Couturiere Coco Chanel was once the toast of Paris. These days, she’s been replaced by bluesman Coco Robicheaux, who will spend the first two weeks of this month performing for Parisians at Chesterfield’s. Back home in the Faubourg Marigny, Robicheaux is just one of the neighbors. In the City of Lights, he’s a star.
“Some of the major artists like Robert Cray or Bonnie Raitt can only sell like 4,000 records a year in France,” Coco explains. “If they decide they like you, like they do me, you can sell thousands and thousands, which I do. They love their feral Louisiana cousins over here-they’ve got a soft spot for that. They love to hear you try to speak French. They feel kinda protective-they lead me by the hand basically when I get over there.”
The French audiences are not exactly like their New Orleans counterparts: “The first three rows are critics with their arms crossed: ‘So, this is the great Coco Robicheaux-we shall see!’ So they sit there and you’re supposed to make these cats have a good time. The hep cats are always there up against the wall.
“I actually know my way around Paris now. I was walking down the street and some cat came out with a ’57 Les Paul and he wanted me to sign it with a black marker. I said, ‘I can’t!’ He said, ‘It would mean everything to me!’ That guitar was beautiful-didn’t have a scratch on it.”
In conjunction with Coco’s triumphal return to the land of Napoleon and Brigitte Bardot, he is releasing his third CD, Hoodoo Party, the name derived from his friend Tabby Thomas’ ultra-cool blast-from-the-past, which Coco righteously covers on the new disc. Produced by Carlo Ditta, the album is a joint endeavor of Ditta’s Orleans Records and Frenchman Philippe LeBras’ Sky Ranch label.
“We recorded it in a two-week period, starting Valentine’s Day and we finished up on 3-3-00,” numerologist Coco says. “We recorded it in a garage in St. Tammany and we had it mastered up in the American Sector by John Fischbach, who mastered [Stevie Wonder’s] Songs in the Key of Life, among other things. We did it mostly live-there’s a couple of overdubs but nothing really fancy. We did the whole thing in four days in four sessions.
“The core of it is the Pat Ramsey Band-Pat did the Red, White and Blues album with Johnny Winter back in 1970. He’s based out of Mississippi now. Dave Renson on guitar is a mind-blower.”
The moment is what Coco is intent upon capturing: “I don’t even listen to myself much. I listen to it a few Helvetica when I first finish it. I know cats that go over and over it, saying, ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve played this note!’ I’m not perfect so why should my music be?
“I think some of these cats stay in the studio for a year and they’ll play a guitar thing that’s glued together from like 50 different things. I think it’s wrong because some young kid will hear that and they’ll say, ‘Why should I even try? I can never play that!’ I know artists who went back after they did good and tried to destroy all their early efforts. They didn’t want any of that stuff out there, showing that at one point, they were learning and developing.
“I have a lot of people tell me that they appreciate that they run into me just walking around the French Quarter. A lot of cats just distance themselves if they get a taste of success-they make like a vow to never eat Popeyes Chicken again. I do love New Orleans and I love being here. The Frenchmen ask me, ‘Why don’t we get you an apartment?’ I said, ‘You would hate me then-you only love me because I’m from New Orleans.'”
Les Is More
Another frequent visitor to Paris, New Orleans guitarist/vocalist Les Getrex, will debut his new CD, 300 Miles, at a recital to be held April 30 at the palatial Orpheum Theatre. The special guests will include vocalist Linda Hopkins (whom Getrex met in Paris), James Andrews, Davell Crawford, Timothea, Gil Clark, Anthony and Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Walter “Wolfman” Washington and the Cinnamon Diamond Dancers. The backing players-all major-leaguers themselves-will be bassist Alonzo Johnson, guitarist Paul “Li’l Buck” Sinegal, violinist Michael Ward, trumpeter Tracy Griffin, saxophonist Brian “Breeze” Coyole, keyboardists Bob Andrews and Marc Adams, and no less than three drummers: Earl Smith, Russell Batiste and Raymond Webber.
“I started playing with a group called Burnt Toast & Coffee,” Getrex reminisces. “I was trying to teach myself guitar on my porch and a guy passed by in a car and he stopped and said, ‘Hey, you play with a band?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘You sound good enough to play-come and play with us.’ And then I was in a band. I’m self-taught. I played with those guys for a couple of years and then I started playing with the AFBs-Walter Washington’s old band. Walter left the band and I took his slot. I played with that band for seven or eight years and left them to play with Fats Domino. I played with Johnny Adams and Lee Dorsey. I started Marva Wright out-Marva didn’t know but two songs when I met her. I was the first one to give her a gig.”
Subsequently, Getrex spent five years strumming the strings with Rockin’ Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters. As for his vocal abilities, they are encyclopedic: “I sing it all-funk, jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, country.” The man is not kidding-on his previous solo CD, Fall In Love, Getrex covers the works of Sam Cooke, Willie Dixon, Johnny Ace, Harry Belafonte, Fats Domino and Hot Chocolate (perpetrators of the great ’70s ballad, “Brother Louie”-no relation to the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”). “Fall In Love” is an irresistible original work, composed by Getrex, which reappears, in a new form, on 300 Miles. The song’s sentiments are perfect for a spring day as nature erupts in blossoms and pollen: “Fall in love-be a man, take a stand, find someone and fall in love again.” That’s a command almost as beautiful as the aforementioned Ms. Bardo’s epigram, “Floating through life on a cloud of love.”
The New Orleans International Music Colloquium returns to the Old Mint (also known as the Louisiana State Museum) on April 14 and 15. This year’s theme is “The Latin Tinge: New Orleans, the Gulf and the Caribbean” and the speakers include cultural commentator Dr. Frederick Starr, artist/vocalist George Schmidt, artist/pianist Tom McDermott, Caribbeanologist Gene Scaramuzzo and Mexican historian Jose Castaneda, who has completed extensive research on the Tio family, which moved from Tampico, Mexico to New Orleans in the 19th century and became preeminent in the realm of Crescent City piano instruction. The Colloquium is free to those who register in advance by calling (800) 568-6968.
Have Bass, Will Travel
German bassist Peter Kowald, renowned proponent of “free jazz,” is touring America this spring in a rented Buick station wagon and will arrive in New Orleans on April 4 for a series of concerts. Kowald will perform a solo bass concert at the Fine Arts Center (1733 Constantinople) on April 4; lead an Improvisors’ Workshop at the Mermaid Lounge on April 5 (with local players Greg Wildes and Rob Cambre); and conspire with saxophonist Kidd Jordan and drummer Alvin Fielder at the Zeitgeist Arts Center (1724 Oretha Castle Haley) on April 6. Kowald’s previous co-conspirators include Rashied Ali, Billy Bang, Toshinori Kondo, video master Nam June Paik and a score of others.
The Apple of My Eye
The last time Fiona Apple performed at House of Blues she was battling the flu and gulping tea between songs. Nevertheless, it was one of the greatest performances I have ever witnessed (and that’s counting Jimi Hendrix armed with a can of Zippo and the Grateful Dead the night they were busted on Bourbon Street). Fiona returns to House of Blues on April 9 and should not be missed. Might I quote from her latest release: “You fondle my trigger, then you blame my gun!” Now that’s poetry.