Blues record buyers know that the first place to look for those new, used or reissued albums by their favorite blues artists is in the capacious CD bins at the Louisiana Music Factory, the one-of-a-kind record shop on Decatur Street just across from House of Blues in the French Quarters. Founded a block away on North Peters Street in 1992 by Jerry Brock and Barry Smith, the Louisiana Music Factory celebrated its 10th anniversary February 23rd with a free musical extravaganza capped by “unplugged” performances by New Orleans bluesmen Anders Osborne and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (backed by Joe Krown).
Jerry Brock cashed in his half of the business last year to pursue his writing and record production activities (he’s just made new albums with the New Birth Brass Band for NYNO and Dr. Michael White for Basin Street), but Barry Smith and his excellent staff continue to carry the torch with an almost unbelievable selection of recordings by New Orleans and Louisiana artists. They’ve got a comprehensive collection of blues, jazz and gospel CDs as well, plus a whole second floor full of new and used vinyl LPs. This writer enjoys the privilege of hosting many of the Factory’s regular Saturday afternoon in-store concerts, which take place almost every weekend throughout the year, and the store’s Jazz Fest calendar is packed with music on the days before, in between and after the festival at the Fair Grounds. The in-stores are sponsored by the Abita Brewing Company and usually feature complimentary bottles of Abita’s cool, refreshing adult beverages for the Factory’s patrons.
Speaking of the Louisiana Music Factory, music lovers who are interested in the development of the post-war blues in New Orleans will want to snap up Gettin’ Funky: The Birth of New Orleans R&B, a new 4-CD set in stock from Proper Records in England. We can’t attest to the propriety of the licensing arrangements for this stellar collection, but it’s got—all in one place!—the essential 1947-52 recordings by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Smiley Lewis, Archibald, Roy Brown, Dave Bartholomew, Paul Gayten, Annie Laurie, Larry Darnell, Jewel King, Alma Mondy, Chubby Newsome and others, including rare cuts by Tommy Ridgley, Champion Jack Dupree and Mr. Google Eyes. There’s a 56-page booklet chock full of crucial information and so many great recordings that it boggles the mind. Pick this one up while it’s available.
Pioneering post-war blues shouter Clarence Samuels has assembled a stunning collection of his extremely obscure historic recordings from the late 1940s through the early ’60s, including singles cut for Aristocrat, Excello, Freedom and a plethora of tiny R&B labels all across the country. Clarence is now trying to clean up and enhance the sound of the recordings he’s been able to transfer from the crude tapes of his singles sent to him by fans all over the world, but it’s an uphill struggle all the way. “I never had copies of the original releases,” Clarence sighs, “because I was traveling all the time in those days, and I’d just make the little sessions and then move on before the singles were pressed up. Now people know I’m looking for them and they make copies for me, but they’re taping beat-up 78s and 45s in a lot of cases and they don’t sound so great.” Whether or not he’s able to achieve pristine clarity for their release on CD, blues lovers would do well to give a listen to these rare, criminally overlooked musical contributions from the man who made the first record released by Leonard Chess, employed a young Ornette Coleman, introduced Johnny Copeland’s stinging guitar on his great Excello recording of “Chicken Hearted Woman”, and still sings with undiminished energy, skill and glee.
Clarence was one of the unheralded stars of the already legendary Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau blues supersessions at the Circle Bar last Jazz Fest, and he’ll appear this year on the closing night of the three-day Ponderosa Stomp organized by Dr. Ike, the blues doctor, and the Circle Bar’s Jim Marshall, to be staged April 30–May 2 at the Fine Arts Center, 1733 Constantinople Street, from 6 p.m. til 1:30 a.m. each night.
They’ve really upped the ante this year by inviting an entire galaxy of Louisiana and international blues stars to appear in a series of mind-boggling aggregations. Dig this: The opening concert, Down in the Bottom (Tuesday, April 30), will spotlight stellar Howlin’ Wolf band alumni Hubert Sumlin, Jody Williams and Henry Gray, harmonica legend Billy Boy Arnold, avant-blues guitarist James Blood Ulmer, Chick “Stoop Down” Willis, a Magic Slim & the Teardrops reunion with John Primer and Nick Holt, the nonagenarian Othar Turner & his Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, R.L. Burnside Band guitarist Kenny Brown, drummer Sam Carr, plus New Orleans all stars Herb Hardesty (tenor sax and trumpet), Ernest McLean (guitar) and the great Earl Palmer on drums. Lower Mississippi Delta guitarist King Lloyd, often heard here in town at the Fox Lounge on Washington near Rocheblave, will also be featured.
