Celebrating “Frogman”, Grammy winners & Irish Heritage

This week’s show is crammed with stories and recognitions, starting with the opening track by Louis Armstrong – “Irish Black Bottom” and carrying on with Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 84th birthday, and grammy wins by the New Orleans Nightcrawlers and Bobby Rush. Go ahead and get it started and then read on.

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five – Irish Black Bottom

I’m not sure what possessed Louis Armstrong to do Percy Venable’s “Irish Black Bottom.” Some have surmised that it was part of his act at the time he recorded it in November 1927 with his Hot Five. Certainly the song’s novelty fits with the sense of humor many associate with Satchmo. It helps to know that Black Bottom refers to a dance craze of that era — which was likely begun as a result of a Jelly Roll Morton song recorded a bit earlier called “Black Bottom Stomp.” Black Bottom refers to a neighborhood in Detroit which was occupied predominantly by African Americans but was named for its fertile dark soil.

The song opens the show and I follow through with a token set of Irish-like songs in honor of a day in which some celebrate Irish Heritage. Marc Gunn, Gina Forsyth, the Zydepunks and the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus represent in that set. I then keep the folk vibe going for one more set with the Tom Paines, Luke Winslow-King and Theresa Andersson, among others.

But then I repeat a short clip from my interview with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers who just won a grammy for their album Atmosphere. In the clip, Matt Perrine talks about how the band mediates between honoring the rich New Orleans music culture and incorporating new elements of interest to the nine members of this band. I follow that up with a couple of songs by Bobby Rush who also just won a grammy — his second in three years. He’s 87 years old.

Speaking of octogenarians, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, who was there when it all happened during the New Orleans R&B boom, turns 84 on Friday. I celebrate his birthday with three songs (the limit according to federal streaming rules).

The real Clarence “Frogman” Henry (left) in a scene from the HBO show “Treme” where he notes how like other early R&B artists, he did not reap the financial benefits of his songs. He turns 84 Friday.

But wait! There’s more. Allen Toussaint sings “Brickyard Blues” a song that was recorded by five different artists when he wrote it in 1974. But Allen recognizes Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller as his inspiration. Here’s the Miller version of Brickyard Blues.

And finally, near the end of this week’s two-hour show, I talk briefly about the Leroy Jones documentary “A Man and His Trumpet” streaming on Netflix. I play two songs by this exceptionally talented and dedicated trumpet player and band leader — perhaps the first member to be recruited by Danny Barker for the famous Fairview Baptist Marching Band. If you love New Orleans music, you should catch this documentary with great stories delivered by Jones as well as Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., Greg Stafford and Herlin Riley. As promised on the show, his goofy trailer.

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Clarinetist’s Birthday Sets Up Celebration of Dancehalls

The birth anniversary of Israel Gorman, an early New Orleans jazz clarinetist, allows this week’s show to transport us to the high energy of New Orleans dancehalls — past, current and future.

Israel Gorman – Photo by Al Rose – Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum

Once again, I’m humbled by the opportunity to learn more about New Orleans music through this show. Until this week, I did not know about Israel Gorman. Thank you to the 64 Parishes website for starting my education on this early jazz man who was at least four years older than Louis Armstrong. He was born March 4, 1896, making him old enough to perform his clarinet in Storyville saloons before World War 1 ended the red light district and sent him to fight in France. And while Gorman, like many New Orleans musicians, played in Chicago and New York, it was his recording at a dancehall near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in the 1950’s that solidifies his place in music history. On some of the songs, you can hear the conversations from the audience and diners at Happy Landing Restaurant and Club and the shuffling of dancers feet. As far as music recording quality, it falls short of today’s standards. But it puts your ears in the room.

This listening experience has encouraged me to look more deeply into dancehalls — a source of community identity and historical interest that has spurred symposiums. Every worthy community has had one. I’ll never forget flying out of the Olympia Airport on July 21, 2000 to see a large column of smoke rising up from the Evergreen Ballroom, ending a 70-year history of bringing great music to the area. (An early highlight of doing the Gumbo YaYa show was when a listener called to tell me about seeing Fats Domino perform at the Evergreen Ballroom during his heyday. (Here’s an early post and show about the famous Dew Drop Inn.)

