As someone whose first journalistic experiences were with the underground magazines of the 1960s, it is a remarkable privilege to edit a publication that celebrates the truly unfathomable pleasures of Louisiana’s musical heritage and future, music at once completely distinct from anything else in the Americas and at the same time profoundly influential on music and culture around the globe.
OffBeat is the world’s greatest music magazine if only because it covers the world’s greatest music. This publication is a sweet zephyr of fresh air in a world of slick fashion rags that still bear the names of the great music publications they once were.
Why is Louisiana’s music so rich? Because it’s a music played by, listened to and nurtured by its own people, not a coterie of record industry moguls and media tastemakers, The music of Louisiana breathes entirely on its own and is not subject to the corporate decisions of some accountant in another continent adding numbers for an international conglomerate.
The music industry has pretty much turned its back on the local and independent labels that record and distribute Louisiana’s music. These small companies are guerrilla warriors battling the handful of corporate giants bent on turning popular music into the soundtrack for the fashion industry.
Despite the odds, the music is surviving and even thriving, and with little ingenuity things may be even brighter down the road through the competitive options being offered by the internee OffBeat will do its part to promote this great art here in Louisiana and throughout the world.
This issue offers up some indication of what makes this region so special. Robert Cray raves about the culture here in the Bluesworthy column, likening it to visiting Brazil. Our staff of writers offer a tiny glimpse of the vast palette of music we were all treated to at Jazzfest 30, Letters come in from all over the world raving about the magical experience music lovers enjoy when they travel here.
One of the gut-level appeals of Louisiana’s music in general, and zydeco in particular, is that it is living folk music, which is why so many of the groups cull from the same material. Many of the songs are written about actual events, BooZoo Chavis has a laundry list of such material from songs about legendary parties to horses that he’s trained and tales of the exploits of his “Uncle Bud.”
At last year’s Jazzfest BooZoo took an interest in a monkey hand puppet wearing a baby T-shirt inscribed with the motto “Here comes trouble.”
“Bring dat monkey up here,” BooZoo commanded, and the monkey crowd-surfed its way to the stage, where BooZoo mugged with it, sat it next to him while he played and referred to it several times during the set. As it turns out Bre’dan, the man who gave BooZoo the monkey, had borrowed it from a girlfriend and managed to get it back from Boozoo before she found out what happened.
Naturally BooZoo wrote a song about the event, “You Stole My Monkey,” which became “Who Stole My Monkey” when the album came out, If there was any doubt what BooZoo was referring to, it disappeared when the monkey in question, once again animated by Bre’dan, showed up for BooZoo’s set at this year’s Jazzfest.
“You stole my monkey: Boozoo shouted, pointing his finger at Bre’dan and the wildly gesticulating puppet. BooZoo sang the song, making repeated refs to chimp and handler, then followed with some swamp justice.
“You stole my monkey, and you’re gonna pay for it!” BooZoo vowed, “You gonna look like a monkey, dat’s right, and you gonna look like a monkey when you get old!” Naturally BooZoo launched into the tune of the same name, leaving Bre’dan a little shaken by the curse.
The great Taj Mahal offered eloquent praise to our town during his inspired set at Jazzfest. “This is one of the greatest music festivals in the world,” said Taj. “It is by this that the test of them are judged. You don’t wait for the record industry to tell you what time it is!”
In fact, people are so gassed by the music of Louisiana that they’re putting together their own mini-fests. Less than a month after Jazzfest Philadelphia celebrated its 14th annual Jam On the River, featuring such Louisiana fare as Buckwheat Zydeco, Marcia Ball, Marva Wright and the BMW’s, C.J. Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana Band and Geno Delafose and the French Rockin’ Boogie.
The most impressive nod to Louisiana music’s cultural impact comes from the Montreal Jazz Festival, which will feature Louisiana artists as a special presentation during its 20th anniversary, from June 30-July II. This is one of the most prestigious international jazz festivals and its consideration of Louisiana amounts to high praise.
At a press conference for the Montreal festival at New York’s Odeon Cafe, Artistic Director Andre Menard expressed great excitement about the collaboration.
“In the past we have had Louisiana musicians at the event, but this year we are presenting several daily showcases of Louisiana music,” said Menard, an OffBeat reader and avid fan of Louisiana music. “There is an obvious affinity between the French-speaking people of Quebec and the French culture of Louisiana, and I think New Orleans should be a logical destination for Canadian visitors.”
Harry Connick Jr. makes his first appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival on June 30 in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Also performing will be Branford Marsalis, Zachary Richard with Freddy Koala, Buckwheat Zydeco, Henry Butler and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The festival also features a New Orleans style Jazz Cruise twice daily with performances by Wanda Rouzan, Henry Butler and Roland Stone on the dinner cruise and the Original Pinstripe Brass Band and Balfa Toujours on the midnight boat. Sounds like fun, and makes me think back to those magic Jazzfest cruises on the old President. Bonne chance!
New Orleans traditional jazz pioneer Nick LaRocca was recently remembered when a bust of the musician, sculpted by Disma Tuminello, was presented to the Louisiana State Museum. The ceremony took place at the Old U.S Mint at 400 Esplanade Avenue, where the Museum’s collection is extravagantly displayed.
As the leader of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, cornetist Dominic “Nick” LaRocca introduced the astonishing sounds of New Orleans jazz to the outside world when his band made the first jazz recording in 1917. During a tour to Chicago and New York the group recorded two tracks, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Original Dixieland Jazz Band One-Step.” Visitors to New Orleans should make a point of stopping by the Mint to look at this magnificent and intelligently-displayed collection that offers a detailed history of New Orleans jazz, from Buddy Bolden to the Millenium.
The Iguanas have accepted an invitation to play a week of summer concert dates with world-pop/jam band powerhouse Dave Matthews Band. They will share a bill from June 22–24 at Deer Creek, Indianapolis, and June 26-27 at East Troy, Wisconsin, and June 28 at Milwaukee’s Summet Fest.
The Dave Matthews Band regularly sells out major venues and were one of the top grossing tour acts in ’98. This is obviously great exposure for the Iguanas. Evidently, Derek Huston, sax man with the Iguanas, used to play in a band a decade or so ago in North Carolina with Leroy Moore, the sax player with Dave Matthews. They stay in touch, and during a recent phone conversation, Derek joked about being free to open up for Dave Matthews Band. Next thing you know, agents were calling agents, and the deal was done.
Huston also joined The Radiators during an outstanding Fest-closing performance performance at the Fair Grounds. The Rads have been on a mortal roll since celebrating their 20th anniversary at last year’s Fest, and their numerous performances during Jazzfest featured a lot of new material slated for a forthcoming album. The Jazzfest show opened with the outstanding new tune “Welcome to the Monkey House,” one of Ed Volker’s several science fiction landscapes, this one with a tip of the hat to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“We learned about 15 new songs over Christmas,” said Rads bassist Reggie Scanlan. “We boiled ’em down to four which we recorded for a demo, and we’re just playing them a lot now to see which ones come to the forefront.” The band plans to go into the studio over the summer.
Meanwhile, Scanlan and Dave Malone showcased their hot word-of-mouth side project Monkey Ranch at Tip’s Uptown. The group features Dave’s brother Tommy Malone from Tiny Town and the subdudes, along with the red-hot Theresa Andersson and the legendary “Mean” Willie Green.
This aggregation really cleared the decks and should be documented, but they seldom get the chance to play together because of conflicting schedules. The Malone brothers also appear on the excellent benefit album Get You a Healin’, reviewed in this issue.