In preparation for today’s show (two days before Veteran’s Day), I made an attempt to identify New Orleans musicians who had served in the military so I could play them to start off my show. Go ahead and click the podcast so you can listen while you finish reading this.
I did not find a source of information that was comprehensive so my list of New Orleans musicians who are veterans is far from comprehensive. If you know of one that I missed, please let me know. I’ll be happy to include them in a future recognition.
Saxophonist Herb Hardesty served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
Herb Hardesty, long-time saxophonist for Fats Domino but also had a solo career, signed up with the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. While playing with the Army band, Hardesty learned to play the saxophone (he had been playing trumpet). He served in World War II as part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen (99th Flying Squadron). I do not possess any of his solo work, so I played Domino’s When My Dreamboat Comes Home which features two fine solos by Hardesty.
Like Hardesty, guitarist Edgar Blanchard was stationed in Europe during World War II before coming back to form the Gondoliers and be the bandleader at the Dew Drop Inn. I played his Stepping High recorded in the Cosimo Matassa studio in honor of his service.
Paul Gayten led an Army Band in Biloxi for his military service before migrating to New Orleans and kicking off his musical career. Arguably his greater accomplishment was his work as an A&R man for Chess Records but my show has him singing Just One More Chance.
Lloyd Price’s music career was interrupted when drafted and sent to Korea.
Lloyd Price had five top 10 R&B hits under his belt including the number 1 song Lawdy Miss Clawdy when he got drafted and sent to Korea in 1954.
In an interview with Bill Forman of the Colorado Springs Independent, Price argued that the military draft policies were racist, applied disproportionately on Black Americans. “I never was supposed to go because I was my family’s sole supporter, and it was against the law to take more than four boys from the same family.”
By the time he returned, the field had gotten more crowded with singers like Little Richard. But he bounced back with hits like Stagger Lee and Personality and later he started his own record label. On the show, I play his 1953 song, Tell Me Pretty Baby.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Al Hirt was a bugler in Army during World War II. He plays Diga Diga Doo on today’s show which would have been a much cooler way to wake up soldiers than Reveille. I also play songs by Dale Hawkins and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown to recognize their service. And I finish with “Working in the Coal Mine” by Lee Dorsey who spent World War II in the Navy before starting his music career in New Orleans.
Two other NOLA performers who didn’t make it in the show but have military service are Ellis Marsalis and Ernest Joseph “Tabby” Thomas.
Today’s show also features a lot of other great music and two more clips from my interview Irvin Mayfield and Kermit Ruffins including one where Ruffins demonstrates the differences in brass band beats by banging on the bar at his Mother-in-Law Lounge on Claiborne.