Today’s show includes other dancehall gems such as Jacques Gauthe and his Creole Rice Yerba Buena Band, Kid Thomas (who Gorman played with during the early years of Preservation Hall) and his Algiers Stompers, Champion Jack Dupree and a contemporary quartet that seeks to capture the magic of dancehalls of yesteryear.

Happy Landing – Past Prime. See the picture on the Mixcloud player to see a more stylized shot of the venue.

I continue in this vein for about an hour, aided further by Riverside Jazz Collective, Aurora Nealand and Smoking Time Jazz Club. And perhaps the highlight is Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues.” (How progressive of Satchmo to have avoided the gender tag in the title)

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band provides our transitional link from dancehall to funk, cajun and latin music. Later in the show, I also recognize Jazon Marsalis’ 44th birthday, spinning a couple of tracks with him on vibraphone.

Thank you for tuning in. Please let me know what you think of the music.

Helping you vote with music from New Orleans – Part Two

With two weeks left before election day, over 800,000 ballots in my state have been turned in. Turnout is even stronger where this show is broadcast with ballots turned in by nearly one out of three voters. Over 42 million have already voted nationwide. Wow!

For those who haven’t voted yet, here’s music to vote . . .or to listen to while waiting to vote.

This week’s songs, like last week’s songs, are selected to get you into a frame of mind for exercising your right to vote, starting with John Boutte’s cover of “A Change is Gonna Come” — a song inspired by a racist experience when Sam Cooke attempted to check into a Shreveport motel.

The Meters gives us “People Say” to start the first full set and Leyla McCalla puts Langston Hughes words to music with “Song for a Dark Girl.” It’s a set designed to remind us that its been a long, long journey for racial equity and justice and we’re not done yet. This set finishes with The Neville Brothers’ “Sons and Daughters (Reprise)” and Rebirth Brass Band’s “Take it to the Street.”

Allen Toussaint’s sings “We Are America”

Allen Toussaint starts “Yes We Can Can” by singing “We are America” to a New Orleans Jazz Fest audience. His song enlivens a second half hour set of music that includes The Hot 8 Brass Band’s “Working Together,” Marcia Ball’s “World Full of Love,” Smoky Greenwell’s “Get Out and Vote,” and Tab Benoit and Dr. John doing “We Ain’t Gonna Lose No More.”

In the second half of the show, Davis Rogan’s “Joe Biden Will Do Just Fine” pairs nicely with Paula and The Pontiacs doing “Play to Win.” Eric Lindell follows up with “Revolution” as in a revolution in our heart. New Orleans Suspects offers up “Whatcha Gonna Do” and Dr. Michael White delivers “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

The show ends with an amazing Louis Armstrong cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Amazing because first it was recorded less than a year after Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded the original Second, its clearly a funk version which is unusual for Armstrong who would live only a year after the release of this song. And finally, the song comes across so well, particularly for the vibe I was going for. Let me know what you think.

Trouble in Mind – The Sun will Shine Again

We are on fire and not in a good way. From the fever of COVID-19 which has infected 2 million U.S. residents to the violent actions that lead to unnecessary death and hurt on our streets, we have “. . .trouble in mind.” To get the sun to shine in your backdoor again, start my show – we’ll make the journey to and from the dark place together.

Police in Coral Gables, Florida, kneel in solidarity with the protesters against the killing of George Floyd. (Getty)

You can’t do a show of New Orleans music and NOT play blues. And the song “Trouble in Mind” is classic New Orleans blues– written by Richard M. Jones, who grew up in New Orleans and played jazz in the city’s red light district, Storyville until he followed the African American diaspora north. He settled in Chicago where he worked with the gang of New Orleans musicians who made jazz an American tradition, including Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams.

He first recorded “Trouble” in 1924 but it was his recording in 1926 with the voice of Bertha “Chippie” Hill and the trumpet of Louis Armstrong that made the song a hit. You’ll hear that version (recently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame) on this show. The lyrics have a dark edge.

Trouble in mind, that’s true
I have almost lost my mind
Life ain’t worthwhile livin’; feel like I could die
I’m gonna lay my head
On some lonesome rail road iron
Let the 2:19 train ease my trouble of mine

Trouble In Mind – by Richard M. Jones

Like most blues, the song is as much about hope as it is about despair. When I was listening to this song in preparation for this show, I learned about how Jones cobbled this song from earlier spirituals that date back to slavery — how blues expresses suffering, yet by vocalizing our pain we can find ways to cope. In this show I express the view that we all have our burdens to carry but the most significant one is the imperative to ensure that no person or people have to carry more than their share. It seems to be a simple philosophy to say but difficult to follow.

