Little Village Foundation

See the people
Hear the music
Feel the community

2016 Thanks and Review:
Fifty individuals donated to Little Village Foundation in 2016.
Six foundations awarded grants.
Over 275 people pitched in to help.

Over 275!

From musicians and engineers to people providing stuff like a couch for the night or a ride to the airport.

At times the work of a startup nonprofit can get dark and lonely. All of these folks joined in working together to make LVF a community of we.

It is contagious.

Thank you.

What We Did Together:

Artists and Releases:

Aireene Espiritu                                        Back Where I Belong

Aki Kumar                                                Ali Goes To Bollywood

John Blues Boyd                                      The Real Deal

Mariachi Mestizo                                      Te Doy La Libertad

Wee Willie Walker                                    Live! Notodden
2016 LVF Sponsored Performances/Fundraisers:

Freight and Salvage
Berkeley, Ca.

The Waterfront Blues Festival
Portland, Oregon

San Jose Jazz Festival
San Jose, Ca.

Big Easy Backyard Party
San Jose, Ca.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
San Francisco, Ca.

St. Mark’s In The Valley Los Olivos
Los Olivos, Ca.

Freight and Salvage (1/7/2017)
Berkeley, Ca.

* Freight and Salvage (1/7/2017) Berkeley, Ca.

Little Village All Together at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Blowin’ the Blues Bollywood-Style with Aki Kumar | KQED Arts

PBS: Blowin’ the Blues Bollywood- Style with Aki Kumar

Mariachi Mestizo’s Day at Capitol Studios Hollywood.
John “Blues” Boyd Earned His Middle Name The Hard Way
 Aireene Espiritu explores the roots that made her the unique voice she is in folk music and simultaneously reveals to us both a powerful persona and a touching glimpse into her background.
Comprehensive Press Report

A link to over 50 articles, interviews and tv pieces:

One Last Bit:


I’m blessed to have had such great in-laws. Kind and generous. Always with an optimistic outlook for anybody and everybody. Herman lived to be 101 until he passed a few years ago. Rachel will be 99 next month and she’ll out live us all. Reads NYT and watches MSNBC everyday. Better have your facts straight if you want to talk current events. She is very current.

Both were born and raised in New York, at one point early on living in the Bronx before migrating to Long Island and then finally the big leap in 1969 to Albuquerque, NM.

New York pre 1960’s has always fascinated me. Being a musician you’d have to be deaf not to be. Or an artist, dancer, actor- whatever. Back then the creative wattage of New Yorkers alone could have lit up Yankee Stadium.

I hate the Yankees but I am a New York-ophile.

They had tons of stories about life in New York. Deferential about it, not bragging but kind of quiet. Over the years they’d slowly open up about it.

“Did you see ever see the Yankees play?”


“1927 Yankees?”

He thought about it,


The greatest baseball team ever and Herman was talking about them like it was yesterday.

I was amazed.

So nonchalant.

I suppose in some way it was like guys talking about having fought in a war, they’re not forthcoming with the experience but over time they might talk about it a little.

At one point he quietly told me a story that was like that. Deborah and I were married for years before he got around to telling it to me:

In 1949 they were living in the Bronx. On a Sunday afternoon late in the summer they had driven down Broadway to midtown Manhattan to see Othello with Paul Robeson. A matinee performance. Afterwards they had gotten back in their car and headed out to lunch. As they drove past the theater they had seen Paul Robeson standing out front trying catch a cab.

They had lunch in the old neighborhood (now Chinatown) and then drove back up Broadway to the Bronx.

Passing the theater again they saw Paul Robeson still standing in front still trying to get a cab. They turned the car around and pulled in front of the theater,

“Mr. Robeson we’d be happy to give you a ride anywhere you like.”

In the car during the ensuing conversation Paul Robeson invited them to be his special guests at a performance he was doing in Peekskill the following Saturday.

“Peekskill? We have a cabin there we go to every summer, we’d love to.”

In those days there were lots of New Yorkers who spent summer vacations in that part of New York. It had been that way with Herman and Rachel and all their relatives.

The following weekend they stayed at the cabin and attended the concert.

This from Wikipedia:

“The Peekskill riots were anti-communist riots with anti-black and anti-Semitic undertones[1] that took place at Cortlandt Manor, Westchester County, New York, in 1949.[2] The catalyst for the rioting was an announced concert by black singer Paul Robeson, who was well known for his strong pro-trade union stance, civil rights activism, communist affiliations, and anti-colonialism. The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill.[3]”

Herman said,

“People yelled names at us and threw rocks .”

He looked at me and pointed his finger in an attempt to be angry,

“We went back to our cabin, packed our things and left. Never again did we go back there.”

What started out an act of basic kindness, my in-laws giving Paul Robeson a ride, then accepting his gracious offer to attend the concert, turned into one of the worst displays ever of Americans behaving poorly. There’s lots of YouTubes of the Peekskill riots. People yelling racial slurs, anti semantic slogans and throwing rocks.

It’s fair to say that back then The House Un-American Activities Committee had done a lot to scare people. In 2016 Newt Gingrich called for the reinstatement of The House Un-American Activities Committee.

