Mac (Dr. John) and Spencer Bohren tributes highlight show

New Orleans lost two well-regarded musical artists in early June. One you know about and one you should know about. Get the show started to hear what they have to offer

Mac Rebennak’s death on June 6 at age 77 garnered international headlines. The Jesuit High School dropout was a regular presence at the J&M Studios during its heyday and later joined the secret “Wrecking Crew” of studio fame. While he rocketed to fame with his Dr. John the day tripper persona in the late 60’s and early 70’s, it was his commitment to the New Orleans funk, R&B and groove that endeared him to his hometown.

Today’s show features his singing as well as his ability on guitar and piano. The show kicks off with him singing a Davell Crawford number, with the younger songwriter playing piano. Then we go to one of the first songs he wrote, performed by Jerry Byrne, “Light’s Out.” From there, you will hear “Storm Warning” an instrumental that shows off his guitar licks (before he lost a part of finger (fret hand) to a gunshot.

Other sets includes Dr. John singing and/or playing piano with Irma Thomas, Sonny Landreth, and Tab Benoit. In all, its close to a full hour of his music.

Spencer Bohren from crowd-funding website designed to help pay for his cancer treatment.

Then we turn to Spencer Bohren, a singer-songwriter who was born in Wyoming with ties to the Northwest but moved to New Orleans as a young man with his wife in the 70’s. He gained fame throughout the city and in Europe but is not nearly as well known as Mac Rebennak. Bohren died two days after Dr. John and left a strong library of solo performances as well as collaborative efforts. You’ll hear three of his solo songs, two songs he wrote for “The Write Brothers” and a rousing performance in the rockabilly group he was part of “Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers.”

The show offers some previews of performances coming to the northwest with songs by the Soul Rebels, Chubby Carrier and Trombone Shorty. I finish the show with Dr. John’s performance with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band “It’s All Over Now.”

I hope you enjoy and please subscribe.

Ain’t Dere No More But the Memory Lives On

If you ever get sentimental about favorite stores that have closed or been bought out, or people you no longer see or experiences that are long gone, well this week’s show might be for you. Click the arrow in the box below to start the show and then read on.

John Boutte sings the opening number “Never Turn Back” which is a caution we will not follow for most of the first part of the show. However, first we warm up with a couple of classic New Orleans piano players (Professor Longhair and Dr. John) and one contemporary one destined to be a classic (Josh Paxton).

Given its multi-national history, New Orleans is home to a variety of accents. One in particular “is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island” according to A.J. Liebling author of “The Earl of Louisiana.” a Hear’s more on how New Orleanians talk.

Long gone but much missed, you can find T-Shirts with this hometown drugstore logo for sale in New Orleans

I mention this to provide some understanding of why “Ain’t Dere No More” became a catch phrase in New Orleans made famous by a song of the same name by Benny Grunch and the Bunch. In a town with businesses such as Schwegmann’s, a 19th century grocery store that pioneered the concept of “supermarket,” and K&B, a purple-famed ubiquitous drugstore that stood for Katz and Besthoff, their buyouts and closures are still mourned decades later.

The song may seem silly but in my home of Olympia, I still miss going to the Rainbow Tavern and drinking dark Olympia beer (both are gone). And maybe you remember some place or things you used to do that you also miss. In the case of Alex McMurray its an old bar he can’t go back to. For Davis Rogan and his brass, hip hop band, All That, its the end of live music performances in a Treme neighborhood restaurant “Little People’s Place.” For Alex Duhon, its the passing of a generation that knew how to fix things and make them last.

I carry on with this theme for a few sets ending with a wonderful rendition by Allen Toussaint of his hit song “Southern Nights” — a song that brought back memories of an Arkansas childhood for Glen Campbell who popularized the song. For songwriter Toussaint, “Southern Nights” is about going into the Louisiana back country to visit relatives who speak in a difficult to understand patois, drink from jars and make stories about the stars. Please stay with the show through at least that song.

And if you do, well I celebrate the birth anniversary of George Landry, big chief of the Wild Tchoupitoulas and uncle of the Nevilles. Listen to one of the songs that brought these four talented brothers together in the studio for the first time. Leyla McCalla’s new song “Settle Down” pairs well with the Mardi Gras Indian song. Much more beyond that. I’ll let it be a surprise. Thanks for tuning in and please subscribe.

Honoring Henry Butler, Smiley Lewis and Freedom

Welcome to my July 5th, 2018 edition of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  There’s lot to love about this extra-long show so go ahead and get it started.

henry butler
Henry Butler performing in Port Townsend, WA in August 2017. He died July 2, 2018.

