It’s Not Always About the Jam: Justin Golden

Music is a lot like a blueberry bush. Especially blues music, since blueberries are among a handful of fruits native to North America, just as blues is a native art form. With a blueberry bush, you get fruit off the newer branches — once they get old enough to form a lot of bark, they do not yield many blueberries, and you need to start pruning so that you can get new growth, and more of those delicious berries. In the same way, music blossoms in its newest forms, forms which tend to become rigid over time. Everyone likes to focus on the fruit but they can easily lose sight of where those new, fruit bearing branches came from, which is always an older, more rigid branch. And those oldest, most foundational branches, like blues music, tend to invite more preconceptions. 

Enter Justin Golden. Justin is here to expand the tent of what we think of as blues music by both pointing back to the Piedmont blues, fingerstyle guitar tradition of his native Virginia, and by charting a new direction of his own. As he said in our interview, one thing people tend to get wrong about blues music is thinking that it is all about electric guitar jams: “acoustic blues was about expression, you know, especially the country blues. It’s not really jammable music if you don’t know the song. Because it’s not a set form for a lot of it. It’s just, you know, the recording is how they played it that one time. And if you ever hear … recordings of some of the older people like Blind Boy Fuller and stuff, and there’s multiple takes, it’s played wildly differently every time. So that’s the biggest misconception is that it’s lots of leads, or they assume I play lots of lead guitar. And I’m more of a rhythm guitar player that can finger fake leads on top of it.”

Justin Golden

Songs heard in this episode:

“Can’t Get Right” by Justin Golden from Hard Times and a Woman

“Dog Days of August” by Cephas & Wiggins from Dog Days of August, excerpt

“Lightning When She Smiles” by Justin Golden from Hard Times and a Woman, excerpt

“The Gator” by Justin Golden from Hard Times and a Woman, excerpt

“Moon Far Away” by Justin Golden from Hard Times and a Woman

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Southern Songs and Stories is a part of the podcast lineup of both public radio WNCW and Osiris Media, with all of the Osiris shows available here. You can also hear new episodes of this podcast on Bluegrass Planet Radio here. Thanks to Corrie Askew for producing the radio adaptations of this series on WNCW, and to Joshua Meng, who wrote and performed our theme songs. This is Southern Songs and Stories: the music of the South and the artists who make it. – Joe Kendrick