Friday, August 03, 2007

I Love Rhythm & Blues...and miss New Orleans

Friday, August 03, 2007

I love Rhythm & Blues, which is why I felt a tinge of sadness late last night.

It was upon discovering something when I happened to be browsing a wrinkled 2 day old issue of the Times Picayune late last night after a friend returned from New Orleans. This was the type of news that would've escaped my attention had I not been reading a paper based in the Crescent City.

Oliver Morgan, a Nawlins character and R&B performer for many years has died at age 74.

Oliver Morgan Obituary 

He was known for dancing with an umbrella on stage, his corny catch phrases delivered in a sand papered drawl, whose jubilant presence always seemed ready to lead a second line parade. Never a huge draw, Morgan was usually added to bills in his 60's heyday, spicing up the wait time to see headlining acts like Otis Redding, Fats Domino & Lee Dorsey.

He started his recording career in 1961, actually billed as "Nookie Boy", a nickname his auntie had tagged him with as a boy. I really simply don't want to know that story.Oliver Morgan Umbrella 

Here's a couple tracks by the man, who after his days on the chitlin circuit opening for Wilson Pickett, Don Covay and Jerry Butler was a longtime janitor at NOLA's City Hall, married just shy of 50 years, and who counted some 19 grandchildren amongst his brood.

Here's from a scratchy latter 60's single. This song was released in 1969 as catalog #501, on a label as Recording Artists Productions, so I guess you could say it was a R.A.P record.
In fact Oliver does a bit shoutin' out, giving props to some of his fave entertainers, including Joe Tex on this record.

Oliver Morgan - Once Upon A Time

This last track was from Morgan comes from his only full album release, which didn't occur until the late 1990's when Allen Toussaint recorded a collection of Morgan doing faves by Lee Dorsey, Joe Tex, and of course songs written by Toussaint himself.

Back in the day, Morgan was known for leading folks on parades outside the venues, and down blocks, and told a story once to Rick Coleman recounted in the album liner notes :

" Once at the Masque Lounge ," smiles Oliver mischievously, " i used to bring all the people down along the Chef Menteur Highway, man, and block all the traffic up! The police came there and said, 'Oliver, man, bring 'em in the club!"

Oliver Morgan - I Love Rhythm & Blues

He lived in Nawlin's his whole life, until the levees built and supposedly maintained by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, failed nearly 2 years ago and flooded his 9th Ward home off of North Claiborne.

The saddest part of his obituary, was the part about his dying far from his home,
in exile in Atlanta. Over 100,000 gulf coast residents alone resettled in the sprawling Georgia city's metro area.

So many of the music scene's old timers in frail health were dealt a heavy blow with Katrina, a storm which not only rattled their beings, but whose aftermath broke so many hearts. First to go was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, who died within days of the storm that forced him to relocate from Louisiana to Texas.

Jan Ramsay of NOLA music journal Offbeat magazine recently noted in a column that :
We’ve lost so many great musicians since this time last year. I think that Katrina has had a much more devastating effect on people whose health was fragile: Timothea Beckerman, Dinerral Shavers, Freddie “Shep” Sheppard; Harold Cavallero, Charlie Brent, Marshall Sehorn, Vernell “Joe Gunn” Joseph and so many more. Life is very fragile and precious, and the survival of our musical culture (and our culture in general) may be slipping away.

Just a few weeks ago, the city also lost the founder of the Snug Harbor jazz club, George Brumat. Ramsay bemoans the lack of support for the live music traditions in the town where jazz was born, rock n roll was incubated, and funk first fused itself into it's fiery & fluid form.

I recommend Nawlin's music aficianados read her monthly column Mojo Mouth at the Offbeat website to stay abreast of goings on in the region.

Oliver Morgan's biggest hit, which is not exactly a well known tune outside New Orleans, was 'Who Shot La La', a 1963 track recorded about the death of another New Orleans character Lawrence Nelson aka "Prince La La". The song speculate's about about a supposed murder including the lyric "There are only three fellas do a thing like that, High Head, Joe Mouth and my brother John!"

In actuality "La La" was not shot by a stranger, but he likely died of an OD, but may not have shot himself up, anyhow he's dead. Great Party record, strange theme...

Kinda like the city itself, great party town, helluva way to live though...

New Orleans, a swampy port town, with traditions of corrupt politicians and a segregated caste system, has long been plagued with crime, drug addictions, alcoholism, prostitution and the shady types that enjoy that sort of thing. In fact, the city seems to wear it's wounds with a strange sense of pride, like a jail tattoo on Aaron Neville's wearied face.

I can't help but think of all the trouble that people get into down there, whether you are 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo making a backroom deal with an ex-governor that costs you your team, to the average co-ed stupidly flashing her boobs for a second that lasts for all eternity via the camera of Girls Gone Wild.

Poor ol' New Orleans, a city that's done so much for America's music, has been left since katrina to fend for itself. It has the will to live, but still seems a sad, disturbing, and scary example of a metropolis abandoned that can't be euthanized quietly.

There's real criminal governmental neglect and societal decay there, and those citizens who've remained & returned seem resigned to it. Of course New Orleans has always had aspects of that going for it, even before Katrina I suppose, but it's certainly worse for sure.

