Joe Ely left West Texas as a teenager and "followed Woody Guthrie west and the blues guys down south; was on the West Coast during all the big hippie days." After living in Europe for a while, he returned to Texas. "I always knew the best musicians were in Lubbock," he says. Ely's new CD is called Satisfied At Last (Rack 'Em Records). His work with the Flatlanders (Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) includes 2009's Hills and Valleys (New West Records).
One of the original writers for Saturday Night Live when it premiered in 1975, Minnesota native Al Franken wrote for and performed on the show from 1975 until 1980, and again from 1985 to 1995. He won four Emmy Awards for his SNL writing, and his producing garnered another. He is recognized for his sendups of Pat Robertson, Paul Simon, and Paul Tsongas, and for his characters: his "Al Franken Decade" persona, his constantly struggling one-man mobile uplink unit, and Stuart Smalley, the New Age cable-TV host. Smalley and his self-confidence mantra-"You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you"-provided the subject for Franken's first book, his Grammy-nominated comedy album, and a 1995 movie, Stuart Saves His Family. His book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, hit The New York Times bestseller list in its first week in the bookstores. Franken is currently producing and starring in Lateline, a political sitcom he co-created, and he just put the finishing touches on a new book, Why Not Me?, scheduled for publication after the new year.
Born and raised in San Francisco, musical humorist Kacey Jones has worked as a singer, songwriter, musician, recording artist, producer, and publisher. The former founder and leader of cult comedy group Ethel and the Shameless Hussies, Jones won award nominations and a contract with MCA records. She had produced tracks for Delbert McClinton, Tom Waits, Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, and Willie Nelson. Affiliated with the society of Sweet Potato Queens, she holds the official title of "Royal Minstrel to the Sweet Potato Queens' Court" and her current release is called The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Box of Music.
Singer-guitarist Geoff Muldaur emerged from the folk, blues, and folk-rock scenes of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Woodstock, New York. Muldaur was a founding member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960s, and also collaborated with such artists as Paul Butterfield, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Garcia, and his then-wife Maria Muldaur. He has toured England, Ireland, and Germany, and has appeared at Lincoln Center, London's Royal Festival Hall, and many folk and blues festivals around the world. Muldaur's current album is entitled Private Astronomy: A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke.
Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers
Larry Sparks grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, the youngest of nine children in a family where everyone took an interest in music. He started playing guitar when he was just five, and by the time he was 16, he had signed on with the Stanley Brothers. (Nothing like starting your life's work at the top.) A few years later, in 1969, he formed Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers and began a recording career that has established Sparks as one of the top names in bluegrass music. He was named Male Vocalist of the Year in 2004 and 2005 by the International Bluegrass Music Association, which also gave Sparks' most recent CD, Larry Sparks 40 (Rebel Records), the nod in the Album of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year categories. The group is: Larry Sparks (guitar and vocals), Josh McMurray (banjo), Randy Pollard (fiddle), Jackie Kincaid (mandolin), and Larry D. Sparks (bass).
Studs Terkel calls himself a "disc jockey," a reference to his role as host of The Studs Terkel Program, heard in Chicago on WFMT. He started out on the station in 1952 with a Sunday-morning show; the program is now heard at 10:30 p.m. weekdays. Before starting with WFMT, Terkel had starred in Studs' Place, one of the programs that created the Chicago school of television. It was during the McCarthy era, and the popular program was dropped by NBC because Terkel wouldn't reverse his "pro-Communist" positions in favor of price and rent controls and against the poll tax and Jim Crow laws. By the mid-'60s, Terkel's interviews on WFMT began to be noticed outside of Chicago. In 1965, his first oral history was published, Division Street: America, about class differences in Chicago. Terkel calls his writing "bottom-up history ... [interviews with] ordinary people who have something real to say about themselves." To compile each of his books, Terkel meets with hundreds of these "ordinary people" and then sifts through the hours upon hours of resulting tape until the interviews are distilled down to bare truth. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1985 book The Good War, the story of World War II told through soldiers and civilians on both sides. Last May, when Terkel turned 85, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He's now promised to continue broadcasting until New Year's Day 1998; he'll spend the next two years working on the Studs Terkel-WFMT Archive, which will become a Chicago Historical Society collection of 7,000 hours of interviews spanning 45 years. Terkel's latest book is My American Century (New Press), the best of his tapes/social chronicles. Last week, the National Book Foundation gave Terkel a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The award is given to an individual who has enriched the nation's literary heritage through a lifetime of work.
The Wailin' Jennys
The Wailin' Jennys first got together in 2002. It was supposed to be a one-time gig, but the collaboration proved such a success that within a few weeks the trio was dubbed "a bona fide Canadian sensation." They have continued to wow audiences across North America and beyond. As one music critic wrote, "This is about as good as contemporary folk gets." The most recent recording from soprano Ruth Moody, mezzo Nicky Mehta, and alto Heather Masse is 2009's The Wailin' Jennys - Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House (Red House). Jeremy Penner is on fiddle and mandolin.
Four-time Grammy winner Steve Wariner is an acclaimed singer, songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist who has dozens of albums to his credit. His early career was propelled by his musical hero, Chet Atkins, about whom he says: "Try to do what he does technically. Then try to do it with his touch, tone, and feeling, and you're reminded that you can't out-Chet Chet. He was something else." The latest CD from this Music City Walk of Famer is Guitar Laboratory (SelecTone Records).
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
Gillian Welch grew up in Los Angeles, where her musical parents wrote for The Carol Burnett Show. In the early 1990s, she met Dave Rawlings at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, while the two were students waiting to audition for the country-band class. Over the past two decades, they have carved out a highly successful career, including Welch's latest album, The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony Records).
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's 10 albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
Sound effects man Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for film and TV. He is author of the book (and CD/CD-ROM) MouthSounds. Fred admits that, growing up, he was unceremoniously removed from several classrooms, "once by my bottom lip."
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).