Superstar Lily Allen celebrated her new lil' band o' gold (or was it a big blue diamond?) by hiring Lafayette supergroup Lil' Band o' Gold to play at her wedding June 11 in England
Being not quite our cup of tea musically, Allen won’t be gracing the Stomp lineup anytime soon, but her unabashed ardor for LBOG isn’t the first time the swampy ensemble has mesmerized Brit popsters. Several years ago Led Zeppelin vocal banshee Robert Plant joined LBOG to record two tracks (“It Keeps Rainin’” and “I’ve Been Around”) for the Fats Domino tribute CD “Goin’ Home,” capped by a live performance at Tipitina’s preceded by a storied soundcheck at which the Fat Man himself joined in with a microphone while nursing a few beers at the bar.
Then, in 2010, Elvis Costello took the stage with LBOG for a Bobby Charles tribute performance at the House of Blues’ Parish Room, singing “Big Boys Cry” and “Before I Grow Too Old,” joined on the latter by swamp-pop legend Tommy McLain.
How did a relative youngster like Allen, who wasn’t even old enough to buy a Guinness when LBOG released their first CD in 1999, hear of the group? According to the London Telegraph:
For the pop singer Lily Allen, it was while listening to the mix CDs that her fiancé Sam Cooper made her when they first dated a few summers back. “You can hear the experience they have in their amazing voices,” she says. Allen jokes that they have spent half their budget flying out all eight members of the group to play at their wedding. “It will be worth it,” she says. “They are already classic and it will be a good way of feeling like Tarka [Cordell, Sam's half-brother and the band's late producer] is there.”
Indeed, Allen apparently couldn’t contain her groupie-like excitement about the band’s impending arrival, tweeting: “Lil’ Band of Gold are coming to london !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Joined by Tommy McLain, the group made their London debut at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on June 14, screening their documentary film “The Promised Land: A Swamp-Pop Journey,” followed by a live performance showcasing songs from their newish CD of the same name on the Room 609 label.
How did the thick Cajun musical gumbo go down at the celebrity-filled reception at Allen’s Gloucestershire estate? Allen tweeted June 13: “I had the most amazing wedding, thank you to everyone who went to such extraordinary efforts to make it that way. Lil Band Of Gold were incredible and they’re playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire tomorrow, I urge you all to go go. And watch them.” She even went so far as to post a link so her fans could buy tickets to the London show.
Though we quibble with his mild criticism of “plodding instead of pounding,” writer Rick Pearson of This Is London scrawled this glowing review about LBOG’s performance in a piece titled “Lil’ Band O’ Gold are fabulous company”:
Say what you will about Lily Allen, but she has impeccable taste in wedding bands.
Lil’ Band O’ Gold, an eight-headed swamp-pop monster from deep Louisiana, played at the singer’s wedding on the weekend and last night came to west London for a rare live showing.
Their recent album, “The Promised Land”, is only their second in 11 years, and had you brought a cat with you to a far-from-full O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, there would easily have been room to swing it.
However, those that were in attendance – mostly men of a certain vintage – were first treated to a film of the band and then a triumphant, two-hour performance.
Songs turned over at a rapid pace, pinballing from raucous rhythm ‘n’ blues (“Teardrops”) to quivering country-rock (“I Don’t Wanna Know”). Vocal duties were shared, although drummer Warren Storm had the best pipes.
And the group were joined by crooner-cum-Catholic minister Tommy McLain, whose gravelly turn on “Jukebox Songs” was almost as striking as his sparkly gold jacket and mighty beard.
Not to be outdone, David Egan channelled his inner Randy Newman on the rambling piano ballad “Dreamer,” before Steve Riley put his accordion through its paces on the 12-bar blues of “Ain’t No Child No More.”
There were too many mid-tempo, momentum-sapping ballads to make this a truly great gig: Lil’ Band Of Gold have a tendency to plod when they should pound.
For the most part, though, they were fabulous company. And let’s hope it doesn’t take another celebrity wedding before they’re back with us again.
“There is a New Orleans city accent … associated with downtown New Orleans, particularly with the German and Irish Third Ward, that is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island, where the Al Smith inflection, extinct in Manhattan, has taken refuge. The reason, as you might expect, is that the same stocks that brought the accent to Manhattan imposed it on New Orleans.” – A.J. Liebling, “The Earl of Louisiana,” the famous quote introducing John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”
Rumors of the New Orleans Yat’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Despite the best efforts of invasive hipster gentrification and federal levee failures to eradicate this indigenous species from its native habitats like the 9th Ward, the humble Yat survives — but has been driven underground. Some Yats even manage to thrive in this brave new world of HBO caricaturization and Hollywood co-optation – and not just in Bunny Matthews cartoons. In fact, recent sightings even confirm the existence of the now-almost-mythical Yatasaurus Rex.
