Last Gumbo YaYa Show But the Blog Will Carry On

I have hung up my headset and retired the show with this week’s farewell program. I’m healthy . . .just hewing to my philosophy of ending activities when they are still fun to do. I’ll explain this a bit more but first go ahead and demonstrate your multitask abilities by starting the show while still reading.

Since September 8 2014, I have produced a weekly radio show that features “Just a Little Bit of Everything ” which is the title of the Herb Hardesty’s 1961 single that kicks off the first full set of music. However, the common element has always been a strong connection with New Orleans and Lafayette.

The show broadcast live from the KAOS studio on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, first on Mondays and then later on Thursdays. A few years back, community station KMRE (Bellingham) began running edited versions of the show on Fridays. More recently, the show has aired on KOCF (Fern Ridge), WPHW (Hartwell) and occasionally other stations that participate in the Pacifica Network. In all, I produced about 380 episode with over 300 of them available to listen through this website.

Doing a post-Christmas show featuring my top 10 of 2019 with my sons — one of the highlights of my time doing the show.

When I first started as a volunteer deejay with KAOS , I considered a show featuring exclusively New Orleans music. But worried about the limited format. Over the course of my first year doing a morning drive-time show, I found myself digging into the KAOS music collection and was surprised by the depth of music coming out of the city –my birthplace and home for most of childhood.

So that’s what I’ve done, play songs by musicians such as Earl King who kicks off the show with “No City Like New Orleans,” Johnny Adams who swings through “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” and Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses jamming through “Minor Drag.”

I’m not a fan of long goodbyes but I also believe its important that radio stations provide closure when a show ends (as opposed to abruptly changing format with no warning). So I made it a finale show and asked listeners to call in and say hi. And over a dozen did! My favorite comment was from a listener who said she was going to JazzFest this April as a result of what she had heard on the show. (I couldn’t have received a better report card.)

Today’s show takes a sentimental walk through some previously covered material, including “St. James Infirmary” a personal lifelong favorite which has an interesting pedigree. Here’s more detail on that history. This week’s segment includes a clip from the Treme TV series featuring Wendell Pierce riffing off that song in the Touro Emergency Room.

The HBO series “Treme” had just wrapped its original run on TV when I started my show. Third from left is Wendell Pierce who played the fictional character Antoine Batiste. In this picture, he’s parading with actual members of Rebirth Brass Band.

Later, I play the original version of “Basis Street Blues” by Louis Armstrong and hint at its fascinating history detailed more in a previous show and post including how that song acquired lyrics which then resulted in the City of New Orleans returning the “Basin Street” name after eliminating it during a blush of civic post-Storyville shame (I guess tourism promotion beat out virtue and vanity). Satchmo scats on this early pre-lyric version of the song.

The Treme Brass Band does a great job on “Darktown Strutters Ball” a song with lyrics and a title that has caused me concern and in which I explore in a show and post.

I touch on the topic of Nine Lives a book by Dan Baum about people’s lives in New Orleans — originally sent to write about Hurricane Katrina, Baum ended up with a book detailing unique aspects of New Orleans culture such as Mardi Gras Indians, and marching bands. I play a song about Tootie Montana in today’s show.

This week’s show also includes a couple of clips from interviews including a funny description by Irvin Mayfield of his good friend Kermit Ruffins. You’ll also hear Kermit sing from his Happy Talk release. Here’s the interview of Kermit and Irvin in Kermit’s Mother-in-Law club about their album collaboration.

You’ll also hear Craig Klein saying why his New Orleans Nightcrawlers, which won a Grammy last year, sound so authentic. I pull that clip from an interview with four-ninths of the band last year.

Irma Thomas sings her big hit “Ruler of My Heart” on this show.

And you’ll hear an example of the messages I aired from New Orleans musicians during the COVID quarantine of 2020. For my final show, I chose Marla Dixon to repeat her delightful summary of her COVID life. Here’s the full show and full recording of Marla’s message from that time.

