I'm going to ask about a couple of your specific projects later, but I wanted to first ask if you could talk more broadly about your general approach to incorporating Puerto Rican musical concepts into your group's sound.
Miguel Zenón: My approach initially was to try and understand Puerto Rican music at its core and understand its history and development. Even though I grew up with this music, it got to a point that I realized I didn't really know it the way I should. So I kind of made it into a goal of mine to try to go deep into the music and learn the history and the development. As I was doing that I started finding elements in the music that were really interesting and unique. I also started finding the threads between Puerto Rican music and other styles of music from the Americas that were coming out of the same roots. That eventually led me to connecting those roots with jazz music.
You mentioned before that this encounter between jazz music and Latin American music has been for a long time sort of exclusively connected to the Afro-Cuban music tradition. But I can see over the last 10 or 20 years there's been an obvious departure to welcome other ideas coming out of Latin America. There's an understanding now that just because a musician is Latin American and he's playing jazz, he doesn't have to fit into this box that's been around for the last 50, 60 or 70 years. There's a realization now that something else can come out of that combination.
Kyle: Through the years there have been some great saxophonists to come out of Puerto Rico, and I wondered if any of those musicians had been an influence on you? I was particularly thinking of Lito Peña who founded the legendary Orquesta Panamericana in the 1950s, and later went on to study classical music and write some important orchestral works that incorporated the influence of traditional Puerto Rican folk music
Miguel: Most definitely. I actually met Lito Peña when I was a young student in Puerto Rico. A lot of his bandmates in Orquesta Panamericana were actually my teachers at school. So I met Lito Peña through them. A lot of my teachers came out of the tradition which combined classical training with exposure to dance music and popular music. A lot of my early professional engagements were playing that type of music.
Of course, as you mentioned there are so many great musicians, specifically saxophone players, to come out of Puerto Rico. I have to mention the tenor saxophonist David Sánchez who came out of the same school I came out of in Puerto Rico. He's about eight or nine years older than I am. But we actually went to the same courses and studied with the same teachers at the school. He was a mentor of mine when I first moved to New York. He was very, very influential and extremely helpful in helping me find my personality as a saxophone player.
Kyle: In addition to being musically rich, so much of your recorded work is also very conceptually rich and there's one album in particular I wanted to ask you about. In 2014 you released Identities Are Changeable, a powerful work that explored the concept of identity, particularly the identity of New York's Puerto Rican population. Throughout that album you weave in dialogue from interviews you recorded with Puerto Ricans in New York, and it certainly feels like the music was composed, or at least tailored around the themes presented in the dialogue. Tell us how you created Identities Are Changeable.
Miguel: As you mentioned, that record grew out of my desire to understand the perspective of the Puerto Rican community outside of Puerto Rico, specifically people living in New York City, which is the largest community outside of the islands and the most historic community. What I did was interview a couple individuals, colleagues and friends who were born and raised in the New York City area, but have roots in Puerto Rico through their parents and grandparents.
Through those conversations we got into some very specific themes of language and culture and the connection to other communities, like the African American community for example. Then I took those themes and wrote pieces around them using rhythmic layers as something that would represent identity in this case. I would have very specific structures sort of coexisting with each other and representing this idea that identity is not something that has just one space, it has many varied spaces and those spaces can be represented in different parts of your life.
Miguel: That album came from a series of albums I did with each one focusing on a particular aspect of Puerto Rican music, in this case it was plena music, which is sort of our Carnaval music. It's a very percussive music, and a music that is very embedded in the culture. For this project I incorporated a group of percussionists who come out of the plena tradition and who are also vocalists. A lot of the tracks have vocals with lyrics I wrote trying to follow the tradition of this music, which is very specific about the lyrics. I tried to marry the two worlds of plena and jazz together.
Miguel: I wanted to go back to some of the early developments of this band. I've been playing with this group for a long time, it's a quartet with me on alto saxophone, Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. Hans and Luis and I have been playing together for 16 or 17 years and Henry has been playing with us for about 10 or 11 years.
