New Orleans helped shape Little Richard’s music and Rock n’ Roll

“Little” Richard Penniman was only 22 when he recorded “Tutti Frutti” in September 1955 but he was already on his third record label, having a hard time finding the right support for his energetic and flamboyant performance style. He died last week at 87. You’ll hear his music and a bit about how New Orleans let his freak flag fly in this week’s show. Get it started and then read on.

“Little” Richard Penniman

Little Richard began his professional career in his teens when he performed with a travelling show. However, he would struggle with the tension between his religious leanings and his sexual orientation through most of his professional career. But when Specialty Records bought out his contract and sent him to New Orleans, he found an accepting work environment that allowed him to be more true to himself. The J&M Studio run by Cosimo Matassa had become a bit of a hit factory, largely as a result of the residency of Fats Domino. With the help of bandleader Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, a native of Seattle, Little Richard found the musical backing that could match his frenetic style.

When Tutti Frutti took off, it was quickly followed by “Long Tall Sally” which went to number one on the R&B chart. You’ll hear that song along with two others from that era. I’ll also play another set featuring music Little Richard made popular, including a demo tape of Good Golly Miss Molly. All the songs I play were recorded in New Orleans.

Andrew Duhon

But as with most of my shows, I don’t stick to one genre for long. After the Little Richard sets, we make a sharp turn into the soulful songwriting and singing of Andrew Duhon with a greeting by him sequestered in his New Orleans home. Duhon has toured the Northwest including Olympia and when you hear his three-song set, you’ll hope he comes back real soon.

The second half of the show features funk, blues, Latin, Cajun, swing and jazz. So just sit back and soak it up. What else do you need to do?

If you have a story of New Orleans or would like to share with me your love for the city and its music, let me know. I’d like to get your voice on my show. You’ll hear an example of what I’m talking about near the end of the first hour of the show. Contact me through my Facebook page and we’ll work it out.

Quarantine and Chill – With Some of New Orleans’ Finest

Shamarr Allen wants to keep you in shape for when Second Lines return. This means today’s show kicks off with”Quarantine and Chill” and Allen’s exhortation that “just because you’re stuck in the house, don’t mean you can’t . . .show me that footwork!”

Get my show started and I’ll fill you in on the rest of the program’s line up.

Four more fine New Orleans artists help me out with calling the music this week, starting with Debbie Davis, former member of the Pfister Sisters. Davis has just released her second record with pianist Josh Paxton t– Interesting Times. She introduces us to her new album (about 5 minutes into the show) with “Other Than Everything, Everything’s Great” and “Will It Go Round in Circles.” She sings two more times in the set — David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” from her latest record and Lou Reed’s “After Hours” from an earlier project — Debbie Davis and the Mesmerizers.

Lena Prima has produced and distributed over 200 masks.

Lena Prima comes on (at about 38 minutes into the show) to talk about how she’s been doing during the quarantine. As you can see from the picture, she’s been busy making masks. In her set, you’ll hear songs from three of her albums — the title track “Since the Storm”written by her husband who leads her band, “Jump for Joy” from her album of original songs Starting Something and a live recording of a classic pulled from her father’s songbook, “Scuba Diver.”

You will meet Sierra Green at about the 50 minute mark. Sierra Green & the Soul Machine recently received Offbeat Magazine‘s Best Emerging Artist award. You’ll hear two tracks from her self-titled debut record and, just for fun, I finish that set with Glen David Andrews powering through a Galactic number (You Don’t Know). If you were waiting to dance, wait no more!

Davis Rogan on piano performing a packed house in Olympia.

Davis Rogan was scheduled to perform at Octapas in Olympia next month but obviously those plans are no longer. Like just about every professional musician with a mortgage, Davis has been learning how to get his music and his tip jar out on the Internet. You can catch his live performances on his Facebook page Sundays at 10 a.m. and Wednesdays at 4 p.m. (Left Coast Times). Rogan joins the show about 65 minutes in and introduces his latest single “Mardi Gras Chicken” followed by “No Blues” and “Fly Away.”

I throw in a set of Zydeco and Cajun along with a long string of brass band music kicked off by Chuck Carbo’s “Hurt Coming On.” But before I do that, I make a pitch for supporting community radio. My show airs on Thursdays on KAOS and Fridays on KMRE. Listener support is essential to these stations continued survival.

As for me, I just want to smile and you can make me smile by subscribing to this blog. I’ll be back next week.

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.” Here is 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Toussaint with Erica Falls singing back up behind him.

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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