May 20, 2005

Reverend Ether

"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.

Da Rev


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ronnie was my cousin and one of my best childhood memories was when he came to my Aunt Shirleys house with Edgar Winter one time when he was visiting, myself and my sister and cousins were there and we just got to hang out with them, they took turns playing various instruments and just goofing. I can remember one person being on the paino till they got tired then switching off. It was a great afternoon I'll never forget.

Woody Barrosse Jr

9:01 PM, June 15, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Woody. I think your cousin was an impressive cat and an
extremely underrated musician/performer. Thanks for your comment.

9:19 PM, June 15, 2005  
Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

Going to see the Dr out here in L.A. (long beach) in August. Cant wait.

2:17 AM, June 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi cats, I'm awaiting a copy of the Prime Ministers CD, cut while they were still 'Orleans based in 1965.
The Japanese import for Rev. Ether took forever, this one is getting up there in regards to the wait, but the latter was well worth it, so I shouldn't imagine the Prime Ministers one should be any different.

Apparently Ronnie took over from Mac R. in the Sonny & Cher live band, I'm hoping to dig up some info on that as well.

12:14 AM, July 17, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

I think you'll dig that live PM stuff from Bourbon St, too, oddy.
I did a trade with one of my readers, who burned the PM's single for me. Very different than the live stuff - more pop - but good.

On a side note, wish blogger would date these comments.
July 17, 2005.

12:47 PM, July 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is this the same person who released a single "1862 B.P." b/w "48 hours" as Rev. Ether, The Kingdome, The Power and The Glory on the Etcetera label circa 1970?

10:46 PM, July 27, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yes, Mark, that's a Ronnie Barron single. "1862 BP" (or a version of it) is on the album.

11:12 PM, July 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I finally got my hot little hands on a copy of the Prime Ministers '65 live set.
Very raw sound, fidelity is a little rough, but that appeals to me anyway.

Great band, obviously highlighted in a soul-jazz moment, all instro bar one song.
The band is cooking, 'nuff said.

The notes mention the RCA single (and that two other unissued tunes from the same date exist), and they did make it sound like it was a far slicker approach.
I get the impression from what little info I could find, that the L.A. Prime Ministers really pushed their vocal side, and the jazzier aspects were merged into a slicker R&B polish.

The live set is well worth the import bucks to a guy like me stranded so far south it's another land mass.
(that would be Australia y'all)

Ronnie once mentioned in an interview that "I didn't know who Ahmet Ertegun was, but he found me in California and used my group there, the Prime Ministers, as the back-up group on Bobby Darin's last sessions in 1966."

Interesting, but I hope it's not the Doctor Doolittle inspired album, although if I knew for sure I'd buy it anyway.

Also, has anyone heard of Wayne DeVilliere's band called Sweet Salvation?
Sweet Salvation - Sweet Salvation (Elektra EKS 75045); released in 1972.
I've heard it's quite a good record, kind of soulful funk.
Anyway, that's my thoughts for the day.

Jason 'Oddy' Odd (August 1st, 2005)

11:22 AM, July 31, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Hey, Oddy. Thanks SO much for dating your comment! I mentioned Sweet Salvation in this Reverend Ether post and I featured one of their album tracks back in April.
A lot of people dug it. Sorry you missed it.

I've also got some stuff Wayne DeVilliere did on his own from the early '60's on Drew-Blan on a CD comp of the label put out by Tuff City/Night Train.

As for the PM single, it is heavy on the multiple vocals and not a jazz noise on it. Glad you like that live stuff. Appreciate you're getting back to us.

9:53 AM, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dan What about Ronnie's time with the Paul Butterfield Group? You can definitely distinquish his Big Easy sound, worth checking out for sure.
And that afternoon with Edgar Winter was spent at our Aunt Violet's house in Algiers, LA.

2:52 PM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yes, one of these days I'm going to post a track from one of the Paul Butterfield's Better Days albums. Ronnie's on 'em. They do a couple of his songs, plus ones by Bobby Charles and Dr. John.

