“A documentarian revisits the funkiest musical byways in this scintillating memoir. Mugge's vivid prose mixes piquant sketches of musicians with atmospheric evocations of the music. The book is also a master class on the director's craft. Music fans and indie film aficionados will find here a beguiling homage to both art forms. A vibrant, entertaining panorama of music-making and the picaresque struggle to capture it on film.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The stories he tells go well beyond anecdotes about musicians. He opens us up to the whole world of documentary filmmaking: how they’re financed; how they’re recorded and edited. Notes from the Road is the best thing I’ve read about what it’s like to direct films since Sidney Lumet’s 1996 classic, Making Movies.” —Ken Tucker, NPR’s Fresh Air w/Terry Gross
“The overriding takeaway from the book is Mugge’s genuine love for the music and all the cultural aspects that surround it such as food,
local customs, and legends. To call him an American treasure is not an overstatement as no one else has delved into the music this way.”
—Jim Hynes, Making A Scene
“As a teacher of writing, I always stressed to my students to 'put the reader there.' In these pages, in every encounter, in every music joint or hall, in every
negotiation, in every conversation Robert Mugge has succeeded in his writing in the
same way he succeeded in every one of his documentary films. I highly recommend
this inside look into the making of his music documentaries.”
—Art Tipaldi, Blues Music Online
“Anyone unfortunate enough not to have seen any of his 30-plus films—most of them music documentaries—can get a comprehensive view of Mugge’s magnificent cinematic legacy through his new volume Notes from the Road: A Filmmaker’s Journey through American Music.”
—Ron Wynn, Nashville Scene
Music fans owe Robert Mugge a debt of gratitude for his lifetime of work as an independent filmmaker. Readers of this outstanding book will come away with many levels of respect for his accomplishments. Highly recommended!
—Mark Thompson, Blues Blast Magazine
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Notes from the Road:
A Filmmaker’s Journey through American Music by Robert Mugge
Since 1976, Robert Mugge has created three dozen documentaries about various aspects of American culture, with particular emphasis on traditional forms of American music. In his new memoir, Notes from the Road: A Filmmaker's Journey through American Music, Mugge describes the genesis of what he considers to be his twenty-five key music films, the methods employed in making them, and the experiences shared by him, his crews, and his subjects. This retrospection is organized not so much chronologically as thematically, in order to reveal connective tissue among efforts made over multiple decades.
As William Reynolds Ferris, one of Mugge's role models, writes in his foreword to the book, "Mugge both thrills and exhausts us as he describes the process of making his films. He shifts his camera lens deftly from classical music to bluegrass to jazz to Tex-Mex to gospel to reggae to Hawaiian slack-key guitar. A gifted filmmaker and a fine writer, Mugge introduces us to musicians, record producers, and his trusted film crew, which at times includes his wife, Diana. This book offers an intimate view of his struggles as a filmmaker and his determination to capture our nation's music on film."
As Aidan Levy, author of Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins, writes in his endorsement of the book, “[Robert Mugge] has taken us backstage (and onstage) to give us the story behind the music of Sonny Rollins, Gil Scott-Heron, Sun Ra, and so many other legendary artists. Now he is taking us behind the scenes to reveal how the films were made. He is one of my favorite directors, supremely gifted at visual storytelling, but as it turns out, he may be just as engaging on the page. I strongly encourage all music lovers, cinephiles, and anyone interested in a peripatetic life lived off the beaten path to get this book!”
Notes from the Road is a fascinating exploration of the visual documentation of musical creation--a separate and distinct form of documentary filmmaking, as practiced by one of its chief proponents. The resulting "notes from the road" provide a lyrical introduction to his personal musical odyssey.
The Twenty-Five Films Discussed at Length (in the order addressed)
George Crumb: Voice of the Whale, Gather at the River: A Bluegrass Celebration, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, Saxophone Colossus with Sonny Rollins, Black Wax with Gil Scott-Heron, Gospel According to Al Green, The Return of Rubén Blades, Cool Runnings: The Reggae Movie, Hawaiian Rainbow, Kumu Hula: Keepers of a Culture, Deep Blues, Hellhounds on My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson, Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records, True Believers: The Musical Family of Rounder Records, The Kingdom of Zydeco, Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities, Iguanas in the House, Rhythm 'N' Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music, New Orleans Music in Exile, Last of the Mississippi Jukes, Blues Divas, Deep Sea Blues, All Jams on Deck, Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues, Giving Up the Ghosts: Closing Time at Doc's Music Hall.
Book and Film Tours
APRIL 14: CLARKSDALE, MS - JUKE JOINT FESTIVAL 1:30 p.m. Reading/Signing at Roger Stolle's Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Arts 6:00 p.m. Discussion with host Jim Dees and brief reading at New Roxy as part of a live taping of Thacker Mountain Radio Hour
APRIL 15: CLARKSDALE, MS - JUKE JOINT FESTIVAL 2:00 p.m. Signing at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art
APRIL 17: JACKSON, MS 5:00 p.m. Reading/signing at John Evans's Lemuria Bookstore
APRIL 18: NEW ORLEANS, LA 6:00 p.m. Reading/signing/discussion featuring Iguanas bass player and podcast host René Coman at Tom Lowenburg's Octavia Bookstore
APRIL 20: BIRMINGHAM, AL 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Reading/discussion at Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema 7:40 p.m. Screening of "Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" followed by discussion with author/artist/radio host Burgin Mathews 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. Book Signing in the lobby.
MAY 12: MEMPHIS, TN 12:00 p.m. Discussion with Ron Buck on WYXR 91.7 FM 3:00 p.m. Reading/signing at the Memphis Listening Lab
MAY 31: EVANSTON, IL (suburb of Chicago) 5:30 p.m. Reading/signing at Tim Peterson's Squeezebox Books & Music
JUNE 1: EVANSTON, IL 7:00 p.m. Screening of "Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" followed by discussion with Michael Metzger, Curator of Media Arts at Northwestern University's Block Museum of Art
AUGUST 10, 11 & 12: NEW YORK, NY Screenings of "Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise," "Black Wax," and "Cool Runnings: The Reggae Movie,” plus discussions and book readings, at Roxy Cinema