And I plan to add more articles to the over 70 posts about New Orleans music. Just no where near the pace I was doing during the first year of the blog’s existence. Feel free to subscribe so when the occasional post appears, you will get a notice.
I took the train to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, just in time to catch the city’s blues festival.
I started by going to Buddy Guy’s Legends club and saw the six-time grammy award winning blues man sing with Shemekia Copeland. George “Buddy” Guy is from Lettsworth Louisiana and began playing professionally in Baton Rouge before making the familiar trek north to Chicago.
I say “familiar” because he wasn’t the first Louisiana musician to seek fortune and fame by heading up the Mississippi River.
If you’re a New Orleans jazz fan, you already know this story. After New Orleans was forced to close its red light district during the build up to World War 1, musicians who had been making a living playing the new music in the bars and brothels of Storyville, headed north. One of the best and earliest to do so was Joe “King” Oliver, who took his coronet to Chicago and hooked up with other New Orleans expatriates and recreated and polished the jazz of New Orleans. Things really took off when he convinced his young protege’ Louis Armstrong to come up and join him.
It was good timing. King’s smart professional move came at the beginning of what has become known as the Great Migration where for roughly a half century over 6 million African Americans relocated from the south to northern cities. An estimated 500,000 ended up in Chicago mostly in and around South Chicago.
The first migratory wave moved the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and European horns forged in New Orleans’ Backatown into popular awareness ensuring that Jazz would become a distinctly American sound.
And then came blues. Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett is noted as the first black woman to record. This Georgia-born singer recorded many of her earliest songs in Chicago.But she was followed by others, such as Muddy Waters who moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago during World War II and later Henry Gray who was typical of the second wave of the Great Migration. As black soldiers exited service following World War II, they looked for communities with more opportunities and less discrimination. The Louisiana-born pianist landed in Chicago in 1946, playing regularly with the likes of Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Rogers before hooking up with the Howlin’ Wolf Band. He has since returned to Louisiana and continues to perform on occasion.
Buddy Guy, who had started his career playing in Baton Rouge, got to Chicago in 1957. He was joined later by Lonnie Brooks who had a regional hit in Louisiana, Family Rules, before moving north.I’ll continue to explore the connections between these two fine musical cities (New Orleans and Chicago) on my show. Please join me or catch one of my edited podcasts.
Ruby Ru and Anch will guest host the LAST Monday edition of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa on January 25. But starting February, KAOS is shaking up the world.
Olympia’s community radio station is scrambling its morning line up of world music starting February 1. On that Monday, the mellifluous voice of Anch will kick off the week with her Vitamin D-infused, southern hemisphere focused program, Sundrenched, during my old 10 a.m. to noon slot.
DJ Kalambre’s Sonidoz de la Tierra has been delivering the hottest music in the alternative Latin world and a helluva lot more on Tuesday evenings. But now, he’s going to get us dancing at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays in the world music slot previously handled by Anch.
Veteran KAOS hosts David and Juli, who are also members of Olympia’s brass band Artesian Rumble Arkestra, will take over the Wednesday slot with their long-standing program Xenophilia.
And sliding into the Thursday shift previously held by Xenophilia will be yours truly, host of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa . Just as I’ve been doing on Mondays, I’ll be spinning the music of New Orleans. I’m not just talking Dixieland, here. I play the whole muffuletta — brass bands, blues, funk, R&B, Mardi Gras Indian, hip hop, swing, country, cajun, zydeco and everything in between.
The new Thursday edition of Gumbo YaYa will premiere February 4th with a special focus on Carnival and Mardi Gras. In fact, I’m headed to NOLA right now to get some first hand experience. (Such sacrifices I make for this show!)
Until then, you can catch many of the past shows edited for replay at Mixcloud.
“You’re treating me wrong, you’re breaking my heart,” sang country singer Claude King.
The song was likely about his Louisiana love but it could also apply to various radio stations I’ve known.
Over the years, I have formed some serious attachments to stations and their programming. But I learned at an early age, that they can break your heart and not say goodbye.
It first happened with progressive rock station KZAM in Seattle. From 1975 to 1983, the FM station introduced me to new artists, diverse selections, and female DJs. For a while KZAM had an AM sister station that was more cutting edge and which I could listen to in my car.
