With Dr. John and the Lower 911s sharing the bill with Chuck Brown in Prospect Park tomorrow night, it seems like a good time to run the uncut version of the DownBeat Blindfold Test that I did with Mr. Rebennack in 2006. Branford Marsalis, the guest editor for this particular issue, who set it up, couldn’t arrange his schedule to conduct the BT himself, and asked me to stand in. Branford gave me 8 or so of the tracks, and I came up with the remainder.
I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the New Orleans scene of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, and so there may be some misspellings — or complete incomprehension — of names within the text. Any corrections are welcome.
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1. Jelly Roll Morton, “Freakish” (from COMPLETE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS RECORDINGS, Rounder, 1938/2005) (Morton, piano)
I used to have a tape of this. It’s so long ago. But I think it’s Jelly Roll Morton. It’s so long ago that I had this tape… But there’s some interesting stuff like that on it. There’s some odd changes. It’s that old whorehouse music when they used to do these things that nobody could ever remember but the guy that wrote it. That’s what I think this is from. My favorite thing I had by him were all these old tango things he did that he wrote way back in the game; I think it was on the same tape with this stuff. I remember Red Tyler and myself would be sitting in the back of the bus, and we used to get a kick out of certain things, and this very strange little tango piece was one of them. I like the way he plays. He was a very interesting piano player. I think he represented a chunk of New Orleans from back in the game that I don’t think as much credit as was his due. But that’s the kind of way that life shifts itself. I wonder if Duke Ellington ever heard this piece. Because there’s some Dukeness about it in some kind of strange way; especially that little verse and in some spots, he reminds me of stuff Duke was doing, but in another kind of thing. I’ll give it a 5.
2. Wild Tchopitoulas, “Hey Hey” (from WILD TCHOPITOULAS, Mango, 1976/1998) (Vocals: Big Chief Jolly, George Landry, Spy Boy, Amos Landry, Carl Christmas, Flag Boy, Trail Chief, Booker Washington, Second Chief, Norman Bell; Musicians: Arthur Neville, keyboards; Leo Nocentelli – guitar; George Porter, Jr. – bass; Joseph Modeliste – drums; Cyril Neville – congas; Teddy Royal – guitar; Aaron Neville – piano; Charles Neville – percussion)
This is Big Chief Jolly with the Wild Tchopitoulas. I have an inside with this whole record, because I did the demo for this record with I think it was Aaron and Charles and maybe Cyril…whoever was in New York when we did the demo to get the record deal for this. This ain’t my favorite cut off this record, but I love Jolly singing, and I love that he had the old-school way with the Indian stuff, a real calypsoness about it. He remembered a lot of that era of it, and it was a good era of that whole… There’s something about that you can feel is very Caribbean, like the Junkanoos in Trinidad. But it shows the whole Caribbean connection of the Mardi Gras Indians as well as all the rest of it. I’d give everything about this record a 5, just because I like it. At the rate you’re doing it, it’s two 5’s for two songs… It ain’t this song; it’s this record I liked. This is basically the Meters.
