New Orleans blues a mix of mystery and minstrel

If you’re a sucker for a good mystery like I am, then you might appreciate the story of Kid Stormy Weather. That is, what little of the story we know. (Here’s the podcast of my radio show that goes with this story.)

We know that Edmond Joseph, recorded two songs on October 17, 1935 with Vocalion records, apparently at a mobile recording unit in Jackson Mississippi.  Those two songs are the only tangible evidence of Kid Stormy Weather’s musical career. The rest is more legend than record.

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Professor Longhair apparently cited Kid Stormy Weather as an influence on his piano style

Professor Longhair apparently cited the barrelhouse pianist as an influence. Henry Roeland Boyd was 17 years old in 1935, just the right impressionable age to be sneaking into the South Rampart honky-tonks that Kid Stormy Weather allegedly inhabited. But we just don’t know where the “Kid” came from, when he died or how he became an influence on the unique, fluid piano style of Professor Longhair.

In the two sides he recorded, “Short Hair Blues” and “Bread and Water Blues,” his quick hands are on display but its also apparent that the recording unit only captured a taste of his talent. Unless there is an oral history out there not available on the Internet,  Edmond “Kid Stormy Weather” Joseph’s story may very well be lost to history.

We know more about other New Orleans blues artists though. Two that I’ll be focusing on with this week’s show (along with Kid Stormy Weather) are performers who performed early in their careers in minstrel shows.

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Lizzie Miles

While Lizzie Miles, born Elizabeth Mary Landreaux, didn’t think of herself as a blues singer, her early recordings were most definitely in that genre. Born in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans in 1895, she initially worked with jazz pioneers King Oliver, Kid Ory and Bunk Johnson before they had migrated to Chicago. She then toured with minstrel shows through the south eventually performing in Chicago, and Europe and recording with Jelly Roll Morton in New York. And like many New Orleans musicians, she found her way home near the end of her life, dying in 1963. I’ll be playing “I Hate a Man Like You” on this week’s show.

Creole George Guesnon played banjo and guitar and was prolific song writer. .  He got his first big break playing with Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra. The next year, he replaced Danny Barker in Willie Pajaud’s orchestra. He performed with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and found his way to New York, recording with Decca and living briefly with Jelly Roll Morton. He served with the Merchant Marines during World War II and then returned to New Orleans performing with Kid Thomas and showing up regularly at the new performance space at the time, Preservation Hall. He died in 1968 and was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. I’ll be playing his “Graveyard Love Blues” on this week’s show. Hope you can join me.

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Your 2016 New Orleans Music Buying Guide – Part Two

So much great music, I couldn’t put it all in one post so here’s part two. (Check out 2016 Part 1)  As you will quickly notice, there is no order to my lists. The only rule is I only list music from New Orleans (and nearby locales) I play on my show.  Like the following:

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Corey Henry

Corey Henry  I’ve been waiting for Lapeitah, Henry’s debut solo album, ever since I heard “Boe Money” the song that carries his nickname on Galactic’s 2010 Ya Ka May release.  Henry’s powerful trombone and songwriting mix of funk, R&B, soul and hip hop creates the experience I associate with the music I hear at New Orleans nightclubs. It’s no coincidence that Henry and his Treme Funket was the undisputed heir apparent of Kermit Ruffins legendary Thursday spot at Vaughn’s. Lapeitah does an excellent job of putting you in that Ninth Ward club with him.

The New Orleans Suspects Just as you would not want to ever miss a live performance of the New Orleans Suspects, you should not go without possessing their fourth album–and second one with original songs.  Kaleidoscoped delivers eight original numbers that makes me miss New Orleans and the original grooves that these journeymen musicians produce.

Kenny Neal – Bloodline  hooks you from  the opening number “Ain’t Gon Let the Blues Die.” And the rest of the album holds true to the promise. Nominated for best contemporary blues album grammy, this 2016 release is a full nod toward the amazing support this successful blues artist has received from his family members, who back him up on vocals and instruments throughout the album.

