About American Routes
American Routes, produced in New Orleans, presents a broad range of American music — blues and jazz, gospel and soul, old-time country and rockabilly, Cajun and zydeco, Tejano and Latin, roots rock and pop, avant-garde and classical.
The songs and stories on American Routes describe both the community origins of our music, musicians and cultures — the “roots”— and the many directions they take over time — the “routes.”
Nick Spitzer is a scholar, docu- mentary producer, and program host known for his informed and witty style in presenting American cultures and communities to audiences from Carnegie Hall to the National Mall, from American Public Media to PBS.
Currently the Zemurray Professor of Folklore and Cultural Conservation at the University of New Orleans' College of Urban and Public Affairs, Spitzer is known to public radio audiences nationwide for his award-winning Folk Masters series from Wolf Trap, and cultural features on All Things Considered.
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Get your key to the highway… this American Routes looks at “the road” as destination, inspiration and home away from home in blues, country, jazz and more. Folkie and fellow traveler Ramblin’ Jack Elliot recalls the allure of the road in music and life. Plus, historian and author Douglas Brinkley joins us to speak on travel as muse for beat author Jack Kerouac and others. read more.
Do the words make the song or the notes? What does it take to tell a good tale in music or about music? We put those questions to a few writers of both songs and stories. Singer-songwriter and memoirist Rosanne Cash sits down before a live audience to tell us about her authorial journey, then we chat with novelist Cyril Vetter on translating a musician’s life into fiction. And New Orleans bluesman Little Freddie King spins a few tall tales from the juke joint. read more.
We’re bringing the blues from the clubs to the church this week on American Routes. The Campbell Brothers, from Rochester, NY, are masters of sacred steel. With both pedal and lap steel guitars, they summon the spirit in voice and sound. We’ll talk about growing up in the church and playing gospel blues on the guitar. Then, New Orleans bluesman Walter “Wolfman” Washington stops by the American Routes studio for a conversation about his life in the music and in the clubs around town. read more.
We’re sitting down this week with two bands who make their hometowns proud. The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, from Akron, Ohio, have roots in the blues and rock but construct a sound all their own. We chat with them backstage at a performance in the Crescent City. Then New Orleans brass band innovators the Soul Rebels talk about bringing the sounds of the streets to clubs around the world. read more.
As the muddy Mississippi winds its way past us in New Orleans, we’re reminded of the power and place of these waterways in American culture. First, we seek the source of the mighty river at the headwaters in Minnesota. Then listen to stories of steamboat captains, riverboats and rural fisherman. And learn about New Orleans own relation to the river with Tulane professor Richard Campanella. Plus river tales from Captain Doc Hawley, Aaron Neville and Al Green. read more.
We’re seeking out the “American” in American music with two eclectic artists: Elvis Costello and Carla Bley. For British songman Elvis Costello, American music has shaped much of his musical creativity. We’ll hear about his love of American country and blues, his musical upbringing in Liverpool, and his current fascination with P.T. Barnum. For the inventive and eccentric jazz composer Carla Bley, the National Anthem proves an unlikely source of inspiration. Bley brings wry humor to a conversation about the challenges of writing for her very big bands, her early days as a cigarette girl in NYC jazz clubs, and why America might be famous for baked beans. read more.
A conversation with a man of many talents: songwriter, actor, boxer, military man, among many titles, Kris Kristofferson, reflecting on his life in music, his songwriting craft, and the nature of gratitude for his life’s adventures, as expressed in his recent album, Feeling Mortal. read more.
Join us on the festival grounds in Lafayette, LA for the 25th annual Festival International. We’ll sample outstanding live performances in Cajun, Creole, Latin and Blues, including Keb’ Mo’, Sonny Landreth, and Steve Riley. Be sure to get out your dancing shoes for cumbia with Miami’s Locos Por Juana, two-steps with Yvette Landry and Cajun waltzes with the Lost Bayou Ramblers. Plus an all-star South Louisiana tribute to the best of swamp pop, Cajun classics and zydeco. read more.
This week we visit with two masters of Southern soul. Multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones, along with his group the MGs, helped to create the legendary Stax sound. We talk with Booker T. about growing up in Memphis and his work with Southern rock band, the Drive-By Truckers. Soul singer Jimmy Hughes got his start at another landmark of Southern music, FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Hughes shares stories about his classic hits “Steal Away” and “Why Not Tonight,” as well as his move from gospel to soul and back again. read more.
For this special American Routes program, we follow the lives of two giants of jazz: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. From their humble North Carolina beginnings to their triumphs on the world stage, we’ll trace their individual and inspired paths to creativity. And we’ll visit with the musicians who played with the greats, including McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders, and the next generation, TS Monk and Ravi Coltrane. read more.