This month’s Gumbo YaYa dance party starts off with Smiley Lewis’ “Mama Don’t Like It” an R&B spinoff of the even older “Mama Don’t Allow” standard. And a fitting start to the September dance party edition of Gumbo Ya Ya. If you can read this while dancing, go ahead and start the player below.
First, a nod to the victims of the Gulf of Mexico storm Ida, hitting Louisiana and Mississippi with Category 4 winds and picking up sky loads of water that created flash flooding in New Jersey and New York City. This is the time of year that I have produced a show-long annual recognition of Hurricane Katrina – a tradition I decided to retire this year.
This first long set of songs and a set later in the show were all recorded in the famous Cosimo Matassa studios which was located in the French Quarter in the 1950’s and 1960’s. You’ll hear some you expect such as Fats Domino and Little Richard but also Jessie Hill, Shirley & Lee, Paul Gayten, Roland Cook, Chris Kenner and The Showmen. These songs got the country to dance and still works for me.
The show allows you to catch your breath (because you are dancing to all this, right?) with a waltz by Shotgun Jazz Band and gradually works the pace back up to a frenzy with Tuba Skinny, Meschiya Lake, and Chloe Feoranzo. Later, Eddie Bo (“Check Your Bucket”), Earl King and two from the Meters allow us to show off our more funky moves.
Later in the show, if you have the stamina, we spin some Zydeco and a bit of salsa — thanks to Terrance Simien, Donna Angelle, Fredy Omar and Jon Cleary.
A little after the 30 minute mark, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson sings his new song “Red Beans”— a tribute to the Krewe of Red Beans which has been doing great work in supporting New Orleans’ entertainment community. Here’s more on them.
Fourteen months after the KAOS studio closed to volunteers and most staff, I’m back at the control board slinging New Orleans music, honoring the life of Lloyd Price, exploring the new Jon Batiste record and digging deeper into the 2009 Midnite Disturbers’ performance at JazzFest. The recording of the show is available right now by clicking the arrow below. (But note that this is the version I edited for Bellingham so I say “KMRE” instead of “KAOS” on station IDs.)
For 60 weeks, I’ve prepared and recorded a Gumbo YaYa show in my upstairs spare bedroom — the one where my youngest son grew up in and which still has cats peering at me from the wallpaper. It’s a little creepy but so is going into a studio inside a building on a college campus that is almost like a ghost town. The first show was a little rough but I got it done and the music is good.
Lloyd Price died last week at the age of 88. While he was long past his big hits (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality,” “Stagger Lee,” “I’m Gonna Get Married”), the Rock n Roll Hall of Famer was an entrepreneur involved in music, publication, construction and food processing. He also was a writer with an autobiography and a collection of essays “Sumdumhonky” which I’m reading now.
Price zoomed onto the music scene with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” recorded in 1952 with Fats Domino banging out the song’s distinctive song opening triplets. The song became one of the biggest selling R&B records of 1952, crossing over to white audiences. He was drafted in 1954 and served in Korea so was taken out of commission at a time when Little Richard came screaming into the scene.
Upon his return to the music scene, he recorded a folk song Stagger Lee that went to the top of both the R&B and Pop charts. He followed that up with two other hits “Personality” and “I’m Gonna Get Married.”
Other highlights of the show include tracks from new records by Monk Boudreaux, Jon Batiste, and Secret Six Jazz Band. I also feature another track from the 2009 JazzFest performance by the Midnite Disturbers featuring some awesome trumpet work by Shamarr Allen and Trombone Shorty. Bumps Blackwell does a decent job of staging his new song (at the time) in a demo for Specialty Records. When Little Richard showed up to Cosimo Matassa’s studio he cut another hit with “Good Golly Miss Golly.” You’ll hear back to back tracks by Guitar Shorty and Guitar Slim – both songs recorded in New Orleans.
I throw in some Hot 8 Brass Band, Cowboy Mouth, Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and much more. But the true joy of the show, at least for me, was to be able to do the backsell of the songs right after they were played for everyone. Check it out!