Bobby Rush – Porcupine Meat just scored Rush’s fourth grammy nomination– this time for best traditional blues album. Though he lives in Mississippi by way of Chicago and his birthplace Homer, La., this release is actually the first one that the 83-year-old  blues veteran has recorded in New Orleans and some cool folks stop by to help out, such as Cornell Williams (bass), Kirk Joseph (sousaphone),  Shane Theriot (guitar), and David Torkanowsky (keyboards). Be sure to cue up and listen to “Funk O De Funk.”

misssophieukeMiss Sophie Lee Nightclub owner Sophie Lee returns to the recording studio with Traverse the UniverseShe has a sweet voice and her band does a nice turn with the handful of standards on the album but its her original songs, particularly her title track, that had me reaching for it to play regularly on my show.

Jeff Chaz – Chaz and his trio are hardworking blues musicians who can be seen regularly playing on Frenchmen Street and the French Quarter. He put out two releases this year: Sounds Like the Blues to Me and The Silence is Killing Me. Both are solid blues albums with numbers like “Fried Chicken Store” and “Savin’ Everything for You.” The latter release offers a holiday tune as well – “Merry Christmas to You.”

Herlin Riley A regular with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Riley can be a straight up jazz drummer but there’s no question where his roots lie. As he says: “As a boy growing up in New Orleans, way before you heard that big bass drum in the street parades, you could feel it coming from four or five blocks away, and it would literally beckon you to come on down to the street, check out this music, and participate in it. ” Riley jazzes it up on New Directions  but by the time you get to his hip version of Tutti Ma, you will like the direction he’s headed.

Dr. John –    Recorded in 2014 in the historic Saenger Theater on Canal Street in New Orleans, The Musical Mojo of Dr. John offers two discs of many of New Orleans elite such as Irma Thomas, Cyril and Aaron Neville, Anders Osborne, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Zigaboo Modeliste and Dave Malone,  paired with familiar outsiders like Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Chuck Leavell, and Mavis Staples. With the venerable Mac Rebennak (Dr. John) in the middle, how can you not be satisfied wit dat package!

Smoky Greenwell – Another visiting musician who came to the city for a gig and stayed a lifetime, Greenwell has been cranking out the blues in New Orleans for 35 years and his last two releases are arguably his best.  I particularly like it when he puts down his harmonica and reaches for his saxophone on South Louisiana Blues.

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Gina Forsyth

Gina Forsyth – This New Orleans-based musician is wickedly good on fiddle and guitar. Yea, you don’t expect this type of music in New Orleans. So what.  Copper Rooster and Other Tunes and Tales provides a dozen and a half smile inducing old timey numbers that will have you reaching for the play again button.

Mark and the Pentones This blues trio, fronted by guitarist Mark Penton, may be one of the best reasons to stumble down Bourbon Street. Currently anchoring the swing shift at Funky Pirate Blues Club on Fridays and Saturdays, the Pentones released its debut album, Don’t Leave Nothin Behind late last year with some subtle surprises among the 11 tracks. I particularly like “Jodie,” “Too Many Second Lines” and “I B Cing You.”

Keith Stone –  The Prodigal Returns is the aptly named debut album of a native New Orleanian who sowed some wild oats in the 90’s as an area blues guitarist, settled down to be a minister in Kentucky and then came back home after Hurricane Katrina. The album features playful piano, strong guitar licks, and a solid horn arrangements. If you’re a dislocated NOLA homeboy feeling the tug of that big magnet at the end of the Mississippi River, this album will talk to you.

Louisiana Soul Revival Featuring Doug Duffey  Okay, I’ve wandered all the way up to Monroe, La. to grab this one. But all’s fair if the music is great.  From the distinctive bass line opening of “Funky Bidneh” to the inviting saxophone on its last track “Love Into My Life”, this band’s debut release has a full sound that puts you front and center of your own Soul Revival.

Anders OsborneThis prolific musician, songwriter, and producer released two albums this year. Spacedust and Ocean Views  and Flower Box.  My station didn’t get Flower Box  (that happens but don’t let it happen to your album) and I almost missed Spacedust because the music director justifiably placed it in our Folk, Country and Bluegrass shelf. I love his voice and his songs and I don’t care what shelf I have to check, I’ll be regularly reaching for his music to play on my show.

toussaintAllen Toussaint – This one breaks my heart. A year after his death, I still grieve. American Tunes is his last studio album, released this year posthumously. There’s little between you and Toussaint other than his piano, a drummer and bass. He doesn’t even sing except on a Paul Simon cover– though others do. As I listento him run through Big Chief , he’s in the room with me, playing the piano, with his leather sandal and sock clad feet working the pedals.

Now don’t forget that you can catch my show on a live stream at http://www.kaosradio.org every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon Pacific Coast Time and I serve up podcasts of past shows as well.   Also, you here’s part 1 of this post.

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Your 2016 New Orleans Music Buying Guide – Part One

Here’s this year’s survey of New Orleans music releases that deserve your attention. This is music I played on my radio show Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  (By the way, so many release, here’s Part Two )

Eric LindellWhen I listen to Matters of the Heart, I imagine an artist on a serious Zoloft high. When I first started playing this CD on KAOS, it seemed liked every track bubbled over with happy feelings and love. But there’s deep stuff as well on this release that harken back to Lindell’s blues days. This is a strong release that just makes me wish even more he would break out of his habit of only touring sunny places and get his happy butt up to the Northwest.

Honey Island Swamp Band When Hurricane Katrina stirred a serious dose of New Orleans talent into our national musical melting pot, four New Orleans musicians found themselves in San Francisco and formed this band. Demolition Day is its second full-length album and the first recorded in New Orleans — under the direction of North Mississippi All-Stars Luther Dickinson, who also co-produced Lindell’s release.  The CD captures the essence of the band’s jam band live personae while delivering tight singular songs that define the band’s self-described genre “Bayou Americana.”

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John “Papa” Gros

John “Papa” Gros –  After  over a dozen years fronting Papa Grows Funk, which anchored the Monday slot at the famed Maple Leaf Bar, this standout keyboardist has produced a solo release that reflects the wide range of his talent and interests. River’s on Fire has it all: rock, funk, reggae, a love song, and a serious nod to mentor and New Orleans saint, Allen Toussaint. I hope new releases become an annual Papa ritual.

Benny Turner – With his fourth release, this veteran bluesman takes us back with a set of previously recorded but hard to find funky, blues numbers, including a  duet with Marva Wright, the powerhouse New Orleans blues and gospel singer who died in 2010. Turner played bass and managed Ms. Wright’s band for 20 years. What a treat it is to hear her voice again on “Pity on this Lovesick Fool.”  The CD’s title track “When She’s Gone” is about another important woman in Turner’s life, his mother

Dee-1 – As a card-carrying AARP member, I’m not qualified to review rap. But David Augustine Jr., who performs under the name Dee-1, doesn’t care because this inclusive artist erects a big enough tent for us all to be in and listen to his stories. Originally attracted by the humor he expresses in paying off his student loan (Sallie Mae Back) and his love for his aging but paid for car (NO Car Note), I find myself drawn to the many other fine tracks on his 2016 mixtape Slingshot David– released on the heels of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge this summer.

Leyla McCallaSinging in Haitian Creole, French and English and accompanied by her own haunting cello playing, Leyla McCalla digs deep into the roots tying Haiti and New Orleans together. A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is an exploration of the oppressed and the oppressor and an excellent follow up to her previous release where she put music to the words of Langston Hughes.

The Roamin’ JasminTaylor Smith, leader and bass player of The Roamin’ Jasmine, once again demonstrates with his band’s second release his genius at fresh, upbeat arrangements of obscure blues, jazz, rockabilly and R&B tunes. An amazing achievement for this young New Orleans transplant. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that his five original numbers, including the title track Blues Shuffle Heart,  are quite good.

