Sitting down to talk about the blues with Music Maker Relief Foundation Founder, Tim Duffy, and legendary blues man, John Dee Holeman is much like having a conversation with family back home in West Tennessee. The setting was charming and the staff was welcoming. Mr. Duffy shook my hand and started right in on the history of Music Maker with a southern drawl that’s music to my ears. On the short drive to Hillsborough and Music Maker’s office, the scenery reminded me of home.
Duffy founded Music Maker in 1994 as a way of saving the world “one blues man at a time.” This means preserving the music as well as providing assistance to those blues musicians needing medical attention, housing or touring/recording opportunities. Duffy’s background in studying folklore and American roots music gave him the conviction to advocate and gather resources for blues musicians, most of whom were poor and working class. The practitioners of American Southern Music as described by Duffy have been exploited for their music then put to pasture after the hits were forgotten and the money spent.
Guitar Gabriel introduced him to the Black carnival and circus players as well as identified talent at drinking houses in Winston-Salem. What started as humble beginnings of helping a few blues musicians has now blossomed into a cultural institution helping more than 400 blues musicians over the years. One such recipient of Music Makers services is John
Holeman chooses his words wisely and thoughtfully. This self-taught hard working blues man is still actively touring playing his acoustic tunes. The romantic notion that Holeman was born with a guitar in his hand and blues lyrics on his lips is definitely not reality. Holeman came up the hard way as a heavy machinery operator paving the streets of what is currently downtown Durham. He wasn’t a full-time blues man like you might imagine; Holeman worked hard by day and played drinking houses and house parties at night. It was in these houses where Duffy came to know him on the scene back in 1995.
Sitting there listening to stories of world traveling and playing large festivals, you can see the authentic respect for one another and genuine love for the music. One message that Holeman mentions is how he feels about today’s music. He really wishes that lyrics and songwriting were valued more especially in popular hip-hop music. He also wishes that playing live instruments was championed as well.
Learning more about Holeman, you realized that he is the ultimate Bull City musician. Authentically Durham. Gritty. Hardworking. Soulful. He paved not only the streets of downtown Durham literally — he paved the way for the music scene which is thriving today.