punk portion of the article starts about halfway down, so skip ahead
if that's all you want to see. Red Rockers are mentioned down there)
Between the Nevilles and the Toussaints and the Thomases and the second-liners and the Indians and brass bands and jazz, sometimes people overlook the fact that New Orleans has always had a pretty decent share of great rock bands, too. As Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth says, "rock is sort of treated like the red-headed stepchild, which isn't fair really." Whether it's Shane Martin and Noah's Wax Battleship playing at the Beaconette, Zebra playing at Huck's Levee Bar for a dollar cover or Better Than Ezra playing an unannounced set of new songs at the Mermaid Lounge, there's a whole history of New Orleans rock out there, most of which has yet to be chronicled in any coherent way. So, rather adventurously, we thought we'd dive off the deep end and present a rough and even somewhat random guide to rock 'n' roll club hopping in New Orleans through the years. Through thirty years of New Orleans history, here are just some of the bands and the clubs that they called home, as told through the recollections of many of the people who were there. Of course, this article couldn't possibly pretend to be comprehensive -- a whole book could barely do justice to such a phenomenally rich music scene. So we're apologizing in advance if we accidentally left your favorite influential band out or didn't talk to your favorite performer -- to prepare this article involved dozens of interviews, a process of sifting through hundreds of bands and dozens of clubs, even sending people digging for old gig fliers stuffed in musty high school yearbooks.
In the early days, Louisiana had its share of garage bands bashing out chords in the wake of the British invasion, including the Better Half Dozen and Souls Of The Slain. Some, like the Palace Guards, the Moon Dawgs and the Gunga Dyns, managed to squeak out a single or two; at least one, the Basement Wall out of Baton Rouge, even managed a locally-produced album. One club, the Beaconette, operated a kind of battle of the bands format. Though today he's known as guitarist for the Radiators, when Camile Baudoin was in high school, he was a Beaconette regular in Souls Of The Slain, whose one 45 is available on a compilation of Louisiana Punk From the Sixties.
"Way back then, we were a three-piece heavy rock thing," says Baudoin. "Lots of high-stacked equipment, really loud. The Glory Roads were another band I remember around. We'd always play the Beaconette with the Palace Guards, and it got to the point where to avoid the club owners, we were changing our name every weekend. We'd be the Plebeian Rebellion, the Brain Police, all kind of weird names."
By the turn of the '70s, a few had emerged above the fray to be better remembered.
"Back in those days, [my future business partner] Sherman was in a band called Noah's Wax Battleship, and I was the roadie and sound man," says Ed White, head of White Oak Productions, a local promoter. "We played clubs like the Beaconette, I guess it was Napoleon and Claiborne. Right on the corner was a restaurant called the Beacon, and a couple of storefronts down was the Beaconette, which was the club. There was a band Paper Steamboat. They were like the band. There was a band called Orange that was really popular then. Skor, those guys even though they were a white band, they ended up being the house band for Allen Toussaint, backing up Lee Dorsey a whole bunch, when he went on tour with the Clash and stuff. There was a band something like Papa Dukie and the Mud People -- they were kind of very esoteric for the time, underground. There was a Super Submarine Marching Band, real strange names. Later, some of those folks turned into a band called South."
White also remembers a club called The Experience, on Canal close to Carrollton, that was a psychedelic club. There was also a club called the Flower Pot, on a corner off Rampart, near Armstrong Park.
Says Baudoin, "It was a complete, straight-out hippie place, with long hair, people bringing flowers, and a little stage, really kind of comical. "
As rock grew in popularity, a whole crop of new venues opened up nationwide to meet the demand. In New Orleans, The Warehouse was an essential component of this early underground rock scene. The venue would host all-night New Years' Eve shows, running on '70s concert time, lasting until all hours of the early morning. One Warehouse patron of the early '70s recalls a Dr. John gig where, curiously, the entire audience lay on the floor rather than sitting or standing.
As hair grew longer and the '70s began to loom larger, a band rose up out of the New Orleans club scene that would have a great impact on the future of New Orleans music.
