A musical interlude today. The first hour our our series features the extraordinary 77-year-old blues diva Carol Fran of Lafayette. Often accompanying Carol these days are Marty Christian and Andy Cornett, who also have their own band, Rue Boogaloo. They call their music “that Southwest Louisiana sound—full of soulful dance grooves that are drenched in blues.” Here’s a sample.
Before you even read this post, take a listen to Barbara Lynn‘s 1962 R&B hit “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” You can listen by clicking here. This will help you understand why this coming weekend is an exciting one for music lovers in New Orleans.
On Sept. 24 and 25, Ponderosa Stomp will celebrate the unsung heroes of rock’n’roll on three indoor stages. It’s a chance to savor all those musicians who shaped American popular culture without becoming household names.
This year’s line-up includes swamp blues harmonica player Lazy Lester, originally from Torras, Louisiana; Lafayette bandleader Lil’ Buck Sinegal, who played guitar for zydeco legend Clifton Chenier; and Barbara Lynn, a Texan who was recording her “soulful vocals and bluesy guitar licks” at Cosimo Matassa’s famous New Orleans studio almost forty years ago. Also playing is Michael Hurtt and the Haunted Hearts; Hurtt served as a consultant on our documentary project.
There will be a ton of other musicians, from Louisiana and elsewhere, whose obscurity is our loss.
Here’s an article I wrote last year that talks about my own experience at the Stomp.
Accompanying the music will be a two-day music-history conference at the Cabildo in Jackson Square.
Friends in South Louisiana: If you can’t make the Stomp, you can catch some of the same musicians on Monday the 27th at Somewhere’s Else Lounge, 1506 Surry Street in Lafayette. The lounge’s Old School Monday Night Blues Jam starts at 7 p.m. and features Lil’ Buck Sinegal, Lazy Lester, and blues diva Carol Fran. Here the event is posted on Facebook. Note: Soul food and dancing too!
The documentary will be aired during the show “The Kitchen Sink with David Kunian.” This is a special honor, because David Kunian himself has produced some highly acclaimed documentaries about New Orleans artists. They include Do You Know How to Pony: the Story of Chris Kenner; The Things I Used To Do: The Legend of Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones; and the Silver Reel-winning Meet All Your Fine Friends: The Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans. He also co-produced the short series The Classic Mardi Gras Songs Profiles. And he has conducted more than 500 interviews with New Orleans musicians and artists. You can listen to any of the hyperlinked documentaries by joining the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) for free.
What’s more, WWOZ represents everything community radio should be: It’s local, quirky, diversity-minded, and deeply tied into the community it serves. It serves as a conscience for New Orleans, and it’s great fun to listen to. When we miss Louisiana, we live-stream it from wherever we are.
With Tuesday’s broadcast, Still Singing the Blues will have been aired in all three Louisiana cities where our featured musicians live. KRVS, the public-radio station in Lafayette, broadcast the show June 4. Baton Rouge’s public-radio station, WRKF, followed suit on July 10. KRVS and WRKF were two of the initial supporters of our grant application to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and we are grateful to have them on our team.
Just a reminder:
Tune into KRVS tomorrow FRIDAY JUNE 4 at 12:05 PM CENTRAL TIME for the first radio broadcast of Still Singing the Blues! You can listen online at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/krvs/ppr/index.shtml
When we caught up with Carol Fran, the blues diva from Lafayette was recovering from a mini-stroke. But that didn’t stop her from exercising her formidable pipes. Fran will be recording several tracks on a compilation CD next week, and the night of our visit she had a rehearsal with harmonica player Andy Cornett and guitarist Marty Christian. Both men play with Henry Gray & the Cats. (see the post below.)
Fran grew up in an English-speaking family, but some of her relatives spoke the Creole French often heard in the bayou country of Southwest Louisiana. She spoke French with those family members, and is equally facile with the blues in both languages.
As Richard records and Barry photographs, blues and R&B diva Carol Fran entertains her loved ones at her 76th birthday celebration. Becky Owens took this photo at Cruiser’s, a small cinderblock bar on the old Breaux Bridge Highway in Lafayette, Louisiana.
To appreciate what a treasure Carol Fran is, listen to her song Emmett Lee, which she recorded in 1957 for the R&B label Excello. She’s been singing ever since—her swampy voice dazzles in both English and French—reaching her professional apex after she married Clarence Hollimon in 1983 and began performing with accomplished blues guitarist from Houston. Notes the Texas State Historical Association:
Though the two had initially met around 1958 in New Orleans at the famous Dew Drop Inn, it took a chance crossing of paths some twenty-five years later (at a blues jam in a Houston nightclub) to make them a couple. That union, which billed itself professionally as Fran and Hollimon, eventually evolved into what was likely the most widely traveled and recorded husband-and-wife blues duo in Texas history. During that time they not only played marquee concert halls in numerous cities overseas, as well as major festivals nationwide.
Here’s a video of them performing at the Chicago Blues Festival (Fran comes in at 2:55):
Hollimon died in 2000. Fran moved home to Louisiana and has grieved her husband ever since. She has also suffered a stroke and several other medical setbacks. Still, in her Lafayette living room, she serenaded us with soulful, funny, and heartbreaking stories of her life, which we plan to feature in the documentary. And her hip-grinding performance at Cruiser’s demonstrated that she’s still got both the pipes and the charisma.
Some scenes from the Blackpot Festival in Lafayette, where we accompanied bluesman Little Freddie King (middle photo) this weekend. Blackpot is part music fest, part cookoff, and judges were treated to such Cajun/Creole delicacies as duck cracklings and pig-temple jambalaya. Little Freddie’s version of the blues—Mississippi gutbucket inflected with New Orleans rhythms—made for a startling contrast to what came immediately before it: the traditional Cajun fiddle tunes of Walter Mouton and Scott Playboys. It didn’t take long to fill the dance floor, while two rows of non-dancers stood in front in rapt wonderment.