Honoring Day of the Dead amidst KAOS pledge drive

My show did two laps on the KAOS Fall Pledge Drive so I skipped posting up last week’s show but trimmed this one down to the usual chatter and the music. Get it started an read on.

This show features my usual seasonal favorites by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (Swamp Ghost) and “Morgus the Magnificent” by Dr. John, Frankie Ford and Jerry Byrne. But I also honor those who passed to the other side tis year, including Dr. John, Spencer Bohren, Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal, Art Neville and Dave Bartholomew. (links are to tribute shows aired earlier in the year when they died).

You’ll also hear Juli Kelen’s voice helping me on this show. Juli’s youthful voice and energy belie the fact she has been actively involved in KAOS from almost the beginning in the 70’s. You can support free-form community radio by donating online at http://www.kaosradio.org. Thank you for tuning in.

Bartholomew shaped the sound that became rock and roll

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.

Fats Domino (left) and Dave Bartholomew generated a mountain of hits, all recorded from studios run by Cosimo Matassa.

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.

Bartholomew’s family carries on the tradition of music making. Here is an OffBeat Magazine article that tells you more.

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.

Hurricane Katrina scattered New Orleans music across the U.S.

An upside to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood was the infusion of New Orleans culture throughout our country.  With the city almost completely evacuated, its people, music, cooking, way of talk and style scattered across the U.S. like seeds from a dandelion blowball.

Texas received the largest number of evacuees. Austin, which like New Orleans is a regional music mecca, swelled from the addition of Cyril Neville, the Iguanas, the Radiators and other musicians — some who came to call themselves “Texiles” while playing music and waiting to return to their hometown. The resultant mix was described by Cyril Neville as having the “gumbo spill into the chili.”

Here’s more on how some of New Orleans finest musicians fared:

  • Fats Domino, the city’s greatest rocker, is a lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth

    Fats Domino was not only a major force in Rock n' Roll, he help inspire sk.
    Fats Domino and his family were rescued by Coast Guard from his lower Ninth Ward home.

    Ward. He stayed in his home through the hurricane and was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. But he lost all his gold records and memorabilia.

  • Irma Thomas – The Soul Queen of New Orleans weathered the storm and the aftermath in Austin Texas. She rebuilt her East New Orleans home and she won a grammy for her post Katrina recorded album.
  • Dave BartholomewThe home and studio of the man behind many of New Orleans R&B hits of the 1950’s suffered considerable flood damage but he and his family (His son Don B. is a successful hip-hop producer) have bounced back with now three generations of Bartholomew’s making music.
  • The Radiators – Once described as New Orleans’ longest running and most successful rock band are no longer an act officially–though you can occasionally catch them on special events and Jazzfest. Hurricane Katrina landed on guitarist Dave Malone’s birthday. He and his wife struggled to rebuild their home and ended up living outside of New Orleans.
  • Al Johnson – The man who made it possible to be  “Carnival Time” any time of the year, lost his  long-time house on Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward  He now lives in the Musicians Village  where he penned Lower Ninth Ward Blues
  • The Iguanas – The members of this latin-tinged roots rock band were on tour at the

    The Iguanas made a temporary home in Austin while waiting to return to New Orleans. Joe Cabral (left) and Rene' Coman performing at French Quarter Festival this year.
    The Iguanas made a temporary home in Austin while waiting to return to New Orleans. Joe Cabral (left) and Rene’ Coman performing at French Quarter Festival this year.

    time and separated to find evacuated family members. They regathered in Austin and became part of the flexible ensemble of New Orleans musicians known as Texiles. The band has had three CD releases since Katrina.