"Felix & I were in a band called Shepherd's Bush, and Felix was the lead singer and I was just lead guitarist," says Randy Jackson, guitarist and singer for Zebra. "That was around, oh, 1972. Felix was working at Jazz City studios, owned by Cosimo Matassa. It was also when Felix was working there that we snuck into a party that Led Zeppelin were having in the studio for their Houses Of The Holy tour. We snuck in at like 8:30 in the morning and waited all day in this tiny room until the party was really happening, and then we just walked out like we were supposed to be there! The Meters were playing, they had Professor Longhair there, food, strippers, transvestites, liquor, and everything else you could imagine! At the time there was a music scene starting to happen in the clubs. There was a band called Mink, and another band called Star. You know Bernie Cyrus? He's the director of the Louisiana Music Commission. He had a band called Silverleaf. Everybody was playing back then. There was also band called Paper Steamboat, that had turned into a band called Thunderhead. This is really early, back when I was young. Right at the time that Zebra was getting together, Thunderhead was putting out their first album. The clubs weren't real big, but they were big enough to rock! There's a place up on the corner of Carrollton right on the river, that's now Cooter Brown's, well it used to be called Huck's Levee bar, and we played there, Mink played a lot of shows there. There was also a place called Ziggy's, on Claiborne."
After flirting with a few different musicians, auditioning a bunch of singers, and experimenting with names like Maelstrom the group finally solidified, with the name Zebra suggested by a poster of a zebra hanging in uptown bar The Boot. Using a PA financed by Felix's brother, Zebra began playing dances, and then working their way into the clubs, charging a dollar cover. The crowds grew.
"We were packing these places to the max," Jackson recalls, "and we knew we had to get out, y'know? We'd met a band from New York, the Good Rats [who suggested the group relocate] and we decided to try it. It was New Year's Eve '77-'78, and we opened up for a band called Rat Race Choir. What happened was -- it's a funny story -- how we wound up doing two farewell gigs in New Orleans. The first farewell, we thought we were leaving, and we did a big Saturday night gig at Huck's, and we made a good bit of money. We were ready to leave. Then on Sunday, the guy who was going to be booking us up in New York called us and said, 'Listen fellas, I don't have enough dates for you, you're gonna have to hold off.' So we said, okay, whatever, and a few weeks later, we wound up having another big going away gig. We do the gig, people are still saying, 'Alright, break a leg, we'll be seein' ya,' or whatever. Then, the next day, the booking guy says the same thing. So we finally realized, we couldn't tell people we're not going now. So we had two choices: we can go hang out across the Lake and pretend we went to New York, or we can just call this guy and say 'we're coming to New York, you better be ready.' So we just went."
The group soon wound up packing clubs in Westchester county and Long Island (including sharing bills with a then up-and-coming band called Twisted Sister), and getting significant airplay on station WBAB. When an Atlantic executive visiting the station was told by a DJ that an unsigned band was getting more airplay and requests than flagship Atlantic acts like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, he made a few phone calls, and a few days later Atlantic officially offered Zebra a deal. According to Jackson, the group's debut sold 75,000 copies in the first ten days, the fastest-selling debut album by an Atlantic artist that didn't have a previous track record with another band. Spurred on by radio airplay in St. Louis, a promotion blitz was put behind "Who's Behind The Door?" including a video that briefly was aired on MTV. Even though it had to leave New Orleans to do it, Zebra carved out a path that other bands could follow. It was now possible to be from New Orleans and not play rhythm and blues.
Although often thought of in jazz or fusion terms, one current local band started out in the late '70s as an unabashedly heavy-sounding blend of styles.
"I was in a band that played in the park every week, back in like, free concert days," remembers Woodenhead guitarist Jimmy Robinson with a grin. "We played every Sunday in Audubon Park, a thousand people would show up, it was kind of a Hendrix kind of deal. It was at one of those shelters near where Monkey Hill used to be, it's now part of the Zoo. A whole bunch of different bands would just show up and play. It was a nice little scene, but they shut it down, 'cause it eventually got too out of hand."