We lost Henry Butler on Monday, July 2 to colon cancer. He was born in New Orleans September 21, 1948 and grew up in the Calliope housing project. He lost his sight to glaucoma as an infant and learned how to play a variety of instruments while attending the Louisiana State School for the Blind. He was known for piano playing, smoothly handling jazz, blues, classical and improvisation and had a powerful voice. He was a teacher and entertainer. In this show, I play his “Down by the Riverside,” “Henry’s Boogie” and “Jamaica Farewell.”

Throughout the show, I touch on the theme of America and Freedom as interpreted by New Orleans musicians including songs by Shamarr Allen and Dee-1 (“Only in America”), Rebirth Brass Band (“Freedom”), and Delfeayo Marsalis (“Make America Great Again” with Wendell Pierce.)

I also celebrate Smiley Lewis’s birth anniversary (July 5, 1913) with “Shame, “Shame, Shame” and “Don’t Jive Me.”

The first song is by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with “Dead Dog in the Road.” New songs by Shawn Williams, Tin Men, and Cyril Neville.  And much more in this extra long edition of the show.

 

With one hand, New Orleans piano player let the good times roll

This week’s show is about the one-handed piano player you have likely heard but not heard of. Edward Frank played on scores of R&B hits created in the Cosimo Matassa cauldron in the 50’s and early 60’s. But there’s more to the story so go ahead and get this week’s show started, kicked off by BeauSoleil’s “Bon Temps Rouler.”

EDWARD FRANK
Edward Frank on piano.

This show celebrates Edward Frank’s birth anniversary. He was born June 14, 1932  and died in February 1997.  Despite his early R&B history, he spent his later years playing more contemporary jazz at venues such as the Palm Court Cafe and Preservation Hall. He was a talented horn arranger and keyboardist, involved with  Dr. John’s “Goin’ Back to New Orleans,” the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s”Jelly,” Snooks Eaglin’s “Soul’s Edge,” Tommy Ridgley’s “Since the Blues Began”and Chuck Carbo’s  “Drawers Trouble” and “The Barber’s Blues.”

Frank was born and attended high school in New Orleans. Except for a stint at college and some time in Houston working Bobby Blue Bland, he mostly made his home in New Orleans.  He also played in Europe with Lillian Boutte.  His performances were made more remarkable because of a disability that rendered his left arm paralyzed. This show features Frank playing piano on songs by Lloyd Price, Bobby Charles and Shirley and Lee (backing them up on their hit, “Let the Good Times Roll.”)

But first you’ll be treated to a set that includes Carlo Ditta’s “Tell It Like It Is,” the New Orleans Jazz Vipers’ “Swing that Music” and Professor Longhair recorded live in Chicago.

Stay with the show after the Edward Frank set because Davis Rogan, another New Orleans piano player, calls into the show to talk about how he was given a valuable life lesson by Ed Frank after losing a spot in Kermit Ruffin’s band.  This show also has songs by Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Hot 8 Brass Band (doing a long cover of “Sexual Healing”), Chocolate Milk, Corey Henry, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and a new song by Gal Holiday and her Honky Tonk Revue.

Thanks for listening and consider clicking the tab on the upper right to subscribe.

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.

ProfessorLonghair
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.

lizziemiles
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.

Jon Cleary to funk it up at Jazz Alley Monday

Jon Cleary brings a unique version of the New Orleans sound to the Northwest, steeped in tradition and yet wholly fresh, when he performs at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle this Monday, February 8.

cleary.jpgCleary’s latest album, GoGo Juice, has been nominated for this year’s Best Regional Roots Grammy. A native of England, he’s lived all of his adult life in New Orleans — a city he chose after falling in love with New Orleans R&B and funk at a tender age. Now, at 53,  he has firmly rooted himself as a New Orleans piano “professor,” a true practitioner of the New Orleans sound who has broken fresh ground with new compositions and arrangements.

He’ll be backed by the Absolute Monster Gentlemen which includes Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, Derwin”Big D” Perkins on guitar and Cornell Williams on bass. If you followed the HBO series Treme, you’ll recognize Cornell Williams who helps a band mate break his drug addiction by putting him on his uncle’s shrimp boat.

In his performance, Cleary will draw from his library of eight albums, including a well-regarded tribute to Allen Toussaint called “Occapella.” Even when he’s not doing Toussaint, he and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen seem totally capable of cleverly funking it up with great lyrics and an awesome groove.  Here’s a taste. 

Other Upcoming Northwest Performances of New Orleans Artists

 

  • Galactic – at the Showbox in Seattle, February 26 and Crystal Ballroom in Portland, February 27.
  • The Revivalists – at Neumos in Seattle, March 9 and Aladdin Theater in Portland, March 10.
  • Trombone Shorty – at the Moore Theater in Seattle, April 14 and Keller Auditorium, Portland, April 15.
  • Walter Wolfman Washington – opening for Bettye LaVette at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, May 12 – 15.