A lot of the recent projects we've worked on have been more focused on larger conceptual things, and larger ensembles with more musicians. I just kind of wanted to go back and write music that was specifically focused on our ensemble, the sound we've developed over the years and the specific personalities of all the people in the band.
I wrote the title track of the album "Típico" about a specific feeling I get when I listen to music I consider to be folkloric or coming out of folklore. There are certain things to me that jump out of music that makes me think it's coming out of that place, it could be a harmonic thing or rhythmic thing. It's the opposite of music that's coming out of conservatory training, its music that's coming out of the ground, if you will.
Art's latest project, a Kickstarter campaign raising funds for a box set of three 45 RPM singles, features music he recorded during a 2016 session at the legendary Sun Records' studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
The box set, called Memphis Dream, represents the fulfillment of a dream Art hatched nearly 60 years ago. While an aspiring young Indianapolis rock and roller in 1959, Art hopped in his car and headed for Memphis with the hope of landing a recording contract with the rock and roll juggernaut Sun. Art's trip yielded a meeting with legendary Sun producer Jack Clement, who encouraged him to come back to the label with some more up-tempo material.
And 57 years later, Art returned, but he needs help to get the project pressed to vinyl. Visit Art's website at ArtAdamsBand.com to find out how you can help support Art's Memphis dream.
I caught up with Art and his bassist Mike Strauss to get the inside story on the Art Adams Band's Sun sessions.
KYLE LONG: When I first interviewed you Art, I was so fascinated by this story you told me about your trip to Sun Records in 1959. You didn't make an appointment at Sun you just showed up and knocked on the front door?
Art Adams: That's right, and for anybody who has never been to Sun Records it just sits right on the street. I walked in the front door and I said to the lady there, "Is Sam here?" She said, "You mean Mr. Phillips? He's not here, but Jack Clement is. I see you've got a tape. Mr. Clement will listen to it." He did listen to it. He told me what I should do, He told me to make some changes and come back. But I never did come back.
KYLE: For folks that don't know, Jack Clement was an incredible producer and songwriter. He was a big part of the Sun Records' operation and an important recording artist himself. He produced Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and wrote Cash's early hit "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," among many other accomplishments. What kind of guy was Jack to sit and talk with?
Art: He was young at that time, but he became a legend. Jack treated me well. He said, "I'll explain things to you like I did Johnny Cash." He really helped Johnny Cash a lot. He played rhythm guitar on most of Johnny Cash's recordings. He not only wrote songs for Johnny Cash, he wrote a hit for George Jones called "A Girl I Used To Know." He actually discovered Charley Pride and helped a lot of people.
KYLE: So releasing the Memphis Dream project is the fulfillment of a dream you've carried for over 50 years?
Art: That's right, but I never thought too much about it. But the Art Adams Band, which was part together by my friend Mike Strauss, I had told them the story about me going down to Sun and Mike encouraged me to write a song about it. So I wrote a song called "Memphis Dream."
Well, one day after that my guitar player Tim Gibson called me and said, "We're going to Sun to record." I said "What?" [laughs] So actually the guys in the band set it all up before I ever knew we were going to do it. So we went down there and they had it booked from six in the evening until midnight that night. We recorded for a total of six hours.
KYLE: It must have been surreal for you to finally be recording at Sun all those years later.
Art: Well, in lieu of a better word, it was kind of eerie. I think we all had some tears while sitting in the recording studio, or at least our eyes got a little teary. We recorded everything the way they did back in the '50s.
Go to ArtAdamsBand.com to contribute to Art’s Memphis Dream fundraising campaign, and catch the Art Adams Band live in Indianapolis on Friday, February 10th for Motorama at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, or Friday, February 17th at Fifth Quarter for St. Patrick's Day.
During 2016 Indianapolis emcees and beat-makers thrived in all domains — online, onstage and on disc. Artists like Flaco, Drayco, Ejaaz and Poindexter racked up impressive listens through online music streaming services, the second edition of Chreece was one of the most talked about and successful local live events of the year and a plethora of great LPs were issued by Indy hip-hop names both known and unknown.
