It’s Mardi Gras 1975 as Paul and Linda McCartney arrive in New Orleans to celebrate the New Year and record a new album—Venus & Mars—at Allen Toussaint’s Sea-Saint Studios. Just a few weeks earlier, London’s High Court presided over the final dissolution of the Beatles partnership and the McCartneys decide that New Orleans at Carnival time would be a great place to soothe their frayed nerves. They arrive at the riverfront via limousine and are greeted by a jazz band and a second line, a mob of fans and a throng of reporters. They handle it all with typical British aplomb—style and grace—amidst the unfolding pandemonium. All those microphones. All those flash cubes flashin’. Paul and Linda both don top hats as Paul grabs a pink umbrella and they start dancing. The crowd loves every second of it as they’re ushered onto a boat for a ride down the Mississippi.
“McCartney, just like Robert Plant and Eric Clapton, was inspired by New Orleans musicians. Professor Longhair, Benny Spellman, Ernie K-Doe, James Booker—all these people had been on Paul’s radar screen,” said Sidney Smith, current owner of Haunted History Tours and the man who McCartney hired to photograph his stay in the Big Easy.
“When McCartney arrived in New Orleans, he hadn’t gone on tour yet. This was before he started touring again—at least in the United States. The Beatles had broken up five years earlier, so his only experience with New Orleans was when he toured with the Beatles and that was just a whirlwind type of situation.” Back in September of ’64, the Beatles were staying at the Congress Inn Hotel on Chef Menteur Highway when they played City Park Stadium. Obviously, there was no time for sightseeing in the French Quarter on that particular trip.
“Drawn to the city for its vibrant culture and particularly its storied jazz and rhythm-and-blues heritage, Paul and Linda sublet an apartment for their family and lived like residents, walking the streets and visiting the shops and restaurants. The couple dressed as clowns, complete with heavily painted faces, for Mardi Gras, and when they heard music blaring from a bar, they usually went in to check out the band,” wrote Peter Ames Carlin in his 2009 biography Paul McCartney: A Life.
Back in those days, Dr. John hosted his annual “Mardi Gras Mambo” on Lundi Gras at the St. Bernard Civic Auditorium. Writer John Sinclair described the building as “a dreary 3,500-capacity hall distinguished only by its open dance floor.” Sinclair’s describes the event: “By the time the festivities ground to a halt five hours later, the capacity crowd had been turned every way but loose by the nitty-gritty Mardi Gras sounds laid down by the funky Doctor and his second-line pals. Filling the dance floor with their incredibly costumed presence—at least two thirds of the colorful mob was in full Mardi Gras drag, including half a dozen buddies decked out as a six-pack of Dixie beer—the freaked-out, under-30 audience danced, shouted, and generally partied its collective brains out in fulfillment of everybody’s wildest public fantasies, and the musicians had as much fun as everybody in the place.”
Sinclair also wrote in a concert review, “At the St. Bernard Civic Center, at the other town from the 3rd Ward, in a white-dominated neighborhood, with a young white audience milling around inside a standard service center milieu, the simple presence of Dr. John and the Meters gives the evening the authenticity and energy it needs to turn everybody royally around, and the spirit of the streets is transmitted directly to the children of the shopping centers.”
Paul and Linda McCartney thought the Mardi Gras Mambo would be a cool thing to attend and headed to St. Bernard on that Lundi Gras for the party.
“On this particular night, Paul and Linda McCartney dressed up as clowns so that they wouldn’t draw any attention away from Dr. John,” remembers Sidney Smith. “Well, apparently, they just dressed the part a little too well because Dr. John’s security crew literally threw them off the stage not knowing who they were.”
Nearly 40 years later, Dr. John still gets a good laugh over that night.
“Yeah ya’ right, ya’ know what I’m sayin’…McCartney got thrown off that stage in St. Bernard Civic Auditorium by my security team… that was a funny story …ha ha ha he he he he….”