But then one day in 1981 without warning, the AM station abruptly switched to a smooth jazz format and, yes, I was heartbroken. Two years later, the FM station suddenly folded as well. Again without notice. I felt used.
Fortunately, there was KJET, another AM station. KJET introduced to me The Clash, R.E.M, The Police, Soft Cell, Devo, The Go Gos and so much more. And apparently I wasn’t the only fan. Allegedly members of Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam were listeners.
But one day, I got in my car, turned on the radio and heard classic oldies. Arggh! It happened again. Not even a farewell.
More recently, I listened to the “Mountain” (KMTT) decline from a KZAM-like progressive station to a shell of its past till it eventually folded. I remember thinking there must be something wrong with my radio until I realized that once again, I’d been dumped without even a “Dear Tim” letter.
What’s my point? Your ears (and heart) matter. And while change is inevitable, how that change happens matters. It should be done right.
At KAOS, your community radio station in the South Puget Sound for over 40 years, we let you know before programming changes. We have show hosts who have been offering a diverse range of music and information for years and they have built a relationship with listeners. When they eventually take their leave, they say “goodbye” on the air. And if you really like the programming, you can let us know so we can find a replacement. Or YOU could be that replacement, because the show hosts are people who live in the community and volunteer on the air.
It’s pledge drive time. This type of loyalty doesn’t happen without your support. Show your love to KAOS, I promise we won’t break your heart.
The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina affords us the opportunity to remember and reflect on how devastating nature can be when compounded by human failure.
As often happens, the poor, elderly and vulnerable populations suffered disproportionately because of their inability to get out of harms way and the paucity of their personal resources to recover afterwards.
Sadly, that seems to be a worldwide characteristic. But what Katrina revealed was that a country that could deliver troops anywhere in the world within two days could not come to the rescue of one of its most culturally rich cities and its residents. And the residents that suffered the most were poor.
I love my country and as a 30-year state employee, I believe in the positive power of government. But local, state and federal governments failed in Hurricane Katrina, from insufficient evacuation efforts, to the negligence in building and maintaining the levee system, to the limp rescue and recovery efforts and insufficient relief and restoration programs that followed.
Like most folks who witnessed from afar, I was alarmed and shamed by the failure to evacuate the city’s low-income, elderly and vulnerable population. Roughly 100,000 people were left behind, stranded in a flooded city, fleeing like rats to the Superdome, Convention Center, bridges and rooftops, stuck there for days in insufferable heat with little food and water. Roughly 1,800 residents died.
I had planned to visit my sister that fall. She had moved back to New Orleans from the Northwest the year before. I already had my plane ticket when on that Sunday morning in late August I watched Mayor Ray Nagin on national television urge the city’s evacuation with the words: “We’re facing the storm most of us have feared.”
I was out of town, watching the TV at a hotel. When I got home later that day, a phone message from my sister said she was going to hunker down and stay in the city. I wouldn’t hear her voice again for over a month.
Her message had been left on Saturday night. Nagin’s announcement was made Sunday morning. The hurricane made landfall near New Orleans on Monday morning, August 29, and by Tuesday 80 percent of the city was underwater.
My sister did eventually evacuate. Unlike many of the residents who were left behind, Katie had a car and the financial means to buy gas and survive the many months of uncertainty that followed. She was lucky yet she suffered so much personal anguish and loss that I doubt she will ever live again near the hurricane zone.
I rebooked my flight for Jazz Fest that April which did occur and reignited my love for New Orleans culture. My sister gave me the devastation tour of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth ward, both areas completely submerged by what is now recognized as one of the worst civil engineering failures in U.S. history.
There are a great many things the city and its residents can take pride in achieving over the decade. The city took a death blow and got up off the mat and survived–perhaps even thrived. New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit and live in. But it has changed.
Maybe some of the changes are good, maybe not. But Katrina, like the 1927 flood and Hurricane Betsy, has left its mark.
I’m dedicating my next two radio shows to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
In my next post, I’ll tell brief stories of how some of the New Orleans musicians I play on my show weathered the storm.
Just about every time I spin a Satchmo number, I think of my Dad. I just can’t separate my thoughts of Pop from the sound of “Pops.”
Jim Sweeney was born in 1923 about a year after Louis Armstrong moved to Chicago to join King Oliver and his band. So he would have been a young pup when Armstrong released his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. But that didn’t keep him from digging them.
