February 2015

This month we will explore some music from New Orleans, in honor of IEEE CSICS conference being held there in October this year. Perhaps we can arrange a walking tour to see some one the places associated with the music below.

Way down yonder

New Orleans has has been an adult playground for centuries. The infamous red light district "Storyville" was next to the French Quarter, and played a big part in the history of Jazz.  It disappeared in 1917, and none of the palaces remain. Fast-forward to August 29, 2005: Hurricane Katrina hit NOLA and caused the most damage of any natural disaster in the history of the United States; 1,833 people died and property damage is estimated at $108B. It was not a proud moment for the Bush Administration, FEMA, or the Army Corps or Engineers.  But NOLA remains an great destination, especially if you can combine it with a conference.

Right after hurricane Katrina I thought someone would come up with a New Orleans' tribute album of original recordings to sell and raise money for reconstruction.  Someone in the business explained that the copyright issues would make it impossible. A few entertainers took to the task and did their own tributes, but it's just not the same. So here I will work the dream album, even if it is destined to never be possible. You put your "fantasy football" team together, I'll make my fantasy NOLA jukebox.

Taking a trip to New Orleans brings to mind the 1969 movie Easy Rider.  It's an independent movie produced by Peter Fonda and directed by Dennis Hopper. Starring both of them as Wyatt and Billie, two "outlaw" bikers, it's about an epic cross-country trip to New Orleans to take part in Mardi Gras. Along the way the pick up Jack Nicholson, who plays an ACLU lawyer, you can imagine the three of them are not welcomed in redneck America.  This was perhaps the first blockbuster independent movie, winning the Cannes Film festival for best director (Hopper), grabbed an Oscar for best supporting actor (Nicholson) and was chosen to be in the National Film Registry in 1998. Produced on a $360K budget with $1M in soundtrack licensing fees, it took in $60M.  If you want to understand 1960s counter culture, start by watching this movie.  As Nicholson laments, "this used to be a hell of a good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it". Madame Tinkertoy's House of Blue Lights is supposed to be at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse, if you go there today you will find a club called the Old Opera House which is lit entirely by candles. In the clip below, check out the choppers, both are hard-tails with minimal seat cushions. Fonda's Captain America bike has no front brake.  If you rode one of these bikes from Los Angeles to NOLA, you'd be crippled for life. The bikes used in the movie were built by two African Americans, Ben Hardy and Cliff Vaughns.


Several of the works below, starting with The Fat Man, were recorded in Cosimo Montassa's "J&M" studio at 838-840 Rampart Street. Cosimo (say "Cosmo" was recently honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. in 2012, just in time because he died last year. If you were looking for an engineer on this page, it's Montassa. Listen to his story on NPR.

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

The song "Way Down Yonder..." was a product of Tin Pan Alley.  First published in 1922, with music by John Turner Layton, Jr. and lyrics by Henry Creamer. The Layton and Johnstone version from 1927 could be considered the original recording, one of them wrote the music.

The biggest hit made out of Way Down Yonder was by Freddy Cannon in 1961. You can find various old recordings on Youtube, including Al Jolson,  Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima. Did you know that Louis Armstrong was criticized from both sides of the civil rights movement for various actions and in-actions?


Just a Gigolo, Louis Prima, 1956

Just a Gigolo dates back to an Austrian cabaret song from 1929. There is no better recording of it than Louis Prima's version, which is combined with a second song, "I ain't got Nobody", written by Spencer Williams, an African American songwriter born in New Orleans.  If you listen to the lyrics, the two songs have nothing to do with each other. Prima of course was one of the favorite sons of New Orleans and popularized New Orleans music to the the rest of the country.  Keely Smith is a great part of the act, unfortunately you can only hear her voice a little in this video. The two won a Grammy in 1950 for Old Black Magic, and Keely became Louis' fourth wife in 1953, divorcing him for "extreme mental cruelty" in 1961. Lous died in 1978 but Keely is still going strong and you can find her on Facebook.  Louis lived at 1812 St. Peter Street in NOLA.

The Fat Man by Antoine "Fats" Domino, 1950

They call me the fat man, because I weigh 200 pounds... nowadays, Fats would be called the thin man.  This blues song features Fats as a one-man band, even wailing out his own version of a trumpet, recorded at Montassa's J&M studio in New Orleans.