Should you, fearless explorer, venture out on any moonlit Saturday night to a strip mall near the airport, at Kenner’s Third Rock Tavern at Williams and Veterans boulevards, you might spy not one, but two, of these Yatasaurus Rexes: none other than guitarist Charlie Cuccia and drummer Jeff Hicks — both original members of the locally noted T.Q. and the Topcats, who now hew off beefy slabs of blood-and-guts rock ‘n’ roll as “Da Meat Department” band.
Original Topcats member Charlie "Jake the Snake" Cuccia - still rocking after all these years
Through plumes of thick smoke, in between high-octane libations and corny double-entendre jokes, these Bourbon Street and Jefferson Parish lounge veterans crank out classic-rock covers with a grit and soul you won’t find in some wimpy, miserable politically correct Frenchmen Street outfit. Eschewing most of the traditional New Orleans canon for the likes of Stones, Chuck Berry, and Dylan — sung in sandpaper rasps evoking Howlin’ Wolf and Captain Beefheart — they somehow come off as more authentically New Orleans than any vanilla retro “roots-rock” band.
With snifter of Grand Marnier in hand and rooster-like ducktail in full glory, Cuccia exhorts his Yat minions to “raise your glasses, children of the Williams Boulevard!” before launching into a towering “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” while Hicks recalls his days of selling cars for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson in rhapsodizing about a stripper he used to love at the nearby Downs Lounge in Metry – all to the tune of Bob Seger’s “Main Street.”
Revisit the 1970s and recall, if you dare, the moribund radio soundtrack of the time: the ponderously toxic art-rock sludge of bands like Yes; Genesis; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; and King Crimson. Even Led Zeppelin stooped low enough to invoke “the winds of Thor.” It was to this music — as well as more earthbound acts such as Heart, Skynyrd, Journey, and New Orleans’ own Zebra — that young Yats cruised along Wisner Boulevard in their souped-up Trans-Ams, roaring along Lakeshore Drive past Bart’s restaurant, all the way to the Point at West End for a quick toke before copping a feel off their feather-haired Stevie Nicks-wannabe girlfriends.
Enter Charlie Cuccia and Jeff Hicks, circa 1972. Cuccia and Hicks are proud co-founders of T.Q. and the Topcats, a band that still performs today as the Topcats, though with no original members. Gloriously retro before retro was cool, T.Q. and the Topcats defiantly rocked out old-school-style in the face of the 20-minute, mythology-and-melodrama-infused rock-opera opuses of the day.
T.Q. and the Topcats at Lake Pontchartrain in the 1970s
T.Q. and the Topcats were a Crescent City version of Sha Na Na — on gumbo-laden steroids. According to the Topcats’ Web site : “Originally formed at East Jefferson High School in Metairie, La., with their first practice in a garage on September 28th, 1972, T.Q. & The Topcats were a ’50s and early ’60s show band. The group performed all of the classic songs of the pre-Beatles era of rock and roll. Every song the band did was performed with outrageous choreography or some type of skit with costumes, smoke and special lighting. They also did tributes to Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Buddy Holly. Everyone in the band sang and did choreography and everyone had a nickname to put across the feeling of a hoodlum gang of the 1950′s.” Cuccia leered under the reptilian alias “Jake the Snake,” while Hicks sported the hirsute handle of “Belch A. Rooney.”
Vintage video of the band in its greaser heyday — including the unbelievable sight of an ax-wielding Cuccia executing dangerously ball-busting splits mid-solo — can be seen herein, on Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and “Roll Over, Beethoven,” as well as on the Gary U.S. Bonds cover “New Orleans,” in which Hicks belts out the lead vocal on a tribute to his native stomping grounds.
T.Q. and the Topcats played the New Orleans area and expanded their reach throughout the Southeast, eventually making their way to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. They shared the stage with stars such as Dick Dale, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Billy Joel, while a notable photo from September 1976 records for posterity the band’s meeting with “Bedtime for Bonzo” star Ronald Reagan.
T.Q. and the Topcats with Ronald Reagan
A fascinating piece of black-and-white footage shows T.Q and company interacting with Johnny Carson on the “Stump the Band” segment of “The Tonight Show.” Viewing the video, the linguistic link between New Orleans and New York City has never been clearer. As the slick Dionysus-like Cuccia raps with Carson, I’m not sure if I’m seeing and hearing Vinny Barbarino, John Gotti Jr., or the frontman for T.Q and the Topcats. At any rate, the T.Q. gang — looking like they had just kicked the asses of the Jets from “West Side Story” in a parking-lot rumble — endures Carson’s playful putdowns before launching into an incredibly soulful, handclapping, a capella rendition of “Iko Iko” that would make the harmonizing Valence Street-era lineup of the Neville Brothers proud.
