Blues Camp | Robert Thomas
Freedom Creek | Vera Hall Memorial
Tuscaloosa Crawfish & Blues Festival
Willie King DVD Release | Sam Lay
Aliceville Middle School Residency
ABP Tours Baldwin County Schools
Benefit Concerts for Scott Boyer
Alabama Blues Women Exhibition
Our Sponsors

We are sad to report that our Program Director Betsy Myers is leaving us! For the last year Betsy has been a wonderful part of the ABP team and made a huge difference to the growth of our organization. Betsy is going to missed - by our staff, board, community and blues camp kids. We congratulate Betsy and wish her the very best as she joins her fiancé and moves on down the blue highway to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where she will be helping to run a music venue – and of course booking lots of blues!

Meanwhile, we are very happy to welcome our new Program Director Cara Smith! Cara has recently moved to Alabama from Mississippi. Her strong background in administration, public relations, publishing and of course her big love of the blues is going to make her an important new member of our the ABP team. If you happened to notice the great new look of our newsletter you are already seeing just one impact of Cara’s first two weeks on the job! Watch out for more fun changes in the design of our web site, brochures, posters and much more!

Stand Up for Autism
A Comedy Event Benefiting
The Autism Society of
Alabama and Arts 'n Autism

Thursday, April 12, 2007
6:30 pm at Bama Theatre
Tickets: $50 a couple, $30 single
Contact: Suzanne Dowling at
205-394-5264 or

Tuscaloosa Crawfish & Blues Festival
Saturday, April 14th, 2007

Market Street Festival
Columbus, MS
Saturday, May 5, 2007

Willie King’s Annual Freedom Creek Festival
Friday/Saturday, May 25/26, 2007
Old Memphis, AL – Pickens County

ABP Advanced Band, The Project performing at the Bama Theatre

The ABP’s advanced band, The Project, has continued to thrill audiences throughout this year. On Thursday, February 15, the band performed at Tuscaloosa’s historic Bama Theatre opening for the legendary Willie King and guitar great, Tinsley Ellis. Then on Saturday, February 17, the band performed at the School of Social Work to help celebrate Black History Month. Besides their many performances, the blues camp band has been polishing their original material and musical skills for a spring CD recording project. Be sure and mark your calendars for their upcoming performances!

Beginning Blues Camp

After-School Blues Camp has officially started!!! On Monday, February 26th, we kicked off with children from throughout Tuscaloosa County gathering together at Covenant Presbyterian Church with musicians Willie King, Debbie Bond and others for an interactive introduction to the blues!

We continue to recruit children from some of the most underserved areas in our community – the local housing authority, children in the custody of the state, foster children, as well as the wider community. During the 11-week camp, students choose to learn guitar, harmonica, percussion, or singing and are introduced to a news blues artist each week along with a lifeskills lesson.

Meet our 2007 Blues Camp Instructors!

Gary Edmonds
This semester we welcome back the outstanding guitarist and instructor Gary Edmonds, who has been working with the ABP for many years. Born in Hobert, Indiana, Edmonds received his first guitar at age 11 and cites Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray and Jimmy Page as his early influences. After moving to Alabama at age 13, Edmonds combined these earlier influences with the rich heritage of Alabama blues to form his own signature style.

Besides fronting his own band, Gary has backed many great Alabama blues musicians, including Willie King, Eddie Kirkland, Caroline Shines, Little Whitt and Big Bo, the Levi Breakers, and Debbie Bond. Gary has opened for many blues acts including B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Topper Price, and was featured recently on an Alabama Public TV special showcasing live Alabama blues artists.

Besides his own CD release, Leaving Time, Gary is also featured on Germany’s Taxim Records compilation CD Blues From the Heart of Dixie, which showcases Alabama blues musicians. Gary has worked as a session musician on many other recording projects and continues to be a regular performer on the Southeastern club and festival circuit.

Dwayne Pruitt
We are very happy to introduce our new drum instructor Dwayne Pruitt. Dwayne is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a self-taught musician who is proficient in both guitar and drums and plays a wide range of styles from gospel, rhythm and blues to rock, funk, jazz and country.