Geronimo Rock & Roll (Wednesday, May 1) will have blues greats Lazy Lester and Jerry McCain in the company of swamp-blues colleagues Li’l Buck Sinegal, Rudy Richard, Warren Storm, Dale Hawkins and Jockey Etienne, plus the West Bank’s own Joe Clay and—in an extremely rare appearance—Mr. Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”). The original Rock & Roll Trio with Paul Burlison and Rocky Burnette plus Elvis Presley sidemen Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana will headline, Herb “Remington Ride” Remington will take a turn, and King Lloyd will return, along with Herb Hardesty, Ernest McLean and Earl Palmer.
A spectacular New Orleans show titled The Monkey Speaks His Mind will close things out Thursday, May 2 with a Dave Bartholomew reunion with Hardesty, Palmer and McLean and an AFO Records tribute featuring Harold Battiste and Chuck Badie. The Godfather of Funk, Mr. Eddie Bo, will be on hand, along with blues giants Gatemouth Brown and Earl “Why Isn’t This Man President?” King, Texas blues threats Classie Ballou and Barbara Lynn, and the aforementioned Clarence Samuels. The elusive Rockie Charles and Charlie “Fonk Horn” Miller have spots here too, along with the Hot 8 Brass Band and Big Chief Little Charles and his White Cloud Hunters from the Mardi Gras Indian Nation. Two extra special treats will be legendary jazz vocalist, composer, playwright and poet Oscar Brown Jr. and Memphis guitarist Calvin Newborn, brother of the late, great pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., and an important historical figure in his own right. The Ponderosa Stomp is sponsored in part by OffBeat and WWOZ, with tickets available at the Louisiana Music Factory or via ticketweb.com.
Gerald “Jake” Millon, Big Chief of the White Eagles in the Sixth Ward since 1967 and widely known for his golden singing voice and skill with a sewing needle, died March 5 of a stroke at the age of 58. He was funeralized March 16 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church and buried in St. Roch Cemetery. Some of Big Chief Jake’s creations may be viewed at Sylvester Francis’ Backstreet Cultural Museum on St. Claude Avenue (between Ursulines & Gov. Nicholls), where the aspects of the blues life that are reflected in the splendid sartorial creations of the Mardi Gras Indians and the Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans may be examined and studied in close perspective.
Little Freddie King drummer “Wacko” Wade writes to express his regrets that Freddie missed out on being included in the French Quarter Productions CD detailed in this column last issue. “You talk about a piece of French Quarter work,” Wacko says. “Everyone knows Little Freddie on his Cadillac bike. Freddie used to have turn signals on it, but the 12-volt battery kept making him fall off the bike.” Little Freddie and his colorful band with Bobby “Harmonica” Lewis will be featured at the French Quarter Festival April 14th and (as always) at Jazz Fest, on Sunday, April 28. … Harmonica girl and saxophonist Paula Rangel checked in from her retreat in the woods across the lake to report that she’s working on a new album and playing in places that never seem to make the WWOZ calendar, but she wants to see you just the same. … Guitarist Mickey Slewfoot is back on the scene following a distasteful sabbatical and invites everyone to join him and the Slewfoot band—Tada Fujikawa (guitar), Mike Anderson (bass) and Augie Augustine (drums)—for their 6–9 p.m. no-cover-charge soirees at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street (formerly the Dream Palace) every Tuesday and Thursday in April. … People who are active in the New Orleans blues community may feel free to keep me posted on your activities by e-mail at email@example.com.
Finally, the 2002 South Carolina Folk Heritage Awards have recognized the life-time achievement of the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the one and only James Brown, who will be honored April 24th at the State House during a joint assembly of the South Carolina legislature. That’s a lot better than the penitentiary they put him in not so very long ago.