Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste: A Meeting of the Minds

Joe Krown, Walter "Wolfman" Washington and Russell Batiste. Photo by Nunu Zomot.

Joe Krown, Walter "Wolfman" Washington & Russell Batiste. Photo by Nunu Zomot.

The Joe Krown Trio with Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste is what New Orleans is all about: Three musicians, none a worldwide celebrity but each a master of his own discipline and a bandleader in his own right, all calling on a lifetime of musical knowledge and experience whenever they perform, and all playing with the others for the simple joy of playing together. They play regularly at the Maple Leaf Bar on Sunday nights, and their most recent CD, Triple Threat, is a lively mix of jazz, blues and funk that features sophisticated original compositions and a handful of cherry-picked blues/soul classics. Drummer Russell Batiste sums the band’s situation up when he says, “We start having fun even before we even get up on that stage. When we do get up onstage, we bring that fun with us.”

 

Joe Krown

Joe Krown represents those members of the New Orleans music community who were not from New Orleans, but arrived here through a combination of musical passion, rigorous study, and accumulated on-the-job experience. Raised on Long Island, New York, his first instrument was the piano, but while in college in upstate New York, he joined a rock-blues band in possession of a Hammond B3 organ, which he then learned to play. Eventually, he formed his own group based in Boston, Massachusetts, and in the late 1980s, seeking experience with a national touring act, joined the blues band of former Muddy Waters guitarist Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson.

In 1992, Krown accepted an offer to join the backing band with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, whose music bridged swing, jump blues, jazz and R&B. That gig exposed him to the top tier in internationally touring music acts, including associations with Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton, and brought him to New Orleans. Krown remained a member of “Gate’s Express” until the musician’s death in 2005, and since has played primarily solo and as leader or co-leader. His fluency on organ and piano, especially his familiarity with the classic New Orleans piano songbook, allows him to average anywhere from eight-to-10, and as many as 12-to-14, gigs a week.

Learned the most from:

“As far as seeing people in performance, hands down, I’d have to say Dr. John. He’s really been a quintessential influence. He plays piano, plays organ, and when I play standards, it comes out sounding like the way Dr. John would play a standard, maybe with a few more notes, but the same sort of feel.”

Appreciates playing in this group because:

“It’s an incredibly interactive band because everyone listens and flows with whatever’s happening. Even when you’re playing lead, you have to listen to what everybody else is doing. It winds up sounding like three musicians playing independently but playing within a single unit, completely in sync.”

Appears regularly at:

Ralph’s on the Park, Sunday brunch, 11:30 a.m.; also Ralph’s on the Park, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Most recent recording:

Exposed, a rip-roaring collection of solo boogie-woogie piano that includes original compositions and familiar covers, including a super-elegant, masterful take on the Allen Toussaint/Ernie K-Doe hit, “Mother-in-Law.”

 

Walter “Wolfman” Washington

Walter “Wolfman” Washington is the senior member of the band and was schooled musically through both the church and the remarkably vibrant 1950s and early 1960s New Orleans R&B scene. Several of Washington’s uncles were members of commercially active gospel groups and one of them gave Washington his first guitar at the age of 14. By the age of 16, Washington formed his own band, the True Love and Full Gospel Singers. Another family relative, the much-celebrated Ernie K-Doe, introduced him to the possibilities of playing music commercially. “He used to come home with a whole lot of money,” Washington says. “When I was little, I asked him what did he do to earn all that money, and he said, ‘Man, I play music.’”

Washington’s musical apprenticeship was served primarily as a member of the backing band for some of New Orleans’ finest R&B talent, playing first with Lee Dorsey, and then with New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas. For five years, Washington played with bandleader David Lastie, a prominent member of a well-known New Orleans family musical dynasty. “David knew everybody in the city,” Washington says. “He would introduce me to some of them, and each one would try to help me in some way or teach me something I didn’t know. It was like being in a college with all the professors.”

After becoming a mainstay in the backing band of Johnny Adams, one of New Orleans’ most talented and polished singers, Washington began to develop his own reputation on the scene. He subsequently started his own band, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and The Roadmasters, an old-time show band whose music combines and transcends the genres of jazz, R&B, gospel, and soul.

Learned the most from:

“Two people, really, David Lastie and Johnny Adams. David taught me how to listen to music and how to have my own interpretation, how to develop my own style. Johnny taught me about singing—how to control my voice, how to sing falsetto, and things like that. Also, understanding how to be flexible when it comes to time, how to sing behind the beat, ahead of the beat, and so forth, to make what you’re singing express more what that particular song is saying.”

Appreciates playing with these musicians because:

“What we do is like having a musical conversation, just like you’re having a conversation with another person, only musically. That’s another level of knowing how to play. It might look easy, but it can be hard for some people. Not these guys.”

Appears regularly at:

d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street on Wednesday nights; The Bayou Beer Garden on S. Jefferson Davis Parkway (with free admission) on Thursday nights; and twice monthly at trumpeter Irvin Mayfield’s I Club at the J.W. Marriott Hotel; will also be appearing with the Roadmasters at the French Quarter Festival on Saturday, April 14.

Most recent recording:

Doin’ the Funky Thing with the Roadmasters plus special guests Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Dr. John.

 

Russell Batiste

Russell Batiste comes by his musical talent the old-fashioned way—genetically. His father’s band, David Batiste and the Gladiators, was one of New Orleans’ most prominent R&B bands in the 1960s and 1970s. Raised in a household where favorite childhood memories include bouncing on soul singer Jackie Wilson’s knee while he sang “Lonely Teardrops” and falling asleep under drummer Zigaboo Modeliste’s stool while the Meters rehearsed in his living room, Russell soon became a precocious New Orleans musical talent, acquiring the skills of a dancing entertainer, saxophonist, bass player, and drummer by the age of seven.

In high school, he contributed drum cadences to the repertoire of the St. Augustine Marching 100 that are still in use today. He studied at Southern University for two years in the mid-1980s before joining Charmaine Neville’s backing band. While he was with that band in Paris, he got a call asking him if he wanted to join a reconstituted version of the Meters. Of the original four members, three—Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, and George Porter, Jr.—had agreed to a reunion, but they needed a drummer. When Nocentelli left in the early 1990s to be replaced by Brian Stoltz, the band became known as the funky Meters, with Russell Batiste their drummer to this day.

Learned the most from:

Kidd Jordan and Roger Dickerson at Southern University. Roger Dickerson was one of the great jazz piano players in New Orleans, and nobody really talks about him much. And Kidd Jordan—without him I wouldn’t have the feeling for music I do today because he makes you play music. Whatever you have in your heart musically, he gets it out of you. Those two changed my life. They got me behind the piano and taught me musical composition.”

Appreciates playing with these musicians because:

“The first year I went to Jazz Fest was 1983, and when I heard Walter Washington’s band playing, all I remember was running up to the barricades, and screaming at the top of my lungs, like it was the Beatles or Michael Jackson or something. But I never got a chance to play with him before this. In this band, we play everybody’s music—my music, Joe’s music, and Walter’s music. That’s the ultimate respect you can have as a member of a band. We play a few cover tunes, too, but we play them the way only this trio could play them.”

Appears regularly at:

Funky Meters gigs throughout the country and around the world; also appearing with Russell Batiste and Friends at the French Quarter Festival, Saturday, April 14.

Most recent recording:

Follow Your Dreams, Russell Batiste and Friends

 

Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste play French Quarter Festival on Friday, April 13 at 4 p.m. on the Abita Beer Stage.