Dwayne’s earliest influence came from the Alabama gospel music he grew up with, and at an early age he began touring with regional gospel groups like Echo's of Faith Male Chorus, and the Ingram Angellet's Gospel Group, traveling the east coast and opening gospel concerts for groups such as the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the late James Ingram. In Birmingham, he was a drummer for many years at the Southside C.M.E. Church where he worked with many musicians, including the late West Lewis and Jothan Callins, and opened concerts for the late Luther Ingram . Dwayne has also recorded with various gospel groups/choirs in Tuscaloosa, Northport, and Birmingham. He continues to be an active performer with bands in the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham area.

JK Terrell
We are delighted to again have JK Terrell who has been working with the ABP for 9 years. His skills as both an experienced harmonica player who worked extensively with the great bluesman Johnny Shines, and as a licensed, certified social worker have been invaluable to our work with at-risk youth in our community. JK designed and teaches our life skills curriculum along with teaching harmonica to our blues camp students.

Born in Birmingham, JK has played in several southeastern bands including Full Moon,Hat Trick, Lost in the Mail and the nationally renowned Beanland. JK worked extensively with the late great Alabama bluesman Johnny Shines with whom he toured and recorded. Besides his social work at the Brewer Porch Children’s Center, JK continues to perform with local blues and rock bands, and is on the music staff at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham.

BJ Reed
BJ Reed is another new addition to the ABP staff as the vocal instructor for this semester's blues camp. A native of Vienna, Alabama, as a child she discovered that singing songs by vocalists like Aretha Franklin was a great tool for entertaining her 10 siblings. She won the West Alabama Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1990, 1993 and 1998. In 1991 she was offered her first professional contract after being seen at a competition at the prestigious Apollo Theater in Harlem. Critics have described her as a “dynamic vocal genius extraordinaire whose moving vocal performances embrace strong spiritual, social and philosophical values” and compared her to Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole, Lena Horne and Bette Midler!

Loving to work with children and knowing first hand how music helped build self-confidence she developed her own music education program that she presented in underserved Alabama schools. As with all our instructors, she is a regular performer at regional clubs and festivals.


The ABP is very proud to announce the unveiling of a historic marker to celebrate the musical legacy of Alabama singer Vera Hall. This historic marker is the result of a partnership between the Alabama Blues Project and the Livingston Historical Commission and is made possible through generous donations from Moby, the Sikes Family, Anna Lomax, and many other thoughtful individuals.

The unveiling celebration is timed to co-inside with the Alabama Bureau of Tourism & Travel 2007 “Year of the Arts” and will take place in Livingston at the Sucarnochee Folklife Festival, 3:00pm on Saturday April 21st. This annual festival celebrates the culture of Alabama’s Blackbelt and is organized by the University of West Alabama and the City of Livingston. This year’s festival will feature a special blues concert by Alabama blues musicians Willie King, Caroline Shines and Debbie Bond from 3:30 to 6:30. This day-long festival includes a wonderfully diverse musical line-up, storytelling, and some of Alabama’s best visual artists. Please phone 205-652-3752 for more information.

Though Vera Hall was largely unrecognized in her lifetime, her talent and artistry continue to touch and speak to millions of people around the world. Hall was born in rural Sumter County, near the town of Livingston, Alabama, around 1902. Immersed in the rich musical culture of West Alabama, she began singing gospel songs she learned from her mother and at her local Baptist church. Rich Amerson, a family friend, harmonica player and singer, taught Vera to sing the blues.

Vera was first recorded in 1937 by John and Ruby Lomax, who were then working with Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration recording American folk music at its source. The resulting recordings included Vera’s versions, steeped in the black folk traditions of West Alabama, of spirituals, children’s songs, and blues songs. These recordings are now part of a national collection stored at the Library of Congress and are prized by folklorists throughout the world.

Vera Hall died January 29, 1964, at Tuscaloosa’s Druid City Hospital and is buried in an unmarked grave at the Morning Star cemetery in Livingston, Alabama. Unfortunately, as was the case with many African Americans in this region, Vera Hall died in poverty, her grave was never marked and the position of her burial site was not recorded.

Although Hall died in 1964, her work still garners attention. Indeed, in 1999, techno-artist Moby featured her voice singing “Trouble So Hard” in his multi- platinum album Play, thus introducing Hall’s voice to a whole new generation of listeners around the world.

Her masterful renditions of blues and other traditional songs are a defining feature of the rich black culture that came out of the Alabama Black Belt region. We hope that through the ABP’s efforts to create this historical marker we will help to spotlight her life and legacy as part of the great African American contribution to American culture.