In our family there are lots of stories of my in-laws doing kind things for people. In New York and later in Albuquerque.  Not big things necessarily but the little things that no one really notices. The sort of things that quietly make a difference in everyday life.

That’s my New Year’s resolution.

Be kind and help out everywhere I can.

Happy New Year!!!
                 Mariachi Mestizo riding in a van after a gig singing along with                      Aki Goes To Bollywood.
Copyright © 2016 Little Village Foundation, All rights reserved.
We are friends.Our mailing address is:

Little Village Foundation

606 Alamo Pintado Road

Solvang, CA 93463

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Little Village December News

Happy Holidays!

Mariachi Mestizo’s Posada
McFarland, CA.

December 4th

Big LVF Show Coming In The New Year!

Latest News:

Shining a light on obscure musical talent

(Reprinted from Santa Maria Times 12/3/2016)

Unless you take deep dives into the music world, you’ve probably never heard of Aireene Espirtu, John Blues Boyd, Dave Ellis, Wee Willie Walker, Mariachi Mestizo, Aki Kumar, Los Tres Amigos-Snuviko or Ron Thompson. Jim Pugh wants to change that. His Little Village Foundation (LVF) has recorded and produced CDs for all these musical artists at no cost as a way of helping them get heard.A concert benefiting LVF is scheduled for Wednesday from 7 to 10 p.m. at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos. It’s a holiday concert, also benefiting St. Mark’s Preschool, that will feature Espirtu, Pugh and many of his friends, including local guitarist Bear Erickson and local favorite Owen Plant.

Pugh, who moved to the Santa Ynez Valley a decade ago, is a veteran keyboard player and record producer, best known for the nearly 25 years he spent on the keyboards with the Robert Cray Band. When he and the band parted ways three years ago, he knew instantly his life was meant to go in a different direction. It took him on a path to founding LVF.

“It was a mutual decision for me to leave the band. I was pretty unhappy and at some point, if you’re unhappy enough, they ask you to leave,” Pugh explained.

Ironically, Cray and his model-turned-fashion retailer wife, Sue Turner Cray, took up residence in the Valley a few years after Pugh and his wife, Deborah Pugh, put down roots here.

“We’re friends but we don’t want to work together again” is how Pugh looks at it now.

Pugh recalled being disillusioned, a bit cynical following his November 2013 separation from the band, and knew he wanted to do volunteer work.

“I was feeling a little bit oily and it was a way to clean myself up,” he said.

Within days, he was cleaning up cigarette butts and beer cans from behind the YMCA and raking leaves at a senior center. When his friend, Bear Erickson, told him about the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden (his mother, Puck Erickson Lohnas, is board president), he was volunteering there three or four days a week.

“From all that, I developed the idea of doing a nonprofit,” Pugh said. “I had this idea of mixing community service and music and diversity. Puck and people I’d gotten to know through the Los Olivos Rotary were all really encouraging.” Puck is the organizer behind the Wednesday night’s concert.

The foundation’s mission is to find musicians who are creative and compelling and under the radar. LVF pays for the studio time to get a CD produced. The artist receives 1,000 copies and owns all rights to the music. They owe nothing to LVF.

It somehow seems fitting that the foundation’s mascot is a a one-eyed dog named Charlie that Pugh’s wife rescued as a puppy.

In the post-record store era, the No. 1 point of purchase for CDs is “gigs,” Pugh explained. For artists like those he’s produced at LVF, they now have a CD they can take on the road and sell, taking home an average $15 each and helping to spread the word about their music. Anyone who sells out of their 1,000 CDs can purchase more at cost.

Many of the musicians Pugh has found for LVF have been performing for years without anything but local recognition.

“There is no one around like Wee Willie Walker,” Pugh exclaimed. Walker has been performing since the 1960s and has a voice that compares to Sam Cooke or Wilson Pickett.

“Ron Thompson is a blues guitarist who should have become a big deal but didn’t because he was managed for years by the Oakland Hell’s Angels. I guess that scared some people,” Pugh laughed.

There’s Aki Kumar, whose “Aki Goes to Bollywood” — with its Muddy Waters-influenced Indian music — has been one of the most successful CDs for a LVF artist.

Closer to home, there’s Los Tres Amigos-Snuviko.

“It’s a trio of Mixtec indigenous Indians. There are 25,000 of them in Santa Maria. They don’t speak Spanish. They don’t speak English. They are completely marginalized, and these guys are making this great music,” Pugh said.

He’s just back from hearing a singer/songwriter who lives in the desert by the Salton Sea. Next stop is Oakland to check out a gospel quartet he’s been told about.

Pugh seeks out musicians who fall somewhere in-between having no way to sustain their day-to-day living and those whose goal is to hit it big in an “American Idol” sort of way.

“I don’t have any idea about the pop field,” he admitted. “What I’m doing is taking music from over here that nobody’s paying attention to and showing it to an audience over there.”

The show at St. Mark’s — where Pugh sings in the choir — is the first benefit for Little Village Foundation staged in the Valley. He’s hoping it won’t be the last.

For more information, visit

St. Mark’s LVF Fundraiser was SRO.