One of of the most significant releases of 2016 was Clint Breeze's Nappy Head album. Drummer/producer Carrington Clinton has been creating beats under the name Clint Breeze since 2014. While his 2015 LP Maisha became a cult favorite among local listeners, Nappy Head is poised to position Breeze as one of the most important creative artists in Indianapolis.
Featuring over a dozen guest contributors, including poets, rappers and jazz musicians, Nappy Head weaves a phantasmagoric assemblage of words and sounds into a razor-sharp critique of racial oppression in modern America. "It's a social commentary on our times," Breeze told me during a recent conversation. "I wanted to be very particular and concise with the message. The overall theme or motif of all the album is to symbolize the oppression of Black people in America."
The tone of the album is immediately set by Jacob Gardner’s striking cover art. I asked Breeze to explain the significance of the image.
“The album art depicts a Black person overcoming oppression in America. They’re sitting on top of the American flag, and the noose that is perceivably about to hang them is now broken. It’s to symbolize the state of oppression Black people experience every day: not getting fair treatment from the justice system, getting shot and killed by law enforcement, being unfairly treated in the workforce — you name it.”
As a producer Breeze draws skillfully from the soulful, jazz-rooted sound of the beloved Soulquarians collective, which briefly united the creative talents of artists ranging from Dilla to Questlove to Erykah Badu. Beyond music, one of the most impressive aspects of Nappy Head is Breeze's directorial ability to channel the talents of a diverse range of contributors into a coherent whole.
Oreo Jones had a big year in 2016 too. As mentioned above, the second edition of Jones' Chreece festival was a smash hit. The emcee also dropped Cash For Gold, the best album of his career and one of the most important Indianapolis releases of 2016.
I spoke with Jones about the record earlier this year. In addition to experimenting with new sounds, Jones also pushed into new territory as a lyricist. Best known for his comedic, larger-than-life flows, Cash For Gold's "Mud" found Jones exploring more difficult material. "That's definitely a social justice record," Jones told me. "At the time I was writing it, the crime rate and shootings and violence in the city were running rampant. I felt like it was important to tell a story about the people affected by the killings and shootings in the city. That's very important to me and it's important to the city to be aware of this."
The local disc I gave the most play to this year was Sirius Blvck's NXGHTCRAWLR. With the assistance of producer Bones of Ghosts, Blvck has created one of the must fully realized Indianapolis hip-hop records I've ever heard. NXGHTCRAWLR unfolds with almost cinematic movement, as Bones' dark ambient soundscapes provide the perfect foundation for Blvck's cryptic meditations on life.
The mood here is different, perhaps bleaker, than past entries in Blvck's back catalog. That's in part due to Bones' production. Blvck elaborated on the record's sound when we spoke earlier this year, "When Bones sent me some of the instrumentals I was unsure about a few of them because they were so different from anything I'd ever heard before. It kind of threw me off at first. Not in a bad way, but it was new. We had kind of developed a good outline together from the first three records, but we threw everything out the window with a lot of these tracks. Bones just said, 'Trust me. This is what we need to do. If you do this it's going to be something fresh.' So I trusted him, and it came out good."
The three records outlined above represent a mere snapshot of Indy's large and constantly expanding hip-hop scene. If you haven't yet ventured into this world, these discs offer a perfect entry point. There's a widespread feeling among journalists, fans and artists that the local scene here has serious potential to explode into the national consciousness, but until that happens, these artists need your support.
I'm reminded of a recent conversation I had with Cortland Tunstiill, better known as Fre$co of the New Wave Collective, who spoke at length on this subject: "The music here is flourishing. ...
"The biggest issue is us reaching out beyond the scene. There's a whole city out there, but we're still underground."
Beyond the need for more community support, I'd like to add one more critique as I close out this look back at Indianapolis hip-hop in 2016. There is a startling and unacceptable lack of gender diversity in this scene. Without question, more effort needs to be put forward in booking women artists and growing the talents of emerging women DJs, producers, emcees and promoters.