3. Professor Longhair, “Big Chief” (from BIG CHIEF, Tomato, 1970s/1993) (Professor Longhair, piano, whistling; Alfred “Uganda” Roberts – congas; George Davis – bass; David Lee – drums; “Big Will” Harvey – guitar; Tony Dagradi – soprano/tenor sax; Andy Kaslow – trumpet)
Without a doubt it’s Professor Longhair. It ain’t the Meters. I don’t know who the band is. I love Fess’ playing. There’s something about him… I always thought the original record of this, with Wardell Quezergue’s arrangement on it, was so unorthodox… It was like a big band. He had it under this song, this outside thing with… It was funny, because Professor Longhair never did an overdub when he did the original record. When he finished putting it down, he just left and he was gone, and nobody knew where he was, and Earl King came and whistled like a scratch thing, and that was how the record came out. That was the original record of Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief.” It was Earl King whistling and singing it, because Professor Longhair left the studio and was going home – or wherever he went. Just a little sidetrack. I don’t know about the band or anything like that. He’s kicking. It’s not BAD. But I have no idea. [Anything you want to say about his piano style?] Hey!! It was like… I think all of us doing session work in New Orleans thought it was Allen Toussaint or James, but in between takes the code word to get something funky out of something was just “play a little Professor Longhair,” and we knew to play the song a little funkier. Let me see, the secret code… I’m going to give that version of it 4 stars. It’s hard to give Professor Longhair 4 stars when I’ve been giving everything else 5. He was a dear friend. But this version…
4. Louis Armstrong-Duke Ellington, “Solitude” (from THE GREAT SUMMIT: THE MASTER TAKES, Roulette Jazz, 2000/1961) (Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ellington, piano; Trummy Young, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Mort Herbert, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums)
I’ve got to give Louis 5 stars for sure on this cut. This is really classic Louis. [Do you know this record?] Is it with California session… [Do you know who’s playing piano?] I think I do remember, wait a minute. It’s somebody very famous. [SILENT THROUGH CLARINET SOLO AND TROMBONE SOLO] It’s not the band I thought this was going to be. The bone and the clarinet, man… The clarinet player sounded like a Johnny Hodges on the clarinet, just the way he was bending the notes and everything. I thought it was going to be the one with Jack Teagarden, but it isn’t him. [POPS FINAL SOLO] Damn!! [SILENT] I had a flash of who I think the bone player was a second. [How did you like it?] Oh, I loved it. It’s a 5½. I’ll tell you what. I still can’t identify who the clarinet player was. [Barney Bigard.] It was? That was some killin’ shit. He was so fucking good. I mean, he bent so many notes on there so hip that it was like… Damn. He sounded like Johnny Hodges on a very difficult instrument like a goddamn clarinet. I don’t know who the bone… [Trummy Young] Ah, okay. That’s not who I was thinking of, but he does play like Trummy Young. [The pianist was Duke.] That was Duke?! I’d never have known in a million years. It’s always good to hear somebody from my neighborhood in New Orleans. [Was Pops important to you when you were a young guy?] Well, I’ll tell you what. My father always said that the best two things that ever happened in the Third Ward in New Orleans was Louis Armstrong. He didn’t say Louie; he always said Louis Armstrong. He said he gave a thing to the world that nobody else will ever do. My father said that in the ‘50s. He was very opinionated like his son.
5. Ray Charles, “I Got A Woman” (from HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HER SO, Atlantic, 1954) (Ray Charles, vocals, keyboards; Donald Wilkerson, tenor saxophone; David “Fathead” Newman, baritone saxophone; Hank Crawford, alto saxophone; Renald Richard, composer)
Here’s Ray doing this. It stirs up a weird thing, like where this song came from the gospel tune that Ray got it from, and then it stirs up a whole other thing with the bands Ray had for years… I think this is Donald Wilkerson playing here on alto… [Was this song important to you?] Put it this way. I must have had to play this song about a million gigs. It was one of them songs that… We had to play all the stuff the played on the radio. Whatever you heard in R&B stuff, you had to play it. And they played Ray a lot in New Orleans. Prior to this, after this… So, yeah. [Would you play it as a straight-up cover or do your own thing?] Well, at one time, when I first started playing, we played it pretty straight. Until we got to working at the Brass Rail Pub, where they said, “If you’re going to work in a joint that I’m managing and running, you’ve got to get your own arrangements to songs.” So keep the gig, we hurried up and rehearsed our own… We were in school still. We were like young kids. We spent the night learning how to get some new arrangements to all the songs. This was prior to this, but it’s not that far from that era. Only because of the lift from the man where he crossed him, I’ll deduct him a half-star on it, and give him 4½. But I’ll give Ray 15 anyway. But I’m deducting a half-star on that song.
