February in upstate New York is traditionally cold, snowy, and generally miserable(not so much this year though, thank you, global warming). The holiday season is a distant memory and we’re all waiting for Spring. We’re hearty folks though and try to make the best of it. One of the things that has always helped me get through my least favorite month is the scorching hot music from New Orleans. For as much as I love the music, food, history, and culture of the crescent city, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never been there. If I made a bucket list, a trip to New Orleans would definitely be on it.
When I think of music from New Orleans, three things immediately pop into my head: piano players, Cajun & Zydeco, and the Nevilles(okay, maybe that’s 4 but I lump cajun and zydeco together even though they are technically a little different from each other).
The city has a long history of phenomenal piano players. For me, it all starts with Professor Longhair. I’m mad at myself for leaving him off of my list of great whistling songs. I heard this song the other day on a commercial and it was as if someone hit me over the head with a muffaletta.
Here he is with the Meters, rockin out to Tipitina, the famous bar and music venue. I have no idea what he’s saying but hearing it just makes me want to dance.
Next up is the great Allen Toussaint. He was much more than a great piano player, of course. He was a wonderful singer, songwriter and producer as well. Here he is giving St. James Infirmary his special touch. His discography goes on forever. I regret never getting a chance to see him in concert before he left us in November.
Here’s one more from Toussaint, a medley which includes Brickyard Blues(containing the great rhyme of mellow and jello!)
There is a long list of great piano players from New Orleans, including Fats Domino, Jellyroll Morton and Harry Connick Jr. but for the purposes of this blog entry, we’ll only include one more, The Night Tripper, Dr. John! I’ve always loved his gravelly voice and his swampy, voodoo thing. Here’s his take on Tipitina.
And here’s his big hit. Just need a little brain salad surgery…
I enjoy Zydeco music in small doses. Actually once a year, every February typically does it for me. I do like Buckwheat Zydeco though, especially his take on “Why Does Love Got to be so Sad”.
The Cajun music of BeauSoleil is the shit. I don’t speak or understand the Cajun/French hybrid language but it doesn’t matter because the soul shines right through this music. For movie buffs, Michael Doucet also had a cool cameo in The Big Easy.
The funky and awesome music of New Orleans is a much larger topic than I could ever hope to cover in a single blog post, even if I had the knowledge to write it, which I don’t. It is best personified for me by the awesomeness that is The Neville Brothers and their spiritual predecessors, The Meters. I will probably put up a future post just on the Nevilles because their music means the world to me and there is no way to do them justice here.
I was lucky enough to see these guys three times in the early 90’s. The first time was at the Chautauqua Institute and it was a very old, very white crowd. I remember being one of the only people to get out of my seat and dance. The next two times I saw them were both in the round, at Melody Fair, which was basically a circus tent with a revolving stage. Here is Hey Pocky Way, familiar to deadheads around the world. This performance took place three months after I saw them the first time.
Next up is their take on Brother John/Iko, Iko. Whenever The Grateful Dead broke into Iko or Pocky, my show was made. It was like I won the Grateful Dead lottery. This is also one of my favorite album covers ever!
Okay, one more. If I don’t call it a wrap here, I’ll go on forever. Here they are with the fantastic title track to the album widely considered to be their best, with the assistance of super producer, Daniel Lanois.
I hope this music warms you up! Iko, Iko.