Several months ago, I walked into a yoga class, dripping sweat from running...
This is more or less the story about how Blue Bass Drum music/recordings came into being. Music has been recognized as healing energy for centuries. Music has been a major gift to me for spiritual, emotional and physical healing and grounding. I’ve loved just about everything about music since I can remember. New Orleans and all of south Louisiana is very well known as breeding grounds for what we call “musical families”. Usually it is referring to a fairly well-known family name and the brothers, sisters, parents, aunts and uncles etc., who are all involved in music in some way. I’ve always been in awe of the thought of it all. Examples of modern day musical families from south Louisiana would include the Neville family and the Marsalis family. I’m not sure that my experience fully qualifies to be a part of this wonderful phenomena, but it was musical, it happened in my family and it was pure majik. It seems to have begun when I was gifted a violin or fiddle, as they call it here, by my great grandfather on my Pop’s side of the family when I was 5. That majikal fiddle stayed locked in a closet for the next 15 years.
In the meantime, I took on the education of a lifetime. Not because it was a choice, but rather, because it was a way of life in this enchanted spiritual place that we live, here in south Louisiana. I can’t tell every story, but I can say that the music that was played in the household when I was 10, still gives me goosebumps until this day. The playlist was not large, but it was powerful and it was genuinely Nawlins. The major culprit of this environment, straight out of the University of Hard-Knocks was my father or “pops” as we called him. Let me see if I can give you an example playlists we were exposed to as kids:
- Big Chief – Professor Longhair
- It’s Rainin’ – Irma (N.O. pronunciation “Oima”) Thomas
- Iko Iko – Dr. John (N.O. pronunciation “Jawn”)
- Blow Wind Blow – Dr. John
- Land of 1000 dances – Chris Kenner
- Occapella – Ringo Starr
- Personality – Lloyd Price
- Blue Monday- Fats Domino
All of it was heavily influenced by the New Orleans style of R&B. Most of it had Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, participating in some way. He just idolized Mac, which came out of a friendship as young boys. I think he owned every piece of music Mac ever put to tape. He also knew the musicians of the day from working at a the Safari Room and became friends with Sam Cooke, while watching and meeting a lot of the players of the day. He had stories about all of them and loved hearing them play. Obviously, I didn’t realize what an education and DNA expanding experience was happening. It wasn’t something I disliked, and on the other hand, it wasn’t something I could love at the time. It’s really important to note that this education started when I was about 10 and never ended until Pops passed in Dec. 2007. In the later years, it became fascinating because I could participate and teach also, or he let me think so anyway.
Pops obviously encouraged me to play piano, but we had an organ, so organ lessons it was. Followed by a few stints at piano education. He and I used to have ridiculous conversations where we would draw comparisons about which of the “Jawns” was a better pianist, Dr. or Elton. I had my 15 seconds of fame related to actually performing music when I was around 18. It was a tribute band and I think we played twice. The year was 1980 or 81, I was a senior in high school and I played in a Rush (the canadian rock trio) tribute band. The band was a quartet. I had played a few times with folks from my high school, but was a free-agent. I went to a choir practice and my friend had his acoustic guitar. He whips out the beginning to the Rush song “Natural Science”. There was an instant bond and began the search for the two other members of the quartet.
My pop was so “tuned in” to music and was still cranking it up on the headphones during the day. One day, I came home from high school at the normal time around 3PM and walked past him to put down my books, and the music sounded familiar. I stopped and asked what he was listening to? He took off the headphones and said “This drummer is really great”. It was my Rush album he was listening to “Permanent Waves”. I was flabbergasted and immediately knew I had the coolest parent on the planet. I mean really! Who from a prior generation can listen to old 50’s R&B and a 1980’s power rock band and like both. Only a year or so later was about the time that a friend from college offered to restore the majikal fiddle. It took him a little while, but all of the wood damage was fixed and sanded down to it’s original color of tan. Not quite ready for prime time, but getting close.
My mom probably doesn’t know it, but she had as strong an influence on the core of my musical self as Pops did. It was an indirect result of my mothers’ insistence that we grow up with religious and spiritual values. Every Sunday we attended catholic church. For us, catholic church services and the church hymns that were sung, became a part of me. It led to me singing in church choirs until I was in my 40’s. I still come to attention when I hear a choir sing church hymns.
My Moms’ brother, Michael Blanda, became an early mentor for me and music. Uncle Mike, was by far, the gentlest soul I’ve experienced. He truly loved mankind. So the first 45 RPM record I owned was “Eight Days a Week” by the Beatles courtesy of Uncle Mike. This was my intro into pop and rock music. Uncle Mike was the first musical director I ever worked with as he volunteered to help up-and-coming 12 year-olds play pop music. He was only 13 years older than I, and as I got a little older, we became extremely close, most of the time neither of us knew who the adult was.
