Unfinished Blues and Ernie K-Doe, from the Oxford American

link here OxfordAmerican.org

unfinished_bluesernie_k-doe

by Joe Nick Patoski

As the port and melting pot of American music, the Crescent City sound began in Congo Square, where African slaves and immigrants from the Caribbean and Europe played music from their home countries and proceeded to mix it all up. Jazz came from New Orleans, and by virtue of lineage so did rhythm and blues, rock & roll, Zydeco, brass bands, and bounce. Music is the linchpin of Mardi Gras, of St. Joseph’s Day for the local Indian tribes, and of Jazz Fest. Music celebrates births and ushers the dead to the cemetery in festive fashion. If New Orleans isn’t really where all music comes from—as Ernie K-Doe once proclaimed on WWOZ, the city’s community-owned radio station—then I’d like to know where else.

You can hear music anywhere, but in New Orleans you can feel it and smell it in the thick and salty air. Now and then you can read about it—but rarely in stories as well-told as Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man by Harold Battiste Jr. with Karen Celestan (2010), and Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans by Ben Sandmel (2012). These are the first two books in a series published by the Historic New Orleans Collection. The large-format books are liberally illustrated with photographs, poster and record label reproductions, and ephemera—get-well cards, poster boards, newspaper clippings, election buttons—that alone are worth the cover charge. But the storytelling makes the difference in these lavishly produced books.

Of all the arts that inform New Orleans’s rich culture and separate the city from everywhere else, music remains by far the most important. The musicians at Preservation Hall, one of they city’s oldest living traditions, charge $20 for playing jazz funeral standard “When the Saints Go Marching In”; it is so well known around the world that tourists can’t help but request it. And the creators of this culture, the musicians at the heart of it all, from Jelly Roll Morton to Lil Wayne, have been recognized for their contributions and have sacrificed themselves for their art (a moment of silence for James Booker, Professor Longhair, and all the has-beens and never-wills). Harold Battiste Jr. and Ernie K-Doe, the subjects of the two books, traveled wildly divergent paths to reach hometown legacy status.

Battiste is that rare success story from New Orleans’s classic R&B/rock & roll heyday, from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s; he was one of the cats who left town to be somebody and make money. Most artists bitch about never getting paid and having royalties and publishing rights stolen, and were and are bitter, but Battiste rose to a position of prominence as an A&R cat for Specialty; as owner of the trailblazing African-American-owned AFO label; as a producer and arranger of classic American popular music (including Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” and some of the earliest recordings of the Marsalises, New Orleans’s first family of jazz); and as producer and arranger of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and musical director of their television show orchestra. Along the way, Battiste tried to give breaks to others, including Melvin Lastie and Mac Rebennack, whom he produced as Dr. John, The Night Tripper.

Battiste was a scrupulous list keeper and diarist, and many of his diary entries turn up in his memoir. Still, for all the intimate writings, a reader is left wondering about the dynamics of Battiste’s relationship with Bono and with other music-business players, as well as the specific details of what led to his divorce (besides the implicit demands of the lifestyle musicians lead). Too often Battiste gives his personal life short shrift to focus on career highlights.

Ernie K-Doe’s story is more compelling, due largely to the writing talents and outsider’s eye of author, musician, and historian Ben Sandmel, whose prose reads like a great New Orleans song is supposed to sound: you start tapping your foot with each turn of the page, as the tales grow wilder, more exotic, and larger than life. Each time you’re ready to put the book down, you’re swaying and moving to some silent rhythm.

K-Doe was one of those one-hit wonders who never got his due, popularly or financially, after his moment in the national limelight with the number-one single “Mother-in-Law,” in 1961. Like so many others, his story should have ended there, but K-Doe’s mid-life resurrection became the bigger story. First he was a disc jockey on WWOZ, where the self-declared Emperor of R&B became a star in his own right. Then he and his third wife, Antoinette, started Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, where K-Doe held court and gave a satisfying show (on most nights) to visitors seeking an authentic New Orleans music experience—unlike, say, witnessing Frogman Henry singing “Ain’t Got No Home” on Bourbon Street for the two-drink minimum.

Sandmel’s appreciation and respect for K-Doe and Antoinette shows through his rollicking, party-time narrative that celebrates the extreme aspects of entertainment without ignoring the consequences of what the pursuit of pleasure can bring. K-Doe’s post-“Mother-in-Law” life was defined by what Sandmel calls “anarchic madness,” which is a nice way of describing the collateral damage brought on by all that partying, such as alcoholism and broken relationships.

