Lightnin' Wells Press Kit

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Lightnin' Wells
Acoustic Folk Blues
Fountain, NC

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Photo courtesy of Augusta Heritage Center.

Mike "Lightnin'" Wells breathes new life into the vintage tunes of the 1920s and depression era America employing various appropriate stringed instruments in a dynamic style which he has developed in over 50 years of performing experience. Raised in eastern North Carolina, Wells learned to play harmonica as a young child and taught himself to play the guitar as he developed a strong interest in traditional blues and folk music. His many years of public performance began in Chapel Hill, N.C. in the early 1970s. During the following decades he has presented his brand of acoustic blues throughout North Carolina, the United States and Europe.

Lightnin' Wells produced the first commercial recordings of second-generation N.C. blues veterans Big Boy Henry, Algia Mae Hinton and George Higgs. He has traveled and performed extensively with these musicians and has documented their backgrounds and musical histories for future generations. He is also a life-long student and devotee of the pioneering performers in the piedmont blues tradition which once thrived in the Carolinas, including such artists as Blind Boy Fuller, Rev. Gary Davis and Elizabeth Cotton; deceased musicians whose influence seems only to grow with time.

His first solo recording Bull Frog Blues established his blues credentials while his sophomore effort Ragtime Millionaire strengthened his association with the Carolina-piedmont style of blues. His third release Ragged But Right stretched out to explore more facets of American folk music including old-time, country, jazz, ragtime, and early popular music as well as piedmont style blues selections.

The year 2008 saw two new Lightnin' Wells CD releases. Shake 'Em on Down was recorded on the west coast of the U.S. and features solo acoustic renditions of piedmont and delta blues with selections from the American old-time country and popular-music catalogs for added variety. Jump Little Children: Old Songs for Young Folks was designed with the younger listener in mind. These remastered home recordings offer a wide variety of American roots music including children's favorites, blues, folk tunes, old-time music and vaudeville. In 2017, Lightnin' released O Lightnin' Where Art Thou?, which was recorded at a state-of-the-art recording studio near Bremen, Germany. It has received outstanding reviews and stands as further testament to his skills as a modern interpreter of the older songs and musical stylings.

Lightnin' remains an insatiable student and researcher, studying the various forms of American roots music from bygone eras. He plays a number of instruments besides the guitar including the harmonica, ukulele, mandolin and banjo. He has taught blues guitar at most of the leading "Blues Weeks" sponsored by universities and teaching organizations throughout the country. He served for ten years as a board member for the Music Maker Relief Foundation which assists elderly blues and old-time musicians to meet their basic needs and continues to serve this organization in an advisory capacity. He has been included in the North Carolina Arts Council's Touring Artist Roster program and the American Traditions National Roster through the Southern Arts Federation.

With his experience, knowledge and well-honed performance skills, Lightnin' Wells has established himself at the forefront of the traditional blues revival. His musical style is personal and energetic yet remains true to the original root form. His goal is to entertain and educate using a variety of sources, influences and techniques to express his dedication, respect and pleasure in presenting this unique American art form. Noted musician and radio personality Paul Brown recently described Lightnin' Wells' musical prresentation as "somethiing that's sincere and real, in a way that precious litte performance is nowadays." Another reviewer noted, "Whether you look for to performers for inspiration, education, virtuosity, or sheer entertainment, Lightnin' Wells delivers all the above, every single time".

