Monday, May 4, 2009
New Orleans trip, Pt. 1
Carrollton Station, Friday May 1 (which will be discussed later, I just liked the photo)
Quite a week in New Orleans to relate.
One of the hardest losses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that of a network of my good friends, many of who were in the Continental Drifters' circle.
The band had ground to a halt after 9/11 put the kibosh on another European tour, this one in support of Better Day and the Fairport ep. Vicki had moved back to Los Angeles, but the rest of us were still in New Orleans. There was some rancor among the ranks, absolutely. I put my cds of the band away, and I started a little mid-life crisis, MC-5-esque combo called the People's Revolutionary Army of St. Bernard for yucks and therapy. Susan and Russ got her solo career underway and recorded an album. Robert was playing with anybody and everybody, idle hands, you know.... and we saw each other, and we interacted with each other, just not with instruments in our hands and not all the time.
And then suddenly, only Russ and Susan lived in New Orleans.
The rest of us had blown to the four winds. Not only was there no Continental Drifters any more, but some of us were learning how to live elsewhere after years in New Orleans, which is not as easy as you might think. The lessons that I got schooled on in NO were about freedom, especially of the personal kind, where you can be who you are and not have to slink around if you're different from the norm (learned a LOT about that during the six months in Jim Thorpe, PA). Before I moved from LA to LA, as the song goes, I was a lot more uptight, self-conscious and worried about the very things I couldn't change. Thirteen years in NO left me confident, dried out and mostly happy about living life as it came at me. That I took with me to NC. Every so often, I'll hear myself saying something maybe a little too extreme for the playgroup parents, much less their kids, and then I have to laugh and realize it's the big easiness of what I said, how I meant it and how it was received in such a different way outside New Orleans.
After the storm, my sweet friends in Hootie and the Blowfish and their crew came to New Orleans and did work for Habitat for Humanity, building a house in the Ninth Ward. But before they got a chance to build something new, they joined up with Craig Klein's Arabi Wrecking Krewe and cleared out Mark Walton's house in Lakeview. I blogged about that a while back. Susan and Russ worked side by side with us, pulling out sludge and dead furniture and boxes of Drifter merchandise and memorabilia that was stored in our old rehearsal space in the back.
Then, on New Year's Eve day 2006-7, five of six Drifters happened to be sharing a table at a restaurant in the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, the first time anything like that had happened in at least five years. It was brief, but it was very nice to see it happen.
Cut to Autumn 2008 when Chris Joseph from Threadheads gets the darned fool idea to try to reunite the Continental Drifters for the fifth annual Threadhead Patry during Jazzfest in 2009. Everyone is contacted and emails are exchanged, and voilà! everyone's onboard! (Could it have been that no one asked before?)
I drove down from Durham Saturday, starting around 5:30am. Immersing myself in Drifters' music as I had been for weeks prior, I felt that I had the reins again. Better Day had been the problematic album for me; the interpersonal issues that had encompassed the band were still very fresh in the laser etching, to my ears. And as much as I'd thought we'd made a great record at the time, it was so hard to listen to eight years later. I originally asked that we not do any of my songs from Better Day, but I relented after relentlessly playing the album in the van. It was far better than I'd expected, and I got it all down pat.
My minivan, a snazzy silver Chrysler Town and Country we'd bought to replace the late Eurovan, was a steady ride down. On the way in from the East, I stopped and checked our lot in St. Bernard. It was still there, somewhat overgrown. Another task to get done while I'm there. I had meant to bring my scythe, but it got left at the shed door--probably better anyway, since I'm not a thresher, am susceptible to throwing my shoulder out of whack, and the grass had gotten to the professional care level of 'high'.
I arrived in Susan and Russ' place in Algiers to empty it of gear. I brought the Plush for a bass amp for Mark, my keyboard 'rig', electric and acoustic guitars for my Circle Bar gig, amps and my ukulele (because you never know when you'll need one). I had promised to pick Mark up from the former Moisant Field, today named Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport at 11:15pm when I would certainly be running on fumes at best. So I killed some time after visiting with the Broussards before I could find our host. It being Jazzfest, I was not worried when I couldn't reach him, it would only be a matter of time before he showed.
