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.”

KAOS will not be on the list of stations that break your heart

“You’re treating me wrong, you’re breaking my heart,” sang country singer Claude King.

The song was likely about his Louisiana love but it could also apply to various radio stations I’ve known.

Over the years, I have formed some serious attachments to stations and their programming. But I learned at an early age, that they can break your heart and not say goodbye.

Leilani McCoy was a DJ with KZAM in Seattle in the 70's and 80's. I loved her voice.
Leilani McCoy was a DJ with KZAM in Seattle in the 70’s and 80’s. I loved her voice.

It first happened with progressive rock station KZAM in Seattle. From 1975 to 1983, the FM station introduced me to new artists, diverse selections, and female DJs.  For a while KZAM had an AM sister station that was more cutting edge and which I could listen to in my car.

But then one day in 1981 without warning, the AM station abruptly switched to a smooth jazz format and, yes, I was heartbroken.  Two years later, the FM station suddenly folded as well. Again without notice. I felt used.

Fortunately, there was KJET, another AM station. KJET introduced to me The Clash, R.E.M, The Police, Soft Cell, Devo, The Go Gos and so much more. And apparently I wasn’t the only fan. Allegedly members of Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam were listeners.

But one day, I got in my car, turned on the radio and heard classic oldies.  Arggh! It happened again. Not even a farewell.

More recently, I listened to the “Mountain” (KMTT) decline from a KZAM-like progressive station to a shell of its past till it eventually folded. I remember thinking there must be something wrong with my radio until I realized that once again, I’d been dumped without even a “Dear Tim” letter.

What’s my point?  Your ears (and heart) matter. And while change is inevitable, how that change happens  matters. It should be done right.

kaosAt KAOS, your community radio station in the South Puget Sound for over 40 years, we let you know before programming changes. We have show hosts who have been offering a diverse range of music and information for years and they have built a relationship with listeners. When they eventually take their leave, they say “goodbye” on the air.  And if you really like the programming, you can let us know so we can find a replacement. Or YOU could be that replacement, because the show hosts are people who live in the community and volunteer on the air.

It’s pledge drive time.  This type of loyalty doesn’t happen without your support. Show your love to KAOS, I promise we won’t break your heart.

Community Stations like KAOS; WWOZ make a difference

Picture yourself at Tipitina’s in the early 80’s preparing to catch some funk by Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter, Jr., and just as the band is about to begin, a microphone descends from the ceiling.

In the early years of WWOZ, Tipitina’s was the home of the station.

You would have been witnessing an early, glorious moment in community radio. Located in the beer storage room above the uptown New Orleans night club was the nascent community radio station, WWOZ. With that simple, low-tech approach, the station was able to broadcast a live performance–launching a 30-year tradition of supporting local music.

WWOZ has come a long way from that beer closet and now is readily recognized as the “Guardian of the Groove” in New Orleans.

While serving a smaller market, KAOS has a similar reputation for supporting the often overshadowed music scene in Olympia.

With the KAOS Fall Member Drive and the WWOZ Fall Member Drive, I thought it timely to talk about my two favorite radio stations and why financial support is essential to both.

Like many, I listen to more than one station. But I only pledge to KAOS and WWOZ.  I pledge to KAOS because its my default station that I listen to the most, providing a wide range of music and programming. I pledge to WWOZ because I love New Orleans and its music. Listening to the station connects me, albeit remotely, to the city I was born in. Without WWOZ, I would not have had the confidence to launch Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa – a show that wouldn’t exist without KAOS.

Here are the features I like about these stations.  They both are non-commercial, community radio stations. They both invite and train members of the community to volunteer as on-air hosts (deejays). While being “volunteer powered” means they’re not as slick as some commercial radio stations, the hosts convey an authentic, honest voice, portraying Olympia and New Orleans in a way that gives me a deeper understanding. These deejays work in the same community, walk the same sidewalks,  drink at the same bars (you get the idea.).

Both stations are cheerleaders for local music, regularly announcing live music events, hosting studio performances and interviewing musicians and other performers. This boosterism can matter.  In 1987, KAOS hosted the the first radio broadcast of Nirvana and this summer, Seattle’s Vaudeville Etiquette was written up by the music tracker CMJ because of airplay it received on KAOS.

Just last week, local musician Greg Black stopped by the KAOS table at Arts Walk and offered the station his new CD, recorded two blocks away at Dub Narcotic Studio. You’ll hear it, along with other local music, on KAOS.

rampb-emperor-biography-hails-ernie-k-doe-291g96r6-x-large
Ernie K-Doe, New Orleans singer and lounge owner, was a deejay with New Orleans community radio station WWOZ.

And like WWOZ whose shows have been hosted by musicians like James Booker, David Torkanowsky and Ernie K-Doe (this blog’s patron saint), many of the KAOS on-air hosts are musicians themselves.

Both stations offer more than music. WWOZ , owned by the same folks who bring us Jazz Fest, focuses on programs that delve into the music and culture of New Orleans. KAOS has a broader mission, providing alternative perspectives such as National Native News, Counter Spin and Workers Independent News. as well as locally produced public affairs programs like Parallel University, Speaking of Wellness and the one I contribute to, Community Connections Report.

Strong listener support for these stations are crucial. The additional funding helps enrich the quality of the programming. But it also demonstrates to underwriters and funders that the station is a valued resource worthy of their support. Please take the time to pledge to KAOS and pledge to WWOZ this week or whenever you read this.

Welcome to Gumbo YaYa

I’m Tim Sweeney and this blog is to support a radio show I’m starting on Monday called Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  I’m incredibly excited as well as nervous.  Nothing like getting what I want and then freaking out about whether I can do it right.

After retiring from a 30-year stint as State of Washington employee on Halloween 2013, I signed up for and took the KAOS deejay training class –which qualified me, upon completion, to host programs on one of the best known and regarded community radio stations in the country. KAOS has been on the air since January 1, 1973 and is located on the campus of The Evergreen State College.  The station uses trained volunteer deejays from the college and the community and offers a diverse free-form radio format.

From the start, I’ve wanted to do a show that would allow me to pursue my love for New Orleans and its music.  I was born in New Orleans and lived there until I was 10.  I went back frequently until I moved to the Northwest 35 years ago and didn’t return until the first Jazzfest after Kartina (April 2006). I’ve been back several times since, always to catch as much music (and food) as possible.

Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa premieres on KAOS, 89.3 FM (www.kaosradio.org) at 10 a.m. (PST).  The two-hour live program will air every Monday after that.  The show will feature  music from and about New Orleans, including blues, jazz, R&B, hip hop, folk, cajun/zydeco, Mardi Gras Indian, rock, and everything in between-new and old.

I’m hoping you’ll catch all or part of the show as you can and let me know what you think.   I’ll be using this blog to support that show, provide more details, photos, links etc.

See you on the radio.