On Sunday, October 8, bluesman extraordinaire Scott Ainslie comes to the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM) with a performance for Flying Cat Music. The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $17 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453.
Blues Music Magazine simply states, “Scott Ainslie is a country bluesman of the highest order” and perhaps that says it all when it comes to describing the essence of this remarkable artist. All that needs to be added then is exactly why that’s so. The authoritative web site thecountryblues.com helps out by explaining, “Ainslie is a beautiful stylist who respects the country blues and acoustic blues music, feels it deep down to his soul and understands its essence. He is not just an important bridge to the original blues; he is an important teacher and protagonist of the genre.” Sing Out Magazine calls Scott Ainslie, “the master of multiple genres and tunings, focusing not only on the blues but also on the blues’ African origins.”
The Washington Post sheds further light on what sets Ainslie apart, writing, “Scott is the kind of musician they don’t make any more, in the mold of the late Pete Seeger – unpretentious, dead serious about his craft, dedicated to preserving traditional American music.” Through all the praise there runs a common thread. Not only is Scott Ainslie a highly adept bluesman and musician, he respects and cherishes the art form itself and the culture that gave birth to it. In his hands, the love Scott feels for traditional music is a highly infectious force. Once bitten, he himself was never cured.
Scott’s life changed forever when he stumbled upon John Jackson, an authentic Virginia bluesman and former grave digger, whose music went largely unnoticed until the early sixties. He described the exact moment in an interview. “In 1967, I went to a Mike Seeger concert at a local high school. I was 15 years old. In the middle of a remarkable tour-de-force featuring something like 17 different instruments, Mike suddenly stopped the concert and introduced someone we should hear: a local Blues musician named John Jackson.
John took the stage and settled into a chair and proceeded to play a music so athletic, so complex, and so compelling that my mouth fell open… I started playing guitar a month later.”
That was also the beginning of a close friendship, forged between Scott and John, which lasted until Jackson’s death some thirty-five years later. Scott Ainslie is inspired as much by the people who embody traditional music as he is by the music itself. As a young adult earning his B.A. in music theory and composition from Washington and Lee University, Scott began exploring old-time music with members of the Hammons family in West Virginia. The Hammons’ were a migratory family of poor whites who had lived in various locations in the mountains of the Southern Appalachians for around two centuries.
Old-time music grew out of the fiddle music of the British Isles mixed with the influences of black musicians, both slave and free. The best known recordings of the Hammons family were first released in 1973 by the Library of Congress and Rounder Records, around the time Scott came to know them personally. Ainslie’s time spent with that extended family led to him playing old-time fiddle and banjo for fifteen years while touring and recording with acts like the Fly by Night String Band.
Today Scott Ainslie has few peers either in his understanding of American roots music or in his ability to play it. County blues and old-time music are two sides of a traditional coin to him. On stage, as he has throughout his life, Ainslie explores both the African and the European roots of American music and culture, and his shows are enlivened by fascinating insights into it all. Professionally Ainslie is both a teacher and troubadour, offering workshops as well as concerts to those who share his passion for American traditional music.
In 1992, Scott Ainslie authored Robert Johnson/At the Crossroads, published by Hal Leonard Corporation. The reviews were glowing:
“Scott Ainslie has taken on the monumental task of transcribing all of Robert Johnson’s recorded blues songs and succeeded with flying colors . . . this book stands head and shoulders above any other collection of transcriptions.” Brett Bonner, Living Blues Magazine
“. . . painstaking detail, not only in the presentation of tablature and notation, but in the introductory biography and the deliberate introductory text and lyric transcriptions that accompany each song.”
Steve James, Acoustic Guitar Magazine.
The reviews are no less positive for Scott Ainslie’s music, whether it’s his interpretations of traditional classics or compositions of his own. In 2000, Scott Ainslie won The National Slide Guitar Festival Living Heritage Award, given in tandem to an influential living slide guitarist paired with a blues and slide guitarist who has gone before. Scott Ainslie was awarded with Robert Johnson.
Scott Ainslie has six superb CDs out, the most recent being 2014’s “The Last Shot Got Him,” an album inspired by a guitar and the music it was made to play. That guitar is a Gibson L-50 archtop acoustic which fortuitously came into Scott’s life. Living Blues Magazine wrote: “Ainslie wakes up that Gibson and makes it chime and ring, with his fingers dancing over the fretboard in a way that this guitar may not have experienced in its 80 years of life” in their review of The Last Shot Got Him.
A review by Blues Music Magazine observes, “Armed with only his superb voice and a 1930s era Gibson L-50 archtop acoustic, Ainslie deftly weaves his way through these fourteen tracks.” And Jazz & Blues Report concludes, “if you like old-time country blues, you are really going to like “The Last Shot Got Him.”
The same can be said for a Scott Ainslie concert.