June Yamagishi delivers excellent argument for open borders

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)

june 2.jpg
June Yamagishi playing with Cyril Neville and Corey Henry in October 2017.

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.

New Orleans loaded with African-American musical history

Today’s show honors African-American History Month (February) with a musical tour through jazz, R&B, funk, Mardi Gras Indian, hip hop and bounce music from New Orleans.  Start the show by clicking the arrow below and then read the rest of my show notes.

New Orleans may have been founded by the French, rebuilt by the Spanish and bought by the U.S., but its the African ingredients that make the New Orleans cultural gumbo so rich.

King Oliver
King Oliver’s Creole Band, featuring a young Louis Armstrong.

The very short story is that the rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean blended with European instruments in New Orleans to create jazz.  But it was African-Americans, many who were descendants of slaves, who made the music happen.

 

The show’s first set features Sidney Bechet who came from a musical middle-class family that lived in the Marigny neighborhood. I follow him up with a quick race to contemporary times with Dr. Michael White and Doreen Ketchens.  It’s a strong set of clarinet solos.

The second set kicks off with Louis Armstrong and follows with two of his mentors King Oliver and Kid Ory.   Jelly Roll Morton, who started playing the New Orleans brothels at 14, starts off my last set of jazz. Morton is followed by Kid Thomas who was faithful to the New Orleans jazz tradition throughout his career that spanned from the 1920’s to 1970.  But 100+ year old Lionel Ferbos wins the longevity award and sings “Pretty Doll/Ugly Child.”

The show moves into R&B with a rollicking three-piano version of Boogie Woogie with Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington and Allen Toussaint. But its Deacon John’s “Jumpin’ in the Morning” that gets your ass shaking.   Somewhere in there, I talk about the Dew Drop Inn and include an excerpt from an interview of Kenneth Jackson about his grandpa, Frank Pania who started the Dew Drop Inn and was part of a civil action that ended arrests for racial mixing.

dew drop inn
The Dew Drop in during its heyday.

Which made that a good time to play Fats Domino, whose concerts were the site of at least four major riots. Some blame the music, some blame the alcohol but Rick Coleman who wrote a biography of Fats Domino contends that the riots were at least in part incited by racial mixing in a time period when much of our country recognized and practiced “apartheid.”

The show rolls on with only African-American musicians and vocalists, including a set of Black Creole music of South Louisiana, which is often called “Zydeco.”  And I closed the show with “Get Lucky” with bounce artist Big Freedia performing with the Soul Rebels.

I hope you enjoy the show and consider subscribing to keep getting my latest shows.

Chicago-New Orleans musical link — the great migration

I took the train to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, just in time to catch the city’s blues festival.

I started by going to Buddy Guy’s Legends club and saw the six-time grammy award winning blues man sing with Shemekia Copeland. George “Buddy” Guy is from Lettsworth Louisiana and began playing professionally in Baton Rouge before making the familiar trek north to Chicago.

buddy_guy_2008_photo_credit_christian_lantry_1
Buddy Guy moved up from Louisiana to seek his fame in Chicago.

I say “familiar” because he wasn’t the first Louisiana musician to seek fortune and fame by heading up the Mississippi River.

If you’re a New Orleans jazz fan, you already know this story.  After New Orleans was forced to close its red light district during the build up to World War 1, musicians who had been making a living playing the new music in the bars and brothels of Storyville, headed north. One of the best and earliest to do so was Joe “King” Oliver, who took his coronet to Chicago and hooked up with other New Orleans expatriates and recreated and polished the jazz of New Orleans.  Things really took off when he convinced his young protege’ Louis Armstrong to come up and join him.

It was good timing. King’s smart professional move came at the beginning of what has become known as the Great Migration where for roughly a half century over 6 million African Americans relocated from the south to northern cities. An estimated 500,000 ended up in Chicago mostly in and around South Chicago.

The first migratory wave moved the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and European horns forged in New Orleans’ Backatown into popular awareness ensuring that Jazz would become a distinctly American sound.

henry
Henry Gray, from Kenner Louisiana, became Howlin’ Wolf’s piano player when he moved to Chicago.