6. James Booker, “Keep on Gwine” (from NEW ORLEANS PIANO WIZARD, Rounder, 1987) (Booker, piano)
When I hear James Booker play… This is a song that’s near and dear to my heart. I think this is a Melvin Lastie song. “Keep on Gwine.” Or it was a dedication to Melvin Lastie; I can’t remember any more. But when Booker was working in my band, he used to sit down and just go through stuff like this before he was doing any solo things. But he was so talented. He was just frighteningly… But he knew that style of… I only ever heard three people in my life play this style. It’s called… He’s not using a trick. It’s kind of just straight stride there. But the trick he’s got is he knew how to do… I saw Roy Zimmerman, who worked with Santo Pecora’s band in New Orleans, and I saw Myan(?) Andrew play that style. You hit that, BOMP, and you bend the note, then the note is released. I can’t remember how to do it. I sat down trying to figure to see if I could still it, and I can’t. If you stay on top of it, you get it under you. Booker was one of them guys… I consider him a genius. I’m going to give him a 5, just because it’s him. Actually, when he was in the band at one point, a kid that was playing tenor with us, who was from a band called Traffic, Wood…Chris Wood…I can’t remember… Anyway, the kid bought an alto. Booker said, “Oh, can I see it?” and picked up the guy’s alto and it sounded like Bird or something coming out of this guy’s alto. The guy got so blown away with Booker playing it, he gave it to Booker, and about two days later the guy said, “Maybe I could play it on the gig tonight,” and Booker said, “I pawned and sold the ticket.” Real cold-blooded. But he connived this cat out of his axe, just like WHAM. But I couldn’t believe how good he played it! Obviously, he hadn’t had an axe in his mouth for a long time. He just got a great sound on it, played like he had been shedding. I was amazed. But he was an amazing guy.
7. The Young Tuxedo Brass Band, “Bourbon Street Parade” (from JAZZ BEGINS, Atlantic, 1959/The Atlantic New Orleans Jazz Sessions, Mosaic) (Paul Barbarin, drum, composer; Emile Knox, bass drum; John Casimir, E-flat clarinet; Andrew Anderson, John “Pickey” Brunious, Albert “Fernandez” Walters, trumpet; Clement Tervalon, Jim Robinson, trombone; Herman Sherman, alto saxophone; Andrew Morgan, tenor saxophone; Wilbert Tillman, sousaphone)
This is Paul Barbarin’s classic, “Bourbon Street Parade.” It’s one of them great second-line brass bands, and I’m going to start… I’m not sure if it’s either Eugene Jones playing the bass drum with this band or not, or if… That would be where I would start. Then I’m going to work my way up from there. Then either Chester Jones or Freddie Kohlman. And I think it would be Paul Barbarin playing the snare on it. [It’s Emile Knox on bass drum.] Oh, okay. So I’m way off already. [Can you pick out which brass band it is?] Well, it’s neither one I thought of already. I’m way off base. The clarinet player is what originally got me thinking of those two bands. [Which bands did you think it was?] Well, the Buzzards and the Algiers Onward Band. Do you know what year it’s from?  Oh, that’s later than I thought. That threw me. [Why did you think it was earlier.] The way the drummer was feeling it. I thought that was Chester Jones. This cat played a heavy, heavy four on the bass. So even though he played more of BUHM-BUHM-BUHM, all four beats, which Chester wasn’t always keen on doing it, but I heard him do that, but… ‘58! That one mystified me. [What did you think of the band?] I don’t know. They were good, but they weren’t… What band it was? [Young Tuxedo Brass Band. It’s a live record.] Look, all the stuff live on any of the brass bands is their best playing. They’re coming from the funeral, they’re playing a parade – that’s their best playing. That clarinet player was kickin’ ass, and I was going to work my way backwards, which I’ll try not to do in the future with any of this stuff, because that really lamed out. [Any idea who the clarinet player was?] It was…I’ll tell you… [It was John Casimir.] That’s not who I thought it was. I was way the fuck off base with everything I called. The Young Tuxedo Brass Band. I’ll give them a good 4-3/4 stars. Listen, their spirit was up there, and that bone was kickin’, a real good tailgate thing. Who was the bone player? [Jim Robinson and Clement Tervalon played trombone. The trumpets were Andrew Anderson and John Brunious…] Oh my God! If I’d’a heard John Brunious, he was one of my all-time faves. [Did you second-line or play in any marching bands?] I never played in it. I just walked in there… The spirit would take you. It’s funny. I mean, John Brunious… I worked sessions with both of them. Jesus, they were really good players. Brunious wrote a couple of great songs. He was talented as hell.
