Last week’s African-American Music Month show celebrated the many styles of music generated by New Orleans musicians of color. Just about every genre . . .except for funk. Today’s show is all about the funk starting with The Meters’ “The World Is A Little Under the Weather” from 1971. You got two hours of listening so you best get started now.
When you talk about funk, there’s James Brown (who was inspired by Little Richard’s New Orleans sessions) and then there is The Meters –formed in 1965 by Zigaboo Modeliste (drums), George Porter Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and Art Neville (keyboards). Allen Toussaint used The Meters as his studio band, supporting Lee Dorsey on “Ride Your Pony” and “Working in the Coal Mine. By 1969, The Meters were doing their own thing with “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut.” In addition to Weather, you’ll hear the band’s “Zony Mash” and “Stretch Your Rubber Band.” You’ll also hear Eddie Bo with an extended version of his big hit “Hook and Sling.”
To continue to honor African-American Music Month, this show features black artists including Sierra Green, Chocolate Milk, Hot 8 Brass Band, Eldridge Holmes, Rebirth Brass Band, Glen David Andrews, George Porter Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners, Cyril Neville, Mem Shannon, Dumpstaphunk and more. The two exceptions are songs are by Galactic that feature Irma Thomas and Glen David Andrews on vocals.
Mick Jagger’s health issues cancelled the Stone’s North American tour so I thought this week’s show, aired right as the gates were opening at the race track where Jazz Fest is held, should feature the great New Orleans songs covered by this great rock n roll band over its lengthy career. I started with “Fortune Teller”, using the snaky version by The Iguanas. Dale Hawkins takes it from there with “Suzie Q,” followed by Irma Thomas’ “Time Is On My Side,” Larry Williams’ “She Said Yea” and Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips.” He comes back later to sing “I’m a King Bee.”
I also feature a cover by Erica Falls of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” because apparently that band was arranged as a fill in for the Stone but bailed when Stevie Nicks had health issues. Damn, we’re getting old.
Perhaps my favorite pairing of songs in the show is Maria Muldaur’s rendition of Danny Barker’s “Now You’re Down in the Alley” followed by Antoine Diel’s robust “Hallelujah, I Love You So.”
Stay with me to the end to hear the Radiator’s Jazz Fest performance of “7 Devils”. This live recording was captured in 2006 at the first festival after Hurricane Katrina. I was lucky enough to catch that performance. What I can’t recreate was the amazing healing vibe that was going on throughout the field as New Orleanians who just gone through a lot of pain, swayed to their favorite hometown jam band. I could sense their return to home.
I can’t imagine the courage it takes to sit in front of a national audience and talk about a painful past trauma, nor can I imagine the determination required to break into a male-dominated pop culture field. Start my show and read on about the two women who subconsciously affected this week’s show.
No theme this week. I just selected some strong tracks and was getting them lined up on my Thursday morning show. But that was also the day that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford sat before a mostly male Senate panel and talked about a painful episode in her life that she still carries with her today. With the 24-hour news cycle bombarding me with the latest development, it was hard not to think about her and the courage such action takes.
Add that to my experience the night before where I had attended the premiere of the Joan Jett documentary, “Bad Reputation.” The story of Jett’s path as a female rocker was enlightening. It was because of her movie that I pulled from the KAOS blues shelf a neglected copy of Ghalia and Mama’s Boys to kick off the show. (Actually, I start with the Radiators but she’s the first one I introduce.)
And in the seething anger of the moment (I broadcast live on KAOS right after “Democracy Now” which on the day of my show reported on stories of women molested by men who got away with it), I picked the track “Hoodoo Evil Man”.
Singer/Songwriter/Rocker Ghalia is from Brussels but she recorded the song in New Orleans with Johnny Mastro and Mama’s Boys. That’s close enough for me. Also, in this week’s show, I play other female rockers including Danielle Nicole, who is from Kansas and was lead singer for Trampled by Turtles. Nicole did a release with Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and New Orleans blues-rocker Anders Osborne that included the song, “Didn’t Do You No Good.”
I didn’t set out to do a show focusing on women rockers and to be honest, this show is more spiced rather than infused with women performers. (About once a year, I do an exclusively female show. Here’s the last one.) But this show includes a new release by Kelcy Mae’s latest project, two tracks by Kara Grainger. Aurora Kneeland’s alter ego “Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers,” Gal Holiday, Albanie Falletta, the Original Pinettes, Rosie Ledet, and a rocking song by Irma Thomas.
June Yamagishi shocked his agent when he announced that despite a revered career as a guitarist in Japan, he wanted to live and work in New Orleans. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, this episode of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa celebrates his decision. But wait there’s more. (But go ahead and get the show started)
Chocolate Milk, a popular New Orleans funk band from the 70’s, kick the show off with their opening song from their 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival performance. I follow that up with a set of music featuring June Yamagishi and his guitar. Two tracks from Papa Grows Funk, a band he was part of for 13 years. Because he also loves Mardi Gras Indian music, I included a song by The Wild Magnolias that features some strong Yamagishi licks.
Also, here’s a link to a short video of his cameo appearance on the HBO show, Treme, where he is trying out for the band being assembled by Wendell Pierce’s character.
From this point in the show, I swing through a jazz set that starts with a classic King Oliver number from the late 1920’s and finishes with a recent recording by Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring an original song.
Coco Robicheaux kicks off the next set which offers two songs about the importance of keeping on the good side of your woman. Paula of Paula and the Pontiacs sings about the importance of getting the coffee (grind) right while Larry Garner, with help from Buckwheat Zydeco, does a number called “Ms. Boss.”
Three contemporary zydeco and cajun numbers push the boundaries of those genres with the help of Bonsoir Catin, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and Rosie Ledet. A country/folk sets follows before I swing back into funk and finish with a genre-busting song by the BlueBrass Project. Actually, Irma Thomas gets the last word with “Since I Fell for You,” with Dr. John on piano.
There now, lots of reasons to keep listening. Thanks for tuning in.
The New Orleans festival season is fast approaching. While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the crown jewel of the season, there are reasons for the music tourist to consider visiting the city at any time during the long festival season other than JazzFest. Here’s a few.
The Crowds. New Orleans is a tourist town year round but it can be overwhelming during Mardi Gras and JazzFest. During those peak times, restaurants and nightclubs are a harder to get into and lodging is more expensive. Go before or after JazzFest and the city feels more relaxed and accessible.
Free Outdoor Concerts – New Orleans offers some wonderful outdoor concerts showcasing local musicians in a festival atmosphere. There are two exceptional, easy to get to concert series that run through the spring. This year, “Wednesday at the Square” features Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Tab Benoit, Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band, Kermit Ruffins, Anders Osborne and Soul Rebels. This downtown show held in Lafayette Square usually features an opening act, runs from 5 to 8 p.m. and is surrounded by ways to purchase food and booze. On Thursday evenings, Louis Armstrong Park comes alive with Jazz in the Park. This event attracts more locals with chairs and picnic baskets but you’ll still find sustenance and drink in this park just across historic Rampart Street from the French Quarter.
Neighhorhood Festivals – Only in a New Orleans neighborhood festival would you find youth dance groups and more established artists like Bonerama, Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, and New Breed Brass Band. That was just a sampling of the three stages last year that defined the boundaries of the Freret Street Festival, one of the early season neighborhood festivals in New Orleans. Neighborhood festivals run throughout the year, except for JazzFest. Check the festival schedule and sample a few online such as the Bayou Boogaloo –- definitely on my bucket list for a future visit. You’ll find most New Orleanians are incredibly social—almost to a fault. Go to a neighborhood event or establishment and if you are reasonably gregarious, you will meet locals who will happily share their opinions on bands, restaurants and the best route to take to your next event.
French Quarter Festival – This four-day event attracts more audience than the more well-known seven-day JazzFest. The difference is that the stages are scattered about the French Quarter and they are free, making it easy for the casual daily tourist to get sucked into the music. Whereas JazzFest adds a healthy dose of world and national music acts to their line up of local performers, French Quarter Festival is almost exclusively local musicians. Held two weeks before JazzFest, it’s the first major festival of the season. If you’re already staying in or around downtown, you won’t need to taxi or bus to the fairgrounds as you would with JazzFest. Last year French Quarter Festival headlined with Allen Toussaint, who later joined in a delightful conversation with Deacon John about Cosimo Matassa at the festival’s interview stage. I can’t tell you how fortunate I felt to be in the audience for both of those events.
Lagniappe. Regardless of when you go, relax. You won’t be able to do it all. Things will get in your way, like torrential rain storms. Last year, I had set my mind on catching Irma Thomas at the big stage by the river at French Quarter Festival but when I saw a mass of dark clouds headed my way, I reluctantly ducked into the House of Blues courtyard. What a break. Not only did I stay dry but I became acquainted with the talent of Sarah McCoy and Colin Lake –two performers who were able to keep playing despite a very heavy rain. The Irma Thomas show was cancelled. Slow down, take care of yourself and enjoy the moment because you’re in New Orleans, baby!
The obvious struggle by Republican candidates in their most recent debate to think of an American woman deserving to be on the $10 bill once again illustrated the dearth of awareness of women’s role in our history.
This issue is brought home to me almost every time I map out music for my New Orleans show. Perhaps because my knowledge and music library is not as extensive as I would like, I struggle to bring gender balance to my shows, particularly when I play early jazz, R&B, funk and brass bands. But I also sense that New Orleans is no different than the broader music world where female musicians have struggled to get into the spotlight.
Finding music I can play that feature early New Orleans jazz women is pretty much impossible. I only have a little more luck when I move into the New Orleans R&B era. Lots of great music recorded out of J&M Recording Studio heyday, but with the huge exception of Irma Thomas, and also Shirley Goodman, its mostly guys.
If you don’t recognize some of those names, you’re not alone. Finding their music to play on the radio takes work.
Similarly you might recognize Marva Wright and Charmaine Neville but what about Leigh Harris (Little Queenie) or jazz singer Germaine Bazzle? Many excellent female musicians worked in New Orleans during the 20th Century but their recordings are sparse and scarce.
Fortunately, change is happening. While it still doesn’t feel balanced, there is an increasing number of New Orleans-based women musicians who are getting recognized in our new century. Helen Gillet, Aurora Nealand, Kelcy Mae, and Ingrid Lucia are carving a living out of the NOLA music landscape. Perhaps the most well-known in recent years is Alynda Lee Segarra who is the driving force behind Hurray for the Riff Raff.
And there’s growing recognition. New Orleans Women In Music, founded in 2007, promotes the careers of women musicians through information, network and other support.
The New Orleans Nightingales is a marketing collective with whom Ingrid Lucia has produced a compilation featuring 19 female musicians. Here’s the website description: “Steeped in the musical traditions of early American music, the ladies of the New Orleans Nightingales bring new life to this hundred year art form through new compositions, vibrant live performances and a commitment to the idea that traditional jazz and folk music is still evolving.”
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
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 Bartholomew – The 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
This is the first “festive” season for Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa so our collection of holiday music from New Orleans that I can play on the show is a bit limited. But the Internet is a vast resource of holiday cheer. So for this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite New Orleans holiday videos.
I can’t think of a better way to start then the dulcet tone of Aaron Neville doing “The Christmas Song.”
Okay, time to crank it up, here’s Bonerama doing “Merry Christmas Baby.”
What do you want from Santa? If you’re Kermit, you’d like your hometown football team, despite their 6-8 record, in the Superbowl in a “Saints Christmas.”
