IS R&B DEAD?
You asked if New Orleans R&B is dead [Weekly Beat March 26]. I don’t think it is—at least as long as the great New Orleans drummers keep the foundation intact. Shannon Powell, Raymond Weber, Johnny Vidacovich, Herman Ernest, Bunchy Johnson, Stanton Moore, Gerald French, Russell Batiste, Jeffrey Alexander and so many others have New Orleans R&B running through their veins. The great rhythm sections have always drawn non-New Orleanians to record here—from Little Richard and Roy Brown in the 1950s to very recent recordings by the Blind Boys of Alabama and John Scofield.
It may be the ranks of singers, songwriters and wonderfully eccentric stylists that have been most severely depleted by the recent losses of Eddie Bo and Snooks Eaglin. So many of the great and iconoclastic New Orleans artists—James Booker, Earl King, Professor Longhair, Johnny Adams—are also gone. We’re lucky that we still have Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville and Walter Washington, who are performing in 2009 with undiminished vitality. Still, these artists are veterans who came of age in the golden age of New Orleans R&B.
And therein lies the challenge. While musicians such as Troy Andrews, Jon Cleary, John Gros and Davell Crawford are stoking the fire, it’s hard to think of a younger person who is truly carrying the torch of New Orleans R&B—a great singer/communicator/songwriter who has figured out where to go next. The foundation is as strong as ever, just waiting for someone to finish the building. It won’t necessarily sound like anything we’ve already heard, but it’s happened before, and I have faith that it will happen again.
—Scott Billington, Cambridge, MA
As all the ’40s and ’50s stars of the R&B heyday have died or are in the last few years category, the stars of the ’60s and ’70s are dropping now.
After that the attention turns to the new music and the influx of white performers who though talented and respectful of the originators can be nothing more the imitators.
Rock and roll, R&B, Gospel and funk are all black originals from a bygone age. The young can imitate, copy, rip off, but it just ain’t the same.
I am a soul/ R&B / funk fanatic aged 58 and I came to New Orleans regularly at Jazz Fest time to visit my heroes Eddie Bo, Snooks Eaglin, Ernie K Doe, Gatemouth Brown, etc. But no longer will I fly over for the music.
—Alan Shellard, Wiltshire, UK
Feel your vibe about the passing of the old New Orleans R&B scene. I was late for dinner by virtue of my date of birth but did manage to see the Tan Canary and the Amazing Earl King a few times. The old sound is better than just about everything and it’s tough to watch the embers fade. Just got back from a long weekend in the city and of all the hip tunes I heard from Frenchmen Street to Chickie Wah Wah, the most singular was Lee Dorsey’s “Holy Cow” over at Vaughns with the BBQ Swingers. Sang it all weekend—at the pool, in the shower, probably off-key. Eventually, my companions were compelled to organize an intervention by stuffing my mouth with Zapps.
—Christopher Hammersla, Baltimore, MD
THREE YEARS AND COUNTING
I’m writing to you as a recent transplant to this amazing city. I got definite thoughts on the subject of the deaths of these music greats. It’s a loss… a terrible loss. But there’s good news in all this as well—for music is something that can be passed on to others. If you play, you can teach your children, your friends, etc. This would have been the greatest loss of all I believe if the city had been left in it’s flooded out devastated state after Katrina.
Three years ago plus a few months, I came here thinking that I would only stay a few months doing relief work after the hurricane. I’m a ham radio operator among other things, and trained in water rescue as well so I really had no excuse to stay at home in Florida and watch the whole thing on CNN. I had to DO something.
Well, here’s what happened. Sort of half joking, a city worker who is also a jazz musician told me that if I was into music, I’d never leave. I laughed at him at the time. Well, it’s been three years and counting and I was forced to apologize for laughing. I’m here to stay, playing my gospel, blues and folk and doing my other job. And it’s MUSIC that kept me here.
—Lynn Magnuson WB7PTR, New Orleans, LA
You are a lucky person if Antoinette [K-Doe] touched your life and I count myself as one as one of them.
I live in Mobile, Alabama and visit New Orleans often with my mother (88) who has dementia. We always made it a point to stop in to visit Ms. Antoinette and if I didn’t have my mother with me I’d damn sure better have a good reason because Ms. Antoinette would give me “that look” and ask: “Where’s your Mama?!” She would fix my mom a soda, fuss over her, make sure she was comfortable and only then would she turn her attention to me. Anyone who puts my mother first is “aces” with me!
To say Ms. Antoinette will be missed is an understatement!
May she rest in peace knowing her work will continue with the example she showed us.
—Jay McCaddin, Mobile, AL
MAKING A GOOD STARVING
I read with keen interest my buddy Jim Markway’s recent letter bemoaning the pitiful remuneration we musicians sometimes receive here in New Orleans. I’ve been in the trenches some 40 years now and am still struggling to become a financially viable “professional.” I usually answer the question “How’s the music business treatin’ ya?” with “I’m making a good starving!”
I applaud Jim’s articulate observations, coming from a hard-working, dedicated musician whom I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with since the late ’60s. Jim is a true “pro” and is not remotely exaggerating about the 300 gigs a year he does over and above his teaching schedule.
That said I would like to remind my fellow musicians we are, at least in part, dealing with something called the “entertainment industry,” a term that continues to strike fear in my heart. My checkered career as a “front man” has generally elicited comments like “Shut up and play some music!” as I ramble mindlessly or regurgitate tired puns between songs. I know I could have done better. Lack of rehearsal, disregard for logistics including P.A., lighting, advertising, personal appearance, etc. have all been a factor in my haphazard career. I’ve been very fortunate to have landed a few high-profile gigs and sessions along the way; however, the bulk of my efforts have revolved around “casual engagements” or local bars and nightclubs, which brings me at long last to my point: I wasn’t the least bit upset with the $18 dollars from the Old Point. I got to play with a gang of my favorite fellow musicians in the world and walked out feeling proud that the mighty Eric Traub didn’t hit me over the head with his Selmer!
Jim’s like a brother to me, Allyn Robinson’s drum work is as good as it gets, and I love Marc Adams to death. Marc warned me up front that the gig was a shoestring and I accepted the risk.
I would simply like to remind us players that we’re in a tough business, and we have to do our damndest to give people a reason to spend their disposable income.
—Cranston Clements, New Orleans, LA
You are the best magazine out there bar none and then to send out free CDs to subscribers! Well I can’t think of any reason not to be a lifetime subscriber. This has got to be one of the best deals out there during these tough economic times.
—Dean Styles, Winston-Salem, NC
I finally received the 2007 CD and it’s a knockout! You all did a great job on this one… At first listen I was pulled in, and each time since then have been amazed at the range of music going on in New Orleans now, as it has been for decades. Keep up the good work, and looking forward to 2008 CD.
—Lawrence Leake MD, Ocean Springs, MS
Published May 2009, OffBeat Louisiana Music & Culture Magazine, Volume 22, No. 5.