As i trudged down Bourbon Street in the stifling 95 degree heat, past the shop windows with the miniature Louis Armstrong figurines and the bars blasting out some kind of modernised Dixieland, my heart began to sink.
If anything New Orleans was starting to resemble nothing more than the town i grew up in back in the UK, Blackpool. The same tacky insistence on reminding us of 'What a party town we were in!" the same tired shop facades that had clearly seen better days and the same misguided attempt to make a cash cow out of a name.
When in 1995 me and my then girlfriend had booked a trip round the USA and were deciding where to go, New Orleans was at the top of the list of potential destinations, but ultimately it was the most disappointing. We were there for just over a week, but my abiding memories is fat tourists with 'I love New Orleans' T-shirts a huge swamp rat who lived in the fire place of our guest room (he used to come out at night when the light was off and make loud digesting noises) and a couple of Pool hustlers who i (stupidly) beat at pool and who according to a local we made friends with had spent the rest of the night looking for me with a gun. I started to kind of hate Jazz music.
But over the last few years I've been thinking more and more about New Orleans and how, unfortunately, I'd been completely unaware of an awe-inspiring strain of soul and funk that these days continuously blasts out of my speakers come most weekends. A bunch of musicians, singers and arrangers (including Allen Toussaint. The Meters, Eddie Bo, Betty Harris, Lee Dorsey and Irma Thomas) whose names are unfamiliar to most, but who, to soul and funk aficionados, represent some of the most enduring names in the genre.
Now I could fill another 20 paragraphs writing about how James Black’s drumming fills my soul like few other musicians, or how nobody makes me dance AND smile like Lee Dorsey does. I could also write about how this music actually does have connections with the old Dixie Land scene (A main feature of Jazz in New Orleans were the Jazz Funeral Marching bands. Solemn Brass bands accompanying a coffin would, on burial, be joined by a second line of drummers and dancers, which would turn the event into a celebration of the spirit cutting free from earth. This is where New Orleans Soul & Funk takes it origins). But I wont. Music this beautiful and true should be listened to, danced to, drank to.
I will mention that if you want to dip your toe into this fertile scene, the Soul Jazz compilations are an excellent place to start, also there’s a fantastic blog called Funky16Corners which has led me to some amazing discoveries from this (and many other) soul & funk scene(s).
Now for some tunes:
Lee Dorsey - Give It Up
Eddie Bo - Hook N Sling (Part 1)
The Meters - Just Kissed My Baby
Roger and the Gypsies - Pass the Hatchet (pts 1&2)
Betty Harris - Break In The Road
Aaron Neville - Hercules
Inell Young - The Next Ball Game