Dr. John turns 75

Dr. John turns 75 this Saturday (November 21, 2015).  Still active as a performer (nine shows last month) and recording artist (releasing Ske-Dat-De-Dat last year), Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack’s career goes back to the late 1950’s when as a guitarist he worked with Earl King, James Booker, Professor Longhair and other denizens of the J& M studio.

Like Earl Palmer who laid down the beats to the New Orleans R&B sound before migrating to Los Angeles to become part of the fabled “Wrecking Crew,”  Rebennak was a well regarded studio musician both in New Orleans (before having to leave the state) and California.

However, unlike Palmer, Rebennak stepped out in front of a band when he created the spiritually-infused persona, Dr.  John Creaux the Night Tripper, based on a New Orleans hoodoo practitioner.  This new character debuted on the “Gris Gris” album released in 1968.nite tripper

To hear Harold Battiste tell the story, the whole thing was just a lark. Another New Orleans musician who migrated to California, Battiste was a record producer and Sonny and Cher’s musical director in the 60’s. He approached Rebennak who had played on tour with Sonny and Cher to see if he had any concepts for a new album.

“Mac told me that he had been reading up on this character called Dr. John from the New Orleans voodoo tradition and wanted to work something around that.”  Actually, the character was a “hoodoo” practitioner which I understand is different than voodoo — kind of like a competitive alternative to voodoo.

“This was not to be a proper production with music arrangements and everything by the numbers. We would have to create a vibe in the studio where the spirit led the way,” wrote Battiste in his autobiography “Unfinished Blues: Memoirs of a New Orleans Music Man.”

Rebennak had created the concept for singer Ronnie Barron but according to Battiste, Barron’s agent nixed it. So Mac took the role. Battiste wrote that he envisioned the “the whole concept as a tongue-in-cheek thing.”

The album included a cast of New Orleans musicians working in southern California such as John Boudreaux, Ronnie Barron on keyboards, Jessie Hill and Shirley Goodman.

dr.john“The studio was like a Mardi Gras reunion, everybody laughing and talking, telling stories all at the same time. But once we got settled, the vibe was there and the music just flowed.”

For the album cover, Mac needed an outfit and Battiste arranged for Cher’s seamstress to arrange “odd pieces of animal skins tacked onto colorful clothes. She made him a snakeskin crown, and he found various trinkets and accessories to validate his voodoo status.”

The album’s release was delayed by about a year while record company executives tried to figure out what to do with it. But it received strong reviews upon release, creating a new problem. Now Mac really had to become Dr. John and perform as him.

His first live performance as Dr. John was at the Filmore West with Thelonious Monk.  That’s right! Mac and Monk.  Almost three dozen albums later, “Dr. John” (Mac Rebennak) is still going strong.

You can catch Dr. John’s music and much more in my next show (recorded here).

In honor of Allen Toussaint

toussaint14
Allen Toussaint at piano with his band at the Portland Blues Festival this summer.

(Edited Podcast of My Radio Show Honoring Mr. Toussaint)

Allen Toussaint died last night (November 9, 2015) while on tour in Spain. There are many fine testimonials to his life and career. I can only say that when I met him this spring at the French Quarter Festival, he seemed so kind and gentle, hardly the megastar that he is (was). Here are some shots I took of him during his French Quarter Festival 2015 performance.

toussaint6
Toussaint with Erica Falls singing back up behind him.

toussaint10

toussaint8 toussaint5 toussaint4 toussaint2toussaint3

Toussaint generously posed for a photo with me before he took the interview stage at the Old Mint during the French Quarter Festival
Toussaint generously posed for a photo with me before he took the interview stage at the Old Mint during the French Quarter Festival

Tuts Washington holds solid place in New Orleans piano legacy

The rich creative humus that nurtures New Orleans music is built upon generations of musicians who, mostly in historical anonymity, shared their art and craft with younger musicians. (Here’s the edited version of the radio based on this post.)

If not for one solo recording and a fortuitous film that captured his brilliance and his legacy, Isidore “Tuts” Washington might have easily have been lost to future audiences. But his contribution to New Orleans music will not be forgotten

Isidore
Isidore “Tuts” Washington at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Born in 1907, Washington was old enough to follow the early jazz masters perform on the streets of his hometown. Mostly self-taught on the piano, he would whistle the brass band tunes he would hear until he could work them out on the keyboard.

At an early age, he excelled in the boogie woogie, improvisational style of piano common in the New Orleans clubs called barrelhouse. He played with a number of New Orleans bands throughout the 1920’s and 3o’s, including backing up a singer whose missing front teeth got him dubbed “Smiling” Lewis.

