Jimmy’s Music Club was the hottest bar in New Orleans in the ’80s. I’m not talking about its popularity. I’m talking temperature. The place had air conditioning that was no match for 900 or so bodies crammed between the bar and the stage for rock shows. Sweltering, sweat-soaked, excellent heat stroke conditions. Ironically, Jimmy’s was the home of the Cold.
I don’t remember how many times the Cold played at Jimmy’s, but it was way more than at any other place. I do recall the excitement and madness. From my rhythm guitar position, stage left, I would look out over the crush of a crowd and think, “This is crazy. Someone could die.” I don’t think anyone actually did.
Thinking back, it seems funny that I didn’t worry more about our lead singer. Barbara [Menendez] was so active on stage that she would occasionally crash into her bandmates under those blaring hot stage lights while singing and dancing like a punk rock aerobic instructor. Among everybody in the room, she should have been most in danger of collapse. But she thrived in those conditions, and the crowd loved her abandon. Hey, at least she had some room to move.
Jimmy’s was also home base on nights when we weren’t performing. I would meet friends there for beers or just talk sports and politics with bartenders Craig and Frank and Charlie [Grace], who once ran for governor. (He lost.) And Davey the doorman, who constructed a large plywood “Cold” stage backdrop that we not only used at Jimmy’s but lugged to shows all over the country. And I would hang out with the ever-optimistic owner Jimmy Anselmo, who became a good friend.
But mostly I would go to Jimmy’s to hear local punk and new wave groups like the Normals, the Models and the Rock-a-Byes. I also saw lesser-known bands like the Socials, the Singles, the Executones. Never heard of them? Shoulda spent more time at Jimmy’s.
Interesting things happened at Jimmy’s, even when one of his acts bombed. I once sat in the back at the bar to watch a band that drew a grand total of two other on-lookers, both right in front of the stage. The lead singer stopped in the middle of a song, tried to kick half of his audience in the face, and told him, “Fuckin’ leave!” The guy dodged the boot, ignored the order, and the show resumed.
Sure, Jimmy occasionally booked an act that underwhelmed, but not often. He had a good reputation and so did his nightclub. Bands clamored to play there. Jimmy booked a lot of rhythm and blues acts and popular institutions such as the Neville Brothers and the Radiators. But he also took chances on raw punk and new wave bands. He recognized something interesting in the new music of the early ’80s and led the punk scene in New Orleans by showcasing local and out-of-town bands that other bars scoffed at.
He brought the mighty X from Los Angeles to his stage more than once, even after their first appearance drew just a half-full room. At that first show I remember thinking, as Exene [Cervenka] started the set by handcuffing herself to her microphone stand, “Did Jimmy bring this band here just for me?” No, but it felt that way. He understood the sensibilities of the punk and new wave crowd. Besides modern new wave groups, he also booked Eric Burdon, the Ventures and even Herman’s Hermits, among others. These were the fathers of the music we loved.
And Jimmy was no absentee owner. He was almost always there, closely observing the evening’s proceedings. He welcomed the musicians he booked, chatted up his guests and made sure not too much stuff got broken. He grew up the son of a New Orleans prizefighter and French Quarter nightclub owner, and he owned several other Uptown bars before he opened Jimmy’s Music Club. So he knew the business. He was good-natured and tolerant, to a point. When some idiot caused a problem, Jimmy showed the experience and directness of a guy who grew up in New Orleans barrooms. The asshole went out and the show went on.
The city needs more nightclub owners like Jimmy Anselmo, so it’s good that he is coming back to begin a new string of memorable shows. It was sure great to be there in the ’80s. Hot, sweaty and great.Jimmy’s Music Club reopens on December 28 with a reunion show featuring the Limit with Christian Serpas, Jeff Oteri and Manny Reyes; the Models; Stephie and the White Sox; and the Backstabbers.