Ed White also recalls the occasional Audubon park concert scene as the '60s drew to a close. "The Allman Brothers played the Warehouse the night before, Saturday I guess, and then the next day they set up in the park and played for free," White remembers. "There wasn't really a stage, calling it a band shell would really be too flattering. The backdrop was the river, and they were up there playing." Another person who remembers several of these riverfront shows recalls the promoters using the backs of flatbed trucks for the stage, with plywood laid on top. After various unsatisfying rock bands, the young guitarist dived into an eclectic instrumental jazz-rock hybrid, christening the all-instrumental band Woodenhead.
"Danny Cassin, the cellist, he and I kind of started it," Robinson recalls. "He had this electrified cello with this big strap-on pickup, in those days there was no technology to support it. We had that guy Animal (James Comiskey) playing drums then, too, sort of a real lunatic, and everything that we did back then was propelled by this style that he had -- totally crazed, the Keith Moon school. The first place we played was a joint called Ford's Place. Jimmy Ford had a little place around the corner from Tipitina's, Annunciation & Laurel, something like that. It was an old neighborhood bar that started doing bands. It's some sort of a fancy condo now. That's the first gig Woodenhead ever had. I met a whole bunch of people that are still around: Charles Neville, Ramsey McLain, Patrice Fischer, Ron Cuccia, John Magnie. In fact, Leigh Harris, Little Queenie, that's the first place I met her. Now that I'm thinking about it, it was really a whole lot of different people."
Robinson continues, "Our music of that era was really really angular, and very out there, really loud and dissonant. I think it's smoothed out a bit over the years. We're still out playing, doing exactly what we want to do."
Through different lineups and different eras, Woodenhead has continued to be a part of the New Orleans musical landscape, recently experimenting with a horn section, and a wide array of side projects.
One scene that Robinson and many other musicians fondly recall involved the early days of the Contemporary Arts Center.
"In those days, you could just arrange to use the room and give them a percentage," Robinson explains. "Most of it was just raw warehouse. They had this deal with Sydney Besthoff, you know, the Besthoff in Katz & Bestoff, he was a real supporter of the arts. We'd agree to pay them 10 or 20% of what we took in. Listen to this: We'd buy our own beer and wine and stuff, set up our own bar, run our own door, have three or four bands play. People would show up and it'd be a madhouse -- no security, no nothing. It always went off without a hitch, amazingly enough. Clark Vreeland [of the Rhapsodizers] had a band called Room Service, with Spencer Bohren and a couple of guys. And then there was a band called SexDog, which was Cranston Clemens, his brother Dave, Scott Goudeau -- they were like a real early local punk band. We'd have these really weird bills with these really out punk bands -- the Men In Black, the Ditty, and then Woodenhead, so we'd get a real cross-section of people. I guess things were a little more open then."
Although they never released any recordings, there was one band of this era that wound up playing a tremendous role in shaping the scene for years to come. The Rhapsodizers started out shortly after pianist Ed Volker teamed up with in the French Quarter to play what future Radiators' guitarist Camile Baudoin would later call "unglamorous gigs playing for tourists and the backs of strippers." Soon, a group was formed, dubbed the Rhapsodizers, with Clark Vreeland on guitar, Frank Bua on drums and Becky Kury on bass. Volker remembers the Rhapsodizers' three-year run as a time and place "where music as a way of life became a viable reality for me, a social reality.
"Luigi's was a pizza joint that serviced a lot of people who attended, taught, and/or worked at the lakefront campus of the University of New Orleans. Wesley Schmitt was managing the place when he approached Clark Vreeland about having the band he was in, the Rhapsodizers, perform there on Wednesday nights for sixty bucks. Myself, Frank Bua, and Becky Kury were in the band then. We took the offer. This was in 1974, during oil embargo, gas lines, truck driver strikes. I can't call it a renaissance but it was a period of breakdown that gave music a golden opportunity. People with time on their hands were partying to homegrown music while the government looked the other way."