Performances By:
Bear Erickson
Maurice Tani
Aireene Espiritu
Kiki Ebsen
Jim Pugh
Bear Owen

Special Thanks To: Puck Erickson Lohnas, Jim Lohnas, Randall Day, Linda Burrows and all the people at  The Los Olivos Rotary. Let’s do it Again!

Copyright © 2016 Little Village Foundation, All rights reserved.
We are friends.Our mailing address is:

Little Village Foundation

606 Alamo Pintado Road

Solvang, CA 93463

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About Little Village Foundation

Little Village Foundation brings music from next door to the world. Musicians’ lives and their music may be very different, but they have one thi Little Village logo ng in common – their incredible music is rooted in fascinating cultural stories and has yet to be discovered. Little Village Foundation, a non-profit cultural producer and record label, searches out, discovers, records and produces music that otherwise would not be heard beyond the artist’s family and community. Little Village supports the dreams of artists from non-traditional backgrounds. Many of these artists gave up performing careers long ago or make music just as a part of telling their community stories. Little Village records these musicians at no expense to the artist at all. Not only is there no expense to the artist, Little Village Foundation gives ALL proceeds from sales back to the artists. ALWAYS. This happens with the donations of people like you! Little Village believes that diverse music builds empathy that builds stronger communities and a better world.


About St. Mark’s Preschool

Preschool Lion

St. Mark’s Preschool offers quality early-childhood education for ages 3 through 5 (pre-kindergarten) in an environment that supports and encourages children to grow, learn, and respect themselves and others. With no more than 24 students per day, this small pre-school is known for excellent teaching that prepares children for elementary school in an environment they enjoy. Your donations help us welcome children of diverse backgrounds to this outstanding educational experience.

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LVF 2016 recording artist Mariachi Mestizo in their Posada performance.
Copyright © 2016 Little Village Foundation, All rights reserved.
We are friends.Our mailing address is:

Little Village Foundation

606 Alamo Pintado Road

Solvang, CA 93463

Add us to your address book

                        Season’s Greetings!
                          Available at iTunes:
Buy Now
Little Village Exists Solely From Donations
Donate Now
Copyright © 2016 Little Village Foundation, All rights reserved.
We are friends.Our mailing address is:

Little Village Foundation

606 Alamo Pintado Road

Solvang, CA 93463

Add us to your address book

Mister King
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I had the good fortune to have played on a recording for BB King back in the early 90’s.  Honor to have done it but for sure it’s a cred that lots and lots of musicians can claim. Mister King made 100’s of recordings and probably hired 1000’s of musicians. As I recall Albert Collins and John Lee Hooker were also there at the same session. 3x honor.

At one point we took a break and sat out in the lounge drinking coffee and listening to stories. We listened, they talked. After a while there was a long pause in the telling, as if the stories had suddenly run out of gas. We all just sat there, all quiet, staring at the muted tv against the wall.

Switched on to The Beverly Hillbillies.

“You know BB, Buddy Ebsen is Jimmy Pugh’s uncle.”, Richard Cousins allowed.

I didn’t think much of it. I continued to stare at the tv.

Mister King turned to me, “I know Buddy Ebsen.”


“Sure, I’ve known him for a long time. He’s comes and see’s us at the Lighthouse and at Concerts by the Sea. You know he lives down there on Balboa Island.”

Good knowledge.

He did.

Mister King was a fabulous story teller. He really knew how to set it up.

This was a slow conversation. He was in no hurry.

But now I was hooked.

“Uh when did you you meet him?”

He sat there for a while as he considered and then tilted his head back as he considered some more,

“I first met Buddy Ebsen in 1954… at a party at Sammy Cahn’s apartment in New York.”

Mind blown.


It took me a while to grasp the idea that my uncle wasn’t just listening to BB King but was actually hanging out with him before I was even born. 1954? At Sammy Cahn’s house no less.

That was just way too hip.

Part of my coolness quotient drained from my face.


Then a few years ago Deborah and I stayed at Fess Parker’s Inn here along the central coast. Bounding down the stairs for dinner that night I caught myself – what the hell?- I heard somebody playing the head to “You Upset Me Baby” on a piano. As I walked down the rest of the stairs I heard,

”Like Being Hit By a Falling Tree, Woman What You Do To Me.”

An older gentleman was seated at the lobby piano playing and singing a relatively obscure BB King tune.

I squinted.

It was Fess Parker.

Singing and playing obscure BB King.

I didn’t ask. It wasn’t a good time.

We ate and went back to the room and I Googled him:

“Davy Crockett is a five-part serial which aired on ABC from 1954-1955 in one-hour episodes, on the Disneyland series. The series stars Fess Parker as real-life frontiersman Davy Crockett and Buddy Ebsen as his friend, George Russel.”

1954 again.

This time with obscure BB King accompaniment on a lobby piano in the middle of nowhere.

I always intended to talk to my uncle about knowing Mister King but then he passed away before I got a chance. And after we moved down here I really intended to ask Fess Parker about him but he  too had passed before I got a chance.

And now Mister King is gone as well.

I’m very thankful for friends and relations who are here or now departed.

Happy Thanksgiving!




















