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I was lucky enough to play (Hot Licks Cookies) over in the United States at the famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival way back in 1991 & 1993. It was a total honour & it came about, thanks mainly to a chance meeting Adam had, while working on our Carnival festival in Newcastle for Jumpin Hot Club. How he managed that, I just don’t know….
Anyway Adam & I and Round Eyes Ray attended in 1993, where we did a radio station interview, two live sets at the Festival & played in our hotel for accommodation. We were also taken around the city in a big fifties Cadillac car by DJ Chris Edwards, & we saw Fats Domino’s house with FD inscribed on it in the suburbs. While busking, we were offered to see the city by the New Orleans mayor, no less. I kid you not… but sadly, the first day there, I also got my suitcase stolen ;-(

The live music highlights of 1993 were Festival headliner’s Nina Simone & Fats Domino, also local’s Allen Toussaint, Clarence “frogman” Henry, Lloyd Price, Nellie Lutcher a club show by soul bluesman Robert Ward & The Iguana’s (in store at Tower Records). Oh & Delbert Mc Clinton was in the room next to us. Unfortunately I didn’t do any kind of review that year, however I did do a basic one in 1991 for Paint It Red magazine (that I’ve just came across, which they didn’t print). So here it is, a mere 31 years later. I hope you get a little bit of the feel of the acclaimed festival & those bygone days.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Fair Grounds 1991 By Shipcote

As the gates opened on the 1991 Jazz Fest, the heaven’s opened & the rain came pouring down. Was it just for us Geordies, well of course not, but that first day was more akin to New Atlantis than normal New Orleans. We’d come over 5,000 miles & five airport changeovers & all the day’s activities got cancelled. How unlucky were we? However Saturday, we were allowed into the hallowed racecourse swampland & our fun truly began. The Festival actual had 13 stages/tents pitched around the big racecourse/fair grounds. It would be quite impossible for me to catch even half the bill, as it took an age to get around the place. So with my umbrella & cajole & wellington boots on, off I went, happy to catch whatever came my way.

Clarence “Blues Boy “Lewis duo at the medium sized Lagniappe tent was my introduction to Jazz Fest. I must admit touching down on American soil I could feel the vibes of Jelly Roll & all the other Crescent City artists my Dad had brought me up on. It felt just so great to actually be here & I was so excited. Id never heard of this Clarence fella but his guitar playing was like John Lee Hooker & his drummer seemed intent on playing a different tune. Still, I was here & he went down well enough. He had a very good voice too . I stayed put, got myself a first beer & was taken along 300 miles up the musical road to Tennessee & a different style of music with The Whistein Bros. They were a close harmony, old time country duo & were fantastic. Glorious renditions of brotherly duos songs like Louvin Bros & Allen Bros & some Hillbilly boogies like The Delmore bros played. A ‘trickily little devil’, the mandolin player proclaimed after a dazzling solo & rip roaring tune & the Festival had certainly started for me. A ten-minute slippery walk over to The Gospel tent seemed my next big adventure & it was bursting at the seams for the Inspirational Soul Singers. There’s something about big gospel choirs that just everybody likes & I wasn’t disappointed. The whole place was rocking in their seats.

Back over to Lagniappe tent, past the food stalls selling po’’boy sandwiches & alligator seafood & I was rocking again with Harmonica Red & his Rockin band. George Heard is Harmonica Red & he’s from Baton Rogue. His style is blues & jazz but no Louisiana swamp whatsoever in his playing. Red’s quite a virtuoso especially with the swinging jazz style. I liked him. !! It was a 10 minute walk again, over to the main Ray ban stage with my recently purchased ray ban sunglasses on & we caught the popular Chicano band Los Lobos. The crowd was massive, as was their sound. They were playing Jimmy MaCracklin’s “The Georgia Slop ‘ just after I arrived & that song, popular with a few bands back home, made me slightly homesick. “La bamba’, their big Richie Valen’s cover no 1 hit, came next & it was fun hearing such a big sound and being right in amongst the American’s & also a dancing crowd. I stayed for the rest of Los Lobos set including some Tex Mex songs. The singer even had a Steve Earle t -shirt on…which was cool. The ambassador of the blues, BB King came on next up here. I’d saw BB at the City hall in 1987 but this was a bit more of a homecoming revue. As he performs over 200 shows a year & sticks with his BB classics (Everyday I have the blues, The thrill is gone, When it all comes down) it’s a bit Las Vegas’s but hey, he’s influenced over three generations of blues artists so who am I to criticize. I also just asked myself ‘ what will I be doing at seventy years old? ‘ Who knows. Finishing off The Ray ban stage was the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Irma Thomas & The Professionals. We’d visited Irma’s club by invite earlier in the week during the afternoon, so it was good to see her singing. “Time was on her side” boom boom, as she was last on this stage & yes she did do ‘Its Raining’, although thankfully it wasn’t. The final band I saw Saturday were The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Their legacy and the Brass band tradition was one of the reasons I was so looking forward to this visit. When we first arrived at The Landmark Hotel, just about in the French quarter, directly across the road, we could see/hear youngsters playing trombones & trumpets in their backyards. Now that’s why New Orleans is so special.

