Mary Ann's Legacy
February has always been a special month for Mary Ann Fisher. First it was her birthday month, which has recently been determined through census records to be February 12, 1923. Second, in 1997, Mayor Abramson proclaimed February 23 as Mary Ann Fisher Day, which she always wanted to celebrate annually in subsequent years. During January and February of 2004 an exhibit in her honor was unveiled in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame at Renfro Valley and she opened their induction ceremonies at the convention center in Frankfort on February 19. Finally, she received a wonderful tribute at Stevie Ray's on February 22 just two-and-a-half weeks before she died. Mary Ann's legacy continues to live on this year, with another musical tribute on February 13. Stevie Ray's was filled with a racially mixed crowd basking in the spirit of the Songbird of the South. Billy Rudolph, Boogie Morton, both Ed Chestnut Sr. and Jr., George Burney and special guest, Tracy Porter, Mary Ann's adopted son, were there. Brian Bohannan, a freelance photographer, was also there, taking several pictures which were published in LEO magazine. Mr. Wonderful Productions, fronted by Ron Lewis, started the music off with a horn laden funky groove. The DeBow brothers, Rick and Joe, teamed up on sax and guitar, respectively, in their band Revenue. I would like to hear more of this blues and soul-based group playing around town. Butch Williams gave everyone a brief lesson in our local rich heritage of blues, R&B and jazz, reading the names of musicians and singers who came from Louisville and Kentucky. Butch sang a couple of songs with the Walnut Street Blues Band and then Arti Chunn Wells finished the set. When Michael Wells is not backing up Clarence Carter on guitar for road tours, the band has been in the studio recording. Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof Blues Band closed out the evening with Lamont getting off the stage to serenade the dancers on the floor. The money raised from this tribute will be used for a memorial to Mary Ann in the proposed African-American Heritage Center.
The world premier of Mary Ann's DVD, "Queen of the Blues," was shown at the Comedy Caravan on February 28. This fifty-six-minute video gives a very personal insight into Mary Ann's life through an interview and still photographs from her past. Marjorie Marshall did the interview and narration, Leslie Graham filmed the sequences and Martin Williams edited the film. Mary Ann sings a couple of songs a cappella, including "I've Got A Lover" and recites a long poem out of the blue. If you want to buy a copy of this delightful documentary of Mary Ann, contact Leslie Graham at 502-367-8723.
One of my resolutions this year is to write the story of Mary Ann Fisher's colorful life, based on a rough draft of an incomplete biography, her notes, various articles and interviews. For this labor of love, I need the help from anyone who has any recollections and pictures of this lovely lady. Please contact me at email@example.com.
The British magazine, Blues and Rhythm, will publish Mary Ann's story at the end of this year. Tracy recalled a story his mom had told him when she was traveling on the road with Ray Charles and David `Fathead' Newman. For no reason, Fathead decided to smack her on the head and knocked her glasses off. Mary Ann sat down and said to herself, "O Lord, what can I do to make him not do this anymore." So she reached in her purse and pulled out her straightening comb and gave him a lick in the center of his forehead. Blood went everywhere and he had to go to the hospital and get stitched up. Mary Ann said, "I hit him in the name of the Lord." There was mutual respect between those two from then on. Later, in 1980, when Tracy was in Washington, D.C. he went to the club in Georgetown called Blues Alley where Fathead just happened to be playing that evening. After the show, Tracy introduced himself. Fathead said, "Sure I remember your mother, `cause every time I look in the mirror, I see her." He still had that scar in the middle of his forehead. It is an interesting coincidence that David `Fathead' Newman's moving saxophone solo of "Precious Lord" was played at both Mary Ann's and Ray Charles' funerals.
Stumpin' the Blues
A combined coming out/come back concert is planned for Nick Stump and Friends on May 11 at 7:30 P.M. in Fellowship Hall of the Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church. Many of you may remember Nick as the lead guitarist with the Metropolitan Blues All Stars. This Kentucky band with Appalachian roots was popular during the `80's and early `90's. Nick's friends include guitarist Cole Prior Stevens and bassist Rick Baldwin, who is also a Metropolitan Blues All Star alumni.
We had a chat over lunch to get some background about him and the band, in order to fill in those of you who are not acquainted with Stump. Born Michael Stamper, he grew up in Hindman, near Hazard, Kentucky. As a teenager he tuned in WLAC from Nashville, Tennessee on his radio, listening to the D.J. John R. spin the blues and offer package deals from Randy's Record Mart.
