With Mardi Gras fast approaching, I have been asked to reveal the secrets of our Mardi Gras musical heritage. I hope you all find something you love in this genre as Mardi Gras and music are the life of our city.
First of all, to get a sense of what it’s all about, you’ll need a strong, healthy dose of classic Mardi Gras Indian music. The Wild Tchoupitoulas remains the quintessential experience. After all, their one and only recording features the incredible music of Allen Toussaint, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas led by the late great Big Chief Jolly. Similarly, the Wild Magnolias have been keeping the flame alive since 1972, and continue to perform and record brilliant music full of fire, passion, and spirit.
Co-leader Big Chief Bo Dollis has also lent his powerful vocal chops to some very hot Rebirth Brass Band records.
This leads us to a brass band that infuses Mardi Gras Indian music into their own sound, the Mahogany Brass Ban. Over the years, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Donald Harrison, and man others have incorporated Indian and brass elements to their music as well.
Now let’s take it to the streets! One of the greatest treats of carnival is experiencing the thunder spirit of the great marching bands. It’s really one of the best things about being in New Orleans. The great St. Augustine Marching 100 recording from the early 1970’s remains a fascinating curio. Then of course, there’sa plethora of brass band recordings since the Dirty Dozen Brass Band reinvigorated the music in the early ‘80’s. They remain in a league of their own.
Also recommended are the Treme Brass Band, the Rebirth, the Newbirth, the Pinstripe, the Excelsior, the Algiers, and the Olympia brass band(s). One of the sweetest finds out there is an obscure cassette released by the all-female group, the Pinettes Brass Band. This group of students from St. Mary’s High School has a nice sense of harmony and certainly makes you wish there were more female groups out there. Finally, for all-out fun, it’s pretty hard to beat “Feel So Good,” by the Storyville Stompers. This is great party music replete with whistlin’, whoopin’, holerin’,and glorious wailin’. Who could ask for anything more?
You’re also gonna need tons of classic New Orleans music. The compilation Mardi Gras in New Orleans still rules the land. Another great compilation is Crescent City Soul: The Sound Of New Orleans 1947-1974, which features 119 selections of both classic and rare recordings.
Next, load up on Professor Longhair. For sheer fun, you gotta have a lot of Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns, Joe Liggens and the Honeydrippers, Lee Dorsey, and Tommy Ridgely. Jessie Hill is in a category of his own, for Hill is the embodiment of the mojo-junco spirit of New Orleans at carnival. His wildly individualistic spirit lives on now with Ernie K-Doe, Kermit Ruffins, James Andrews, Snooks Eaglin, Uncle Lionel, J. Monque’d, and Gregory Davis. You should also stock your grab bag with Irma Thomas, Betty Harris, Earl King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Chris Kenner, Alex Chilton, Tav Falco and the Panther Burns, Joe “Ducktail” Clay, and Art Neville.
We’ll close out our “pop” recommendations with the three Louie’s: Armstrong, Jordan, and Prima. My suggestion: stick with their ‘50’s recordings and you’ll have a blast.
You can’t survive Mardi Gras without a fat slab of funk, so make sure you load up with lots of Eddie Bo, Meters, Neville Brothers, Gaturs, King Floyd, and James Booker. Also check out the current scene that includes Galactic, All That, Davell Crawford, Buckshot Lefonque, and the New World Funk Ensemble.
There’s a whole lot of New Orleans jazz to keep your carnival a swingin’ affair. My picks include anything by the A.F.O. Executives, Astral Project, 3Now4, Nicholas Payton, Quintology, James Andrews, George Guesnon, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis’ tribute to Peanuts®, Joe Krown’s Organ Trio, Clarence Johnson and Davell Crawford’s Hammond B-3 record, Paul Gayten, “Jellyroll” Morton, the Yockamo All-Stars, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Al Hirt, Danny Barker, Sidney Bechet, Alvin Battiste, Earl Turbington, Johnny Adams, Wardell Quezergue, and anything featuring the gut-bucket trombonist Freddie “the voice” Lonzo. Of special interest: Don Vappie and the Creole Jazz Serenaders’ “Creole Blues,” John Boutte’s “At the Foot Of Canal Street,” and Donald Harrison’s “Indian Blues.”
There’s a few odds and ends that should also be included in you Mardi Gras grab bag. Egg Yolk Jubilee’s Champions of Breakfast will kick-start any day just fine. Similarly, Royal Fingerbowl’s Happy Birthday Sabbo, Michael Ray and the Cosmic Krewe’s Funk If I Know, anything by the Hong Kong, C.C. Adcock, John Fred and the Playboys, Blackula, New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Beau Jocque, Rosie Ledet, Mr. Quintron, and Kidd Jordan are all more than capable of causing irreparable damage to your speakers, furniture, pets, friends, family, lovers and anything you might be traveling in.
Years ago, WWOZ’z “Records From the Crypt” host Billy Delle put out a cassette called Billy Delle’s Mardi Gras Special. Along with interviews with Eddie Bo, Harry Nance, and Tommy Ridgely, the program featured great music and stories that really put you in the spirit. I couldn’t do without it. As always, happy hunting, and in the words of Lewis White and William Shakespeare, “LET YOUR JOY BE UNCONFINED!” Happy Mardi Gras, y’all.