Celebrating Irma Thomas’ 80th Birthday

When you hear Irma Thomas called the Soul Queen of New Orleans, its natural and correct to assume its a reference to one of her singing styles. But I think it also can refer to her role as a sustainer of the city’s soul. Happy 80th birthday to Irma Thomas!

She “had four children by age 19” adorns just about every write up of her and my guess is that this repeated fact helps establish that nothing has come easy for Ms. Thomas. She has worked for her success, raised (more than four) children, held down day jobs, lost her home to Hurricane Katrina and performed music through six decades that have not always been kind. Here’s a short bio from the Delgado Community College Women Center — an empowerment center she’s been deeply involved in since she earned her associates degree in business from Delgado – – – at the age of 60. Oh, and the center bears her name.

Irma Thomas at the Chicago Blues Festival, 2016.

This week’s show features songs to show off some of Irma’s range, starting with her version of Fats Domino’s “I Just Can’t Get New Orleans Off My Mind.” I follow that up with “Cry On” recorded when she first started with Minit records (during the Allen Toussaint heyday). Also “Back Water Blues” and “Thinking of You.” There’s a few other gems in this set, including her vocals with Galactic (“Heart of Steel”) and her harmonizing with Marcia Ball and Tracy Nelson from their Sing It! record.

So that first 20 minutes is all about Irma and good reason to listen to the show, but there’s reason continue to listen as well! What with The Crooked Vines “Everything New” from their latest, the New Orleans Suspects covering James Booker’s “Classified” followed by James Booker covering Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”

A little more name dropping: Henry Gray, Leyla McCalla, Larry Garner, Lost Bayou Rambler, Arsene Delay, Free Spirit Brass Band, Mindi Abair rocking with Trombone Shorty and the New Orleans Johnnys.

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Sage Advice: “Don’t You Lie to Me” starts this week’s show

This week’s show celebrates the birth anniversary of three highly regarded New Orleans area musicians: Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal, Big Chief Bo Dollis and Allen Toussaint. You’ll also hear and hear about a New Orleans twist of a song from the great mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap.”

Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal

Paul Sinegal, who died the summer of 2019, would have been 77 this week. His career spans blues, zydeco and R&B. A good part of his career was spent as a guitarist with Clifton Chenier’s band, including his stage debut as a young teen. He also worked with Rockin’ Dopsie and Buckwheat Zydeco. He was a regular performer at Ponderosa Stomp. In 1999, Sinegal released The Buck Stops Here – a record produced on Allen Toussaint’s NYNO Label and featured several songs written by Toussaint. The show starts with Sinegal’s “Don’t You Lie to Me” and you’ll hear him later with “Monkey in a Sack.”

Big Chief Bo Dollis

Big Chief Bo Dollis was a pioneer along with his mentor Big Chief Tootie Montana in the cultural arena known as Mardi Gras Indians. Dollis and Montana elevated the sewing and construction of the “suits” (never call them costumes) to such a high level that much of the rough action and violence that was once associated with Mardi Gras Indians stopped. Who would want to fight and mess up such a great suit — which can also weigh around 100 pounds. Dollis, who also would have been 77 this year, is featured with two Wild Magnolias numbers “New Suit” and “Coconut Milk”

In the six years of this show, you’ve heard a lot about Allen Toussaint because its impossible to do a New Orleans show without frequent appearances by him, his songs and his extensive music production work. In this week’s show, you’ll here him sing “Oh My” with Dave Bartholomew on trumpet, the Paul Simon classic “American Tune” and a early online dating novelty song called “Computer Lady.” But you’ll also hear Toussaint classics “Ride Your Pony” and “Night People” by The Meters and Stanton Moore respectively.

At just after the first hour mark, Matt Perrine of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers (and countless other music projects) introduces “Big Bottom” — a song played by the parody heavy metal band Spinal Tap in the movie by Rob Reiner. Here’s the original version. It’s fun to compare this powerful Nightcrawler version, arranged by Perrine after years of noodling on how to convert the plodding rock beat into a New Orleans style song, to the original. The Nightcrawlers are up for a Grammy for their new release Atmosphere that includes the song “Big Bottom.”