Performance Highlights

Festivals and Concerts

Acoustic Blues Festival, Lutherhaus, Osnabrück, Germany, 2008, 2009

Archie Edwards Barber Shop, MD, 2015

Augusta Heritage Center Blues Week, Davis and Elkins College, Elkins, WV, 1998, 2010, 2011, 2017-2020

Blue Ridge Music Center, Galax, VA, 2012, 2013

Blues Al Femmenile for Centro Jazz Torino, Turin, Piedmont Region, Italy, 1998

Blues to Bop Festival, Lugano, Switzerland, 1998

Blues Cruise, Greenwood, SC, 2009

Bull Durham Blues Festival, Durham, NC, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2000

Cape Fear Blues Festival, Wilmington, NC, 2003-2005

Carolina Blues Festival, Greensboro, NC, 1989

Centrum's Country Blues & Heritage Festival, Port Townsend, WA, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2003-2017, 2019, 2020

Charlotte Folk Frolic, Charlotte, NC, 2002

Chestnut Creek Center, Galax, VA, 2016

Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago, IL, 2000

City Stage, Greensboro, NC, 1999

Clearwater Festival, Beacon, NY, 1994

Danville Community College, Danville, VA, 2005

Down East Festival, Rocky Mount, NC, 2005, 2008

Down East Folk Arts Society, Folk Concert Series, New Bern and Beaufort, NC, 2005, 2008, 2016

Down Home Blues Festival, Camden, SC, 2009, 2011, 2016

Dusty Strings Piedmont Blues and Ukulele Workshop, Seattle, WA, 2003

Edgecombe Community College Concert Series, Keihin Auditorium, Tarboro, NC

Eisenhower Hall Concert, West Point Academy, West Point, NY, 1981

Festival for the Eno, Durham, NC, 1981-2020

Fiddle and Bow Society, Greensboro, NC, 2013, 2017, 2020

Fifth Annual Acoustic Blues Revival, Thomas Nelson Community College, Hampton, VA, 2006

Finley and Friends Benefit for Public Radio, East Craven County Community College, 2010

Gaston County Public Library, Gastonia, NC, 2003, 2005, 2010

Gathering of the Vibes, Mariaville, NY, 2002

German Tour, October-November, 2015, 2017

Grove Park Inn, Presentation for Our State Magazine, Asheville, NC, 2006

Guitar Camp, Durham, NC, 2014, 2019

Guilford College Folk Roots Concert, Greensboro, NC, 1999

Guitar Intensive, Bar Harbour, ME, 2013

High Point Theater, High Point, NC, 2001

International Folk Festival, Fayetteville, NC, 2008

Jazzkeller, Frankfurt, Germany, 2008, 2009

Jones House, Boone, NC, 2016

Kent State Folk Festival, Kent, OH, 1988

Kerrville Folk Festival-Kerrville Blues Project, Kerrville, TX, 1993

Labadoux Festival, Inglemunster, Belgium, 1996

Lincoln Center Gospel & Blues Festival, NY, 1988

Lowcountry Blues Bash, Charleston, SC, 1992, 2012

Merlefest, North Wilkesboro, NC, 2003, 2004, 2010

Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, Davenport, IA, 2001

Moulin Blues Festival, Ospel, Holland, 1996

Music in the Park, Thomasville, NC, 1999, 2000

Nancy's Farm, Bellingham, WA, 2003, 2004

North Carolina Festival, High Point, NC, 2006

North Carolina History Center, New Bern, NC, 2010, 2012

North Carolina Seafood Festival, Morehead City, NC, 2006, 2007

Paramount Theater for the Arts, Bristol, TN, 2002

Pee Dee Blues Bash, Florence, SC, 2011

Penn's Landing Concert, Philadelphia, PA, 1984

Pepsi Heritage Festival, New Bern, NC, 1999

Pinewoods Camp, American Music and Dance Week, Plymouth, MA, 2000

Pleasure Island Seafood Blues and Jazz Festival, Fort Fisher, NC, 2008

Poconos Blues Festival, Jim Thorpe, PA, 2001

Pop Ferguson Festival, Lenoir, NC, 2014

Portland, Oregon Tour, January 2017

Portsmouth Blues Festival, Portsmouth, NH, 2002, 2003

Roots of American Music Week, Mars Hill College, Mars Hill, NC, 2019, 2020

Roots 'N Rhythm Festival, Bristol, TN, 2006

Shakori Hills Grass Roots Festival, Silk Hope, NC, 2003-2005, 2007, 2010, 2014

Showcase-American Traditions/Southern Arts Exchange, Tampa, FL, 1999

Six String Cafe, Cary, NC, 2004, 2010

Summit Festival, Mariaville, NY, 2001

Sunday in the Park, Beaufort, SC, 2002

Sundays in the Park, Wake Forest, NC, 2000, 2001

Swannanoah Gathering Blues Week, Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC, 1994, 1995