They played the Dream Palace, Tips, local clubs and a weekly Wednesday gig at Luigi's Pizza parlor out by UNO.
"That was a good little band, Becky Kury on bass, and she could really sing," recalls Frank Quintini, who briefly ran the Dream Palace. Things turned for the worse, and Becky Kury, a longtime asthmatic, died of complications while being treated for an asthma attack. And for a long time afterwards, the mysterious graffiti "Becky Kury Lives" was spray painted on the wall of the K&B at Broadway and St. Charles.
Baudoin, who joined the Rhapsodizers near the end of their run, shares his remembrance of Kury. "People talk about being born under a bad sign. I mean, this woman...if I had ever known anyone who had been born under a bad sign, I guess it was her. I mean, one thing after another kept occurring, happening to her, and she just went on and on and on."
After a period of inactivity, Voelker, Bua and Baudoin joined forces with Dave Malone and Reggie Scanlan, members of another band, Road Apple, to reconfigure themselves into the Radiators. Using the Dream Palace as an early base of sorts, the group embarked on their odyssey that this year finds them celebrating their 20th Anniversary with a new live CD, and annually closing down the Jazz Fest as one of the city's most beloved groups.
Another important artist who emerged around about the same time was Little Queenie & the Percolators. She was the first act to play at Jimmy's Club, a music club that opened on Willow St. in 1978.
"The nickname came from the [Chuck Berry] song, but truthfully, it originally came from an ex-boyfriend of mine, explains Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris, "who used it on me to try and, you know, get to me." But still, I always noticed that the actual "Little Queenie" in the lyric is someone that the protagonist of the song is completely smitten with."
After a few initial lineup changes, the core of Little Queenie's band solidified into the Percolators -- John Magnie, Tommy Malone, Kenneth Blevins drums, Ricky Cortes on bass (who ended up playing with John Mayall), Fred Kemp on tenor sax, with Reggie Houston also sometimes in the horn section -- these musicians later turned out to be some of the most significant musicians on the scene. Although her music at the time was basically jazz and blues-based, Little Queenie, with her red or orange spiky hair, fit in right alongside the more new breed of club acts that cropped up in the late '70s and early '80s. She could play Tipitina's one night or a new-wavish club like the Beat Exchange (a French Quarter venue) the next.
Says Harris, "I was writing a lot of songs with John [Magnie], and his piano playing was informed by Fess and Earl King, and all that, and yet we both listened to Van Morrison and the Band. I could see how it wasn't just a straight roots sort of thing."
To this day, Little Queenie has been one of the city's best-loved musical attractions. Last year, she released a record featuring Jimmy Robinson and other local musicians, recorded live at Carrollton Station. A new record is in the works as this article goes to press.
Even though Zebra had left, New Orleans continued to produce rock acts. The Sheiks were still packing them in, but something else was also brewing in the club scene. That something -- which pundits would variously call Punk Rock and New Wave -- manifested itself in the beginning of 1978 with a band called the Normals.
"The Normals, man," says Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth when asked to name one influential band over all others. "They started the whole New Orleans new music scene. They never got the recognition they deserved," he says with a wink.
"But they also kind of screwed it up themselves when they went to New York!"
Speaking for the Normals, bassist Steve Walters sets the record straight. "The band's first gig was in the beginning of '78, in January and we broke up in March of 1980, so the band was really only together for two and a half years. The whole thing was to come up with our own stuff, absolutely. We were doing group photos one time, at the old Jeff Drive In, and a cop stopped us and wanted to know who had the knife. They thought it was Grease, or West Side Story, it was ridiculous. You couldn't buy a leather jacket at the mall in those days."
The Normals' reputation, and the fact that they left behind only one single as their only musical documentation led them to be hailed as New Orleans' first "punk" band, a description that grew more and more ludicrous as time went on. Their reputation became such that their 1997 retrospective CD was called Your Punk History, although Steve is quick to point out that the Normals themselves had nothing to do with choosing that title or most of the music on the package.