Lots of other fun stuff in between all this, including at least three appearances by bass player George Porter Jr. and some great but not well known songs by Eric Lindell, Marcia Ball, the Radiators, Yvette Landry, Buckwheat Zydeco and the New Orleans Suspects — just to name drop a few.

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A Gumbo Soundtrack for Your Summer Trip

Why should a little global pandemic stand in the way of a virtual summer trip.

​”Good times are down the road. . . .Mama won’t let me go. ” If sung today, Marcia Ball might sing her line as “COVID won’t let me go.” But why should a little global pandemic stand in the way of a virtual summer trip. Put your virtual mask on, click the sideways arrow in the box below and let’s get this week’s musical journey started with a ride on the “Magic Bus” courtesy of Billy Iuso.

You can go “Down the Road” with Marcia Ball in a “Big Old Rusty Car” by Big Al and The Heavyweights, on an “August Night” (Preservation Hall) going from “Austin to Destin” with Davis Rogan, on the Next Train (Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires), in the “Dog Days” (Little Queenie) of “High Summer” (Alex McMurray)​ and if you’re not “King of the Road”(James Booker cover)  by then you can “Go Out on the Road” (Hurray for the Riff Raff) on “Southern Nights” (Allen Toussaint’s long version). And that’s just the first half of the show.

Jimmy Carter had just moved into the White House when Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” began its climb to being the number one song in both the Billboard’s pop and country charts. But that version is nothing like the song delivered by the man who wrote it. Allen Toussaint started as a teenager working to shape the sound of New Orleans R&B with the help of Irma Thomas (who sings a Toussaint song later in the show), Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey and The Meters. But when he sings his autobiographical “Southern Nights,” he becomes a young city boy exploring the fascinating yet spooky outdoors in the backwaters of Louisiana on a weekend trip to visit relatives who don’t quite speak the same language. Yea, nice thing about a virtual trip like this is you don’t need to worry about the mosquitos!

Another song where it’s probably better to hear it than experience it is”Dog Days” by Leigh Harris (Little Queenie). In less than six minutes, this song covers all the aspects of the August heat in New Orleans. “How many baths can you take in one day.”

The second half of the show is a mixed bag of music featuring a bit of reggae by a no longer active Rock Steady group from New Orleans (007) and Dr. Michael White covering Bob Marley’s “One Love.” Later listen to Irma Thomas pivot on stage in a live recording to do a song she hadn’t sung in years. The band helps out with the forgotten lyrics with a great little jam near the end on “Hittin’ on Nothin.”

The show finishes with a Bon Bon Vivant number, “The Alchemist.” Abigail Cosio and Jeremy Kelley and their merry band of friends and musicians have created a relaxed and yet deceptively high tech presentation for their weekly live Facebook shows . The sound is great. The visuals are fun with camera work that puts you in the intimate room with them. You can watch the roughly one-hour shows at 5 p.m. West Coast time on Sundays or any time afterwards as a recording. And now because of some sort of magic that Jeremy hooked me up with, the same performance will show live on the Gumbo YaYa Facebook page.

Jeremy Kelley and Abigail Cosio of Bon Bon Vivant with friends and band members are providing a quality live feed of their weekly Sunday shows.

As I write this, I’ve been informed that COVID-19 virus was discovered in the building where the KAOS studio is located. As a result, the studio is in lockdown and the Olympia broadcast of the show will be postponed one week. Meanwhile in Bellingham (the City of Subdued Excitement), KMRE will be airing this week’s Gumbo YaYa two hours earlier this Friday (5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.) because of its airing of the virtual Subdued Stringband Jamboree. But you can listen to the full show now. Thank you for tuning in.

This Year’s Fourth of July – A Cause for Hope?