8. Danny Barker, “Eh La Bas” (from Paul Barbarin & His New Orleans Jazz, Atlantic, 1955/The Atlantic New Orleans Jazz Sessions, Mosaic, ) (Barker, banjo, vocal; John Brunious, trumpet; Barbarin, drums; Milt Hinton, bass; Willie Humphrey, clarinet; Rob Thomas, trombone; Lester Santiago, piano)
It ain’t Papa Celestin and it ain’t Kid Ory. It sounds a little bit like Danny Barker singing. But I don’t know who the rest of this band is. This is some good Creole music. I never heard Danny do this song before. I like the way he said “cherie!” [LAUGHS] It just sticks out like Danny. Oh, that Creole guy… Jesus Christ! This is one real Creole clarinetist. I should know the fuckin’ guy’s name. [It’s Willie Humphrey.] Oh, it was Willie Humphrey? I was thinking of… He was a funny fuckin’ guy. [LAUGHS] I just have this memory of Willie later in life, but it fits his… He was a funny guy. This is the shit. I’ll give them a 5. This is the shit! [It’s Paul Barbarin’s date, and Milt Hinton is on bass. They did it in New York.] Paul is playing drums and Milt Hinton is playing on this date? Bad-ass group there. [Lester Santiago.] Oh, I worked some gigs with him! He used to work with Dave Bartholomew’s band. He was bad. I met him and I didn’t even know who he was when I met him. It was like another generation of guys. [Did you ever perform this song?] No. I’ve recorded it as an instrumental, but not… I don’t speak that good Creole. I just speak a patois; it’s called Bobo-We [phonetic] But that was a really good… That was a fuckin’ nother one of those things that I went “Wow!” I wouldn’t have had a clue of anything about it, but I knew it was kicking. There’s something about Danny’s voice. He was an old friend. He was one of the most characters I ever knew in New Orleans. He had that dry, British kind of humor, it was crazy as hell. But I knew him since I was a little kid.
9. Huey Piano Smith, “Boogie Woogie Flu” (Ace, 1957)
I can identify everybody on the goddamn session, if you like. Anyway, it’s Huey Smith and the Clowns, and the Clowns at that time was Izzy Cougarten, and Dave Dixon, Frank Fields is playing bass, (?) William playing drums, and one of the tenor players couldn’t make the date, and Peter Blue, a blind tenor player, was scared and he ratted the date out, and there was a big union stink over this session. But it’s very memorable because of that. I think the other tenor player was James Rivers or maybe Robert Parker. I was there when they cracked the goddamn date. But it was a vivid thing, not because of the song necessarily. It was just that the union busted them because Peter Blue ratted them out. He was this blind tenor player, and the union rep that would come and check on the sessions… The guys told him, “if the guy asks you for a union card, he can’t see; just give him your draft card, give him any kind of card and tell him you’re paid up.” And for whatever reason, he ratted all these guys out. That’s one of the reasons that date’s memorable to me. [What did you think of Huey?] I loved Huey. Listen, I played so many sessions with Huey playing piano and me playing guitar… It’s like Allen Toussaint, Huey Smith, Edward Franks – of them guys was like… Professor Longhair. Any of them guys it was like, “Wow…” I got to play on sessions with all of them different guys. But Huey was… I think I’d lead off with what Huey did in some kind of way more than a lot of the other guys, because he was more raw. Like, I never went to school to study piano. I was a guitar student. So I learned watching piano players, but I never knew classical stuff like Booker or Allen Toussaint. So I ran with what I had to run with. And there were a lot of guys like Professor Longhair… But most of the sessions I worked with was Huey Smith. I’ve been trying to get Huey… It’s like myself and Eddie Bo and Huey was at the end of that label… Earl King and everybody’s pretty much passed away. But those were the days when I first got into producing records… Oh, it was another thing to me. Stars? For the song I’ll give it 4, but for who it is, I give it 5.
10. Harry Connick, “Junco Partner” (from 30, Sony, 2001) (Connick, piano, vocal; James Booker, composer)
It sounds like something Booker would have played on the piano, like some James Booker piano kind of stuff, but he doesn’t sound like Booker. Maybe it is Booker. Either that or somebody copying what Booker did with this tune. Who else would do Booker like that? I have no idea. That don’t sound like Booker. Now, that sounded like Booker right there. This is very confusing. Maybe it’s somebody that I would never think of. [“A little heroin before I die.”] It sounds like Booker. [“A little cocaine.”] Now, that whole arrangement is from Booker. But it don’t sound like Booker. But it starts out, the piano sounds like…all of it sounds like something Booker would do. If it’s not Booker, it’s somebody who sure studied the shit out of him. I’ll give it at least 4, because he can play the shit out of it. I liked it. [It was Harry Connick.] Ah, okay. Well, Harry studied under Booker, so that makes sense. But he SOUNDED like Booker. That’s what really throws me on it. He didn’t sound like Harry at all. I didn’t even know he cut “Junco Partner.” I liked the fact that he started with real Bookerisms right from the jump, and kept it all into around and that thing. But there’s times his voice really sounds like James Booker, man. Harry done good on that sucker! I liked the hell out of it. He’s a talented son-of-a-bitch. Look, I always loved his piano playing, and I like his singing different. It’s two different elements, in my opinion. Sometimes it don’t always match, in my opinion, but I like where he’s coming from, and he tries shit. That’s the best thing about him. But that was a cool hit. What the hell record was that from?
