“I was a late-in-life baby, so my mom grew up in a different era in New Orleans. She loved music. My mom knew the music scene. She knew Louis Prima. When ‘Hello Dolly’ was on TV, she told me, ‘That’s Louis Armstrong. He’s from New Orleans.’ And anytime Louis Armstrong popped up on TV, she’d say, ‘Keith! Louis Armstrong’s on TV. Come see him. You know you love him.’
How could you not love him?
My first instrument was trumpet. I grew up playing trumpet in the marching band culture and I was in a drum-and-bugle corps. I marched in all the parades all Mardi Gras long.
We supported our drum-and-bugle corps by working at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. From the time I was 12, we got to go to the Jazz Festival. We weren’t old enough to sell beer, so we picked ice. After four hours of picking ice we could go enjoy the Jazz Festival. Man, we got to see everybody. We saw Dr. John. Thousands of people were listening to Dr. John. And when he did ‘Right Place, Wrong Time,’ everybody raised their hands in the air and sang the ‘oos.’ It was amazing.
I was in the drum-and-bugle corps with Paul Sanchez. We traveled all over the country. He brought his guitar and played Beatles songs. The girls would get in a circle around him and just swoon. I’d see that and say, ‘Damn. I want to do that.’ So, Paul Sanchez is the reason I play guitar.
I played trumpet and French horn at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and I played guitar in the pep band for basketball games. My professor told me to drop out. He had played trombone with Dr. John in the 1960s. He said, ‘Aren’t you from New Orleans? Look, you’re not going to learn what you want to learn here. Go home and get in a band. Play on Bourbon Street. You’re going to learn performance down there.’ And he was serious. I said, ‘OK.’ I was 18 and I’d already played at a place called Papa Joe’s. I had started hanging out with the street musicians in the Quarter when I was 15.
Michael Sklar was my guitar hero. Michael and Red Priest were in J. Monque’D’s band. They had their own thing called New Orleans Blues Department. I fawned over them because they played the blues.
Michael and I stayed in touch the whole time I lived in South Carolina and worked in ministry. He pushed me back into music and gave me my first gig. He said, ‘You need to come back. You need this.’”
Keith Stone with Red Gravy plays Blues, Brews & BBQ in Violet at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, and the Voice of the Wetlands Festival at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13 in Houma.