African American Music – What I Love About New Orleans

This week’s show honors African American Music Month which is not much of a reach for a show of New Orleans music. Without the musical creations of African Americans, there would be no Gumbo YaYa program. (See this and that.) This week’s show only features musicians of African descent.

President Carter initially named June as Black Music Month in 1979. President Obama renamed the month with a proclamation that said “Songs by African-American musicians span the breadth of the human experience and resonate in every corner of our Nation — animating our bodies, stimulating our imaginations, and nourishing our souls.” He got that right.

Statue of Buddy Bolden in Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans

While the first jazz record was by the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band — the bandleader and drummer were sons of Sicilian immigrants, the earliest practitioners were mostly of African-Americans. No recordings exist of Buddy Bolden and his band, but many consider him to be the closest that jazz comes to having a father. Close followers Jelly Roll Morton and King Joe Oliver perfected their craft in New Orleans before taking it to New York and Chicago. Meanwhile, Oscar “Papa” Celestin and Kid Thomas were keeping the home fires burning by continuing to perform in New Orleans. You’ll hear music from all these African-American musicians in the first full set of the show.

Becky, a listener and fan of New Orleans, provides an intro for the second full set featuring Roy Brown’s Good Rockin’ Tonight, Dave Bartholomew‘s “Country Boy” and Fats Domino‘s first recording “The Fat Man.” Also in this set are less heard songs by New Orleans singers including one by Patsy Vidalia — a performer who might be a trans woman in this era but who in the 50’s found comfort singing as a “cross dresser” in night clubs.

The third set is New Orleans blues –a genre that is exclusively embedded in the African American experience yet is copied and propagated throughout the world by musicians of all backgrounds. Lizzie Miles, Lead Belly, and Champion Jack Dupree nail down that set.

The New Orleans Spiritualettes and the Treme Brass Band provide gospel numbers in a set that then rolls into two other brass band numbers, including “Who Dat Called Da Police” by New Birth Brass Band.

A few years back while performing on television, Miley Cyrus drew attention to a dance move called “twerking” but the music and dance moves that go with it are very much African American creations and also very much from New Orleans. You’ll hear the first “Bounce” record that could be played on the radio with a set that includes The Neville Brothers, Leyla McCalla, Professor Longhair and James Booker. You might call it the miscellaneous set since I really can’t cover all the styles of African-American music in two hours. Where’s the funk, Sweeney?! (sorry)

I finish the show with songs representing Mardi Gras Indians, the Northside Skull and Bones gang and Zydeco. Thank you for tuning in.

Black Lives Matter!

Photo of the Joy Theater Marquee by Davis Rogan. Photo of Mardi Gras Day participant and his shirt by Mary Groebner.

Trouble in Mind – The Sun will Shine Again

We are on fire and not in a good way. From the fever of COVID-19 which has infected 2 million U.S. residents to the violent actions that lead to unnecessary death and hurt on our streets, we have “. . .trouble in mind.” To get the sun to shine in your backdoor again, start my show – we’ll make the journey to and from the dark place together.

Police in Coral Gables, Florida, kneel in solidarity with the protesters against the killing of George Floyd. (Getty)

You can’t do a show of New Orleans music and NOT play blues. And the song “Trouble in Mind” is classic New Orleans blues– written by Richard M. Jones, who grew up in New Orleans and played jazz in the city’s red light district, Storyville until he followed the African American diaspora north. He settled in Chicago where he worked with the gang of New Orleans musicians who made jazz an American tradition, including Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams.

He first recorded “Trouble” in 1924 but it was his recording in 1926 with the voice of Bertha “Chippie” Hill and the trumpet of Louis Armstrong that made the song a hit. You’ll hear that version (recently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame) on this show. The lyrics have a dark edge.

Trouble in mind, that’s true
I have almost lost my mind
Life ain’t worthwhile livin’; feel like I could die
I’m gonna lay my head
On some lonesome rail road iron
Let the 2:19 train ease my trouble of mine

Trouble In Mind – by Richard M. Jones

Like most blues, the song is as much about hope as it is about despair. When I was listening to this song in preparation for this show, I learned about how Jones cobbled this song from earlier spirituals that date back to slavery — how blues expresses suffering, yet by vocalizing our pain we can find ways to cope. In this show I express the view that we all have our burdens to carry but the most significant one is the imperative to ensure that no person or people have to carry more than their share. It seems to be a simple philosophy to say but difficult to follow.

Trouble in mind, oh, yes, I am blue
But I won’t be blue always
Yes, the sun will shine in my back door someday

the last stanza of Trouble in Mind by Richard M. Jones

If you listen to the whole show, you’ll hear a few renditions some with different lyrics and different styles (Zydeco and Caribbean for instance).

But there is a lot more to the show. You’ll hear the voice of listener “Ron” who introduces a set of music by female musicians and talks briefly about how New Orleans shares its good and bad, making it a real experience. You’ll also hear (and I hope dance to) a 25-minute brass band set. I play a new release by Taylor Smith who still has roots in New Orleans but recorded “Amnesia” in Memphis. Tuts Washington will bring “Georgia on My Mind.” Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band does “Eh la Bas”

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Henry Gray’s life spans the history of Chicago Blues

This week’s show provides a brief glimpse into the days of early rock n’ roll recording and honors one of the key architects of the Chicago blues sound. And that’s just the first hour. You got some listening to do. Turn it on before you read on!

The life of Henry Gray, who died last week at 95, spans the history of urban Chicago blues as African Americans migrated from the south to escape racism and poverty following the end of World War 2. And like the previous migration following World War 1, music came with them. Except instead of jazz, it was the blues led by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Chess records. In the middle all this was a rural Louisiana piano player who help define Chicago blues.

But that was after the war when he had served in the South Pacific. Before, in a small town outside Baton Rouge called Alsen, Gray played the usual songbook expected of a Baptist family. But somehow, he was encouraged to other styles of play and by the time he was 16, he was entertaining audiences in local clubs. A habit that stayed with him throughout his life. Returning back to Louisiana to care for his mom and the family business, he was an annual favorite at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. His last appearance was 2018.

This show also celebrates the birth anniversaries of Roy Montrell and Clarence Garlow. Montrell played guitar in the Fats Domino touring band for 17 years, taught Mac Rebennak (Dr. John) how to play the guitar and co-wrote and sang “(Everytime I hear) That Mellow Saxophone.”Garlow is known for “Bon Ton Roulay” and having played with Clifton Chenier in the early years of Zydeco. Both were in the Cosimo Matassa studio in the 50’s recording early rock n’ roll songs such as “Heebie Jeebies.”

What else can I tell you about this show? There’s a four-song set on fishing and two songs by Helen Gillet who will be performing in Olympia next week. And much more. Just keep listening and consider subscribing. Cheers.

August 24th show – From Benny Turner to Quintron

This week’s show starts with the Young Tuxedo Brass Band in honor of Walter Payton, father of trumpeter Nicholas Payton and the sousaphone player for that storied New Orleans band.

I then take a twist toward more contemporary music with Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Sneaky Pete, Jello Biafra and the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All Stars, Helen Gillet and the Dirty Bourbon River Show. I then head back into R&B, including playing High Blood Pressure from the Huey “Piano” Smith album I bought in Ballard last weekend and another round of brass bands.  I mixed tracks from new releases by Benny Turner, Naughty Professor and Stanton Moore. The show, as edited below, finishes with Cowboy Mouth’s relationship dirge “Broken Up.”  Enjoy!

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 or click the player below.)

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.

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.”