Lena Prima –  Blessed with a strong voice and famous pedigree, Lena Prima and the Lena Prima Band demonstrate that hard work doesn’t hurt either. This tight group has provided countless evenings entertaining Carousel Room patrons at the Monteleone Hotel. And that experience pours out in the nearly solid hour of hip-swinging numbers on Live at the Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall. Play this release, close your eyes and transport yourself.

Meschiya LakeShe is such a kick. In fact, you and your partner will be kicking up your heels on the living room rug every time you play Bad Kids Club, released December of last year but close enough to count in this year’s summary. Looking for the slow number, no problem. Her songs are listed by beats per second. This release showcases a singer and band arriving at peak performance.

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Cha Wa

Cha Wa  -. With vocals by Creole Wild West Spyboy Honey Banister and J’Wan Boudreaux,  grandson of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Funk ‘n’ Feathers is helping to expand the audience for the music of the Mardi Gras Indian — a truly original cultural tradition in New Orleans. The release got a lot of play not only on my show but also other KAOS world music programs in our shared weekday time block.  If you’re familiar with Mardi Gras Indian songs, you’ve heard it all before.  But not quite this way.

Roddie Romero & the Hub-City All-StarsI have not been totally faithful to New Orleans on my radio show this year and this group is one reason why I’ve been reaching upriver to Lafayette for additional tunes. The product of boyhood friends Roddie Romero and keyboardist/songwriter Eric Adcock, Gulfstream makes rural Louisiana come so alive you can smell the salt tang of the bayou just by listening to it. (Breaking NewsGulfstream is a 2017 Grammy nominee for Best Regional Roots Music Album. Here’s more about the album.

Darcy Malone and the Tangle –  Still Life has a retro Alt Band feel with some fun twists . Clearly, the Tangle is not your typical Frenchmen Street band. But it could only happen in New Orleans. Darcy is the daughter of The Radiator’s guitarist Dave Malone, and the saxophone and keyboards that keep things interesting are by LSU music grad Jagon Eldridge. Here’s your proof that the NOLA music scene continues to grow.

Cowboy Mouth: Speaking of which, this band has been challenging the New Orleans music stereotype for 25 years. The Name of the Band Is… provides new recordings of nine of the band’s regular live show songs and three fresh tracks.The band’s strength continues to be drummer Fred LeBlanc’s sharp and clear vocals that showcases the lyrics, which you want to hear, while still allowing you to rock out.cowboy.jpg

I’ll be back next week with more releases from 2016. Until then, catch my show. Oh, and here’s the podcast of one of the 2016 Review shows.

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New Hub City All-Stars CD looks nationally but is deeply rooted

It seems that when a band is ready to push for a bigger audience, the music tends to embrace a broader footprint than what was played when building a local following.

But in the case of Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars, their national coming out party involves cranking up what they’ve been doing for 20 years. From the image rich lyrics of their original numbers to the loving interpretations of Allen Toussaint and Bobby Charles covers, Gulfstream holds a mirror up to just about everything Roddie Romero and his writing partner Eric Adcock hold dear about their native land, Acadiana.

gulfstream.jpgWith media images of a flooded Lafayette, Louisiana making it the latest poster child of global weirding, it’s heartwarming to hear such a solid set of music that conveys so much love for their surroundings, their culture, their language, history and music.

“We’ve been called an immersive Louisiana experience,” remarks Adcock in the press release announcing Gulfstream’s release. But their music is part of an evolving contemporary sound  that weaves in its musical past without rote repetition.

On my show last week, Roddie explained it this way: “The music scene in Lafayette is forever going forward. . . You’re holding on to your culture and where you’re from but you’re always moving forward. . . This is a beautiful, beautiful time to be where we’re from.”

And listening to Gulfstream will take you there.

Here’s the full show last week  and here’s the excerpt of the Roddie Romero interview which starts and ends with two songs from Gulfstream.

 

 

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What music will the Louisiana Flood of 2016 inspire?

The pain isn’t over for Baton Rouge and surrounding communities. Even after this once-in-a-millennium flood, the region continues to be hammered by thunderous afternoon storms dumping inches of water followed by the usual tropical heat blast that Louisiana is famous for in late summer.

