March 07, 2011



G R A S !!!

2 0 1 1

All photos by Dan Phillips

March 06, 2011


[Updated, March 7, 2011 - Herman Ernest passes.]**

Mardi Gras, coming up this Tuesday, unusually well into March this year due to Easter’s late appearance on the calendar, seemed like it would never get here. All that extra time, and I am still late getting to more seasonal vinyl suitable for mood alteration; but, now those little digital audio files are finally stuffed full like spicy musical
boudin, and ready to be served up hot.

Also, starting this weekend and going until Ash Wednesdy, HOTG Radio on the web is once again streaming hours of suitable Carnival grooves for the celebrations. So, link up, listen in, and get a party started wherever on the planet you may be. Let’s hope our feet hold out for the duration.

“Feet Can’t Fail Me Now”
(The Dirty Dozen)
Dirty Dozen Jazz Band, Mad Musicians, 1983
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Recorded just about a year prior to the version titled “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now”, which appeared on their debut Concord Jazz LP of the same name, this 45 cut has my vote as the better take. To me, it’s more immediate and, though obviously done in a studio, closer to the funk out in the street. The later LP had killer recording quality, and a more rehearsed, generally slicker, impressive presentation; but the version of “Feet” on it is strangely even more uptempo than this track, but less rhythmically engaging - more of a sprint than a quick steppin’ second line feel.

By the 1983 release of this single, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (don’t know why the record label substitutes ‘jazz’ for ‘brass’) had been together for about five years, experimenting with and formulating their fresh approach to the bass band tradition. Though definitely hot, they were not quite the ultra-tight, turbocharged, monster ensemble that would soon enough emerge, but there was plenty of great blowing on this session, starting with the wicked groove laid down by tuba virtuoso, Kirk Joseph, and lots of hand-held percussion (not present on the LP version), plus their unstudied unison singing, all giving the illusion, at least, that they just marched in from the parade route.

I remember well hearing this cut on jukeboxes around New Orleans and on WWOZ, too, if I’m not mistaken, when I was in town back then and being totally captivated by it. But I did not score a copy, and have yet to find one - although I do have another, earlier Mad Musicians single by the band, as shown in the post linked above. When I mentioned my lack of this record here last year, blog follower John, from all the way over the International Date Line in Guam, contacted me. A former New Orleans resident, he got the single when it came out and generously sent mp3s and label shots of the sides (“Lil Liza Jane” is on the flip). What you see and hear is from his copy, and my appreciation to him abounds.

“Mama Roux” (Creaux - Hll)
Dr. John, The Night Tripper, Atco 6635, 1968
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

The plug side of this promo 45 and “Jump Sturdy” on the back were taken from the first Dr. John (The Night Tripper) album, Gris Gris. Last year, on my Shine Robinson post, I told some the back story of the LP’s creation, so feel free to read up, if needed. I’m sure Atlantic, Atco’s parent company, was trying to find some way to market at least a small part of the unconventional (read “potentially unprofitable”) album that producer Harold Battiste had presented to them. So they pulled two of the more, um, accessible (and shorter) tracks for radio play. But this was obviously not a commercial radio-friendly project. The album succeeded not via the usual business model, but was embraced by the youth culture underground of the 1960s and free-form FM radio stations starting to pop up. Its cult of popularly grew organically and slowly from the grassroots up, via word of mouth and knowing nods - not that most of us knew what the hell Dr. John Creaux, as he presented himself, was talking about at the time. It just had an exotic vibe.

Meanwhile, from his end, Mac Rebennack, the long-time session musician, producer and writer, who assumed this performance persona, seems to have given a lot of thought to the presentation, bringing in many previously arcane and obscure aspects of the New Orleans cultural experience, influences of the African musical diaspora, voodoo, hoodoo, the spiritualist churches, and, of course, the Mardi Gras Indians, as referenced on this track, all tinged with the psychedelia of the day. When Battiste, a fellow expatriate form back home, approached Mac in Los Angeles about making an album for a new production company, the concept was ready to go, and they ran with it, following their creative bent, rather than radio formats.

A note on the sound. This seems to be a rough mix of the song, and not the way it appeared on the LP. The relative volumes vary and lack balance. Maybe somebody grabbed the wrong reel to master the single. It certainly wouldn’t have encouraged radio play. But, as iffy as the mix is, I like this track because you can easily hear the perfectly enticing drum work of John Boudreaux, whose insouciant funk shuffle on the tom-toms is sublime.

“Mardi Gras In New Orleans” (Roy Byrd)
Joy Ride, Chippewa Records, 1980
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Joy Ride, the short-lived, high energy band put together in 1979 by master bassist George Porter, Jr. and guitarist Bruce MacDonald in New Orleans, cut the tracks on this single as part of an album project recorded at the legendary Studio In the Country, in Bogalusa, LA. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t released at the time, though it was shopped around to various labels, and did not find its way into the marketplace until Tuff City’s Night Train label put it out on CD in 2005 as
Searching For A Joy Ride. I did a feature on it back then, where you can find more details on the exceptional band and recording.

