New Orleans: “The music bubbles up from the cracks in the sidewalks.”

In the creation stories of traditional people, anthropologists have a term that describes the center of the proverbial universe. The “axis mundi” is where all life sprang from; where the sacred and the profane meet; the point at which heaven touches earth.  In the history of American music, the axis mundi must be the Crescent City….

This will be my first of many posts on the music of Louisiana and New Orleans because it’s too damn vast!! I mean c’mon!! Jazz, blues, cajun, zydeco, soul, hip-hop, mountain/ bluegrass, swamp rock, funk, jam, folk, singer-songwriter, and let’s not forget about brass bands and the Mardi Gras Indians! The culture and music of Louisiana deserves a blog of its own (and I’m sure there are many) but for now, I’m just going to try convey my utter awe of this musical mecca and talk about a few of my faves and then come back to it later.

I sometimes listen online to WWOZ which is one of the local community radio stations and it is the bomb…I love their “New Orleans Music Show” daily at 10 a.m. E.T. – I hear all kinds of local music from rock and alternative to funk, blues and soul. They also have great trad music shows highlighting the main folk music of Louisiana – Cajun and Zydeco as well as traditional jazz we all associate with The Big Easy (Louis Armstrong style).  My favorite show is The Blues Breakdown with Valerie “The Problem Child” Kacprzak… She has introduced me to some really kick ass blues!

In November of 2004, my mom and I decided to take a trip there and we found that the music does indeed bubble up from the cracks of the sidewalk! It wasn’t my first trip – I went a a few months earlier to go to Jazz Fest with a group of girlfriends; we had a blast! But this trip with my mom truly was a musical adventure!  I was lucky she brought a camera with a mini video with her and loves to support local musicians (she must of bought 10 cds from people we heard performing).  It was the first time I saw live Cajun and Zydeco music… We saw Dwayne Dopsie &  Zydeco Hellraisers at a bar and it damn made me want to go out and buy a washboard/ rubboard right then and there! I’ll post that video she took of the Hellraisers later (when I figure out how to convert AVI files) but for now here’s a taste of their funkiness…

Dwayne Dopsie and The Zydeco Hellraisers

We also saw this street musician named Grandpa Elliot who has since become famous due to the “Playing For Change/Peace Through Music” Project…Which started out as a viral video and now is a major release album and tour featuring street musicians from all over the world (definitely support this project at http://playingforchange.com).

But back in 2004, my mom and I saw him in the French Quarter singing Jackie Wilson’s Stop Doggin’ Me Around….And if I can figure out how to convert this AVI files and upload them, I’ll add the vid because man, was that some sweet soul music…but anyways here’s the pic from that trip…

Grandpa Elliot and singing parter. Photo by Sylvia Barnett.
Grandpa Elliot and singing parter. Photo by Sylvia Barnett.

I originally began my New Orleans obsession with the piano… Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, but my favorite is James Booker. This guy played as though he had 10 hands and legend had it he was quite a character, a mad genius really. He died fairly young, around his early-40s. Here’s his song African Gumbo, from the album The Lost Paramount Tapes:

African Gumbo – James Booker

Irma Thomas is a Soul/Blues legend from New Orleans, often referred to as the Soul Queen of New Orleans. My favorite and one her most famous songs is Ruler of My Heart, done here live:

Ruler Of My Heart – Irma Thomas

which another long time local act, Dirty Dozen Brass Band covered with Norah Jones doing vocals:

Ruler Of My Heart – The Dirty Dozen Brass Band

It might also sound familiar to you because Otis Redding covered it that same year it originally came out in 1963 as “Pain In My Heart.” Here is Irma Thomas doing the political folk song “Another Man Done Gone” off of her Grammy winning album from 2006, After The Rain, released on Rounder Records, chronicling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sonny Landreth, Lafayette slide guitar bad-ass, plays on this track…Not sure why they have the random record cover on the you tube vid, but anyways, this song is from the album, After The Rain.

That’s all for now…but here are some musicians from Louisiana and New Orleans I really love past and present:

Anders Osborne
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews
Stanton Moore
Sonny Landreth
Marc Broussard
Sydney Bechet
James Booker
Irma Thomas
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Eric Lindell
Tab Benoit
The Iguanas (saw them at the coolest venue which has since moved since I went there with my friends back in May of 2004: The Rock N’ Bowl)
Leo Nocentelli
The Meters
Dr. John
Chris Thomas King

For more resources check out:

www.wwoz.org
www.offbeat.com
www.louisianamusicfactory.com
www.zydecoonline.com
www.americanroutes.publicradio.org
www.nojazzfest.org

Again, I know this is not even the tip of the iceberg so let me know who you’re listening to and other resources where we can learn more!

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