But the redemption K-Doe found late in life through his wife and the Mother-in-Law Lounge is indisputable, culminating with his postmortem immortalization in 2001 as a life-size, stuffed statue that remained the lounge’s centerpiece even after Antoinette’s death on Mardi Gras morning in 2009. Betty Fox, Antoinette’s daughter, ran the joint for a year and a half before she threw in the towel, acknowledging that she wasn’t her charismatic mother. The current owner, trumpet player Kermit Ruffins, temporarily reopened the lounge at North Claiborne Avenue and Columbus Street for this year’s Mardi Gras, and he hopes to eventually reopen the venue full-time.

K-Doe may have talked a lot of shit (he once said, “Ain’t nothin’ but two songs gonna make it to the end of the world—’The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘Mother-in-Law'”), but he was always worth listening to. The man’s radio wizardry and penchant for hyperbole has been preserved for posterity:

As for the larger question K-Doe posited about all music and New Orleans, both books go a long way in providing the answer: music couldn’t have come from anywhere else.

For more on Ernie K-Doe and the outsize influence of New Orleans on America’s musical tradition, read “All Music Comes from Louisiana” by Chris Rose, featured in the OA’s Louisiana Music Issue.

K-Doe on DJing and WWOZ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UNSdf9i0ixA

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Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly’s hometown

Last part of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 16 drives featured in the June 2012 Texas Monthly Drive issue.

June 2012 issue

Today, we conclude where it all started, at least for the teenagers known as Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

The Hub City is the largest city in all the Great Plains, and home to Texas Tech University. But for all its assets, the city’s contribution to rock and roll is the one that continues to resonate around the world, even if some of the locals are still uncomfortable with the social implications the music wrought.

THE BUDDY HOLLY CENTER is Lubbock’s all-purpose museum with art exhibitions and traveling exhibits, and music on the patio during summer months. The main attraction, of course, is Buddy Holly, whose life is celebrated in the Buddy Holly Gallery, a permanent exhibit at the center with a $5 admission fee.

Showcases are devoted to Buddy’s childhood with his leatherwork, Cub Scout uniform, and drawings of cowboys and horses, and self-portrait in pencil, and his personal record collection, which includes The Midnighters’ “Sexy Ways” and Larry Williams’ “Slow Down;” his early influences; his rapid rise; Petty’s studio; and to the Crickets.

The Gallery features the writing of Robert Palmer from the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, a music timeline from 1929 to 1959, and a touch screen It’s So Easy trivia quiz prepared by the late Bill Griggs, the World’s #1 Buddy fan. It isn’t as easy as Griggs would have you believe.
Sample question: Buddy had a pet cat named Booker T and a pet dog named
a) Charcoal
b) Reddy Teddy
c) Alonzo, the correct answer

As Holly’s renown grew, his glasses got bigger, although the pair he died with, which are on display, were classic black horn-rimmed frames.

There’s a 15 minute film where Paul McCartney makes clear the Beatles’ biggest influence were the Crickets, Keith Richard discusses the Holly sound, Don McLean discusses “American Pie,” his song about the plane crash that killed Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper, J.I. Allison demonstrates rhythm, and Vi Petty plays Celeste. Gallery admission: $5

An adjacent room with no admission fee is the West Texas Hall of Fame loaded with great casual photos of Holly and Jennings, along with a special shoutout to Bill Griggs, the world’s #1 Holly fan who spent the last years of his life in Lubbock by choice. The Ivy West Texas Music Map illustrated by John Chinn in the center’s hallway shows all the talent who came out of the region. 1801 Crickets Avenue @ 19 th St., 806 767-2686, buddyhollycenter.org

Directly across from the center is the West Texas Walk of Fame, honoring entertainment celebrities from the region (hey, y’all, where’s Natalie Maines?) whose centerpiece is a life-sized statue of Buddy Holly brandishing a guitar.