Swannanoah Gathering Old-Time Week, Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC, 2012, 2013, 2018

Telfair Museum, Savannah, GA, 2001

The Club, Roanoke, VA, 2003

Public House, Port Townsend, WA, 2003

University of the Ozarks, Clarksville, AR, 2016

University of Tennessee, Chatttanooga, TN, 2002

Warehouse Blues Music Series, Durham, NC, 2006-2008

Wheatland Festival, Remus, MI, 1990

Schools and Education

Blessed Sacrament School, Burlington, NC, day event, 2004

Blues In The Schools, Ottawa, Canada, two-week residency, 2003

Blues Journey, Jacksonville Public Library, Jacksonville, NC, 2010

Boys/Girls Club, Lexington, NC, day event, 1999

Cameron University, Lawton, OK, three-day residency and performance, 2006

Chocowinity Middle School, Chocowinity, NC, day event, 2003

Davidson County Community College, Lexington, NC, 1998, 1999

Duke Middle School, Durham, NC, day event, 1999

Grant Street Elementary School, Port Townsend, WA, day event, 2003

Hawbridge School, Saxapahaw, NC, 2007

Lenoir County Public Library, Kinston, NC

N.C. Assoc. For The Advancement Of Teachers, Pinehurst, NC, two-day retreat, 1999, 2009

N.C. Museum Of History, Raleigh, NC, day event, 2004

Quincy Art School, Durham, NC, day event, 1999

Raleigh Charter School, SOOTS program Fat Tuesday, Raleigh, NC, 2010-2012, 2014-2016

Rolesville Elementary School, Rolesville, NC, 2007

Surrey County Public Schools, Mt. Airy, NC, two-day event, 2004

Third Street School, Greenville, NC, day event, 2004

Triangle Day School, Durham, NC, 2007

Wahl-Coates School, Greenville, NC, 2005

Washougal High School, Washougal, WA, one-week residency, 2004


Bull Frog Blues (New Moon 9507) 1995

Ragtime Millionaire (New Moon 9820) 1998

Ragged But Right (Music Maker 26) 2002

Shake 'Em on Down (Lignite Records) 2008

Jump Little Children: Old Songs for Young Folks 2008

O Lightnin' Where Art Thou?, Blind Lemon Records, BLR-1701, Ganderkesee, Germany, 2017

Featured on Shoo Fly: An Audio Magazine For Children (Vol. 2, No. 1) 1995

Featured on The American Fogies Vol. 2, compilation of recent American folk music (Rounder 0389) 1996

Featured on Kent Cooper: The Blues And Other Songs Vol. 1 (Labor 7036-2) 2002

Featured on Kent Cooper: The Blues And Other Songs Vol. 2 (Labor 7004) 2004

Featured on SOOTS Series Vol. 7, "Lightnin' Wells Live at the Love House Nov. 5, 2010," 2010

Featured on Pink and Mr. Floyd: A Tribute to Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, 2011

Featured on Best of UNC's Back Porch Music Vol. 17, 2014

Featured on Blind Lemon's Uke Party, Blind Lemon Records, BLR-1802, Ganderkesee, Germany, 2018


Big Boy Henry, "Mr. President," 45 rpm (Audio Arts, Greenville, N.C. 1983) #7 WC Handy Award, Best Blues Single (Reissued on JEMF LP Work's Many Voices, vol. 1, 1986)

Big Boy Henry, Mr. Ball's Warehouse, EP (Audio Arts, 1985) #9 WC Handy Award, Best Blues Single

