Song Keepers, Disc 2: “Back In Business”

By James Calemine

In celebration of Music Maker Foundation’s 30th anniversary, Song Keepers: A Music Maker Anthology, was released on February 16, 2024. Song Keepers delivers timeless photographs by Tim Duffy, soulful stories by the esteemed Georgann Eubanks and a box set of 86 songs by Music Maker artists. These recordings have been masterfully curated and thoughtfully arranged to highlight and explore four facets of American roots music: Acoustic Blues, Electric Blues, Sacred Soul and Gospel and Eclectic Folk. Song Keepers includes liner notes for each album that delightfully illuminate the music and the artists with accessible musicology and profiles.

You hold in your hands a precious gathering of homegrown music, collected over thirty years by a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and savoring the sounds of American Roots Music, particularly from the South.

In this story, we dive into Disc Two: Back in Business: Electric Blues. A deep groove and low-to-the-ground sound runs throughout the eighteen tracks. Beginning with Sol Roots’ “Intro,” a remixed Music Maker field recording showcasing Cootie Stark’s vocals accompanied by Guitar Gabriel’s gutbucket guitar riff. Stark’s voice sends a message from the grave to the 21st century: “we trying to keep the blues alive”. Proving the timelessness of this music, “Intro” was picked for a Super Bowl commercial in 2003.

The compilation segues smoothly into Jerry “Boogie” McCain’s rollicking “Where You Been?”, showcasing Fabulous Thunderbird Jimmie Vaughan’s guitar wizardry on this legendary Memphis recording. Beverly “Guitar” Watkins’ “Back in Business” defines the wandering spirit of this collection as well as proving she was one of America’s finest guitarists. The highly under-rated John Dee Holeman’s “Chapel Hill Boogie” evokes a festive Saturday night at a rural juke joint. Lee Gates, guitarist Albert Collins’ cousin, liked to fight and spent time in jail so it’s only natural his guitar playing is sharp as a blade on “You Gotta Love Me Baby”.

The album seamlessly changes tempo with “I Just Want To Tell You”, a soulful, original R&B number by Robert Finley, ranks as one of this disc’s strongest tracks. Alabama Slim’s “Please Leave My Money Alone” keeps a slow beat as Little Freddie King contributes burning solos on electric guitar. Birmingham, Alabama, sensation Aretha Woodruff delivers dynamic emotion on “Trapped” complete with a swinging horn section that ramps up the listener to hear the pure, unadulterated funk music of Ironing Board Sam’s “Man of the Street” recorded in 1970 in New Orleans by legendary Allen Toussaint.


“Clock on the Wall”–sung by Dr. Burt–conjures a universal loneliness as he plays the low-bottom guitar on this sad gem. Burt’s parents sent him to study with Coretta Scott King. He was shot at a protest march and later served time in prison for being beat up by a gang of white men. The blues is Dr. Burt’s specialty. George Connor spent thirty years playing music in Chicago before he moved back to his native Alabama. Connor’s mesmerizing voice captures the ear while dual guitars and drums push “Brother’s Tone” to travel into country, soul and blues territories.

Hermon Hitson’s “Let the God’s Sing”–an absolute lightning bolt–sounds like Funkadelic at their most psychedelic. This song alone is worth the price of Song Keepers. Hitson, a Georgia native, Jimi Hendrix played in his band before Jimi became famous.

Albert White, who toured with Ray Charles, is flanked by legendary guitarists Steve Cropper and Elvin Bishop on a timeless love song, “Rose for My Lady”. James Davis played every Saturday night at The Turning Point in Warner Robins, Georgia, for thirty years. Davis’s well-oiled, thick guitar sound transmits a hypnotic blues trance on “Georgia Drumbeat”.

Ink Spot Eddie Tigner’s jazzy version of “Route 66” transports the listener to a dim-lit lounge in downtown Atlanta. Sweet Betty Journal, who appeared in the Steve Martin film Simple Twist of Fate, closes Disc Two with her powerful gospel-based vocals on the freewheeling song “Party”, which sounds just like its title.

Back in Business is a musical journey delivering a new vista at the top of each hill and around each bend of this gritty, electric road trip. Whether you are looking for an album to zone out on wearing your Bose headphones, or to spin as the perfect soundtrack for your Saturday night barbecue, Electric Blues delivers.