A touch of Irish but I’m a bit grumpy about it

This week’s show gives a gentle nod to my Irish heritage but I don’t go overboard. Well, unless you count the two raucous sea shanties. Go ahead and get it started while I explain.

St. Alphonsus Church, now a art and cultural center, is located in the Irish Channel area of New Orleans.

As I’ve said before, New Orleans needs little reason to put on a party. But given that St. Patrick’s Day appears to be our equivalent of Irish-American heritage day, the city has a lot to party about. You’ll find the parades and block parties are centered around a neighborhood in New Orleans along the Mississippi River called the Irish Channel. And while the large influx of Irish families in the first half of the 19th century fanned out throughout the city, many did seem to settle in this Garden District neighborhood since it wasn’t very far from where they go off the boat from Ireland.

My experience with the Irish Channel was as a kid when I gigged as an altar boy for an itinerant priest who would do mass for convents and shut ins. One day, he got a prime time slot, doing mass at St. Alphonsus Church (now a cultural center) in the heart of the Irish Channel. I lived just a few miles away but it may as well been a world away in 1966. All the other neighborhood altar boys, hanging out in the altar boy locker room, sounded like Bobby Kennedy. That’s New Orleans for you.

Well, back to the show, I don’t spend too much time on the Irish theme. I don’t have a lot of music that fits frankly. And I’m not a big fan of the whole St. Patrick’s Day celebration — which you’ll get a taste of when you hear the show. Instead, I treat you to Louis Jordan’s 1949 classic “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and carry on that early R&B vibe with Chubby Newsome and Percy Mayfield

This 5-disc set will be released in May

Later, I take a dive into the brand new Smithsonian Folkways recording celebrating 50 years of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Yes, this year is the 50th anniversary. I play a track with Snooks Eaglin getting excited about the huge crowd he had and we rock to a live version of “Back On Dumaine” when Anders Osborne’s heart ache over the end of his marriage was fresh. I also play from the new release by Herlin Riley, singing a jazzy version of “Wang Dang Doodle.”

Lots of other great stuff in between. Give it a listen. And “Erin Go Bragh.”

Larger than Life K-Doe is patron saint of this blog

Meet Ernie K-Doe, a New Orleans performer and a character in a city of characters. He is now officially designated: Patron Saint of this Blog.

I have no idea what the criterion is to be a blog’s patron saint or even if this is a good idea. I suspect for someone who called himself Emperor of the World, Ernie might consider this gig slumming.  Then again, from what I’ve read, he was a generous and warm fellow despite his boastful swagger.

Ernie K-Doe’s claim to fame is the song Mother-in-Law (written by Allen Toussaint) which became the best-selling record in America in May 1961, topping the pop chart for one week and the R&B chart for five weeks.  No other New Orleans artist has ever reached the top with a song recorded in New Orleans. Fats Domino sold a mountain of records but never had a number one hit.

And Ernie K-Doe never let you forget his claim to fame. Not in his performances nor in his outrageous stints as a volunteer deejay for community radio stations WWOZ and WTUL–where his code phrase was “Burn K-Doe Burn.” He would say there are only two songs that will stand the test of time: Star Spangled Banner and Mother-in-Law.

But its not his R&B career that qualifies him as patron saint though it is an essential part of his resume. It has more to do with his stint as a community radio deejay given that this blog supports my radio show Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  But what puts him over the top for patron canonization is what the Times-Picayune describes as “a robust and unexpected second act as an eccentric, only-in-New Orleans icon.”

Ernie’s turning point was meeting Antoinette Dorsey Fox–a woman with many talents including her ability to sew outlandish outfits to match his personality and to provide love and focus to a man who had taken the textbook life crash of a one-hit wonder.

Ernie in full Emperor regalia outside Mother-in-Law Lounge

Antoinette opened the Mother-in-Law Lounge at 1500 N. Claiborne Street in the shadow of Interstate 10 where K-Doe could perform as well as tend bar.  The lounge became a kitschy memorial to his career, including outsized murals of K-Doe and a jukebox that played his hit every 20 minutes — sometimes accompanied by the real-time K-Doe who kept a wired microphone nearby.

Despite being renovated after Katrina, the lounge closed after Antoinette died in 2009. Kermit Ruffins later bought it and reopened it this year with many of the murals restored.

I recommend reading Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans by Ben Sandmel. The New Orleans writer/folklorist makes it easy to feel a connection to Ernie even though we’ve missed our chance to meet or see him perform. He died in 2001.

Not that death stopped him. A local sculptor was able to adapt a mannequin into a life-size and lifelike rendition of Ernie. For a few years after his death, Antoinette dressed and brought the statute to gatherings around town, including a fundraiser for the benefit of New Orleans cemeteries.  In 2002, the benefit was held at Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church where I once subbed as an altar boy in the 60’s. Apparently the church was also used by Anne Rice as a setting in her novel The Witching Hour.

Antoinette with the Ernie K-Doe statue

Sandmel takes the story from here:   

“Although decommissioned as a place of worship and then reinvented as an arts center, Saint Alphonsus kept its full array of Catholic statuary in place. This holy horde looked on as the Madame Tussaud-esque K-Doe was plunked down in its sacred midst. A bodyguard named Cisco accompanied Ernie’s effigy. He stood stock-still by his charge’s side lest anyone should feel prone to K-Doe kleptomania. But almost everyone else at the church was in frenetic motion.  A zydeco band set up in front of the altar and cranked out upbeat two-steps and slow, low-down blues. This irresistibly danceable blend inspired the cemeteries’ more extroverted friends to twirl, bump and grind by the baptismal font, with their Lestat costumes and Goth garb all a-flutter.  At evening’s end Antoinette disassembled and packed up the statue like all mannequins, it is sectional–with the disarming comment, ‘I’m working poor Ernie to death!’”

Ernie and Antoinette

Poor Ernie. Now you gotta be my patron saint as well. I’ll be playing Ernie’s Certain Girl — a New Orleans favorite on the September 15th show on KAOS starting at 10 a.m.

POST SCRIPT: And I’ll honor his birthday on the February 23rd show.