Pops and I remained best friends for the remainder of his life. As he got older, he told a lot of stories, and a lot of them were repeated a few times. A couple of his favorites involved Mac Rebennack, Earl Stanley, a record producer from New Orleans, and Roland (Leblanc) Stone, a regional singer who achieved some commercial status for multiple singles. He told a story of the 2 of them (Mac and Earl) being in a bar on the West Bank of Jefferson parish with my Dad on the way driving Roland to the gig, when guns were pulled out and it didn’t look good. There were a few others that, truthfully, I questioned validity for a long time. These stories just seemed to come from someone trying to relive their youth through these wonderfully embellished stories. Then when I was about 40, one of the newspapers did an interview with Mac and Earl together. They both told the same story and it was almost verbatim. My Pop’s musical pedestal got a lot higher that day and stayed that way until he passed away in 2007. He always said he came from the school of hard knocks. Not sure what name you give the school, but I just got a phd. All I can say is thank you for 34 years of your mentorship in this reality.
In my early 40’s, I was approached to be an Adjunct Professor in the very College of Music where as a young man, I had chosen to attend. It never worked out and I wound up taking a little detour before making it back. This, for me, is a great example of the circle of life. This was like living in the twilight zone. Same place, 25 years later. I taught there for 5 years and was overcome by the experience of how rewarding it was to assist young people along their paths.
Even though there were long stretches of time that I didn’t physically participate or perform music, I never lost the feeling that I was home in a musical setting. I just didn’t know exactly where or how. Also, somewhere in here around 1990, was the fact that the majikal fiddle seemed bound and determined to find life. It finally did from a violin maker and repairer around the SMU campus in Dallas, TX. He retro-fitted all of the hardware and re-strung the bows and strings. It was bowed for the first time in at least 22 years since I’d received it. How wonderful.
My first major music project after my youth of the 20’s and 30’s was the New Orleans Radio, an internet radio station. We featured real authentic New Orleans independent musicians. The goal was to create the atmosphere of the city from a native’s perspective. The station is still online after 20 years of love, sweat & tears. It really always has been a labor of love. It was an initiation, so to speak, for me. While creating the New Orleans Radio website I began to be fascinated with our local Louisiana musical ancestors, and the families of New Orleans music. Over the course of many years, I created a database chock full of biographical information on the many of the city’s musical ancestors. I wanted to tell those musicians stories. Some in our collection are ancestors and some still living. All of this was presented as “This day in Louisiana music history?” The database is quite large, and full of New Orleans musicians biographical information. During this time, I really had to listen to what the audience wanted and it was sometimes a challenge, but it taught me to listen differently and in a more accepting way.
During this stretch, I saw a healer about an unrelated issue who told me that music was a legacy carried through the males in my family. She said I should be making music. I told her I ran an internet radio station and she kept insisting that wasn’t it and I should be creating it. I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time. Little did I know!
In the last 5, or so, years, little known talents appeared out of nowhere to be a part of my journey in ways that I could only have imagined in the past. I studied music for the better part of my childhood and teens. I had revisited playing for short periods of time along the way, but nothing came of it. You see, I knew the theory and could play some, however, my view was always that being involved in music was always as a working and practicing musician of a certain caliber. I had eventually resigned myself to letting that part of my past go, because of my pre-constructed reality.
However, even though I hadn’t written or composed a single note of recorded music in my life, it seemed like 50 years of listening, appreciating and proactively learning came pouring out of this soul from just the ability to look at, or see, music in a different way than I had been seeing it for almost 50 years. I could not believe that the manner in which I was communicating or listening made that much of a difference. The only thing that I would have wished for if I would have known any of this is that my Pops and uncle Mike could have been with me right here as it was happening. However I’m quite sure I couldn’t have done this had they not been where they are now.
You can decide whether is qualifies for musical family status. On that note, I’ve come to believe that most South Louisiana families fall into that category in some way. It’s part of the cultural DNA here, cher’.
The remainder of the story about the majikal fiddle goes like this. Shortly, within 3 years, of getting bowed for the first time in 22 years, it fell from the wall in my house and cracked. That happened in about 1993. I was bothered by this for another 20+ years, until on 9/1/2017, almost 50 years since I’d received it, it was fixed, tuned, bowed and played for another run of majik. The luthier who fixed it, commented a few things he’s have done differently as the majikal fiddle had apparently been rebuilt a few times before I received it. He also said it was an common old German violin, but we all know it’s anything but common.
All of our Blue Bass Drum releases came courtesy of shamanism and a trip to the Voodoo Fest a few years back with a very old friend. That festival led me on a path to take one last swing. Our humble music offerings can be found in our Blue-Ju store HERE.
Inquiries about our music can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
After all of these years, I’m so blessed to be able to do this. It’s a real testament to the saying “It’s never too late”.
In addition to the music, I would be remiss not to credit my wonderful wife Ann for putting up with me all of these years. Also, thanks to my talented daughter, Sarah Glynn, for the artwork for our covers, and finally, Kimberly Crabtree for allowing us to use the celtic flame in our logo.