It seems despite many reconstruction efforts, vast areas of the city remain abandoned, rotting and hopeless, the middle class, educated professionals, and old money ( i.e the actual tax payers and support a city needs) either refuse to return or continue to stream out in an unending exodus.

Thousands of homes are available for sale in the region, most at below market prices, but the exhorbitant cost of insurance keeps buyers at bay. 12 of 23 publically held company HQ's have moved out of the city since the storm. Time recently ran a piece on the city's "White Collar Exodus" that quoted exec's like those of Chevron who are relocating 550 employees out of the city. Many residents are dismayed at the rate of economic recovery.

One detects racist and anti-iimigrant sentiment undertones that bubble under the surface complaints about the many newly arrived taco trucks, which simply feed the new minimum wage & under the table service industry workforce from Mexico that's here since Katrina, helping rebuild, maintain & keep the city's tourist economy afloat.

I don't think a casino offering up a barely desirable $7 an hour job to immigrants is going to amount to much of a econmic base to rebuild a city off of. Having lived within range of taco trucks for years, I would suggest that the last thing the citizens, and editorial sections should be worried about is a scourge of taco trucks.

The enemy is within my scared southern friends, and the enemy isn't comimg across the border to do your dirty work, and I don't mean it's some e-coli either already within those taco trucks. Think about your situation there... who is really benefiting from the destabilization of the Gulf Coast...and believe me, it's not lowly unskilled laborers.

 New Orleans Minimum Wage

The real problems run a lot deeper than the mobile cuisine scene folks...

1/3rd of those residents in a survey conducted late last year, said they planned to leave New Orleans parish within 2 years. The most likely type of person likely to leave New Orleans, are those with post-graduate degrees. Over 1000 doctor's abandoned the city since the storm.

Charity the largest public hospital, has been closed permanently since Katrina, others are ill equipped and under staffed, and losing money. The 5 public hospitals claim they are collectively losing in excess of $100 million a year and this total could reach $400 million annually by 2009. The latest rumor has it, the once esteemed private care facility at Tulane is even considering closing if it's financial condition doesn't improve dramatically.


Said one doctor, who abandoned town since Katrina, and is now working at hospital in North Carolina, "I could have made a go of it there, but it would have been slow and arduous."

A big part of the problem is the lack of infrastructure, and a government that was already slow and arduous, if not completely unresponsive & corrupt. Take away all the higher end taxpayers, and you've got a real recipe for a never ending disaster.

The murder rate and crime in general are back up to, or far in excess of the statistical averages of pre-Katrina days, and what's more out of control is that there's less people committing the same amount of crimes. The police and DA are making excuses, while the rate of convictions goes down & crimes go unchecked.

With 110 homicides in the 1st half of this year, New Orleans has more than double the rate of similar sized cities. Not helping is what the local paper calls

"the city's criminal justice carousel".
NOLA authorities have bungled so many cases it's a national embrassment, with violent multiple offenders walking away from heinous crimes weekly. The most recent outrage within the past week centered around the court appearance of two thugs for a murder, a murder committed after both had been involved in a previous murders. One suspect had performed a gang assasination of a 15 year old in a school gymnasium just a few years earlier. The victim was shot multiple times in front of numerous witnesses in 2003, but his bold murder was not avenged by the New Orleans authorities. The accused assailants plead guilty to lesser crimes at the time, and were allowed to walk with credit for time served. They were literally back on the streets, and doing all sorts of whatever they wished until finally fingered in another recent street killing. ...

When police do perhaps get off their butts from the all day breakfast menu at the Panola Street Cafe to react, it's often with blunt force and dumb inaccuracy.

ex. The other day NOPD did a sting action against supposed loiterers outside a local retailer known to attract a criminal element, but inadvertently locked up in the downtown jail an innocent passer by, a visting neuro-surgeon still wearing his doctor's scrubs.

Anyone remember the videos of young white N.O.P.D officers mercilessly beating an elderly black man a few weeks after the hurricane?

One of the cops was recently acquitted of any wrong doing by a judge who termed the incident entirely the victim's fault. The other officer who was also fired, turns out he had already committed suicide...

Not all police misconduct and stupidity reaches the brazen level of the above video of course, or even gets mention in the media.

I have a feeling that race played a large part both incidents I mention here.

Even in the decision to grab the doctor, since his skin was a shade or two darker olive than the prefered lily white. Let's just say that this highly trained doctor, isn't making plans to stick around. He calls the city a "war zone" and has been appalled by the overall lack of ethics, a problem extending even into the medical profession there.

After all this is a place known for years as "the City Care Forgot".

The Meters - Talkin' Bout New Orleans

Oddly enough as i finished this post , I came across a press release for a group of citizens, business leaders and entertainment organizations who are appalled by the lack of progress in restoring the Gulf Coast. On the 2 year anniversary of Katrina, August 29th, they are calling for a "National Day of Presence" to restore services to the area, and create a sort of Marshall Plan to get the region back on it's feet. The day before will be dedicated to the concepts of "Public Policy & Community Service"

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