Last Gumbo YaYa Show But the Blog Will Carry On

I have hung up my headset and retired the show with this week’s farewell program. I’m healthy . . .just hewing to my philosophy of ending activities when they are still fun to do. I’ll explain this a bit more but first go ahead and demonstrate your multitask abilities by starting the show while still reading.

Since September 8 2014, I have produced a weekly radio show that features “Just a Little Bit of Everything ” which is the title of the Herb Hardesty’s 1961 single that kicks off the first full set of music. However, the common element has always been a strong connection with New Orleans and Lafayette.

The show broadcast live from the KAOS studio on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, first on Mondays and then later on Thursdays. A few years back, community station KMRE (Bellingham) began running edited versions of the show on Fridays. More recently, the show has aired on KOCF (Fern Ridge), WPHW (Hartwell) and occasionally other stations that participate in the Pacifica Network. In all, I produced about 380 episode with over 300 of them available to listen through this website.

Doing a post-Christmas show featuring my top 10 of 2019 with my sons — one of the highlights of my time doing the show.

When I first started as a volunteer deejay with KAOS , I considered a show featuring exclusively New Orleans music. But worried about the limited format. Over the course of my first year doing a morning drive-time show, I found myself digging into the KAOS music collection and was surprised by the depth of music coming out of the city –my birthplace and home for most of childhood.

So that’s what I’ve done, play songs by musicians such as Earl King who kicks off the show with “No City Like New Orleans,” Johnny Adams who swings through “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” and Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses jamming through “Minor Drag.”

I’m not a fan of long goodbyes but I also believe its important that radio stations provide closure when a show ends (as opposed to abruptly changing format with no warning). So I made it a finale show and asked listeners to call in and say hi. And over a dozen did! My favorite comment was from a listener who said she was going to JazzFest this April as a result of what she had heard on the show. (I couldn’t have received a better report card.)

Today’s show takes a sentimental walk through some previously covered material, including “St. James Infirmary” a personal lifelong favorite which has an interesting pedigree. Here’s more detail on that history. This week’s segment includes a clip from the Treme TV series featuring Wendell Pierce riffing off that song in the Touro Emergency Room.

The HBO series “Treme” had just wrapped its original run on TV when I started my show. Third from left is Wendell Pierce who played the fictional character Antoine Batiste. In this picture, he’s parading with actual members of Rebirth Brass Band.

Later, I play the original version of “Basis Street Blues” by Louis Armstrong and hint at its fascinating history detailed more in a previous show and post including how that song acquired lyrics which then resulted in the City of New Orleans returning the “Basin Street” name after eliminating it during a blush of civic post-Storyville shame (I guess tourism promotion beat out virtue and vanity). Satchmo scats on this early pre-lyric version of the song.

The Treme Brass Band does a great job on “Darktown Strutters Ball” a song with lyrics and a title that has caused me concern and in which I explore in a show and post.

I touch on the topic of Nine Lives a book by Dan Baum about people’s lives in New Orleans — originally sent to write about Hurricane Katrina, Baum ended up with a book detailing unique aspects of New Orleans culture such as Mardi Gras Indians, and marching bands. I play a song about Tootie Montana in today’s show.

This week’s show also includes a couple of clips from interviews including a funny description by Irvin Mayfield of his good friend Kermit Ruffins. You’ll also hear Kermit sing from his Happy Talk release. Here’s the interview of Kermit and Irvin in Kermit’s Mother-in-Law club about their album collaboration.

You’ll also hear Craig Klein saying why his New Orleans Nightcrawlers, which won a Grammy last year, sound so authentic. I pull that clip from an interview with four-ninths of the band last year.

Irma Thomas sings her big hit “Ruler of My Heart” on this show.

And you’ll hear an example of the messages I aired from New Orleans musicians during the COVID quarantine of 2020. For my final show, I chose Marla Dixon to repeat her delightful summary of her COVID life. Here’s the full show and full recording of Marla’s message from that time.

So this is it. I’m done creating new shows though you can listen to the 300 shows available through this website. I’m looking to travel a bit more and explore even more new music. And I’m going to keep this blog going. I suspect it will be quiet for a few weeks but don’t be surprised if I return with non-radio show type posts regarding music. Thanks for listening. But to keep in touch, you should subscribe .(right hand column)

Going beyond the lyrics in Basin Street Blues

“Now Basin Street is the street where the folks all meet. In New Orleans, land of dreams.”

basin streetBasin Street Blues is another New Orleans jazz standard with a fascinating back story.

The song was composed by Spencer Williams and originally recorded by Louis Armstrong – two New Orleanians who grew up on and around Basin Street. However, when the song was recorded in 1928, the street no longer existed. City leaders, anxious to erase the area’s reputation for legal prostitution, had changed the street’s name to the innocuous “North Saratoga.”

For a time, Williams actually lived in Mahogany Hall on Basin Street with his aunt, the famous bordello’s owner and manager, Lulu White. He would later commemorate the business in a song called Mahogany Hall Stomp. Basin Street was a key arterial and border to the famed Storyville–a 16-block area that for 20 years up to the U.S. entry into World War 1 was a city-regulated zone of prostitution. The many brothels and saloons that sprung up provided a regular and contented audience for the nascent music called “Jass.”

Basin_Street_Blues_Columbia_78_1931_CharlestonWilliams version of Basin Street was a 12-bar blues tune without lyrics. In the 1928 and 1932 Armstrong recordings, Satchmo scats the song’s vocal parts. But in 1931, Jack Teagarden sang the song with a group called The Charleton Chasers with lyrics, that according to Teagarden’s recollection, were written by him with help from bandleader Glenn Miller.

It was also at that time that the more “come hither” like opening was added, making the song a musical advertisement for folks to come and visit New Orleans. (What were they thinking?) Teagarden, by the way, wasn’t from New Orleans. However, the famous trombonist died of a heart attack in a New Orleans hotel after a 1964 performance.

Because of the song’s popularity, the city changed the name back to Basin Street. But by that point, the Storyville legacy was long gone and the street really wasn’t a place for tourists to visit.

As often happens with great songs, the lyrics are malleable. I don’t think I’ve heard a version with the same set of lyrics. Armstrong and Teagarden routinely played the song in front of audiences as well as recording it several times.  Teagarden was usually faithful to the lyrics he wrote. Armstrong some times skipped the opening stanza of “Won’t you come along with me to the Mississippi,” preferring to start with the line that I quote at the beginning of this post.

One notable change is that the early versions of the song by Armstrong and Teagarden contain this line “Basin Street is the street where the dark and light folks meet.” But I haven’t had much luck finding it sung that way in versions after the 1940’s. Given that Storyville was a place where white customers could listen to music played by African Americans and have sex with African Americans and Creoles, the song’s line is perhaps the most genuine part of the song.

Won’t you listen along with me as I play a few versions of Basin Street Blues on my show this Thursday. Here’s the podcast of that show!

Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa is a weekly radio show broadcast on two FM stations in the great state of Washington. Subscribe to this blog to get notices on the next show.