John Broven has loved American music since he was a student at Bexhill Grammar School in Sussex, England. Broven’s distinguished writing career began in 1963 with the debut of Blues Unlimited magazine, co-founded by Bexhill alumni Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier. The issue featured Broven’s story about J.D. Miller, Slim Harpo’s Crowley, Louisiana–based producer.
Following visits to New Orleans in 1970 and 1973, Broven wrote his groundbreaking book about New Orleans R&B, Walking to New Orleans. Gretna’s Pelican Publishing Company issued the first American edition in 1978 as Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans. A revised one appeared earlier this year.
Why did you do a major revision of Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans?
For a long time, I was content that this book stood as a testament to music history and record research in the 1970s. But 42 years on, it was time to update the basic biographical data. More importantly, I interviewed New Orleans artists post-publication. Those interviews are in the new edition. In the final chapter, I bring the New Orleans rhythm and blues story up to date.
Do you have a favorite New Orleans artist?
Fats Domino. The book’s primary focus was on Fats. With the new edition, I’ve been able to widen the net and emphasize the importance of others.
At this year’s Satchmo Symposium, you’ll speak about songs recorded by Fats that previously were recorded by Louis Armstrong.
‘Blueberry Hill’ was a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1949. In effect, Louis gave Fats his biggest hit. I also want to emphasize the continuity of New Orleans music. Whether it’s Louis or Fats, it’s New Orleans music, isn’t it?
Did your goals for Walking to New Orleans include drawing renewed attention to New Orleans artists?
I made my first trip to New Orleans in 1970 with Mike [Leadbitter] and Simon [Napier]. We met Archibald, Professor Longhair and Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. All of them were in desperate situations. That was the impetus for me to say to myself, ‘Let’s do something about this.’ And then Mike said, ‘When are you going to write a book?’ I said, ‘What about?’ He said, ‘New Orleans, surely.’
What makes New Orleans rhythm and blues so special?
Warmth exudes from Fats Domino’s records. That is the keystone. Rhythm is another factor. That derives from the streets. And, as we all know, it’s about everybody having a good time.
Americans don’t realize how much their music is revered overseas. Not just New Orleans music. American rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll records in general. But New Orleans music, in particular, has an uplifting quality.
John Broven will present Fats Domino Meets Satchmo at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, August 6, at Le Petit Théatre du Vieux Carré.