It was one of our first dates, a night at the Old Town Bar and Grill where we danced to music by a band of Mardi Gras Indians. The Wild Tchoupitoulas, led by Big Chief Jolly, aka George Landry, sang the battle songs of his New Orleans "tribe," backed by a band of brothers, his nephews: Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril Neville.
The brothers had followed individual paths into the music business: Art, the oldest, was the founder of The Hawkettes in the ’50s, then, in the ’60s, The Meters, a premier N.O. funk outfit that played on countless studio sessions. Charles took up sax and went off exploring jazz and blues. Sweet soul man Aaron scored a national hit in 1966 singing "Tell It Like It Is." Baby brother Cyril joined The Meters in the ’70s playing percussion.
As the story goes, their mother Amelia's dying wish was for the boys to stay together. Her brother George helped make it happen musically with the Tchoupitoulas. A year later the boys recorded their debut album for Capitol Records as The Neville Brothers. The rest is history.
Thirty years have passed since that first record. The individual brothers still follow their own paths. Each has a career separate from the others, but they record and tour together on a regular basis, and there's nothing like a Neville Brothers show. As I write this, my browser is pointed to www.nevilles.com, where a music player loops a song called "Brothers." "We were, we are, we're still brothers. We were, we are, we're still together. We were, we are, we're still brothers." I'm glad they're still together -- and that we will be able to hear them sing once again this Thursday, Sept. 18, when the brothers play for the first time at the Arkley Center. You know we'll be there.
Speaking of New Orleans, it was good to hear that Hurricane Gustav failed to match the devastating impact of Katrina. That said, three years after Katrina, parts of the city are still in bad shape (including the Nevilles' home turf, the 9th Ward). A group of kids and adults from Humboldt called New Orleans Youth Project traveled to the city earlier this year to check things out. On Saturday at the Arcata Playhouse you can see a film they shot, Finding the Heart of New Orleans, with interviews with N.O. teens and participants. Stick around after the movie for jazz with young singer Rose Armin-Hoiland backed by pianist Darius Brotman.
Friday night the Arkley Center brings in "Forever Doo-Wop," a nostalgic look back at ’50s and ’60s vocal groups featuring The Coasters and The Diamonds. The Coasters started out as a black R&B outfit called The Robins, with Carl Gardner singing lead. Before long they hooked up with songwriting/record producing team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who crafted masterpieces of storytelling for the combo, tunes like "Young Blood," "Searchin'," "Yakety Yak" and "Charlie Brown." Coasters personnel changed over the years, although Gardner was a constant. He finally retired from the band a few years ago, turning lead chores over to his son, Carl Jr.
The Diamonds got their start in Canada in the mid-’50s as one of many white groups covering black doo-wop hits. Their career peak was in 1957 with "Little Darlin'," probably the only song by them most people have heard. All of the original members had left by 1961, but the name persisted basically as a brand, with a couple of quartets dueling over it in court at one point. So, while the vocal group coming to town will sing the hits, it's not really the guys from the ’50s.
Looking for the polar opposite in vocal styling? Chirgilchin, the Master Throat Singers of Tuva are at the Mateel Friday night singing ancient Himalayan folk songs accompanied by handmade instruments. It's hard to imagine (and harder to explain) but with Tuvan singing, also called Khoomei, a single skilled singer can sing in three octaves at once.
The first cut on the first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album was "Born in Chicago," a somewhat autobiographic song written by Nick Gravenites, a major figure in the Chicago blues scene of the ’60s who was key in injecting the Chicago sound into rock. Toward the end of the ’60s Nick moved to the Bay Area and formed The Electric Flag with Butterfield guitarist Mike Bloomfield. He's been around ever since. Friday and Saturday he'll be up this way playing at the Riverwood Inn with a band that includes drummer Roy Blumenfeld from Blues Project and Seatrain, with special guest David LaFlamme, violinist from It's a Beautiful Day. What will they play? The blues.
Says Nick: "The blues has its own life. It don't need white, it don't need black. It doesn't need interpretation -- it's a feeling. If you've got that feeling, that's what the blues is good for. It can express a lot of other things, but it's certainly for expressing feeling. You don't have to be a genius to play the goddamn blues -- what you have to have is the feeling. If you don't have that feeling, then it's what you call blues-flavored music, and there's a lot of that around."
Also down SoHum way Saturday, Diamondback joins forces with two top local rappers, 1-Ton and UnderRated (aka Potluck) for Humboldt Hip Hop, a bash at the Mateel featuring Potluck (of course) along with Subliminal Sabotage, Dirty Rats, Republican Duck Hunters, L.C.A., Hiway, Thic Family and, the only band from out of county, Mendo Green Team. This is a rare chance to see Potluck in action. The duo that opened for Snoop Dogg has not headlined a local show for four years.
The Passion Presents crew shifts into high gear this week. First, on Thursday, Sept. 18, at Humboldt Brews, it's jammin' swamp blues and funk by JJ Grey and Mofro (catch them on KHUM at 12:30 p.m. that day) plus Hill Country Revue with Cody Dickinson from North Miss. Allstars and Garry Burnside (son of R.L.). Friday, Passion brings the classic reggae trio The Itals to Red Fox Tavern. Sunday, again at the Red Fox, it's EOTO, an electro-jam duo with Michael Travis and Jason Hann from String Cheese Incident. And Tuesday, Sept. 23, it's back to HumBrews for "high altitude" rock/bluegrass jams by Hot Buttered Rum.
Saturday night the Alibi hosts a benefit for the Humboldt Council of the Blind (HCB) featuring B-movie garage rock by The Monster Women and cuddly indie rockers Arrogant Hare, whose bass player, James Forbes, just happens to be president of HCB. The event will also serve as a CD release party for Making Blindness Fashionable, a 22-track compilation assembled by James with songs by A. Hare, M. Women and just about any Humboldt band you can think of (some no longer in operation). If you can't make it to the benefit, stop by your local record store and buy the comp -- you'll help raise seed money for installation of a DVS (descriptive video system) in a local cinema, a device that allows visually impaired folks to "watch" movies. A worthy cause indeed.