As Michael Hurtt’s detailed notes to the CD reveal, the only release at the time from the sessions was this rare 45 (courtesy of my wife, who got it from Bruce when it came out) with its hand-drawn and lettered label, which came out on Porter’s Chippewa Records in 1980. “Money Money”, a funkified MacDonald original, was intended as the A-side, with their unconventional take on Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” on the back. But, with Carnival season approaching, it was the B-side that got the attention, though some of it was negative blow-back from unadventurous purists offended by the band’s messing with a rather sacrosanct song in the Carnival music cannon. So, the record didn't do particularly well; and, though the band was very popular in the local clubs, they broke up after just a couple years.

Judge for yourself what they did with Fess’ anthem. George called it “syncopated rock”, but Bruce just calls it funk. Note how he picked patterns on guitar that had been a part of Longhair’s densely instricate piano work, while Sam (“Soul Machine”) Henry’s driving keyboard, though deftly played, doesn’t copy what Fess did at all. Conceived purely as a party song that they regularly played on gigs, Joy Ride’s recorded version of “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” attempted to capture some of that live vibe with lots of percussion and simulated “crowd” noise, but probably would have been better off without it, since Ricky Sebastian’s blend of rocking punch and second line buck-jumping bounce provides plenty of upbeat groovin’.

“Hey Pocky Way” (Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr, Jospeh Modeliste)
The Neville Brothers, from Fiyo On the Bayou, A&M, 1981
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Re-working the Meters’ 1974 appropriation of Mardi Gras Indian’s music, “Hey Pocky A-Way”, on their Rejuvenation album, former Meter, Art Neville, and his bothers, rendered this version on their break-out second album, Fiyo On the Bayou, in 1981. This is as close to a hit as the song and the band ever got. It wasn’t released on a single, as far as I know, but the LP wound up in the collections of a large cross-section of people over the years (almost everyone I knew, it seemed) - not a mega hit, but plenty popular enough to make them well-known far beyond just the Deep South.

Overseen by successful R&B and pop producer Joel Dorn, the album sessions were done at Studio In the Country, utilizing some top-flight session players, rather than the brothers’ stage band, to back their vocals and create an impressively recorded sound true to their roots, blending hometown funk with soul, Caribbean and rock ‘n’ roll influences. What kept it real was that the basic rhythm section remained local, with Art on keys, fellow Meter alum Leo Nocentelli on guitar, David Barard (Chocolate Milk) on bass, and the always incredible [and, sadly, now late**] Herman Ernest on drums. For more back story, see my previous post on the album.

An all-time Mardi Gras classic in its own right, this version of the song doesn’t have the back in the pocket funk-sway of the Meters, but, instead, it is immense and in your face from the first beat - just an unstoppable tsunami of a groove. No way to resist - so just accept it and get totally swept away.

** [Upate, March 7, 2011: I just learned this morning of the passing yesterday of Herman Villere ('Roscoe') Ernest, III, long-time drummer for Dr. John and valued contributor to so much great music, whose legendary professional career goes back into the 1960s. During the 1970s he was a regular session player at Sea-Saint Studios, appearing on and enhancing many of Allen Toussaint's productions, and has since appeared on innumerable recording projects, including the featured track above. He will be much missed. I'll have a post on him after Mardi Gras. Let's keep the celebrations funky in honor of Herman!]

“Onwu Ama Dike”
Krewe of Eris, from The Feasts of the Appetites of Eris,
Domino Sound, 026, 2010

Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Ben Berman, in his Offbeat review of this album, describes the basics of the Krewe of Eris like this, “an annual Mardi Gras marching parade, a swarm of costumed miscreants who meet in the Bywater and meander through the Upper Ninth Ward and the French Quarter.” According to Berman, on this particular run, recorded on the streets by Matt Knowles, the aggregation included over 60 people playing various horns, drums and other percussion instruments, all at varying levels of expertise, but equal in their fervent enthusiasm. And with sounds and rhythms like this, spontaneous outbreaks of dancing, if not outright acts of fornication, are bound to follow in their wake.

Matt is the proprietor of Domino Sound Record Shack, a friendly, uncompromisingly retro vinyl shop worthy of your undying support when you come to New Orleans. He released the album of selected KoE tracks on his own in-house label. When I called to ask for his permission to post “Onwu Ama Dike”, he informed me that it was the only cover tune on the LP, and, as its sound and title suggest has an African origin, originally appearing on an early 1970s record by the Nigerian outfit, St. Augustine & His Rovers Dance Band. The cultural feedback loops in the Crescent City never cease to amaze me.

Thanks to Matt for the opportunity to share this recent rarity with you. Drop by the store, pick up a copy and browse da bins. There’s no website (did I mention retro?); but I do think he compromised a tad and added an air conditioner for when it gets real sticky. . . .

“New Orleans Mambo” (Michael Pellera)
James Rivers Quartet. from The Dallas Sessions, Spindletop, 1985
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

I featured this one way back in the first month or so of the blog. Read the details there. It’s past due for a re-post.

Saxophonist Rivers, who I have posted-up several times here, and the then young jazz gunners backing him put together a really fine, funky album full of fire, definitely his best overall effort. Too bad that it has never been re-issued.

Another flat-out joyously irresistible groove, this is what Mardi Gras celebrating is all about - without a doubt! Have some fun on the holiday, y’all.