So this is it. I’m done creating new shows though you can listen to the 300 shows available through this website. I’m looking to travel a bit more and explore even more new music. And I’m going to keep this blog going. I suspect it will be quiet for a few weeks but don’t be surprised if I return with non-radio show type posts regarding music. Thanks for listening. But to keep in touch, you should subscribe .(right hand column)

Day of the Dead Takes On Greater Significance

Partly because I’m at the age where I know more people who are dead and partly because the pandemic is helping to increase that number for all of us, the Day of the Dead holds more meaning now. While the playlist for this show is similar to past Day of the Dead (Halloween) shows, the vibe (my vibe) has definitely changed.

The show kicks off with a riff on “St. James Infirmary” by Wendell Pierce playing the character of Antoine Batiste in the HBO series Treme. Batiste is waiting in the Touro Emergency Room when he does his impromptu singing, accompanied by an anonymous slap beat on a tin waste can.

Day of the Dead

What follows is music about death including a Preservation Hall Jazz Band version of “St. James Infirmary,” King Oliver’s “Dead Man Blues,” Treme Brass Band’s “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead,” Dirty Bourbon River Show’s “All My Friends are Dead” and Spencer Bohren’s “Ghost Train.”

That theme rolls into the next set with Shotgun Jazz Band’s “White Ghost Shivers” and a fascinating song called “Seven Skeletons Found in the Yard.”

After the first hour, its voodoo time with the help of The Neville Brothers, Spider Murphy, Charles Sheffield, Sunpie Barnes, and Benny Turner.

If you make it that far, you’ll hear my annual send up of Morgus the Magnificent — the original New Orleans fright show host that spawned a movie and a regional hit by Mac Rebennack, Jerry Byrne and Frankie Ford from 1059. This year, you’ll also hear the Creole String Beans cover of the same song. Here’s an earlier post with a lot more detail on Morgus, his show and the song.

I finish with a few spirituals including the most recognized one, “Saints,” by the Zion Harmonizers. My best to you and love to all those who are remembering a lost one.

New Orleans music is comfortable with crossing to the other side

New Orleanians have no trouble remembering their dead — most cemeteries in the city feature above ground crypts creating a daily reminder for those who pass by them. And the city has three centuries of dead to honor. This week’s show celebrates the Day of the Dead .

When I was a kid in New Orleans, I always had the day after Halloween off. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes on Napoleon Avenue and like all Catholic Schools at the time, Lourdes recognized All Saints Day by giving us a school holiday. At the time, I just thought the nuns wanted to give us a break after a night full of knocking on doors and jacking up on candy. Later I learned how religious holidays tend to congregate around earlier non-Christian based celebrations — in this case Samhain is often cited as the genesis for Halloween, All Saints Day and the more populist — All Souls Day. And then there is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which in Mexican culture is a time to remember friends and family who have died.

This show isn’t just about remembering our dead; several of the songs address preparing for death: Spencer Bohren (who died last year of cancer) sings “Ghost Train,” Tangle Eye’s “O Death,” John Scofield’s New Orleans recorded song “The Angel of Death,” and the jazz standard for mortality “St. James Infirmary” by Ingrid Lucia and James Andrews.

You’ll also hear Coco Robicheaux’s “Walking with the Spirit,” Treme Brass Band’s “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead” and an edited-for-radio version of the Dirty Bourbon River Show song “All My Friends Are Dead.” The song in this show that perhaps best represents the practice of remembering someone who has died, is Yvette Landry’s song about her father “Fishing’s Better Anyway.”

But wait, in a two-hour radio show, you get more – Zombies (Diablo’s Horns), Voodoo (several songs including Dash Rip Rock’s pre-Amazon mail order Voodoo Doll) and, of course, Morgus the Magnificent. Yes, I’ve written a whole post on him and just featured him when Sidney Noel Rideau (the actor who created and portrayed Morgus) died. But its a tradition to include him in this show and this one features a short snippet of an early skit he performed with his sidekick Chopsley.

Thanks for reading all the way to this point. Perhaps you’ll consider subscribing. I do shows every week. My best to you and your loved ones who passed on.

Going down to St. James Infirmary has been a long trip

“I went down to St. James Infirmary.”