Nick's dad tried to get him interested in bluegrass, giving him an album called Mountain Music of Eastern Kentucky. A musician on the record, Roscoe Holcomb, played Appalachian music as if it were blues. Roscoe's eerie banjo and voice made an impression on Nick. His dad subsequently introduced them when they were in Hazard.
In the early `60's, Nick hung out with five or six guys who were trying to learn to play like the Rolling Stones. Nick recalled that "his group didn't know how to start and stop a song."
Nick got to see Jerry Lee Lewis several times at the Martin Youth Center, which was actually a bootleg joint. After high school, he played a little with harpist Rodney Hatfield and then joined the Marines and served in Vietnam. Michael Stamper became Nick Stump during the war. Stump was his nickname in the service and it was written on the back of his Marine cap. "Nick" started when a photographer friend paired him in a picture with an Elvis impersonator that had the caption "Col. Nick Stump Inks Elvis Act." When it got published, Nick was named for life.
Following his discharge, he met Frank Schaap and they got into an old-time music band. They tried to turn it into a blues band, fired the other musicians and wound up as a duo. Rodney Hatfield, David White and Stewart Miller then joined the group, with Ricky Baldwin later replacing Stewart.
The Metropolitan Blues All Stars started out in 1981 as a working band with no illusions. They definitely did not get rich but they had a lot of fun traveling all over the country, from Harrods in Lake Tahoe to The Kitchen in New York. They toured from 1983 to 1990, first driving a Ford Pinto, then graduating up to a Ford cargo van. Nick said "because our music was a little to the left, we got to play a lot of folk festivals." They became known as "the hillbillies that played the blues." When they were not on the road, the All Stars frequently performed at the Butchertown Pub. Nick said, "Louisville is a tough town to play in to make any money. Why do people want to spend more on lunch than a night's entertainment?"
During the band's heyday, they played the Lonesome Pine Specials at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, the Waterside Festivals and Mountain Stage in West Virginia, which was broadcast over public radio. Nick enjoyed those experiences, as they could spend time with other musicians on the show, including Son Seals and Paul Geremia. The band's first two LP recordings, "Life of the Party (1986) and Trying Times (1988), were issued on the June Appal label in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Life of the Party was recorded live at Breeding's in Lexington and Trying Times introduced pianist Caroline Dahl.
Before the All Stars, Nick had tried to record his earlier group, Roadhouse, but the people at June Appal just laughed. Nick was persistent and when he got the All Stars together, they became true believers. Later CD releases include Devil Get His Due and Hillbilly Nation plus three cuts on the Santa Is A Bluesman series. The song, "Devil Get His Due," was nominated for a Grammy.
What was to be a three-month break lasted a lot longer. Nick began writing screenplays for Warner Bros. and scoring music for independent films. Nick married Bonnie McCafferty in 1992 and she encouraged Nick to write. He published "Land Of One Armed Men" which was a book of poetry about images from a childhood spent growing up in the mountains. Nick's uncle had only one arm, as did a lot of people who lived in the country and lost their limbs due to accidents.
What happened to the other musicians? Stewart Miller is in Chicago, playing an upright bass in several jazz bands. David White plays drums with a band called Swells in Lexington. Frank Schaap is living in France, busking on the streets, playing a ragtime-piedmont style of blues. Caroline Dahl is well known for her embroidery and plays piano for three bands in San Francisco. Rick Baldwin is still in Louisville, caning chairs. Rodney Hatfield's reputation as a successful painter under the name of Art Snake has grown.
There was a brief reunion-jam recently between Rodney, Caroline and Nick at a shop near Frankfort Ave that had a piano. A bunch of friends showed up with a case of wine and they had a party. There is talk for this trio to cut a record in October and maybe tour next spring.
Nick teamed up with Jimmy Brown, Walter Lay and Dan Boone to play a few times last year. It was during a recent gig that Walter put together for a bicycle event that Nick met Cole, who was playing bass at the time. Nick enjoyed playing with Cole and his West Coast feel. They talked about getting a band together and have been rehearsing with Rick for several months. They have been working on some new political material with titles like "Downtown Baghdad" and "Deep Mine Blues." They have also been polishing up some of their old favorites, including "Night Patrol," "She's Good To Me." "Trying Times," "Five Long Years" and "Call My Job." Nick said "the blues is something to be preserved, but you have to let it grow and develop." For Nick this new venture is like starting all over again with new guys and old friends. Come, be a part of this déjà vu blues history event with the resurrection of Nick Stump and Friends on May 11.