No Depression
The Quarterly Journal of Roots Music

 In the summer of 1968, When I was 13, I witnessed a life-changing performance by The James Cotton Band at a rock festival in Southern California. Cotton played blues harmonica like Jimi Hendrix played the guitar. I wanted to be James Cotton. I wanted to play the way he did, like I could call down the thunder with that little instrument.
I practiced on a cheap harmonica while I was on a 3 day road trip to West Texas. At a family reunion in the Panhandle one evening, an unassuming grandma stepped up to me, saw me struggling, and asked, ”Can I see that harmonica?” As she began to play, something magical happened. She recreated the sound of a high, lonesome railroad train whistle followed by the chug of the engine. She broke into the most beautiful country tune I’d ever heard. I was spellbound. In that spine tingling moment, I gave up on the harmonica. But I never forgot that Texas grandmother and the music that came out of her.That was the summer I discovered you didn’t have to be a star on a concert stage to play great music.More recently, I’ve learned that the greatest musicians and songwriters may live right across the street. That’s also the view of veteran blues keyboardist, and founder of Little Village Foundation Jim Pugh, who told me that great talent is too often hidden in our towns and cities, far from the spotlight so often reserved for only the most famous names. It is the mission of his Little Village Foundation to find this talent that lives outside our view and shed a little light on it.In a 40 year career, Pugh has played and recorded with Robert Cray, Van Morrison and, Etta James, and he founded Little Village Foundation in 2014 with the desire to help artists who might otherwise be overlooked by the industry. Pugh sought out musicians who reflected their communities and brought a sense of cultural identity to their music. But he couldn’t predict how the foundation would help the artist’s spirit.“I was finished with the road,” he says. “I’d traveled all over the world. It sounds glamorous, but it’s not something you look forward to at 60. So, I looked at things I always loved the most, which was music and helping people.”In some cases, helping these artists has been an act of redemption, resurrecting talents and careers that had fallen by the wayside. Pugh makes sure that each artist Little Village works with doesn’t pay a penny to get their record made. The albums themselves are professionally produced by Pugh and his friend Kid Andersen, who also provides considerable instrumental skills on keyboard, guitar, sitar, and percussion. The artists receive  a monetary stipend along with 1,000 copies of their CD to market however they choose. The artists are linked up to social media and online streaming services.Little Village’s first wave of releases came in 2015. The artists included talent as diverse as Dave Ellis, a singing cowboy from Central California, and Wee Willie Walker, a veteran bluesman who was resurrected out of obscurity with his album, If Nothing Ever Changes.The year’s schedule includes youthful Mariachi Mestizo, singer-songwriter Aireene Espiritu, bluesman John Blues Boyd, and Indian-American solo artist Aki Kumar.

Little Village artists are a diverse group who are all driven to have their music heard and embraced as the invite us to their own utterly unique world. Rather than seeking celebrity, they celebrate the music.
Growing a Little Village
Pugh describes the genesis of Little Village as an outcropping of his worldview. “Little Village represents the way I’ve lived since I was a teenager,” he says. “it combines everything I love: music, diversity and helping people. My real talent isn’t in musical virtuosity, but being able to feel and reflect the emotional commonality between different kinds of music.”

The intuitive lean toward finding the connections across genre lines is the essence of the diverse roster of artists signed to Little Village Foundation. Each is compelling, each had a strong reason for make their album, and each is woven into today’s tapestry of today’s music. They stand for the America we all know is there beneath the loud rantings that so dominate our political discourse these days.

For Pugh, this project has become a proactive, positive way to surmount the anger that has been gaining so much traction during a divisive election season. “You know, (we all) may not agree on the immigration issue today,” he says,”but it’s hard not to smile and feel goodwill when you hear the music by artists like Mariachi Mestizo.”

The stories behind the discovery of the artists also explain a lot about the foundation and it’s leader. “I just wander around, talk to people, run into musical situations that mean something to me,” Pugh says. He discovered Mariachi Mestizo while driving through the group’s hometown of Delano, California, just north of Bakersfield.

He was looking for an all female mariachi band to provide an alternative to the machismo found in Western culture, and someone pointed him towards Mestizo- a band comprised of 8 high school girls and 6 boys. They were playing in a park for a community event. “Something in the emotion behind the music really jumped at me.”

Indeed, the history of California’s music culture extends back to the 19th century, when the Golden State was still part of Mexico. Thus, mariachi music is not an import; it is aa American as it is Mexican. It never really left its homeland.

The unique blend these young musicians have created, with the leadership of mariachi master Juan Morales and the Mariachi Studio in Delano, carries the influence of early Mexico’s Mestizo subculture,which began during the Spanish conquest in the early 17th century. Originally, Mestizos were Mexican-born people with origins in Europe and other integrated cultural and racial backgrounds. So, this band of youth well represents today’s Californian-Mexican experience and connection through music.

In their debut album, Te Doy La Libertad, Mariachi Mestizo have recorded songs steeped in the traditions of Mexico, with the emotions of the finest romantic ballad singers. The quality of their voices and the emotion behind them transcend culture and language and leaves the listener waiting for more from these young musicians.