Johnny Adams could and did sing just about anything and thanks to a wide assortment of recordings, you can hear him masterfully handle blues, gospel, funk, r&b and country. Today’s show demonstrates his upper register as he accompanies a driving guitar riff backed up by organ and horns from a B-side funk recording at the Sea-Saint Studios in 1978, called “Chasing Rainbows.”. It does a great job of introducing the rest of the music that you will hear when you start the player right below. (You can do it now and still read the rest of this.)
Cosimo Matassa, who saw thousands of singers stream through his French Quarter recording studio in his day, believed Adams to be the best because of his range. But I also suspect Matassa liked him because Adams was genuinely a good person who had to work hard for every bit of success he had. Jay Mazza in Up Front and Center describes how Adams would almost run off the stage after each set into the audience to thank people for coming to see him sing. Adams died in 1998 of prostate cancer.
Another gospel-trained singer, Chuck Carbo, sings a soulful number called “Black Widow” shortly into the first full set. He’s followed by Jon Cleary with “Unputdownable.” Paula and the Pontiacs and Big Al & the Heavyweights also weigh in on that set. Stay with that first set long enough and you’ll hear Arsene Delay cover the Stones “Miss You” backed up by the Charlie Wooten Project. (I like her interpretation.)
A reminder that Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa plays music from New Orleans but I make exception for other fine Louisiana musicians, including Carol Fran and BeuoSoleil who you’ll also hear later in the show.
Another R&B highlight is Joe Diamond singing Gossip, Gossip – an Allen Toussaint production where you can hear Toussaint talking briefly in the beginning and end in a simulation of gossip.. (He does it well!)
The Hackberry Ramblers bring on “Poor Hobo” and I pair that song with Gal Holiday’s “Last to Leave.” I also throw in a side of Creole String Beans in that set along with the Radiators making sure that we “Never Let Your Fire Go Out.”
To cap off the parade of R&B senior statesmen, you’ll hear Lee Dorsey with “Wonder Woman” along with a genuine 60’s throwback by Lydia Marcelle “Everybody Dance.” I think you’ll like it.
The show finishes with Bon Bon Vivant’s “Pinkerton” in recognition of the band’s one-year celebration of streaming live weekly shows from their Facebook feed — which also appears on my Facebook page as well every Sunday at 6 p.m. (PST)
“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 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.
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.
This week’s show provides a brief glimpse into the days of early rock n’ roll recording and honors one of the key architects of the Chicago blues sound. And that’s just the first hour. You got some listening to do. Turn it on before you read on!
The life of Henry Gray, who died last week at 95, spans the history of urban Chicago blues as African Americans migrated from the south to escape racism and poverty following the end of World War 2. And like the previous migration following World War 1, music came with them. Except instead of jazz, it was the blues led by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Chess records. In the middle all this was a rural Louisiana piano player who help define Chicago blues.
But that was after the war when he had served in the South Pacific. Before, in a small town outside Baton Rouge called Alsen, Gray played the usual songbook expected of a Baptist family. But somehow, he was encouraged to other styles of play and by the time he was 16, he was entertaining audiences in local clubs. A habit that stayed with him throughout his life. Returning back to Louisiana to care for his mom and the family business, he was an annual favorite at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. His last appearance was 2018.
This show also celebrates the birth anniversaries of Roy Montrell and Clarence Garlow. Montrell played guitar in the Fats Domino touring band for 17 years, taught Mac Rebennak (Dr. John) how to play the guitar and co-wrote and sang “(Everytime I hear) That Mellow Saxophone.”Garlow is known for “Bon Ton Roulay” and having played with Clifton Chenier in the early years of Zydeco. Both were in the Cosimo Matassa studio in the 50’s recording early rock n’ roll songs such as “Heebie Jeebies.”
What else can I tell you about this show? There’s a four-song set on fishing and two songs by Helen Gillet who will be performing in Olympia next week. And much more. Just keep listening and consider subscribing. Cheers.
