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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Light-footed Treme actor on Gumbo YaYa

James DuMont may have one of those mugs that looks familiar but it was his feet, not his face, that first caught my attention.

Antoine Diel and the Misfit Power had started in on a salsa number when DuMont broke off his conversation with the doorman, burst into the night club, grabbed the hand of an unsuspecting but willing woman and started dancing in the narrow open space between the band and the patrons of The Spotted Cat.

Diel and his band were hot that night. But so was DuMont. And that’s when I put my finger on why he looked familiar. For all four seasons of Treme, DuMont played the character of Captain Richard Lafouchette, the honest sheriff department officer who routinely complied with Toni Bernette’s request for public records.

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James DuMont

Not a major role but one essential to moving the plot forward, similar to the hundreds of other characters he’s played in movies and television over the last four decades. And yet later as we stood talking outside the Frenchmen Street nightclub, he modestly didn’t believe I had recognized him. “Who told you?”

Off camera DuMont is a helluva lot hipper than his Treme character who he depicts in one scene orgasmically wolfing down a piece of fried chicken at Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe. I found it hard to imagine him playing the red-baiting corrupt congressman J. Parnell Thomas in Trumbo or the breast-growing empathetic husband of a pregnant woman in the television show House. Later, when I checked out his IMDB profile, the role I thought best fit his personality was his first one, an uncredited appearance in The Blues Brothers as “kid dancing in the street.”

Born and raised in Chicago and New York City, DuMont now lives full time with his family in New Orleans.  (this last sentence was changed from my original post when we had to reschedule his interview) He joined me on my radio show on June 2 to talk about New Orleans, its music and just how tasty Lil’ Dizzy’s fried chicken really is. (Listen Full show or just listen to the interview.)

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New Orleans guidebook writer to be on Gumbo YaYa

It was a typical New Orleans experience meeting Michael Murphy.

My sister, brother-in-law and I were standing on the sidewalk along Chartres Street looking around, pointing and arguing.  An invitation for just about any social-by-nature New Orleans denizen to politely butt in. In this case, we were in the hands of a professional.

Guidebook writer and tour guide extraordinaire Michael Murphy had just stepped out of a nearby bookstore when he untangled our conversation. My sister had thought that Morning Call Coffee Stand , which had abandoned the French Quarter in the 70’s in favor of a strip mall in Metairie, had returned to the area. Nope, Murphy explained. It opened up a great new location at City Park–a satisfying compromise of continuing a century long legacy of serving cafe au lait and beignets to locals while still taking full advantage of the city’s daily onslaught of sightseers.

Michael_Murpy_FEAR_Da_web-300x260As will happen in New Orleans, a good deed of offering directions turns into a 15-minute conversation where we each share how we ended up in a city we all loved.

In Murphy’s case, it was love at first sight, having visited the city in the 80’s on a business trip.  He moved down about seven years ago and has made it his calling to acquaint others with the charms of the city. In addition to being a hotel concierge and conducting private tours, he’s the author of four unique guidebooks.

“Eat Dat” is not your typical restaurant guide. While the book provides “best of” lists, it  really shines when Murphy focuses on the stories and personalities behind the cuisine. “Hear Dat,” to be released in mid-April, introduces readers to the wide range of New Orleans music and night clubs and the talented professionals who make it happen. It’s a tough assignment. But he does a good job of covering the broad range of live music you will find in New Orleans from Jazz and R&B to Hip Hop and Alternative Rock. .

Having bravely written about food and music in a city that takes both personally and seriously, Murphy throws caution to the wind with another release, “Fear Dat” about New Orleans voodoo and stories of “assorted butchery & mayhem.” He also has written a very practical guidebook called  “111 things Not to Miss in New Orleans.”

Murphy and I will rekindle our relationship on the air on Thursday when I hope I can get him to share a few ideas on how visitors to New Orleans can make the most of this year’s festival season.

Podcast of the show, including the interview with Michael Murphy. I apologize for the distortion in the interview. New recorder and not used to using it on live interviews.

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New Orleans festival season offers more than JazzFest

The New Orleans festival season is fast approaching. While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the crown jewel of the season, there are reasons for the music tourist to consider visiting the city at any time during the long festival season other than JazzFest. Here’s a few.

The Crowds.  New Orleans is a tourist town year round but it can be overwhelming during Mardi Gras and JazzFest. During those peak times, restaurants and nightclubs are a harder to get into and lodging is more expensive. Go before or after JazzFest and the city feels more relaxed and accessible.

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Glen David Andrews performing at Jazz in the Park (Louis Armstrong Park) in 2013.

Free Outdoor Concerts – New Orleans offers some wonderful outdoor concerts showcasing local musicians in a festival atmosphere. There are two exceptional, easy to get to concert series that run through the spring. This year, “Wednesday at the Square” features Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Tab Benoit, Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band, Kermit Ruffins, Anders Osborne and Soul Rebels. This downtown show held in Lafayette Square usually features an opening act, runs from 5 to 8 p.m. and is surrounded by ways to purchase food and booze. On Thursday evenings, Louis Armstrong Park comes alive with Jazz in the Park. This event attracts more locals with chairs and picnic baskets but you’ll still find sustenance and drink in this park just across historic Rampart Street from the French Quarter.

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Local dance group performing at Freret Street Festival

Neighhorhood Festivals –  Only in a New Orleans neighborhood festival would you find youth dance groups and more established artists like Bonerama, Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, and New Breed Brass Band. That was just a sampling of the three stages last year that defined the boundaries of the Freret Street Festival, one of the early season neighborhood festivals in New Orleans. Neighborhood festivals run throughout the year, except for JazzFest. Check the festival schedule and sample a few online such as the Bayou Boogaloo –- definitely on my bucket list for a future visit. You’ll find most New Orleanians are incredibly social—almost to a fault. Go to a neighborhood event or establishment and if you are reasonably gregarious, you will meet locals who will happily share their opinions on bands, restaurants and the best route to take to your next event.

IMG_1454French Quarter Festival – This four-day event attracts more audience than the more well-known seven-day JazzFest. The difference is that the stages are scattered about the French Quarter and they are free, making it easy for the casual daily tourist to get sucked into the music. Whereas JazzFest adds a healthy dose of world and national music acts to their line up of local performers, French Quarter Festival is almost exclusively local musicians. Held two weeks before JazzFest, it’s the first major festival of the season. If you’re already staying in or around downtown, you won’t need to taxi or bus to the fairgrounds as you would with JazzFest. Last year French Quarter Festival headlined with Allen Toussaint, who later joined in a delightful conversation with Deacon John about Cosimo Matassa at the festival’s interview stage. I can’t tell you how fortunate I felt to be in the audience for both of those events.

freret-street-festival-2Lagniappe. Regardless of when you go, relax. You won’t be able to do it all. Things will get in your way, like torrential rain storms. Last year, I had set my mind on catching Irma Thomas at the big stage by the river at French Quarter Festival but when I saw a mass of dark clouds headed my way, I reluctantly ducked into the House of Blues courtyard. What a break. Not only did I stay dry but I became acquainted with the talent of Sarah McCoy and Colin Lake –two performers who were able to keep playing despite a very heavy rain. The Irma Thomas show was cancelled. Slow down, take care of yourself and enjoy the moment because you’re in New Orleans, baby!

P.S. JazzFest is a hoot and you should do it, particularly if you haven’t and have always wanted to. Here’s my five things you should know about JazzFest.

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