Mother’s Day in May…Father’s Day in June… a family gathering for Independence Day—as summer rolls in, one’s family and the idea of family comes more clearly into focus. In New Orleans, family is never far from mind. Louisiana ranks as one of the states where the largest percentage of people born here stay here, which means that family is not only physically close, it’s also close mentally and emotionally. In our New Orleans music world, family is even more important. The vast scope of New Orleans musical families has not been adequately explored, but even a casual fan of the music of this region knows the names—Batiste, Neville, Marsalis, Andrews, French, and so many more. In the spirit of the family season, OffBeat talked to several musicians from around the city whose parents are musicians to find out what it is like to grow up with working musician parents and how it touched and influenced them.
All the musicians interviewed realized early on that their fathers and/or mothers were musicians. Darcy Malone, vocalist for Darcy Malone and the Tangle and daughter of Dave Malone (guitarist for the Radiators and Raw Oyster Cult) and Suzy Malone (an original Pfister Sister), says, “I remember watching my dad onstage when I was little bitty. I mean, I’ve been going to Jazz Fest since I was a fetus.”
Jenard Andrews, drummer for the New Breed Brass Band and son of James Andrews, trumpeter for James Andrews’ All Star Brass Band, recalls “As far back as I can remember, I was by my dad’s side at second lines or I got snuck into Tipitina’s for shows.” Bassist Annie Clements, who got her start in New Orleans but now lives in Nashville and tours with everyone from Sugarland to Amos Lee, states of her dad Cranston Clements, guitarist for Boz Scaggs, Dr. John, Maria Muldaur and Twangorama, “I would tag along to some of my dad’s gigs and fall asleep in his guitar case on the side of the stage.” But for some, it took a little longer to appreciate their musician parents. Over the phone, Sasha Masakowski, singer for the art-rock band Hildegard, laughs, “It sank in at high school that my dad was a musician. Before that, it wasn’t very cool. He did boring jazz music—music for old people. I say that light-heartedly. My freshman year of high school, I used to carpool with the Craft brothers (who play with Sweet Crude) from Ben Franklin to NOCCA. And my freshman year, the first day that I met Jack Craft, he came over to me and said, ‘No way. Let me see your hands.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, okay…’ and he took my hands and said, ‘Gosh, you have your father’s hands.’ I was like, ‘What?’ And that was the first time that anyone had ever referenced my dad in that musical superstar way.”
Despite having musician parents, nobody we talked to felt different from their peers whose parents had more straight-world occupations. As Andre Bohren of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes says about his dad, songwriter and guitarist Spencer Bohren: “I had a lot of friends who had musician dads—John Magnie’s kids, Darcy Malone. I didn’t think about it. That was his job. Some dads coach baseball. My dad plays music.” In Malone’s case, “It was mainly good, but it made me feel different from my friends. It felt super cool because dad was this rock star musician to me, and I thought that was really neat. I didn’t have the dad who wore the tie and had this regular job. It made me look up to him. Then again, with him being on the road all the time, my life as a kid was different because I couldn’t have sleepovers and things like that. In that sense, it wasn’t like a normal average childhood, but I enjoyed every moment of it.”
When musical ambitions and talents surfaced in their kids, parents encouraged them, but with the usual caveats. Johnny Marcia, the percussionist who took over his dad Oscar’s band Los Sagitarios and transformed it into the Latin band Rumba Buena, said, “My dad made me realize it would be hard work. In Latin music, there are a lot of different rhythms and beats. It took me a while to learn it. I had to practice every day.” For Jenard Andrews, there was his dad, but also the neighborhood made him want to play. “When my dad saw that I had the interest in it, he encouraged me and helped me. Seeing Uncle Troy [Trombone Shorty] playing too—Troy is closer to my age, so I thought I could really do that. It’s inspiring. And I grew up at St. Philip and Robertson in Treme—that’s the heart of Treme. Everything happened right there, so I got to hear and experience it. When the Treme neighborhood was really rich with music, it was like every day you saw something happening. You saw a band every day, whether they were practicing or marching along in the neighborhood or a funeral would be happening or just playing. There was music happening every day.”
Both Malone and Bohren were cautioned about becoming musicians. Bohren laughs, “When I started doing gigs and when my dad saw that I was going to take it seriously, he said, ‘I’m sorry. This is a hard road.’ He’s not serious at all. He knows how hard it is.” For Malone, “My dad tells me to this day, ‘I knew there was no stopping you. It was going to happen, but I felt that you needed to know there are some not so glamorous things with being in or even attempting to be in the music business.’ And he’s right. My mom also told me that it’s a nasty business and you always have to be careful.”
They were all cautioned about being musicians, but no one was discouraged. That goes against the cliché of parents telling their kids that being a musician will never result in anything positive. It speaks well to the culture of New Orleans that not only do parents encourage their children’s musical pursuits, but that music is important and crucial to our culture.
Even though most of the musicians here are well into their careers, they still get advice from their parents. Johnny Marcia recalls, “Dad taught me well. He’s said that some people will try to take advantage of me. He also told me to always be a man of your word. Be respectful. Always be honest and fair.”
Sometimes the advice has been about both music and business.
Andrews says that both his dad and his uncle give him advice. “I talk to him every day, and he makes sure I’m doing the right stuff with my band business-wise and music-wise. Every day he has a new piece of advice for me, every day.”
Masakowski credits her dad: “Once I started studying jazz, my dad kind of held my feet to the fire by making me play with him. We started playing shows together, and he is such a great improviser. He told me, ‘If you’re going to be a singer, you need to be a strong improviser to be able to keep up with all these horn players. You need a deep understanding of music and a really strong ear.’ The most important thing he ever told me was to make sure the music is as good as it can possibly be, and the rest will fall into place. Once you master your craft and you work on your music and your art and you get it as refined and as good as it can possibly be, everything will fall into place as it should.”
Clements learned both from listening to her dad and observing his work habits. “I definitely learned by just watching him and understanding how these things work. Here’s how you show up prepared for a gig. Here’s how you learn songs. Here’s how you chart songs. Here’s what you have to do to show up on time and be a professional. And still, every time I talk to him, I have some questions: ‘Dad, what do you think about this scenario?’ He’s been my number one resource for everything related to music business stuff. You are your own small business. You are managing yourself. It’s a lot to navigate. You have to go to bat for yourself a lot and stick up for yourself a lot. You have to look out for yourself for sure. And in those moments where I’m not sure what to do and how to handle something, dad is my first call.”