When musicians record music, their hope is that listeners will be awed by their compositions’ melodies and riffs, blown away by the lead guitarist’s deconstruction of Django Reinhardt, left speechless by the surreptitious sampling of the Soft Machine, enraptured by the contrapuntal references to Timi Yuro. And sometimes, the best that musicians can expect is that folks will play their CDs while waxing the floors and obliterating mildew in the shower stall.
Take the case of Aural Elixir (led by vocalist/songwriter/keyboardist/trumpeter Jesse Holt) and its Love & Grappling album, recorded at RCA Studio B in Nashville, the same place where Elvis Presley once cut “Blue Christmas.” “I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about our CD,” explains Ms. Holt. “Everyone seems to like it. The biggest response I get is that the CD is good music for cleaning your house.”
The members of Aural Elixir are from everywhere but here: Jesse Holt, originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, arrived in New Orleans in 1995, accompanied by Aural bassist Jim Ankar, a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Vocalist/guitarist/clarinetist Lynn Drury is from Picayune, Mississippi, and drummer Dylan “Sticks” Hicks is a Chicagoan who came to New Orleans to pursue a degree in Jazz Studies at UNO, under the tutelage of Ellis Marsalis.
Music attracted Jesse to New Orleans although not necessarily the music of say, Professor Longhair or “Tuts” Washington: “The first time I came to New Orleans, in ’93, to see Smashing Pumpkins at the State Palace Theatre, I was really into Smashing Pumpkins but when I got here and saw the city, it totally diminished the concert for me because New Orleans was amazing! Growing up in Florida, I had never heard of Mardi Gras. There’s nowhere like New Orleans. I like walking around, just looking at all the old things.
“I don’t think I would write as many songs if I lived anywhere else. New Orleans has the constant stimulation of art and music and culture. It makes me want to write.
“I write songs all the time. I get snippets of ideas while I’m walking through the French Quarter or driving. I do most of my writing while I’m actually sitting at a piano in my house or at someone else’s house. On the song “Wastin’ My Wantin’,” I had this old car—a turbo-diesel Volvo—and this guy ran a stop sign and wrecked my car. I was really attached to the car. The song is a poem I wrote about the car and then I put it to music.”
Precipitation has proved to be another inspirational force: “When I wrote ‘Muse Me,’ it was raining. For some reason, I usually write better in the rain. I had the chord progression in my mind and then I started free-writing—it was just there. It was weird—it’s not often you can just free-write and half an hour later, you’ve got three verses of a song. Sweet! It’s like I was asking for the muse to come because I wanted to write a song. I was sitting in the rain, under a patio, and I was writing this poem, asking the muse for a song. After I was done writing the poem, I thought ‘Wait—my request is a song!’ It was kind of magical.”
About the band’s name, blame it on the original Mother of Invention: “Frank Zappa is one of my ultimate heroes and he made this movie called 200 Motels. There’s a running joke in it about elixirs—how you get this fabulous elixir, good for everything, put it on your car, on your toothbrush, clean your clothes with it. I had that idea and I knew I wanted it to be some type of elixir. We actually do other configurations of the band—Elixir Sisters is me and Lynn and Dave Stover on upright bass. Mystery Elixir has different special guests. I liked the concept of having an elixir, which is liquid, combined with the word aural, which means for your ears.”
Elixirs, of a Turkish variety, dominate Jesse’s daylight hours. She works as a waitress at the Midnight Express, owned by Fatma and Suleyman Aydin, two of Aural Elixir’s biggest fans and the providers of Turkish treats for the band’s recent CD Release Party at Tipitina’s (where the band will return on July 11).
What’s the coolest Turkish elixir? Jesse suggests Cacik (pronounced Jajik): “It’s like a yogurt-based soup with fresh garlic, dill and cucumbers. In Turkey, it’s really hot over there—they just get cups of ice with Cacik, a little olive oil, and fresh herbs on top, and walk around and drink it. It’s really refreshing and super healthy. I’m learning Turkish word by word. I can say Hello, Goodbye, bread and a couple of other food-related items. Tourists think I’m Turkish.”
THE ART OF DR. JOHN
On Christmas Eve, l96l, Mac Rebennack (a.k.a. Dr. John) attempted to break up a fight between his band’s lead singer, Ronnie Barron, and an irate barroom patron. The patron’s gun discharged and most of Mac’s left ring finger was blown away, later to be reattached through several surgeries. The trauma of this incident forced Mac to give up the guitar in favor of playing keyboards.
Barron (who died in 1997), Rebennack and New Orleans painter (and Barron’s first cousin) Dmitri Fouquet were childhood friends. During Mac Rebennack’s last visit to New Orleans, he hooked-up with Fouquet and fell in love with two of the artist’s recent works: oil paintings of Marie Laveau and Baron Samedi. The pieces will now grace Dr. John’s next CD, Creole Moon, to be release October 9. The original paintings are currently on exhibit at La Belle Galerie, 309 Chartres Street.
Ernest Scott and Coffee secured a big break when they were booked to perform at this month’s Montreal Jazz Festival, otherwise known as Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. A contingent of Canadian journalists and a television film crew were flown down to Mandeville in early June to witness the scorching soulman and company in action at Ruby’s Roadhouse, a venue the band never fails to pack with extremely energetic dancers. The latest addition to Coffee is drummer T. K. Lively, who, for the last 20 years, has propelled Wet Willie.
STILL WITH US
Orange Eye vocalist/bassist Erik Corriveaux was alarmed to learn, when he visited his hometown of Portland, Maine, that his high school alumni association had pronounced him dead. “We’re still very loud,” Corriveaux confesses, concerning his “sexadelic amplified hypnotic rock ‘n’ roll band,” and still breathing. Orange Eye is on the bill with Motorway and Overtone at the Howlin’ Wolf on July 7.
The week before Jazz Fest, OffBeat’s staff was startled by the sight and sound of fire engines racing past our office and down Frenchmen Street. Heading outside to witness the source of the commotion, we discovered our neighbor Coco Robicheaux’s apartment, above Café Brasil, in flames. The fire claimed virtually all of Coco’s earthly possessions. On July 18, Ernie K-Doe, Davell Crawford, Henry Butler, Marva Wright and many other local musicians will stage a benefit for Coco at House of Blues, commencing at 8 p.m.