"Honestly, neither Charlie and I liked the title," says Walters. "Why name it something that is going to alienate people? We were kind of a punk band, but we weren't like a speed metal type punk band, or what came later. We weren't what you think of now -- and as a result a lot of people these days who never really heard us think we were that type of band. We're not too tickled with all that, it was dumped in our lap that way. but overall, the CD is only like a historical document, and it's far from perfect. That's the way it's always been with us. One of the positives is the friction. The positive came out of all the negative energy going against us, or whatever. It's not worth losing sleep over."
The Normals moved to New York and broke up shortly thereafter, but their impact on the New Orleans scene was undeniable.
With a band like the Normals as the catalyst to spur it on, a whole scene suddenly began taking shape.
"There was a DJ on WTUL, 'John G' who used to play punk and New Wave on Tuesday nights," recalls John Thomas Griffith, who is now also in Cowboy Mouth. "Years later, I finally met him in New York, and I told him I thought he was a god! That was really the only place to hear what was going on, and it was really the one of the only places to find out where the gigs were in town."
In the early days before the media put tags all over everything, punk and New Wave really sort of mashed together at first, and Griffith recalls a vibrant scene taking off in New Orleans.
"There was a whole scene right there, of Jimmy's and Jed's [which also did business as Tupelo's Tavern, Muddy Water's], and it was not uncommon at all for people to walk back and forth between the two clubs, meet in the streets, all night long. That was the circuit."
Eventually, two compilation albums, No Experience Necessary and N.O. Questions, N.O. Answers, were released locally to document the wave, and Jimmy's routinely booked bands like Defectors, RZA, Lenny Zenith, Sluts, Uptights, Shellshock, Fugitive, the Plague, the Ditty, and 30 Second flash. Jimmy also recalls one night at his club where most of the city's punk and new wave bands played and someone shot video footage for a documentary.
But not everybody was punk.
"There was this other band, the Dukes, who I guess you could say were sort of the rivals to the Normals for a spell," recalls Griffith. "The Normals were like the uptown, real high-energy punk band, and the Dukes were maybe more Stonesy, kind of a New York, Richard Hell sort of thing." Walters also recalls the Dukes saying, "The Dukes were a big rivalry thing happening, but most of their stuff was more covers, in a Stonesy kinda vein. Mike DeSanto, the singer, was doing a combination between David Johansen and Jagger. They were a totally different crowd, though. Their fans would fight with our fans, it was just like the mods and the rockers, all that. We used to play at the little dump Changes on Claiborne, around Napoleon. They called it Changes because it kept changing owners. It's a funeral home, now."
Inspired by what they knew was happening with the Normals and elsewhere in the country, Griffith and his friends formed a band called the Rat Finks. As they began to take their music more seriously, the band changed their name to the Red Rockers, based on "Red Rockers Rule," a B-side of a punk single by the Dills.
"One time, we were in the Boot, and we started talking to these girls. You know, we were like eighteen, nineteen, and we presented ourselves with that 'if you want to take a walk on the wild side, go with me' attitude. So these girls started talking to us, and these frat guys there got real puffed up about it. I remember quite a run-in that night!"
Interestingly, while much is being made these days of the recent rise of Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District, in the late '70s and early '80s the same stretch experienced a similar bohemian revival; at that time there was Leisure Landing record store, clothing stores like the Red Star boutique and the offices of Wavelength, a local New Orleans music magazine.
"It's funny," Griffith recalls, peering down the same stretch of Magazine Street today, "because I've been in so many of these buildings. A party here, somebody lived upstairs there, a gig down the street. And for all the little scenes, there was also an amazing amount of diversity going on in the clubs, too. I mean, one week the Blue Vipers, a rockabilly band with an upright bass player would open for the Red Rockers. And then a week later we'd play with bands like Shellshock or Disappointed Parents who were even more hardcore thrash than we were."
