“I got the nickname when I was working with Lucky Peterson, a blues artist that I started touring with in my twenties, when I went around the Chitlin’ Circuit with a lot of blues artists. I’ve played piano since I was 14, and started playing with bands on Bourbon Street when I was 18. I’m 49 now.
I know 18,000 songs. I was playing at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in ’98 when an agent came in and asked me if I wanted to go to Norway. From there, I went to Holland and played the largest dueling piano bar in the world, Crazy Pianos, which is still running. We had 22 piano players on staff. I learned the craft of how to do the dueling show—it became part of my trick bag.
I came back to New Orleans and opened Howl at the Moon on Bourbon Street in 2001 and everything was great—until Katrina hit, when I lost my home in Lakeview. Ended up in Vegas, doing the dueling piano show at New York–New York, Harrah’s, all those places in Vegas. Then I was offered a cruise-ship gig: ‘It’s amazing. You’ll see the world.’ I loved it, spent three years on the cruise-ship circuit. The cruise-ship director told me that I needed to have a different show for all the 50 days people are aboard the ship. So one day I’d learn the Rolling Stones, one day the Beatles, one day country songs, and putting all these charts into an iPad, which had just come out. Then a friend gave me a PDF file with 800 songbooks. I’m stuck on a ship so what else could I be doing? I went through it all quickly, learning 10 songs a day of top hits by every band. I entered it all into an organized system and 18,000 songs became part of my repertoire.
For the most part, unless it’s something that needs to be extremely charted out, I can play it. If it follows the typical pattern of a country song, or rock song, or reggae, if it follows that pattern—and most hits do—I can listen to it one time and play it. I’ve been playing Lafitte’s since ’93—that gig, with all its tradition, is sacred. Playing it is the highest honor I have.
I’m very blessed, and very grateful, that I’m doing what I love. The only thing that could be better is if I put recordings of my own songs out there. I’ve written about 400 original songs, but haven’t released them. I feel like writing is my greatest gift. A song’s story, its message, has more value to me than the music itself: losing someone you love, coming home from war, dealing with your own issues. That gives me purpose—like a doctor healing someone—and that is everything to me.”