Today’s show begins with an Allen Toussaint song of unity and tolerance and ends with Delfeayo Marsalis’ erudite dissection of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Perhaps in this the 244th year of our nation, we can make real progress toward the equitable society imagined in our Declaration of Independence. Let the show begin.

President Obama was only in office a few months when Allen Toussaint took the stage at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and sang “We are America – we are some of yesterday and we are some of tomorrow. . .” as an intro to his “Yes We Can Can.”

Seven years later, trombonist and bandleader Delfeayo Marsalis released “Make America Great Again” with its title song featuring a narration by Wendell Pierce (a high school mate of Delfeayo) that indicts the phrase with “there will always be those of us who long for “the good old days,” either because we weren’t there or we’ve simply forgotten what those days were actually like.

What a difference an administration makes! And yet as even the State of Mississippi finally gets around to doing the right thing, there appears to be room for optimism.

Smoky Greenwell

The show’s first full set is introduced by veteran blues musician Smoky Greenwell, speaking from New Orleans to introduce two songs from his latest album (one of my favorites of 2019) “Common Ground” and “Get Out and Vote.” Smoky celebrates a birthday on Fourth of July.

In addition to Smoky’s birthday, I celebrate four other birth anniversaries. Lee Allen, the tenor sax that brought us New Orleans rock n’ roll, would have turned 94 on July 2. You’ll hear three of his songs and a good argument for why Lee Circle, currently named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee should be renamed after the Lee Allen song “Walkin’ with Mr. Lee.”

New Orleans favorite son Pete Fountain would have turned 90 on July 3. Fountain’s clarinet was the soundtrack of my childhood, a favorite of my clarinet playing father who taught at Tulane in the 60’s. You’ll hear a couple of his songs with his good buddy Al Hirt.

Reggie Houston – Photo by Hunter Paye

Reggie Houston lives in Portland now but is New Orleans through and through. Bless him for making a major move late in life that seems to have been good for him and Portland — as attested by his work with the annual Waterfront Blues Festival. His “Before I Grow Too Old” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” just seemed perfect for the show. Reggie turns 73 this week.

I suspect Matt Perrine is well known in the music industry as one of the world’s finest sousaphone players but its not like that distinction scores you the cover of Esquire Magazine — though it might get you a cameo in The Simpsons. He turns 51 and while I could do a whole show of his performance given his prolific studio work — I limited him to two of his own songs. He turns 51.

Lots of other music to enjoy in today’s show including Leigh Harris with “Make a Better World,” Walter “Wolfman” Washington with “Trials and Tribulations,” and Cowboy Mouth’s new “Oh Toulouse.” Thanks for tuning in. Stay safe this weekend.

How New Orleans shaped my view of Christmas

First memory of snow in New Orleans melds with this year’s Holiday music show.

My earliest memories of Christmas are from New Orleans. (Psst. You can start the show and still read the rest of this post.)

A popular New Orleans drugstore chain.

My Dad unsnarling lines of C-9 colored bulbs for draping on our second story porch railing on our Nashville Avenue home in uptown New Orleans. The scotch pine tree decorated in the downstairs den. Radio announcements of sightings of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over the Falstaff Beer sign. Last minute shopping at the purple glowing Katz & Besthoff. Cruising St. Charles to see the mansions and their holiday displays and lights. And the ever present wish for snow in a climate where 50 degrees Fahrenheit seems cold.

Nostalgia is as much a part of my Christmas as mistletoe and Amazon boxes. I suppose its a longing for that period of innocence when I believed possible a boisterous, jovial superhero could disperse presents to all the good children in the world.

This year’s holiday show includes a wistful set on snow in New Orleans, starting with the Radiators, particularly their keyboardist and songwriter Ed Volker, singing about their first experience with this rare occurrence in the subtropics. “Who can forget that feeling. . . the snow gently falling.” If you have lived in New Orleans when it snowed, it is not something you tend to forget.