  • The Hot 8 Brass Band – This innovative group could be called the Adversity Brass Band.  Before Katrina, three of its band members had died — two from shootings.  After Katrina, a fourth member was shot to death while driving in his car with his family. Another member lost the use of his legs in an accident. The band scattered across the country after Katrina and could easily have disbanded permanently. But it regrouped, recorded a grammy-nominated album and still perform today.
  • Dr. Michael G. White – The University professor and clarinetist lost his home in Gentilly, including many valuable jazz documents. But he’s back in town and working as hard as ever.
  • Henry Butler – Fortunately the talented piano virtuoso was convinced to evacuate his Gentilly home, which was devastated by flood waters. Blind since birth, he can’t tell you what the damage looked like but he can describe the feel of his piano keys as they fell apart in his hands. Last year, he and Steve Bernstein released “Viper Drag” to rave reviews and he regularly performs. 
  • Kermit Ruffins – “What good is a million dollars if you’re not in New Orleans.” The widely recognized ambassador to New Orleans evacuated to Houston with a large extended family and pets. He returned to New Orleans after the storm and continued his routine up until last year. Ironically, his wife got a job in Houston and he now splits his time between New Orleans and Houston.
  • Donald Harrison Jr.- This lifelong New Orleans resident, Big Chief and heralded jazz saxophonist has a fear of hurricanes borne from his youthful experience escaping from Hurricane Betsy’s flood. But he stuck it out in the city cause his mother-in-law wouldn’t leave. They slept on the ballroom floor of the Hyatt Regency during the storm and aftermath, escaping to Baton Route four days later. 
  • John Boutte' nervously watched events unfold from Brazil, finally talking one of his sisters and mother to evacuate before Katrina hit.
    John Boutte’ nervously watched events unfold from Brazil, finally talking one of his sisters and mother to evacuate before Katrina hit.

    Shamar Allen – This young trumpet player’s home was right next to a levee that broke. He now owns a home in the Musician’s Village. He contributed some key songs to the musical Nine Lives that focuses on New Orleanians who survived Hurricane Betsy and Katrina.

  • John Boutte was in Brazil at the time and watched almost helplessly the hurricane reports from afar. Fortunately, he finally convinced one of his sisters and mother to evacuate but his other two sisters were stranded on an interstate highway bridge for five days.
  • Terence Blanchard – Much of this jazz trumpeter’s story was told in the Spike Lee movie “When the Levees Broke.” In the documentary, you can see him and his mother enter her flood-wrecked near Lake Ponchatrain. Blanchard wrote the score for the documentary and won a grammy for subsequent album he released.

Last week and this week, I’m honoring the survivors of Hurricane Katrina who dealt with intense horror, long hot days, and many months and in some cases years of uncertainty about their future. And yet, they returned to New Orleans, their home and rebuilt. Last week’s Katrina show here  and this week’s show.

NOLA studio and sound nerd help launch rock and roll era

Behind every great recording and concert, there’s a sound nerd making sure you hear what you’re supposed to hear.  In the case of Cosimo Matassa, what people heard was the beginnings of rock and roll.

Starting with “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, through “The Fat Man,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Tutti Fruti, “Rockin’ Pneumonia,”  “I Hear You Knockin,” and great many more, Matassa ensured the fidelity and sound quality of these early R&B and rock and roll hits.

Cosimo's recording career started out with using primitive equipment located in the back of an appliance and music shop.
Cosimo’s recording career started out with using primitive equipment located in the back of an appliance and music shop.

In 1945 at the tender age of 19, Cosimo opened an appliance store with a partner in New Orleans, hoping to take advantage of the pent up demand for home conveniences and the many new households that were forming after the war. The store also sold records.

His partner suggested they make recordings for their customers. Cosimo, being the more technical of the two, took on the task of getting that business going.  As a former Tulane chemistry major, he was your classic nerd.  But having spent a few years working with his Dad’s jukebox business, repairing the equipment and swapping out 78 rpm records, he was a nerd with an ear for music.

The J&M Music Shop was at the right place at the right time on the corner of Dumaine and Rampart, sitting between the French Quarter and the Fauberg Treme’ neighborhood – a center of African-American and Creole culture and home to many New Orleans musicians.

After World War II, people were ready to have fun.  And the music, particularly from a new generation of black New Orleans musicians raised on jazz, swing and big band music, was ready to make the party happen.

