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The best of the blues?

December 10, 2009

Every January, the New Orleans music magazine Offbeat throws a party to honor the region’s best musicians. This year’s Best of the Beat Awards will be held Jan. 22 at House of Blues in the French Quarter.

We’ve already written about two of the nominees in the blues categories, Little Freddie King and Ernie Vincent. We interviewed both musicians during our October/November visit, and they shared colorful stories about the city’s raucous blues scene in its heyday.

Also nominated for an award is an elder statesman of the Baton Rouge blues community: 84-year-old Henry Gray, whom we hope to interview in January. The main piano player for Howlin’ Wolf during the 1950s and ’60s, Gray lived in the thick of the Chicago blues scene for almost 20 years. He recounted that era for writer and radio producer David Kunian in the now-defunct Blues Access magazine:

Wolf was strict. No drinking on the bandstand. Don’t be late. Everybody dressed just alike. Anything you had out of place, he was going to fine you. Each of us had six or seven uniforms. If you didn’t wear them, you were going to get fined. On the bandstand, it was nothing but business… And the lady folks: They look you up and down. They going to want to know that your shoes are shined.

In 1968, Gray returned native Louisiana, where he worked as a roofer for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. He continued to play festivals in the United States and Europe, and he remains a regular at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Here’s a nice sampling of Henry Gray’s music. Just click the “play” button on the widget below. (Check out Track 5, the “Barack Obama Boogie.”)


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