Trouble in mind, oh, yes, I am blue
But I won’t be blue always
Yes, the sun will shine in my back door someday

the last stanza of Trouble in Mind by Richard M. Jones

If you listen to the whole show, you’ll hear a few renditions some with different lyrics and different styles (Zydeco and Caribbean for instance).

But there is a lot more to the show. You’ll hear the voice of listener “Ron” who introduces a set of music by female musicians and talks briefly about how New Orleans shares its good and bad, making it a real experience. You’ll also hear (and I hope dance to) a 25-minute brass band set. I play a new release by Taylor Smith who still has roots in New Orleans but recorded “Amnesia” in Memphis. Tuts Washington will bring “Georgia on My Mind.” Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band does “Eh la Bas”

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Vinyl Gumbo! Can you hear the difference

If you long for LPs then this week’s show is for you. Over an hour of vinyl New Orleans music is waiting to be heard, just click the application below and get it spinning.

hirt fountain vinylI still own the first CD player I bought for my stereo.  And I love it.  I love the ease of playing CDs. I love being able to quickly find the track I want to hear. I like being able to repeat tracks. I love how clean the sound is.  I really don’t miss vinyl.

Yet, I still buy LPs.  And you’ll hear some of them on this show, including Pete Fountain, Professor Longhair, Al Hirt, Willie Humphrey, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Beausoleil,  Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Huey “Piano” Smith and John Mooney.  Nothing like playing a continuous stream of LPs to appreciate the work of DJs before the digital era. It really is a lot more effort playing off of turntables.

But aside from the crackling of the needle contacting the surface, I really can’t tell the difference in the sound.  Perhaps you will.

Also, on today’s show, I honor Eddie Bo’s birth anniversary.  Noted perhaps mostly for his funk, Edwin Bocage was a piano player skilled in jazz and other music genre as well. He was also a talented builder, who even in his mid-70’s was active in rebuilding his home damaged by Hurricane Katrina.  I play a couple of his lesser known numbers in today’s show along with a couple of new releases by Eric Lindell and Keith Stone along with a handful of contemporary female New Orleans artists to offer some gender balance wrapped in very fine music.  Thanks for tuning in.

Funky Eliza Jane and Satchmo’s famous quote star in today’s show.

“I don’t know, boss. . but I won’t do it again,” is allegedly how Louis Armstrong responded to a pointed question from the president of Okeh records when he asked him who was playing trumpet on a song recorded by a competing label. The song was “Drop that Sack” and you’ll hear it on today’s show.

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Armstrong strayed from his label briefly to record with Vocalion under a band named after his wife Lil Harden.

Helen Gillet’s memorable “De mémoire de Rose opens the show followed by Satchmo’s 1926 recording and a live recording of Big Sam’s Funky Nation at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival doing almost 12 minutes of funk with some familiar touchstones throughout, including “Eliza Jane.”

I do a set of jazz, swing numbers followed by a Latin-inflected number by Charmaine Neville and her band appropriately titled “Dance.”  I break into the new release by Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue and offer up some New Orleans Suspects, Seth Walker, Professor Longhair and Lena Prima.

Near the end of the show catch a great number sung by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes with the Smoky Greenwell Band followed by Rosie Ledet’s “It Might Be You” from her latest release. If you stay with me long enough, you’ll catch another Helen Gillet number.

Thanks for tuning in.

Just a typical Gumbo YaYa Show

Some times I don’t have an organizing theme for the show and this is one is one of those.  That doesn’t mean it ain’t worth listening to though.

soulIn honor of the Soul Rebels’ tuba player, Damion Francois’s 46th birthday, I start the show with the band knocking out “Let Your Mind Be Free.”  The Young Tuxedo Brass Band keeps the second line moving with Little Freddie King and the Red Hot Brass Band helping out with their own songs.