Vintage Soundtrack, Pitch a Boogie Woogie, EP (Lord-Warner Pictures, Greenville, N.C. 1947 and Audio Arts, 1986)

Algia Mae Hinton, Piedmont Blues Traditions, EP (Audio Arts, 1986)

Big Boy Henry, Strut His Stuff, LP (Swing Master 2117, The Netherlands, 1988): produced one album side and performed on four cuts

Big Boy Henry, Poor Man's Blues, (New Moon 9508) 1995, co-produced and performed on release

Algia Mae Hinton, Honey Babe: Blues, Folk Tunes and Gospel from North Carolina (Hin-Tone 82929) 1996

Big Boy Henry, Beaufort Blues (Music Maker 27) 2002: co-produced and performed on release


Arranged and performed original score of traditional blues For Sam Shepard's A Lie Of The Mind, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL, March-May 1987

Performed musical score for Quilters, East Carolina University Summer Theater, 1993

Music for Dark Of The Moon, East Carolina University, 1996

Performed blues music for dramatic presentation for "Richard Wright Celebration," Memorial Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 2008

Performed original blues music for Phedre's Blues, The Process Series for new works in development, Gerard Hall, UNC campus, Chapel Hill, NC, 2010

Professional Organizations

Blues Music Association, Memphis, TN

Board Of Directors, Music Makers Relief Foundation Hillsborough, NC, 1995-2005
Currently on the Advisory Board

Touring Artist Roster, North Carolina Arts Council, 2005-2009

United Arts Council Wake County, N.C. Community Outreach Program and Public School Program, 2005-2009


"A Ten Year Retrospective" -- text for "A Guide Through North Carolina Blues," Bull Durham Blues Festival, 1997 Hayti Heritage Center, Durham, NC

"Tar Heel Tunes: North Carolina Recording And Record Production," North Carolina Literary Review, East Carolina University, 2000

Honey Babe, Algia Mae Hinton, liner notes (Music Maker/Cello 91005-2), 2000

Music Makers - Portraits And Songs From the Roots Of America edited by Timothy Duffy, Hill Street Press, Athens, GA, 2002: wrote chapters on Algia Mae Hinton and George Higgs

Tarboro Blues, George Higgs, liner notes (Music Maker 19), 2001

"North Carolina Recording Industry" in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, edited by William S. Powell of North Carolina Press, 2006 (pp. 951-953)

"George Higgs and the Bull City Blues" in Tar Heel Junior Historian, Creative North Carolina, produced by The North Carolina Museum Of History, Fall 2009

Wrote liner notes for That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 31: Rockabilly & Rocknroll from the Vaults of Colonial Records, Bear Family BCD 17567, August, 2018

Wrote lineer notes for That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 33: Rockabilly & Rocknroll from the Vaults of Renown and Hornet Records, Bear Family BCD 17589, February, 2020

Performance Review Quotes

"Lightnin' Wells is an enigma and a wonder. When you hear him, you hear the old Piedmont blues players speaking through him. You hear ragtime, early jazz, old-time banjo songs, harmonica, stories of the road. More than anything, you hear something that's sincere and real, in a way that precious little music performance is nowadays. There's no varnish here, just the unvarnished truth expressed through a deep and good-humored soul." -- Paul Brown, American journalist, radio personality and banjo player, 2020.

"Taps into an authenticity of sound that escapes most performers" -- Tom Morris, The Daily Reflector

"He seems to have an endless supply of words in his head to sing. He puts these elements together with confidence and flair. Wells does full justice to the expressive traditions he carries on". -- Bill Newton, Durham Morning Herald

"He proved to all that Big Boy Henry's assessment of him is correct: that is the best white boy in the business doing this type of music. Lightnin' does it from the heart". -- Ogi Overman, Piedmont Blues Preservation Society Newsletter

"A veritable bottomless pit of songs and techniques. Wells should be declared a state resource, placed on the endangered species list, and given his own habitat to practice his craft." -- Bob Burtman, Spectator Magazine

'"Fine, Hard Blues!" -- Anthony Alder, Chicago Reader

"Lightnin' plays a wider variety of blues and boogie in one evening than most radio stations cover in an entire series" -- Rebecca Newton, Triax Magazine

"Whether you look to performers for inspiration, education, virtuosity, or sheer entertainment, Lightnin' Wells delivers all of the above, every single time." -- Cliff Nelson, R.A. Fountain General Store

CD Review Quotes

O Lightnin' Where Art Thou?

