The name Banksy is world known now after one of his pieces self-shredded during its auction recently. But the anonymous English street artist was hardly a household name when the Hot 8 Brass Band included his art on 2012 CD release “The Life and Times of . ” Get the show started and then read on.
Banksy, whose art has appeared on walls throughout the world, visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and his work captured the community’s affection. Abraham Lincoln pushing a shopping cart, a little girl flying a refrigerator and a brass band marching down the street. In today’s show, I play “Ghost Town” off the Hot 8 release.
But before you get to that song, you’ll hear Seattle-area musician, Del Rey, performing “Going Back to New Orleans,” Champion Jack Dupree with “Yella Pocahontas,” Charmaine Neville and the Iguanas. To name a few.
Tank and the Bangas, who will be performing in Seattle and Portland in November, are on this show as well doing “Rollercoaster” Live at Gasa Gasa and Kermit Ruffins performs “If I Only Had a Brain.”
I also feature an early R&B set with Little Richard, Leo Price and Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns. Thanks for tuning and please subscribe so you can be informed of when new shows are available.
This week’s show is a funky one. Get the show started by clicking the Mixcloud arrow then read how Ohio scooped New Orleans on the funk
A recent NPR story about Dayton, Ohio having a Funk Hall of Fame took me a bit by surprise. It’s not that I have anything against Ohio though I resent the tendency of their vote for president seeming to count more than mine. And yes, there are some fine funk bands from Dayton (Ohio Players, Heatwave, Zapp, etc.).
Like many though, when I think of funk masters, I think James Brown, George Clinton and, well, The Meters. In the late 60’s, Art Neville (keyboards), George Porter, Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar) and Zigaboo Modeliste (drums) became the studio band for Allen Toussaint backing hits like “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky,” sung by Lee Dorsey. And while they didn’t make it as big as some of the mid-70 funk bands, The Meters, along with James Brown, are widely considered to be the originators of the funk sound.
But its not that simple. The Meters were influenced by New Orleans parade rhythms, Professor Longhair, and Earl Palmer, who before moving to Los Angles to be part of the famed “Wrecking Crew,” was part of the Cosimo Matassa studio band that created many of the early R&B hits by Fats Domino and Little Richard. The same Little Richard sound that James Brown cited as being an influence on his funk sound.
So why isn’t the Funk Hall of Fame in New Orleans? Probably for the same reason there’s not a decent Jazz or R&B museum in New Orleans. Dayton made it happen and New Orleans didn’t. Well, least the music is good. Other acts on this show include Corey Henry, Galactic, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Dr. John, Eddie Bo, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Jon Cleary, Papa Grows Funk and Walter “Wolfman” Washington.
As part of my ongoing education on New Orleans music, I’ve been reading about the use of the piano in New Orleans music. (Please note: I’m not a real musician but I operate a CD player at home)
While the piano wasn’t invented in New Orleans, several styles of piano playing are derived from the city’s musicians. So much so that “one can easily claim the piano as the prime choice of innovators in New Orleans music,” according to an article by Tom McDermott who innovates on the piano on a daily basis in New Orleans.
This versatile instrument combines melody and rhythm and makes it possible for every parlor or living room to become a concert hall.
As Jon Cleary, another fine keyboard purveyor of New Orleans music, said, the piano is “a hip little tool because it allows you to reproduce all the elements of what a band would do.”
What Jelly Roll Morton and others that followed did was translate the sounds of the New Orleans street bands to a piano, delivering their own interpretation to the customers of night clubs and sporting clubs and ultimately to a global audience.
The piano is so important to New Orleans music that a premiere annual event is Piano Night held around the time of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The host of this event, WWOZ, has created a compendium of videos that explore that New Orleans piano tradition.
Here’s Jon Cleary providing a quick run down of the various piano playing styles.
In 1945 at the tender age of 19, Cosimo opened an appliance store with a partner in New Orleans, hoping to take advantage of the pent up demand for home conveniences and the many new households that were forming after the war. The store also sold records.
His partner suggested they make recordings for their customers. Cosimo, being the more technical of the two, took on the task of getting that business going. As a former Tulane chemistry major, he was your classic nerd. But having spent a few years working with his Dad’s jukebox business, repairing the equipment and swapping out 78 rpm records, he was a nerd with an ear for music.
The J&M Music Shop was at the right place at the right time on the corner of Dumaine and Rampart, sitting between the French Quarter and the Fauberg Treme’ neighborhood – a center of African-American and Creole culture and home to many New Orleans musicians.
After World War II, people were ready to have fun. And the music, particularly from a new generation of black New Orleans musicians raised on jazz, swing and big band music, was ready to make the party happen.
The studio’s success started with Roy Brown, who had just returned to New Orleans with his Gospel-trained voice and was performing at the famous Dew Drop Inn. It was in the back of the J&M in 1947 that Brown recorded the jump blues song, Good Rockin’ Tonight, a hit that can arguably be considered one of the first Rock and Roll songs. Just ask Elvis.
Things really took off when horn player and band leader Dave Bartholomew started using the studio for his work as a musician, arranger and talent scout for Imperial Records. Through Bartholomew, early R&B greats like Smiley Lewis, Frankie Ford and Tommy Ridgley would record at the studio. But the star who solidifies the studio’s listing as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame landmark is Antoine “Fats” Domino. Through a good chunk of the 50’s, Domino, with able assistance from Bartholomew and Matassa, released a series of R&B hits, finally crossing over into the pop charts with “Ain’t That a Shame” in 1955. All of the Fats’ recordings as well as hundreds of other R&B and early rock and roll gems were recorded in that little studio.
By 1956, Matassa was no longer selling appliances and had moved his studio to larger digs on Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. Like many successful studios, Matassa’s operation benefitted from a talented group of studio musicians, usually organized by Bartholomew but also by the emerging talent, Allen Toussaint. These musicians included Earl Palmer on drums, Alvin “Red” Tyler and Lee Allen on sax, Frank Fields on bass, Huey Smith on piano and a large rotating cast of others. The studio sound was so synonymous with success that labels, like Ace, Atlantic, Chess, Savoy, RCA Victor, Imperial and Specialty would send their artists to New Orleans to capture the magic.
One of the more legendary stories is how Richard Penniman found his mojo at the Dew Drop Inn during a recording break, which led to his breakout hit, Tutti Frutti backed up by the J&M musicians and recorded by Matassa. It’s almost wearying to list the musicians that recorded there, but I’ll add Mac Rebennak (before he became known as Dr. John), Art and Aaron Neville, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey to this amazing list.
Cosimo Matassa died in September (2014) at 88. He was generous with his time, so it’s easy to find interviews of him, including one of my favorites. He modestly takes little credit for the sounds he recorded. But he maintains that the limitations of the early technology were a benefit, requiring musicians to play a song all together from beginning to end, just like a live performance. His job, he would say, was to get out of the way and let them do their thing.
Obviously, there was more to it than that because all the musicians who worked with him loved this unassuming nerdy son of Sicilian immigrants. His elegance was in his simplicity. He took care of the technical part, creating an environment where craftsmanship and creativity could merge.
“To have a job where you can listen to music all day. Great way to make a living. Lot of great New Orleans musicians made me look good.”
Needless to say, I’ll be hammering my collection of Matassa recordings on my next show this Monday, 10 a.m. to noon, KAOS, 89.3 FM. Streaming at www.kaosradio.org.