Cousin Joe, I Never Harmed an Onion (Night Train)

Pianist Cousin Joe was a New Orleans fixture with his street performances and club gigs at establishments such as the Famous Door. This record is a collection of his piano performances of slightly obscure blues numbers and originals. It starts off with a forceful, almost eight-minute version of Stagger Lee that embellishes the oft-told tale with details about Stagger Lee “running down the railroad tracks in the boiling hot sun dragging his blood red hankerchief” and references to “The Picayune Cafe” where Stagger Lee holes up and meets his demise.  There’s also an almost nursery-rhyme ditty about vegetables and explanations of the liquor laws in Mississippi. One of the highlights of this CD is the version of “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around” that Dr. John covered recently.

Cousin Joe’s piano style is the back o’ town junker styles that Champion Jack Dupree and Eddie Bo have made famous, but Cousin Joe plays a little less percussively. His singing style is casual and conversational as if he is at the end of the bar on a battered yet in-tune upright singing to the crowd. This CD is not only important as a historical document of Cousin Joe’s playing and of New Orleans solo piano style from the mid 20th Century, but as a great collection of songs in and of themselves.