"Don't Let My Husband Catch You" (Ronnie Barron)
Ronnie Barron, from Reverend Ether, Decca, 1971
Back to the ether
I met Mac Rebennack when I was 15. I'd been aware of him since I was 12, and he had a good working band that played on the west side where I lived, in Algiers. New Orleans was a real fly-by-night town, where there was a big tourist crowd and people wanted to drink. They didn't care about the music that much, just wanted to be entertained. So I created my 'Reverend Ether' character, almost by accident. I made up this mythology about the voodoo and the gumbo. I'd shake the tambourine and say, 'I'm gonna drop the truth on you!' I made up all this shit. This was before I worked with Mac, when I was working in a club on Bourbon Street. He'd come in and kind of watch what I was doing. I had also written this song, 'Black Widow Spider,' that was part of the act. Mac realized the value in it, and after he hired me he wanted me to be the original Dr. John, because I already had a handle on the thing. – Ronnie Barron (Ronald Raymond Barrosse, 1943 – 1997)
With his 1971 album, Reverend Ether, I think Ronnie Barron sought to artistically reclaim the concept he had let Mac Rebennack turn into the successful hoodoo-hippie musical Carnival shaman, Dr. John. Barron’s persona may have been as much huckster as heavenly healer; but the music he injected into the project was a rave-up of influences, mixing barrelhouse blues, gospel, minstrel show revue, funk and soul.
What he skips over in the story he tells above is that he and Mac Rebennack became musical partners and collaborators soon after they met, with Mac producing and playing on records with Barron (as Ronnie and the Delinquents and Grits 'n' Gravy) for Ace and AFO from 1959 to the early 1960’s. This was back when they gigged together, with Barron as the featured singer and keyboardist and Rebennack as leader and guitarist. After Mac got injured in a fight, had legal and drug troubles and split for the West Coast, Barron joined the Prime Ministers, a jazz-soul combo, in the mid-1960’s and played regularly on Bourbon Street with them, until he and the band re-located to Los Angeles a few years later at Rebennack’s urging. It was out there that Barron was offered the Dr. John role in Rebennack’s band, which he refused on the advice of his manager; so, Rebennack became Dr. John instead. The Prime Ministers broke up around 1970, right as Barron signed a solo deal with Decca to release this album. Their drummer, Fred Staehle joined Dr. John; and sax man Jerry Jumonville worked with Delaney and Bonnie and Dr John. Wayne DeVilliere, the main keyboardist, would go on to play with a band called Sweet Salvation (featured here a few weeks ago) before joining Three Dog Night. Bassist and second sax, Eddie Zip, also stayed on the West Coast, switched to piano and became a songwriter/performer.
It would make sense that, at least, some of those guys played on the Decca album; but I have found no session details. Whoever they were, the band on the record had a good, loose, funky feel, and could rock out, too. I am pretty sure Barron was radiating the 88s on this cut and throughout the album He definitely had chops and, as you can hear, quite a wide vocal range. My one gripe with his singing is that he often used his strong falsetto too much on some tunes. Although the whole record had lot of full-tilt playing and singing going on, it didn’t quite hang together overall, nor was it recorded or mixed all that well. Decca let it sink like a stone; and Barron moved on to join Paul Butterfield’s Better Days as a sideman and songwriter, and did session work for many artists: Ry Cooder, John Mayall, Tom Waits, Dr. John, Eric Burdon, et al.
Besides Reverend Ether, which I picked up as a Japanese import CD, Ronnie Barron made several other fairly good records before he was done: The Smile of Life (released in Japan), 1978; Blue Delicacies, 1981; and Bon Ton Roulette, 1983. We will sample some of those other works down the line. In his later years, he did some movie acting, but developed heart problems and returned to the ether in 1997. If you haven’t encountered him before, here’s your introduction to another notable link in the HOTG chain. Enjoy.