B.B. King, Dr. John, Dave Brubeck, Abbey Lincoln, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles, Randy Newman, McCoy Tyner, Lucinda Williams, Rufus Thomas, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others. Join us as we ride legendary trains, or visit street parades, instrument-makers, roadside attractions and juke joints, and meet tap dancers, fishermen, fortunetellers and more.

The songs and stories on American Routes describe both the community origins of our music, musicians and cultures — the “roots”— and the many directions they take over time — the “routes.”

americanroutes.wwno.org

Facing the hot season head on, we hit up juke joints, dancehalls and folk festivals to get our fill of hot licks from blues and bluegrass musicians, oldtimers and newcomers alike. We talk shop with Mississippi Hill Country bluesman Cedric Burnside about playing music alongside his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, finding his voice and translating old school sounds for a new generation. Then we head to the Montana Folk Festival to hear the bluegrass bonafides of ShadowGrass and talk with the young Appalachian upstarts about balancing their tour schedule with junior high school.

For this special American Routes program, we follow the lives of two giants of jazz: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. From their humble North Carolina beginnings to their triumphs on the world stage, we’ll trace their individual and inspired paths to creativity. 

And we’ll visit with the musicians who played with the greats, including McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders, and the next generation, TS Monk and Ravi Coltrane.

We hit the open road to hear tales of adventure and woe from honky-tonkers and hobos, train-hoppers and busking bohemians. En route we talk with Washington folk singer Brandi Carlile, who dropped out of high school to cut it as a touring musician, and New Orleans' Meschiya Lake, about her journey from circus performer to jazz chanteuse.

We trace stardom back to its source, traversing the roots and routes that led small town musicians to national fame. Pop icon Boz Scaggs and the late Cajun honky-tonk man Jimmy C. Newman took very different paths to the stage but carried with them the sounds they grew up hearing in rural America. Boz Scaggs achieved mainstream success with his own platinum records as well as his work with Steve Miller and Duane Allman. We talk to him about 60+ years performing on the road and how he came into his own by reconnecting with the blues he heard as a kid in “Nowhere, Texas.”

Traveling at the speed of 45 RPM, we sink into the record grooves of some of our favorite songs and talk to the studio wizards who produced them. First stop is Nashville, home to Music Row as well as Easy Eye Sound, the recording studio of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. We talk with Auerbach about his journey in music, from hearing vinyl on his parents’ turntable in Akron, Ohio, to cutting records with some of Nashville’s legendary session players.

Gabi Porter

We take a deep dive into the vaults of Blue Note Records, the independent label that helped put artists like Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith on the map. Flagbearer of trad jazz, bebop and the cool school, Blue Note is still at it after 79 years and has expanded its wheelhouse to include vocalists like Norah Jones, Ryan Adams and Van Morrison. We talk with producer extraordinaire and Blue Note president Don Was about the label's past and new directions.

Eliot Kamenitz / The Advocate

Happy July Fourth! Add some sizzle to your backyard barbecue with hot licks from the stage as we road trip from New Orleans to Butte, Montana. We start off at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter for vocal fireworks from gospel quartet the Blind Boys of Alabama and Crescent City soul singer Irma Thomas, both backed by the mojo masters of Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

To kick off 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.

jazz.org

From “Ol’ Man River” to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” we turn to the American songbook for portraits of fatherhood, both kindly and cautionary, from down-home country to down-with-the-man rock’n‘roll and soul. We talk to New Orleans jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis about family life and raising four career musicians—Wynton, Branford, Jason and Delfeayo. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys tells of working in the studio with his dad, Chuck Auerbach, who is making his recording debut at age 68 with Remember Me. Daughter Rosanne remembers Johnny Cash’s voice and her favorite of his tunes.

As the promise of summer rises with the heat index, we explore the world of daydreams, nostalgia, fantasy and future selves. Time travel with songwriting scenester Eric Andersen back to his days hanging with the Beats at City Lights bookstore and Greenwich Village’s folk music scene, train-riding across Canada with Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy and the Grateful Dead and tripping out on music and hallucinogens.

We hit up Preservation Hall in the French Quarter for a potent dose of trad jazz, as bandleader and fourth-generation Creole musician Charlie Gabriel tells of his Caribbean roots, jazz funerals, and New Orleans’ hybrid rhythms. Then we head to the Lonestar state to hear the reworking of jazz into Texas swing, as played by the Quebe Sisters. The fiddling siblings tell of their sheltered upbringing outside Ft. Worth and their fiery baptism into western swing.

American Routes boogies down to bayou country to catch live music at Festival International, a showcase of French music from southwest Louisiana and the wider Francophone world along with blues, Chicano nouveau and swamp pop. For the 31st annual festival, we hear female Cajun supergroup Bonsoir, Catin tear up the stage; bluesman Corey Harris ring out the Mississippi Delta's West African roots; and blue-eyed soul from swamp pop legends Johnnie AllanT.K. Hulin, and G.G. Shinn.

