Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pondersoa Stomp Day One: Memphis Soul Conference, Remember Me?, Chef Convention, Not So Struggling Artist and My House of Blue Heaven

New Orleans, La.

I now know why funerals are so big down here: the hangovers will make you wish you were dead. It was a busy day on Basin Street. That street is in New Orleans Esmond.

I got into New Orleans around 6:30 p.m. Monday night and after checking into my hotel, the French Market, on the corner of Decatur and St. Louis(?). The incredibly accommodating and friendly staff of Andre and Megan got me unloaded and checked in but I passed on the valet parking and rode around to the parking lot on the back side of the block myself. The attendant, Johnny Camp, one of my favorite people this whole trip, had me park right next to his booth so he could keep a close eye on my ticket to ride back home. The walk back around the block took over two hours and did me in for the night.

New Orleans is like that. You set off to do something totally mundane like park you bike and you wind up meeting new friends, getting drunk and completely losing track of time. Every city should be more like New Orleans in this respect.

I soon discovered that my travel agent, Angelo, (sorry Mary, my MN travel agent who won't book pleasure trips)had made the mistake of putting me in a hotel two doors down from the Crescent City Brewery. Not a wise choice to put this connoisseur of suds in such close proximity to his nemesis. They have three fresh brewed flavors, Red Stallion, Black Forest and Pilsner. Being a lover of malt and hops and wanting the highest % of alcohol, I of course opt for the Black Forest. As the downstairs bar seating was completely full, I ventured upstairs and sat at the bar and promptly started a conversation with an airline worker turned Postman named Mark. I do not mean to label Mark or imply that he is all about his work, like us attorneys, because he definitely is not. Here was a man who has life figured out to the point of raising it to an art form. Upon further reflection, he should give seminars on how to live like you are alive and not just existing. Mark attends the Jazz Heritage Festival every year, spends his August in Seattle/Vancouver and used to live on a 2 acre mountain spread near San Jose.

Before I know it we are swapping music stories and turns out that Mark is a huge fan of my friend Jimmy Thackery. I tell him about Mark no longer drumming for Jimmy and he seemed as dismayed as I was but I cautioned that one should not jump to conclusions as to the reasons for the change, besides its none of my business, "if I do", (sorry I turn everything into lyrical phrases from jazz standards down here). Mark mentions he goes to the Santa Cruz Blues festival most years and I ask if he saw the legendary performance Thackery put on with Bonnie Raitt. Mark's mouth went agape and eyes glazed over and he stammered: "I was there! It was one of the best performance I ever seen" or something to that effect. Hell I was getting a little tipsy and beat from my ride.

We thankfully compared notes on the evenings live music fare and it was a good thing. Turns out I was two days late for the Funky Meters show at the HOB. Mark tells me he is going to the Snooks Eaglin tribute Tab Benoit was throwing at the Mid City Lanes (former site of some previous years of the Ponderosa Stomp). I tell him I will meet him there but I have to take a shower and compose myself before venturing out. Sorry to say, but after my shower I sat down in my towel on the bed and that's how I woke up the next morning.

My first full day in the Crescent City began at 7 a.m. when I left the hotel in search of computer terminal access so I could post. Two hours and several miles of shoe tread later I finally found a business center on the third floor of the Sheraton. I highly recommend this over the access at the public library next to City Hall, which Although free, does not open until 10 a.m. and you have to step over the less fortunate who make their beds outside the front door. Besides at the Sheraton there is a Starbucks on the first floor for grande caramel macchitos and the only stench of urine is my own.

After memorializing the previous day's events it's off to Mothers for a locals New Orleans breakfast. I highly recommend this establishment for breakfast (served all day) or lunch but some fellow travelers had dinner there and turned the noses up at it. However, my experience there was delightful, if you understand their version of hospitality and sense of humor, which seems to be giving a tongue in cheek hard time to tourists (for the benefit of and to the delight of the locals). For example when I enter I ask the greeter/instructor/general manager if they have a bathroom to which he wryly replied: "Yes, but I am not going to tell you where it is". I said not batting an eye: "Okay, but things are gonna get messy then." Whereupon he conceded they were in the back and then shouted "and wash your hands when you're done" as I walked past the long line of customers waiting to order.

