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)

Earl King lives on and so does Chewbacchus

I’m a little late in posting last Thursday’s show but I’m hoping its worth the wait, featuring music written by and in some cases performed by Earl Silas Johnson – aka Earl King.

Born in the Irish Channel district of New Orleans on February 7, 1934, Earl Silas Johnson is behind one of the more covered Mardi Gras standards, “Big Chief.” So in today’s show (which you should have playing by now – click the arrow above) I dive into Earl King’s music as well as other Mardi Gras numbers — including perhaps the most covered “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” song written by Professor Longhair.

Chewbacca in the Chewbacchus Parade

This weekend, the 2019 Mardi Gras parade season ramped up with the quirky, Sci-Fi parade “Krewe of Chewbacchus.” The 900-member, self-described satirical space cult, walks, pedals, pushes but does not drive its contraptions down its parade route. Only three rules: No unicorns unless with rocket thrusters; no elves unless cyborgs; and no whinebots.

Earl King kicks the show off with one of my favorites: “No City Like New Orleans.” Later I play an early recording of his called “Til I Say Well Done” and an example of him funking it up with “Do the Grind.” Covers of King songs by The Roamin’ Jasmine and Dr. John round out my tribute to what would have been his 85th birthday if we hadn’t lost him in 2003. I finish the Earl King segment with The Radiator’s tribute song “King Earl.”

The fun continues though with new music by Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Lena Prima. Benny Turner, Big Al and the Heavyweights and Yvette Landry and the Jukes.

Thanks for tuning in and consider subscribing (upper right hand side of page).

New Orleans songs set up the new year – 2019

Nothing like putting up a new calendar to feel the passage of time. Was 2018 a good year? What about 2019? Welcome to my musical reflection of this new year (first show of 2019) with amazing music from New Orleans. You can play it now while you finish reading

No matter how good my life is, it all seems hollow with our growing unhoused population, a gridlock country and a world that requires solutions built from collaboration rather than conflict. These thoughts guided my selections of songs.

Earl King kicks off the show with his “Make a Better World” followed by Lee Dorsey singing “Why Wait Until Tomorrow.” Later, Colin Lake performs his original song “The World Alive” followed by Tom Hambone’s “Faith” from his NOLA Sessions’ recording

The Radiators exhort us to “Never Let Your Fire Go Out” aided by The Neville Brothers “Wake Up” and Galactic’s “Action Speaks Louder than Words.”

“Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further” written and sung by Allen Toussaint with help from Elvis Costello seemed to fit right in at this point, along with “Street Symphony” by the Subdudes and an encore by Toussaint with “We’re All Connected.”

Carlo Ditto and Louie Ludwig songs take on complacency when it comes to war and Irma Thomas and James Booker close it off with “River is Waiting” and “Amen” respectively.

In between the above are appropriate songs by Dr. John, Helen Gillet, Paul Sanchez, the Iguanas, John Mooney, Mem Shannon, Marcia Ball and Ever More Nest.

I wish you a happy and fulfilling year. Stay engaged!

Thanksgiving holiday show is about being home

To me, the Thanksgiving holiday is about being at home with loved ones. And so this show is about getting home and being home. 

After Earl King sings about “Eating and Sleeping” (a succinct description of the typical Thanksgiving Day), I move on to this show’s theme with Seth Walker’s “Home Again.”  I switch genre with a rock steady number by New Orleans reggae group 007 and finish the set with Clifton Chenier doing “I Am Coming Home.”

The Radiators do “The Long Hard Journey Home” and Lloyd Price asks for a another chance with “Let Me Come Home Baby.”  Hoagy Carmichael’s early composition “My Home, New Orleans” gets a wonderful instrumental treatment by Al Hirt later in the show followed by Papa Grows Funk.  

Before performing “Home”, Paul Sanchez introduces horn players Craig Klein and Shamarr Allen with a story of how these musicians helped him restore his home after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.  Stay with the show through to the end and you’ll hear Lena Prima’s song “Come On a My House” and Clarence Brown singing “On My Way Back Home.”

I hope the holidays find you in a place that you can call home. My best to you. Thanks for listening. 

Just a typical Gumbo YaYa Show

Some times I don’t have an organizing theme for the show and this is one is one of those.  That doesn’t mean it ain’t worth listening to though.

soulIn honor of the Soul Rebels’ tuba player, Damion Francois’s 46th birthday, I start the show with the band knocking out “Let Your Mind Be Free.”  The Young Tuxedo Brass Band keeps the second line moving with Little Freddie King and the Red Hot Brass Band helping out with their own songs.