For me, my first snow meant a rare sighting of my Dad during the daytime. My father grew up in New York City and Newark, got his doctorate in Cambridge at M.I.T. But he had lived in the south most of his professional life. As a Tulane administrator in the 60’s, my Dad was doing the Don Draper thing, working long hours in an office setting where smoking and drinking were the norm. But that afternoon when the snow fell, he came screaming home in our Rambler station wagon, the thin accumulated snow muffling the crunch of the oyster shells on our backyard driveway.

Early 1958. I don’t remember this pitiful New Orleans snow. I’m in the stroller.

He brusquely told me to grab gloves and get in the car while he collected a few items including a shovel, carrot and old fishing hat. He drove us to Audubon Park — home of Monkey Hill referenced in Allen Toussaint’s song “The Day It Snows on Christmas.” There we attempted to create a snow man. It was a pitiful sculpture, melting pretty much as we were making it. He apologized for the quality of the snow. But you’ll have to excuse me if I get just a bit choked up thinking about my father standing with melted snow wicking up his nice trousers, full of good intentions, most likely carrying his own early snow memories and having just exerted himself more than he had since he hung those damn porch lights during the holidays. Writing this reminds me that part of why I do this show is because of him.

I wasn’t living in New Orleans when I started building Christmas memories like the one Aaron Neville sings about in “Such a Night.” Those involve my partner of over 40 years, who I share the life-changing adventure of moving, right after graduation, from the South to the Northwest and making our home cozy using cinder block shelves, reclaimed furniture and homemade tree ornaments. Yes, we reversed my Dad’s life direction moving to where the winter nights are long and cold, and snuggling feels so good.

John Boutte’s “Holding You This Christmas” and Marva Wright’s “Stocking Full of Love” drive that loving feeling home for me. That set finishes with the very special song by Kelcy Mae, written in the year that same sex marriages became the law of our country. However, her song is universal for any couple who has had to split their holiday time with extended family. Watching this song’s music video that includes crowd sourced marriage pictures from that year is a new holiday tradition for me.

Today’s show has a few traditional holiday songs done in classic New Orleans fashion and, as you might expect, some not-so traditional songs done in contemporary New Orleans fashion. I hope it holds your interest and perhaps triggers a memory or two. My best to you during this season of long winter nights. Hold someone you love close and keep the radio turned on. Cheers.

Touring New Orleans trumpeter and songwriter talks on today’s show

One of the many cool aspects of my role as host of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa is getting to meet musicians who I admire. Last week, it was Bon Bon Vivant. This week its Shamarr Allen, a talented songwriter who happens to be a damn good trumpeter. (Get it started will ya!)

Today’s show kicks off with Allen Toussaint’s project to bring together (for perhaps the last time) the R&B greats of Earl Palmer, Alvin “Red” Tyler, Ed Frank, and Lee Allen. Crescent City Gold was recorded in the 90’s. I play “Hang Tough” to be consistent with today’s goal of digging deeper in some of my favorite CDs while giving some neglected artists some air time.

To tease his upcoming interview, the first full set starts with Shamarr Allen’s “Can You Feel It.” I thought Corey Henry’s “Feeling Tremazin” folowed Shamarr’s song nicely.

The next set goes country with The Big Dixie Swingers, The Deslondes, and Kevin Sekhani (originally from Lafayette). I follow that with a jazz set of Percy Humphrey, Al Hirt and Frog and Henry who will be performing in the region through the middle of the month. (See calendar)

Shamarr Allen

Almost an hour into the show, Shamarr Allen called as he was driving his way across North California to perform in Lake Tahoe. He’ll get into Oregon on Tuesday and play Seattle next Thursday, followed by gigs in Portland and Tacoma. This is his first tour of the Northwest and its long overdue.

While its hard to categorize Mr. Allen’s music, its easy to enjoy. His “Meet Me on Frenchmen Street” could easily put him in the treasured category of classic New Orleans musicians who manage to keep the New Orleans jazz tradition fresh.