THE CACTUS THEATER, a block from the Buddy Holly Center, is Don Caldwell’s musical labor of love and the linchpin of the Depot Entertainment District. The Cactus presents live music and musical performances most weekends and many weeknights. The Buddy Holly Story musical has enjoyed several extended runs in this lovingly restored 30s vintage venue.
1812 Buddy Holly Ave. @ 19th, 806 762 3233 cactustheater.com

KDAV AM 1590, one of the coolest oldies radio stations anywhere, welcomes visitors to step inside the radio station and see the disc jockeys in action up close and personal. The station bills itself as the Buddy Holly station, and I gotta say, there’s something about hearing “That’ll Be the Day” crackling over the AM radio while cruising Lubbock’s wide streets that make everything seem right in the world.
1714 Buddy Holly Ave., 806 744 5859 kdav.org/kdav

LUBBOCK HIGH SCHOOL is Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ alma mater as well as the most significant architectural structure in the city. The red-tile roofed, sand brick high school is between downtown and the Tech campus on
2004 West 19th @ Avenue D, 806 766 1444. Call the administration office in advance to request a hall pass to view the Buddy Holly showcase in the hallway

STUBB’S BARBECUE is where folks like Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Terry Allen and the rest of the Lubbock mob played back in the 1970s before all of them, Stubbs included, moved away. The Stubbs barbecue sauce legend started here as did some storied events such as Jesse Taylor’s Sunday Night Jam and the night when Tom T. Hall played pool with Joe Ely using an onion as the cue ball. Underneath the statue of Stubbs in overalls holding a heaping plate of ribs is a small plaque that reads “There will be no bad talk or loud talk in this place” – Mr. Stubblefield’s mantra that was written on his menus and posted throughout his joint. Having enjoyed the establishment in its heyday, it’s startling to see how small the building footprint is today. 108 E. Broadway http://stubbsbbq.com/started.php

Continue on East Broadway to MLK, turn right and continue to Teak and follow the signs to the Lubbock cemetery and the final resting place of Buddy Holly. The simple gravesite is plainly marked. Tradition mandates you leave a guitar pick on the flat headstone. The earth from which Holly sprang from and to which he returned may look hard and desolate, but it’s fertile soil for music makers who sound like Texas.

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Norman Petty Recording Studios, Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum, Clovis, New Mexico

Norm at work
Part four of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives featured in Texas Monthly magazine’s Drive issue, June 2012.

Clovis may be across the line in New Mexico but for all practical purposes it could just as well be the other side of Lubbock or Amarillo. It’s a classic western city, defined by railroad lines but laid out for automobiles. The boulevards are spacious and wide, ideal for cruising.

Clovis native Norman Petty started building his recording studio in 1948 in order to record his own mellow music group, the Norman Petty Trio, featuring his wife Vi on vocals. But when Buddy Holly and the Crickets showed up in 1958, Vi and Norm’s own recording dreams took a back seat to the hot rock and roll band from Lubbock. Soon, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids (“Party Doll”), the Fireballs (“Bottle of Wine”, “Sugar Shack”), the Stringalongs (“Wheels”), Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings (“An Empty Cup and a Broken Date”, “Tryin’ To Get to You”, “Ooby Dooby”), and the Nighthawks (“When Sin Stops”), and Waylon Jennings (“Jole Blon”) joined the Crickets in making the pilgrimage to Clovis. where 12 Top Ten hits were recorded in 15 months.

The sound he created is associated with West Texas rock and roll, wide open, with plenty of space, drenched in echo – part and parcel of the Petty touch.

Since Petty’s death in 1988, the studio has been frozen in time.

The original chair in the control room is perfectly sited between the original Lansing/Altec speakers, which Petty suspended from the ceiling as he did the air-suspended equalizer, all the better to hear “Peggy Sue” and other hit records recorded in the studio. Ken Broad attributes the success of the room to its design (“No flat walls in the studio. They’re cylindrical.”) and to Petty’s perfect pitch.

Shirley Broad plays the celeste keyboard that provided the hook to Holly’s “Every Day” on request and Dean will fire up the Solavox organ that Petty added to “Sugar Shack” after the Fireballs left the studio. If you’re lucky, David Bigham will come along – he’s one of the Roses singing group that backed up the rock and rollers on their recordings after Bigham came to Clovis as one of the Teen Kings, Roy Orbison’s band, after Roy, dissatisfied with his first recordings made at Sun Studios in Memphis, sought out Petty. Petty liked the Roses backing vocals and recruited them to come to Clovis and record for him.

The apartment in the back of the studio was built by Petty for the Crickets, so they could stay and record as long as they wanted. The living area features some innovative designs (eg. a bookshelf built into the fireplace) and zoomy features that capture the essence of 50s moderne.
There’s even an early microwave Petty bought for the apartment. Between the recording studio, the apartment and the home he designed for Vi and him, it’s obvious this eastern New Mexico native was some kind of visionary.