The sound of the album is sweetened by Pugh’s ingenious idea to record it live in the main room of Capitol, where Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole made their classic, sonically warm music. According to Morales,”Jim really liked what we were doing. He fell in love with the story and he said he wanted to go a step further and take us to Hollywood to record at Capitol. That was a shock for us. For the kids, it was like a dream.” The session took four hours. It was mixed down into two tracks, resulting in a vibrant, accessible album full of passion, humor, laughter, and tears- all inherent in the mariachi tradition. At times, the young singers break down into tears as they perform passionate songs of innocent love. Their work transcends their own culture, into something more universal.

The Stories of Places

While Mariachi Mestizo draws from music that has been familiar to California for many years, sing-songwriter Aireene Espiritu’s cultural and musical pilgrimage has come from distant lands.

Born in the Philippines, Espiritu came to the United States when she was 10 years old. She grew up in three cultures: the old country, the new country, and the marriage of both worlds. This is also an apt description of the music found on her Little Village Foundation release, Going Back Where I Belong. It feels like a kind of homecoming.

Espiritu grew up in Northern California’s Bay Area. During childhood, her family custom included weekend afternoons with music by her uncles on ukulele and guitars. Her orientation was always towards stringed instruments of those early days. But what led her to pursue music as a career fell at her feet.

It was one fateful afternoon spent browsing in a bookstore that Alan Lomax’s book, The Land Where The Blues Began, literally fell off the bookshelf. She began to explore the influence of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Bessie Smith. Then, she began writing her own songs.

With her unique twist, Espiritu presents an irresistible and inspired sound that is as soulful as it is engaging. She combines the writing skill of John Prine with the vocal talent of Etta James.The result is a powerful new talent. She has recorded two albums of original material with the help of a family of skillful musicians in L.A. and San Francisco.

Pugh discovered her in a way similar to how he found Mariachi Mestizo. “I was at a Folk Alliance in California,” he remembers. “There were so many artists there who were being promoted and given so much attention. I saw Aireene, this small woman with this ukulele and this great voice, holding a capacity crowd in this small corner of the conference. It seemed to me she needed to be heard.”

It took some time to find just the right project for her. Her second album, Put Back Charlie, was critically successful and allowed her a fine calling card to book shows as she made her way into the international house concert circuit. But Pugh wanted something special for an artist with such a distinctive vocal talent.

The right project came from Oakland, California, where 80 year old R&B singer Sugar Pie DeSanto lives. DeSanto was born to a black mother and a Filipino father. She grew up to be a great singer and entertainer. R&B great Johnny Otis, of “Willie and the Hand Jive” fame, added her to his road show review in 1955. She also toured with James Brown in 1959. She scored a top five hit on Billboard’s R&B charts with “I Want to Know,” resulting in a contract with Chicago’s  Chess Records in 1962. It was at Chess where she recorded probably her most famous song, “Soulful Dress.” In 1965 she recorded a duet, “Do I Make Myself Clear,” with Etta James.

DeSanto’s recordings, which are rare and few, reveal her to be a bridge between the sweet blues vocal style of Etta James and the pop-friendly rock sound of Tina Turner.

However, it was in live performance where DeSanto carved out her legend. She was known for a dynamic stage presence. Her performances, preserved on YouTube, suggest a singer who is as comfortable in a roadhouse as she is on a big-city concert stage. At a time when sexual suggestion was taboo, DeSanto could boldly pack the lyrics to songs like “Rock Me, Baby” with innuendo as she strutted about the stage in full rapport with the band, like an early version of Mick Jagger. Even in her 80’s, in a recent performance, she danced with attitude and jumped into the arms of one of the musicians as she sang the classic “In the Basement.”

Today, DeSanto is the feminine counterpart to Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. In fact, she is wilder than both, making those blues giants look tame on stage. The union between Espiritu and DeSanto was a natural fit. However, there was some question of how Espiritu’s blues approach would mesh with DeSanto’s more electrified style. The answer: phenomenally well. Espiritu’s Little Village album, Back Where I Belong, based on the music of Sugar Pie DeSanto, encompasses a journey from Espiritu’s homeland through the heartland blues to that big-city blues sound championed by DeSanto.

“I had heard Sugar Pie years before, but it never crossed my mind to sing her stuff. It was Jim’s idea out of the blue. I said, ‘Why not?’ We found some songs that stood out. I didn’t just want to do her popular songs.”

The songs on Back Where I Belong are filled with the life of Espiritu’s spirit, and they come channeling through the power of her voice. She captures gospel and folk-blues and ultimately lands in the arms of songs that sound as though they could have been recorded at Stax in Memphis in the early 1960s. There are also some of the Filipino folk songs that Espiritu learned from her uncles when she was a child. For those, Pugh encouraged her to get her uncles into the studio.

“It all happened organically,” she says. “Initially, it was a tribute to Sugar Pie. We were sitting around and I started playing ukulele at breaks and I said, ‘Here’s the Filipino folk songs I learned from my uncles.’ Jim said, ‘Why don’t we record your uncles!’ They had only ever played in our living room.”

Early in July, at a release party for the album at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California, Espiritu had a rare opportunity to meet and perform for DeSanto. “I was so scared,” Espiritu says. “I was waiting for her to yell at me, but she was so gracious afterwards. She thanked me for keeping her music alive.”

