Happy Fat Tuesday! It’s a day off for me and I’m heading to the new Spring Training ballpark shared by the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. I’ll be taking in the Cubs and Rockies game at Salt River Fields with an old college buddy, basking in the sunshine, quaffing a brew or two…
So speaking of Mardi Gras, there’s a new release on the horizon for New Orleans’ own Rebirth Brass Band. Basin Street Records will release Rebirth of New Orleans on April 12th, and they’re spreading the word with a free & clear taste of the record – a full-on brass band stomper called “Do It Again”.
Rebirth Brass Band Upcoming Tour Dates:
03/05: New Orleans, LA @ Howlin’ Wolf
03/13: Perth, Western Australia @ Perth Concert Hall
03/14: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia @ Dallas Brooks Centre
03/16: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia @ The Barton Theatre
03/19: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia @ QPAC Concert Hall
03/21: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia @ State Theatre
04/01: Baton Rouge, LA @ Chelsea’s Cafe
04/02: Lafayette, LA @ Grant Street Dance Hall
04/06: Wilmington, DE @ World Café Live at the Queen
04/07: Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Bowl
04/08: Portsmouth, NH @ Portsmouth Music Hall
04/09: Providence, RI @ Spot Underground
04/10: Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
04/13: Austin, TX @ Antone’s
04/14: Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio
04/15: Dallas, TX @ Kessler Theater
04/23: Lake Charles, LA @ Luna Bar
05/27: Chicago, IL @ Space
05/28: Chilicothe, IL @ Summer Camp
06/10: San Francisco, CA @ San Francisco Jazz Festival
06/11: Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl
06/12: Chicago, IL @ Chicago Orchestra Hall
06/13: Washington, DC @ DC Jazzfest
It took a listen to Sirius Jam On this afternoon to clue me into the fact that there’s a new Galactic record out – focused on the music of New Orleans (their hometown). “Bounce,” to be specific – an “energetic, highly eroticized and occasionally gender-bending” type of music native to the city. The album is full of special guests: Rebirth Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Allen Toussaint, “Wolfman” Washington, Trombone Shorty, and others.
Not surprisingly, after listening to the full album on Lala, I can confirm that the record is a non-stop party, a percussive blast of Louisiana flavor. Here are two early favorites right off the bat, “Boe Money” and “Do It Again”…
So it turns out December 12th is the date of my first foray into Christmas music this year. It also happens to be the day I put my Christmas lights up – as well as that lit up metallic deer that swivels his head back and forth. Ho ho ho, people!
I trust and hope that a lot of you have been visiting Popdose’s annual month-long immersion into all that is not so good about Christmas music. Jeff and Jason’s Mellowmas series is a required visit this holiday season, so go over and check them out.
As for my family and me – other than daily viewings of Mamma Mia! (we just discovered it, and seriously, we can’t get enough), it’s Kermit Ruffins‘ new Christmas album that is helping us get into that Christmas spirit. It’s good seasonal music like this that helps me shed the layers of stress and anxiety that seem to crop up every December. It’s the Music that pinpoints that part of my brain that absolutely loves the Christmas season – the excitement, the atmosphere, the gathering of loved ones… it certainly helps to have two young daughters bouncing off the walls in anticipation – but it’s also the music that helps me see beyond the dollar signs, and actually enjoy the holiday season.
If you’re from New Orleans, you damn sure know who Kermit Ruffins is. He’s a fixture on the local scene, blowing his trumpet every Thursday night at Vaughns’s, then cooking BBQ for everyone after the gigs. Outside of New Orleans, Kermit may not be a household name, but you’d do yourself good to track down some of his music for some genuine Louisiana flavor.
The Christmas album, Have a Crazy Cool Christmas, has your standard holiday tunes – “Winter Wonderland”, “Silent Night”, “O Christmas Tree”, “Jingle Bells”, “Let It Snow”, “Little Drummer Boy” – all dipped into a jazzy, dixieland, cajun gumbo. And there’s the originals – the title track, and the fun “A Saints Christmas” [mp3] – with the timely Christmas prayer to take the New Orleans Saints all the way to the Super Bowl.
Kermit also takes on this Louis Prima Christmas tune (Prima and the other Louis – Armstrong – are also from New Orleans)…
“What Will Santa Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’)”
Kermit Ruffins is one of the most passionate and talented New Orleans musicians out there today, so pick up his Christmas record – and feel good about supporting someone who’s stuck with the Crescent City through thick and thin. And if you’re in New Orleans on a Thursday night, stop by Vaughn’s for some tunes and barbecue courtesy of Kermit.
Not long ago, I unearthed an old cassette of Robbie Robertson‘s Storyville album. I’m trying to figure out my thought process during the LP/cassette/early CD years. Specifically, why I ever chose to buy cassettes – the least reliable and most easily damaged format possible. Well, I know why, actually. It was the car cassette player. Tunes in the car were mandatory – and the cassette was the only way to listen to your tunes on the road.
