KING JAMES & THE SPECIAL MEN
SATURDAY, APRIL 30—LAGNIAPPE STAGE, 5:35 P.M.
Jimmy Horn was playing upright bass in a “kinda stern” experimental jazz group 15 or so years ago when he realized what he really wanted to do was start a Fats Domino band where they could all just drink High Life at practice. It was a simple starting premise for King James and the Special Men, but in the years since, their Monday night hole-in-the-wall gig has become a packed, sweaty institution.
With their blazing horns, rollicking rhythm section and Horn’s party MC swagger, it’s easy to see why. The Special Men take old-school New Orleans R&B and get down and dirty with it. Really down and dirty. “I’m a good-time fun man,” Horn says. Performers as diverse as Danzig, Blowfly, Guitar Slim and Johnny Ramone have informed his work as a vocalist and guitar player, but he actually takes many of his cues as a frontman from the rap world, naming influences like Plies.
It’s a party band made up of wildly talented musicians, but it’s their unfakeable level of grit, dedication and blatant love for what they’re doing that really sets them apart.
“Antoinette K-Doe, rest in peace, she taught me a lot about how to carry myself in this town. She just set me straight in so many ways. And so lovingly,” Horn remembered. The first ramshackle incarnation of the Special Men took shape at the Mother-in-Law Lounge under her watchful eye, and Horn says that getting whipped into shape by Antoinette K-Doe prepared him for “finishing school” with Jessie Mae Hemphill, the old country blues matriarch with whom he lived on and off for four years.
“It was just me and her up in the trailer in northern Mississippi,” he remembered. “She’s an amazing artist, but also a really good person. And where Antoinette would try to include everybody, Jessie Mae didn’t give a shit. She was great. It was with her that ‘King James’ kind of took shape. Like, fuck it. Just say it. You’ll grow into it. Just start now, and throw it out there, and hold your head up. Don’t come at it halfway.”
They certainly haven’t. They play their first Jazz Fest this year, they have a full-length album due out soon, and their weekly gig is more and more on the map for visitors, but none of the extra notoriety comes at the expense of their spiritual origins (Fats, High Life). “We’re just doing our thing, in New Orleans,” Horn said. “As much as the town changes, or people feel, you know, their lifestyles are at risk… the more I dig in and keep doing what I’m doing. You know, keep cookin’, keep rockin’ the party.”