Guesnon was best known for his powerful banjo playing in the best bands of classic New Orleans jazz: Papa Celestine’s Tuxedo Jazz Band, Sam Morgan’s band, George Lewis’ band, etc. But this is not a traditional jazz band CD; instead, the banjo is used on almost all the songs to accompany his singing. Guesnon, on his own here, is well represented first and foremost by himself in recordings he made around his apartment with a tape recorder that Harold Dejan gave him around 1960. He is also represented here in some fine liner notes that give a fuller picture of the man and the Creole community he comes from in ways that were not available in Guesnon’s lifetime, including a first-hand remembrance by Tommy Sancton, Jr., information from family DNA testing and genealogy, and a variety of documents and photos.
As the liner notes suggest, the songs and reminisces here point to a disillusioned-and-bitter, but proud-and-prolific, artist. There are 18 original Guesnon compositions peppered with 10 “interview” segments and salted with four of Guesnon’s poems. There’s a lot of talking, but Guesnon was a world-class talker and fun to listen to, if a little loose at times. It would be unfair to call him a novel character because he was too sincere and proud to be labeled a mere novelty. However, you can’t help but smile at his passionate tributes and childish confessions. They provide a context for his songs, which are, if not autobiographical, topics he would’ve been familiar with, including the “G.I.’s Prayer” (Guesnon spent several years in the Merchant Marines), “Everybody’s Talking ’Bout Sammy” (Guesnon worked with Sam Morgan’s band for several years), “Goin’ Home Blues” (Guesnon worked as a Pullman porter), and “The King Zulu Song For Armstrong” (Guesnon enjoyed the Zulu merriment and hung out with Louis Armstrong. Guesnon’s contributions are of value to anyone serious about New Orleans traditional jazz, New Orleans flavor, and New Orleans character.