Smile Politely

Blind Boys and Preservation Hall Team Up at Krannert Tonight

If you’ve ever watched the first season of “The Wire,” then you’re already familiar with the music of the Blind Boys of Alabama, whether you realize it or not: The Blind Boys’ version of Tom Waits’ “Down in the Hole” was featured as the theme song for the show. Sing with me now: “When you walk in the gaaarden…” Anyway, tonight at the Krannert Center, the Grammy-winning Blind Boys will be performing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at 7:30 p.m. in the Tryon Festival Theatre. Tickets range from $20 for students up to $35 for the general public.

Ricky McKinnie, drummer and vocalist for the Blind Boys, says, “Don’t miss it when them boys are back in town.” Stick around after the jump for more from McKinnie and Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall.

The Blind Boys began in 1939 as a traditional gospel group, and have had several different groups of members over the years. McKinnie says, “I’ve been in the Blind Boys for 20 years as a member, but I first played with the Blind Boys back in the early ‘70s.”

Four of the group’s seven members are blind, and two of them are from Alabama. “We have a gentleman in the band named Jimmy Carter,” McKinnie explained, “he went to the Talladega Institute for the Blind and he lives in Alabama, he’s from Alabama. There’s another gentleman in the band, his name is Billy Bowers, he went to the Talladega Institute for the Blind, and he lives in Alabama. We have four blind guys and three sighted guys, our guitar player, Joey Williamson, our music director, he’s sighted, and our bass player, Tracy Pierce, he can see also.”

McKinnie said that the Wire theme didn’t bring them a lot of notoriety, but that winning Grammy awards did. He noted, “By winning the Grammys and being exposed because we sing mostly mainstream now, and working with different artists, like Ben Harper, Tom Petty and Peter Gabriel, and all these people we’ve been on tour with. Every time you’re seen by different audiences, that widens your audience.”

According to McKinnie, “The Blind Boys are a group of dreamers. Nothing comes to us but a dream, but if you can dream the dream, do the work, and keep the faith, then things usually work out all right. My motto is, ‘I’m not blind, I just can’t see.’ That means that I may have lost my sight, but I didn’t lose my direction.”

Ben Jaffe, of Preservation Hall Jazz Band, has seen his life change dramatically since Hurricane Katrina. “I cofounded the New Orleans Musicians for Hurricane Relief fund,” Jaffe says. “I put my heart and soul into working on that. It occupies most of my time, along with trying to keep Preservation Hall afloat.” Preservation Hall is a venerable club in New Orleans which was badly damaged by the storm. There have been many bands that have toured using the Preservation Hall Jazz Band name over the years, but Jaffe’s troupe is currently the only one on the road.

Jaffe plays tuba for the group, which plays New Orleans-style jazz. “The major thing is that New Orleans jazz is a very inclusive style of music,” Jaffe continues. “The whole idea of jazz came about as a form of entertainment, created for people to dance to.” Jaffe, whose late father and mother were both involved in starting the group back in 1961, has been involved with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band since 1993.

Here’s the Blind Boys’ version of “Run On”, which you Moby fans out there will surely recognize:

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