Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans

When blues expert and former bank manager John Broven wrote his history of New Orleans R and B,Walking To New Orleans, in 1974, it was a ground breaking endeavour. It was the first time that anyone had undertaken in depth research into this exciting, yet rather fleetingly brilliant music style. It was already, by this time, largely a thing of the past, but most of the key performers, producers and record label owners were still around and prepared to be interviewed. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us. The book, later retitled for the US market as Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, opened up a raft of information, views and background comments which had never been available before. I bought the book, read it avidly, and have returned to it many times over the ensuing decades to check out a particular artist or an obscure New Orleans record. Chances were that John's book would contain some nugget of information that threw a new light on the subject.

Now John has revised and updated his seminal work with additional information and an update from the seventies to the present day. New Orleans' unique brand of music hadn't disappeared completely. There was new music being produced by the likes of Allen Toussaint, Deacon John, Irma Thomas and the Neville Brothers and the original music, which had been so distinctive at the time, began to be venerated. Artists like Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, Bobby Marchan, Lee Dorsey, Professor Longhair and Clarence 'Frogman' Henry would appear every year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival. Community radio station WWOZ broadcasts New Orleans classics (and obscurities) on a regular basis and some records, such as Al Johnson's Carnival Time and Professor Longhair's Mardi Gras in New Orleans, can be heard wherever you go in the city.
The revised book has a piece on Jazzfest by Ben Sandmel, who wrote the excellent biography of Ernie K-Doe. There are contributions too from Tad Jones, co-author of Up From The Cradle Of Jazz, a piece on the Katrina Effect by Jeff Hunnusch, who wrote I Hear You Knockin' and The Soul Of New Orleans, and a review of the period from 1979 to 2015 by Rick Coleman, the author of Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock'n'Roll. Ira 'Dr Ike' Padnos founder of the wonderful Ponderosa Stomp, which has featured many of the surviving New Orleans and Lousiana artists, also contributes to the book.
John has been a regular guest interviewer at the Stomp's conference sessions and knows as much as anyone about the great music of the Big Easy. Now resident on Long Island, I met him at a diner near his home last month (on my birthday as it happened) and he signed his newly republished book for me. Since then I have been re-reading his history of New Orleans music and gaining new insights into it. For anyone who hasn't read it, even if New Orleans R and B is not your thing (how could it not be?) I recommend you get on to Amazon immediately. And even if you did read the original book, the revised version is well worth a read.


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