My most lasting impression of spending an hour talking with Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield is how much they really enjoy each other’s company. While it may be a common trait of New Orleans residents to revel in hanging out, these two accomplished trumpeters truly are soul mates.
On the occasion of Basin Street Records 20th anniversary, Ruffins and Mayfield collaborated on A Beautiful World released this fall and still climbing on the Jazz Week chart. The album boasts over 50 artists, including Rebirth Brass Band – the band which Ruffins co-founded early in his career and which inspired a very young Mayfield. Here’s part of the interview dealing with that part of their lives (including a couple of tracks from A Beautiful World):
The two trumpeters may seem like unlikely buddies but as the story goes (and they both tell the same story with their own twist, listen to the more complete interview below) Kermit Ruffins was preparing to perform at the Superdome when a young Mayfield basically challenged him to a cutting contest. And the relationship grew from there. A Beautiful World is an audio homage to that relationship with Mayfield producing and performing and Ruffins doing what he does best: being himself.
Here are the best parts of the interview held in the Ruffin’s Mother-in-Law Lounge on October 23, 2017.
Craig Klein and Mark Mullins might joke they formed Bonerama as a way to give trombonists greater job security but there’s no hiding the enthusiasm they have for their instrument serving as the band’s main voice. Bonerama’s latest release (it’s seventh in almost 20 years) is aptly named “Hot Like Fire.”
I caught up with the two after a band practice at Craig’s house in the Lower Garden District late last month. The album features seven original tunes by Craig, Mark and Matt Perrine, who plays bass and sousaphone. The songs range from catchy numbers like “Happy” and “Hot Like Fire” to the complex “High Horse.” The album’s two covers include Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” and Allen Toussaint’s “Basic Lady.”
Reluctant to pick one genre for their music style, Mark and Craig give it three – Brass Rock and Funk. But “Hot Like Fire” also throws in a little reggae and jazz. At KAOS, it goes on our Funk shelf where its been getting some good play.
Greg Hicks adds the third trombone to the band with Bert Cotton on guitar and Alex Joseph “A.J.” Hall on drums. Click on the interview above to hear Craig and Mark talk about all nine songs, with samples of the songs, as well as the band’s origins and their connection with Basin Street Records.
This week’s show features exclusively female musicians, vocalists and bandleaders. You can start the show now and finish reading while you listen.
Female-focused shows have gotten easier since my first one in 2015 but there’s still a serious imbalance particularly when looking for horn players.
The Original Pinettes Brass Band, as best as I can tell, is still the only female brass band. And its rare to see a female musician in any of the male-dominated brass bands.
Where the balance tips the other way is in the area of vocalists. Debbie Davis, Ingrid Lucia, Linnzi Zaorski, Charmaine Neville, Lena Prima and Meschiya Lake are featured in this latest show. I also play songs with the amazing musicianship (and vocals) of Aurora Nealand (clarinet and saxophone) and Helen Gillet (cello) as well as singer songwriters Kelcy Mae and Gina Forsyth.
This show I was able to add a funk song thanks to picking up Erica Falls album and zydeco with the almost all-female band Bonsoir, Catin. I reckon these shows are getting easier to do because my library of female-generated music is getting deeper as opposed to any seismic-level gender shift. I may have a taller stack of applicable CDs now but it still pales when placed next to the pile of other NOLA music I have.
In which case, it seems appropriate to continue in the future doing special shows where I feature exclusively women. Why not keep the thumb on the scale until it doesn’t matter anymore. And anyway, I didn’t do justice to a great many other female artists who did not get played today. I’ll do another female exclusive show soon and meanwhile they all go back into my rotation for my other shows.
Here’s the playlist. If you got ideas for me, let me know.
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.
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 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.
One of the great aspects of doing a show on New Orleans music is the impetus it provides me to get my butt down there regularly. My latest trip was an epic one. Go ahead and get yesterday’s show started while I tell you a bit more.
I stayed the first week with members of Olympia’s Artestian Rumble Arkestra not far from the nightclubs on Frenchmen Street. I also used the opportunity to see some high school buddies who didn’t need much encouragement to drive in from their homes in Florida and Georgia to spend some time with me in New Orleans.
But there were many other great highlights, one of which is featured in yesterday’s show – an interview with trumpters Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield about their latest release, A Beautiful World. They were generous with their time and stories and the whole experience was enhanced by our location — the Mother-in-Law lounge which for many years was the home and business of patron saint of my show and blog, Ernie K-Doe.
I’ll have more to share in the weeks to come including interviews with Bonerama band leaders Mark Mullins and Craig Klein, co-founder of Roots of Music and Rebirth Drummer Derrick Tabb and co-founder of the Black Men of Labor Fred Johnson with Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones.