HBO’s Treme is an excellent introduction to New Orleans music

Occasionally, when someone learns about my New Orleans music show, they’ll ask me: “Have you seen. . .

And I know where they are going.

Yes! I have watched all 36 episodes of HBO’s Treme — some of them more than once including the commentary and music notes. The program is that good at portraying New Orleans.

The show ran from 2010 to 2013 and chronicled the lives of New Orleans residents upon their return to the city after Hurricane Katrina. And the show’s creators, producers and writers nailed it. The show is well regarded in New Orleans as having captured the unique and diverse culture and character of the city–both the good and the not so good.

Treme focused on the lives of musicians. Wendell Pierce, with cap, plays a trombonist struggling to make ends meet. He's marching with Rebirth Brass Band in this show and his trombone was played by Rebirth's Stafford Agee.
Treme focused on the lives of musicians. Wendell Pierce, with cap, plays a trombonist struggling to make ends meet. He’s marching with Rebirth Brass Band in this scene from the show and his trombone was played by Rebirth’s Stafford Agee.

Unfortunately, the show wasn’t sufficiently well regarded beyond the city (at least at the time) so no new episodes are being made. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably already understand the disconnect between being good and being popular. A theme that Treme also explores.

There’s lots of reasons to love this show, the main one for me is the music. There’s lot of New Orleans music in it. Literally hundreds of New Orleans-based musicians participated in its filming. Some of them even acted.

Yesterday, I pulled up the full cast listing of the show on IMDB and did a search for “self” and “selves” as in people and bands portraying themselves. I found over 250 listings. While some of the people playing themselves were politicians, chefs, writers, community activists and Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs, most of them were musicians.

The show featured literally hundreds of musicians. Some well known such as Dr. John (Mac Rebennak)
The show featured literally hundreds of musicians. Some well known such as Dr. John.

Some are well known like Dr. John, Fats Domino, Trombone Shorty and Irma Thomas. Others are not but should be such as Aurora Nealand, John Boutte, Tom McDermott, and Kermit Ruffins.

Several of the fictional characters are musicians attempting to make a living. One is a journeyman trombonists, played by Wendell Pierce, struggling to find gigs so he can pay rent and child support. Two others busk on the street and are learning the New Orleans style of music.

Throughout the series, the viewer is treated to music venues such as Tipitina’s, House of Blues, Blue Nile, Spotted Cat, and Snug Harbor and the music you hear on the show is recorded in situ. What you see is truly what you hear

In many cases, the musicians simply perform, either in the background or as a part of the plot. In other cases though, they deliver lines from a script or, in the case of Dr. John, ad lib. It’s a wonderful blend of reality and fiction.

A bass player with Jon Cleary's group, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Williams did quite a bit of acting and bass playing on the show.
A bass player with Jon Cleary’s group, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Williams did quite a bit of acting and bass playing on the show.

Cornell Williams, a bass player who in real life performs with Jon Cleary, portrays a member of a band formed by Wendell Pierce’s character and helps another character recover from drug addiction.

A more bizarre blending of real life and fiction is the character Davis McAlary, who often supplies the show’s comic relief and social commentary. McAlary is a musician and an on again, off again deejay at WWOZ, which is a real  community radio station in New Orleans. His character was inspired by Davis Rogan who has released several albums of original songs and was a deejay for WWOZ. To really twist your brain, you will see in various Treme scenes the real Davis performing on piano backing up the fictional Davis. (Another character is patterned after Donald Harrison Jr. who is also seen regularly in the show.)

Clarence "Frogman" Henry in a scene with fictional character Davis McAlary, inspired by real musician Davis Rogan.
Clarence “Frogman” Henry in a scene with fictional character Davis McAlary, inspired by real musician Davis Rogan.

If you have a propensity to love New Orleans, its food, culture and music, watching Treme will deepen that love. If you know little about New Orleans but are interested, the show is a great place to start your education.  Well, subscribing to this blog (upper right hand corner) and listening to my show won’t hurt either.

Your 2014 New Orleans music buying guide – Part 1

Here’s my Holiday buying guide of 2014 releases for that special person in your life who digs music from New Orleans.  Don’t know anyone like that?  Yea, you do. (This is actually Part 1. I’ve added a Part 2.)


Let’s stay in touch, sign up on the right to follow my blog


One caveat: I’m still trying to  get KAOS on the distribution list of New Orleans artists. Thank you Basin Street Records, Alligator Records, Vizztone and Louisiana Red Hot Records (all amazing independent labels) for sending KAOS your new releases. If someone’s missing, here’s how they can hook up with my show. 

The Revivalists – – This seven member contemporary rock group with a New Orleans flair has been exciting audiences since 2007. The City of Sound double disc wisely includes a live set so you can get a feel for the band in action.

Hurray for Riff Raff – Alynda Lee Segarra may be from New York but she found her passion and honed her talent on the streets of New Orleans.  Small Town Heroes, the latest from this Americana songwriter puts a fresh spin on roots music.

