Every New Orleanian has a top five list of acts to catch at Jazz Fest, and every visitor a list of dishes to sample, but here’s a real doozie for you. Quick. Name your five all-time favorite New Orleans or Louisiana recording artists. Tough? Name the five New Orleans or Louisiana recordings you’d want to take with you if you were stranded in a swamp (Swamp Island Discs—SIDs). A daunting task? Anyone would have a rough time narrowing down such lists—there’s simply too much good music to choose from. But what do you think Charmaine Neville’s five favorite records would be? Or Harry Connick, Sr.’s? Irma Thomas’? You get the idea. So here for you now are the OffBeat five artist and SID lists straight from the mouths of some of our city’s most-loved and most-listened-to celebrities.
Ron Edelstein, better known locally as Record Ron, knows his records. Owning hundreds of thousands of titles, Ron probably had the toughest time of all narrowing his list of favorites to a measly five.
Artists: Johnny Adams, Zachary Richard, John Mooney, Johnny J. and the Hitmen, Dr. John. Records: Telephone King (John Mooney), Desitively Bonnaroo (Dr. John), Mind Over Matter (King Biscuit Boy), Crawfish Fiesta (Professor Longhair), Rejuvenation (The Meters).
“Boy, you’re a mean guy,” Cosimo Matassa replied at my tall request. But after some heavy brainstorming, the renowned recording engineer and consultant came through.
Artists: Fats Domino, Aaron Neville, Annie Laurie, Irma Thomas, Mahalia Jackson.
Records: “Since I Fell for You” (Annie Laurie), “Pass the Hatchet” (Earl Stanley), “Graduation Day” (Stark Whiteman), “Southern Nights” (Allen Toussaint), “Tell It Like It Is” (Aaron Neville).
Charmaine Neville has what her father Charles calls his solo group—Diversity. The beautiful skittily-ittily R&B singer came up with a list that ranges in style from zydeco to jazz to that oh-so-soulful New Orleans R&B.
Artists: The Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Rockin’ Dopsie, Johnny Adams, Eddie Bo, Ernie K-Doe, Mr. G (“when they do their thing together”), Charmaine Neville and Friends.
Records: “My Darlin’ New Orleans” (Lil’ Queenie and the Percolators), Crazy People Music (Branford Marsalis), “Brother Blood” (The Neville Brothers), “(You Can Have My Husband, But Please) Don’t Mess With My Man” (Irma Thomas), any album by Wynton and Branford Marsalis.
Arguably the most well-known district attorney in the country these days, Harry Connick, Sr. knows who he likes from New Orleans:
Artists: Harry Connick, Jr. (#1 Favorite—What can you say?), Al Hirt, Bob and George French, Dave Bartholomew, Marsalis (“Last name needed only”).
Records: “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” (Harry Connick, Jr. with Dr. John), “A Closer Walk with Thee” (Pete Fountain), “Blueberry Hill” (Fats Domino), “They All Ask’d for You” (The Meters), “Junco Partner” (James Booker).
Modern jazz tenor saxophonist Alvin “Red” Tyler has worked with some amazing piano players over the years and recalls a few in his first list.
Artists: Ellis Marsalis, David Torkanowsky, Edward Frank, James Booker, Emile Vinette.
Records: “Once I Had a Secret Love” (Germaine Bazzle), “Big Chief, Part 1” (Professor Longhair), Standard Time Vol. 1 (Wynton Marsalis), “Ooh Poo Pah-Do” (Jessie Hill), Monkey Puzzle (Ellis Marsalis’ first album on the soon-to-be-revived A.F.O. label).
Snooks Eaglin, for all his expertise on guitar, chose R&B singers instead of axe-slingers on his list.
Artists: Walter “Wolfman” Washington (a worthwhile exception), Tommy Ridgley, Johnny Adams, Jessie Hill, “The late great” Bobby Mitchell.
Records: Walkin’ on a Tightrope (Johnny Adams), “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday” (Fats Domino), “Try Rock and Roll” (Bobby Mitchell), “Same Old Way” (Tommy Ridgley), “I Won’t Cry” (Johnny Adams).
As General Manager of WWOZ, Wylie Rollins gets to hear his share of New Orleans music, which explains why his lists seem to encapsulate both the tradition and the future of N’Awlins’ music.
Artists: Louis Armstrong, The Neville Brothers, Wynton Marsalis (“More for what he represents than the notes he plays”), The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (“for their hip arrangements of traditional jazz tunes”), Stanton Davis (trumpeter).
Records: The Majesty of the Blues (Wynton Marsalis), “Big Chief, Parts 1 and 2” (Professor Longhair), “Iko Iko” (The Dixie Cups), “Holy Cow” (Lee Dorsey), Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Louis Armstrong).
Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, can tell you who can belt out a song with her kind of “Oomph.”
Artists: Johnny Adams, Marva Wright, Germaine Bazzle, Wanda Rouzan, Juanita Brooks (Irma promises we’ll be hearing a lot from this rising performer in the future), The Neville Brothers (okay, so this is actually a top six, but you can’t argue about that choice).
Records: Walking on a Tightrope (Johnny Adams), Irma Thomas Live (Irma Thomas), “I Don’t Know Much” (Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt), “Sister Rosa” (The Neville Brothers), “I Wish Someone Would Care” (Irma’s favorite own recording).