What a fantastic album, a modern American Songbook. -- Danny Dudek, The Piedmont Report

Mike "Lightnin'" Wells brings traditions together in his entertaining, informative and down-home one-man shows. His latest album, titled O Lightnin' Where Art Thou?, displays his range as never before as he plays and sings his way through songs from early country and bluegrass to blues, gospel, and old time mountain music. -- Brian McHenry

Lightnin' Wells' new CD, O Lightnin' Where Art Thou?, is a masterful collection of familiar tunes, by one of the world's most knowledgable and skilled folk musicians. Intricate playing combined with a warm singing voice leaves the listener with feelings that memory lane is a new and hip place to be. While the songs are familiar, Lightnin' adds his own flavor and renews lost and obscure lyrics. -- Julie Amani, Director of Operations, Shakori Hills Community Arts Center; Coordinator, Hoppin' John Fiddlers' Convention

When all is said and sung, the answer is simple: Wells is right here in tune and fine form playing and singing the old songs as a link from the first decades of recorded music to those of us who find wisdom in the songs and lessons of yore. -- Jack Bernhardt, The News and Observer, May 7, 2017

Congratulations, my friend. If Jack Bernhardt sez it, you can take it to the bank. He gets it! -- Clyde Mattocks, musician and producer

Wells is one of the best, albeit unsung, roots and blues songsters in the land. This lovely little album proves it by its breathtaking virtuosity. His roots blues is thrilling. By the time you come to the closing of this gem of an album you know you just listened to a real master: a deeply affecting player. Stunningly beautiful stuff! -- Frank Matheis, Living Blues, October 2017

Shake 'Em On Down Review Quotes

Hearing Lightnin' Wells playing such a variety of music and styles from the pre-WWII era, one realizes the vast repertoire he has gleaned from old 78 rpm's and fellow musicians over his almost four-decade career. The man is a walking, talking, singing, playing encyclopedia of the roots of roots music so often taken for granted. You won't find a more versitile musician around -- able to move deftly between country blues, old-time banjo, and novelty tunes with a single pluck. Lightnin' Wells channels the past on Shake 'Em On Down -- one that deserves a larger following in the present. -- Mark Coltrain, Living Blues, Issue #199 Vol. 40 #1 2009

Fans of Dave Van Ronk, John Hammond, and even the Grateful Dead will enjoy this one. Blind Boy Fuller is smiling somewhere. -- Gvon T, Sing Out!, Vol. 52 No. 4 2009

Lightnin' Wells' new CD, Shake Em' On Down, is fantastic. The order of songs, quality, and mixing are superb. Lightnin's voice is rich and clear and his playing is excellent. And there is tremendous beauty in the simplicity and clarity of listening to single instruments as played by Lightnin' on this CD, including banjo, guitar, ukulele, and harmonica. The songs are for the most part classic country blues and I don't think I will ever tire of hearing them as played and sung by Lightnin'. -- Jan M. (Internet)

I've been listening to the Lighnin' Wells in the car all afternoon. Damn! Of the, now three, CDs of his (maybe he has more?), this is, hands down, the best. This is #%&*+! awesome. -- Mike (Internet)

Greetings, Lightnin' -- from a fan in Sweden. I really enjoy your music -- it's in a great tradition, but with your own personality stamped on it. -- Peter D. (Internet)