After taking care of business (or TCB as Elvis would say) I joined the rear of the line which was next to the kitchen door and the tables where the staff took their breaks at. I asked an older African American woman what's good for breakfast and she recommended the crawfish etouiffe omlete, which comes with grits and biscuits. After ordering I did not know the routine so I sauntered back to the staff tables and sat down at an empty one. The fact that I, as a tourist, was sitting down at a table all the other tourists turned their noses up as they went into the nicer appointed back room endeared the somewhat crusty older waitress to me and she took care of me like I was her son, constantly making me feel like I was not eating alone and chiding the kitchen "why doesn't my boy have his biscuits yet, don't make come in there and kick some butt" which is a paraphrase of the local venacular. She really appreciated the fact that I did not linger and opened up one of her three table tops for a larger party and bigger tip. Karma is everything and is not only for guys named Earl.

In the early afternoon I attended the Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference session on Memphis Soul with three of the greats, Teenie Hodges, guitarist and leader of the vaunted Hi Rhythym Section, the greatest accompanists in the history of American Music, the legendary soul singer and former Hi artist and a personal favorite of mine, Otis Clay and O.V. Wright collaborator and co-writer, Roosevelt Jamison. The conference was held at the Louisana History Museum also known as the Arsenal, right on Jackson Square, where Bush made his one stop and short speech during his flyover during Katrina. As usual, the group of traditional New Orleans brass musicians where playing outside and I was startled when what appeared to be a statute said hello to me as I walked buy (street performed painted head to toe in golden bronze paint--hadn't this guy ever seen the James Bond movie Goldfinger?)

It was so cool to be in a room of approximately 100 other die hard music lovers, reporters and industry people who care as much and know more about my passion than I do. There were people who came from as far away as Amsterdam and a Japanese doctor, Dochi(sp), and his wife whom I met and although they spoke little English, were some of the most ardent and entusiastic fans you could ever meet. If only the public in this country would turn off American Idol and commercial radio and pull their collective heads out of their a$$es and pay attention to what the rest of the world recognizes as one of this country's greatest and unique contributions to mankind: soul, jazz and rhythym and blues.

I got goose bumps listening to the panel discuss their craft and reminess about making some of the greatest music ever set to wax. Teenie Hodges told the story of writing "Take Me to the River" with Ann Peebles during a stay in Boston when the evenings plan got cancelled due to an unexpected snow storm, so that went back to their hotel and Teenie started talking about his musical roots in gospel and his religious experiences including being baptized in a pond which Ann turned into the "river". Teenie Hodges is a genuine genius but a sensitive and incredibly intelligent man as are all of the panelists. Otis Clay told the funniest story about he and his band backing O.V. Wright and how O.V., one of the greatest, most charasmatic performers and onme of the finest sould singers that ever lived could steal your own back-up band and the show from you right under your very nose. All the panelists laughed and shared stories of O.V. "dictionary" knowledge of music charts and changes which is how he could make any audience line up to "witness" that they feel the blues by lining up to shake his hand during a song to the point where, as Otis described, " would have thought they were handing out blenders".

The two most poignant and deepest moments of this day's conference came from Roosevelt Jamison and a reuluctant Howard Grimes, the great memphis soul musician and drummer for the Hi Rhythym section, who was coaxed by the discussion's moderator, the legendary music writer Robert Gordon, out of the audience to tell how he got his start at the age of 12 and attributed his success and love of music and innate sense of rhythm or feel for the music to his mother who played evertying from big band like the Dorseys and Glenn Miller to BB King for him. Having lost my mother just last year it made me realize that my love for music was as a result of my mother playing the likes of the Mills Brothers and Inkspots which I unknowingly soaked up through osmosis.

Roosevelt Jamison made one of the most profound statements about the music industry specifically and the creation of art in general, and I paraphrase "soul music, our music in the 1960's were about expressing our love for our mates, in music and thru lyrics. It was romantic music. It was expressing the great gift God gave to us as humans, which is love. We were so into expressing the great love and beauty that we did not pay enough, if any, attention to the business side of things". Amen.

Day One of the Stomp to be continued here...

I got to run for now to catch today's (Wednesday's) early afternoon conference that is of extreme personal significance to me. Peter Guralnick the world famous music biographer of American Music Icons from England is leading a discussion on Muscle Shoals, my favorite American studio and home to my favorite artist of all time, the late great Eddie Hinton, with panelists and former studio artists/musicians Dan Penn and Rick Hall.

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