Honoring Henry Butler, Smiley Lewis and Freedom

Welcome to my July 5th, 2018 edition of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  There’s lot to love about this extra-long show so go ahead and get it started.

henry butler
Henry Butler performing in Port Townsend, WA in August 2017. He died July 2, 2018.

We lost Henry Butler on Monday, July 2 to colon cancer. He was born in New Orleans September 21, 1948 and grew up in the Calliope housing project. He lost his sight to glaucoma as an infant and learned how to play a variety of instruments while attending the Louisiana State School for the Blind. He was known for piano playing, smoothly handling jazz, blues, classical and improvisation and had a powerful voice. He was a teacher and entertainer. In this show, I play his “Down by the Riverside,” “Henry’s Boogie” and “Jamaica Farewell.”

Throughout the show, I touch on the theme of America and Freedom as interpreted by New Orleans musicians including songs by Shamarr Allen and Dee-1 (“Only in America”), Rebirth Brass Band (“Freedom”), and Delfeayo Marsalis (“Make America Great Again” with Wendell Pierce.)

I also celebrate Smiley Lewis’s birth anniversary (July 5, 1913) with “Shame, “Shame, Shame” and “Don’t Jive Me.”

The first song is by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with “Dead Dog in the Road.” New songs by Shawn Williams, Tin Men, and Cyril Neville.  And much more in this extra long edition of the show.

 

New Orleans blues a mix of mystery and minstrel

If you’re a sucker for a good mystery like I am, then you might appreciate the story of Kid Stormy Weather. That is, what little of the story we know. (Here’s the podcast of my radio show that goes with this story or click the player below.)

We know that Edmond Joseph, recorded two songs on October 17, 1935 with Vocalion records, apparently at a mobile recording unit in Jackson Mississippi.  Those two songs are the only tangible evidence of Kid Stormy Weather’s musical career. The rest is more legend than record.

ProfessorLonghair
Professor Longhair apparently cited Kid Stormy Weather as an influence on his piano style

Professor Longhair apparently cited the barrelhouse pianist as an influence. Henry Roeland Boyd was 17 years old in 1935, just the right impressionable age to be sneaking into the South Rampart honky-tonks that Kid Stormy Weather allegedly inhabited. But we just don’t know where the “Kid” came from, when he died or how he became an influence on the unique, fluid piano style of Professor Longhair.

In the two sides he recorded, “Short Hair Blues” and “Bread and Water Blues,” his quick hands are on display but its also apparent that the recording unit only captured a taste of his talent. Unless there is an oral history out there not available on the Internet,  Edmond “Kid Stormy Weather” Joseph’s story may very well be lost to history.

We know more about other New Orleans blues artists though. Two that I’ll be focusing on with this week’s show (along with Kid Stormy Weather) are performers who performed early in their careers in minstrel shows.

lizziemiles
Lizzie Miles

While Lizzie Miles, born Elizabeth Mary Landreaux, didn’t think of herself as a blues singer, her early recordings were most definitely in that genre. Born in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans in 1895, she initially worked with jazz pioneers King Oliver, Kid Ory and Bunk Johnson before they had migrated to Chicago. She then toured with minstrel shows through the south eventually performing in Chicago, and Europe and recording with Jelly Roll Morton in New York. And like many New Orleans musicians, she found her way home near the end of her life, dying in 1963. I’ll be playing “I Hate a Man Like You” on this week’s show.

Creole George Guesnon played banjo and guitar and was prolific song writer. .  He got his first big break playing with Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra. The next year, he replaced Danny Barker in Willie Pajaud’s orchestra. He performed with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and found his way to New York, recording with Decca and living briefly with Jelly Roll Morton. He served with the Merchant Marines during World War II and then returned to New Orleans performing with Kid Thomas and showing up regularly at the new performance space at the time, Preservation Hall. He died in 1968 and was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. I’ll be playing his “Graveyard Love Blues” on this week’s show. Hope you can join me.

Professor Longhair “tralla walla” makes us feel fine

This week’s post (and my focus on this week’s radio show) is about the man who sang “we gonna hoola tralla walla malla dalla drink some mellow wine.”

Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair
Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair

Henry Roeland Byrd was a tap dancer, card shark, soldier, cook, laborer and general street hustler. He also was one of the greatest New Orleans piano professors of all time – Professor Longhair.

His iconic “Tipitina” inspired the likes of Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Dr. John and countless others.

Professor Longhair’s style has been described as a rhumba crossed with a blues shuffle.In an interview with Peter Stone Brown not long before he died in 1980, he said:

” I was around a lot of honky-tonk musicians, barrelhouse musicians, blues musicians, and bebop musicians, jazz musicians. I just got a little bit from everybody and used it with what my mother taught me. She played a lot of ragtime music. . . I just mix my ideas up and call it a gumbo. There’s no certain thing at all. It’s just rockin’ rhythm.”

Fess was there at the beginning of the New Orleans Rock and Roll era in New Orleans, cutting his first singles in the J&M Studio (Cosimo Matassa) in 1949.  And in November 1953 with Alvin “Red” Tyler, Lee Allen, Earl Palmer, and Edgar Blanchard backing him up, he recorded “Tipitina” for the first time.

“Girl you hear me calling you. Well you’re three times seven, baby. Knows what you want to do.”

Calibration
Calibration

Born in Bogalusa but raised in New Orleans, Professor Longhair never made the hit parade and never really experienced financial success. By the late 60’s, his career had folded and he was living in poverty. In 1970, Quint Davis and Alison Minor sought him out with the intention of getting him to perform at their fledgling music festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Who they found was a frail, weak man who didn’t seem capable of pounding out his trademark rhythms. But with the help of Davis and Minor, he recovered enough to perform at the second JazzFest in 1971 and demonstrate that, if anything, his playing had gotten better.  His hometown and the world embraced him and his career flourished. Until his death in 1980, he recorded and performed, including at the nightclub created for the purpose of providing him and other aging R&B artists a place to play, named appropriately Tipitina’s.

Join me, won’t you for some Fess and Fess-inspired music this Memorial Day.   Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa kicks off at 10 a.m. on Monday. Here’s a recording of that show on Mixcloud.