Legendary Alabama bluesman Sam Lay was born in Birmingham in 1935 and has too many claims to fame to mention them all here! Besides being one of the most important living blues drummers in the world, he was the founding drummer for Howlin' Wolf and also for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Known for his double shuffle style of drumming, he has more recently been fronting his own band singing and on guitar, and also drumming with the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band.

Unfortunately Sam went into the hospital recently with symptoms of a stroke. We are so thankful to report that he has been able to return home and is on the road to a full recovery.

The ABP is happy to be finally in touch with Sam and we are planning to do a special on him in an upcoming issue of this newsletter. We are also working on finding a way, as soon as possible, to bring Sam home to Alabama to perform and work with our blues camp kids.

Please send get well cards and lots of love to: Mr. Sam Lay, 5007 W. Gladys, Chicago, IL 60644

He told The Paul Butterfield Fund and Society that is was so nice to know that so many people were thinking about him and care about him. He sends his thanks to everyone and his entire family is extremely touched by everyone's kindness.


It’s time once again for Willie King’s annual Freedom Creek Festival! Please join Willie and friends on May 25th and 26th in Old Memphis, Pickens County, for an event you won’t want to miss. Acts will include: Paul Oscher, T-Model Ford, the ABP's advanced band The Project and of course Alabama’s very own, Willie King & the Liberators!



Robert Thomas, 77, has no complaints about the way he lives. “I’ve got to go along with what I get,” he says. Born February 15, 1929, in Macon County, Alabama, Robert Thomas was in his mid-teens when he took up the blues. His mentor, the late Albert Macon, was in his early 20’s, rip-roaring around the east-central Alabama blues circuit. Young Thomas liked the music and the jagged-edge lifestyle and Macon took on the young protégé.

In the early 1940’s, he followed Macon on train rides to nearby Opelika, Phenix City, and Columbus, Georgia, playing at dances, barbecue stands, parties and Saturday night fish fries. “I didn’t think a train would run until I rode one.” One night he climbed to the top to feel the rush of the locomotive gale. Macon warned the teenager that the rush was not without its peril. Thomas recalled Macon’s insight 60 years later: “Stick your head out and a limb will take it off.”

Their pluck-and-stroke style has been linked to B.T. Foote, Old McKinley James, Blind Boy Fuller, Bukka White and Billy Boy Arnold. But the duo’s unique brand of Boogie Blues is most pronounced in Macon’s original composition, “My Baby Don’t Wear No Drawers.”

In 1981, the blues researcher George Mitchell located the duo while conducting fieldwork for a project called In Celebration of a Legacy: The Traditional Arts of the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley.

The exposure led Thomas and Macon to play at the American Blues Festival in the Netherlands and the WDR Blues Festival in Bonn, Germany, in the early 1990’s. “All the food you could eat,” Thomas says of those times.

They eventually cut an album on the Dutch label Swingmaster called Albert Macon and Robert Thomas: Blues and Boogie from Alabama but very little money came from their music. Thomas has spent most of his life living just off Macon County Road 79, working construction jobs, repairing bicycles and lawnmowers, driving a tractor, and plowing. “See those fields out there? I plowed mules – all day long. It’d be so hot the dirt would be burning your feet if you didn’t have good shoes. I worked. Hard days, man. It was like I wasn’t going to make those days sometimes. “

Thomas still plays occasionally around east-central Alabama. The blues, he says, gets him through. “I guess that’s why I’m yet here.”

Written by S. Thorne Harper
Photo by Dave Stuber







The Alabama Blues Project will be presenting a blues artist residency at Aliceville Middle School in Picken's County. Aliceville Middle School is in the heart of the Alabama Black Belt, one of the poorest regions of the United States. Like so many of the schools in this underserved region, AMS has no music or art as part of their regular curriculum. It is wonderful that we are able to present Willie King as the featured artist for this residency since this is the nearest town to his back-woods home.

Children will follow a six week curriculum, taught by blues musicians and educators Rick Asherson and Debbie Bond. Students will study a historical time-line of the blues and American history as well as have the opportunity for hands-on music instruction in singing, harmonica and percussion. The residency begins this spring with a series of workshops and will be completed in the fall with more blues music lessons. The program will end with a grand community performance and Blues Extravaganza.

We are very thankful that this unique artist residency is made possible by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.