11. Ernie Kay-Doe, “Mother-in-Law” (1961) (Ernie K-Doe, vocal; Allen Toussaint, piano, arrangement; Benny Spellman, bass vocal)
That’s a great Allen Toussaint production. I think Benny Spellman singing that “mother-in-law” got more fame than he did with his own record, “Lipstick Traces.” But here Ernie K-Doe’s been dead for some years, and this year they wanted to run Ernie K-Doe for Mayor. It was so Mardi Gras-ish being there for this… There were just so many things going on. But Ernie K-Doe is like… I mean, I dug K-Doe. He might have been… Listen. I guess you could say he took conceited to a new height of enormity. And I dug it. He was a funny guy. And when his old lady had… You know what I mean? You got the K-Doe dough and the K-Doe this and the K-Doe that. But I mean, at the cemetery… This is a hard maneuver. Singing in the cemetery at another guy’s funeral, Earl King’s funeral… [LAUGHS] This is… You gotta love it. I give it 5. For one thing, I love Allen Toussaint’s work. I love what he did production-wise with any of the artists he worked with over a lot of years – including myself and all the rest. I can’t say enough about him. He wrote some of the greatest songs came out of New Orleans. He did some of the greatest productions… Everything I can think of about Allen is just too hip, and he’s always had that thing of sensitive hip.
12. Charles Brown, “The Very Thought Of You” (from HONEY DRIPPER, Verve-Gitanes, 1994) (Charles Brown, piano, vocal)
Yeah, Charles. Charles Brown. This is with Danny Carroll on the guitar. I was so grateful that he made this little re-comeback thing. It just really made me feel good. One of the first big sessions I ever did in New Orleans was with Charles Brown, and he was just always as sweetheart to work for. I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about Charles Brown. But he always did these songs so Charles Brown! I played on some tune we did a duet on, and he said, “You play too harsh, Mac.” I knew exactly where he was coming from. I play his stuff, and he’s very finesseful, like Allen Toussaint and all them guys. He studied. [PIANO SOLO] That’s so beautiful. It sounds like it’s from some of that Verve stuff he cut or something. Is that where it’s from? That’s some great shit. That’s a Charles Brown chord! Now, that’s a cat there, a stylist as well as a soulful pianist. They don’t have numbers high enough for him. I love this record. I’ll give it a 5. As much as Clifford Solomon is not on it… It’s nice! Just because he’s not playing on this cut, it reminds me of the old Charles Brown stuff with Johnny Moore and… I like the way that band played with Clifford, and I like that he stayed with Charles. Yeah, that’s nice.
13. Lee Dorsey, “Do Re Mi”
That’s a song that Earl King wrote for Lee Dorsey that Allen Toussaint was supposed to do the session, but it wound up Marcel Richardson did it. The AFO band covered the session, which I think on that date was Red Tyler, Nat Perillat, maybe Harold Battiste – one of the two of them – and Melvin Lastie is the horn section, Ron Mantrell(?) on guitar, Chuck Beattie on bass, I think, and John Boudreaux on the drums. That was done for Marshall Seahorn on Bobby Robinson’s label out of Carolina. But it came about that Allen couldn’t do the session because he had just went… Joe Banashak and Larry McKinley and them had just started Minit Records, which did the record just a little bit ago with Ernie K-Doe and all of the string of hits he produced, “Ooo-Boo-Ba-Doo,” and all those strings of stuff that came out later. He just had a phenomenal string of classic records with Irma Thomas, with you-name-it – everything he was doing. And considering they had no promotion, these were guys who were doing records that were… Other than Larry McKinley was a disk jockey who part-owner of the label and he had one station in New Orleans, and he did have some connects. But it’s not like promotion. I give a lot of credit to Allen. It was a good thing. But these guys went and covered the date, and it was one of them early hits for Lee there.