1313 West 7th, to book a tour, contact Ken Broad 575 760 2157/356 6422 Donations requested. I dropped a twenty.
http://www.superoldies.com/pettystudios/pettytour.html

FOXY DRIVE-IN, six blocks from the Petty studio, is a classic 50s establishment with curb service where Holly and his band used to order taquitas, rolled and fried little flautas, now 85 cents each, whenever they were recording. Burgers are pretty great too, with curb service, natch.
720 West 7th @ Thornton, 575 763-7995

NORMAN AND VI PETTY ROCK & ROLL MUSEUM takes the macro view of Norman Petty’s influence on West Texas music in a soda shop/jukebox kind of setting in the basement of the chamber of commerce building. The nine foot Stratocaster and the half circle of piano keys out front mark the spot. Norm and Vi’s private life, Norman’s recording technique (his original mixing board is here), his relationship with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the other bands that flocked to the studio for the magic sound are all showcased, with great photographs of the lesser-known acts. 105 East Grand @ Main Street, 800 261 7656 Hours: 8-noon, 1-5 weekdays, weekends by appointment only. Pettymuseum.org $5 admission

The sound that came out of the Biggest Little Music City in the Whole World is celebrated at the Clovis Music Festival the first weekend of every September

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Waymore’s Museum and Drive-Thru Liquor, Littlefield, Texas

Part five of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives featured in Texas Monthly’s Drive issue, June 2012


Driving highway 84 from Clovis, thoughts turned to the Crickets’ old game of Beat the Clock – pounding the hundred miles of two-lane blacktop from Lubbock to Clovis in less than hour, so they could arrive before they left, courtesy of changing time zones from Central to Mountain. For the life of me, I can’t imagine anyone pulling it off, especially making it through Muleshoe unscathed. In case local teenagers still try this trick, I was glad the highway was four-lane mostly-divided highway now. This stretch is mostly irrigated farmland – cotton and soybeans, mostly – evidenced by the giant sprinkler systems that bring water from the Ogallala Aquifer deep below the ground to feed the crops, with grain elevators, water towers, and stadium lights rising from the flat horizon.

Then there’s the billboard, bigger than life. The next town may look like all the other towns from the road, but the large sign suggests different – Littlefield is hometown of Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly protege, Nashville Rebel, Willie Nelson partner, Country music outlaw, the baddest of the badasses.

How can one not turn and follow directions to Waylon Jennings Boulevard, leading to one of the coolest, most unusual music museums in the world?

Waymore’s was James Jennings’ Exxon service station for “30 some odd years” before he switched from gas to booze in 2008 and started adding display cases of Waylon memorabilia. W’s first guitar, letters to his family, and the handwritten backstage pass for his mother and father would have been the highlights if James hadn’t shown up. The engaging, self-deprecating “ol’ redneck” is without a doubt one of his big brother’s most entertaining boosters and a joy to hang around. He fills in the blanks when there’s questions about young Waylon and tells pretty good stories about all the folks who’ve dropped by.

Donations accepted and recommended.
E. Waylon Jennings Blvd (FM 54) @ Hall Ave., 806 385 5561, 385 0054
Open 10-9 Mon-Sat. Donations accepted

Farther south on Hall Street is the municipal Waylon Jennings RV Park. Parking and camping are complimentary.

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Woody Folk Music Center and This Land is Your Land Fence, Pampa, Texas

Part two of the story behind the story of my West Texas Music drive for the June issue of Texas Monthly magazine


Woody Guthrie, America’s greatest folksinger may have come from Okemah, Oklahoma, but he came of age in Pampa. Here’s what I found, starting with the Woody in Pampa website :

THE WOODY GUTHRIE FOLK MUSIC CENTER is the old Hall Drug Store on Pampa’s red brick old main street, where Woody worked from 1930-1935 and learned to play guitar, combined with the barber shop next door. Woody’s father ran a “cot house” across the street for oil field workers who flooded the town in the early 30s, which may or may not have included a bordello in the back.

The folk center is the vision of local historian and author Thelma Bray, whose two biographies of Guthrie are on sale at the center; the second, revised edition was published after Pete Seeger consulted Bray.

While the center is packed with photographs, newspaper articles, and copies of letters Woody and others wrote (did you know his song “Up from Boston” is the Boston Red Sox theme?), the center’s greatest artifact is “the building itself,” says Mike Sinks, one of the center’s supporters, who showed me around. “It’s where Woody Guthrie learned to play music.”
He also formed his first ensemble, the Corn Cob Trio, in 1934.

