New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Fair Grounds 1991 By Shipcote (part 2)
Thursday, the Festival fair grounds opened up again for another weekend & the weather was good again. It was the day my favourite local artist played, Mr. Snooks Eaglin. We’d already saw him play a regular New Orleans club as a trio with George Porter jnr just before the Festival. On the WNOE stage he had the same, great line up. Snooks had been blinded from glaucoma as a youngster. He had an incredible guitar style & also was such a mesmerizing talent. He can play from ragtime to funky music & he did. From R&B swamp pop “Down Yonder” to poppy blues “ Your So Fine “ to the awesome soul stirrer “Lipstick Traces” the overwhelming applause he got, was another festival highlight. He fingerpicked a ragtime piece, did a blues instrumental with flair & soul & finished off his set with his local anthem “ Red Beans & Cookie”. I could have gone back to my Hotel after that but hey, we had more music to tell you about….
I had a little rest & took stock. I didn’t know of Kate & Anna McGarrigle, so I check them out, and they were such a refreshing change. Canadian sisters with their band mixing self penned French, Celtic & American folk tunes & great harmonies. Each song took off in its own little way. They maximized their instruments too of banjo, piano, accordion, fiddle, bass & drums. I went over to the Tower records stall & bought the two cd’s they had. As the Festival went on, the beer stall prices went up, which could have caused a mass brawl on Tyneside, however I just bought the one can & made a 15-minute trek to Ray ban stage again for another New Orleans legend. Eddie Bo has recorded nearly as many records as Fats Domino but obviously hasn’t had the success. He did co-write ‘Slippin & Slidin ‘ with Little Richard & is famous for wearing a turban on stage (which he did) He also played a blistering set of R& B & piano funk, New Orleans stylee. Eddie’s very much influenced by Professor Longhair & had a cool jazzy voice. He was credited with starting a dance craze “ The Popeye” after his 1950’s hit “Check The Popeye”. It was strange to see the crowd waving their handkerchiefs all through his set & that song was indeed, the standout. He finished with a silly version of a Beatles tune, so we left early. I finished the day off with CJ Chenier & His Red Hot Louisiana band, keeping the flame of zydeco burning after his famous father Clifton Chenier. It’s basically the electric R&B version of Cajun music with a little Rock n Roll. CJ‘s seductive accordion & not one but two rubber board players in the band, had the crowd dancing from start to finished. I nearly missed them as Byron Lee was on at the same time, but it was a winning choice for me, & a winning day
Friday, we played the Festival (described by the programmer as a Skittle band from Newcastle on Tyme) so I didn’t really see much. The only act I caught a full set of was Dave ‘Honeyboy” Edwards, the old country bluesman who’s played J Hot Club before. In fact he was due at The Bridge Hotel next Thursday, before I got home …so I told him to say hello to my wife from me, & apologized for not being there. !
Saturday I arrived hung over & with some Mardi Gras Indians, that were part of the fair ground council! I parked my butt (as the American’s say) at the Fais Do Do ‘Banana boat “ (the smallest stage) one of the two stages we played at yesterday & relaxed. Kenny Neal, a run of the mill US electric blues guitarist was playing. Neal was probably ok but it washed right over me. I’d come for The Jolly Boys and a bit of authentic Mento & early Calypso music that is done to perfection by these Jamaican old timers. It was sunny stuff, just the tonic & light & ever so catchy, on this warm afternoon. However as they use acoustic instruments, half way through their set, the noise from the passing marching band, then just afterwards, The Meters sound checking on the WOE stage, drown them out. Everyone in the crowd & the quartet themselves were not jolly. Luckily we’d saw them at our J’Hot Club & have great memories of their gig, last December. I strolled from there over to the back of the Ray Ban stage before going back to my Hotel & caught a solo piano man. From a distance he looked like ZZ Top. It was songwriter Leon Russell in cowboy hat and his long grey hair & beard n ‘all. I’ve got to admit I didn’t really know much about him but I did know the tunes “Delta Lady ‘ & “A Song for You ‘ when he played them. Light pop with a New Orleans feel, is how id describe him & he made me feel good.
Sunday. I had to get some Cajun jambalaya first, at the big food stalls before I went home. Luck would have it, and it was very apt, that a man busking Hank Williams songs was there while I ate. It was the sunniest day too, so the perfect start to my final day. On the WNOE stage was Lafayette’s finest accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco & my first taste of live music. He was making a right rousing racket for early Sunday afternoon with a full band. It was the rocky side of zydeco but I liked it. We’d saw Champion Jack Dupree, not in the best of health, in our hotel (best not describe that encounter) and seeing him getting interviewed in the Heritage tent, passed as a much better occasion. He was to reside in New Orleans after 30 years away. He once lived in Halifax my dad told me, but I know where I’d rather live. Anyway he’s 82 years old now, so I suppose it’s a real long awaited homecoming. He recorded piano blues from late 1930’s & has had a great career.
Another New Orleans resident & radio jock Ernie K Doe was dressed for a Sunday on stage mid- afternoon. He had a grey tuxedo on & was a bit of a wild entertainer. I have a shellac record of his & he played it. The show was a tribute to the Dew Drop Inn (50’s local nightclub). Allen Toussaint wrote “ Mother in Law’ & it was a No 1 hit for Ernie in 1960. The crowd went mad when he played it & we saw him afterwards backstage looking very very happy & merry.
My final taste of music in New Orleans was a taxi ride with everyone, uptown to the Maple Leaf Bar. Here a young ensemble of Brass players, headed by Kermit Ruffin on trumpet, were one of the absolute highlights of my first American visit. The place was dingy and small but Re -Birth Brass Band (about 6 or 7 of them) managed to fit in the room & brought a new phenomenon to the NO jazz tradition. They played with youth, energy & the spirit of James Brown funk, kicking it live, as well as anybody could.
I think this visit to the Crescent City could well have changed our lives!