While he held a lifelong passion for Armstrong, it was most likely Glenn Miller and his way of using reed instruments to carry the melody and Benny Goodman who inspired him as he came of age playing the saxophone and clarinet in the 30’s.
My musical foundation was solidly laid by Dad’s love of music, his stereo and his collection of swing, jazz and big band records. His taste in music became the soundtrack of my childhood.
I wouldn’t have been born in New Orleans if my Dad hadn’t taken a teaching post at Tulane in the 50’s. As someone who once played with the Tommy Dorsey band, albeit briefly, he must have thought he hit the jackpot when he got that assignment.
But by then his clarinet was packed away. He bought an organ instead and remodeled the downstairs of our house on Nashville Avenue, just a few blocks from Freret. There he and my Mom would hold parties, digging deeply into his music collection and inevitably ending up playing the organ or having others play and people would sing and dance. He was a fan of local musicians like Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, and a frequent visitor to their Bourbon Street clubs as well as a new spot called Preservation Hall.
My Dad’s career blossomed in New Orleans allowing him to get to know a wide range of people, particularly those active in labor and justice issues. As a result, our downstairs parties became a safe haven for activists such as Loyola faculty Louis Twomey and Joseph Fichter, Jesuit priests and academics who played a key role in school integration. Other visitors included the poet, John Beecher (“To Live and Die in Dixie”), the journalist John Griffin (“Black Like Me”) and, so I’ve been told, the Singing Nun.
I was too young to absorb most of this. But I did soak up the music. After we moved away from New Orleans, my Dad still loved to listen to hot jazz and swing. He almost always had music on whenever he was home. But it wasn’t quite the same.
This Monday, I’ll be spinning a lot of music my Dad played in his day and perhaps would have played (more current stuff) had he had the chance. Please join me.
The Internet has made it possible for community radio to be our window to the world . . . and the world’s window to us.
Reader Alert: Tim’s getting on his public media high horse.
True dat! The KAOS Spring Membership Drive begins Friday (April 17) with a week of regular encouragement to listeners to pony up and become a KAOS member and support community radio.
If you’re a regular listener to public radio, you know the many arguments for doing this. I’m hoping one or more of those have been persuasive enough to prompt you to support KAOS in the past and future. Here’s one you might not have heard yet.
KAOS listeners know we bring a diverse array of the world’s voices, rhythms and melodies to Olympia. But you might not know about how our station projects the culture of Olympia to the world.
Earlier this week, I was at a community station in New Orleans, WWOZ, which boasts that about half their donating members live outside their broadcast area. That means people from all over the world tune into that station by streaming it on the Internet. That got me thinking.
KAOS streams too at www.kaosradio.org. Some shows are available as podcasts (including some of my episodes) and the station is working with a provider that will allow all our programs up to two weeks old to be replayed after their original airing.
A number of our dedicated, long-time volunteers have developed a loyal following that extends beyond the station’s broadcast boundaries. Programs like J.J. Syrja’s roots rock Retroactive, the Bollywood-focused Junglee Hour, Scott Steven’s world music Spin the Globe and Raven Redbone’s show on First Peoples Make No Bones About It followed by G.W. Galbreath’s View from the Shore are just a few examples.
These and many other programs are carefully curated by KAOS volunteers who live in our community. During the show, they read local announcements, talk about upcoming events and generally convey who we are and what we care about in Olympia.
If the Internet really is making it possible for people worldwide to understand each other better, then radio shows with real live hosts delivered over the Internet expand on that through the power of music which throughout the ages has been a unifying element.
So when you hear Vertis on the Old Ship of Zion, Anabel on Folkin’ Around or even me bumbling through Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, think about how listener supported and volunteered powered KAOS is sharing with the world the things we care about, providing a window into our community.
Along with other volunteers, I’ll be answering phones this week. I hope we talk. And, just wait till you hear some of the great music I picked up in New Orleans this last trip on my next show this Monday.
I’ve been wanting Vaudeville Etiquetee (VE) to play in Olympia for some time. They offer an energetic performance style and an awesome repertoire that includes songs from last year’s debut album. Debutantes & Dealers has received positive and broad acceptance from American Songwriter to Northwest Music Scene to USA Today.
I stumbled onto VE about this time last year at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop. There was standing room only with barely any breathing space between musician and listener. I was immediately struck by the powerful drummer, the slick pedal steel, harmonizing vocals and the aura of frivolity the five musicians projected. This band was having fun and so was everyone else in the pub.
