"Like I was back at a CYO dance"

January 24, 2010

We’re not accustomed to people throwing concerts in our honor. But that’s pretty much what happened Friday night at Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans. John T. Lewis (above left), a blues and R&B guitarist whom we interviewed, and drummer Ben Sandmel, one of our consultants, pulled together four hours of live music at the Lounge (second photo), which was opened in the 1990s by larger-than-life R&B artist Ernie K-Doe and his wife Antoinette as a monument to all things K-Doe. Ernie passed away in 2001 and Antoinette in 2009, but Antoinette’s daughter Betty Fox keeps it running these days. Ernie still presides, in the form of a mannequin that sits in a wheelchair in the front room.

Among the musicians appearing Friday night was Rico Watts (above, right), who in the ’90s backed K-Doe on the keyboards, both at his bar and on the road. Watts, who grew up in Portland, Oregon, and moved to New Orleans about 30 years ago, was selling Little Debbie Snacks for a living when K-Doe heard him performing on Bourbon Street during his off-hours and tapped him to play weekends at the Lounge. Watts asked his boss for a one-year leave of absence, and never returned to the sales business. Now 60, he makes music fulltime. His crooning style has won him the nickname The Creole Elvis.

Also performing was versatile vocalist Tommy Singleton (third photo, right), who sang with Ernie Vincent and the Top Notes when they were the warm-up band at Mother-in-Law Lounge. Saxophonist Lawyer Givens (left) also played with Ernie Vincent. In fact, Givens’ father used to throw weekend fish fries where, as a child, Vincent first heard the blues. (Let it never be said that New Orleans didn’t have a blues culture. You just needed to know where to look.)

Rounding out the talent were bassist Richard “Tricky Dick” Dixon (bottom photo) and members of the Millenium Band.

“It was one of those fabulous New Orleans moments,” wrote one audience member on Facebook. “What a wealth of talent. I felt like I was back at a CYO dance.” Owner Betty Fox apologized for not cooking up her traditional red beans and rice, but explained that the previous night’s Haiti fundraiser had attracted 300 generous (and hungry) patrons, three times the expected number. But Betty still fed her customers: There was abundant fried chicken and shrimp fried rice from the Manchu Food Store down the block.

The crowd went particularly wild when Tommy Singleton ended the night with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It’s impossible to exaggerate how much New Orleanians love their football team. With their unprecedented winning streak, the Saints have infused hope into a city where too often things don’t function as they should. “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?” the crowd chanted over and over, as Singleton worked the room, holding his mike to one mouth, then another. The evening at Mother-in-Law was not just nostalgic; it was perfectly immediate, and perfect.

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