And then came blues.  Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett is noted as the first black woman to record. This Georgia-born singer recorded many of her earliest songs in Chicago.But she was followed by others, such as Muddy Waters who moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago during World War II and later Henry Gray who  was typical of the second wave of the Great Migration. As black soldiers exited service following World War II, they looked for communities with more opportunities and less discrimination. The Louisiana-born pianist landed in Chicago in 1946, playing regularly with the likes of Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Rogers before hooking up with the Howlin’ Wolf Band. He has since returned to Louisiana and continues to perform on occasion.

Buddy Guy, who had started his career playing in Baton Rouge, got to Chicago in 1957. He was joined later by Lonnie Brooks who had a regional hit in Louisiana, Family Rules, before moving north.I’ll continue to explore the connections between these two fine musical cities (New Orleans and Chicago) on my show. Please join me or catch one of my edited podcasts.

Yes, We Have No Bananas But We have Plenty of Sugar

My radio station, KAOS, was going bananas last week when Scott Stevens, host of Spin the Globe, devoted a full hour to songs about this beloved fruit. My time-slot colleague (his Friday show anchors the KAOS world programming slot that I kick off on Mondays [Now moved to Thursdays] with Gumbo YaYa starting at 10 a.m.) played 18 banana songs from around the world.

Sam the banana man. Sam Zemurray lived and died in New Orleans after building a banana distribution dynasty.
Sam the banana man. Sam Zemurray lived and died in New Orleans after building a banana distribution dynasty.

As I was listening to King Sunny Ade wax on about “Sweet Banana,” I was thinking I could do a show like that, right? Scott may have the whole world to draw from, but New Orleans is the home of the banana gangster Sam Zemurray, the man who parlayed the resale of overripe bananas dumped at the New Orleans port into a banana dynasty (and screwed Honduras and Guatemala in the process). Surely, I can find enough music from New Orleans to do my own banana show.

So I checked my catalog of New Orleans music and found nothing. Okay, there was the Fathead Newman tune “Montana Banana” recorded with Dr. John in 1991 — an instrumental.

If I did more research, I might find some songs but if my log was showing nothing, I knew I wouldn’t have much to work with.  So what other fruit or vegetable might I use for a show? I grabbed a banana, peeled it and gave it deeper thought with each bite. (uh oh, sudden flash of the “Brothers McMullen” banana scene.)

Last year, I did a show on food where I didn’t even break a sweat. New Orleans musicians have no trouble singing the praises of red beans, jambalaya, gumbo, chicken, shrimp and barbecue–though if you read my post from that show, Louis Armstrong’s “barbecue” is not something you find on the grill.

Holy Sucrose, Batman! New Orleans is also known for sugar. The Jesuit missionaries in the mid-1700s grew the stuff in downtown New Orleans (before they built the Superdome and those other buildings).

Louisiana produces about 20 percents of the U.S. cane sugar market
Louisiana produces about 20 percents of the U.S. cane sugar market

The Chalmette Domino Sugar refinery is one of the successes of post-Hurricane Katrina, returning to operation relatively quickly after the deep flood waters receded from its St. Bernard parish home. The state produces roughly two billion pounds of white death a year. And let’s not forget, the city has hosted the “Sugar Bowl” every year since 1935.

It’s kind of cheating, though. I mean, not all the “sugar” songs are about real sugar. Songwriters love metaphors and sugar lends itself well to that. Not to mention, that in New Orleans, the word “sugar” is a popular term of endearment used by almost everyone, including grocery clerks and bus drivers to complete strangers.

So not surprisingly, I have several New Orleans style versions of the 1927 jazz standard “Sugar” with the phrase “I’d make a million trips to his lips, if I was a bee. Because they are sweeter than any candy to me.”

But there’s also Sugar Foot Strut (Armstrong), Sugar Foot Stomp (Oliver), Sugar Blues (Preservation Hall Jazz Band) and Sugar Shack (Flavor Kings).  There’s also Corey Harris’ Sugar Daddy and Percy Mayfield’s Sugar Mama.

It’s close enough.  I’ll be sprinkling sugar throughout Monday’s sweet show.

By the way, you should listen to Scott’s podcast of his banana program.