Sunday, the sun did shine & I managed to get over to the Economy Hall ‘jazz” tent just in time for Preservation Hall regulars “Wendell Brunious & friends. If you could imagine for a minute, everyone in there doing the second line around the tent, with king cobra beers in hand & dancing until they dropped. If you could imagine, scorching hot mainstream jazz being played for a sunny early afternoon, say tunes like “Burgundy Street,’ ‘Mahogany Hall Stomp’, ‘Bugle Call Rag” & if you could just imagine old stalwarts of the Crescent City jazz scene hitting their high c’s then like me, you didn’t just imagine this show, it was actually happening. From there, to the Lagniappe tent I did wander for something completely different. The blues duo Satan & Adam were staying in our hotel & you couldn’t miss them & their colorful entourage. So best give them a watch I thought & WOW. What an act. Dirty low down blues you’d hear in the likes of Newcastle’s Bridge Hotel “Jumpin Hot Club”. Satan almost sounded like Blind Willie Johnson & sang with the devil’s gravel too & his sidekick Adam provided the icing with his hot blues harmonica riffs. I was surprised & happy they did “Ode to Billy Jo” & along with some real downhome blues, a menacing 15 minutes of the “Howlin Blues “ was just the ticket I needed.

It would be mad not to sample some Cajun music while in New Orleans & next, they just didn’t come any better or more authentic than Louisiana’s Hackberry Ramblers. Hell they’d been strutting their stuff since 1933 & what’s more folks …they still had some original members in this 6-piece band. I know Cajun has been the happening music in the UK for a few years now but you need to see these guys. Ok they incorporate a tiny bit Western swing but they are the real business. Recent winners of the prestigious “Big Easy “ award they celebrated in style with Cajun rags & waltz’s, old time shake ups and rug cutters, that had everyone two stepping too…even us Geordies. From Cajun music I walked over to the stalls and got myself some boiled crawfish & potatoes. I much prefer a Sunday dinner though…crawfish is bit oily & sad… but when in Rome etc. etc. Finishing on the main Ray Ban stage was the good Doctor John & The iko iko’s. Mac & lots of his local musician friends, made up this R&B revue. Id met him earlier in the week when, quite unbelievably, we both bought the same hat on Canal Street. I say I met him, but he came in the shop the same time as me. Nevertheless he’s a man of good taste. What a wild mix of New Orleans funky R&B & jazz it was, with his voodoo mythology thrown in for good measure. Its the sign of a pure entertainer as he finished with his most famous tune ‘Iko Iko”. Glad nobody had to follow that.

However if the Jazz Fest was finished for a few days, there’s a launderette in the French quarter that also serves as a live music bar every night. Checkpoint Charlie’s it’s called & Tom Ray who leant me his double bass was playing in a duo called The Quartertones on Monday night. They’re aptly named as they busk all day in the French quarter. They did old & odd novelty slide blues & hokum stuff like Tampa Red used to play. They did them well too & it was a nice atmosphere in there. Even though people were also washing their clothes. On Tuesday I went to the main Bourbon Street to see the Boogie Woogie & blues piano man Carl Sunny Leyland. We’ve had him on in Newcastle as he’s originally from Southampton. He now resides here & isn’t out of place neither. I asked for Big Maceo’s ‘Kidman Blues ‘& he happily obliged… what a nice bloke.
Wednesday afternoon we went along to Joe’s Jungle Bar, for a free show by Lloyd Washington & Band. He was an original member of The Ink Spots and Id heard nothing like his sweet tenor voice. Closing my eyes I was put way back in the 1940’s with their music. Early evening in- store performances in Tower Records were happening that day, so we went there too. They only sell cd & tapes, no vinyl records in Tower, so I bought The Iguana’s cd. They had Bruce Daigrepont Band doing two short sets of original Louisiana music. He had a special guest, David Doucet on guitar who seemed born to play Cajun music. It was packed too, so we all enjoyed it.