John Boudreaux Jr., the drummer who perhaps embodied the sound of New Orleans most perfectly, and who played on many of the most successful early ’60s New Orleans records, died in Los Angeles on January 14, from cardiac arrest due to diabetic complications. He was 80.
“What John Boudreaux was doing on drums deserves a special look,” noted Mac Rebennack. “Instead of playing the backbeat on the snare, he played a New Orleans funk cha-cha. Suddenly, the Supremes ‘Baby Love’ and other Motown hits had John’s groove stamped on them. They didn’t know how to play as funky as Boudreaux, but you could hear it just the same.”
John Boudreaux Jr. was born December 10, 1936 in New Roads, Louisiana. He and his extended family moved to New Orleans in a house on St. Philip Street. At the age of 14, he began playing drums, and by 1952, he was occasionally backing Professor Longhair. By the mid ’50s, Boudreaux became the Hawketts’ regular drummer, playing on the classic “Mardi Gras Mambo.”
By the late ’50s, Boudreaux began doing session work at Cosimo’s studio with Rebennack for the Ace, Ric and Ron labels. Irma Thomas’ “Don’t Mess With My Man,” Johnny Adams’ “I Won’t Cry” and Longhair’s remake of “Go To The Mardi Gras” were among his early credits.
“Then Allen Toussaint hired me and started having hits,” said Boudreaux in 2002. “I played on K-Doe’s “Mother-In-Law,” Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That” and “Land of 1,000 Dances,” on Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.”
Then Boudreaux joined Harold Battiste’s team at AFO.
“We recorded Price La La’s ‘She Put The Hurt On Me’ and Barbara George’s ‘I Know.’”
In 1963, the entire AFO team moved to greener pastures in California.
“I wanted to go someplace where I could study music. I wasn’t getting that [in New Orleans].”
Gigs were few-and-far between at the get-go, but Boudreaux persevered, moving his family West. Eventually, Sam Cooke hired him for several sessions, as did Battiste, who began producing the duo Sonny and Cher.”
“I hooked up with Mac again [then] and worked on the Gris-Gris album. That’s when his career started taking off. Him and Harold came up with that concept during the Haight-Ashbury era. I enjoyed that music because it allowed me to be really creative.”
Boudreaux played with a wide variety of musicians until the millennium, when he began concentrating on modern jazz. At that point, because of nerve damage in an elbow, he could no longer play drums, instead switching to saxophone. He recorded two CDs in that style.
John Boudreaux was buried in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife Ruby Mae, and three children.