Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is eighty miles west of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. And its sixty miles east of Lafayette, the center of Cajun and Creole culture in America. So you can imagine that the musical heritage of a city between those two might get just a little less attention.
But the blues musicians originating from the Baton Rouge area are at the heart of the history of the blues. Names like Slim Harpo and Buddy Guy are part of the story — but there are also names you might not now, like Whispering Smith and Lonesome Sundown.
And if you’re in New Orleans, it’s all right here in your backyard, just an hour away. So we’re taking a trip out of town to Baton Rouge to hear some stories and check out the Blues Festival there, and riding shotgun with host George Ingmire is the president of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, Clarke Gernon.
Some of the artists played in this week’s program:
Lightnin’ Slim (1913-1974) grew up in Baton Rouge and played in clubs there for years, and was in his forties when he was first recorded by JD Miller., and in the 1950s he often recorded with Slim Harpo (his brother-in-law) and harmonica player Lazy Lester.
Slim Harpo (1924-1970) was born and raised in Lobdell, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge.
Lazy Lester (1933- ) still performs, and was captured on video by WWOZ, backed by the Lil’ Buck Sinegal Band, recorded at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, Louisiana, on August 15, 2014:
The great Buddy Guy is known for Chicago blues, but he was born and raised in Lettsworth, Louisiana, north of Baton Rouge. And as we hear in this episode of New Orleans Calling, he did record in Louisiana before leaving for Chicago, where his career took off.
Little Walter (1930-1968) was born in Louisiana, but like a number of other bluesmen he made his way to Chicago, where he found success.
Henry Gray (1925-) grew up outside Baton Rouge, and after serving in World War II he settled in CHicago, where he became a fixture on the blues scene and recorded with many musicians on Chess Records. He relocated back to Louisiana in the late 1960s, and still performs.
Silas Hogan (1911-1994) helped form the Baton Rouge blues sound in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and recorded for Excello Records in the 1960s.
CC Adcock (1971-) is a Louisiana musician and producer known for continuing the tradition of Louisiana blues and swamp pop.
Moses “Whispering” Smith (1932-1984) performed with Lightnin’ Slim and Silas Hogan before recording on his own for Excello Records.
Leo “Bud” Welch (1932-)
Raful Neal (1936-2004)
Lonesome Sundown (Cornelius Green) (1928-1995)
Record producer JD Miller (1992-1996)
The Rolling Stones covered Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” on their first album (1964), and came back to him in 1972, covering his “Shake Your Hips” on their 1972 album Exile On Main Street.
And just to round things out, here’s a video of Joan Osborne performing Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” recording in 2012 for WXPK in New York.
A VISIT TO THE HEY CAFE
Our special segment at the end of this episode is by producer Thomas Walsh, as he takes a visit to an unusual cafe in uptown New Orleans — the Hey Cafe. It’s a neighborhood fixture, and it’s run by couple of guys who never planned on owning a coffee shop. One is an artist and the other runs a small record company — and their creative vibe affects everything about the business.
Thomas Walsh is an independent radio producer and audio engineer who lives in New Orleans. After making his way to public radio in 2010, Thomas has produced features for local outlets like WWNO and WWOZ, and national syndications like StoryCorps. You can find him behind the soundboard of live storytelling events like The Moth and Bring Your Own or at poetry slams around New Orleans. He’s also a self-proclaimed movie geek and has seen every film listed on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies.
This segment was made possible with generous support from the Threadhead Cultural Foundation, with the mission of preserving, promoting, and disseminating the cultural heritage of New Orleans. Find out more at thcfnola.org.
Lightnin’ Slim – “I Ain’t Got No Money”
BB King – “Crying Won’t Help You”
Lightnin’ Slim – “Tom Cat Blues”
Lightnin’ Slim – “Rock Me Mama”
Slim Harpo – “Baby, Scratch My Back”
Lonesome Sundown – “Lonesome Lonely Blues”
Lightnin’ Slim – “Bad Luck”
Slim Harpo – “I’m a King Bee”
Slim Harpo – “Jody Man”
Rolling Stones – “I’m a King Bee”
Buddy Guy – “Untitled Instrumental”
Buddy Guy – “I Hope you come back home”
Buddy Guy – “The way you’ve been treating me”
Little Walter – “Sad Hours”
Henry Gray – “The Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest”
Slim Harpo – “Moody Blues”
Silas Hogan – “Dark Clouds Rollin'”
Slim Harpo – “I’m A King Bee (Alternative)”
CC Adcock – “Stealin’ All Day”
Whispering Smith – “On The Dark Road Crying”
Lazy Lester – “Sugar Coated Love”
Whispering Smith – “Baton Rouge Breakdown”
Leo “Bud” Welch – “Praise His Name”
Slim Harpo – “Rainin’ in my Heart”
Raful Neal – “Blues on the Moon”
All People – “Introduction”
Hey Café segment (produced by Thomas Walsh)
Little Walter – “Juke”
NEW ORLEANS CALLING is a production of WWOZ, listener-supported community radio in the Crescent City.
George Ingmire is the host, writer, editor, interviewer, audio engineer, intrepid field recorder, and co-producer.
Dave Ankers is the producer.
Melanie Merz is the supervising producer.
National distribution managed by Lily Wasserman.
Web support by David Stafford.
Executive Producer is WWOZ’s General Manager David Freedman.
And thanks to:
Sally Young and Melanie Merz for their voice talents.
Photo of Kenny Neal’s guitar by Leona Strassberg Steiner.