I had only been to NOLA once before…in mid-winter of 2002, during both Mardi Gras and the week of the Superbowl so sh– was crazy. I was on assignment for The Source to do a cover story on Master P and Lil Romeo and it was not the best way to get a feel for the city. Not only was I there for slightly less than 24 hours, but I spent almost all of it tailing P and his entourage around town but seeing very little of the actual city and worst of all? My only meal there was at a Denny’s by my airport hotel.
Complete fail. It took me 9 years to finally get back but I feel like this trip absolutely redeemed the wackness of that previous one. To that aim, I gotta thank Patrick Hood of Poor Boy Productions, who was as gracious a host as one could ask for. Dude put me up on both the record and food spots and I had a ball at both. (Thanks to Cosmo too for the intro).
There are some cities that took me a while to build an affection for but once established, will be deep, abiding, loyal loves: Los Angeles and Oakland foremost among them. There are other cities where I’ve spent a great deal of time but, for whatever reason, I simply can’t connect with: Seattle, Taipei (probably Berkeley too, now that I think about it). There are other cities that more or less awed me into submission: NYC and Shanghai.
But so far, there’s only been two cities where I felt almost instantly seduced by. The first would be San Francisco, circa 1990 when I first visited as a teen, scouting colleges. And I’d have to put New Orleans in that same category. God knows this city has its problems (the stark residential segregation manifests in ways that are unlike what I’m familiar with in Cali) and I’d never move here if for no other reason than the humidity but the vibe/feel/style of the city charmed and moved me. It helped that almost every meal I had was spectacular (the way to my urban heart is through my stomach) but more than that, I like how New Orleans wears its age. I live in a city that is profoundly 20th century (post-war at that) so it’s always fascinating to be in the midst of somewhere whose history is so obviously from a far earlier era.
And as obvious as it is to note: the musical history of the city seems ever present – on the radio, in the bars, in the streets. I was hanging out at Inner Recess Studios with the guys who run Dubla Music and they were saying how it may be hard to become mega-successful in NOLA as an artist but you have the satisfaction in knowing you can create a creative space for yourself and that people will support it. That’s huge for anyone who’s ever struggled to have a labor of love recognized and respected. It may not fill your pockets but that kind of support feeds the soul. 1
Speaking of music…besides eating my way through the city, I did get to check out a few of their record stores and that was impressive to say the least. Given how many other cities have seen independently operated record stores disappear over the past 10 years, it’s remarkable to me that there’s at least four in NOLA that seem to getting along fine (of course, that doesn’t include countless stores that probably shut down, especially after the storm). My timing wasn’t the greatest insofar as a slew of dealers/collectors hit town a month back during jazz fest – as one store owner put it, “it’s pretty picked over” (pointing at the R&B 45s), adding, “we had three or four British guys and a couple of Japanese dealers come through the other month.”
Ok, so maybe I didn’t leave New Orleans with Inell Young doubles in hand but I did have a good time just getting my hands dirty for a change. I didn’t have any monster finds but that wasn’t the point. I was perfectly happy scoring good singles at good prices without hoping that there’d be a “Salt” name card stick out from a wall of 45s. 2
Here’s a small sampling reflecting/inspired by the trip:
Sonji Clay: I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face
From 7″ (Songee, 196?)
This one’s been on my want list for at least four years and it’s more obscure than I would have thought. As I mentioned back in ’07, I find Aretha Franklin’s version to be my personal favorite but Sonji Clay’s easily comes towards the top too – it has a fuller bodied sound that’s hard to knock and Clay sounds pretty good on here for someone-not-Aretha. 3
Los Po-Boy-Citos: Jive Samba
From Brand New Dance (Los Po-Boy-Citos, 2010)
I was really happy to be able to catch Los Po-Boy-Citos. Having written about them (and for them) for several years now, it was treat to finally see them in person. They played at dba on Frenchmen St. to a group of enthused (though rhythm-challenged) tourists and I thoroughly enjoyed their set though I missed their second half, during which they played a song which I had suggested they consider learning: “Micaela.” 4
Darlene Love: Wait Until My Bobby Gets Home
7″ (Phillies, 1963). Also on The Sound of Love
I learned about Darlene Love when she was on Fresh Air – girl groups have never been a strong point beyond a basic awareness of their era – and was motivated to pick up her Sound of Love anthology. The song that immediately popped out to me was “Wait Until My Bobby Gets Home” given that opening piano melody. As it is, I came across that very single my second day diggin’ which pleased me to no end.
Frank Turner: All For the Kids
From 7″ (Maison De Soul, 197?)
I’ve written about this one before – a superb deep soul cover of Jimmy Radcliffe’s original – but this came to mind because I noticed that Jim Russell’s had about a dozen copies of it in their New Orleans section. While there, I met a microbiology grad student who had just started collecting records, happened to be in town for a conference, and was trying to figure out what to get. I handed her a copy of the Turner single and suggested it was as good a place to start as any.
Juskwam and Lyrikill: Black Fist
From N.O. Spittaz Allowed (Dubla, 201?)
As mentioned, I met a few of the folks behind Dubla Music/Inner Recess Studios, including producer Prospek. As it turns out, they’re all fans of the site and have used a few of the songs on here as sample fodder, including flipping “Godofallofus” (which I wrote about back in ’08) to help make “Black Fist.” I gotta say – I’ve been waiting for someone to mess with this and was pleased as punch to hear them flip it. More tuba!
Oscar Weathers: Tell It LIke It Is, Parts 1 & 2
From 7″ (Blue Candle, 1973)
This appears on the Miami label, Blue Candle (one of a gazillion TK subsidiaries) and it’s a cover of a NOLA classic – Aaron Neville’s defining ballad – sung by Philly soul man Oscar Weather. As a cover, this doesn’t shift the original off its perch but I how the small differences Weathers and company put into their rendition. I especially dig the differences in the arrangement, updating a ’60s tune to a more ’70s aesthetic. I also include “Part 2,” which is a long monologue of Weathers telling his soon-to-be-former lover to, well, step off.
Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band: Hey Pocky A-Way
From 7″ (C&E, 197?)
Couldn’t leave this post without some second line sabor. Not sure when this was recorded…I’m guessing the 1970s but I’d just easily believe it was more recent than that. Love how it opens with that tuba riff which is an interesting (and absolutely killer) departure from The Meters’ better-known version. This is probably my favorite single record that I brought back with me.
- Speaking of feeding…single best meal I had was at Jacques Imo’s, hardly anyone’s best kept secret, but cotdamn, it kicked ass. The fact that it was on the opposite side of town from the French Quarter/Canal was an added bonus. (Few things are worse in any city than the neighborhoods overrun by tourists, I don’t care if you’re talking about L.A. (Hollywood), Honolulu (Waikiki) or New York (Times Square). ↩
- I did check though. Couldn’t hurt, right? ↩
- Louisiana Music Factory had a copy for $50 and I paused for a moment – it wasn’t a bargain but wasn’t a gouge either – and just decided to pull the trigger. Given that the most I paid for anything else was $7, I figured I could afford to splurge. ↩
- LPBC have a great outfit but it dawned on me, listening to their cover, what they group needs is a keyboardist! “Micaela” without the piano just doesn’t sound the same. ↩