But his “Sorry Ain’t Enough No More” shows the depth of his song writing as he, Dee-1, Benny Pete and Paul Sanchez express their disgust of the BP Gulf spill and the havoc that all spills cause. You’ll see him wear a shirt in that video that says “My trumpet (image of one) is my weapon.” But his lyrics are powerful too.

But its that sweet spot between tradition and innovation that Mr. Allen excels and a perfect example is the video recording of his song “Ruin My Day” which he filmed as part of the NPR tiny desk contest. A positive song about life’s vagaries recorded in the House of Dance and Feathers.

While the radio interview is short, you will get a glimpse into this artist’s history, his family (his uncle is founder and curator of House of Dance and Feathers) and his music. I finish the interview with a spin of his “House of Dance and Feathers” a song he wrote for the music “Nine Lives.”

Here’s just the interview with Mr. Allen:

The show carries on after Mr. Allen signs off including songs by Larry Garner, Dash Rip Rock, Henry Butler, Johnny Adams, Cha Wa and more. Thanks for tuning in and consider subscribing.

Art Neville carried the NOLA sound from R&B to Funk to Unique

Another sad loss for the world and New Orleans with the death of Art Neville at 81. His 60 plus years of performing spanned the early years of New Orleans R&B to funk to the rich gumbo of the Neville Brothers. This week’s show has almost an hour of Art’s music. Get it started by clicking the triangle in the player below and then read on.

Barely 17, Art Neville recorded with his high school band a song that would entertain over seven decades of Mardi Gras revelers. “Mardi Gras Mambo” may not ever have charted but it has been a seasonal favorite ever since its recording in January 1955 in a local radio station studio.

Art Neville hooked up with Harold Battiste and recorded with Specialty Records after that cranking out songs like “Cha Chooky-Doo,” “Oooh Wee Baby” and “Please Listen to My Song.” You’ll hear those and others early on in the show before I move on to his more funkier stuff.

As a keyboardist, he became known as “Poppa Funk” anchoring the sound of The Meters and playing songs that would define the New Orleans funk sound. You’ll get three tracks from The Meters in this show — including “Africa” which the Neville Brothers would later cover.

Art’s uncle, George Landry, and the Meter’s association with Allen Toussaint would lead into musical history when they recorded “Wild Tchoupitoulas” — an album of music derived from the Mardi Gras Indian culture and the chants of their uncle in his role as Big Chief Jolly. In this album, you can hear the Neville Brothers sound developing — particularly in the context of Mardi Gras Indian numbers.

But my Neville Brothers’ set focuses on their New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival performances and the importance Art and his siblings played in supporting that institution. You’ll hear “Yellow Moon” for instance from the 2001 JazzFest.

The last half of the show includes a full set of brass bands, some country and swamp pop, and ends with Houseman DeClouet singing “The Truth Iz Out.” I know you’ll like this show. Be sure to subscribe to my blog so you can get wind of future shows.

Two extended JazzFest performances anchors this week’s show

Champion Jack Dupree and Sam Williams couldn’t be more different in their style of music but they hold a common ground as dear to them as it is to my show: New Orleans. And I feature knock out JazzFest performances by both of them in this week’s show. Go ahead get it started.

Big Sam of Big Sam’s Funky Nation kicked off his 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival performance with a nearly 12-minute song he titled “Play Them Funky Horns” a mash up of songs that even includes a few bars of “Liza Jane.” It’s a nice preview for his upcoming performance in Portland (Mississippi Studios) and Seattle (Tractor Tavern) next week. That song kicks off the first full set on this show and will get you moving — guaranteed.

Twenty festivals previously, in 1990, Champion Jack Dupree sat on the stage — his first return to New Orleans in over 30 years of living in Europe — with a master of ceremonies Allen Toussaint — whose job was to interview the long-missed expatriate — one of the few remaining original barrelhouse piano maestros. During a soulful number called “Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living,” Dupree is joined by a Toussaint who lays in on the high side of the keys some pretty flourishes.