So I’d walk out of the record store every time with either an LP and a blank tape (later a CD and a blank tape), or the officially released cassette. Storyville was released in 1991, and I opted for the cassette only.
Paying homage to the Storyville section of New Orleans, the album features a who’s who of the Louisiana sound: a handful of Nevilles, the Rebirth Brass Band, George Porter, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Big Chief Bo Dollis… and a bunch of Robertson’s friends also make appearances: fellow Band members Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, Ginger Baker, Bruce Hornsby, Neil Young, Mike Mills, David Baerwald, and on and on and on….
It’s definitely an album to be ingested as a whole, since it sets an atmosphere and takes you on a journey through some great stories and characters. One of my favorites is this tune…
Robbie Robertson – Day of Reckoning (Burnin’ for You) [mp3] – from Storyville
It was about 30 seconds into Dumpstaphunk’s set last night that I realized how starved I was for the Funk. No joke. I literally felt it wash over me like an ocean wave, seep into me, cleanse me, f-u-n-k me. That opening instrumental tune – the rapid fire bass lines of Tony Hall, while he stood over Ivan Neville on the Hammond B3, staring eye to eye – completely locked in from square one. While the chicken scratch guitar of Ivan’s son Ian, and the sounds of the funky drummer, Raymond Weber, piled on in the background. A symphony of funk right from the get-go.
I’m trying to think of the last time I was so funked up. It may have been in the late 90’s in Las Vegas, when Prince took over Club Utopia for one of his aftershows – a funk n’ soul laden jam session that lasted well into the morning hours.
It was a similar feeling last night – watching (and feeling) a talented group of musicians jam and have fun – taking the crowd along with them on a funk-tastic voyage. It was refreshing to pack into the Rhythm Room – a small box shaped club in Phoenix (and my favorite venue in town) – with a diverse group of like minded people. Young, old, black, white – you name it. All there to feel the funk.
From originals like “Meanwhile”, “Put It In The Dumpsta”, and their ode to flatulence on the road, “Gas Man” – to a tight n’ killer viersion of James Brown’s “Super Bad” and the show finale, Sly’s “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf” – the boys of Dumpstaphunk did not let up. They packed it all into a 90 minute plus set. The old saying goes, “Leave ’em wanting more”, and they certainly did that. I wasn’t ready to go.
As I lingered around afterwards, still in a daze from the experience, chatting it up with my Twitter buds @kfoxaz and @johnnyuno, there was Ivan Neville standing right next to us. It was cool to tell Ivan how I was a fan of his and his old man (Aaron $!@ Neville!!). I tell you, I never walk out of that Rhythm Room disappointed. Last night – for the first time in too long – the funk – the Dumpstaphunk – came to the hot Arizona desert. In August. And man, did they quench my thirst.
The nature of vacations is that they fly by way too quickly. And my first 2 week vacation since, well, since I started working for a living, is about to draw to a close. After I celebrate my 39th year on earth tomorrow, it’s back to the grind on Tuesday.
My family and I just spent 11 great days with my mom and my dad in Telluride, Colorado. My folks live up there during the summers, and it has become a yearly tradition to strap the car-sick-prone kids into the vehicle and brave the 9+ hours to the San Juans of southwest Colorado.
As fate would have it, along with the hiking, fly fishing, restaurantin’, Smugglers Brewpubbin‘ and such, I managed to catch some quality live music during our visit. Early on, it was James McMurtry playing for free in Mountain Village. And Friday, for our final day in town, it was the Telluride Cajun Festival, featuring Louisiana native Papa Mali, with new BFF (and drummer for the Dead) Bill Kreutzmann in tow…
Snooks was the great assimilator, taking in others’ songs and then spinning them back out in ways that were uniquely his. The musicians he played with were always amazed by his repertoire, which led them to call him “The Human Jukebox.”
Blinded by a disease as an infant, he earned the nickname “Snooks” as a mischievous child who dared to do things like walk along the tops of fences throughout the neighborhood, which even the kids with sight would not do. His father gave him a guitar at age six, and he learned to play by listening to the radio and records.
After playing regularly around town in the 1950’s, and recording several R&B and acoustic albums, Snooks disappeared into relative obscurity until he started playing regularly at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the 1970’s. His was one of the careers that was revived by putting New Orleans music back on a national and worldwide stage by our Jazz Fest.
I came to know his music in those early Jazz Fest years, and never missed the opportunity to hear him play at Jazz Fest. Although he jealously guarded his private life, living in a fairly distant suburb of New Orleans, he played regularly around town, and had become a staple performer at the now-famous “Rock-N-Bowl” shows at the local bowling alley called Mid-City Lanes.
Anyone who was not familiar with his music and watched Snooks approach the stage didn’t know what they were in for. Seeing an almost stooping old man being led to the stage by someone with eyesight, and find his way into a chair, you might be getting ready to sit down and settle in for the night. And then Snooks would start, and soon no one but Snooks would remain in their seat.