From the airport, Mark and I went to Carrollton Station where Susan was doing a show that night (her band features NO guitar legend Jimmy Robinson and bass stalwart Pete Winkler). She brought Mark up to play on "Mississippi", a Drifters' tune. Once we all heard him play those swooping notes on his entry into the first line of the first verse, there was collective sigh that said "he's back!" I joined them for "A Song For You", the first song Susan and I recorded together. It was heartening to hear us remember the first two songs we tried together as well as we did. We saw Tom Bennett and his wife Julie, the former owners of the Station, and a host of other old friends. It seemed prudent to schedule practice for afternoon, as these Station shows tend to run a little on the late side.
We rehearsed about fifty songs over two days in Susan and Russ' front room. Vicki brought her Bangles-signature model Daisy Rock guitar, with its sweet li'l mini-humbuckers. She was accompanied for her trip from out west by her husband, Susan's brother John Cowsill (drummer for the Beach Boys and all-around funny fellow.) Robert has modified his Frankentele so many times that only the smudges on the finish are original, I think; looked like a Strat pickup at the neck and my favorite DeArmond in the middle position. He was, as always, very loud and very good, although I did have to tell him to turn down at one point, his amp pointed straight at me.
We tried to winnow the list down, to make practice easier. I had almost forgotten what the traditional form of Drifter conversation was, talking loud and over everyone else until you got heard or felt that were. We were back and deep into it on the front porch of the Broussard manse, talking and voting on songs. Trying to stay focused on each song long enough to hear out six points of view. My new tack on that is to clam up unless there's something I desperately need to impart, saves wear and tear on the voice and psyche.
Susan and Russ also had to rehearse their Covered in Vinyl show on Saturday. They had decided to perform Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety, which is no small feat. How they managed to get everything together amazes me, considering the tasks at hand. So we decided that the rehearsals before the Threadhead show would be our only ones for Carrollton Station as well.
Tuesday morning found me driving to Metairie to John Gros' house to retrieve his electric piano and stand after I'd picked up the equipment in Algiers and brought it to 920 Frenchmen where the party was getting staged. John's an old friend and a monster piano player (he leads the popular Papa Grows Funk band), and it was very kind to offer the use of his gear for the week.
Threadheads Patry, 4/28/09 (Nicolas Broussard in Trinity shirt)
After Paul Sanchez's Rolling Road Show was done with their rich and sprawling set (including an interesting version of the Cowsills' hit "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" that was interrupted in the middle long enough for me to grab Sonia Tetlow's Epiphone Casino and finish the song with the band) we started moving our gear onstage.
The guy who was running monitors was most aggravated by what he seemed to think was the Drifters dawdling. His comments ran along the lines of "is this y'all's first show" but never went quite that far. He also could not figure out why my NORD Electro was buzzing through the monitors; eventually, after changing every cord I had, the buzz was so awful that I had him shut off my monitor and I strained to hear the front wedges instead--it never occurred to him or me to switch channels on his mixing board, and apparently Pete Winkler, who ran front-of-house sound, said it was fine in the main speakers. The monitor engineer, later in our set, took a short catnap on the faders during the course of several songs; I guess we just pooped him out.
We took the stage, eager faces smiled in anticipation. The drums and guitars of "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway" started us powerfully, then the bass and organ charged in and we were on our way. It sounded just great.
I managed to forget the words to "Highway of the Saints", the Pat McLaughlin song we covered on our first album; it's been a staple in Drifters sets since before this lineup came to be. Robert stopped the song and made me start over. It was worth it. When Susan had a memory stall later on, she pointed at me and cried out "HE got a do-over, I get one too!" and I said that I backed her up on that one.
The 'hits' came one after the other, all our favorite songs. We played a ninety minute set that touched on all phases of the band's recorded output. It sounded competent and confident. The singing, despite my worries, was spot-on, so far as I could tell. The audience ate it up, and we were done before we knew it.
The rest of the day was driving gear and people around and trying to fit in a nap and get over a fear of spending money on a ticket to the Ponderosa Stomp to see Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney of the original Flamin' Groovies reunited and backed by my old pals the A-Bones. I was also going to go back to the airport to get Mark's wife Dana at around midnight. The best laid plans went a-gley, Mark took my van with my blessing, and I was asleep by 10:30 Tuesday night, still vibrating from the good Continental Drifters show that finally happened again.
Pt. 2 to follow shortly... if I can get caught up on my sleep....