Speaking of tubas (actually sousaphones), I featured a cover of The Who’s “Magic Bus” with a tuba playing the bass line.  Earl King does “Things I Used to Do,” James Booker does “Classified” and Rebirth Brass Band plays “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”

This week’s show also features “Beau Koo Jack” recorded December 5th 1928 by  Louis Armstrong and his Savoy Ballroom Five. Throw in some Pete Fountain, Marcia Ball, Papa Mali, the Radiators, and some surprises and you’ve got a typical, unthemed Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  Enjoy.

Three years of Gumbo YaYa

Hello.  Today’s show marked three full years of airing a show about New Orleans music in a town over 2200 miles away from the Crescent City.  My thanks to community radio station KAOS and its listeners and supporters for letting me do this show.

Inkedcb_bday_LIThe show kicks off with Theryl “Houseman” Declouet with his infamous introduction regarding the third world status of New Orleans at a Galactic concert and flows quickly into Shamarr Allen’s “Party All Night.”  Al Hirt takes a turn and so does patron saint of this website and the show, Ernie K-Doe, with his classic “A Certain Girl.”  Who is she? Can’t tell ya.  I have reggae and hornpipes, jazz and blues and an amazing live airing of the Radiator’s 7 Devils from the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  It was that concert that cinched the deal for me that I would be coming back to New Orleans as often as I could.

Here’s the edited show from today (September 7, 2017) marking three years.  Thank you for listening.

Bandleader inspired by early New Orleans Rhythm & Blues

No one needs to convince Taylor Smith of the ability of radio to perpetuate musical traditions and nurture new ones.

roamin-jasmine-backyard-photoAs the bandleader and composer for The Roamin’ Jasmine, Smith has become well acquainted, as do most successful New Orleans musicians, with the city’s traditional jazz standards.  But its been his ability to apply a New Orleans style rhythm and blues spin on classic blues numbers that sets his music apart.

For example, check out his take on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Wartime Blue (from the band’s second album). With the band’s latest release “Live at Horace’s,” Jefferson’s Hangman Blues gets updated with a New Orleans mambo groove.

“When we started, the guys I recruited to play in the band all played traditional jazz standards, and we all knew a lot of that repertoire so we started playing a lot of that stuff.  But soon after coming to New Orleans, I got interested in the classic 1950’s Rhythm and blues tunes and started arranging versions of those tunes for the group.”

“I got to give credit to the great New Orleans radio station WWOZ cause that’s where I’ve heard so much of that music.”

WWOZ, like KAOS, is a community radio station, supported by listeners and underwrites with volunteer deejays.  Smith singled out “50’s R&B with Neil Pellegrin” (Tuesdays starting at 5 p.m. West Coast Time) and R & B Oldies with Rare On The Air (Wednesdays at the same hour).  From my personal experience, I’ll also add Blues and R&B with Gentilly Jr. same time slot on Mondays.

It was WWOZ’s playing of “That’s a Pretty Good Love” a b-side song to Big Maybelle’s hit Candy that inspired Smith to cover it on his live release.

Smith is a Boston native who graduated from the University of Miami jazz school but fell in love with New Orleans during a college break excursion.  His band’s first release was in 2014. They’ve toured England twice and will be performing in Australia this fall as part of a collaboration with Lachlan Bryan (and the Wildes).

Here’s the full interview from my show starting with a spin of “That’s A Pretty Good Love.”

Dew Drop Founder’s Grandson Keeps Hope Alive

Kenneth Jackson wasn’t quite old enough when it mattered, and I could tell how much he wish he had been. (You can play the show with his interview including music from the Dew Drop era while finishing this short article.)

During the mid-20th Century, the Dew Drop Inn rocked New Orleans, making musical history and forging a special place in the hearts of all the musicians and fans that were lucky enough (and had IDs) to have been there.

You can find the Dew Drop on LaSalle Street but its not yet open to the public.
You can find the Dew Drop on LaSalle Street but its not yet open to the public.

“I never was really old enough to enjoy the shows and everything. You know I would kind of sneak in whenever I was down here late and had to bring somebody something but they would run me from out of there,” said Jackson as we toured the fabled nightclub, hotel, and restaurant.

If love could rebuild the Dew Drop Inn, Jackson would have enough to build it twice over. His affection for the shuttered double-storefront on LaSalle Street is almost as obvious as his love for the man who started it all, his grandfather, Frank Painia.

As detailed in my previous post, Painia built a key piece of music industry infrastructure during the New Orleans R&B golden age. But when Painia died in 1972, the music at the Dew Drop Inn stopped as well.  The family retained and operated the business, primarily as a hotel, until Hurricane Katrina.