One major exception to this gender imbalance is emcee Rehema McNeil. In addition to being one of the most charismatic live performers in Indianapolis hip-hop, McNeil also released a superb EP this year titled Moko. The word "moko" translates to "womanhood" from the Polynesian language of Tonga. So I asked McNeil about the lack of "womanhood" being represented in local hip-hop.
"I have mixed emotions about it honestly," McNeil told me. "Part of it is an opportunity, because there aren't that many female emcees in the city that are dominating, so I have an open path to dominate and control the scene and saturate it with my music. But also I feel like I'm overlooked in certain areas, like getting booked for shows.
As the unprecedented political changes of 2016 point to a scary future in the year to come, we need the critical voice of hip-hop more than ever. Let's hope Indianapolis hip-hop continues to grow in 2017 — to grow artistically, to grow in community support and to grow in diversity.
The Bloomington brothers known as Busman's Holiday released their new LP Popular Cycles in mid-October. Next week, they'll celebrate that new release with a show at Pioneer on December 10.*
Popular Cycles finds Addison and Lewis Rogers taking aim at a huge pop sound — and we're talking Brian Wilson or George Martin huge. And, to the duo's credit, their arrow has zeroed in on that bullseye.
The sound here is indeed big. The intricately crafted arrangements on Popular Cycles make use of a 21-piece orchestra, in addition to a range of other arresting choices in instrumentation. But beneath the massive soundscapes and layered vocals lies the soul of Busman's Holiday: carefully written and lovingly performed pop songs overflowing with unique melodic and lyrical turns.
When all these elements come together, the effect is magical, as evidenced on the nostalgic "Make Believe," or the Beatles-esque "Evening Flows."
I caught up with Addison and Lewis in advance of their December 10 holiday-themed album release party at Pioneer. I was pleased to find the Rogers brothers to be every bit as bright, fun and engaging in conversation as they are in performance.
NUVO: You guys are known for your frequent performances busking around Bloomington. It seems to me that busking has been a big influence on your approach to making music. You have a very simple live presentation. Lewis, you often perform on acoustic guitar, and Addison, you're known for playing on a sort-of-makeshift drum kit built around a piece of Samsonite luggage.
Addison Rogers: Yeah! [laughs] One piece of Samsonite which I use as my bass drum and for a high hat type of sound, and then just a snare and cymbal.
I don't know how much that has shaped our music, but certainly it's shaped our approach to entertaining and having a relationship and dialogue with the audience, for sure.
Lewis Rogers: Well, I've actually always thought that a big reason we sing how we do is because I've trained my voice to singing on the street. You have to be loud. I think that for a while on a lot of our songs I was singing super loud.
David Byrne has that theory that music is shaped by its environment, and I think that's really true. I think that's one thing that's interesting about how we've evolved. As we've started playing different venues we started using microphones more, and the approach to music starts to change. Now I can have a song where I whisper. Before, we couldn't have a song where I whisper, because we were on the street and you can't play that way on the street. I've always thought that we've been molded by the busking.
NUVO: It's interesting to me that your live setup is so simple and basic, and the stuff you're doing in the studio is extremely complex. Can you talk about the gap between these two very different sides of the band?
Lewis Rogers: I've always wanted the songs to work in both of those setups. So you can explore this totally different world in the studio, but at the end of the day when you play it live for people, they understand that with just the chords and melody and a basic setup the song can also work.
I've always enjoyed when artists don't sound live like they do on the record. I know other people don't necessarily agree with that, but I totally do.
Addison Rogers: It settled into me at some point that we should not try to replicate what's on the record. If you want that experience, just listen to the record. The live show should be something you can't get otherwise and something that is as true as it can be.
We decided a long time ago, with our setup as it is, the records need to be exactly that or they need to be wildly different from that. So we've stuck to wildly different for a while.
NUVO: Your 2014 LP A Long Goodbye was a significant step forward for Busman's Holiday. It's an impressive record with ambitious arrangements and production. You recorded the LP in Canada with Mark Lawson, who is most know for his work engineering Arcade Fire's 2011 LP The Suburbs, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011.
