Thursday, October 12, 2017

Juke joints in Baton Rouge

Wednesday in Baton Rouge proved to be a day to remember for all the right reasons. We looked around for a breakfast place, eventually settling for Twin Peaks which, we discovered, has the same dress policy for its young nubile staff as Hooters. Rather non PC but easy on the eye, and the food was good too. We set off in the morning to look for Slim Harpo's grave and called in at a little museum in Port Allen for directions. There's a juke joint there that's been moved from somewhere else and which isn't up and running yet, although local bluesman Kenny Neal has played there. The directions led us to the marker for Slim Harpo, a couple of miles out of town, but not the grave and we spent a fruitless hour looking for it before discovering that it was in a cemetery close to the marker.
On the way back into town we chanced on a place called Neal's Juke Joint on Plank Street and checked it out. As we suspected, it's owned by Kenny Neal and his family and, what's more, found out that there was live music in the evening. After a Lebanese meal in St Francisville we stopped off first at Teddy's Juke Joint in Zachary which I went to once before. There was no live music but Teddy  Johnson is an affable guy with a smile on his face all the time. He welcomed us like old friends, played some Slim Harpo and BB King from his disco stool, hidden behind dozens of stuffed toys, and chatted to us, even refilling a pitcher of beer unasked and gratis. The place is full of teddies, car licence plates and Christmas lights and is well worth a visit. But it was virtually empty apart from us.
From there we moved on to Neal's Juke Joint and what a night that turned out to be. As juke joints go this is definitely the real thing, a bar for locals which plays the blues. Kenny Neal is away touring in Europe but the band who played was great. It included Leroy Touussaint, a great nephew of Allan, who could sing (his Release Me was fantastic), play keyboards and bass guitar. The lead guitarist was Samuel Hogan, son of the great Silas Hogan, and the main keyboard player Brandon Adams was fantastic. He plays with just his left hand, but what a player he is. After a break April 'Sexy Red' Jackson came on stage. She was great on Trapped By This Thing Called Love, Happiness and Tonight Is The Night and the audience, which included some exuberant ladies celebrating a birthday and the principal of the local school, dressed in best shirt and tie and braces, really got into it. Leroy returned to the microphone and was excellent on songs like Mel Waiters' Got My Whisky, before calling Tyree Neal, latest bluesman in the Neal clan, to the stage. He gave fabulous renditions of Candy Licker and Let's Straighten It Out and played guitar and harmonica as well.
The welcome we got, as the only white people in the house, was tremendous and we were turning away free drinks in the end. This is a fairly new club, but it's as authentic as any blues club I've been to. An outstanding night and there was no way we were leaving before the end.
Nick Cobban


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