It’s not as if this area needs any more grist (or precipitation) to sing the blues.

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Dupre and Baudin Streets in New Orleans – Flood of 1927 – From the Historic New Orleans Collection

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected over a half million people, displacing 200,000 African Americans along the lower Mississippi River — many of whom joined the Great Migration that carried jazz and blues to Chicago and other northern cities (and ultimately the world.)

The devastation inspired a great many songs, perhaps most notably When the Levee Breaks by Memphis Minnie who was born in Algiers across the river from New Orleans. She wrote and performed the song with her husband Kansas Joe McCoy but you might be more familiar with the Led Zeppelin adaptation of the song.

And of course, there’s Randy Newman’s seminal Louisiana 1927 which became closely associated with the New Orleans flood following Hurricane Katrina — another song-inspiring catastrophe.

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Marva Wright singing at French Quarter Festival 2002 – Photo by C.J. Ryan from her website

Of the many Katrina songs, I think Marva Wright whose eastern New Orleans home was destroyed under eight feet of water best captures the frustration of being stranded in a city surrounded by deep poisonous water and no relief available. Though she was able to leave the city before Katrina, she puts you right up on a baking rooftop waving towels at the helicopters as they fly by in her song The Levee is Breaking Down.  She follows that song up on her album “When the Levees Broke,” with a heart crushing lament called Katrina Blues.

This is the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with the city mostly recovered. But now with the Louisiana Flood of 2016, there’s a new recovery effort that is underway and new music being written to chronicle the struggles.

Check my show out this Thursday, I’ll be playing Memphis Minnie, Marva Wright, Zachary Richard and John Boutte’s version of Louisiana 1927. I’m also expecting to get on the phone with  Roddie Romero who fronts the Lafayette-based band, Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars to hear about how things are going over there and to talk about his band’s soon-to-be-released album, “Gulfstream.”

 

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K-Doe and Quintron — Another example of New Orleans musical gumbo

Politics may make strange bedfellows but strange bedfellows can make for some awesome and unique music.

For proof, check out “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble” or one of my favorite events, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival where a wide range of musicians are often put on the stage together  to some magical effect.

But a musical melting pot is not new to New Orleans which has been stirring up the world’s cultures for three centuries. Congo Square is widely considered to have been the cauldron for brass bands and ultimately jazz. All it takes is a place for musicians of different stripes to gather, meet and mix it up.  A place, let’s say, like just about any bar in New Orleans.

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Ernie K-Doe is Emperor regalia outside his Mother-in-Law Lounge. The bar was named after his number one pop chart hit from 1961.

How about the Mother-in-Law Lounge? Founded originally to create a play space for one of New Orleans most famous eccentric R&B stars and the patron of this blog, Ernie K-Doe, the Mother-in-Law operated from 1992 to 2009. Here’s how Ben Sandmel, author of Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans described the lounge:

“. . .delight ensued from the lounge’s welcoming environment and the surreal sensory overload that walloped all who crossed the threshold. This physical entrance doubled as the conceptual portal into Ernie K-Doe’s eccentric parallel universe–a festive and unfettered happiness reigned supreme. . .The lounge’s hybrid ambience combined elements of a juke joint, a mosh pit, an R&B museum, and a cinematic set from Satyricon.”

Not surprisingly, the lounge attracted an eclectic mix of clientele particularly while Ernie was still alive. One regular was Robert Rolston a young keyboardist with his own eccentricities. Performing under the name of Quintron , he developed a style of punk, electronica, dance music that he dubbed “Swamp-Tech” –often performing with his artistic partner and wife, under the name of Quintron and Miss Pussycat.

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Mr. Quintron shares K-Doe’s affinity for bold, brash performances where there is no such thing as a mistake.

Ernie became friends with Quintron and in a way served as a mentor. Speaking of K-Doe, Quinton is quoted as saying “To him there was no failure onstage; he held stuff up with energy and emotion and screaming and shouting and turning disaster into glorious, successful, beautiful music. . . It was K-Doe’s music that made us gather around him–the way that K-Doe would perform. He was as punk as anyone.”