This week, American Routes revisits the best live performances from the 2016 Baton Rouge Blues Festival. We’ll feature swamp blues, Mississippi Delta blues, hill country blues, and the blues rocked out. Artists include Howlin’ Wolf’s pianoman Henry Gray, harp player Lazy Lester, Kenny Neal and family, Slim Harpo’s right-hand guitar man James “Chicken Scratch” Johnson, songmaker Luke Winslow King, New Orleans soul funkster Walter “Wolfman” Washington and R.L. Burnside’s grandson, Kent Burnside. Plus a visit to Teddy’s Juke Joint nearby on Highway 61 in Zachary, LA.

Little Freddie King, Anders Osborne, Dr. Michael White & Music Maker Relief Foundation
 

We’re on the road again, dialed into high-flying honky-tonk as we cruise through Texas cotton patches and Midwestern pastures of plenty. Starting off in Illinois farm country, we meet up with Margo Price, who followed her dreams of songwriting to Nashville, Tennessee. She put her name on the map with songs about growing up in rural America, and has since dug in her heels while singing about a landscape of gender and economic inequities.

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 Téjano music played by squeeze box masters like Flaco Jiménez, Narciso Martinez and Mingo Saldivar among many.

We hit the open road to hear tales of adventure and woe from honky-tonkers and hobos, train-hoppers and busking bohemians. En route we talk with Washington folk singer Brandi Carlile, who dropped out of high school to cut it as a touring musician, and New Orleans' Meschiya Lake, about her journey from circus performer to jazz chanteuse. Driving on in search of mythic America, we hear the voices of its discontents: Woody Guthrie, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Wilco and Pops Staples.

We are live in New Orleans at Preservation Hall for the nouveau stylings and hybrid sounds that have been cooking up in the historic jazz hub since second-generation director and bass player Ben Jaffe took the helm. We hear funky new grooves from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, whose band members range from 20-somethings to an octogenarian. And we witness the sonic chemistry when the band is paired with singer Tom Waits, bluegrasser Del McCoury and New Orleans hoodoo rocker Dr. John.

From New Orleans to southern France, Trinidad to Brazil, we celebrate Mardi Gras masquerading and dancing to the beat of Carnival music. We’ll visit with Mardi Gras Indian Chief Monk Boudreaux as he suits up in handmade, feathered regalia and struts through the streets with his gang. Then we travel to southern France for the Carnival parade and music of Nice, and costumed revelry a few hours east in the wine country town of Limoux. Back home in French Louisiana, it's the Cajun Courir de Mardi Gras where beggar clowns dance for a chicken to put in a communal gumbo feast.

We take a deep dive into the vaults of Blue Note Records, the independent label that helped put artists like Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith on the map.  

Flagbearer of trad jazz, bebop and the cool school, Blue Note is still at it after 79 years and has expanded its wheelhouse to include vocalists like Norah Jones, Ryan Adams and Van Morrison. 

How Many Roads: Bob Dylan’s Back Pages Volume II In this second edition of "How Many Roads?" Bob Dylan's Back Pages, we'll rejoin the great American wordsmith by listening to his work from the last 25 years. We won't forget the historic and ancient roots of his modern sounds, from the Old Testament to the Civil Rights movement. We'll hear from collaborators and friends, Mavis Staples and Joan Baez, and from Kris Kristofferson who overheard Dylan's recording sessions while working as a custodian in Nashville.

HOLIDAY SOUL AND SPIRIT: LIVE FROM PRESERVATION HALL WITH IRMA THOMAS & THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA 
 

During the Cold War, the U.S. State Department started sending jazz musicians overseas with the tactical aim of using their hot licks to thaw relations with Eastern Bloc countries. Jazz great Dave Brubeck recalls how Louis Armstrong, a.k.a. “Ambassador Satch,” won international hearts and minds with his trumpet. Band member Arvell Shaw saw Armstrong literally disarm Russian guards in East Berlin. Meanwhile, fear of nuclear war with the Soviets infiltrated American popular consciousness resulting in gospel, bluegrass and pop odes to and protests against atomic weapons.

Remembering Allen Toussaint: A Saint for All Seasons    

New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp has presented the “unsung heroes of American music” for well over a decade in blues, soul, country, rockabilly and garage rock. Stomp impresario Dr. Ike shares his memories of pioneering the raucous, eclectic gathering, and we visit with this year’s headliner, R&B guitar-woman— aka the Black Female Elvis—Barbara Lynn from Beaumont, TX. We’ll also hear from previous headliner, Arizona Twangmaster Duane Eddy. We’re spinning tracks from Stomp artists including Gary U.S. Bonds, Lazy Lester and Linda Gail Lewis.

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, SHINE A LIGHT ON ME: PRISON MUSIC FROM ANGOLA, LOUISIANA & BEYOND  

Rock and Soul from Memphis to Muscle Shoals: Candi Staton, Sam Phillips and Barbara Sims  

Tune in and rock the blues with two guitar men who do it with great authority. First up is Arkansas wild man and original Sun Records rockabilly Sonny Burgess who tore it up, playing his hits "We Wanna Boogie," "Red-Headed Woman" and others well into his eighties, before passing away last month. And hear a live set from the late great New Orleans bluesman and human jukebox Snooks Eaglin, recorded in 2007 at his home base, the famous Rock 'N' Bowl nightclub, where one can do either of those, or both, at the same time.

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.

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