At last, Ben Sandmel’s long-awaited tome about singer Ernie K-Doe, possibly the wildest character to call the Crescent City home, has arrived. In Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans, Sandmel does a fine job of documenting the details of K-Doe’s life and providing insight into the history of New Orleans popular music in the last half of the 20th Century. In the course of writing about K-Doe’s youth, career, eccentricities and relationships, Sandmel explains New Orleans R&B, WWOZ, hipsterism, Jim Garrison’s anti-corruption campaign and transvestites, among other subjects. His research is impeccable, with great analyses of K-Doe’s hits and misses, as well as rare transcriptions of K-Doe’s radio broadcasts.
All the infamous K-Doe events are here, from his girlfriend getting shot at Tipitina’s by another girlfriend to his showdown with James Brown to his studio scuffle with Benny Spellman. In his telling of the K-Doe saga, Sandmel leaves almost no stone unturned, but there is a piece missing nonetheless. Throughout his chronicle of K-Doe’s antics and pronouncements, there is little exploration of the deeper K-Doe. K-Doe was an outlandish person to say the least, but there must have been something underneath that brash, ego-driven “Burn, K-Doe, Burn” character. Or was there? Sandmel rarely delves deeper than the K-Doe we all knew, loved/hated and feared.
That not withstanding, Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans is required reading for anyone who wants to understand New Orleans, New Orleans music, or how far eccentric belief in oneself can take a person.