I heard a really interesting story surrounding your work with Mark Lawson that started with an inheritance you received from an uncle. Can you elaborate on that?
Addison Rogers: Our mother's father died early on in her life, and she always wanted us to spend time with our great-uncle because that was the closest thing she had to her father. Unfortunately that didn't really come around. Then he passed away, and we got this inheritance. So we were trying to figure out what we should do with it.
We were having a late-night meal with our buddy David Woodruff at Steak 'n Shake, and we were thinking maybe we should get some equipment to make some videos. David said, "You're thinking about making this record. Have you thought about getting a producer for it?" Lewis said, "Well, there's probably only one producer we'd want to work with and that's Mark Lawson." At that point he'd just received a Grammy for working with Arcade Fire. So we're thinking there's no way he's going to work with us. [laughs] That is a total pipe dream.
At that point David was working at Fort William, and in the morning he told me to check my email. We found out that he'd sent a message to Mark saying, "These guys are orchestral pop, would you be interested in working with them?" Mark writes back, "Oh yeah, orchestral pop. That sounds great. Send me the demos."
We sent him some songs and gave him Lewis' phone number. Then out of the blue one day Lewis gets a phone call from California; he answers the call only to find out it's Mark Lawson.
Lewis Rogers: I was just driving and I picked up the phone and someone said "Hi, is Lewis there? This is Mark Lawson." That sobered me up.
So then we started talking, and he thought we'd already recorded the whole thing and just needed it mixed. I said "We actually need the whole thing recorded." He said "OK, come up to the studio. I've got the keys to Arcade Fire's studio. Come up and we'll make this happen." I told him we didn't have that much money really. He just said "Well, we'll not worry about that right now."
It totally worked out and he's just a super nice guy. He got us. It was nice to find someone really talented who got you. That was a touching moment. You don't find that very often, especially with someone who is really going to do you justice.
It was synchronicity.
Addison Rogers: He had us up there for a week and arranged really fantastic musicians for us. Some that had recorded and performed with Islands, which is the group that came after The Unicorns. That's how we got into Mark Lawson. We didn't really know Arcade Fire very much. But we were both big fans of The Unicorns who were a super tight, three-piece, indie pop group Mark had produced. They were really funky, quirky and terrific. Lewis and I had seen them live. They came through Rhino's at one point, maybe a couple times. They performed amazingly.
We recorded in Farnham, Quebec which is about 45 minutes outside of Montreal. The recording space was crazy; it was an old Masonic temple. So it was like a huge church with great stained glass. A beautiful mixture of this decaying structure and this warm energy there.
We really hadn't had an experience like that before. We'd had recordings that had their own sense of space and experience. We recorded our EP before that at a friend's house and everybody was sort of new to recording strings and that type of process. But to be submerged into this entirely different environment was just terrific.
Lewis Rogers: Well, we'd just never been in a studio before. In my mind I thought "I've recorded albums. I've been in studios." But then you realize "I haven't been in a studio once!" So it was odd to go into this scenario where you're just thrown into things.
But luckily we were with someone who was a total professional. He'd say "Hey, you guys should just take your time and warm up." I think he sensed we were both kind of nervous.
NUVO: So this brings us up to date to your new LP Popular Cycles. I think this is a remarkable album. The songwriting and production are brilliant. There's some fascinating instrumentation on the record, including arrangements utilizing a 21-piece orchestra. And again you're working again with Mark Lawson. Did you return to Quebec for the recording of Popular Cycles?
Lewis Rogers: This time Mark came down to Bloomington. It was interesting because we did it in both Bloomington and Montreal. It was cool because on the last record we were going into this foreign place, so it was nice for Mark to come into our spot that we were most comfortable in and record us there.
He stayed at our parents' house. He specifically asked for home-cooked meals. We showed him around and made him feel like family. I think that it really helped us.
Then we went to Montreal and stayed with his family. We picked his kid up from preschool a couple times. I think that bonded us more. It was a really good experience.
