Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Eric Overmyer’s Music Crypt – Part 1

When I asked Eric Overmyer for a list of songs deserving of wider recognition, I expected a mere list. What I received was a dissertation. We’ll break the list into a few smaller posts. But, taken together, it brings to mind a radio program hosted by Billy Delle on WWOZ called, Records from the Crypt. Every now and then Billy will talk about how he has gone way back in to the annals of the crypt to retrieve some particularly special sonic gem. Most folks don’t have music crypts as deep as Billy’s and Eric’s. The quest for these obscure gems may send you searching online and through stores specializing in old vinyl. Consider Jim Russell’s Records in New Orleans for your rare record needs.

My list of semi-obscure/not-quite forgotten New Orleans/South Louisiana albums/songs/performers/artists. Off the top:
Let's start with the oldest. Danny Barker and The Baby Dodds Trio recorded (possibly) the first versions of Mardi Gras Indian songs, and set what had been plain percussion and chant to instrumentation. Danny was a seminal figure. He was born in the French Quarter, a member of the Barbarin family, founder of the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, which nurtured several generations of musicians, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Leroy Jones, Dr. Michael White, Joseph Torregano and many others, and gave birth to the Dirty Brass Band and thus the whole modern brass band movement. Barker's version of "Indian Red" was heard in Season 1. My favorite tune from those sessions is "Tootie Ma Was A Big Fine Thing," which will also certainly appear on my list of Favorite Carnival and Indian Songs. The current incarnation of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band does a monster version of "Tootie Ma," with Clint Maedgen and Charlie Gabriel honking dueling tenors -- a perfect example of how New Orleans music is transmitted and transmuted down the decades.
As long as we're talking Indian music, how about Champion Jack Dupree and his version of "Yella Pocahontas," which was heard over a car radio in Season 1's Mardi Gras episode. Dupree was orphaned at an early age, his parents killed in a house fire -- which according to local lore was set by the Klan. He was sent to the Colored Waif's Home (Louis Armstrong's alma mater), was a Spy Boy for the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indians, and left New Orleans for good in 1930 at the age of 20, for Chicago, and later Europe, becoming like many black musicians an ex-pat refugee from racism. There are a number of versions of "Yella Pocahontas" -- my favorite is the Rounder Records version on ‘The Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday Showdown’ anthology, which features John Mooney on slide guitar, Walter Payton on bass, and Lil Crip and Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias on backing vocals.
And speaking of the Wild Magnolias, their ground-breaking records from the Seventies, ‘The Wild Magnolias’ and ‘They Call Us Wild,’ done with Willie Tee and his brother Earl Turbinton, which married nasty New Orleans funk and Mardi Gras Indian songs, sound as fresh as ever. We tried to get "New Suit" from ‘They Call Us Wild’ into Season 1's Mardi Gras episode but it was recorded on a French label, Barclay, and we couldn't get the rights -- the French never responded. Check it out -- it'll knock your feathers off.
--Eric Overmyer

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