Quintron engineered and produced Ernie last two recorded songs, taped in the Mother-in-Law lounge. He also coaxed Ernie to be in his surreal infomercial created for one of his musical inventions called a drum buddy. Together, they performed Fever. You got to see it to believe it.   And here’s the full 49-minute infomercial.

I’ll be playing Ernie K-Doe, Quintron and many other New Orleans soul and R&B greats on my next show.  Tune in. Or listen to the edited podcast of that show (K-Doe and Quintron are saved for the last part of the program)

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Pete Fountain brought a little hipness into the 50’s living room

Say what you want about the old Lawrence Welk show but from the mid 1950’s until 1982, it delivered musical performances weekly into the living rooms of folks who probably wouldn’t otherwise catch a live performance.

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Pete Fountain gained national exposure on the Lawrence Welk show

And some of the hippest episodes included solo turns by Pete Fountain, the legendary clarinetist from New Orleans who died last Saturday (August 6). He was 86.

I’ve already written about how my Dad loved his music, often going down to Fountain’s night club on Bourbon Street. Here’s a little bit more about him.

Pierre Dewey LaFountaine Jr. was born in New Orleans and grew up in Mid-City. He began blowing the clarinet initially as a way to build up his lungs, after suffering from respiratory infections. He played in local school bands but apparently never completed high school because by that time, he was playing in the clubs downtown and wasn’t able to stay awake in class. Though he received honorary doctorates in music, he described himself as an alumnus of the Conservatory of Bourbon Street.

Discovered by a talent scout, he performed with the Lawrence Welk show in 1958 and 1959 where he quickly gained national recognition for his solos.  Here’s a video of the show where he is playing Tiger Rag. As you might imagine, his style conflicted with Lawrence Welk or as Fountain put it: “Champagne and bourbon don’t mix.”

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Later day Pete Fountain performing by his statue at the Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street

He returned to New Orleans with a recording contract, eventually issuing over a 100 recordings over his career. What I appreciate about Fountain is that despite his fame, he stayed close to home. He opened a night club in French Quarter and founded the Half Fast Walking Club — a parade he led on Mardi Gras mornings.He now joins the many musical legends of the city. You’ll find his statue at the Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street and you can listen to the Gumbo YaYa episode he inspired.

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Slowed down but not stopped

Since I haven’t been posting lately, I thought I’d come out and actually acknowledge my gold bricking.  I have no excuse.

I continue to do my radio show every Thursday on KAOS. 89.3 FM (streaming at http://www.kaosradio.org)– some of the show’s are podcast on my Mixcloud accountsnail

And I plan to add more articles to the over 70 posts about New Orleans music.  Just no where near the pace I was doing during the first year of the blog’s existence. Feel free to subscribe so when the occasional post appears, you will get a notice.

Thank you for tuning it.

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Chicago-New Orleans musical link — the great migration

I took the train to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, just in time to catch the city’s blues festival.

I started by going to Buddy Guy’s Legends club and saw the six-time grammy award winning blues man sing with Shemekia Copeland. George “Buddy” Guy is from Lettsworth Louisiana and began playing professionally in Baton Rouge before making the familiar trek north to Chicago.

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Buddy Guy moved up from Louisiana to seek his fame in Chicago.

I say “familiar” because he wasn’t the first Louisiana musician to seek fortune and fame by heading up the Mississippi River.

If you’re a New Orleans jazz fan, you already know this story.  After New Orleans was forced to close its red light district during the build up to World War 1, musicians who had been making a living playing the new music in the bars and brothels of Storyville, headed north. One of the best and earliest to do so was Joe “King” Oliver, who took his coronet to Chicago and hooked up with other New Orleans expatriates and recreated and polished the jazz of New Orleans.  Things really took off when he convinced his young protege’ Louis Armstrong to come up and join him.