Addison Rogers: On the first record we did with him, he at times specifically stated that he didn't want to touch what we were doing, he just wanted to record it. This time around there was much more collaboration and he took on more of a co-producer role.
Lewis Rogers: The first one isn't technically produced by Mark, it was just recorded by him. So on this one he added his flavor to it. Especially "Evening Flows"; that's the one he was involved in shaping the most.NUVO: Well, congrats to both of you. It’s a fantastic record. And you have a holiday themed album release party for Popular Cycles happening in Indianapolis on Saturday, December 10 at Pioneer in Fountain Square.
I don't make a big deal about my avoidance of Thanksgiving. I usually just try to find some alternative ways to spend my time while the majority of the country feasts.
But this year is different.
It's hard to abstain silently from this year's Thanksgiving celebration after repeatedly seeing images of state violence used against the indigenous communities gathered peacefully in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. In solidarity with the protesters at Standing Rock, I've assembled this list of indigenous protest music to blast loudly from your sound system throughout the holiday weekend.
I understand that for most Americans Thanksgiving holds little political value and exists simply as a time to gather with friends and family. While I certainly respect that, I think it's important that we refuse to allow the barbaric history of violence and displacement carried out against Native American peoples to be falsified, forgotten or covered up.
In his book American Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 1992), historian David Stannard argues that the genocide against Native American people is the largest in recorded history. Stannard estimates that as many as 100 million indigenous peoples of North and South America perished from diseases and brutality.
We cannot alter the past, but we can try to foster a better future by acknowledging and learning from the tragic and unforgivable crimes of our history. The music listed below attempts to open up artistic dialogue on this theme.
A Tribe Called Red — We Are the Halluci Nation (Radicalized Records, 2016)
I was privileged to work with this incredible Canadian electronic music trio back in 2011, when I convinced the Eiteljorg Museum to fly A Tribe Called Red to Indianapolis for a performance at the opening night festivities of the Eiteljorg's Native American Contemporary Art Fellowship. It was one of the group's earlier U.S. dates, but their powerful mix of electronic music and Native American sample material was already fully defined.
A Tribe Called Red's third and latest LP, We Are the Halluci Nation, is their best effort yet, both musically and conceptually.
The LP opens with the words of the late Santee Dakota poet John Trudell, "We are the tribe that they cannot see ... we are the Halluci Nation." The album moves on to feature a multitude of artists representing marginalized cultures from around the globe, all in tune to A Tribe Called Red's thundering electronic take on traditional First Nation music.
We Are the Halluci Nation features a vibrant range of voices from Swedish hip-hop artist Maxida Märak, who represents the indigenous Finno-Ugric people of the Sápmi Arctic region, to the American spoken word artist Saul Williams, to the Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
Native North America Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 (Light in the Attic Records, 2014)
This fascinating 2014 compilation features rare archival recordings from indigenous voices within the Canadian rock scene. Stylistically the vibe here ranges from Dylan-esque protest ballads to wild blasts of raw '60s garage rock.
Native North America is a fascinating journey into an under-explored branch of rock-and-roll expression.
Tanya Tagaq — Retribution (Six Shooter Records, 2016)
Tagaq's vocalisms abandon traditional stylistic modes of "good" singing in favor of more expressive sounds like grunting, howling, growling and yelping. At times Tagaq manifests the aggressive fervor of a wild rabid dog, while in more intimate moments her vocal eruptions take on a sensual quality.
The press release for Retribution describes the disc as a conceptual treatise on the "rape of women, rape of the land, rape of children, despoiling of traditional lands without consent." Retribution finds Tagaq manifesting the fury of the Earth incarnate, screaming out in defiance of all environmental crimes and transgressions.
On the amorphous "Cold" Tagaq's chanting documents the effects of global warming on the Arctic, while "Centre" uses hip-hop to verbalize global civilization's small place within the infinite scope of the universe. And Retribution concludes with a spare, but harrowing, take on Kurt Cobain's "Rape Me".