Contact: Bill Jarnigan (205) 767-2184

Two benefit concerts for former Capricorn Records artist Scott Boyer are being held in Alabama during the month of April. They are to assist Boyer after his recent surgery for arterial disease. The first was held on April 4th at the Shoals Theater in downtown Florence. The second concert will be held Wednesday, April 18th at 7 p.m. at the Alabama Theatre, 1817 Third Avenue North, in downtown Birmingham.

Greg Allman, Bonnie Bramblett, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Donnie Fritts, Paul Thorn, The Capricorn Rhythm Section, The Decoys and Nashville Star runner-up Zac Hacker will perform at the Birmingham show. The stage band will include former Steppenwolf guitarist Larry Byrom, Nashville drummer Bryan Owings, original Fame Gang drummer Jerry Carrigan, former Muscle Shoals guitarist Wayne Perkins, the Bama Brass and others.

Boyer, who lived in the Shoals area for several years and formerly in Fairhope, was a member of Cowboy, an act signed with Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia, in the 1970s. More recently, the former Florida State University student has been the lead guitarist and vocalist for The Decoys and The Capricorn Rhythm Section.

Advance tickets for the Birmingham show will be sold only online through Ticketmaster.

Persons wanting to make contributions to Boyer may do so by sending checks, payable to the Muscle Shoals Music Association for The Scott Boyer Benefit, to MSMA, PO Box 2383, Muscle Shoals, Alabama 35662.


Starting April 23, the Alabama Blues Project will be touring for a weeklong series of educational performances in Baldwin County Schools where we will be presenting our Introduction to the Blues educational performance to nine schools. This program examines the blues from its West African roots, through slavery times and Reconstruction, to modern Chicago style blues and beyond. Through a balanced mixture of performance, lecture, and participation, students are introduced to the historical and cultural significance of blues music. Students learn how blues music impacted jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll, as well as country, rap, and hip-hop. Students are introduced to some of the numerous important blues musicians from Alabama like Big Mama Thornton, Dinah Washington, and W.C. Handy. The outstanding Alabama bluesman Willie King will be the featured artist, performing with the Alabama Blues Project Band and talking with the audience about his life as a professional blues musician and growing up on a plantation in the heart of the Alabama Blackbelt.

The residency will culminate with a performance by Willie King and The Liberators at the Fairhope Music Festival on April 28. Selected students from the school tour will jam with Willie and the band at the festival.

We are thankful that this excellent one week program is made possible by the Baldwin County Board of Education, Fairhope Music Festival Inc., Alabama State Council on the Arts and Glaze Foundation.


We are looking forward to another great Tuscaloosa Crawfish & Blues Festival, which will be held in Temerson Square, surrounding Wilhagen's and Little Willie's, from noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 14th.

This year’s festival again showcases some of the best Alabama blues - including ABP's very own The Project, plus Tommy Gardner & Patty Townsend, Erin Mitchell Band, Tim Boykins Blues Band, Topper Price and the Upsetters, Caroline Shines and Little Jimmy Reed . In addition to the tunes, there will be loads of crawfish to feed the fans, plus vendors offering food, beverages, artwork, crafts and more. A children's play area makes the festival family-friendly. Admission is $3, and children under 12 are admitted free.

Also, VOLUNTEERS NEEDED! Call Bill Lloyd at (205) 366-0913

Visit the Official Festival Webiste & Add as a MySpace Friend!

Sponsored by Planet Weekly, Tuscaloosa Downtown Merchants Association,
Bud/Bud Light, Pepsi and Clear Channel Radio

For Official Photos following the event visit Lighthouse Photography


The ABP exhibition Red, Hot and Blue: A Spotlight on Alabama Blues Women took up residency at the University of Alabama’s Department of Women Studies on March 8. ABP director Debbie Bond helped celebrate the opening with an illustrated talk on Alabama blues women to APB Vice-President Dr. Rhoda Johnson’s class on “The Culture of Southern Black Women.” The presentation was followed by a lively reception with faculty and students.

The exhibition will be on display at the University of Alabama through April 15.


Our programs are made possible by the generous support of our sponsors, including Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama , the National Endowment for the Arts, Alabama State Council on the Arts, Alabama Credit Union, Alligator Records, Bonnie Raitt, Capstone Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, db Tech, Guitar Center Music Foundation, Harrison Galleries, Little Willie’s Jazz & Blues Club, Mercedes Benz, Pollack Foundation, Tuscaloosa Consortium for Higher Education, United Way of West Alabama, Zildjian, and many other kind organizations and individuals.