There was a 24 hour period during hurricane Katrina when is was widely believed Fats had died.  His house was in a heavily flooded section, and he literally lost everything, but the Coast Guard rescued him by helicopter on September 1. Domino is the only person on this page to whom English was a second language: he was brought up speaking French Creole. Not to be morbid about it, but when Fats passes on, the Jazz Funeral that follows is going to be quite an event. Why do they "bury" people above ground in NOLA? It's because no one wants to drop their loved one into a watery grave.


Lawdy Miss Clady, Lloyd Price, 1952

Featuring Fats on piano.Ending on the ageless 1 3 4 4# 5 6 7 8 riff. A blockbuster Montassa recording of 19 year old Lloyd Price, who previously recorded radio jingles when he was in in high school.


Jambalaya, on the Bayou, Hank Williams, 1952

Hank wasn't from NOLA, but he was married there in two public ceremonies attended by 14,000 people each, and had a stint in rehab at the North Louisiana Sanitarium. Alcohol killed Hank Williams, he died in a car while on a road trip in 1953.


I'm Guitar Slim, 1954(?)

 Eddie Jones "Guitar Slim" was playing a distorted electric guitar a decade before Jimmy Hendrix. A local act in NOLA, he was known for walking around the audience with up to 350 foot cord on his ax. He died in 1959, from alcohol. Guitar Slim's recordings were done at Montassa's studio.


Tipitina, Professor Longhair, 1954

Today there is a music club called "Tipitina's" at 501 Napoleon Ave, here are their upcoming acts.  In the original song,"Tipitina" was just an expression, and the protagonist was pining for "Loberta". Read the lyrics here and sing along. Below is the original recording.  Henry Roeland Byrd (Professor Longhair) learned to play on an old piano left in an alley and went on to be a God among New Orleans piano players. He was a WWII veteran before he became a performer.  He survived a stroke in 1957, dropped out of the music scene to be a janitor (much like Earl "Speedo" Carroll of the Cadillacs, except without the book which I am proud to won), and made a come back in the 1970s when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival began. He died in 1980 at 61 years old. His house took a beating by Katrina but is still standing. 

Professor Longhair and Ludwig van Beethovan had two things in common.  They were both great piano composers, and they both had African ancestry. Didn't teach you that in school, did they? 


One Night of Sin, Smiley Lewis, 1956

This has the classic 1-3-5-5-3-5 accompaniment that you could say is a New Orleans staple of the 1950s. Elvis re-recorded this as "One Night with You" and ruined the meaning of it. Three words of advice apply here, Smiley: wear a condom! You can thank Montassa for this recording.


Ain't Got a Home, Clarence Henry, 1956

To anybody that doesn't like this song... you just don't recognize real talent. Now go to the Frogman's web site and sign the guest book!


 Whole Lot of Shaking Going on, Jerry Lee Lewis, 1957

"The Killer" is a native son of Lousiana and is almost entirely self-taught on piano. One thing you don't hear in Lewis' songs: he stays away from the seventh in his boogie-woogie bass, instead of 1 3 5 6 7b 6 5 3 he lays down 1 3 5 6 5 6 5 6, it has to do with his religious up-bringing, church songs stay away from Devilish chords. Lewis is alive and well, after alcohol almost killed him in 1981. He married for the seventh time in 2012, but is mostly remembered for his third marriage.



Cookie and the Cupcakes, Matilda, 1959

This is swamp-rock at its best, a tear-filled love anthem with just three chords, plenty of piano and horns, and just 12 lines of lyrics, repeated.  And best of all, Cookie's awesome voice!  You gotta love those matching jackets the band is wearing, we should have a loud suit party some time.


Sea Cruise, Frankie Ford, 1959

This song was also originally recorded by Montassa.  The recording uses the exact same music track as an earlier one by Huey Smith, but with some ship sound effects thrown in. Of course you'd be tempted to synch up the two versions in a duet. You don't have to, someone already did!  Yes, Ford is lip syncing in the Dick Clark show below, that is how it was done back in the day, and no one cared.


 New Orleans, Gary US Bonds, 1960

 Gary Levone Anderson took the name "US Bonds" when he sent out recordings to disk jockeys that were in sleeves that said "Buy US Bonds" in the hope that they would be tricked into playing it as a public service announcement. Bonds still tours occasionally, don't miss out on seeing him in concert if you get the opportunity.


House of the Rising Sun, The Animals, 1964

Eric Burden is 23 years old in the video below.  How old are you now and what have you accomplished? There is no House of the Rising Sun in New Orleans, by the way, and The Animals have no connection to NOLA.

Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!

Fan/hate mail can always be sent to UE@microwaves101.com