When Snooks played it was like he was the sun in the universe of the room, and everyone else was set into motion by his sound. Snooks, anchored in his chair, would literally cause everyone else in the house to dance and move about him. He would boast that he was about to blow the roof off of the place, with that vocal that was both a yelp and a grunt at the same time, and then he would do just that. He would posture his hand in a weird claw-like position above the strings, and more sound would come out of that guitar than you could believe. How a man who sat so still could set everyone in the room into motion by the sound of his guitar was amazing. It was impossible not to move to his sound.
Dr. John has commented that Snooks could play the horn part, the bass part and the piano part in the same song, all on his guitar. Listen to these songs, and watch him playing on “Red Beans” (with the fantastic Jon Cleary on piano and George Porter on bass), and just try to sit still, I dare you. The speed moving up and down the scales. The rhythms within rhythms. So many sounds happening at once. There was only one Snooks Eaglin.
With a new popularity gained from the Jazz Fest shows, Snooks’ recording career took off with some excellent albums on the Black Top label beginning in 1987. Sadly, most of those albums are now out of print, but I read a report on the web that the Collectors Choice label should have all of them back in print soon.
An entirely different aspect of his music was his acoustic blues. It was never his favorite music, but some of the recordings of the 1950’s tried to wrongly pigeonhole him as an acoustic blues musician. Yet the recordings are terrific. Among my favorite is “I Get the Blues When It Rains,” from a wonderful recording in the early 1970’s with the producer of the Jazz Fest. There is nothing better on a rainy, muggy New Orleans day than to sit back on the porch, open a beer, and listen to this one. Listen to Snooks playing the drum solo on his guitar.
This week the local papers and radio have been filled with stories told by people reminiscing about Snooks. One of the best was a report that after one show in which everyone in the band except Snooks got drunk, Snooks drove them all home, negotiating the winding turns along River Road from memory, and making adjustments to get back on the road after hearing the sounds of the tires hitting the gravel.
My own e-mail has been jammed with notes from friends and family across the country, recounting our memories of great evenings that revolved around dancing to Snooks at the Rock-N-Bowl, at the House of Blues, or Tipitina’s. I recalled the night my cousin held a Mardi Gras party at his warehouse, and hired a funk band because that’s what all the young people wanted to dance to. I convinced him to hire Snooks, at least to open, even though most of that crowd had never heard of him. The place went wild with Snooks; the funk band almost didn’t get to play; and in the morning my cousin called with a hoarse voice to say that he couldn’t remember what happened or how he had lost his checkbook, that the crowd must have had fun because it looked like someone had blown up a trash can in there, and to thank me for recommending Snooks. What a party.
And my brother responded to the story about Snooks driving home one night by saying, “That was nothing; in the old days I drove home blind many a night and made it fine. But no one could play the guitar like Snooks.”
Thanks for letting me send in this post. I could reminisce all day, but this is the weekend before Mardi Gras, and it’s time to take it to the street, and walk the Mardi Gras beat with the sound of Snooks’ guitar ringing in my head.
Watch “Red Beans”:
Hear “I Get the Blues When It Rains” (mp3):
Hear “Lipstick Traces” (mp3):
Buy any of the Black Top albums. They are worth the hunt. The first two albums listed below are my two favorites of the “Black Top” series.
The Crescent City Collection (a “Best Of” the other Black Top albums)
Live in Japan
Sonet Blues Story – acoustic recordings made in 1971, produced by Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis
House Party New Orleans Style, by Professor Longhair
This is one of the great albums by the ‘Fess, because of the interplay between the piano and Snooks’ guitar playing. You don’t have to look at the list of musicians to know that it was Snooks in the studio with the Fess during these incredible sessions.
The Sonet Blues Story – Recorded at Ultrasonic Studios in New Orleans in 1977, a good set of R&B with a band.
The great thing about cajun music is that you know it’s going to raise your spirits and it’s gonna shake your rump. As the torchbearers of traditional Cajun music since their inception in 1975, Michael Doucet and Beausoleil accomplish this with every album. Cajun and zydeco barn burners are a staple of their work. But interspersed always are some surprising gems that stray from the mold.
This week, Beausoleil released Alligator Purse, their first album for Yep Roc. The fun traditional stuff is represented in songs like “Reel Cajun (451 North St. Joseph St.)”, “Theogene Creole”, and “Marie”. But the new territory is just as fun to explore. Like their reworking of Bob Dylan’s cover of Muddy Water’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (yes, a cover of a cover) – they cajunize it and sing it in French: “Rouler et Tourner”; their version of J.J. Cale’s “The Problem” is a creole roots-rocker, with Doucet reaching down into his lower vocal registers for a sweet whiskey-soaked sound [By the way, why is it that I like every J.J. Cale song I hear, yet I don’t have ANY of his stuff? I need to fix that.].
The band brings in some special guests: Garth Hudson (The Band) on “I Spent All My Money Loving You”, Natalie Merchant on “Little Darlin'”, and Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, among others.
The album is a journey through American music, southern Louisiana style. It’s rich, tasty, zesty, and genuine. I’ve been eatin’ it up like a big ol’ hot bowl of jambalaya baby. Week III delivers!