I wasnt really born on the bayou. I was born in Hotel Dieux Hospital in New Orleans on June 27, 1948. I lived at Baronne and Seventh Streets until second grade, when our family moved uptown. On most weekends our family would go to the country - Labadieville and Raceland on Bayou LaFourche, where my parents grew up. There I hunted and fished with my uncles, and hung out with my cousins, and did all the things kids do. It was there that my Paran Alton, who played in a country band (the Dufrene Brothers), taught me how to play guitar.
There was a big old place in Raceland, right on LA Highway 1, called the OST (Old Spanish Trail), built right over Bayou LaFourche. It was weird because it was a skating rink earlier in the day and became a family restaurant later in the afternoon with long plank tables for eating. They had a trap door downstairs and the boats would pull up underneath and unload hundreds of pounds of shrimp and crabs and crawfish right up through the floor. The kitchen was downstairs and people would bring up these huge pots that two or three people would have to carry, and pour gallons of steaming crawfish on the table.
When people had their fill of seafood, the place was transformed yet again into the OST Nightclub, and the tables were cleared away to make room for a dance floor. The band would set up and play late into the night. My Nananne Irene recently reminded me that people wouldn't have to pay to get in those days, but they would have to pay to dance.
I first started playing with Alton and his brothers at the OST when I was probably about 10 or 12. I couldn't believe it when they actually called my name and said "We're going to have a little cousin of ours sit in." They didn't tell me ahead of time that they were going to do that. I thought I was going to play just one tune and then ended up playing three - "Jambalaya," "Steel Guitar Rag," and "San Antonio Rose" because it was so much fun.
After that night, I pretty much knew what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. When I played with the Dufrene Brothers I usually played a Fender Telecaster - I think it was Alton's brother's - which had been played so much and so hard that the frets themselves and the wood between them were all worn away and stained with sweat.
Back in New Orleans, I played a little, but then there was the 8th Grade Talent Show, where I played with a drummer and a trumpet player. We played "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," and took first place (see the photo above - such award-winning style!).
Through high school and into college I played in various bands with strange names like Plebian Rebellion and the Souls of the Slain. I paid my dues - playing 4 or 6 sets a night on Bourbon Street to tourists and to the backs of the women who were stripping. (After all, we weren't the main attraction.) There was one place where we played (by the hour for minimum wage) where the owner kept a cheetah for security. It would roam around all day, and we would come in at night and find cheetah shit all over the amps. That was the same place I think where the girls would swing on trapezes out the windows over Bourbon Street.
Ed (Volker, Radiators keyboardist) and I survived kindergarten together at Our Lady of Good Counsel and hung out intermittently through grammar school, and then into high school at De La Salle. I don't remember when we first started to play music together as a band - it was before I got drafted. Ed and I were together for a lot of the Bourbon Street stuff, and Frankie (Bua, Radiators drummer) was playing in another band, the Palace Guard, that had a record out and were popular. Somewhere in there we all got together and out of the muddle emerged the Dogs.
The Dogs were me, Ed, Frankie, and Eddie Whiteman. We played some around New Orleans but ended up going to California, where we lived for about a year. Then we came back home and the four of us continued to play in clubs around town until the band broke up. Ed and I played the hotel cocktail lounge circuit with a guy named Claude Salles, calling ourselves NOLA Express, Mojo Express and God only knows what else. Somewhere after that the Rhapsodizers were formed - I didn't join up with them until they'd been rolling for a year and a half or so. The Rhapsodizers consisted of Ed, Frank, me, Clark Vreeland, and Becky Kury, who had one of the most amazing voices I've ever heard. I played with the Rhapsodizers for a year or so until that January day when the merge happened with members of our band - me, Ed and Frank- and members of Road Apple, which included Reggie and Dave, and the Radiators were formed.
Because of my family influences, I had a lot of country music around me when I was growing up, like Ernest Tubbs and Hank Williams, and the big bands on the Mississippi riverboat cruises that my parents would take me on. Early on, when we were pretty young, Ed had some Ray Charles albums and had a hi-fi player in the basement and we got to listen to it. Back then it was sorta like, as white people, society said that music wasnt supposed to be what you should be listening to. Of course, we thought it was cool as hell.
When I got older, like anyone growing up in the 60's and 70's, I listened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Band, the Allman Brothers, B.B. King, etc. There were times the Allman Brothers would set up and play for free in Audubon Park. Those were hard times to make a living, but magical times musically. The New Orleans sound was so ingrained in us - we had the Meters and Fess and all the other great players all around us. It wasn't until I started playing around the country that I realized that all drummers don't play like that.
With our relentless touring schedule (about 150 - 200 gigs each year), I dont get to play outside the band as much as Id like, but lately Ive been enjoying playing with some really talented friends, like Zigaboo Modeliste (the Meters original drummer), George Porter, Jr., Stanton Moore of Galactic, Brint Anderson, John Gros, Mean Willie Green of the Nevilles, John Mooney, John Rankin, Rockin Dopsie, Jr., and of course, up in Minneapolis, with blues greats Dave "Snaker" Ray and Tony "Little Sun" Glover, two-thirds of the pioneering group Koerner, Ray and Glover. Dave, Tony, Reggie, and I have had a great time as The Back Porch Rockers - check out our CD, "By the Water," released at the end of 1999.
My Paran Alton and Nananne Irene finally got to see me play in the Radiators for the first time ever at the 2000 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It was a real treat to introduce Alton to the crowd of maybe 20,000 people and thank him for teaching me how to "play what you feel." It was a very special day for everyone.
The Radiators have now been
together for just about 25 years, and it's a little amazing to find that I love it as much as
ever, and that Im still having fun playing. Thanks to all of you for coming
out and being part of it over the years. Let's keep having fun for 25more!