Alumni Spotlight: Reed Turchi – Music, Mississippi and More

Recently we had a chance to catch up with Reed Turchi ’12. Reed was an American Studies major with a concentration in Southern Studies and a minor in Entrepreneurship. His 2010 SURF project, “Documenting the Younger Generation of Hill County Musicians,” is one component of his consistent focus on music and musicians and has led to a number of other musical endeavors. Reed founded his own record label, Devil Down Records, to release music from the Southern Folklife Collection and draw attention to some of the North Mississippi blues musicians he recorded during his SURF summer. His band TURCHI has been actively touring this year and they are prolific; the band released an album in March, with a new album coming out in July, and they’ll be in the studio in August to finish up yet another album. And, Reed is director of the Ardent Music label at Ardent Studios in Memphis.

Reed credits Professor Bill Ferris with nurturing his interest in North Mississippi blues music, as well as encouraging him to apply for a SURF. In addition to providing Reed with the funding for his summer in Mississippi, having the SURF enhanced his credibility and helped him get face time with the musicians he wanted to meet, learn from and record. Reed recorded performances at the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, a music festival whose goal is to “enhance appreciation and educate the general public about the native art form of North Mississippi Hill Country blues music through performance, preservation, and interpretation.” This recording turned into a Devil Down album, and the connections and relationships Reed formed in Mississippi have led to other albums.Reed Turchi photo

Reed’s SURF summer also provided a conduit to his current position at Ardent.  While in Mississippi he met Mary Lindsay Dickinson, mother of the North Mississippi Allstars. Her husband, legendary Memphis producer and musician Jim Dickinson, spent part of his career at Ardent Studios in the heyday of the Memphis blues scene. Mary Lindsay connected Reed to the folks at Ardent and he interned there the summer after his SURF research. Ardent hired him the day after his 2012 graduation. Reed is especially pleased that the first album wholly conceived of and completed since he became director of the Ardent Music will be released in late July; in the fall he’ll be working with three other bands that are cutting albums. Reed notes that his accomplishments with Devil Down Records in creating low-budget albums that garnered a lot of positive press and reviews led to Ardent’s interest in having him revive their label, which hadn’t been fully operational since the 90s. In the future he may transition Devil Down into an Ardent imprint to leverage his skills and success producing low-budget, low-fi albums featuring blues artists.

In his current whirlwind of activity, Reed spends one week each month in Memphis and otherwise lives out of his van while on the road with TURCHI. He’s particularly excited about a July showcase for the Oxford American magazine in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to TURCHI’s performance, Danny Nowell ’11, a fellow musician and Southern Studies major, will be writing an article on the band for the OA website and print edition.

Reed was the catalyst in creating the Sound of the South undergraduate award, which provides funding for a student wishing to record and work with musicians involved in any style or genre of southern music during the summer, and told us it might be the thing he’s “happiest about.” During his senior year, Reed worked with Ken Weiss – one of the instructors in his entrepreneurship minor — and pulled together folks from Southern Studies, Folklore and Music to develop the award. In the fall of 2011, Drucie French ’71 ’78 hosted the initial fundraiser, which garnered enough money to endow the award and fund one student each year. Reed’s goal is to increase the endowment so that it funds two students annually. One award will continue to be dedicated to undergraduate students and the second award might go to either an undergraduate or a graduate student. The recordings produced by the award winners are housed in the Sounds of the South archive at UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection. They might also be used by Southern Cultures, an award-winning quarterly which has published several issues focused on Southern music. The recordings that have been done so far are “pretty stunning,” according to Reed. The 2012 award recipient was Kaitlyn Vogt, who recorded musicians participating in an old time music jam at the Haw River Ballroom at Saxapahaw, NC. The inaugural award went to James Finnegan, who recorded Lumbee shape note singers in Robeson County, NC.

We asked Reed if he had any advice for current undergraduate researchers and he gave an emphatic “yes.” Students should definitely apply for SURF, he said, even if you feel like your idea is “way out of line” with what other folks are doing. Reed hadn’t even heard of SURF and only applied after Bill Ferris told him about it and suggested he apply.

Interested in learning more?  Reed’s band, TURCHI, will be performing at the Pinhook in Durham on June 6, at Motorco in Durham on July 21, and at the Crunkleton in Chapel Hill on July 22.