It’s funny. I remember Lee Dorsey coming to New Orleans. Renald Richard brought him in. I did the very first session. I hired Allen Toussaint to play piano, because Huey Smith, I couldn’t find him that day, and Allen is actually playing piano on a date I produced on Lee. But Renald Richard and Jessie Hill(?) from Thibodeaux brought him to me, and that’s the cut I remember on it. We cut a song called “Rock Pretty Baby” – which somebody just gave me a copy of that. Guess who’s playing drums on it? [Blackwell?] Yes. Not a backbeat to be found. Listen, if it got by and it felt all right, who gives a damn? Listen, there’s other drummers… I can tell you, when Earl Palmer left ..[TK]’s [sounds like Stan Kenton, but it can’t be] band, I hired him to make a date with us. I said, “Earl, could you just play a backbeat; these people are giving me some shit.” He took both sticks, ran them through the snare drum, and walked off the gig. Wasn’t even his drums! [So Marcel Richardson was playing the style…]
He could play. Marcel… I’m kind of listening to the same thing around Allen and everybody. But Marcel was a great keyboard player. When he got to California, I remember Harold Battiste getting him in a clique with doing some stuff, and it was like with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, whoever it was before they were that, when they were the Buffalos… They had Marcel on the bass that he played on while “sitting on my wa-wa, waiting for my ya-ya,” and he said, “We want you to play some New Orleans shit,” and Marcel was playing, and he says, “This shit don’t sound like no goddamn New Orleans music.” He just said they heard it, he was at… But he was real.
[How did you start producing?] Oh, Johnny Vincent. I was a teenager. He thought he was hustling some kid who’s hanging out at his studio. [You were hanging out at the studio; that’s what you did.] Mmm-hmm. So I knew the people that was coming around to audition. Actually, I wrote songs for a lot of them, and would bring them to Specialty Records, which had offices in New Orleans, and bring them to Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records, I’d bring them to Paul Gayton for Chess Records. I brought whoever auditioned… Sometimes it was the singers with the bands I had. But somebody would sing the song. I didn’t give a damn. As long as they learned it, was okay. They were people I met coming into the studio to do other shit. But I think they got wind of that, and Johnny hired me, and he beat me. [You said you knew he was…] He used to pay my salary, and if I earned more than that darn session, which I usually did, he’d try to deduct my salary. That’s pretty jive.
[Was that a clause he put in the contract?] No. We didn’t really have a contract… Look, if you knew how hard it was to get paid, whether it was a union session, getting him to file the contracts on the dates… We couldn’t let him do it. We had to file them ourselves. It was easier dealing with Johnny Vincent, get the cash money in front before a session to work for the guy. There was like 80 million changes you had to go through to do that. It was not easy to work for him. [So you learned a lot of ins and outs as a teenager.] Ah, I wish I could’a said I LEARNT ‘em. But he was a special one. To say that I learnt SOMETHING; I should’a learnt a lot more. I’ll give… Huey Smith, Earl King, and… Red Tyler, I give him the most credit for understanding different chunks of this guy. Whatever projects I worked on with Red Tyler, we would be treated with respect, and he always made those projects a special thing, and he knew that Red could bring a class act to his label. But Huey and Earl King had really short chains on their thing, even though they knew how it was. The first records they did, they started his label!
[You mentioned also that you hired Blackwell for an Isley Brothers date.] Oh yeah. I had him with the Isley Brothers on dates on Ace Records. I had him on a lot of sessions. You’d be surprised. I had him on some sessions of mine. I don’t know if they ever came out, but I had cut a song, it was… I had cut a song at home he played drums, Charlie Williams, called “Storm Warning.” Later for Jeannie Mack I cut another song that was a followup to it, and it was called “Cross-Winds.” I’ve never heard it, but I know that I had Edward Blackwell playing the drums, I had Rufus Gore playing tenor, James Booker was playing piano, and Eustis Guillemet was playing bass. That shit sounded good from what I can tell you. It was just one of those THINGS. But it was a helluva band I had for the date. That was half of a lot of what was available – easy.
A lot of memories went through some of this stuff you played. When you played that one Huey Smith song, it just… It actually had about 20% to do with that song on that thing, but that date! It’s just weird what your memory kicks up about something in particular.
