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.”

 

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)

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.