We came late and the band had worked through most of its original music so for the next set, they played what seemed to be the entire Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac. I can only say you had to have been there. It was a hoot. I’ve since caught them twice live in Seattle, confirming and exceeding my original impression of their talent.
The band is fronted by vocalists and songwriters Bradley Laina and Tayler Lynn who also play the guitar and accordion respectively. Sander Vinberg handles bass, Matt Teske adds pedal steel and mandolin and Bryce Gourley manages the beat.
I’ve heard VE described different ways: folk-rock, alternative country, neo-folk. My favorite description is by CMJ.com writers who after noticing the frequent play of Debutantes & Dealers on KAOS, highlighted the band on its website with this: “Ragtag, boot-stompin folk and swaying ballads . . Floating harmonies sing romantic tales to the backdrop of country western, gospel and banjo-pluckin’ folk.” Yea, what they said.
Tomorrow morning, these ragtag boot-stomping good folks will be getting up early, even for non-musicians, to drive from Astoria (where they’re playing tonight) to the KAOS studio in Olympia. I hope to get them on the air by 11 a.m. I hope you can tune in for them.
If you’ve been catching my show, you know that carnival season started on January 6. And it ends on Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday), February 17. One last blowout before Lent begins. In the last week alone, over 20 parades have rolled through the streets of New Orleans. There are so many activities and traditions encompassed by the New Orleans carnival season, that its best if you go to the source. To get a feel for a street parade, check out the site’s live cameras.
It’s been a long time since my last Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I was 10 years old. Our family tradition was to camp out at my Dad’s office just off Canal Street and watch the major parades pass.
It was quite a party at the office with a potluck table loaded with fried chicken, gumbo, King Cake and a wide variety of liquor bottles. At that time, in the 60’s, the big parade on Mardi Gras Day was, and perhaps still is, the venerable Rex.However, the parade was referred to as “formaldehyde on wheels” by a character in the HBO series Treme.
The unique Zulu parade was almost mystical to me at the time, an elusive parade with no printed parade route that tossed coconuts and had ass-kicking music. The Times Picayune and MardiGras.com have done a great job of posting photos and videos of parades during the carnival season and I’m impressed by the intimacy of some of the parades. They remind me of of my favorite parades that used to roll down Freret Street and Carrollton Avenue. Parade routes are more limited now but even still some of the parades offer that neighborhood feeling–quite a contrast from the Bourbon street image of Mardi Gras often portrayed to the rest of the world.
One tradition that continues to grow in awareness is the Black Indians of Mardi Gras. Even with the growth in popularity, its still a lucky person who can catch sight of a Mardi Gras Indian gang doing their thing on the streets on Fat Tuesday. I’ll be doing Mardi Gras and party music in general on my show on Monday. If you miss the show, you can catch it later and other episodes, on MixCloud.
Like players preparing for the big game, Bob and I were ready to boogie to Rebirth Brass Band last night. Even though we long ago qualified for our AARP memberships, we decided to pass on the 7 p.m. show and go for the late show at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, even if it meant driving back to Olympia in the wee hours of the morning.
We had made a point to take naps in the afternoon and I had a taken the rare step of drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee. What we hadn’t counted on was an early winter storm in Bend Oregon where the band had played the night before.
As we stared dumbfounded at the notice on the door saying the show was cancelled, we couldn’t help but wonder why we bothered. Sometimes misfires happen. Some times you have to put up with long lines and waits, uncomfortable seats and too much cold or heat or other types of discomfort. But we do it because live music is worth it.
So last night was a bit of a bust. We ended up catching a few numbers by a jazz duo with the radio unfriendly name of Suffering Fuckhead at the Sea Monster in Wallingford. They were okay but it wasn’t what we were looking for and we ended up getting home right at midnight, about two or three hours sooner than expected.
So since I’m a bit ragged from spending long hours enjoying the Olympia Film Festival and a bit bummed about last night’s letdown, I’m going to finish this week’s blog with a few photos and one video of when the effort was worth it. And Monday’s Gumbo YaYa show will include an hour of danceable brass band music. . .because I deserve it.
The video below is a short excerpt of Rebirth playing at their home base, Maple Leaf Bar, a couple years back. Sorry for the poor video and sound quality but you get the idea.