[New Orleans was so segregated at that time, and I’d think that you often would be the only white guy on the session with a lot of black musicians. How did that work for you?]
Look. Sam Butera was the only white guy before my time with Paul Gayten, doing some recordings. I don’t think Sam thought anything but it was a recording date. Me? I got in a lot of trouble with the two unions back then, the two SEGREGATED unions. They were segregated by the goddamn…oh, whatever it was, the laws and stupid shit. But anyway, if I ran a session and it was through the white union, the black union gave me shit. If it was 496, the black union gave me shit, and if I ran it through 496 to 174, the white union gave me shit. It was both, because they were making a hustle all for the musicians. It had nothing to do with anybody giving two shits about ANY of that. It was just your typical… There was guys that were pocketing this little thing and that little thing, and had side hustles, and that’s life on the reality tip. You see it on bigger tips today, but it’s still on that. It’s still low-down life, low-down hustles. It’s old-school crap. They should have figured out some newer ones by now, but I guess the old ones are more guaranteed to work in somebody’s head.
I watched a guy actually promise they were going to have a retirement home for musicians, and it turned out the guy died, and they find out the property was a swamp. He had just fucked up all the money. It was those kinds of things that came out of all these studio musicians’ money. Oh, God, who the hell knows? Whenever we tried to bump a guy out of office… This struck me as kind of odd. But you couldn’t do it. It was like he was in there like God. You can’t vote God out of office. This guy was like that. He’s a fuckin’ union rep! [LAUGHS] It struck me as odd that they used to send Mr. Porter to pick up the cards, and he couldn’t see. That strikes you as odd, that a guy who checks everybody’s union cards in a session can’t see? Then they send…a musician took his place, Melvin Lastie, and one of the first sessions he busted, his own brother was playing on it. Melvin Lastie busted a session, and his brother Papi(? – Walter) is playing drums on the date. Now, this had to cause him some problems at home with his family, and Deacon Frank I’m sure was not too thrilled with Melvin’s behavior in busting his brother on a session. But it’s those kind of memories… I find them kind of nice now, but at the time it wasn’t that nice. [In retrospect, everything is humorous.] Well, you’re far away from it. It’s like the reason… Look, he busted the session, and by the time he took everybody’s name, the last guy he looked at, it was his brother over in the corner where they were doing it. It wasn’t at Cosmo’s studio, which was at the time the only known studio. They could sessions at the radio stations. But Johnny Vincent, with another one of his scams went awry, sunk some money into my boss, at that time a guy named Joe Athena(?), who made a lot of records, and he had Eddie Bo and Johnny Adams… He had some great artists over there. Well, that was the session Melvin busted. He got wind that there was a session going on at that studio, and it was built on top of where all the record distributors was. It was nowhere around where the other studio was. It kind of stuck out; I guess he had a lot of music popping through, not too well sound proofed. Anyway, it was just a funny story to me, thinking…
[Deacon Frank was a drummer, right?] Ah, listen, he… As a kid…I just always think of him… He played a beat, like, POM-CHICKA-CHICKA-CHICKA-CHICK, POM-CHICKA-CHICKA-CHICKA… No backbeat, just the… He could relax that, and if you added tambourines and congas and stuff with that, you don’t know if it’s a shuffle or 6/8, 12/8, or… With the guys playing with it, it just floated all over the place. We’d be playing something, and it would just be like… You didn’t think about what it was. He just had this way of laying that thing so different that… [Herlin has that beat now.] Oh, Herlin’s got a lot of that! It’s his family; that’s his grandpa. Anyway, I remember the last time I saw it. I went over there with a French film crew to see (?)’s mom, who was Herlin’s grandma. On camera, the woman grabs me by my collar and yells, “I told you to tell that son of yours something…” I didn’t know she was on her deathbed. Everything in the room smelled like roses. There was white roses, and she made them stick them in rosewater, and so it intensifies the heat of the room, and I’m thinking this French film crew is here to see it, and I can’t tell… I didn’t know she was on her deathbed. But she grabbed my collar and said, “Young man…” She was one of them people that could see stuff. She helped you. She told you stuff that might happen ten years from now, but it would happen. Usually I’d’a forgot it, but she was special.
I’ve got to go write a chart for a session…