In the late 30’s while playing in these clubs, Washington nurtured a young pianist named Roy. He even painted a charcoal mustache on his face to help him get into clubs under age so he could perform with him.  Years later, Roy, otherwise known as Professor Longhair, would talk fondly of his mentor’s clean playing style and the long stretch of his fingers on the keyboards.

Cover of Tuts Washington's only solo recording
Cover of Tuts Washington’s only solo recording

After the war, when the now “Smiley” Lewis began to record, first with DeLuxe Records and then with Imperial Records, Washington found himself at the vanguard of Rhythm & Blues, playing piano on songs like “Turn On Your Volume,” “Tee-Nah-Nah,” and “Gumbo Blues.”  But recordings would be a rare experience for Washington who would not return to the studio again until he was deep into his 70’s.

Washington left the city and was gone for most of the J&M Studio R&B heyday.  When he returned to New Orleans, he played jazz with Papa Celestin and the Clyde Kerr Orchestra and held down regular gigs at places like the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant–solidifying his reputation in the 60’s and 70’s as a New Orleans institution.

He regularly performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and collapsed from heart failure while performing at the 1984 New Orleans Worlds Fair.

As mentioned above, he was a direct influence on Professor Longhair but also other New Orleans piano players, including James Booker and Allen Toussaint. This is evident when you watch this excerpt from Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together.  This film by Stevenson Palfi captures Tuts Washington and Professor Longhair near the end of their lives and Toussaint in his mid-40s.

Professor Longhair (top), Allen Toussaint (middle) and Tuts Washington performing Boogie Woogie in Piano Players Rarely Play Together
Professor Longhair (top), Allen Toussaint (middle) and Tuts Washington performing Boogie Woogie in Piano Players Rarely Play Together

The film features interviews and historical footage but the most exciting part of the film is the three masters playing pianos all lined up so the camera can catch them in the same shot.  While the YouTube version is muddy, the film has been digitally restored.

If you don’t want to watch the whole film, skip to the end when the filmmaker shows the three playing a boogie woogie tune to its full length. The number (available on Longhair’s anthology) starts with Professor Longhair giving a little coaching, scatting a bit to describe how to avoid cutting in on his master, Tuts Washington.

Hear this amazing artist on my next show, (recording of the show) Monday at 10 a.m.

Professor Longhair “tralla walla” makes us feel fine

This week’s post (and my focus on this week’s radio show) is about the man who sang “we gonna hoola tralla walla malla dalla drink some mellow wine.”

Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair
Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair

Henry Roeland Byrd was a tap dancer, card shark, soldier, cook, laborer and general street hustler. He also was one of the greatest New Orleans piano professors of all time – Professor Longhair.

His iconic “Tipitina” inspired the likes of Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Dr. John and countless others.

Professor Longhair’s style has been described as a rhumba crossed with a blues shuffle.In an interview with Peter Stone Brown not long before he died in 1980, he said:

” I was around a lot of honky-tonk musicians, barrelhouse musicians, blues musicians, and bebop musicians, jazz musicians. I just got a little bit from everybody and used it with what my mother taught me. She played a lot of ragtime music. . . I just mix my ideas up and call it a gumbo. There’s no certain thing at all. It’s just rockin’ rhythm.”

Fess was there at the beginning of the New Orleans Rock and Roll era in New Orleans, cutting his first singles in the J&M Studio (Cosimo Matassa) in 1949.  And in November 1953 with Alvin “Red” Tyler, Lee Allen, Earl Palmer, and Edgar Blanchard backing him up, he recorded “Tipitina” for the first time.

“Girl you hear me calling you. Well you’re three times seven, baby. Knows what you want to do.”

Calibration
Calibration

Born in Bogalusa but raised in New Orleans, Professor Longhair never made the hit parade and never really experienced financial success. By the late 60’s, his career had folded and he was living in poverty. In 1970, Quint Davis and Alison Minor sought him out with the intention of getting him to perform at their fledgling music festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Who they found was a frail, weak man who didn’t seem capable of pounding out his trademark rhythms. But with the help of Davis and Minor, he recovered enough to perform at the second JazzFest in 1971 and demonstrate that, if anything, his playing had gotten better.  His hometown and the world embraced him and his career flourished. Until his death in 1980, he recorded and performed, including at the nightclub created for the purpose of providing him and other aging R&B artists a place to play, named appropriately Tipitina’s.

Join me, won’t you for some Fess and Fess-inspired music this Memorial Day.   Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa kicks off at 10 a.m. on Monday. Here’s a recording of that show on Mixcloud.