Happy Mardi Gras, everybody! The nation’s greatest free party will be in full swing as this issue of OffBeat hits the streets, with plenty of music and merriment for all. And there’s still time to enjoy a couple of rounds of Wild Indian practice before Fat Tuesday brings our beautiful warriors out into the open, whooping and hollering all over town on a Mardi Gras Day.
My Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias are at the H&R Bar, uptown at Second and Dryades in the old Third Ward; the Creole Wild West around the corner at Pappy’s on Dryades; Big Chief Donald Harrison and the Guardians of the Flame downtown at Trombone Shorty’s in Treme; Big Chief Charles Taylor and the White Cloud Hunters across the street at the Candlelight Lounge on North Robertson; the mighty Yellow Pocahontas at the Treme Music Hall on Ursulines and Robertson; Big Chief Jake and the bad White Eagles; the 9th Ward Warriors and the Seminoles farther downtown; Big Chief Larry Bannock and the pretty Golden Stars over in Gert Town; the powerful Black Eagles and their incredible second line from the Calliope Projects; Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles; Big Chief Smiley Ricks and the Wild Renegade Hunters—yeah you rite, mighty kootie fiyo on a Mardi Gras Day, coochie malla walla all over town.
One of the heaviest musical events of the Carnival season will take place Sunday and Monday, February 13-14, at the Café Istanbul on Frenchmen Street, when several of the Crescent City’s finest drummers present a Tribute to Smokey Johnson, the great percussionist who suffered a debilitating stroke last summer after years of service in the Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino orchestras. Smokey is also the author of a real classic, “It Ain’t My Fault,” a song sure to be heard in every parade this season and immortalized on Smokey’s NOLA 45 from the mid-’60s.
The New Orleans Drummers’ Tribute to Smokey Johnson, a Kerry Brown production, features two star-studded nights of music dedicated to Mr. Johnson. Sunday night’s show, 10 p.m. until the wee hours of Lundi Gras morning, will have Irie Vibrations, the One Love Players, the Soul Rebels Brass Band, Michael Ward and ReWard, Don Rousell’s New Orleans Funk Band, and steel drummer Gregory Boyd’s V.O.S.
The Valentine’s Day spectacular will open with a rare appearance by the one and only James “Sugarboy” Crawford, accompanied by his grandson Davell Crawford plus choir. Bennie Jones’ Treme Brass Band will provide the second-line sound, followed by the specially-assembled Kerry Brown All-Star Band, an incredible aggregation with Roger Lewis, Fred Kemp, Frederick Sheppard, and Reggie Houston in the reed section; Nicholas Payton and Michael Ray on trumpets; Maynard Chatters or Lucien Barbarin on trombone; Carl LeBlanc, guitar; Edward Frank, piano; Chris Severin, bass; Kerry Brown on drums; and guest soloist Dave Bartholomew on trumpet!
To top things off, the New Orleans Drum Summit—Herlin Riley, Shannon Powell, Herman V. Ernest III, and Johnny Vidacovich—will contribute to the tribute, Reggie Hall will make a special appearance on keyboards, and a couple of gigantic talents have promised to perform unannounced. We can’t say their names, but they cover a lot of musical ground from the Ninth Ward all the way over to Gert Town. Smokey Johnson himself will be on hand to receive a plaque from the City of New Orleans as well as the love and support of his many friends, not to mention all the proceeds from the proceedings (at a measly $10 per head) to help with his medical bills.
The Lundi Gras affair will close out with music for dancing by Los Babies de Merengue until the early hours of Mardi Gras morning, just in time for the late-night revelers to hit the streets with Casa de Samba.
Kerry Brown also reports that master drummer Earl Palmer ducked back into town in late January to join Red Tyler for a round of filmed interviews conducted at the old Dew Drop Inn at Washington and LaSalle by a Boston film crew shooting a movie about the history of Rock & Roll. Mr. Earl, the man who literally invented the funk and put the big rock beat into rhythm & blues, can wax extremely eloquent on the subject. Former Crescent City tenor giant Lee Allen contributed his part to the forthcoming film from his home in Los Angeles, where he continues to fight the ravages of cancer.
Professor Longhair’s 75th birthday party was celebrated in style December 19 with a gala birthday bash at the Louisiana Music factory enlivened by pianists Doug Duffey and Tom McDermott, whose performances were broadcast live on WWOZ following a special broadcast of music from last April’s Piano Night at Tipitina’s. The Professor Longhair Foundation and Songbyrd, Inc., which represents the Roy Byrd estate, co-sponsored the festive affair.
The good Lord willing, 1994 will see the unveiling of Professor Longhair Square, a permanent memorial to the legendary New Orleans pianist located on the neutral ground at Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas. When completed, Professor Longhair Square will be New Orleans’ first musical memorial dedicated to an African-American rhythm & blues artist. The Crescent City’s keyboard community has been a prime force in establishing Professor Longhair Square through its participation in the annual Piano Night fundraisers.
Finally, a tip of the CCB beret to the city’s newest musical outpost, the elaborate House of Blues at 225 Decatur Street in the French Quarter. While the $7 million showplace is a far cry from, say, Junior Kimbrough’s blues joint in Holly Springs or Smitty’s Pig Tail Lounge across the tracks in Clarksdale, Mississippi, it’s sure to provide a lot of great music downtown and some worthwhile work for Crescent City blues and R&B artists. Mardi Gras week alone will see John Mooney & Bluesiana, Rebirth Brass Band, the Wild Magnolias, the Iguanas, the great Earl King with the Radiators, Marva Wright, the subdudes, the Meters, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band lined up in a row. A welcome addition to the city’s nightlife indeed—but if you’re still looking for the real house of blues, may we suggest the infinitely more down-home Trombone Shorty’s, Joe’s Cozy Corner, Kemp’s Lounge, or even Check Point Charlie, where there’s never a cover charge and the music is always drenched in the truest shades of blues.