In 1980, capping a flurry of personnel changes and stylistic shifts, Cuccia and Hicks exited the group, which is now known simply as the Topcats. But the duo continued to ply their musical chops in nightclubs from Bourbon Street to Williams Boulevard. Cuccia also has cut a CD on Gary Edwards’ Sound of New Orleans label, featuring top local sidemen such as saxophonist Jerry Jumonville, guitarist Cranston Clements, keyboardist Joe Krown, and drummer Barry Flippen. To purchase or to hear samples, click here.
The rooster-maned Charlie "Jake the Snake" Cuccia - still crazy after all these years (seen here in a natural habitat: the Old Opera House on Bourbon Street, where he often plays with the Old No. 7 Band)
Besides playing Saturday nights at the Third Rock with the “Meat Department” band, Cuccia also leads the Swinging Jewels (sans Hicks) on Thursday nights at Waloo’s on North Causeway Boulevard in Metry. The Jewels comprise drummer Joey Catalanotto from the Wiseguys; grittily soulful singer-songwriter Gary Hirstius (also a former Topcat); and bassist Thomas McDonald, who has probably picked up a riff or two from his legendary neighbor: jazz and R&B bassist Peter “Chuck” Badie of Harold Battiste’s trailblazing AFO Records. A monsterly funky bassist, McDonald also can sing his ass off — as well as slap out a scatlike syncopated melody on his shaved head. His version of Irma Thomas’ “It’s Raining,” otherwise known as the national anthem of the state of Louisiana, is as soul-drenched as the original, and his vocal modulations will make your baby’s heart flutter and squeeze you a little bit tighter as you’re slow-dragging together on the dancefloor.
Yes, hearts are fluttering at a Swinging Jewels/Meat Department show, but so is the laughter. These wisecracking clowns are simply hilarious. When you’ve played for decades on Bourbon Street for practically nothing but the sheer love of rock ‘n’ roll, you’ve got to develop a sense of humor. The outrageous jokes and Three Stooges humor run constantly like diarrhea of the mouth as the musicians take verbal shots at the audience and each other.
Coasting on seemingly nine lives, the modern-day incarnation of the Topcats is busier than ever, still playing club dates, school fairs, and festivals. But the heart and the soul of the band once known as T.Q. and the Topcats resides elsewhere, and can usually be found on Williams Boulevard in the unforgettable — and only in New Orleans — form of Charlie Cuccia and Jeff Hicks, brothers for life in their own uniquely hardcore brand of hey-brah groove.
The primal drumming and gut-bucket vocal stylings of original Topcats member Jeff Hicks (aka Belch A. Rooney) are totally out of this world - and totally rock 'n' roll, brah
Frogman Henry leads a Ponderosa Stomp Revue this Wednesday that also features Jean "Mr. Big Stuff" Knight, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, Bobby Allen, and Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal.
This is a rare local appearance by Frogman, 74, but the pairing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sponsorship couldn’t be more appropriate. After all, as Frogman tells it, he learned at least some of his musical chops from several legendary Louisiana inductees, such as:
Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair: “I used to sneak into the Pepper Pot (in nearby Gretna) to see Professor Longhair. It was just him and a drummer, but it sounded like a whole band in there. When I played talent shows at school, I played his numbers and dressed just like him with tails and a long Indian wig.” [“The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues” by Jeff Hannusch]
Antoine “Fats” Domino: “Fats was my inspiration. When I sat down at the piano, I tried to play everything he did. As far as I’m concerned, Fats is the real king of rock and roll.”
Dave Bartholomew: Frogman’s first brush with Bartholomew – Fats’ producer, bandleader, and co-writer – was during his stint with Bobby Mitchell’s Toppers, with whom Frogman got his start, eventually recording several Imperial sides with the group. According to Hannusch, “the Toppers auditioned for Imperial’s Dave Bartholomew, who thought the teenagers had potential. Henry played trombone on the group’s first session but eventually got fired because he missed a gig in order to attend his own shotgun wedding.”
Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, backed by guitarist Irving Bannister at Stomp 2004, is singing this Wednesday at a Stomp Revue sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The split from Mitchell and the Toppers proved to be fateful. After high school, Frogman began working as a pianist at local West Bank clubs, and it was at the legendary Joy Lounge at Fourth Street and Huey P. Long Avenue in Gretna where Henry was inspired to write his most famous song, “Ain’t Got No Home” – and thus the Frogman was born. According to a 1999 Times-Picayune profile by Bill Grady:
Henry conceived the tune in a rare moment of annoyance while playing the Joy Lounge in Gretna in 1956. The bandleader, Eddie Smith, wouldn’t let the musicians quit until the place emptied of customers, and Clarence was bushed. “I was trying to tell the people to go home, so I hit a riff on the piano and I start singing, ‘Woo-woo-oo-oo-oo, ain’t got no home,’” Henry said. “I got my nickname from a disc jockey at WJMR, Poppa Stoppa. People were requesting the song. They’d say, ‘Play the frog song by the frog man!’ So Poppa Stoppa said, ‘From now on, you Frogman.’”