Hearing the siren call that had lured so many, the Red Rockers eventually moved to Los Angeles, signed with Columbia records, and went on to score a minor hit with "China," including a video (shot on spec by former members of New Orleans proto-punk group SexDog) that aired on MTV.
Fuelled by a whole new crop of younger kids, the local hardcore punk scene carried on through the entire 1980s, with venues shifting to the Dream Palace and then to cheaply-rented CYOs and VFW halls. Out of that scene came bands like Shellshock, Exhorder, Graveyard Rodeo, Surfin' Jesus and the Black Problem.
EJ, guitarist for Disappointed Parents, recalls how he came into that scene: "They were playing at a club called the Beat Exchange. I was playing in a funk band that had disbanded, stopped playing, you know? And me and a friend just went out one night to see some music, and I saw them, I said, 'Damn!' I needed a change. The leader's name was Ron. Before Disappointed Parents they had been known as Dejected Offspring. We opened for the Red Rockers many times, Tupelo's Tavern, The Rose Tattoo, across from Tipitina's. We had a record out, Am I Getting Through? an EP."
Though few people at the time took the Sluts very seriously, they did manage to make it out on the road to California and New York, and at one point, singer Dave Slut actually earned an audition to be lead singer for California punk band Black Flag, losing out to Henry Rollins. The Sluts eventually released an EP, 12" Of Sluts before fading into fond obscurity (according to one story, the money to make the record came from a windfall when someone's girlfriend was in a car accident).
"I ran into [guitarist] Jimmy Slut last year in Charity Hospital," EJ relates. "I was sick, I had a really, really bad cold, so I went down there. And I'm waiting around, and looked over and saw him waiting there, too, and I remembered him. I said, 'Didn't you used to play in a punk band? And he smiled and nodded, 'Oh yeah, I remember you, Disappointed Parents.' It was really cool to see somebody there I knew."
Another band that came out of the later end of this scene was The Black Problem. Originally named Harry Lee and The Black Problem (a reference to controversial remarks made by Jefferson Parish sheriff), the Black Problem briefly caused a stir with topical songs like "Don't Mess With Geraldo" and "Rebels Don't Wear Reeboks."
The band later transmogrified into Lump. The underground punk scene of the 1980s was fraught with unfortunate occurrences: Disappointed Parents' bass player Otto was seriously injured in a bicycle accident, while respected band Shellshock's career was ended when guitarist Hatch Boy suddenly committed suicide.
Meanwhile, the more commercial side of the late '70s revolution spearheaded in New Orleans by the Normals -- the New Wave side, if you will -- was continuing on a different course. One essential rock club of the era was Ole Man Rivers, on the West Bank. In addition to hosting influential concerts such as Gang Of Four and U2, the club also hosted local acts. Directly in the wake of the Normals, a new band emerged, mostly playing at Jimmy's, The Totally Cold. Truncating their name to The Cold, the group fused the intensity of New Wave with the overt pop sensibilities of Blondie and The Knack, and with guitarist Kevin Radecker's turquoise Gibson guitar, even a dash of the frantic surf of the Ventures.
"There were people who wanted to hear this kind up upbeat, almost aggressive kind of sound, and that's why a band like the Cold or the Normals kept filling the clubs," says Cold guitarist and co-founder Radecker. The nucleus of the band was Radecker, bassist Vance DeGeneres (who was still years away from being known as brother of Ellen), drummer Chris Luckett (from the Normals) guitarist Bert Smith, and frontwoman Barbara Menendez, a recent graduate of Mt. Carmel High School with a penchant for dressing like a New Orleans Catholic schoolgirl gone bad. Fueled by Menendez' energetic on-stage pogo'ing and the Degeneres/Radecker flair for writing songs that were tuneful and twisted, the Cold developed a rabid cult following locally, and released a string of singles that received considerable airplay on several local stations, no mean feat in an era when local commercial radio seemed determined to ignore everything other than the current hit parade.