Wow! Awesome! Man you really hit a home run with this new CD, it's just great all the way through. What a real treat and pleasure to listen to. You should be really pleased and satisfied with this work. -- Johnny B. (Internet)

This is one of my favorite albums of the year. I'm already familiar with all of these songs and even play quite a few of them myself, and yet it was almost like I was hearing completely new songs for the first time. Wells has the ability to bring something of himself to each song. He adheres to and preserves tradition, while maintaining his own individuality. I guess that's about the highest compliment I can pay any musician. As long as people are making albums like this, then traditional styles are in no danger of becoming a "museum piece," but will remain a living art form. -- Mike B. (Internet)

Ragged But Right Review Quotes

"His vibrant, good-natured vocals and melody-rich guitar playing recall the sounds of the 30s and 40s string bands and barrelhouse bluesmen. Songs like Rainbow and Lost Lover Blues just seem to float in the air". -- Gvon T., Sing Out!

"Lightnin' Wells has put out a really strong C.D. here, with an unusually varied program of songs and tunes from a variety of genres. It is really a pleasure to hear a C.D. that could only have been done by the person who made it. Congratulations are due to Lightnin' Wells for a great job and an excellent C.D." -- John M. Miller, The Old-Time Herald

"Happy-Go-Lucky piedmont blues at its best. There's something so honest about this style, it's hard not to enjoy. Whether your tastes run from acoustic blues, to country, to Americana and roots to folk. 'Ragged But Right" is a sure pleaser." -- Karen Karsten, Sound Waves Magazine

"Regardless of the song, and whether he's playing the banjo-uke, harmonica or his more familiar guitar, Wells sounds utterly at ease with his music and conveys his enthusiasm to the listener." -- Jim DeKoster, Living Blues

Ragtime Millionaire Review Quotes

"His deft, danceable guitar and amiable, unaffected singing capture all of the genre's special appeal." -- Peter R. Aschoff, Living Blues

"Wells is doing the blues community a great service by keeping songs like these alive. If you're a fan of acoustic blues you will absolutely love this recording." -- Bill Harriman, Sound Waves

"With his second album, Lightnin' Wells can clearly lay claim to the title 'King Of The Piedmont Bluesmen.' This C.D. is highly recommended." -- Elliott Crews, Up and Coming Magazine

"With consummate talent, clean recording and one of the best rounded collections of Piedmont blues around, this recording should be winning awards." -- Bruce E. Baker, Dirty Linen Magazine

"A fine display of acoustic blues and vocals from a style that deserves more attention. An important recording." -- The Critical Review

"A performer who exemplifies the best in Piedmont style, Lightnin' Wells' approach is so casual you fail to notice his perfection and complexity." -- Michael Raab, The Beat

"Piedmont blues at its finest. Wells fingerpicks and sings like he's channeling the spirit of Blind Boy Fuller." -- Magnet

"This acoustic guitarist, who may be the premier Piedmont blues musician today, solos on Ragtime Millionaire. Simple and clean, touched by the blues, yet tinged with happiness." -- Annette Thompson, Southern Living

Bull Frog Blues Review Quotes

"This is goodtime music and Wells doesn't let his scholarly knowledge of it get in the way of the fun. His relaxed vocals and spirited National steel guitar, mandolin and guitar playing are perfectly suited to the bouncy ragtime feel of the music." -- Sing out! - Bethlehem, Pa.

"This C.D. is a colorful collection of old acoustic tunes and one of the best acoustic blues recordings I've ever heard. His love of this music is evident on every song on the disc". -- Bill Harriman, Sound Waves Magazine, Mystic, Conn.

" All of the tunes demonstrate the subtlety of a very knowledgeable and talented musician. Best listened to on a Saturday afternoon on the back porch with iced tea or other whistle wetters." -- Doug Cox, Music City Newsletter, Tenn.

"Blues and rags of the 20s and 30s done by a modern, down-home Piedmont interpreter who can really pick." -- Blues Access, Boulder, Col.

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