Warren Hildebrand hits rewind on the compilation Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which introduced New Orleans Mardi Gras music to the world.
“This Mardi Gras is more-or-less the 40th anniversary of my first album release on the Mardi Gras label. I grew up in the record business. My dad [Henry] had All South Distributors and owned the Watch label. We distributed all the popular Mardi Gras singles back then. They all sold well around Carnival to local stores and the jukebox people. Eventually, I thought it was a good idea to put a bunch of them out on an album.
My dad owned Professor Longhair’s ‘Big Chief’ because it came out on Watch. Fess’ ‘Go to the Mardi Gras’ and Al Johnson’s ‘Carnival Time’ were on Ron and Ric. Joe Assunto [One Stop Records] was partners with my dad at one time and he controlled those masters so we leased it. I leased the Hawkettes’ ‘Mardi Gras Mambo’ from Chess which was a label we distributed at All South. We couldn’t find the original version of ‘Second Line’ [Bill Sinigal & the Skyliners on Cosimo Matassa’s White Cliffs label] but Senator Jones had recorded a great version of it on his label [J.B.’s] by Stop Inc. that sold well. [All South again distributed it.] Actually, that’s probably the most popular song on the album still. It gets airplay during Mardi Gras, but they also play it at the Saints and Pelican games.
I knew Philippe Rault back then—at the time he was living in New Orleans. He produced a series of American blues albums for the Barclay label. [Rault produced Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Professor Longhair, Clifton Chenier and Wild Magnolias LPs.] Rault did the post-production work and liner notes on Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He was also directly responsible for the distinctive jacket for the album and Mardi Gras Records logo that is still used today.
Philippe put me in touch with a French artist—Jean Vern. He lived on an island, Ibiza, off the coast of Spain. I sent him a bunch of Polaroids of Mardi Gras. The guy had never been to New Orleans but he really captured the Mardi Gras celebration. He had the Zulu coconuts, the king, the beads, the parade barriers all in there. We finished the album with a couple of tracks by the Wild Magnolias that I leased from Barclay thru Philippe.
We pressed our albums in California at the same plant A&M Records used. We tried, but missed the 1977 Mardi Gras season by a week. Still we did 5–6,000 LPs and cassettes that first year, which I thought was respectable. Those were all local sales through All South. I didn’t have any other distributors then. Like the singles, it only sold around Mardi Gras. That didn’t change until the early 1980s. Eventually, I had 10–12 distributors around the country. I slowly expanded the Mardi Gras Records catalog as well.
By the 1990s, we discontinued vinyl and cassettes and of course the compact disc replaced them. Four years ago, the original album was released digitally. Last year, at the urging of several record stores, I pressed it on wax again. I pressed 1,000 and it’s doing pretty well.
Ironically, again they [the vinyl LPs] weren’t delivered to me until the week after Mardi Gras. This will be the first Mardi Gras it will come out on vinyl the second time around so it is the 40th anniversary. I’m still trying to decide how I should promote it.
I’m still really proud of that first album. The sales are down from the past, but so are everybody’s. It’s still the go-to Mardi Gras R&B album. Even though several Mardi Gras collections have come along since then, it’s still the definitive collection of Mardi Gras R&B songs.”