Before and after the Cold's early '80s reign, other New Wave bands were crowding into the mix: Waka Waka, a Pretenders-ish band known as the Uptights, androgynous power-pop-rocker Lenny Zenith, and the Backbeats. Out of this scene came several bands with noteworthy members: there was Apt. B, with Barbara Menendez and future Continental Drifter Carlo Nuccio; the Backbeats contained the nucleus of Cowboy Mouth in Fred LeBlanc and Paul Sanchez.
Fred LeBlanc picks up the story: "We'd do these really long sets in the Quarter, like six hours of playing. That's where Paul and I learned how to play really hard and intensely. Jimmy's was the club at the time, it was the only place to play. Tipitina's was there, but they were more into the Radiators, Bo Diddley kind of thing."
When an offer came to join Dash Rip Rock, a swaggering rock band fronted by guitarist Bill Davis and impossibly skinny bass player Hoaky Hickel, Fred leapt in to the drum chair. The results were one of the best-loved incarnations of Dash Rip Rock, a band that in spite of a Spinal Tap-esque amount of drummers over the years, has gone on to be considered one of New Orleans' most consistent club draws. In fact, given its longevity and reputation, an argument could be made for Dash as the supreme pure rock 'n' roll band the town has ever produced.
"The thing that I liked about Dash was, number one, Bill and Hoaky looked like they had a lot of fun even though they were wasted out of their gourd," says Fred today. "Number two, Bill had ambition. He was saying, 'I want to go to South Carolina, I want to play in Georgia, I want to play in Atlanta.' You know, now it sounds silly, because there's so much media and so much linking up, there's a whole circuit nowadays, but back then Atlanta was a complete other world. Bill wanted to show that we could do it, we could be a national, new band based from Louisiana. Dash doesn't get enough credit, I don't think, because we ended up getting a lot of bands around us contacts, gigs, names and getting them gigs out of town. There's a lot of bands now that have this circuit kind of carved out, and that's great."
Back in the days when R.E.M. came down from Athens in an Econoline and were still playing small New Orleans clubs like Tupelo's Tavern and the Beat Exchange, Dash Rip Rock were on the highway going the other direction, helping lay the groundwork for the sort of club touring that today is routine for virtually all up-and-coming New Orleans rock bands.
From here, time speeds up as memories become more familiar: Fred LeBlanc left Dash to form Cowboy Mouth, who followed Dash's hard-touring formula before ending up signed to MCA records and becoming poised for almost a certain commercial breakthrough. The Continental Drifters, featuring ex-dB Peter Holsapple, ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson, members of Little Queenie's Percolators, and ex-Cowsill Susan Cowsill, emerged as a supergroup of sorts and one of the city's most popular bands. Better Than Ezra (originally operating under the equally-enigmatic name Reality Patio) suddenly emerged with a record on a national label that went on to become a fairly big-sized hit; and Deadeye Dick surprised many by going on to achieve national success with a song on a movie soundtrack.
From a business or "career" standpoint, there really is a thread emerging from all this history. Although it's not been a literal set of stepping stones, each major New Orleans rock band has helped paved the way in some fashion for what came next: Zebra proved it could be done, period; With "New Orleans Ladies," the band Louisiana LeRoux proved that a rock record could actually be cut in Louisiana and compete nationally; groups as disparate as Woodenhead, the Normals and the Cold proved you could have your own individual sound; Dash Rip Rock and Cowboy Mouth provided the "get in the van" network of contacts and connections to compete in the burgeoning alternative marketplace. But if you scratch below the surface, the other thing that all these bands share is that they all remember seeing other local musicians playing music on-stage and being impressed; whether it's seeing Paper Steamboat or Isosceles Popsicle at a long-gone psychedelic club, or catching the Normals at Jimmy's or the Rock-A-Byes play in Fat City. People talk about cities and music scenes in terms of who's going to be "the next Seattle or Athens, Georgia," when all along, New Orleans has had a tight-knit scene that continually re-inspires itself.
Copyright © 1998, OffBeat, Inc.