 Healing Power
John Blues Boyd is a testament to the redeeming power of music and to creativity that can find its birth at any time in life –  no matter one’s age, occupation, or circumstance. The 71-year-old began working the Delta lowland cotton fields of Mississippi when he was seven years old. He was always interested in music, but focused his work on hard labor for the next 60 years, then retired from his job as a hot tar roofer in 2007 to care for his ailing wife. When she passed away in 2014, Boyd lost his way in grief.“The blues really saw me through when my Dona died,” he says. “It was hard, you know. We had been married 49 years. …I took care of her for ten years when she had been so sick. When she died I thought I’d be alone. But Jim and Kid showed up with friends and we had a blues show. It was beautiful. I didn’t know I had so many friends.”What could have dealt a mortal blow to Boyd’s spirit was turned around through musical alchemy as he returned to songwriting  – one of his greatest passions when he was a young man. He began writing songs to console himself. They seemed to just flow out of him. At one point, he wrote eight songs in one day. Music brought life back to him and it brought him back to life.When Pugh signed Boyd to Little Village, his lifelong dream was realized. The album of original blues songs that he unleashed, The Real Deal, is a revelation of up-front, full bodied, bold, dynamic blues. It’s fully charged, electrified. Some songs stomp and jump, while others lean on a tilting kind of R&B. There are clear influences here, including Big Joe Turner, Junior Parker, B.B. King, and Ray Charles. What is most remarkable is that these are original songs that sound as though they could have been written and recorded during the Chess Records creative peak years. They’re realized fully, with big horn arrangements, raging electric blues guitar, a full brass section, percussion, and Pugh’s soulful and skillful organ.But, it’s Boyd’s story – his late-in-life debut after the loss of his wife and years of hard labor – that drives home the lesson that music connects us to each other in a way that is vital and life-giving. Boyd would have gone unnoticed were it not for Pugh and Little Village Foundation. This is a clear example of the redeeming and healing power of music. In today’s ever-changing world of music trends, this album and artist might otherwise never have seen the light of day.
Bollywood and the Blues
If the other three artists from this year’s Little Village roster share a sense of purity in their pursuit of genres rooted deeply within American music ethos, then Aki Kumar and his album, Aki Goes to Bollywood, is the most diverse and fusion-based work of them all. A longtime student of the blues harmonica, Kumar was born in India. In America, he has been a dedicated student of blues harmonica great David Barrett. But when Pugh first met Kumar 10 years ago, he remembers him playing in the style of Little Walker.Kumar’s music is unexpected. Americans are not used to hearing a sitar play blues licks. But Aki Goes to Bollywood is inventive and unafraid to take risks. It has to be heard to be believed. It is an album of traditional Indian songs, reshuffled and arranged into a contemporary blues musician’s dreamland. The music carries a mix of international flavors, bringing together elements that may have otherwise seemed too diverse to blend, though nobody told Kumar that.At the center of it all, his musical soul rages. He pushes boundaries, transcends the traditional Indian elements with jazz and rock and roll textures, and sings out these pop and traditional Indian songs in both English and Hindi.Kumar’s approach will prove jarring to the world of blues and Indian music purists. It may not satisfy traditionalists from either culture, but as the ever-broadening and re-defining world of American roots music goes, Aki Goes to Bollywood is an unassuming fit. The song “Back to Bombay’ is a strange thing,” says 36 year-old Kumar. “[It comes from] this immigrant thing – you feel this longing to touch these certain things you miss about home, to find the things you don’t find here in the US. You are always in two worlds.”Aki Goes to Bollywood is the kind of uncompromising work that makes legends and helps to create new genres of music. It is reminiscent of early Los Lobos in the way it is able to waltz across musical and cultural boundaries while retaining a solid blues-rock edge. For Kumar, the release transcends even his wildest dreams. “This concept had been in my head a lot, but Jim and Kid Anderson pushed me to get it done,” he says. “Without people like that bringing this to reality, it never would have happened. I am so grateful that I met these guys.”About the HeartIf the Little Village artists sound too diverse, musically, to be in the same room – or the same genre – listen a little closer. Pugh finds the magic and the commonality in the emotional charge behind each artist.When asked if he feels like a modern-day Alan Lomax, he replies, “This really is something I need to address. Alan Lomax was an academic, an archivist. What I do is more about the heart. It’s for the human connection and love of people and their music.”

With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that there is a distinctly American flavor to Pugh’s and Little Village Foundation’s work. All of the albums he’s released are based deep in the roots of each artist’s unique world. Some sing in their native tongue with a strong nod to their native culture. But, make no mistake, this is the music of America’s true heartland – the one that is not divided by politics or pop culture preferences, but that lives around the corner and smiles a good-morning greeting when passing by.

“With racism coming back to the surface [lately],” says Aireene Espiritu, “These artists are heard [in] places not exposed to diversity. I just want to turn down the lights, play in the dark, have people be touched by performances and have them see [that] you don’t have to judge by looks; feel…how it touches you.”

This is American roots music in the truest sense – we have, after all, always been a nation of immigrants; a place where millions have come from around the world for generations to see their dreams come true.

And they have always brought their music and culture with them.