Speaking of tubas (actually sousaphones), I featured a cover of The Who’s “Magic Bus” with a tuba playing the bass line.  Earl King does “Things I Used to Do,” James Booker does “Classified” and Rebirth Brass Band plays “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”

This week’s show also features “Beau Koo Jack” recorded December 5th 1928 by  Louis Armstrong and his Savoy Ballroom Five. Throw in some Pete Fountain, Marcia Ball, Papa Mali, the Radiators, and some surprises and you’ve got a typical, unthemed Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  Enjoy.

A trip to French Quarter Fest and celebration of Johnny Dodds

In today’s show, we take an imaginary, real-time visit to French Quarter Festival happening right now and we celebrate the 126th anniversary of clarinetist Johnny Dodds’ birthday. Here’s the edited version of the show which you listen to while reading this.

IMG_1454Overshadowed by the older and more well-known New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival which starts later in April, the French Quarter Festival packs over 300 music acts (roughly 1,700 musicians) into four days starting today.  Celebrating its 35th year, this free festival is the largest showcase of Louisiana musicians with stages scattered throughout the French Quarter. Some of the more well-known acts playing this year include Cyril Neville, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Jon Cleary, Little Freddie King, the Lost Bayou Ramblers,  and Amanda Shaw.

And while I do play Neville and the Lost Bayou Ramblers later on the show, I start the show with a real time experience. Through the magic of radio and with a vivid imagination, I take you directly to the French Quarter to the stages and play music by musicians who are performing in real time synchronized to the airing of my show (10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays). This requires precision math on my part since I have to convert the Central Standard Time New Orleans-based schedule to the Pacific Standard Time reality of my radio show.

We start by running over to catch the last song of the Panorama Jazz Band performance on the Big River Stage in Woldenberg Park, before heading back toward the Quarter on Decatur Street to hear Tuba Skinny playing on the Jack Daniels Stage.  And because we can run fast in radio life, we can haul butt over to the Hilton Tricentennial Stage to catch the Preservation All-Stars.

After a little break with showcasing other artists featured later in the festival, we go back to real time with Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue performing at the River Stage again. And then we dash to Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage to catch Alex McMurray. During this imaginary real-time tour of the first day of French Quarter Fest, we also hear Banu Gibson.

johhny dodds
Johnny Dodds was born on April 12. 1892 and was part of the first generation of jazz musicians in New Orleans.

Later in my show, I honor Johnny Dodds, a first generation jazz musician who performed with Joe “King” Oliver. He and his younger brother, the drummer Warren “Baby” Dodds were part of Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven.  In honor of his birthday (April 12, 1892), this show dives into two versions of the same song that feature dual solos by Dodds.  The songs have different titles and different release dates though they were recorded back to back by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven.

S.O.L. Blues and Low Gully Blues feature Armstrong and Johnny Dodds at their peak, doing technically difficult and brilliant solos. S.O.L. Blues was recorded on May 13, 1927 in Chicago for Okeh records but was not released until Columbia Records got a hold of the collection 15 years later. The original release version went under the title of Gully Low Blues and was recorded the next day, May 14.  Both versions have their merits but I play them because I love the amazing tempo shift that Dodds pulls of during his solo. For more on this, check out Ricky Riccardi’s blog.  I also play a favorite, Dippermouth Blues, recorded by  King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in April 1923, because it contains a famous Dodds solo.

I’ve got other fun stuff on this show including Dana Abbott, Yvette Landry, the Subdudes and Eric Lindell, just to name a few.  Thank you for reading and listening. Please consider subscribing.

You Can Fill Your Bucket with New Orleans Music

This post doesn’t have a hole in it but your bucket might. This week’s show has a few stories to it, including one about the first record where you hear Louis Armstrong’s voice, a bloody New Orleans nightclub that gets renamed in song and the birthday of a first rate R&B star whose career was disrupted by the draft and served in Korea.  Start the show (Earl King kicks it off) and then keep reading.

Last weekend during a Northwest sun break, the song “That Bucket Has a Hole In It” came to mind while tossing weeds in the five-gallon buckets we use to garden. Unable to shake the tune, I rolled with it and assembled a two-set program of “bucket” songs for today’s show.

Louis-Armstrong-early-2
Louis Armstrong was 25 when he recorded Gut Bucket Blues

The set starts with “Gut Bucket Blues” — the third song recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five but the first to be released and the first to showcase his exuberant stage presence. As Ricky Riccardi eloquently explains in his blog post, the song “contains the first ever glimpse of Louis Armstrong’s personality, in all its glory.”

