Every now I then I get to program an act that means so so much to me and this is an unashamed piece of personal advocacy for Lonnie Holley, a truly incredible artist that you need to know about. The 69 year-old is the 7th of 27th children, born in Jim Crow era Alabama. When he was 18 months old, his mother left him with a burlesque dancer who took him on the road and brought him up.
He became a father himself at 15 and now has 15 children of his own. He did time in the notorious juvenile labour camp, The Alabama Industrial School For Negro Children. He discovered a latent artistic talent at 29, when his sister tragically lost two children in a house fire. Lonnie used cast off sandstone, a by-product at a nearby industrial site, to sculpt the two tombstones, which were discovered by a gallerist looking for artworks in the south, leading to a fine art career from the early 80s. Lonnie's found-art sculptures are now exhibited in the Smithsonian Institute and have been displayed at the White House (and famous Gee's Bend quilter Mary Lee Bendolph has a piece in MoMA called "Lonnie Holley's Freedom").
But no-one knew that from the mid-80s, Lonnie was also making incredible, almost unclassifiable music on tapes at home. In 2012, Atlanta boutique label Dust-to-Digital found out about these recordings and began releasing them: haunting vocals accompanied by rudimentary keyboard effects, progressing without any traditional song structure — no choruses, chord changes or consistent melody whatsoever, but still capable of inducing goosebumps.
Now Eno, Bon Iver, Byrne and Callahan all know who he is but the public still don't really. If you want to take a chance on something you've never heard at Vivid LIVE next week, buy a Lonnie Holley ticket for $49 here.