Before the karma of Jazz Fest descended in magnolia aromas I was coasting along Bayou St. John, in no special rush, when the car radio breathed a violin’s sweet undulations: a melodic trail interlaced with lyrical guitar lines. Sudden magic always comes from WWOZ, but this song ordered me to the curb, the vehicle purring in neutral beneath shaggy oaks. Who is playing this? wondered your investigator. Song ended. Then: Hank Williams, mournfully on “Your Cheating Heart.”
Solve this mystery now. Pull out the cell phone. Dial 586-1234.
“WWOZ,” came the voice.
“Ah, that song you just played with the weeping violin?”
“Camile Baudoin, Old Bayou Blues. It’s real.”
“Truly. Hey, thanks.”
I like to think so, but the aging process is no picnic. Camile Baudoin I knew vaguely as a guitarist for the Radiators, the funk-rock powerhouse that recently disbanded after 30-some years and a million gigs on the road. Who was that violinist? I stabbed 4-1-1, told AT&T I needed Louisiana Music Factory. Momentarily, the clerk became vocalized: Yes, they had Old Bayou Blues. Could they take a credit card and mail it to me? I gave my address.
“It’s free,” he said.
“I won a prize?”
“No, it’s $15.99 but we don’t charge for mailing in-city.”
That is a deal. The disc came. First and title cut, “Old Bayou Blues,” featured Baudoin on vocals, the song written by his cousin Rosalie Toups “in the mid-1980s when she and Ray were living in Baton Rouge and she got homesick for family life back on Bayou Lafourche,” writes Baudoin in the liner notes.
I got them old bayou blues
I gotta get back
I don’t wanna roam no more away from home
Give me that one room shack
Bayous can be serene, however a one-room shack isn’t my image of an idealized past; still, the song pulled me in its gentle sway – Baudoin’s honey-coated tenor lilt did indeed help; but I wanted to find that otherwordly violin. This turned out to be the ninth cut, a Pete Seeger composition “Living in the Country” and Harry Hardin’s violin, unfurling the beautiful melody in an arrangement by guitarist David Doucet.
Hardin was a founder of the funk-rock band Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, has been a mainstay performer with troubadour Spencer Bohren and is a prolific classical violinist, as well. Hardin spearheads a website – NewOrleansFinestMusicians.com – which books classical ensembles and string-leaning jazz groups for weddings, parties, special events.
On Camile Baudoin’s composition “All for Alton” the guitar work by Brian Seeger, Baudoin and Doucet balances nicely with Hardin’s violin in forging an alternate bass pattern in the Chet Akins vein.
Two cuts on Old Bayou Blues come from the Dave Bartholomew/Fats Domino songbook. “I’m Walking” with the strings distilling the driving drumbeat of the original and the tromping man determined to get his woman back gives this classic R&B song, a swinging country tilt. On “It’s You I Love” – truly, one of the happiest songs Fats Domino ever made – you can almost hear Baudoin smile, the surge of joyfulness in his pipes is that palpable.
Old Bayou Blues won Best Country/Folk CD at OffBeat magazine’s Best of the Beat Awards earlier this year. Why am I not surprised?
Hardin’s violin trailed through my driving hours in the days that followed as I jumped from “Living in the Country” to Camile’s two takes on Domino. The wait staff in Vegas hotels loved it when Domino played because the tips were always bigger. Domino was one of the few seminal rhythm-and-bluesmen with huge crossover popularity among country-western fans in the 1950s. The old man did a song called “Whiskey Heaven” in his later years, emulating Louis Armstrong’s reach toward country fans. Satchmo did an entire country-western album near the end of his life.
The pull of the Domino-Bartholomew compositions is sure to endure, as Davell Crawford demonstrated at a special Snug Harbor concert in late February devoted entirely to Fats’s music. Tickets were $25, median age at least 58. No offense to Crawford or the band – led by stand-out saxophonist Roderick Paulin – but the draw that night was Fats. Crawford carries a serious R&B pedigree via his grandfather, the fabled James “Sugar Boy” Crawford who made a famous recording of “Jockamo” with the Iko-Iko lyrics guaranteed to make you move; the old man is still singing gospel.
But the arrangements were more an afterthought that night with the bandmembers often waiting for Crawford to give direction on the song. He uncorked some bubbling boogie stride but seemed often in his own zone, his voice fading when you expected a pitch. The crowd was so primed; most of them had grown up on Fats and in tromping through stress fields of mid-life had come to hear what made them happy. Crawford in his meandering way made me wonder what Dave Bartholomew, with his military precision as a bandleader and producer would have thought. (“In studio they call me the Gestapo,” he once uttered.) The Domino repertoire is still a freight train 63 years after the first hit, “The Fat Man,” and is sure to generate more covers as time goes by. Camile Baudoin made it shine, and he only did two cuts.
“At the house on Audubon Place the radio was always on in the kitchen and always tuned to WWOZ, the great New Orleans station that plays mostly rhythm and blues and rural South gospel music. My favorite DJ, hands down, was Brown Sugar, the female disc jockey… She used to keep me company a lot when everyone else was sleeping. Brown Sugar, whoever she was, had a thick, slow, dreamy, oozing molasses voice – she sounded as big as a buffalo – she’d ramble on, take phone calls, give love advance and spin records. … I could listen to her for hours.” – Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1. 2004.