Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 24

We usually wake up to ‘OZ when in NOLA, but got the morning off in the precisely correct spirit with a series of Anita O’Day tunes leading off with “Let Me Off Uptown,” a duet with Roy Eldridge. We were already “uptown,” but we were taking the trolley (one of the simple pleasures of being here), and Anita’s daring duet with a black performer ran parallel with the choices of Hettie Cohen, who chronicles her love affair and life and times with the late LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in the book I am currently reading, BECOMING HETTIE JONES.

We soon found ourselves on Frenchmen Street in The Marigny, the new location of Louisiana Music Factory, a treasure trove we never miss. I snagged a recent book on NOLA R&B by I HEAR YOU KNOCKIN’ author Jeff Hannusch and a documentary about Mardi Gras Indians, Nicole a new Basin Street Records rekkid by Jason Marsalis, the family’s vibes man. Also, we had to listen to shit music at Pat O’Brien’s (we asked for that), and took the ferry to Algiers, home of great jazzmen like Henry “Red” Allen. The locals at the Dry Dock treated us great.

The real entertainment for the day was a free performance by David Doucet (to my ear, the Cajun Doc Watson), Beausoleil’s guitarist, at the famous Columns Hotel. He and his fiddling partner played a set of traditional Cajun classics including one by the legendary Dennis McGee, as well as some pieces outside the genre, like “Rosalee McFall” and–brilliantly, surprisingly–Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues.” Doucet also hefted an accordian and sounded a LOT like Iry LeJeune.  Here’s some footage from a 2013 show in the same locale that conveys some of the show’s brilliance.

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The only downside is that I did not have the intelligence to get up and dance like the music and spirit required, even though Nicole beckoned me to and was forced to cut a great rug alone. Perhaps my head was too full of Sazeracs  and Old Fashioneds (and my ankles too full of beer), but she deserved my partnership after making my brief bout with rapid heartbeat go away back at the ‘otel with an application of Lee Dorsey. That man is always good for what ails you.

Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 23, 2014

Struck out from Como and drove south on 55 to deep accompaniment of Alan Lomax’s late-Fifties/early-Sixties field recordings from the same area (McDowell, the Hemphills, Parchman Farm worksongs, a couple of Tyro church chants). SOUTHERN JOURNEY: 61 HIGHWAY, it’s called. You need to listen to it some day, though it should be called 51 HIGHWAY. As we drove down the pine-lined four-lane, the music threw us back into a crueler time–a wild goat perched under a bridge over the highway reinforced that feeling.

Then we visited that place where, as Sam Phillips once said, “the soul of man never dies”: the world of Chester Arthur Burnett, The Howlin’ Wolf, aided and abetted by Hubert Sumlin on wild guitar, Otis Spann on rolling 88s, and Willie Dixon, on bass and pen & paper. I sang along silently and mimed playing the solos the whole way. Top 10 record: the rockin’ chair cover/MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT twofer. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Wolf overload a mic or Sumlin cut the air with a note.

After we crossed over into Louisiana, it was time for ZYDECO STOMP DOWN (various live tracks, including Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas’ truth-telling “Everything on the Hog”) and ALLIGATOR STOMP, highlighted by Rockin’ Sidney’s paean to his daughter (not his lover) “My Toot-Toot,” Cleveland Crochet’s “Sugar Bee,” and a Cajun cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” This was designed to get us primed for the wind-up of Thibodaux, Louisiana’s Swamp Stomp, which we thoroughly enjoyed over beer, jambalaya, fried pickles, and a shrimp po-boy. Saw Cameron DuPuy’s band, which was OK, but the Pine Leaf Boys, mixing some Jerry Lee and George Jones into their Cajun stylings, took the prize. A tall black man in a cowboy hat and shirt with cut-off sleeves danced his Cajun/r&b fusion style with at least 10 different women, including an energetic 70+-year-old white woman. I thought to myself, “Would she have been out there with him in ’64?” Maybe so, but it IS a new world.

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Zoomed on to New Orleans, listening to ‘OZ along the way (we pledged $10 a month), inched up Rampart Street, which was flooded with deliriously happy people leaving the high school brass band competition at Armstrong Park, parked on Treme (just around the corner from St. Augustine church, from SHAKE THE DEVIL OFF!), and walked against a chilly breeze up to Congo Square to watch The Hot Eight Brass Band, who were smokin’, and augmented by a Mardi Gras Indian.

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Both of us are a little ailing: Nicole’s got a sore throat, my back’s whacked. We are applying a dose of Sidney Bechet as we fade out in the hotel room….