Capturing blues in black and white

By Frank Carlson

Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Tim Duffy has spent decades photographing blues musicians who work with his nonprofit, the Music Maker Relief Foundation. His photos and stories, along with those of his wife Denise, are collected in the new book “We Are the Music Makers: Preserving the Soul of American Music.” The photographs are currently on view at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina, until Oct. 31, and will be at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi, from Oct. 23 until Nov. 20th. Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Tim Duffy may have a new book of photographs out, but says he’s no pro.

“I’m not one of these guys who run in and can grab a shot,” he said.

Duffy’s main career is as founder and executive director of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that for 20 years has helped struggling blues and roots musicians make ends meet while bringing their music to a wider audience.

But he’s also a photo hobbyist who has spent decades documenting his friends and performers — at home, on the road, playing a gig.

Tim Duffy and Guitar Gabriel in Utrecht, Holland, 1991.

Tim Duffy and Guitar Gabriel in Utrecht, Holland, 1991. “When I knocked on Guitar Gabriel’s door, he hobbled out, hugged me and said, ‘Boy, I know where you want to go. I’ve been there before. I will take you there, but my time ain’t long. i want you to promise me that when I die, you’ll bury me with my guitar.’” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

At least in the beginning, he says he spent all those hours behind a viewfinder and in the darkroom in hopes of landing great shots to use for an album cover, or to promote his musicians. What he lacked in formal training, he says he made up for with time and dedication.

Etta Baker, Morganton, North Carolina, 1996.

Etta Baker, Morganton, North Carolina, 1996. “Etta Baker was a modern master of Piedmont Blues. Her versions of ‘One Dime Blues’ and ‘Railroad Bill’ became standards during the Filk Revival in the 1960s after folk-singer Paul Clayton produced the hugely successful ‘Instrumental Music of Southern Appalachians.’ This record has been in print since 1959.” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

“You have to really get lost in the milieu of hanging out with these artists, and spending time, inordinate amounts of time,” Duffy says. “Then there’s that moment — that moment of you together, sitting on a park bench in Lugano[, Switzerland] — you did the festival, and you’re about to go home, and you’re proud … click. That’s how I take pictures.”

“We Are the Music Makers!” a collection of 20 years of photographs, written by Duffy and his wife Denise, was published this month.

Listen to some of the songs Music Maker artists have produced over the years. Below is a playlist of a handful of musicians we heard perform near Durham, North Carolina, recently.

The photographs are currently on view at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina until Oct. 31, and will be at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi, from Oct. 23 until Nov. 20.

Carl Rutherford, Pinnacle, North Carolina, 1998. "Carl grew up coal mining in War, West Virginia. He migrated to California as a young man to work on the lumber mills." Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Carl Rutherford, Pinnacle, North Carolina, 1998. “Carl grew up coal mining in War, West Virginia. He migrated to California as a young man to work on the lumber mills.” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Check out more of Tim Duffy’s photos below and stay tuned in the coming days for the PBS NewsHour’s full report on the Music Maker Relief Foundation.

Willie Mae Buckner and Siam, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1994.

Willie Mae Buckner and Siam, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1994. “One day when I visited her, she called me into her bedroom to see something special. She lifted up her pillow and there were 10 baby pythons coiled around her Smith & Wesson. She cackled, ‘Do you think anyone is going to mess with me?’ Willa was one of our first artists and we made her lifelong dream come true when she performed her hilarious, risque songs in a Circus Blues show at Carnegie Hall in 1993.” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Macavine Hayes & Little Freddie King, Porto, Portugal, 2006. "When these artists spend time together performing on the road, they are inspired to play their best, to pull out old material and write new songs." Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Macavine Hayes & Little Freddie King, Porto, Portugal, 2006. “When these artists spend time together performing on the road, they are inspired to play their best, to pull out old material and write new songs.” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Pura Fe Crescioni--Charly Lowry (left) & Ejo, Hillsborough, North Carolina, 2011. "Our first meetings with Pura Fe forever changed out understanding of Southern music history. Previously we had seen that history as a black and white story. Pure Fe explained the intertwined lives and musical traditions of African and Native peoples in America." Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Pura Fe Crescioni–Charly Lowry (left) & Ejo, Hillsborough, North Carolina, 2011. “Our first meetings with Pura Fe forever changed out understanding of Southern music history. Previously we had seen that history as a black and white story. Pure Fe explained the intertwined lives and musical traditions of African and Native Peoples in America.” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Neal Pattman, Athens, Georgia, 1995. "Neal loved his blues and would sing and play his hard anywhere. I always got a kick when he broke into a gospel song every time we were about to take off on a plane." Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Neal Pattman, Athens, Georgia, 1995. “Neal loved his blues and would sing and play his hard anywhere. I always got a kick when he broke into a gospel song every time we were about to take off on a plane.” Photo courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

Via:: PBS News Hour

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