6:20 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, hi and hello to the Ronnie fans who frequent this great page.

Yeah, I kind of missed the reference to Sweet Salvation, or at least when I first read it, they were just a name to me.
Now they're another album to track down.
Elektra have been re-issuing a lot of their older albums in the last couple of years.
Sadly for roots-rockin' these are the more popular ones, the folk singers who became famous or had hits, bands which became massive cult acts; (Koerner, Ray & Glover, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Dillards, etc) and the like.

Elektra's early 1970s move into roots-rock, funk and gospel rock is being left for dead in regards to reissues.
Perhaps this will change later on.
But for now Swamp Dogg, Jeannie Greene, the Alabama State Troopers, Don Nix, Lonnie Mack (which Sundazed has picked up) and Sweet Salvation are among a slew of southern acts which aren't getting any attention.
(actually I can't recall if Swamp Dogg is Southern.. hmmm)
What few of these artists survived past 1972 would have been purged in the Elektra/Warner/Asylum deal of 1973, which ultimately saw David Geffen given the job of stripping the Elektra roster of non-hit yielding artists.
He also culled most of the side labels like the L.A. based Countryside Records.

Dunno how Ronnie ended up on Decca, I honestly can't think of anything besides country artists that were doing much on the label by the early 1970s.
Cheers all,
Jason Odd: August 13, 2005.

2:57 AM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yes, Oddy, it seems there's always another album or 45 to track down.
'Sweet Salvation' probably went to the "cut-out" bins almost as soon as it was released. I've seen copies on ebay. I got mine at a junk record shop in Memphis very cheap. I didn't know anything about them, but recognized Big John Thomassie, the drummer, and bought it immediately. I figured Wayne Devillier and the guitarist, Don Norman, were Louisiana boys; but only later did I find out about Wayne's background.

I,too, would be glad to see any of those other Southern artists you mentioned have reissues. By the way, Jerry Williams (Swamp Dogg) was from Virginia originally. That's technically the South. Of course, it's almost all North to me (and to you, I guess)!
Peace 08/13/2005

And, I don't know how 'Reverend Ether' ended up on Decca either. Maybe somebody told 'em it was a country record - they just didn't say which country. . .

11:23 AM, August 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope all you Nawleans cats are okay, we're worried about y'all over there.

9:37 PM, September 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I played a couple of times wth Ronnie in Los Angeles, 1978. He had a great ear, and a great memory, mentioning and analyzing moments of the show afterwards that the rest of us would have to sit and think about for quite a while to get our minds wrapped around. He was a most positive and intuitive man, and got my spirit back into 'show biz' with an encouraging word at just the right time.

1:26 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger T. DeVillier said...

Hey all!

I posted some information on another blog as well as a request. I am Wayne DeVillier's daughter and sad to say I do not have any of his music except for one album when he played with Luther Kent. I searched in the past and reached dead ends. I spoke to Thomassie (must have been shortly before he died) a year after my father passed in 1993 and he gave me some ideas, but to no avail. You may be wondering how a daughter of his can not have any of his music. That is a story in and of itself!

I remember him fondly from my early years and then I was adopted when I was 7 and after he and my mom had divorced. He moved to California while my siblings and my mother stayed in New Orleans. I was reunited with him and my other relatives when I was 13 and enjoyed getting to know him until he passed away in 1993. Sadly, though, I was unable to get any of his music. Friends and relatives who had it gave it all away to others. I am desperately trying to get information and copies of his albums. I know he wrote a song for me when I was born back in 1965, but Al Hirt claimed it for himself and my father never revealed who it was really written for. I found this out from my Aunt Marlene, his sister, when we were reunited and even got to listen to it. I don't even know the name of it - only know that it was a musical piece and it was very beautiful. I was very young and didn't realize the true value of his music and as I'm sure you will understand, kids think parents will live forever and never paid much attention to it all!

