Tiffany Pollack, Okra, Cajun Singles and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Tiffany Pollack & Co. hits the post-pandemic music scene with momentum from a brand new record that opens up new avenues for this singer, songwriter, band leader and occasional mortician. One song kicks off this week’s show which she calls in on about an hour later for a live KAOS radio interview. (The episode below is the KMRE version of the same show and airs in Bellingham on Fridays).

Tiffany Pollack -Currently performing regularly on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans.

Following up on the success of her blues album recorded with cousin Eric Johansen, New Orleans-based Pollack collected a dozen of her original songs, went to Memphis with her band and recorded Bayou Liberty with the assistance of producer and blues musician John Nemeth. But its far from a blues album. In the course of our conversation, we both agreed our favorite track is Mountain, a Western style number featuring pedal steel and sweet vocals. Others songs channel honky-tonks, early morning smoky (now smoke-free) nightclubs and sticky-seated dives where you go mainly for the crawfish and beer.

As a mother of three, she also shares how her kids do a good job of keeping her in her place, no matter how bright her music star shines. And yea, she talks briefly about how as a licensed funeral director she still gets called in to do services for that short-handed business.

From the 1956 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

A great find of fresh okra at the Olympia Farmer’s Market last weekend inspired a set of music featuring two versions of Mr. Okra — a song written by Sonia Tetlow and Craig Klein in honor of Arthur James Robins (Mr. Okra) who drove a colorful vegetable truck through the streets of New Orleans with sing-song amplified announcements of available produce. He died in 2018 (NPR story). To introduce that song, I play a brief clip from an earlier interview with Craig Klein about the process of writing that song with Tetlow. Later in the set, Monk Boudreaux sings a Jamaican-inflected “Mr. Okra Man” – in his own take of the street vendor. The set ends with the Tin Men’s “The Darling of the Okra Strut” which, best I can tell, really has nothing to do with the mucilaginous vegetable. (However, it did get me thinking about whether okra are interstellar aliens! Afterall we call them “pods.”)

This week’s show also includes another set of Cajun music, thanks to Olympia-area producer and musician Calvin Johnson’s secret stash of collectible 45 rpm records. This time, I throw in a live recorded song by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys from Bill Boelens Festivals Acadiens 1991-1997.

The show’s first full set rocks with Cowboy Mouth’s early hit “Jenny Says” and The Radiators urging us to “Never Let Your Fire Go Out.” Later Tommy Malone sings “All Dressed Up,” the Honeypots perform “Witness”, Los Hombres Calientes does a send up of “George Porter” and Davis Rogan’s gives us his original song “Fly Away.” Davis, by the way, will be performing in Olympia on August 26 in a house concert. Message me to learn more about it. Thanks for tuning in.

Tiffany Pollack & Co. at the “Legendary” HiHo Lounge pre-COVID.

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.

 

mr.-okra.jpg
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.