Sinks tells good stories about Woody, how he was known around town for spending so much time in the library reading books, and how his political leanings still divide the town – an attempt to name a street after him failed in the mid 90s when a Pampa official protested that Guthrie was a “communist” and naming a street after him would give the town a bad reputation. [Pampa officials today could do worse than talk to their peers in Okemah and find out what they’re missing.

Taking cues from Woody, live music is the main feature of the center: acoustic jams on the first Friday night of every month, electric jams on the third Friday, and informal pickings any old time.

The tracks where Guthrie first started hopping freights to California are a block north.

320 South Cuyler, www.woodyguthriepampatx.com The office is open 1-4 Fridays, but if you’d like to look around the folk center any other time, call or email Mike Sinks (806-664-0824; sinks2011@hotmail.com), or one of the other center board members found on the website and open the building for you and show you around. Donations appreciated.

Arlo Guthrie played Pampa on behalf of the folk music center back in March, a few weeks after Jimmy LaFave stopped in coming back from a Colorado gig, which was front page news in Pampa.

Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday will be celebrated at the center on July 25 and nationally on July 14, his actual birthdate.
All pickers are welcome, in the spirit of Woody.

THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND MUSIC NOTE FENCE in East Coronado Park on the south side of the AmericInn motel, 1101 North Hobart, (US 70 North), was created by welder Rusty Neef. Pampa city fathers balked at naming a street after Guthrie in 1995. “They didn’t want to name a street after a communist,” Mike Sink said. Nothing was said of Guthrie’s three tours of duty for the US military.

For general Pampa information go here cityofpampa.org

Good listening: The Saturday morning Western Swing and Other Things radio show hosted by Dodge City, KS Marshal Allen Bailey and his sidekick Cowgirl Jane, heard on High Plains Radio public radio affiliates throughout the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, and Kansas every Saturday

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Turkey, Texas Home of Bob Wills

The first stop of my West Texas Music drive, as seen in the June issue of Texas Monthly magazine (texasmonthly.com) was Turkey, Texas, home of the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills

base of the statue

Here’s the lowdown on all things Wills in Turkey:

Last April was the 41st year of Bob Wills Day, which draws some folks more than two weeks before the actual event for jam sessions. The Hotel Turkey is reserved exclusively for Texas Playboys on that weekend, according to Lorene Setliff who was manning the counter in the museum on my visit. “They come from everywhere. This morning we had people from Canada and from Delaware. They just want to enjoy the music and see how Bob lived.”

Jim Rob Wills lived poor on the 600 acre cotton farm north of town between the Big Red and Little Red rivers. He lived rich once he made it in music. He honed his people skills cutting hair and chatting up customers at Hamm’s Barber Shop.

Among the artifacts are Ann Richards’ letter recognized the Bob Wills postage stamp, a sheet of Bob Wills Texas lottery tickets, a copy of Dwight Adair’s “Faded Love: The Life and Times of Bob Wills, photos of Bob at home in Abilene in 1957 with his kids and at Wills Point in Sacramento, California where he spent the late 1940s, a fiddle that belonged to Bob’s father, and a shaving brush and scissors from Ham’s Barger Shop where Jim Rob honed his people skills, and a framed Playboy Flour sack from Red Star Milling in Wichita, Kansas.

An enlarged photo of the Texas Playboys standing at attention in front of their bus, with Bob astride a horse on one side, takes up an entire wall. Koozies, notepads, ball caps, bumper stickers, CDs and books by Townsend, Rosetta Wills, and Al Stricklin, the Playboys’ longest-serving pianist, are among the gifts for sale.
602 Lyles, 806 423 1253, 806 423-1033. 8-noon, 1-5 pm weekdays only, or by special appointment. Donations accepted.
The Gem Theater hosts the First Saturday Jamboree on the first Saturday night of every month. 217 Main St., contact Marie Cruse of Turkey Heritage Foundation 806 423-1420.
The whole town comes alive for Bob Wills Day, the last Saturday in April
For more information: www.turkeytexas.net

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Mojo digs Jimmy Reed

Got a nice note today from Mojo Nixon, weighing in on the Oral History of Jimmy Reed, which is on this website:

Joe nick
Me and casey monhiam were talking about nick tosches and jim Dickinson
When he asked me if I had read yer jimmy reed oral history
I just finished it

Fan fuckin tastick !!!

Truth beauty and rock n roll

Rave on

Mojo nixon

I always dug Mojo, in no small part due to his recording history with Jim Dickinson, his radio show, and his acting up decades ago when Bill Crawford and I hosted a local cable tv talk show during SXSW in its early stages.

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