I would love for as much information as you can give me on his background and his music, as well as how I can get copies of his albums on CD. Any help with this would be greatly appreciated!

8:29 PM, February 23, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Ms Devillier, as I said in my response to your comment on the Sweet Salvation post, please e-mail me directly at and I will give you sources (and some background) for at least some of your dad's music.
Dan at HOTG

11:29 PM, February 23, 2006  
Blogger T. DeVillier said...

Thanks Dan and thanks for your patience. I am just a bit excited and I wasn't sure how the blog worked because I didn't find this one until after I posted the last one. Sorry for the redundency. I will be emailing you soon! I found some awesome info on the SS Fools along with some photos to boot and learning so much! Once again! Thanks for your patience, Dan!

11:47 AM, February 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just stumbled on this old post about Ronnie Barron and recalled that somewhere I read (many years ago) that Ronnie was being managed by Louis Prima (or his people) and was playing Vegas opening for Louis. I seem to recall that Louis Prima wouldn't let him out of his contract in Vegas to go do the Dr. John persona (which was based on Prince La La btw)! Just by way of more info the Prime Ministers 45 was put out on RCA and produced by Don Costa. Perhaps Don Costa may have been Ronnie's management at the time. Caveat here is old info filtered through an older brain.

Best, Drx Hepcat

9:22 AM, December 30, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Doc. Not sure if I ever knew anything about the RB/Louis Prima connection. But you are correct that Don Costa was Ronnie's manager out in La La Land and was grooming him and the band as a slick soul or pop act. The Dr. John concept did not fit with the plan! But, Ronnie might have been better off going with it, since trying to go more mainstream did not work out, and the Rev Ether project didn't either. Glad your brain is still working!

I hope to finally get around to doing another big post or series of posts on Ronnie this coming year and try to tell his story in more detail. It's been on the back burner way too long.

10:15 AM, December 30, 2010  
Blogger jimmie landry said...

I saw Ronnie working with Prima in Vegas around 1968. He was playing a fender Rhodes and sang a little. We worked on Bourbon st. in '64,65 and I stayed with him in L.A. for a while. He turned me on in more ways than one!! 5/6/2013

9:35 AM, May 06, 2013  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hello, is this thread still alive? I am looking for info on Ronnie Barron.I use to hang out with him back in the early 1980s in LA. He had a girlfriend/wife named Kim. He played with Harry Ravain and Larry Taylor and sometimes Leo Nocentelli. Lost touch with him and was sorry to hear of his passing in 1997. He was a great talent. Kevin in Seattle.

10:46 AM, February 21, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

Use to hang out with Ronnie in the early 80s. He played with Harry Ravain, Larry Taylor and Leo Nocentelli. His girlfriend/wife was named Kim. A great talent. Should have gone farther then he went in the business.

10:48 AM, February 21, 2014  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yeah, Kevin,
This rather lengthy thread is active again, 'cause you've added to it! Thanks for checking in and sharing some memories.

About further information, I am still planning to do another post on Ronnie. Hope it will be this year. I've got many more tracks, some going way back, plus the Prime Ministers' single, and some studio cuts only released on Huey Meaux boots. Also, check out my 2014 Carnival Part 2 post for a track off his 1985 Bon Ton Roulette LP. It will be up in a few days.

1:18 AM, February 23, 2014  
Blogger kolimba said...

Some cuts have an amazing guitar playing. I wish I could know who he was. Someone mentioned a certain Don Norman but I can´t find nothing about him. Just some obscure player from N.O. Who was elated to jazz circles. Well, thanks for the post it had good information to complete the gaps. I wanted to buy an Lp copy but only originals to be found and with a price I could say are far from my league!

2:08 PM, December 26, 2016  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thank you, Colonel. Some 11 years after writing this post, the comments are still going....and I still don't know for sure who played on the record, other than Ronnie, of course, on keyboard(s). I finally did get a vinyl copy a few years after I wrote about the import CD version of the album. Hope you find a copy you can afford.

7:55 PM, December 26, 2016  

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