It was good timing. King’s smart professional move came at the beginning of what has become known as the Great Migration where for roughly a half century over 6 million African Americans relocated from the south to northern cities. An estimated 500,000 ended up in Chicago mostly in and around South Chicago.

The first migratory wave moved the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and European horns forged in New Orleans’ Backatown into popular awareness ensuring that Jazz would become a distinctly American sound.

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Henry Gray, from Kenner Louisiana, became Howlin’ Wolf’s piano player when he moved to Chicago.

And then came blues.  Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett is noted as the first black woman to record. This Georgia-born singer recorded many of her earliest songs in Chicago.But she was followed by others, such as Muddy Waters who moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago during World War II and later Henry Gray who  was typical of the second wave of the Great Migration. As black soldiers exited service following World War II, they looked for communities with more opportunities and less discrimination. The Louisiana-born pianist landed in Chicago in 1946, playing regularly with the likes of Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Rogers before hooking up with the Howlin’ Wolf Band. He has since returned to Louisiana and continues to perform on occasion.

Buddy Guy, who had started his career playing in Baton Rouge, got to Chicago in 1957. He was joined later by Lonnie Brooks who had a regional hit in Louisiana, Family Rules, before moving north.I’ll continue to explore the connections between these two fine musical cities (New Orleans and Chicago) on my show. Please join me or catch one of my edited podcasts.

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Going beyond the lyrics in Basin Street Blues

“Now Basin Street is the street where the folks all meet. In New Orleans, land of dreams.”

basin streetBasin Street Blues is another New Orleans jazz standard with a fascinating back story.

The song was composed by Spencer Williams and originally recorded by Louis Armstrong – two New Orleanians who grew up on and around Basin Street. However, when the song was recorded in 1928, the street no longer existed. City leaders, anxious to erase the area’s reputation for legal prostitution, had changed the street’s name to the innocuous “North Saratoga.”

For a time, Williams actually lived in Mahogany Hall on Basin Street with his aunt, the famous bordello’s owner and manager, Lulu White. He would later commemorate the business in a song called Mahogany Hall Stomp. Basin Street was a key arterial and border to the famed Storyville–a 16-block area that for 20 years up to the U.S. entry into World War 1 was a city-regulated zone of prostitution. The many brothels and saloons that sprung up provided a regular and contented audience for the nascent music called “Jass.”

Basin_Street_Blues_Columbia_78_1931_CharlestonWilliams version of Basin Street was a 12-bar blues tune without lyrics. In the 1928 and 1932 Armstrong recordings, Satchmo scats the song’s vocal parts. But in 1931, Jack Teagarden sang the song with a group called The Charleton Chasers with lyrics, that according to Teagarden’s recollection, were written by him with the help from Glenn Miller.

It was also at that time that the more “come hither” like opening verse was added, making the song a musical advertisement for folks to come and visit New Orleans. (What were they thinking?) Teagarden, by the way, wasn’t from New Orleans. However, the famous trombonist died of a heart attack in a New Orleans hotel after a 1964 performance.

Because of the song’s popularity, the city changed the name back to Basin Street. But by that point, the Storyville legacy was long gone and the street really wasn’t a place for tourists to visit.

As often happens with great songs, the lyrics are malleable. I don’t think I’ve heard a version with the same set of lyrics. Armstrong and Teagarden routinely played the song in front of audiences as well as recording it several times.  Teagarden was usually faithful to the lyrics he wrote. Armstrong some times skipped the opening stanza of “Won’t you come along with me to the Mississippi,” preferring to start with the line that I quote at the beginning of this post.

One notable change is that the early versions of the song by Armstrong and Teagarden contain this line “Basin Street is the street where the dark and light folks meet.” But I haven’t had much luck finding it sung that way in versions after the 1940’s. Given that Storyville was a place where white customers could listen to music played by African Americans and have sex with African Americans and Creoles, the song’s line is perhaps the most genuine part of the song.

Won’t you listen along with me as I play a few versions of Basin Street Blues on my show this Thursday. Here’s the podcast of that show!

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