Story and photos by Christy Grimes
His sousaphone's headless and battered body tucked under his arm, Marshan Boudel of the Young Fellaz Brass Band awaits the Horn Doctor's healing touch. The instrument's utterly crumpled bell lies face down on the sidewalk, still sporting the duct tape that, until recently, was all that held this horn together. It looks like a huge, wild beast tore Boudel's horn apart, and then jumped up and down on it. "It's just normal wear and tear", he clarifies. "Hey - it's forty years old”. (Boudel says the horn came from Woody, the Storyville Stompers tuba man).
If anyone could salvage this heirloom, master craftsman Mike Corrigan, aka the Horn Doctor, would be the person to do it. He drove his Mobile Repair Unit (a modified concession trailer) from his shop in Olathe, Kansas, where he handcrafts and repairs band instruments, all the way to the sidewalk outside Sweet Home New Orleans, a non-profit dedicated to preserving New Orleans culture.
"This guy is amazing", notes Joe Stern, one of Sweet Home’s caseworkers. "The players will line up -just watch". Indeed they did: for two days, Corrigan and Justin Orr, his assistant on the trip, toiled nonstop for the musicians perpetually clustered around the little trailer (which looks every bit like a sno-ball stand): they spent their time aligning trombone slides, freeing stuck trumpet valves, pounding out tuba dents, replacing mouthpieces and making every horn shine - all free of charge. As horn players kept showing up, Corrigan and Orr kept fixing each piece, well over their 4pm reported closing time and into the night.
Thursday afternoon was typical of Corrigan's two-day tenure at the local non-profit. Evander Delaney and Marc Francis of the New Breed Brass Band leaned on the repair unit's counter, watching Corrigan align their trombone slides one by one - a Horn Doctor specialty. At least half the lineups of both the Treme and Hot 8 brass bands sat in the palm shade around a card table unfolded on the sidewalk outside Sweet Home's office on Elysian Fields Ave. When staff members heard a few bars of "Down in the Treme" out on the street, they looked through the office's front windows in time to witness John Boutte delivering a live performance of the song into the Horn Doctor's cellphone, for the benefit of his wife back in Kansas. "It's her favorite song," reports Claire Hammer, another staff member.
"Oh, he loves doing this," observes Hammer, who estimates Corrigan repaired about 150 instruments. “Musicians bring everything they have,” Hammer says, because they know the Doctor is in.