The duo continue through that song and into a boogie woogie number that ended with Dupree (80 plus years old at that time) getting up demonstrating is own boogie woogie moves that included some incredible abdominal exertions. The performances has been available in video online for years and this year the Smithsonian Folkways included the performance in its five-disk retrospective in honor of the 50th annual JazzFest. You’ll find that song in the second hour of the show.

In between, the show features performances by Jon Cleary, Shamarr Allen, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dwayne Dopsie, Frog and Henry, Leyla McCalla, Dana Abbott, Galactic and The Crooked Vines (just to name a few).

I also celebrate Little Joe Gaines 100th birthday anniversary by playing his two solo numbers by Mercury, including “Snuff Dipper.”

Check out whose playing the Northwest this summer here.

Christmas Time from New Orleans

How can there be a war on Christmas when anyone who wants to enjoy this popular event is able to? Not only is this holiday community property, its a wonderful way to examine our culture. In this show, you get a look at Christmas through the lens of New Orleans music (with some help from cajun and zydeco musicians_

Allen Toussaint

What better way start the Gumbo Ya Ya show than with Art Neville’s “Gumbo Christmas”. Snow is pretty rare in New Orleans and a “white” Christmas is almost unfathomable so I start the next set with Allen Toussaint’s delightful “The Day It Snows on Christmas.”

The set ends with Louis Armstrong’s version of “Christmas Night in Harlem” which was a bigger hit than the original 1934 recording by Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. As sung by Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer in the Whiteman version, the song has minstrel elements that seem to play off the same attraction held by the popular radio show of the time, Amos N’ Andy. Armstrong wised removed those elements, streamlined the song, focused on the swinging parts and made the song a bigger hit.

You get a soulful, blues reading of the “Night Before Christmas” by the man who either inspired the name of the Little Richard hit or got his nickname from it: Ready Teddy McQuisten. And if you’re not familiar with the song “Ready Teddy,” don’t worry. I play it right after the reading.

Kelcy Mae’s original and poignant song about separating from her partner during the holidays as they each head to their respective families plays off a pun of “Merry Me” as it recognizes and honors the achievement of legalizing same sex marriages. Here’s her video of that song.

Wayne Toups sings “Louisiana Santa” and Smoky Greenwell drives home a very cool version of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For those who love horns, New Birth Brass Band belts out “Second Line Santa”

Shamarr Allen sings his original “Santa Passed My House By” with the assistance of what like is his own child. There’s more to this show so please enjoy. Consider subscribing, it’s free. If you celebrate this holiday, Merry Christmas. Otherwise, enjoy the season and some time off with your loved ones.

Latest Gumbo Show Inspired by Spring Festivals

I’ve been a bit giddy this week. The onset of our area’s first solid gesture of  spring coinciding with the start of Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Olympia’s Arts Walk and Procession of the Species  this weekend inspired this show which aired April 26, 2018 on KAOS. The show features very little jazz but a lot of New Orleans which is fitting at a time when Olympia holds its biggest street scene of the year.

procession
Process of the Species is a unique Olympia cultural experience.

To get ready for that walking, standing and processing,  I start with some hip openers thanks to an opening number by The Meters  followed by Shamarr Allen’s trumpet boogie of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”  Art Neville comes back on with one of his Specialty Records classic rock and roll songs.  Keith Stone keeps it rocking with the title track from his latest release The Prodigal Returns.

I mellow it out later in the set,  with the help of Kelcy Mae singing an Earth Day appropriate song “Mr. Leopold.”  Elvis Costello sings a great Allen Toussaint song, with the composer’s vocal and piano assistance.  To honor Olympia’s unique cultural creation — the Procession of the Species, I played the Brassaholics “They Sew” – a song about New Orleans unique cultural creation the Black Indians of Mardi Gras. This song was two-fer cause it also honored Brassaholic’s trumpeter Tannon “Fish” Williams who celebrated his 43rd birthday that day.

I didn’t hear about the death of Charles Neville till the next morning so I’ll save his tribute for next week’s show.  Please enjoy this one and consider subscribing so you can be alerted to when new shows are posted.