Now that’s an oft taken journey given that song has been a jazz and blues standard since its first recording roughly 90 years ago. One website boasts 121 recorded versions and I’d wager the list is not comprehensive.

sammy duncan
St. James Infirmary is a standard particularly for Dixieland jazz bands like the one lead by Sammy Duncan who played in Atlanta regularly when I was a teenager

As a folk song, St. James Infirmary’s history goes back before the dawn of recording studios. But my history with it started as a teenager when my Dad would take me to see Sammy Duncan, a trumpeter in Atlanta whose band played St. James. It stands as the first song I ever successfully requested at a live music show.

For those unfamiliar, the song is about a man who, upon seeing his dead lover, contemplates his own mortality, including planning his own funeral and making sure he’s buried with a $20 gold piece on his watch chain. A heady story for a hormonal teenager with a coin collection.

The song is often associated with New Orleans perhaps because Louis Armstrong was one of the first to record it (December 1928) and because its often played by New Orleans musicians. However, there is no proven connection to New Orleans where there has never been a St. James Infirmary. In fact, its not clear where St. James Infirmary or Old Joe’s Bar (where the song finds the narrator of the story) are located.

Louis Armstrong may have been the first to record the song as “St. James Infirmary,” but it was earlier recorded as “Gambler’s Blues”

Music lovers and researchers are clearly fascinated by St. James. You’ll find a lot of information on the topic on the web, including two blogs. I’d recommend Robert Harwood’s site which supports his book “I Went Down to St. James Infirmary.”

The short story is the song is believed to have descended from an 18th Century Irish song “The Unfortunate Rake,” about a dying man who laments his life choices, including an affair where he acquired a venereal disease. It’s a cautionary tale of wasted youth– a theme carried out in songs and stories throughout the world.  And according to Harwood, it is not the basis for St. James Infirmary–even though its the explanation you’ll find on Wikipedia.

For Harwood, the song is clearly a product of the “folk” tradition or more accurately, the minstrel tradition that was active at the time. His smoking gun is called “Gambler’s Blues,” first recorded in 1927 by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra (cool name) and also printed in Carl Sandburg’s “American Songbag” from 1927. This song is very similar to the Armstrong version recorded a year later.

Robert Harwood’s book “I went down to St. James Infirmary” and his blog dive deeply into song’s lineage and comes up with probably as much ambiguity as answers.

One of the more fascinating mysteries of the song is how the singer transitions from witnessing his dead lover to contemplating his own funeral. The phrase from the Armstrong version is:  “Let her go, let her go, God bless her, wherever she may be. She can look this wide world all over, but she’ll never find a sweet man like me.”

The egotistical phrase was enough to garner a wonderful rant from Sarah Vowell who coincidentally seemed to have connected to the song at about the same age as I did. “The narrator of this song is curiously so stuck up that he feels sorry for his loved one, not because she won’t be doing any more breathing, but because she just lost the grace of his presence. It’s so petty. And so human.

The phrase is not in Gambler’s Blues. According to Harwood, you have to dig back further to a 1909 songbook to find a nearly identical phrase.  “She’s Gone, Let Her Go” is sung by a jilted lover which makes the snide comment a bit more appropriate.  Afterall, its okay to be bitter when your true love just stomped on your heart, right?

So St. James, like many other songs with folk origins, is a cut-and-paste mashup, notes journalist Rob Walker, author of Letters from New Orleans and who describes himself as a St.James obsessive. “Instead of trying to reconcile two disparate piece of cultural material, somebody decided to simply juxtapose them, and let a new meaning, however unsettling or strange or ambiguous, to emerge.”

Though it was opportunistically copywritten by Irving Mills, under the pseudonym Joe Primrose, the song really belongs to musicians and music lovers and should continue to evolve and change–as the many recordings since have demonstrated.  I like the fact the song can be interpreted so many different ways.  I’ll be playing a few on my next show.

To get you warmed up, here’s James Booker’s version and a New Orleans-created and inspired animation using an upbeat remix of a Preservation Hall Jazz Band version. Lots of inside jokes in the animation, including James Booker (with the star patch on his eye) and Morgus and his crew consoling the bereaved lover at Charity (instead of St. James) Hospital.