Fats Domino (left) and Dave Bartholomew generated a mountain of hits, all recorded from studios run by Cosimo Matassa.
Fats Domino (left) and Dave Bartholomew generated a mountain of hits, all recorded from studios run by Cosimo Matassa.

The studio’s success started with Roy Brown, who had just returned to New Orleans with his Gospel-trained voice and was performing at the famous Dew Drop Inn. It was in the back of the J&M in 1947 that Brown recorded the jump blues song, Good Rockin’ Tonight, a hit that can arguably be considered one of the first Rock and Roll songs.  Just ask Elvis.

Things really took off when horn player and band leader Dave Bartholomew started using the studio for his work as a musician, arranger and talent scout for Imperial Records. Through Bartholomew, early R&B greats like Smiley Lewis, Frankie Ford and Tommy Ridgley would record at the studio. But the star who solidifies the studio’s listing as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame landmark is Antoine “Fats” Domino.  Through a good chunk of the 50’s, Domino, with able assistance from Bartholomew and Matassa, released a series of R&B hits, finally crossing over into the pop charts with “Ain’t That a Shame” in 1955.  All of the Fats’ recordings as well as hundreds of other R&B and early rock and roll gems were recorded in that little studio.

Cosimo Matassa tat his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

By 1956, Matassa was no longer selling appliances and had moved his studio to larger digs on Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. Like many successful studios, Matassa’s operation benefitted from a talented group of studio musicians, usually organized by Bartholomew but also by the emerging talent, Allen Toussaint. These musicians included Earl Palmer on drums, Alvin “Red” Tyler and Lee Allen on sax, Frank Fields on bass, Huey Smith on piano and a large rotating cast of others.  The studio sound was so synonymous with success that labels, like Ace, Atlantic, Chess, Savoy, RCA Victor, Imperial and Specialty would send their artists to New Orleans to capture the magic.

Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti, Good Golly Miss Molly, Lucille, Long Tall Sally and others at J&M studio.
Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti, Good Golly Miss Molly, Lucille, Long Tall Sally and others at J&M studio.

One of the more legendary stories is how Richard Penniman found his mojo at the Dew Drop Inn during a recording break, which led to his breakout hit, Tutti Frutti backed up by the J&M musicians and recorded by Matassa. It’s almost wearying to list the musicians that recorded there, but I’ll add Mac Rebennak (before he became known as Dr. John), Art and Aaron Neville, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey to this amazing list.

Cosimo Matassa died in September (2014) at 88.  He was generous with his time, so it’s easy to find interviews of him, including one of my favorites.  He modestly takes little credit for the sounds he recorded. But he maintains that the limitations of the early technology were a benefit, requiring musicians to play a song all together from beginning to end, just like a live performance.  His job, he would say, was to get out of the way and let them do their thing.

Obviously, there was more to it than that because all the musicians who worked with him loved this unassuming nerdy son of Sicilian immigrants. His elegance was in his simplicity.  He took care of the technical part, creating an environment where craftsmanship and creativity could merge.

Cosimo Matassa at the controls in Sea-Saint Studios, a studio founded by Allen Toussaint who began his career at J&M Studio. Photo by The Times-Picayune.

“To have a job where you can listen to music all day.  Great way to make a living.  Lot of great New Orleans musicians made me look good.”

Needless to say, I’ll be hammering my collection of Matassa recordings on my next show this Monday, 10 a.m. to noon, KAOS, 89.3 FM. Streaming at www.kaosradio.org.

Cajun Throwdown raises questions about music and food

Food and music go together rather nicely. Or as Satchmo would say: “red beans and ricely.”

I bring this up because on Friday, October 3, I’ll be a tasting judge at the Cajun Throwdown at Centro (formerly Alpine Experience – 408 Olympia Ave NE) starting at 7 p.m. during the Olympia Fall Arts Walk.

Upstart Joe Hyer (left) goes up against the pro, Rodney O'Neill in Friday's Cajun Throwdown.
Upstart Joe Hyer (left) goes up against the pro, Rodney O’Neill in Friday’s Cajun Throwdown.