A quarter century ago, Benny Grunch and the Bunch did the “12 Yats of Christmas,” a humorous reference to a unique New Jersey-style accent in New Orleans made famous by the novel Confederacy of Dunces (also see my take on New Orleans speak). Some of the New Orleans locales are no longer, but the visuals and song are still very funny.
Regardless of the season, its not New Orleans unless you can do a little buck jumping in a second line. Take it away TBC Brass Band:
Paul Sanchez captures a snoutful of holiday spirit with “I Got Drunk this Christmas.”
I love the way New Orleans music can swing and soothe at the same time. Here’s Funky Butt Brass Band doing “Christmas Time in New Orleans.”
I’ll close this post out with Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, doing “O Holy Night.” May your holiday season be bright and happy. Thank you for reading and listening. Cheers.
Like most communities, New Orleans loves Halloween. Voodoo Music Fest, for instance, is always timed for around October 31. But this story is about Morgus the Magnificent and the music he inspired.
If you ever watched horror movies on television during the last century, chances are you’re familiar with the occupation of “Horror Host” — the sometimes creepy, usually campy personality who introduced the late Friday or Saturday night movie with tongue firmly in cheek.
Pioneered by Vampira, who dressed like Morticia Addams and hosted KABC-TV late night movies in Los Angeles in the 50’s, Shock Hosts proliferated across the country after Screen Gems saw a nifty way to cash in on its aging library of horror films. Classic monster movies like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy were packaged with lesser movies and sent to local stations with the suggestion they air the movies using a costumed host.
One of the stations that took up the idea was WWL-TV in New Orleans and the city hasn’t been the same since.
On a Saturday night in January 1959, Morgus the Magnificent, along with his sidekick Chopsley and a talking skull named Eric, hit the local airwaves. He immediately captured the attention of TV viewers and, six decades later, continues to be a favorite in the hearts, minds and T-shirts of NOLA residents.
Within four months of his show’s premiere, Morgus would be memorialized in song. Frankie Ford, Jerry Byrne and Mac Rebennak (the future Dr. John) recorded Morgus and the Three Ghouls at Cosimo Matassa’s studio on Governor Nicholls Street. While never a hit, it plays locally on occasion and showed up on Dr. John’s anthology Mos’ Scocious. In 1962, Morgus became the first Horror Host to have his own movie, The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus.
Morgus wasn’t your typical monster or vampire show host. He was a benevolent, though somewhat high strung, mad scientist working out of his laboratory above the Old City Ice House in the French Quarter. Filled with superhuman self confidence in his genius, he would devise ill-conceived schemes and experiments that had good intentions but would always fail miserably.
I recollect one show I watched as kid in the 60’s where he created his own weight reduction clinic and during the commercial breaks he demonstrated weight-loss technologies straight out of a Vincent Price movie, including a swinging pendulum (lose weight or else). Needless to say, by the end of the show his clients had lost more than pounds.
Morgus was the creation of Sid Noel Rideau, a native New Orleanian with a wacky imagination. He did a brief stint of Morgus in Detroit where he apparently recorded a surf rock tune called Werewolf under the name of Morgus and the Darringers.
But my favorite song representation of him was done by the band Galactic on their 2010 release Ya-Ka-May. The CD’s first track, Friends of Science, samples a typical opening of one of Morgus’ shows. “Good evening my dear students, and of course friends of science and those of the higher order.” You’ll find over a dozen New Orleans artists credited in the CD’s liner notes, including Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Big Freedia and Trombone Shorty. But there’s no mention of Morgus or Rideau.
Apparently, Galactic had a hard time getting permission from Rideau but finally did with the condition that it would be uncredited. In promoting the album to Offbeat magazine, Galactic’s bass player Robert Mercurio pondered “how many people are going to get that one. I think maybe you’d have to be from New Orleans to really get that voice.”
Not necessarily. Not if you catch the distinctive voice of Morgus when he’s played on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, this Monday (show now airs on Thursdays), starting at 10 a.m. Also, if you’ve read this far, perhaps you would like to subscribe by clinking the link in the upper right column.