Little Village All Together at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass October 2, 2016
Little Village Foundation

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Hear the music
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At Little Village Foundation the artist owns all their intellectual property. LVF takes no commission or administrative fees and there is no recoup of production and manufacture costs in bringing their work to the public. All this is made possible with the generous support of our donors. We exist solely from donations.

We thank everyone for their generous support. Their time and help.
Opinions and kindness too.
(Especially kindness.)

Please join us in supporting this work. 

To find out more go to:

Jim Pugh   (Founder)
510 918 3233

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Little Village Foundation
606 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang, CA.   93463-2296


Copyright © 2016 Little Village Foundation, All rights reserved.
We are friends.Our mailing address is:

Little Village Foundation

606 Alamo Pintado Road

Solvang, CA 93463

Add us to your address book

10.13.2016 Marin Independent Journal
by Paul Liberatore

Ron Thompson at Rancho Nicasio after illness

What: Ron Thompson and his Resistors

When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Rancho Nicasio, on the square in Nicasio

Admission: $12 to $15

Information:, 415-662-2219

When keyboardist Jim Pugh retired after 25 years with blues star Robert Cray, he started the Little Village Foundation, a nonprofit record label whose mission is “to seek and record obscure yet prodigious musicians who have not received proper recognition and respect.” One of the first artists he recorded was Bay Area bluesman Ron Thompson, releasing his 2015 album “Son of Boogie Woogie.”

“Not only can he play the blues, he can sing it in a way that’s more convincing than practically anyone these days,” Pugh says. “He grew up in tough circumstances in East Oakland, and I don’t think you can find a better example of someone who’s that believable, that authentic. He’s the real deal.”

He certainly is. I’ve been a Thompson fan for longer than I can remember. Decades ago, a friend and I would religiously go see him play solo sets on weekday nights at Peri’s Silver Dollar Saloon in Fairfax. Sometimes the place would be packed, other times there would be hardly anyone there. It didn’t matter to him. He always played and sang with the same energy and passion, pulling the music from somewhere deep inside himself every time he stepped on stage.

“Kenney Dale Johnson (the Texas-born drummer for Chris Isaak) told me that when Stevie Ray Vaughan first came to San Francisco in the ’70s, the only guitarist he wanted to hear in California was Ron Thompson,” Pugh says.

Hard times

Now 64, Thompson has gone through some hard times recently. He doesn’t like to talk about it, but he spent weeks in a hospital when complications from diabetes forced the amputation of one of his legs. He was sidelined for several months while he healed and learned to walk with a prosthetic limb. On Saturday night, Rancho Nicasio will roll out the red carpet for him when he plays a comeback gig with his band, the Resistors. Angela Strehli, “queen of Texas blues,” and blues icon Elvin Bishop are planning to sit-in.

Despite his recent health challenges, the diminutive blues singer-songwriter remains relentlessly upbeat, thanking his girlfriend, Carolyn Phillips, for helping him during his hospitalization, recovery and return to performing.

“She’s been doing everything for me except play the guitar,” he says. But he would much rather tell me about the pair of new songs he’s written and recorded than the life-threatening illness he’s survived.

Contrary to the popular misconception of blues as a music of sadness and sorrow, the truth is that it’s really an antidote for those things. And no one I know epitomizes the joy of the blues more than Thompson does.


“I really like my job,” he says without a hint of false sincerity. “I’m just glad to make a living playing music. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m living my dream.”

Piano to guitar

Growing up in Oakland and nearby Newark, the working-class town where he now lives, the first instrument he played was piano. Both his mother, who came to California in the Dust Bowl migration from Oklahoma in the 1930s, and his grandmother were piano players.

“They played old-timey,” he remembers. “My grandmother played stride piano. She was really good. And my grandfather played fiddle.”

After wearing out the grooves on his older sister’s Jimmy Reed single “Found Love,” he was determined to teach himself guitar. He worked as a janitor and in a corn processing plant when he wasn’t in school or in his room practicing.

At 17, he was good enough to back up legends like Little Joe Blue and Big Mama Thornton in Oakland and North Richmond blues joints.

“She was pretty tough,” he says of Thornton. “There was no messing around. You played what she wanted and that’s it.”

As he immersed himself in the culture of the blues, he copped licks and tricks playing alongside established blues guitarists like Robert Lockwood Jr., Hubert Sumlin, Lowell Fulson, Bobby Blue Bland and Eddie Taylor, who taught him to play with finger picks instead of the customary flat pick.

“I played with Sunnyland Slim at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,” he remembers. “He was one of the nicest persons I met in the music business. He knew everybody. We started at 4 in the morning at Tipitina’s. It was real cool.”

Learning lessons

At the Billboard Awards in Los Angeles, he shared the stage with Buddy Guy, one of the greats. Lightnin’ Hopkins taught him that the 12-bar blues doesn’t necessarily have to be 12 bars.

“He played blues like a form of jazz, so you’d have to adjust,” he says. “It was spooky like that.”

Those lessons came in handy when he toured and recorded with John Lee Hooker, the king of the boogie, for seven years.

“He really learned at the foot of John Lee Hooker,” Pugh says. “Like Hooker, he can do a one-chord blues and really do it.”