Recorded for the Chess label by New Orleans bandleader Paul Gayten and powered by key Domino sidemen Lee Allen and Walter “Papoose” Nelson, the song climbed to #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and took Frogman to auditoriums all over the country, including the Apollo. Over the years it has sold more than 8 million copies, having been featured in films such as “Diner” and “The Lost Boys” and – more infamously – as theme music on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Other standout songs include “Lonely Tramp,”“I’m in Love,” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” which features piano by another Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Allen Toussaint.
Guitarist Paul "Lil Buck" Sinegal, seen here in 2002 with the late Nat Jolivette at the Circle Bar, leads the band at this Wednesday's Stomp Revue also featuring Jean Knight and Bobby Allen.
But the music didn’t stop with “Ain’t Got No Home.” With an assist from Louisiana songwriting legend and Chess labelmate Bobby Charles, Frogman scored his biggest hit with “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do,” which reached #4 on the national pop chart and has gone on to be featured in numerous films, including “Forrest Gump.” No less an authority than sex goddess/actress Elizabeth Hurley called “But I Do,” which appeared in the Hugh Grant-James Caan film “Mickey Blue Eyes,” “one of the most heavenly songs ever recorded.”
Seen here in 2004, Frogman Henry will be performing this Wednesday at the Howlin' Wolf for a Ponderosa Stomp Revue sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Oddy enough, this wasn’t Frogman’s only association with Cajun music legends. According to Hannusch, after leaving Chess, Frogman joined forces with the notorious producer Huey Meaux of Winnie, Texas, recording “five great singles for Meaux that were leased to Parrot Records including the classic ‘Cajun Honey.’” Frogman also interpreted material supplied by another swamp-pop songwriter of Bobby Charles’ caliber whose ditties Domino also had waxed: “There was a guy out of Biloxi, Jimmy Donley, that wrote great country songs. He used to write and record for Huey so there were a lot of his songs around. He wrote ‘Think It Over,’ which was one of my favorite tunes.” In recent years, this writer has heard Frogman refer to his own music as “swamp pop” – no doubt because his repertoire has never gone out of style in the dance-crazed, more rural areas of southernmost Louisiana, whose musicians in cross-fertilizing fashion crafted their own New Orleans-inspired swamp-pop tunes, fueled as they were by the sounds of Crescent City-style R&B emanating from the city’s radio stations.
Frogman Henry smiles as ailing swamp-pop legend Joe Barry sings in public for the last time before his death in 2004.
In 1964 Frogman had his greatest brush with fame – that is, with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Beatles, opening 18 concerts for the Fab Four, including at New Orleans’ City Park Stadium. Frogman then plied his trade on Bourbon Street, tinkling the ivories for 19 years in various clubs during a storied era when giants such as Cousin Joe, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and Frankie Ford still trod that famous musical conduit. His contributions to music have been recognized by his induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as well as the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, to name just a few.
Frogman Henry fans John, Paul, George, and Ringo clown with the New Orleans R&B legend in 1964.
One of Frogman’s later songs, ironically first recorded by British duo Chas and Dave, perfectly encapsulates the New Orleans piano tradition with goosebump-generating gusto. Pure rollicking R&B in a joyous, pounding Fats-style, “That Old Piano” tells the story of how such magical music has so often sprung from the humblest of origins, rooted in family traditions passed down from generation to generation during house parties and Saturday-night fish fries where a beat-up piano served as the centerpiece of interaction and the primary inducement for dancing. This video features Frogman performing the song live with a full band.
Though still going strong when he does gig, Frogman’s influence will now certainly live on in the music of his son, Clarence “Tadpole” Henry III, who performs R&B and soul at local clubs and festivals. Still, Ponderosa Stomp fans should come out Wednesday night to see why we think rock immortality in Cleveland should be the next stop for the Frogman, one of the treasured survivors of the golden age of New Orleans R&B. “People want to see the Frogman, but you know the Frogman wants to see the people too,” Henry once told Jeff Hannusch. So go see the Frogman, a very Special Man …
Frogman Henry smiles alongside Texas shouter Roy Head, with Stomp kingpin Dr. Ike at right.
The Ponderosa Stomp Revue, presented by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is set for June 8 (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. at the Howlin’ Wolf at 907 S. Peters St. in New Orleans.
Ex-Stax recording artist Jean "Mr. Big Stuff" Knight, whose hits also include "You Got the Papers (I Got the Man)" and "My Toot Toot," is singing at the Stomp Revue this Wednesday at New Orleans' Howlin' Wolf.