This was the home turf of Flora Molton, who used to busk on H-Street in Washington, DC. “Bowling Green” John Cephas came from Virginia, as did the wonderful John Jackson. This is where John Cephas and Phil Wiggins hooked up in 1976 and where Archie Edwards’ famous barbershop became a center of the acoustic blues scene. Bill Harris ran the Pigfoot blues club on Rhode Island Ave. in Washington DC and not far up the road, Barry Lee Pearson is a “Professor of the Blues” at the University of Maryland. Here, Nat Reese was a pillar of the blues community. Smithsonian-Folkways is centered in Washington and their Folk Festivals have been one of the biggest gatherings of traditional acoustic blues in the world. Great musicians like Eleanor Ellis, Michael Baytop, and Rick Franklin come out of this scene, as did Warner Williams and Jay Summerour. Musically close, but a bit further north, was “Philadelphia” Jerry Ricks, who was also a Piedmont style player.
One reason for the unprecedented continuation of the acoustic blues in this region has been the willingness of the older generation to carry on the traditions. Many were students, and later teachers, at the annual blues camp at the nearby Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. John Jackson, John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, Gaye Adegbalola, Eleanor Ellis and others were all active teachers who participated in blues workshops nationwide and had local students. This nurturing environment is one of the most unique in the acoustic blues today, and has contributed significantly to the progress of this genre in the region.
Another main reason is that there was and is a central meeting point, a place to join with kindred spirits, and that was Archie Edwards famous barbershop.
Miles Spicer explains: Archie Edwards had a barbershop on Bunker Hill Rd. in northeast Washington D.C. from the 1950s until his passing in 1998. On Saturday afternoons he would stop cutting hair, pull out his guitar and play blues in the Piedmont Style that he learned during his youth in southwest Virginia. People came from near and far to be a part of the jams held there. The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation was created in 1998 to perpetuate Archie’s legacy and to keep the jams going. In the 15 years that followed the foundation has held workshops and concerts by professional acoustic blues musicians and kept the jams going. While the original site in Washington D.C. is now a dentists office; the organization found suitable space in nearby Riverdale Park, MD. Our new space has a museum area that displays artifacts from the original shop and Archie’s Barber chair. ”The babershop”, as is still called, is a great place to learn about this music. As we have grown an increasing number of workshops and concerts are held there. Jams are still held there every Saturday afternoon. And just like during Archies’ time you never know who is going to show up. Visitors come from all over the country and the world. For more information about the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation check out website at www.acousticblues.com.
Miles Spicer, the MSG trio’s Piedmont fingerpicking guitarist who plays a Tacoma parlor sized guitar, an unusual choice for a bluesman, was a student of DC blues picker Michael Baytop. Mike Baytop is founder and president of The AEBHF and studied from Archie Edwards himself. The trio includes Resa Gibbs who sings and plays percussion and Jackie Merritt who sings, plays harmonica and bass. The MSG trio is unique in that it is one of the few, maybe the only, contemporary blues trio fronting two women. The trio is semi-pro, meaning they all have professional day jobs, which is a wise move for folks who are on one hand dedicated to their muse, yet have personal obligations and careers. As such, they have stayed regional and have not toured extensively, although their musicianship and musical vibe is simply wonderful. They are ready for prime time in every way and have played the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in Bristol, Tenn/VA., the Bluebird Blues Festival in Landover, MD, The Bull Durham Blues Festival in Durham, NC, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Artscape in Baltimore, MD and the Bayou Boogaloo in Norfolk, VA. They have also played the prestigious Kennedy Center Millennium stage.
This ensemble plays a heartwarming repertoire of both traditional and original acoustic blues, gentle, lighthearted and with feeling. They reach way back to the spirituals, to gospel, all with a true folk blues, back porch feeling. Evidently, these musicians do this for fun and that they love what they do, and that clear comes through in the music. Miles Spicer expressed their approach to music with, “Grace, bliss, hope, joy,” uplifting qualities that regular folks normally don’t associate with the blues, but which blues fans know to be true. “We love what we do. We are honored to carry on traditions. We hope that the love we have for the music and for each other, is obvious and infectious.”
The result is music that is emotive, moving, wonderfully executed and deep in its roots.
One of their important contributions is education about African-American musical traditions. They don’t just entertain, they carry on traditions, tell stories and share their knowledge with new audiences and they are active with Young Audiences of Virginia, where they teach “Blues in the Schools” throughout the state.
The multitalented, multi-instrumentalist Jackie Merritt, who is deeply influenced by Elizabeth Cotten, plays harmonica, guitar, bass and she taps bones (a percussion technique when bones or spoons are clapped). She started harmonica late in life with her musical passion, and she teaches painting and drawing at a local community college. Phil Wiggins, who is by now an elder of the local music scene, was an inspiration and her harmonica teacher. Besides her dual activities as a visual and musical artist, Jackie Merritt is one of the founding members of the Natchel’ Blues Network, an organization formed in 1984 to advance blues by sponsoring concerts, workshops and other events in the Hampton Roads region. Jackie with the help of NBN, formed the Annual Hampton Acoustic Blues Revival, now in its 12th year, to showcase acoustic blues. When John Cephas passed in 2009, she changed the name to the Annual Hampton Acoustic Blues Revival “A Tribute to John Cephas”. “I am just blessed where I am in my life right now,” said Jackie Merritt to thecountryblues.com.
Last but not least is the trio’s remarkable lead singer, the golden voiced Resa Gibbs –lead vocalist and percussionist. She perfectly rounds out the ensemble with her rich, powerful and soulful singing. Resa is a physical therapist by day and a musician by night. She is a vocal instructor who teaches occasionally at the prestigious Country Blues Workshops at Centrum, in Port Townsend, WA. She was also a singer on Gaye Adegbalola’s Bitter Sweet Blues CD, produced by Rory Block and recorded by Alligator Records, and many other high profile projects. Resa Gibbs also plays percussion and washboard, but her greatest contribution is her wonderful, soulful singing, the type of voice that will give you the goose bumps and shakes you up inside.
Together, these fine folks are the direct heirs to the great Piedmont Blues tradition. They have multiple recordings available and they have just signed with a small folk record label, Wepecket Island Records.