Recorded in Chicago in 1925, this Hot Five recording includes three other New Orleans expats (Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet an Johnny St. Cyr on banjo) and the future Mrs. Armstrong (Lil Harden) on piano.  As each band member takes a solo, Armstrong yells out encouragement.  By the time he recorded Gut Bucket Blues, Armstrong was a veteran performer on stage and in the studio, having recorded with bandleaders Joe Oliver and Fletcher Henderson.  But with this Hot Five recording, Louis Armstrong steps out for the first time, demonstrating the style he would take to an international level. There’s more fun details about this song and how it was recorded so I’ll give another plug to author Riccardi’s entertaining blog: The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong.

I round out the set with Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s “The Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” and Eddie Bo’s catchy “Check Your Bucket” which while very different from the Prez Hall’s song is certainly connected by lyrics.

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Mixed Bucket of Blood is a bonus track on this album of Little Freddie King;

The second set starts with a gory story involving an early Little Freddie King gig that went horribly wrong. As he explains in this YouTube video, he got a gig at a nightclub for the weekend. And every night, an incident occurred that resulted in someone losing a lot of blood.  At one point, he described taking cover from gunfire behind a juke box.  He memorialized the experience in his song “Mixed Bucket of Blood.”  The song is followed by Dr. John’s very different take of “Gut Bucket Blues” and the Hot 8 Brass Band’s “Bottom of the Bucket.”

Later in the show I do a long set of drinking songs that in song title form reads like this:  Liquor Pang, Drinking Days, Drunk Too Much, Still Drunk, Drink a Little Poison 4 U Die.

Finally, I close with a rousing tribute to Lloyd Price who had five hit R&B songs in the early 50’s before getting drafted into the Army and had to serve in Korea.  I tell more of this story in my Veteran’s Day post. I play one of his hits he cut after returning from the military (“Stagger Lee”) along with “Rock N’ Roll Dance”  and “Come Into My Heart.”

Thanks for listening.

With Mr. Okra’s death, an end of an era

In Uptown New Orleans where I grew up, the horse-drawn Roman Candy Wagon rolling by was a big occasion.  But that was 50 years ago and rolling street vendors, a long tradition in New Orleans, are pretty much gone.  Before reading the rest of this story, click the arrow below and get Louis Jordan and rest of my show going.

 

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Mr. Okra, aka Arthur J. Robinson, died this month.

My family used to frequent a vegetable vendor who would set up near McMann School at the corner of Claiborne and Nashville.  But apparently over the years, the tradition had died out until all that was left was Mr. Okra. And now he is gone.  Here’s an excerpt from an article by Ann Maloney for the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Family, friends and customers filed through the Marigny Opera House on Ferdinand Street on Sunday (Feb. 25) afternoon to say good-bye to beloved street peddler Arthur J. “Mr. Okra” Robinson, who was laid out dressed just as they might remember him, with his suspenders and, in his hands, a straw hat topped with plastic fruit. His truck keys were looped around his little finger. . .

. . .Arthur Robinson was often called the last of the New Orleans Street vendors because he upheld a tradition of shouting out his wares with “I’ve got apples. I’ve got mangos…,” as he drove through the city streets. It was a tradition that was popular into the mid-1900s in New Orleans. By 2005, Robinson said of himself: “I’m about the only one that really goes around anymore. Most all the old peddlers are dead now, just about.”

It wasn’t just vegetables and fruit.  Louis Armstrong got his start as a musician working with an owner of junk wagon. At age 7, he would blow a tin horn to attract attention as the wagon rolled through the streets of New Orleans.

And apparently the Roman Candy Wagon is still operating (though these days most folks see it on display at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.)

In this week’s show, I include a short interview with Craig Klein, a founding member of Bonerama ,who co-wrote a song dedicated to Mr. Okra.  You’ll hear that song about 15 minutes into the show.  I also feature Louie Ludwig’s wonderful ode to fake news “Troll Factory.”  I have a set on drinking bourbon and whiskey and a Latin-inflected set featuring Los Hombres Calientes, the Iguanas and Los Po-Boy-Citos. And much more.

Thanks for listening.