Tagaq has created a soundtrack for mankind's abuses against the environment and ultimately civilization itself.
He was 26 years old but already a veteran of the music business. Before leaving New Orleans in 1965, Rebennack had recorded some highly regarded singles under his own name while contributing songs and session work to legendary early rock and roll sides for labels like Specialty, Ace, Ric and Ron. In California Rebennack was an in-demand session player for hit-makers like Sonny Bono and Phil Spector, but he'd failed to establish his own unique identity as a musical force to be reckoned with.
But 1967 would be the year that everything came together for Rebennack, who rechristened himself with the identity of a mid-19th century New Orleans root doctor known as Dr. John. Working under the name Dr. John, Rebennack developed a funky, stretched-out take on New Orleans voodoo music that struck a chord with the psychedelic generation and propelled Rebennack to widespread underground notoriety. What became an all-encompassing NOLA sound hit its peak in 1973 as Rebennack landed a hit record with the irresistibly funky "Right Place Wrong Time."
Today Dr. John is a six-time Grammy Award-winning musician and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who embodies the essence of New Orleans music for millions of fans across the globe. I caught up with Dr. John in advance of his November 19 date at The Palladium with Nicholas Payton.
NUVO: I want to start off with a left-field question for you. The paper I write for, NUVO, is based in Indianapolis. There was a great blues singer and pianist here in Indy named Leroy Carr. His best-known recording was an arrangement of "How Long Blues," a record he cut in Indianapolis with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in 1928 for the Vocalion label.
You've performed a couple takes on this song. In 1996 you laid down a version of the tune with Eric Clapton that seems to draw heavily from the 1928 Carr and Blackwell version, and in 2003 you recorded a version with Pete Jolly and Henry Gray for the Piano Blues volume of Martin Scorsese's documentary series Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues.
I'm curious if you were influenced by Leroy Carr's take on this tune?
Dr. John: No, I tried to listen to Leroy Carr's version but I couldn't get a good disc of it.
NUVO: Do you recall if you ever played on Indiana Avenue? That was kind of like our Beale Street; lots of great jazz and blues players came up on the Avenue.
Dr. John: Yes, I've heard of that. I have a great memory of working the Chitlin' Circuit. I remember being in Indianapolis during the days of the Chitlin' Circuit, but I don't remember exactly where I was.
NUVO: Your current tour is in support of Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, an album you recorded in tribute to Louis Armstrong. I heard the inspiration for this album came from a dream where the spirit of Louis Armstrong visited you and told you to cut a record of his music in your own style.
Dr. John: That's correct.
NUVO: Had you ever thought about recording an album of Armstrong's music prior to this vision?
Dr. John: No, I had not thought of it. I had no idea in my head or on my brain that I would do something like this.
NUVO: That's such a fantastic origin story for a record. I'm curious what was going through your head when you woke up the next day after having this dream.
Dr. John: I didn't know what to think. I put it on hold for the time being and I did what I had to do that day. But I started thinking about it the next night and I realized that Louis had told me something good.
NUVO: Did Louis Armstrong ever come back into your dreams to give you a review of the finished album?
Dr. John: No, but I would be grateful to see him one day in the celestial lounge to see how he took that record.
NUVO: What kind of guy was Louis Armstrong to meet? Do you remember what you and Louis talked about?
Dr. John: Oh listen, Louis Armstrong was a gas to meet! I remember that in Joe Glaser's office he had this picture of Louis in Bucktown and I wanted to know if he'd passed thorough my pa's shop that was in Bucktown too.
[note: Rebbenack's father owned and operated a combination record shop and appliance store in the New Orleans neighborhood of Bucktown.]
But Louis Armstrong was laughing so hard about Ralph Schultz's Fresh Hardware store. He couldn't get out of laughing about that. But I could understand that. Ralph could marry you and divorce you. He could do anything.
[note: Fresh Hardware was a Bucktown hangout for a colorful cast of New Orleans characters, and in addition to peddling standard hardware store staples, the eccentric Schultz was known for catering to a wide range of his customer's needs.]