Recognizing New Orleans Veterans, a few Peace Songs

This week’s show is a Gumbo YaYa send up of Louisiana musicians whose careers intersected with the military in honor of Veterans Day. Please be advised that while I honor our veterans, I do not honor war.

The show starts with Louis Prima’s rendition of “White Cliffs of Dover” – a WW II era song that uses the air battle over Britain following the fall of France as its backdrop. A scary time for the world.

My earliest experience with a war veteran is my father, a professor and administrator at Tulane whose life was punctuated and shortened by anxiety episodes that were eventually traced to his two years as a blimp pilot during World War II.

Veterans pay a price for our collective foreign policy actions and we owe them for the burden they carry. Today, you’ll hear the music of those Louisiana musicians who served in the military while also spinning music that seeks a more peaceful approach to our conflicts.

Saxophonist Herb Hardesty served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

The first vet you’ll hear is Ellis Marsalis Jr. who was a member of the Marine Corps. And while the next number is by Fats Domino, his song features the rocking saxophone of Herb Hardesty a WW II member of the Tuskegee Airmen — the all-black 99th Flying Squadron.

You also hear Lloyd Price, whose musical career was red hot when he was drafted and sent to Korea. By the time Price returned to the music scene, Little Richard and many others had grabbed the limelight. 

Lloyd Price was hitting the charts with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” when he was sent to Korea.

Lee Dorsey and Dale Hawkins both served on Navy destroyers. Dorsey was injured in an air attack during World War II. Hawkins lied about his age and served during the Korean War. Edgar Blanchard served in Europe in World War II. Rockin’ Tabby Thomas was in the Army between World War II and the Korean War. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown was in the Army Corps of Engineers.

Al “Carnival Time” Johnson lost legal control of his hit song during his stint with the Army at Fort Bliss. Red Alvin Tyler and Eddie Bo also served in the Army. Chuck Carbo was in the Coast Guard. Paul Gayten directed an Army band during his military service. Al Hirt was in the service during World War II and played the bugle (no surprise there).

Because the draft ended, its harder to find younger musicians with military service. However, Derrick Moss, drummer and co-founder of Soul Rebels Brass Band, references his Air Force Reserve service on the band’s website. You’ll hear music from all these veterans, and more.

Smoky Greenwell’s “Power of Peace,” Louis Ludwig’s “World Without War,” Black Bayou Construkt’s “Jones for War,” Dr. John’s “Lay My Burden Down,” Gina Forsyth “4th of July,” the Subdudes’ “Lonely Soldier,” Meschiya Lake’s “I’ll Wait for You” and other songs wrap around the songs of these veterans with the message that the best way we can honor war veterans is to avoid creating more of them.

By the way, I did a similar show three years ago. And my list of veteran musicians has grown since that show . . .as it will when I next to do this show. For instance, I’ve just learned Dennis Paul Williams, artist and guitarist with Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas served as a Marine in Japan. Thank you for listening.

NOLA musicians are on the Veteran’s Day honor roll

In preparation for today’s show (two days before Veteran’s Day), I made an attempt to identify New Orleans musicians who had served in the military so I could play them to start off my show.  Go ahead and click the podcast so you can listen while you finish reading this.

I did not find a source of information that was comprehensive so my list of New Orleans musicians who are veterans is far from comprehensive. If you know of one that I missed, please let me know. I’ll be happy to include them in a future recognition.

Herb Hardesty on Sax
Saxophonist Herb Hardesty served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Herb Hardesty, long-time saxophonist for Fats Domino but also had a solo career, signed up with the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941.  While playing with the Army band, Hardesty learned to play the saxophone (he had been playing trumpet). He served in World War II as part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen (99th Flying Squadron). I do not possess any of his solo work, so I played Domino’s When My Dreamboat Comes Home which features two fine solos by Hardesty.

Like Hardesty, guitarist Edgar Blanchard was stationed in Europe during World War II before coming back to form the Gondoliers and be the bandleader at the Dew Drop Inn. I played his Stepping High recorded in the Cosimo Matassa studio in honor of his service.

Paul Gayten led an Army Band in Biloxi for his military service before migrating to New Orleans and kicking off his musical career. Arguably his greater accomplishment was his work as an A&R man for Chess Records but my show has him singing Just One More Chance.

lloyd price korea
Lloyd Price’s music career was interrupted when drafted and sent to Korea.

Lloyd Price had  five top 10 R&B hits under his belt including the number 1 song  Lawdy Miss Clawdy when he got drafted and sent to Korea in 1954.

In an interview with Bill Forman of the Colorado Springs Independent, Price argued that the military draft policies were racist, applied disproportionately on Black Americans.  “I never was supposed to go because I was my family’s sole supporter, and it was against the law to take more than four boys from the same family.”

By the time he returned, the field had gotten more crowded with singers like Little Richard. But he bounced back with hits like Stagger Lee and Personality and later he started his own record label. On the show, I  play his 1953 song, Tell Me Pretty Baby.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Al Hirt was a bugler in Army during World War II.  He plays Diga Diga Doo on today’s show which would have been a much cooler way to wake up soldiers than Reveille.  I also play songs by Dale Hawkins and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown to recognize their service.  And I finish with “Working in the Coal Mine” by Lee Dorsey who spent World War II in the Navy before starting his music career in New Orleans.

Two other NOLA performers who didn’t make it in the show but have military service are Ellis Marsalis and Ernest Joseph “Tabby” Thomas.

Today’s show also features a lot of other great music and two more clips from my interview Irvin Mayfield and Kermit Ruffins including one where Ruffins demonstrates the differences in brass band beats by banging on the bar at his Mother-in-Law Lounge on Claiborne.