Back in spring 2011, I visited New Orleans and came back with a handful of records. Amongst them was a single by Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band, performing what I expected to be a cover of The Meters’ mid-70s hit, “Hey Pocky-Way.” However, the one thing I noticed right away is that it opened with a big tuba riff that wasn’t like anything in The Meters’ song at all.
That song stayed with me for a long time but it was hard to find much on Anckle or the Majestic and at the time, I didn’t pursue much more background research on it. Then, a year and a half ago, I was back in NOLA, giving a talk at Tulane and one of my hosts literally wrote the book on New Orleans brass bands: Matt Sakakeeny. On a whim, I played the track for him. He didn’t recognize the single but he instantly recognized the tuba riff. “That’s Tuba Fats!” He said. “Huh?” I replied.
In the latest Fall 2018 issue of 64 Parishes, published by the Louisana Endowment for the Humanities, Matt and I have an essay all about Tuba Fats. The name, as I soon learned in 2017, refers both to a person – Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, a legendary tuba player in New Orleans’ second line brass bands – and the riff itself, one of the most famous in the city. I’ll spare you all the details since you can just read about it yourself:
The “Tuba Fats” Riff (64 Parishes, Fall 2018)
This post isn’t meant to duplicate what’s already in that article. Rather, it’s a companion post, with all the necessary songs you might want to hear, related to the essay. Read it first, the come back here.
We may as well start where I started, with the Floyd Anckle song.
Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band: Hey Pocky-Way (C&E, 197?)
As Matt and I note, we aren’t certain Tuba Fats himself actually played on this but the single is either the first or second time the riff ever was committed to record. Here’s the other time, and this one, we know Lacen played on:
Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band: Tuba Fats edit (from Serenaders, 197?)
The full track begins with “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” one of the Olympia Brass Band’s classics, but midway through, they turn things over to Tuba Fats to do his thing and you can instantly hear that riff come in to mark the transition.
As Matt notes in our article, “Tuba Fats” wasn’t so much a record that circulated in the city; it was the riff that everyone knew, so much so that the fact that it was never a hit record was besides the point. As our piece opens with, “Tuba Fats” was so popular in the city that a generation later, Mannie Fresh and Gregory “D” open their “Buck Jump Time” single with the riff and tell the listeners “you know the bassline!” Notably, they say this on the local, NOLA release of the single but when it was picked up for national distribution, they kept the track intact but no longer reference the riff/bassline as an obvious nod since, presumably, outside of the Crescent City, no one would have known what they were referring to.
Gregory “D” and Manny Fresh: Buckjump Time “Project Rapp” (UZI, 1989)
Here’s a few other versions of “Tuba Fats,” recorded after Lacen’s death in 2004:
And then there’s this, which I found in the process of researching the story, a live performance of “Tuba Fats” as done by Connecticut’s Coventry High School Band, led by the late Ned Smith.
At some point, I’d love to develop this story into a proper podcast episode (*fingers crossed*) but until then, please enjoy Matt and my article and all the accompanying music.