In 2006, Paul Sanchez walked away from the rock group Cowboy Mouth, a band he helped form 16 years ago. He had lost his house to Katrina’s floodwaters, and once he was off the road, he started the process of dealing with the storm–something touring helped stave off. He later developed a seizure disorder that makes it difficult for him to tour.
Some would have called it a career, but Sanchez shows no signs of slowing down. He currently resides in the Marigny and performs regularly at Frenchmen Street clubs such as d.b.a. He will also soon release his first two post-Cowboy Mouth projects, a brand new solo record, Exit to Mystery Street, and John Boutte’s new album, Good Neighbor which he co-produced.
Sanchez jokes that Boutte and himself are the “Creole Rat Pack,” or the “black and white New Orleans.” They met at a backyard party thrown by musician Michelle Shocked, whom Sanchez met during his time in New York City. They developed a friendship that led to mutual admiration when they realized the eerie similarities in their lives. Their birthdays are one day apart. Their sisters raised them both, and their fathers were buried in the same cemetery at the end of Canal Street. But the idea for producing a Boutte album didn’t come to Sanchez until they performed together at a Musicians’ Clinic benefit during last year’s Jazz Fest.
“Afterwards one [fan] came up to me and said, ‘That was great, you guys should make a record.’ And I said, ‘Well, we would need money,’” says Sanchez. “He asked how much? I gave him a figure and he said great.”
Sanchez felt so strongly about recording something special with Boutte that he scrapped the original idea of an acoustic record. Instead, Sanchez asked the producer of his new solo album, Dave Pirner, to help out with Boutte’s album. Pirner, the Soul Asylum front man impressed Boutte and joined on as Good Neighbor’s co-producer. Sanchez would arrange the songs, but he left the recording mechanics to Pirner. The three didn’t stop with Boutte’s album, however. They regrouped for the recording of Sanchez’s Exit to Mystery Street.
Shortly before his departure from Cowboy Mouth, Sanchez finished an album titled Between Friends, which features a number of his favorite New Orleans singers on his original compositions. Sanchez admits it probably wasn’t the best solo move because it made booking gigs difficult, so he decided it was time for a true solo effort. “I wanted to do something tracing my New Orleans roots. I wanted to see what New Orleans was for me. I didn’t know. I was lost,” says Sanchez.
Sanchez found his inspiration in an unlikely source, friend and Los Angeles screenwriter Coleman DeKay, who was in New Orleans last spring for Jazz Fest. “He had this really wild story about having come to Jazz Fest a few years earlier and met this beautiful blonde who he thought was a witch and all this weird stuff,” says Sanchez, “Having been married happily for 14 years, it was great to be able to write a song about having sex at Jazz Fest and taking mushrooms and bachelor adventures.” Sanchez and DeKay collaborated on the song, “Exit to Mystery Street,” which became the title track to Sanchez’s new album.
Shortly after writing more new material with DeKay and Boutte for Exit to Mystery Street, Sanchez developed a concept for the album. “I wanted the record to sound like you are walking down Frenchmen Street and sticking your head in a different bar and hearing a different band at every stop,” says Sanchez. The record features guest spots from a number of prominent New Orleans musicians including Matt Perrine, Ivan Neville, Susan Cowsill, Big Sam Williams, John Boutte, and Freddy Omar. Sanchez understands the importance of musical community, and these musicians not only inspired Sanchez but helped him grow as a musician. “If I get a gig and somebody is paying me enough money, I’m going to hire as many of those cats as I can to come by and hop up on stage with me because love them,” says Sanchez, “They formed me. Did I produce John Boutte’s new CD? No. John Boutte produced me.”
Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show with John Boutte will play the Woldenberg Park Pavilion Stage at the French Quarter Festival Sunday, April 13 at 2:15 p.m.