American Routes on NCPR

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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 SpitzerNick 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.

American Routes is produced WWNO in New Orleans and is distributed by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Support this program directly with a donation to American Routes.


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American RoutesAmerican Routes with Nick Spitzer airs
Saturday from 1-3 pm, May-Dec.

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Audio archive and program playlists

 Recent American Routes programs
Follow the "read more" link on each episode for archive audio/playlists
Jul 29, 2014 -

This week on American Routes, we’ll first take a tour of the Lewis Family Museum and liquor store in Ferriday, LA, where Jerry Lee Lewis’ sister Frankie Jean shows us around their family home. Then we’ll visit with the mayor of Ferriday and others who remember Haney’s Big House, which burned down in 1966. Across the river in Natchez, MS, blues drummer and harp player Hezekiah Early looks back on playing in Haney’s house band. Back down in New Orleans, we’ll talk with Treme Brass Band’s leader and snare drummer Benny Jones and bass drummer Joe Lastie about their late drummer and friend Uncle Lionel Batiste. read more.


Jul 22, 2014 -

Celebrate epic moments in American music from the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals—from Duke Ellington’s 1956 comeback to Bob Dylan’s 1965 electric revolution. Mark the 60th anniversary of the Jazz Festival with performances by Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, and a visit from trumpet legend Clark Terry, who played with Ellington in ’56. Festival founder George Wein also joins us to share his memories, such as the founding of the Folk Festival in 1959 that featured blues, gospel, country, Cajun and more; and folk singer Joan Baez recalls her Newport experiences. Plus Newport performances from Doc Watson, John Lee Hooker and others. read more.


Jul 15, 2014 -

Singer Mavis Staples grew up singing blues-inflected gospel with her family in Chicago, lead by her father Pops Staples’ distinctive voice and guitar style. Their sound transcended the local scene, translating the message of the Civil Rights movement into song. We’ll talk with Mavis about her 2010 release You Are Not Alone with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Then, we’ll sit in while jazz songsmith Bob Dorough spins stories of the 1950s jazz world and takes us back to Schoolhouse Rock to share his thoughts on the magical properties of the number 3. read more.


Jul 08, 2014 -

American Routes heralds the birthday of our nation’s greatest roving troubadour and social commentator, Woody Guthrie, with a two-hour special dedicated to his life in music. We’ll visit with friends and relatives who share tales of Guthrie’s trials and triumphs, from Okemah, Oklahoma to Coney Island, New York. Guthrie’s children, Nora and Arlo, reflect on their father’s life, scholar Guy Logsdon discusses Guthrie’s Dust Bowl days and Pete Seeger shares the backstory to Woody’s anthem for the “down and outers.” Plus music and memories from Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Moses Asch, Bob Dylan and so many others. read more.


Jul 01, 2014 -

This Independence Day, we’ll celebrate music of New Orleans, Mississippi & French Louisiana. Recorded live at New Orleans’ Civic Theatre, we’ll be joined by New Orleans clarinetist Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Jazz Band; fellow NEA Heritage recipient and Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet with his band BeauSoleil; the downhome blues of McComb, Mississippi’s Little Freddie King; and the spirit-filled gospel of Electrifying Crown Seekers from New Orleans’ West Bank. Our special guest is beloved jazz vocalist Topsy Chapman. Join us for a holiday edition of the new American Routes Live series. read more.


Jun 24, 2014 -

It’s a blues and country showdown on American Routes with two instrumental showmen. Jerry Douglas is a master of the dobro, and a favorite session man and band member for so many musicians: from Allison Krauss to Elvis Costello. We’ll talk to Jerry about his recent project, which leads him beyond bluegrass to New Orleans. Then, a visit with the acrobatic bluesman Guitar Shorty, who shares some history on his times traveling the Chitlin Circuit. read more.


Jun 17, 2014 -

Meet two piano professors from the South with two differing styles. First up, from Macon, GA, Chuck Leavell has played in a few of Rock’s most iconic bands, from the Allman Brothers to the Rolling Stones. And while piano might be his day job, he’s also a keeper of a Georgia forest and an honorary forest ranger! We talk to Chuck about his love of the keys and the trees. Then, it’s a lesson in New Orleans funk a la keyboard with Jon Cleary, who breaks down the elements and reveals the Latin tinge to New Orleans piano favorites. read more.


Jun 10, 2014 -

This week on American Routes, we’ll talk to folk-rocker, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson. An advocate for British lyric and music tradition in new settings with refashioned traditional songs and stories, Thompson evolved from playing in the seminal folk-rock band, Fairport Convention to his present day role as an in-demand guitarist and songwriter. Then we’ll visit with accordion-man Zachary Richard about growing up in French-speaking south Louisiana but needing to go to France and Quebec to realize the significance of the Cajun culture into which he was born. Richard’s recent “Le Fou” may be the first Americana record made largely in the French of his homeland: south Louisiana’s Cajun country. read more.


Jun 03, 2014 -

Earl Scruggs’ legendary banjo playing, aptly named “Scruggs Style,” has left its mark on American pop culture and inspired generations of banjo players. In the late 1960s, Scruggs, along with his sons, bravely crossed musical boundaries but his musical journey really started back at the beginnings of bluegrass, playing with Bill Monroe and later, Lester Flatt. We’ll talk to Earl and his sons, Randy and Gary, about performing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium and why he doesn’t need to crack jokes about the banjo. New Hampshire-born folk singer songwriter Tom Rush may have gone to Harvard and studied with a ballad scholar, but he still knows how to sing the blues. We’ll visit with Rush to learn more about Boston’s folk scene in the 1960s, his time as a radio DJ and his inspired approach to songwriting. read more.


May 27, 2014 -

We’ll re-visit the moment when the “California long-hairs” took over a Nashville studio to pay tribute to aging country heroes. First, we take a look back at the 1972 LP Will The Circle Be Unbroken with John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and his memories of those historic sessions. Then, a conversation with another musician familiar with Nashville, jazz vibraphone master Gary Burton. Plus a visit with Jake Shimabukuro, for whom any genre is a fine match for the ukelele. read more.

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