The flood mess has been cleaned out. Artifacts have been saved. Some framing and some new wiring has been done.  Also, the building has a temporary facade that highlights the history contained with in. But its not yet ready to be open to the public.

Kenneth Jackson, grandson of the Frank Painia who started the Dew Drop Inn in 1939, keeps the flame alive for bringing the establishment back to its former glory.
Kenneth Jackson, grandson of the Frank Painia who started the Dew Drop Inn in 1939, keeps the flame alive for bringing the establishment back to its former glory.

Jackson envisions a day when folks can come back to the Dew Drop and get a meal, catch a show, even spend the night or host a party.  He thinks the time is right. Nearby streets like Freret and O.C. Haley are undergoing a renaissance of new business and renovation.

Across the street from the Dew Drop, the infamous “Magnolia,”  a crime-ridden housing project that also was home to hip hop artists Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Jay Electronica and Magnolia Shorty, is gone. In its place is a lower density, stylish new development called Harmony Oaks that provides a mix of market rate rentals and public housing.

One of the groups to spearhead the community’s revitalization, Harmony Neighborhood Development, is working with Jackson and his family to secure the funding necessary to get renovations started. But all the pieces have yet to come together.

Frank Painia had a practice of painting bull's eye targets behind the stage at the Dew Drop Inn.
Frank Painia had a practice of painting bull’s eye targets behind the stage at the Dew Drop Inn.

Tulane University’s School of Architecture has weighed in with plans and archival assistance. And there’s a wealth of love and affection for restoring the business by New Orleans musicians, young and old.

There may be a day soon when Kenneth Jackson will be able to enjoy a club performance at the Dew Drop Inn. After all, while its possible to be too young to party at the Dew Drop Inn, you’re never too old.

This is the second installment of the Dew Drop Inn.  Read about its history here.

(Article Update July 2018:  Hope for renovation have faded. The Paina Family has put the property up for sale.  )

 

Toussaint infused New Orleans sound into pop music

New Orleans
Allen Toussaint plays the National Anthem at the Superdome. Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The French Quarter Festival, which showcases local music, could not have scored a better opening headliner this year than with the hometown artist whose creativity has nurtured the New Orleans sound for over a half century. (Listen to the show that complements this post.)

Allen Toussaint was a teenager when he first sat in on Earl King’s band and regularly scored gigs at the legendary Dew Drop Inn.

It wasn’t long before he found his way to the center of the known Rock n’ Roll universe at the time, Cosimo Matassa’s studio, where he laid down piano tracks on recordings by Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Aaron Neville. But it was when he joined Minit Records that his creativity became apparent to the world. Using his parent’s living room as rehearsal space and testing ground for new material, he assembled a parade of hit singles by Jessie Hill, Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey and this blog’s patron saint, Ernie K-Doe.

Ernie K-Doe best recordings were aided by the songwriting, arranging and producing of Allen Toussaint.

As a keyboard savant, Toussaint could accurately reproduce and synthesize the city’s revered legacy of piano professors, especially the style of Professor Longhair. But as a songwriter and arranger, he was able to weave the full panoply of New Orleans rhythms, vocal traditions and spirit into a clean appealing style for the pop market. In fact, he, along with K-Doe, were responsible for the sole number 1 pop chart hit recorded in New Orleans,  “Mother-in-Law.” (A song written before Toussaint was married and had one.)

Later, he started his own record labels providing a platform for local and national musicians to access the New Orleans sound. With The Meters as his studio house band, Toussaint was a key force behind the New Orleans funk sound that developed in the 70’s. A prolific songwriter, his music has been performed by The Rolling Stones (“Ruler of My Heart”), The Who (“Fortune Teller”), Bonnie Raitt (“What Do You Want the Boy To Do”), Devo (“Working in the Coal Mine”),  Al Hirt (“Java”), The Doors (“Get Out of My Life Woman”),  Jerry Garcia (“I’ll Take a Melody”), Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”), Robert Palmer (“Sneaky Sally through the Alley”), The Pointer Sisters (“Yes, We Can Can”) and many more.

Linda and Paul McCartney performing with Allen Toussaint in his New Orleans studio in 1975.
Linda and Paul McCartney performing with Allen Toussaint in his New Orleans studio in 1975.

In 1973, Toussaint had a big hand in producing and performing on Dr. John’s album “In The Right Place.” Two years later, Linda and Paul McCartney moved their entourage to New Orleans to collaborate with Toussaint in his New Orleans studio on their album “Venus and Mars.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. If there’s any question of whether being a senior statesman of New Orleans music has diminished his chops, you need only look as far as his grammy-nominated, post-Katrina collaboration with Elvis Costello, “The River in Reverse,” for evidence that at 77, he still has it.