In 1983, Thompson released his debut album, “Treat Her Like Gold.” Four years later, the follow-up, “Resistor Twister,” was nominated for a Grammy Award. Since then, he’s recorded six more albums, including the all acoustic “Resonator in 2007, the year then- Mayor Gavin Newsom declared a “Ron Thompson Day” in San Francisco.

As he returns to the stage, he’s committed to sticking to a healthy diet and lifestyle, hoping to keep himself and the blues alive.

“He’s a tremendous talent,” Pugh says. “It’s kind of a shame that somehow he’s gotten glossed over and isn’t better known. But I think there’s still time because most of the authentic bluesmen who originated this uniquely African-American music have passed on, and he just might be one of the few left standing who plays blues from the heart.”

Little Village Foundation

See The People
Hear The Music
Feel The Community


With Six Little Village Foundation Artists appearing at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this Sunday I reprint a remembrance I have of Mimi Farina and her monumental work with Bread and Roses which is the touchstone of all music related nonprofits. She is missed.

How Many Zeroes?

I had walked across the street and was about to get in my car.

“Hey, You! Wait a second, I want talk to you.” Out of the corner of my eye I’d seen him come out of a house.

No idea who the guy was but he was yelling at me so I did what I always do in that situation, I didn’t look at him and I didn’t ignore him.

I did both.

At the same time.

And kept moving.

Open the door, get in and turn the key.

No luck.

At the the door now knocking hard on the window,“Hey man, roll down the window I want ask you something.”

Standing real close to the car, I didn’t have any choice.

In gear, foot pushing down on the clutch, I rolled the window down a little. Looking up at him in a passing glance. No eye contact. (Direct eye contact invites, What the fuck are you looking at?) So it’s a passing upwards glance before returning to a straight ahead mindless gaze through the windshield.

“What can I do for you, I’m in kind of a hurry.”

“Did you play yesterday at The Vacaville Institute for The Criminally Insane?”

Clutch still pressed to the floor but shifting now back to neutral. Withdrawing a bit, my mind scrolls: Bread and Roses, Mimi Farina, The Rat Band backing up Tracy Nelson….Ok he’s right, I did.

I had played there the day before.

Weird but ok so, so what?.

“Are you Jim Pugh?”

Taking my foot off the clutch, I roll down the window all the way.

What the hell!

Then he said,

“I’ve been volunteering for Bread and Roses for ten years and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw yesterday. For a while there those inmates stopped being scared. You don’t know how much it meant. Your performance did that for them and I just want to thank you. ”

He turned and walked away.

I sat there for a long time pondering the madness of zeroes involved in computing the odds of him coming out of his house and seeing me like that.

1 in a 100?  in  10,000 ? 1 in a 1,000,000? 100,000,000,000?

As I drove home, down Foothill Boulevard and around Lake Merritt, I felt some kind of an epiphany from the probability of it all.

Maybe epiphany is too strong a word but you tell me….

How many zeroes?

After all these years I’ve just never been able to get my mind around it.

Little Village Foundation

See the people
Hear the music
Feel the community

Ve la gente
Escucha la música
Siente la comunidad

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PRI The World with Marco Werman

Aki Kumar:

“I wanted to be bigger than Bill Gates but I fell in love with the blues.”


But, something happened along the way. Kumar discovered the blues — the music of Howlin’ Wolf and of blues clubs in the San Francisco Bay area. Eventually, he ditched the day job and became a successful bluesman.

Music was always in Kumar, but as a young lad in India it wasn’t the blues. He “dabbled in music.” He goes on to say, “I did train somewhat formally when I was very young. When I was 8 years old my parent enrolled me in traditional Indian music classes.”

Now Hindustani music is a long way from playing the harmonica and singing the blues. But Indian music and the blues come together on his new CD, “Aki Goes to Bollywood.”

“In terms of fusing the two genres, the record has the whole range of it, you know — where we really take Chicago blues and just smashed it into Bollywood music,” he says.

It’s important to emphasize that Kumar considers himself a blues musician, not a Bollywood singer. “My passion really lies in the blues,” he says “and that’s what I consider to be a lifelong passion and pursuit.”

And funnily enough it was blues music that got him to really dig the music he grew up with. He explains, “the more that I’ve grown as a blues musician, the more that I hear and appreciate other forms of music.”

Soon, Kumar was hearing the blues in songs like “Eena Meena Deeka.” He says, there’s “heavy swing going on.”

He then adds, “So, the better I got at blues, the more I started to appreciate all these great Bollywood songs that I knew growing up as a kid, but had no idea that they were inspired by American music.”

It’s a fascinating boomerang effect — and you can hear it yourself, in this video by Vicki Wong:

AKI KUMAR and band - "Eena Meena Deeka" at Little Village Foundation benefit - Berkeley, CA
                 Aki Goes To Bollywood available at iTunes.
Buy Now

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Hear the music
Feel the community

See more:

Donate To Little Village Foundation
Copyright © 2016 Little Village Foundation, All rights reserved.
We are friends.Our mailing address is:

Little Village Foundation

606 Alamo Pintado Road

Solvang, CA 93463

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