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The Ebony Hillbillies "I'd Rather Be"

Recently on the Music Fog pages, we have been talking about the melting pot that is American Music. Today we shine a light on another historical era, and I suspect many people don’t realize that this particular seminal contribution was brought to our shores from Africa. Yes of course there’s The Blues, and Jazz, but I am talking roots here. It was the Black String Bands that gave birth to Country and Bluegrass.

I’m sure you know that the banjo was exported from Africa, and along with it came a tradition of front porch picking that seeded what has become Americana Music. It was Fiddle, Banjo, and more stringed instruments were added. It is the blending of Black and White, of Native American and African and European sonic traditions. It is what ultimately caused the Big Bang that the world has come to identify as pure American music.

Today we bring you a 'for real' string band from NYC, and one of the last Black String Bands in America. I first saw the Ebony Hillbillies play a couple of years ago at Christmastime in the NYC subway. I was consumed with unbridled joy as their music hit my ears. I have been wanting to film them since then. There aren't many bands around still delivering this easy and authentic of a musical experience.

The Ebony Hillbillies are led by Henrique Prince (fiddle, vocals) and Norris Bennett (banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar, vocals) and feature Gloria Thomas Gassaway on vocals and bones, William “Salty Bill” Salter on acoustic bass with A.R. and Newman Taylor Baker on washboard and percussion. They have a new live album about to arrive called Slappin’ A Rabbit - Live! Bassist Tony Garnier sat in with them for the Music Fog cameras. Pure joy. Here is an instrumental version of “I’d Rather Be.”

- Jessie Scott


Morgan O'Kane "Monarchs"

When I was hanging out in New York City back in the 80s seeing bands for the first time like Huey Lewis & The News, Graham Parker, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and The Eurythmics, never did I dream that one day I would present a show at what was then called The Ritz. Oh course, The Ritz was short lived, the building was, and is now again, Webster Hall.

Built in 1886, Webster Hall enjoys a remarkable timeline with over a century of service as a pleasure palace, community center, and meeting space, with each era reflecting the culture of the day - America’ history. It is a gorgeous building that dates back to the same era as when the Texas Dancehalls were constructed, and in 2007, Webster Hall was granted landmark status. As one thinks about today’s entertainment business, it is ever impressive to see the traditions of the different nationalities be woven to create the fabric. And that is especially true in American Music, as it is the ultimate melting pot.

On Friday night, I got to play host to a Let’s Zydeco show in The Marlin Room of Webster Hall with Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys. Accordion blazing, French and English, earthy, soulful and fun; the audience was two stepping, Zydeco dancing, and waltzing. It was magical listening to a Grammy award winning band in a space that has long played home to good music, good times, and yes, even cheek to cheek dancing back in the day. And it was a thrill for me, for sure, to being able to make it happen. You just never know where life will take you.

A month ago, the Music Fog crew blew into New York to film at the uptown outpost of ‘Webster Hall Presents’, Midtown Live. We had a return session with Morgan O’Kane, who long ago rocked our bus. (Literally.) Great to bring his bad ass punk approach to banjo back to you, as we hoist our collective beers to cheers him for a belated birthday. Morgan wisely wound up celebrating by playing at Chickie Wah Wah in New Orleans. We should all be so lucky.

-Jessie Scott