In addition to being a producer, bandleader, arranger and songwriter, Toussaint is an accomplished pianist and stands with the great New Orleans piano “professors.” Toussaint will take the stage at the French Quarter Festival on April 9 at 3:45 p.m. but you will be able to catch his music on my next show this Monday. (Here’s the recorded show)

Mardi Gras Indians integral to New Orleans sound

You cannot truly understand New Orleans music without having some awareness of the Black Indians of Mardi Gras, or what is more commonly referred to as “Mardi Gras Indians.”

This more than century-old tradition of certain African Americans in New Orleans wearing elaborately designed, handmade suits in honor of Native Americans on Mardi Gras Day belies any easy explanation.

I like the Folklife in Louisiana tribute to Allison “Tootie” Montana as a good starting point on this unique folk tradition.  (I also highly recommend again the book “Nine Lives” which features Tootie’s story from the perspective of his wife, Joyce Montana).

Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana is remembered with this statue in Louis Armstrong Park on Rampart Street.
Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana is remembered with this statue in Louis Armstrong Park on Rampart Street.

Tootie Montana was known as the Chief of Chiefs for his role in elevating the practice of “masking” and “suiting” up to a high art. In an effort to diminish the violent history of Mardi Gras Indian gangs, Montana incorporated sequins, beads and large garish feathers into his suit, using egg cartons for an undercarriage that provided a three-dimensional look. His stunning suit changed the game by swapping the battlefield weapons of guns and knives with needle and thread.

While you should feel lucky and relatively safe if you ever have a chance to observe a Mardi Gras tribe in full display, the violent tradition still colors their music and rituals. Make no mistake about it, there is still rivalry. But instead of who is the toughest, the goal is who is the prettiest.

A percussion-driven music is an essential part of this tradition with the tambourine being the most common instrument. The songs speak to the traditions and history of the Mardi Gras Indians, using words with origins that reside deep in the linguistic stew of New Orleans and is more simply stated as “creole.”

Author Jay Mazza who was lucky as an outsider to observe a Mardi Gras Indian practice, describes the music this way in his book Up Front and Center:

“The lyrics of Mardi Gras Indian music are based on boasting and improvised vocal rhymes. Each Indian took a turn until he ran out of words, began repeating himself or was pushed out of the spotlight by another Indian.”

Not surprisingly, the words, rhythms and vibe of the Mardi Gras Indian have worked into New Orleans music in countless ways.

Songs like Jock-O-Mo by Sugar Boy Crawford and Iko Iko by The Dixie Cups  draw their origins from Mardi Gras Indian chants. Earl King’s historic “Big Chief” which was recorded with Professor Longhair has references to the Chief’s “Spy Boy and Flag Boy” both important roles in the tribe. These were musicians who borrowed from the tradition.

Big Chief Bo Dollis brought the music and rhythms of Mardi Gras Indians to music lovers everywhere. He died January 20 after a long illness.
Big Chief Bo Dollis brought the music and rhythms of Mardi Gras Indians to music lovers everywhere. He died January 20 after a long illness.

It wasn’t until the early 70s, that the world heard the real thing outside of New Orleans. Bo Dollis, Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, and Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles collaborated on recordings, starting with the single Handa Wanda and later two albums in 1974 and 1975 respectively. Both continued to record and perform with their own gang and other musicians over the years. Last Tuesday, January 20, Bo Dollis died and the city is mourning.   Monk continues to perform and will be at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

The Wild Magnolias recordings were followed closely by an album release of Wild Tchoupitoulas. George Landry, otherwise known as Big Chief Jolly of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, fronted a powerful group of musicians, including his nephews Cyril, Art, Charles and Aaron Neville, in a seminal album of Mardi Gras Indian songs. On the back and inside cover of the Neville Brothers’ release Fiyo on the Bayou where they reprise some of the songs, you’ll find a tribute to Chief Jolly.

If you are a Treme fan, then you’ve witnessed the fictional story of Albert Lambreaux, the Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame. The model for this character is the real chief of the Guardians of the Flame, Donald Harrison Sr. whose son, Donald Harrison Jr. has applied his highly regarded jazz musicianship to fusing jazz and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms in some of his recordings, including Spirits of Congo Square.

To get more detail on the music of Mardi Gras Indians, I recommend this article by former WWOZ Show Host Thomas Morgan. To hear more of this music as well as other great New Orleans music, be sure to tune in on Monday for Sweeney’s Gumbo Ya Ya.