Rodney O’Neal, barbecue and Southern cook extraordinaire and owner of Barb’s Soul Cuisine, will be challenged by the upstart, usurper Joe Hyer who claims that because he’s visited New Orleans a few times, he can cook like a cajun.  We’ll see.  (I guess I’ll be the judge of that.) It’s all for a good cause with proceeds from food sales benefiting the charitable organization, Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends.

While this is mostly an assignment for my taste buds, I have been preparing my ear buds. After all, this is a blog about a show called “Gumbo YaYa.”

Food about music is fairly boundless.  Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in Paradise and the Presidents of the United States’ Peaches, come to mind. But, as usual, I’ll stick to New Orleans music.

Jelly Roll Morton’s name didn’t come from a pastry

The tricky part is what might sound like food isn’t always the case. Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe didn’t take up the name Jelly Roll Morton because of a fondness for sponge cake. The moniker of the piano player who began his career performing in Storyville whorehouses has more do with a woman’s private parts than a pastry. Given that context, I’m leaving his 1923 song, Big Fat Ham, alone.

Similarly, the New Orleans jazz standard “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue”  originally recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five likely has nothing to do with ribs. According to Cab Calloway’s Jive Dictionary, “barbecue” was jive for a girlfriend or beauty.  I imagine Lil Hardin, the piano playing composer of the song and Armstrong’s wife at the time, was thinking she was the “barbecue” that Pops was strutting with.

When Satchmo and his Hot 5 recorded “Struttin with Some Barbecue,” his barbecue was likely his wife, piano player and song composer Lil Hardin.

Dan Raye, who added lyrics to the music years later, took the song at face value. “And mister waiter if you please, Another rib or two. And I’ll go strut, strut, struttin’, Struttin’ with some barbecue.”

Zydeco King Clifton Chenier was more transparent when he recorded, Hot Tamale Baby. There’s absolutely no reason to believe his song is about a starchy food wrapped in a corn husk.

But a classic Cajun song , “Jambalaya.” is about food, right? Well, true, the singer has to say goodbye to Joe (me oh my oh) so he can go see his girl (ma cher amio). But he also waxes rather poetically about “Jambalaya, and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo.”

While I doubt Hank Williams ever poled “a pirogue down the bayou,” he did manage to capture a slice of cajun life, albeit a caricature, in this often covered song.

I think Professor Longhair got it right when he sang “Got my red beans cookin” in the aptly named song “Red Beans.” Not much to the lyrics except him cooking red beans–which can take some time to do right. I have to say, though, I’m not sure how pure his intent was when he finished with “I’m gonna have all these women, jumping for joy.”

Mac Rebennac became Dr. John with the 1968 debut album featuring “Gris Gris Gumbo YaYa.”

Not surprisingly, songs about gumbo are my favorite. Gris Gris Gumbo YaYa, the first cut off of  Dr. John’s debut album, was partly the inspiration for the name of my radio show. This creole dish is a perfect example of the melange of cultures that come together to form New Orleans cuisine and music.  In a pot of gumbo, you’ll find hints of West Africa, France, Spain, the Caribbean, Germany and Choctaw.

My favorite gumbo song is the quirky “Shrimp and Gumbo” by Dave Bartholomew. At the height of his reputation as a talent scout and R&B music producer, Bartholomew cranked out this little mambo ditty, heavy on percussion (thank you Earl Palmer) and a three saxophone melody reminiscent of the theme song of “I Dream of Jeannie.” Recorded in 1955, Shrimp and Gumbo predates the 60’s TV sitcom. The lyrics are rather limited playing off the fun of singing “mambo” and “gumbo” in tandem.

Well, I’ve given you a “taste” of what to expect on my Monday show (Sept. 29), 10 a.m. to noon (PST) on KAOS, 89.3 FM. But for a real taste, stop by Centro next Friday during Arts Walk for the Cajun Throwdown where you just might find jambalaya, a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo.