Yes, We Have No Bananas But We have Plenty of Sugar

My radio station, KAOS, was going bananas last week when Scott Stevens, host of Spin the Globe, devoted a full hour to songs about this beloved fruit. My time-slot colleague (his Friday show anchors the KAOS world programming slot that I kick off on Mondays with Gumbo YaYa starting at 10 a.m.) played 18 banana songs from around the world.

Sam the banana man. Sam Zemurray lived and died in New Orleans after building a banana distribution dynasty.

Sam the banana man. Sam Zemurray lived and died in New Orleans after building a banana distribution dynasty.

As I was listening to King Sunny Ade wax on about “Sweet Banana,” I was thinking I could do a show like that, right? Scott may have the whole world to draw from, but New Orleans is the home of the banana gangster Sam Zemurray, the man who parlayed the resale of overripe bananas dumped at the New Orleans port into a banana dynasty (and screwed Honduras and Guatemala in the process).  Surely, I can find enough music from New Orleans to do my own banana show.

So I checked my catalog of New Orleans music and found nothing. Okay, there was the Fathead Newman tune “Montana Banana” recorded with Dr. John in 1991 — an instrumental.

If I did more research, I might find some songs but if my log was showing nothing, I knew I wouldn’t have much to work with.  So what other fruit or vegetable might I use for a show? I grabbed a banana, peeled it and gave it deeper thought with each bite. (uh oh, sudden flash of the “Brothers McMullen” banana scene.)

Last year, I did a show on food where I didn’t even break a sweat. New Orleans musicians have no trouble singing the praises of red beans, jambalaya, gumbo, chicken, shrimp and barbecue–though if you read my post from that show, Louis Armstrong’s “barbecue” is not something you find on the grill.

Wait a minute!  New Orleans is also known for sugar. The Jesuit missionaries in the mid-1700s grew the stuff in downtown New Orleans (before they built the Superdome and those other buildings).

Louisiana produces about 20 percents of the U.S. cane sugar market

Louisiana produces about 20 percents of the U.S. cane sugar market

The Chalmette Domino Sugar refinery is one of the successes of post-Hurricane Katrina, returning to operation relatively quickly after the deep flood waters receded from its St. Bernard parish home. The state produces roughly two billion pounds of white death a year. And let’s not forget, the city has hosted the “Sugar Bowl” every year since 1935.

It’s kind of cheating, though. I mean, not all the “sugar” songs are about real sugar.  Songwriters love metaphors and sugar lends itself well to that. Not to mention, that in New Orleans, the word “sugar” is a popular term of endearment used by almost everyone, including grocery clerks and bus drivers to complete strangers.

So not surprisingly, I have several New Orleans style versions of the 1927 jazz standard “Sugar” with the phrase “I’d make a million trips to his lips, if I was a bee. Because they are sweeter than any candy to me.”

But there’s also Sugar Foot Strut (Armstrong), Sugar Foot Stomp (Oliver), Sugar Blues (Preservation Hall Jazz Band) and Sugar Shack (Flavor Kings).  There’s also Corey Harris’ Sugar Daddy and Percy Mayfield’s Sugar Mama.

It’s close enough.  I’ll be sprinkling sugar throughout Monday’s sweet show.

By the way, you should listen to Scott’s podcast of his banana program.

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About Tim Sweeney

Volunteer deejay for community radio station KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia, Washington -- www.kaosradio.org. Host of Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa - a two-hour radio show featuring the music of New Orleans -- every Thursday starting at 10 a.m. (PST)
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One Response to Yes, We Have No Bananas But We have Plenty of Sugar

  1. Pingback: 2015 created great opportunities to explore NOLA music | Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa

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