Hey La Hey
"Fire Water" (The Wild Magnolias/Wilson Turbinton)
Wild Magnolias, Treehouse 801, 1975
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
As my wife reminded me earlier today, it’s time for another Mardi Gras post. Of course, I already had this cut picked out; but she didn’t know that. She just felt it. It’s a Louisiana thang.
“(Big Chief Like Plenty Of) Fire Water” was recorded at Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA in 1975 for the Wild Magnolias’ second LP, They Call Us Wild. As the first LP, it was produced by Philippe Rault, and issued on the Barclay label in France. What? You expected something this hip to appear on a domestic label? Probably through the auspices of Quint (Cosmic Q) Davis, who had helped bring the Wild Mags and Willie Tee together in 1970, a single from these sessions was released locally on the one-off Treehouse label, with this track as the flip side of “New Suit”, which I featured a year back, on January 7, 2005. You can read more background on that post.
Taking a traditional Mardi Gras Indian song from the Wild Magnolias’ repertoire, arranger, keyboardist, and bandleader Willie Tee (Wilson Turbinton) created the groovin’, bottom-heavy funk bed for “Fire Water” with his fine band: Erving Charles on bass, Larry Pana on drums, Alfred ‘Uganda’ Roberts on congas, and Lewis Clark (a/k/a Guitar June?) on guitar. Singing lead is Big Chief Theodore Emile ‘Bo’ Dollis, backed by Monk Boudreaux and other members of the WM. As noted, Turbinton had been collaborating with the group since sharing a bill with them at Tulane University five years earlier, arranging, writing and providing backing for them on their first single, “Handa Wanda”, in late 1970, and on the Wild Magnolias album in 1974.
This merging of the Indian maskers’ arts with the emergent funk music of the times created a compelling hybrid that gave Mardi Gras Indians international exposure and made the Wild Magnolias a cultural crossover phenomenon at home. With the popularity of the group, which continues to this day, and the subsequent 1976 recording of the Wild Tchoupitoulas with the Nevilles and Meters backing them up, the Indians, once secretive and virtually unknown outside their own neighborhoods, came to be acknowledged as a vital part of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
It remains to be seen if the Indian traditions and culture can survive with so many of the neighborhoods, from which they sprang and in which they endured, abandoned and in ruins. In Carnival season 2006, I, for one, hear this valuable, endangered music with new ears. It’s going to take a lot of fire water to forget all the lake water; but, over hundreds of years, New Orleans has somehow defiantly survived, and will again, its numerous natural and man-made disasters. The key lies in the will of its people to discover creative ways of celebrating the constant miracle of life on the brink, precariously situated, as usual, somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Big Chief Bo (left) in concert off-season
***NOTE: I neglected to mention an affordable CD compilation, Mardi Gras In New Orleans, that has "Fire Water", "New Suit", and both sides of the Wild Magnolias' first single, plus other cool Mardi Gras classics. Those out of print CD reissues of the WM albums from the 1970's are very high priced these days (see Comments), as are the LPs, of course.