By definition, my show of New Orleans music features a number of musicians that are not well known outside of the city or at least outside the world collective of New Orleans music lovers. But today, I make a particular point to reach into the dusty edges of my music collection. Get it started by clicking the sideways arrow in the next box and then read on.
Today’s show starts with Sam Price and his True Believers — a group that regularly plays along the Gulf Coast but isn’t well known in the Northwest where my show airs. He “has soul in his dancing shoes. . . dancing right where I want to be.”
Slim Saunders was part of the Cosimo Matassa’s studio scene but rarely sang lead. One exception is “Let’s Have Some Fun” with the usual strong J&M studio musician line up — this time Sugar Boy Crawford, Snooks Eaglin, Frank Fields and Edgar Myles. Martha Carter kept Irma Thomas company as the only female artists on the Ric and Ron Labels. She sings “I Don’t Talk Too Much.” Wallace Johnson finishes the first fll set.
Allen Toussaint showed great faith in Willie Harper, helping produce a dozen sides through his studio. None of his songs really caught fire but I like “Walk Ya Out of My Life.” Betty Harris sings “What I’d Do Wrong” and Ted Graham’s Kings of Funk finishes that set.
The show continues with a set of jazz and a set of funk and soul before I spin some cajun and country. One of the bands featured is a band that grew out of Tulane University called Smilin’ Myron. While no longer active, they had an active live performance career as an opening act during 1990’s. Stay on later in the show to hear “Astral Project.”
I hope you enjoy today’s show. Please consider subscribing and you will get a notice of when a new show is available. Cheers.
With this week’s show, I try to capture in music the place in rock and roll history of Dave Bartholomew, who passed away recently. You can get the show started now and then read on.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1918, Dave Bartholomew was already a bandleader by the time he entered the Army during World War II. As a member of the 196th Army Ground Forces Band, he gained experience in writing and arranging music. By the end of the 40’s with the war over and with folks ready to dance, he led one of the hottest bands in New Orleans becoming part of the evolution of swing into R&B.
The pivotal year for him was 1950 when he released his first big hit “Country Boy “(which starts the first full set of the show) and he met, recruited into the studio and recorded Fats Domino, scoring a big hit right out of the box with “The Fat Man” (also featured in the first set). His 14-year work relationship with Domino became one of the most celebrated collaborations in rock and roll. Bartholomew wrote and co-wrote many of Domino’s songs, arranged the horns, performed on his records and basically managed the musicians both in the studio and on tour.
During this time, he worked with many other New Orleans artists through his relationship with Lew Chudd and Imperial Records. One of of these talents was Smiley Lewis who you’ll hear singing the original recording of “Blue Monday.” Other artists were Pee Wee Crayton, Shirley and Lee, Snooks Eaglin and Lloyd Price (for Specialty Records). You’ll hear them all performing songs written or arranged by Bartholomew.
A fine musician (trumpet) and singer, Bartholomew was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame as a non-performer in 1991 — largely because of his deep involvement with Cosimo Matassa’s J&M studio in New Orleans and, according to his Hall of Fame bio, his ability to shape “the rhythmic orientation of that city into a sound everyone would come to know and love as rock and roll.”
I finish out my Bartholomew segment with covers of Bartholomew/Domino songs by Galactic, George Porter Jr., the Roamin’ Jasmine and Allen Toussaint. Federal streaming rules limit how many songs I can play of one artists so I didn’t play “My Ding-a-Ling” a Bartholomew song made famous by Chuck Berry. In prepping for the show, I noticed a fairly significant difference between Berry’s version and Bartholomew’s. While Berry caught some controversy over the suggestive lyrics of his version, he probably would have gotten in even more trouble had he used the lyrics sung by Bartholomew in the original recording.
The rest of the show focuses on the music of Louisiana acts that will be performing in the Northwest this summer. I hope you have the chance to see one of these artists live. Here’s the schedule. Thanks for tuning in.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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).
Perhaps its a stretch to compare the Dew Drop Inn to Congo Square. But I see similarities between the two. (You can listen to the show while reading this post)
Just as Congo Square served as a gathering place for African American commerce and cultural exchange up through the mid-19th Century, the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans provided a safe and comfortable place for New Orleans musicians of the mid-20th Century to gather, support each other and play music.
One served as the genesis for Jazz and the other was an incubator for New Orleans R&B and early rock and roll. The Dew Drop Inn was not just a nightclub and bar, it was a vital regional center for African Americans, particularly musicians, at a time when the South and New Orleans enforced apartheid.
I’m not sure if those thoughts initially entered Frank Painia’s head when he decided to expand his barbershop on LaSalle Street to include a restaurant and bar. Most likely, he just saw a business opportunity across the street from where one of the largest housing projects in New Orleans was being built (the Magnolia Projects). By expanding his business, he provided employment for his brothers and eventually other relatives. He christened it the Dew Drop Inn in 1939.
With America mobilizing for the war effort, Painia added a hotel next door so African Americans on the move would have a place to stay when visiting or passing through New Orleans. The combination of barbershop, restaurant, lounge and hotel made the Dew Drop Inn a convenient stop for travelers.
But it was Painia’s venture into booking performers that would put the Dew Drop solidly into music history. He started by producing shows at a nearby boxing arena and high school auditorium. Since he had the Dew Drop, he could house and feed the touring musicians, who in turn would jam in the lounge after the official performance. It wasn’t long though before he started booking local acts to perform at the Dew Drop.
Then in 1945, just in time to entertain returning soldiers and their dates, Painia built the “Groove Room.” Located behind the Dew Drop, this two-story music and dance hall with a balcony and elevated band stage established an upscale ambiance with top-flight performers of the day, including Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Amos Milburn. Later Ray Charles, James Brown, Solomon Burke, and Bobby “Blue” Bland would grace the stage. Many homegrown performers including Earl King, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Allen Toussaint launched their careers from the Dew Drop.
The Dew Drop was home for many musicians, whether passing through or getting their act together. It was a 24-hour operation where musicians could eat, meet, clean up with a haircut, shoeshine and shower, and plan their next step. They would play for white audiences downtown then head back to the Dew Drop and jam with the house band or whoever was performing until daylight.
The nightclub show included an emcee, comedians, magicians, dancers and, of course, the bands. It was not uncommon for the emcee or some of the dancers to be female impersonators (to use the term of that day). Bobby Marchan, who would sing with Huey Smith and the Clowns, got his start in New Orleans as part of a drag show called the Powder Box Revue.
Most New Orleans musicians of that period have stories about the Dew Drop. Grandpa Elliot Small of Playing for Change remembers watching his uncle play the harmonica there. Deacon John tells of how he broke into the recording business when he was approached by Allen Toussaint while playing guitar at the Dew Drop. “My head just popped open at the opportunity . . .the very next day we were in Cosimo’s studio recording with the great Ernie K-Doe. “
But my favorite story is how Richard Penniman got his mojo at the Dew Drop Inn. Things weren’t popping in J&M studio that September day in 1955. Producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, a native of Seattle, called for a break and took his young protege for a drink. It was a slow day at the Dew Drop until Richard discovered the upright piano in the corner and banged out a tune so bawdy that Blackwell had to hire a writer to clean up the lyrics. Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti was a crossover hit that propelled him to national fame.
While the Dew Drop Inn was established, owned and frequented by African Americans, white patrons were allowed in. But this meant that Painia was arrested at times when police raided his business and charged him with “racial mixing.” Eventually, he successfully sued the city, establishing the right for businesses to serve any customer they wanted.
By the end of the 60’s, changing musical trends, desegregation and Painia’s declining health brought an end to Dew Drop Inn’s musical performances. The business carried on mostly as a hotel until Hurricane Katrina caused so much damage, it could not reopen.
I’ll have that story in next week’s post (available now). Here’s the podcast of the show featuring musicians who played at the Dew Drop Inn and we’ll hear in Mr. Jackson’s own words about the Dew Drop’s glory days.