The New Orleans Suspects nail it with their release Ourboros.
The New Orleans Suspects, with journeymen musicians from classic NOLA bands, make their own history with Ouroboros.

New Orleans Suspect – Third release is the charm for this textbook gumbo yaya band that draws direct influences from the Meters, Nevilles, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Radiators. Destined to make my overall top 10 list for 2014, Ouroboros means the Suspects no longer need to be compared to their previous projects.

Glen David Andrews – He’s Troy Andrews cousin but don’t expect Trombone Shorty despite Glen’s awesome trombone work. Instead you’ll get a double shot of gospel and soul in Redemption, growled out by an unrepentant preacher who has no intention of ceasing his prowling of nightclubs. Thank goodness.

Jimmy Carpenter – This blues saxman with Walter Wolfman Washington’s band on his resume’ hits full stride on his second solo release, Walk Away.  Carpenter offers up smooth, swingy blues with wonderful touches that make it clear where he calls home.

Ingrid Lucia – If you only know her wonderful version of “Zat You Santa Claus,” Living the Life is your opportunity to fall deeply in love with this voice, starting with her opening track, “Do You Remember Walter.”  We didn’t get this album at KAOS but I’ve gradually been buying tracks, like “Put the Radio On,” since she released this album.

Royal Southern Brotherhood Cyril Neville’s vocals complement this royal group of southern blues artists (Devon Allman, Yonrico Scott, Charlie Wooten and Mike Zito). Another entry for my top ten list,  HeartSoulBlood magically fuses blues to soul and R&B. Speaking of magic, Magic Honey was Cyril’s solo release this year.

Lena Prima comes home in body and spirit with Starting Something.
Lena Prima comes home in body and spirit with Starting Something.

Lena Prima is living testament to writer Chris Rose’s posit that “New Orleans girls never live anywhere else and even if they do, they always come back.”  Starting Something tracks the return of the prodigal daughter of Louis Prima to New Orleans. The more you listen, the more you’ll be delighted she came home.

Henry Butler – Brilliantly paired with New York trumpeter Steven Bernstein, Henry Butler demonstrates his virtuosity on piano while providing something for almost every Jazz taste on Viper’s Drag.

Louis Prima Jr. – Lena’s little brother demonstrates how to make swing and rock and roll relevant and hip in the 21st Century. With Blow,  Louis Junior goes his own way without straying too far from his pop’s tree. He and his band are not NOLA based but the album provides more than a passing nod to the city where he first connected with music.

The Last Hombres Odd Fellows Rest is a product of a band that has been rambling about for over a decade until the drummer settled down in New Orleans and invited the band to bunker down and find their collective muse. Combine the pedal steel of The New Riders of the Purple Sage with songwriting reminiscent of Tom Petty and throw in some tasteful Hot 8  Brass Band and you have a CD that gets better with every spin.

Flow Tribe – Self described as “bizarrely irresistable,” this funk rock band of six genuine NOLA hipsters (with birth certificates to prove it) give you a taste of what its like to see them live with five upbeat studio tracks on Alligator White. (See if you can catch their reference to what’s been described as the best dive bar in New Orleans.)

Rockabilly does quite capture the adventure that Rory Danger and the Dangers Dangers offer in The Age of Exploration.
“Rockabilly” does not quite capture the adventure that Rory Danger and the Dangers Dangers set listeners on in The Age of Exploration.

Rory Danger & the Danger Dangers  The perfect gift for the historian/adventurer on your list, Age of Exploration is the first release of this New Orleans rockabilly group. This Shackleton-themed concept album is largely the product of hardworking reeds-woman Aurora Nealand.  Another CD that hasn’t found its way to KAOS, I’ve only heard the two tracks I’ve purchased online but I want more.

The Iguanas – This year brought us, Juarez, the eighth album by a venerable New Orleans group that has been keeping dancers happy by blending Latin styles with New Orleans groove. If you have ever seen them live, say at Rock ‘N’ Bowl, you know what I’m talking about.

Billy Pierce and Friends – Fine slide blues made exceptional on Take Me Back to the Delta by his “friends,” notably Sonny Landreth, Jimmy Carpenter, Waylon Thibodeaux and the guys who put the Bone in Bonerama (Craig Klein, Mark Mullins and Greg Hicks). It’s not all New Orleans music but by the time you get to “Give Me A Dollar,” it won’t matter.

Marcia Ball – She may be from Texas but she has her NOLA residency card for reasons that are amply supplied by The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man. How does she do it?

Rebirth Brass Band – Erasing all doubt that they could top their grammy winning Rebirth of New Orleans album of 2012, these guys did that and more with Move Your Body.  After 31 years of playing all night gigs and second lining, Rebirth is doing their most entertaining work.  Want to loosen up a boring party, play the track HBNS.  Oh yea! (A no brainer for my top 10)

Wow!  So much music and I’ve got more to write about and play. I’ve written Part II to this guide. I’ll be playing only new music December 8 and 15, from 10 a.m. to noon, KAOS 89.3 FM, Olympia.

(If you missed December 8, here is the playlist.)