‘Good mojo’ makes for good sabbatical


Pat Thomas (left), son of James “Son” Thomas, renowned blues musician and sculptor, stands with DVC music professor Glen Appell (right).

Ryan Peters, Staff Writer

Being in the right place at the right time may be called luck.  Being in the right place at the right time for weeks on end? That is what DVC music professor Glenn Appell calls “good mojo,” and that is how he sums up his four-month Roots Music Journey.

At the end of January, Appell embarked on a sabbatical to explore the roots of historical American music.  Not your average road trip, this journey took him from the Bay Area to the southeast coast in a string of back road juke joints, humid outdoor venues, and decades-old bandstands to witness roots music in all its glory.

Music historians describe roots music as any music that is acoustic and does not involve amplification.  Here is a visual:  an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, throw in a banjo, calloused fingers strumming a washboard, and bare-feet stomping in time on the sagging porch of a clapboard house.  This is roots music.

Appell’s good mojo found him on a tour of the Jerry Lee Lewis house by none other than Lewis’ sister.  As the last person in the door at the famed Bird Café in Nashville, Appell was sat in the front row for a highly touted singer/songwriter intimate concert.  He also ran with the King of the Zulus in New Orleans, toured museums, studios and private homes by generous hosts and found himself in many behind-the-scenes situations.  His good mojo even included finding Jack White tickets.

“Rural America is keeping roots music alive and well,” Appell was happy to report.  He was particularly inspired in Bristol, Tenn. to see the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music from the Hazard Community and Technical College performing at the venerable Carter Family Fold.  He thought, “Imagine that…a community college that is paying attention to its own local cultural treasures.”

Appell was split between Nashville and New Orleans as the cities with the best local music scene.

Traveling through the south was not without its moments of culture shock.  Although Appell did not witness any blatant acts of racism, he was surprised by the amount of Confederate flags and memorials scattered through the small towns of the south.  “I understand that it is a part of the region’s history,” stated Appell, but he was a little unnerved by the amount of money spent to maintain and restore these monuments.  Happily, this was balanced by integrated bands and audiences with a common love for roots music.

In the middle of May, Appell returned to the Bay Area with 15,000 miles worth of photos, videos, memories and a better understanding of and appreciation for American roots music.  Appell is planning a series of “lunch time talks” where he will fully present the details of his journey.  Until then, you can see some of his best-of moments on his blog at: http://gappellrootsmusic.blogspot.com/