BACKWATER TALES FROM A GREAT SOUTHERN MUSICIAN
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Tom Coerver is a musician's musician. A good ol' Louisiana boy who has an inate ability to play just about any musical instrument he can get his hands on, including a mighty impressive lead guitar. Tom's "claim to fame" includes a stint wit the band China Sky, which featured future Molly Hatchet leader Bobby Ingram, as well as being a spotlight artist in Guitar Player magazine recently.
After years of friendship between Coerver and GRITZ, we decided the time was right to get to know the man behind the music in this exclusive one on one interview.
Tell us about where you were born and raised, and when you first became interested in playing music.
I was born July 22, 1958 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and raised in the enchanted forest. We lived across the street from a little wooded park called "Parkview Park" on South Parkview Drive in a "Leave It To Beaver" late 50's vibe with the laid-back Looziana pace and I was a 'half-country / half-city' kid. My grandmother lived 'out in the sticks' and we'd ride horses or go hiking in the woods out there or go water skiing and fishing with the Claibornes in the swamps and the rivers that join Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas near New Orleans.
It was like something from a Disney movie or Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" show
until age 12, and then we moved to the outskirts of Houston when my Dad got transferred for his 'Chemical Plant Job' and it was a total 'shock to the system' for me in Texas because of the 'bigger-better-badder Texan' attitude that was completely foreign to me. I had already started playing the drums (at age 11 in 1969) after seeing a sparkling new red "Sears Best" el-cheapo drum kit at my cousin's house and hearing
that cowbell that sounded like 'Honky Tonk Women'...
I was 'hypnotized' in a second and had to get a drum kit. I had already had a couple years of piano lessons (from age 7 to 9), but it was so much more fun to smack those drumheads and I lost interest in the piano, baseball, horses, boats, and fish. In Houston, the drums became 'my identity' because I was a pretty quiet 'bookworm' kinda kid and then I played in the grade-school talent show and did a drum solo based on the groove to 'Situation' by Jeff Beck Group and some lessons from my great drum instructor Denny Hair and the 'frozen shock' look on their faces hooked me for life on the live performance adrenaline rush.
What was your first band like?
In another talent show in freshman year of high school (1972), I played the drums again and met some other musicians and started jamming a bit. This one guy named 'Joe George' played amazing piano and organ and was a child prodigy and we got to be friends and that led to my first band. Joe had some older friends and we rehearsed some of the guitarist's original tunes and a bunch of Grand Funk, Leon Russell, James Gang, and other rock faves. It didn't last long, because Joe got snapped up by a popular band called "Jason" that was making good money and we knew it would happen because he was that good.
My Dad got transferred back to Baton Rouge after four years in Houston when I was 16, and we lived in an apartment where I tormented the neighbors with jams that my guitarist school buddy Ed Gassie put together, and once again... you guessed it... we played in the talent show with another talented keyboard player named Jeff Jones and we called the band 'Elton Jeff' (Laughing). Jeff was also a hilarious dude and he lived right down the street, so it was easy to get the band going and it later became the first "real" band I was involved in that went by the name "Southbound".
I had a cheap Les Paul copy I bought with 'yard mowing' cash and Ed and a couple other guys showed me a bunch of cool tunes and I developed my ear by sitting around breaking turntables trying to learn Cream, Creedence, Stones, Allmans, Johnny Winter and ZZ Top tunes. A couple years later, I wound up playing drums in another band called "BooKooWattz" that was a real powerhouse boogie rock band that played the bars, schools and parties circuit. By this time, I had already started getting absorbed by the guitar and had a pretty nice rig that came from 'slaving away' during summer break at a chemical plant making great money for a slacker-type kid.
I had also bought a beat-up TEAC 2340 4-track tape recorder that you could 'overdub' with and then we were 'off to the races'. By this time, the band had morphed into a new thing and changed the name to "LaFauci" and the singer/bandleader Sal LaFauci was a really solid punchy drummer who had been playing keys when I was on drums in "BooKooWattz", and Sal decided to switch back to drums, and asked me to switch to guitar. Sal had put a self-titled 'indie' album out and pressed 1000 copies, and wanted to put a band together to promote it, so I learned the guitar parts and we went out and 'played the circuit' and 'took what we could get' which was mostly cover gigs around Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas for about six or seven months.
You can imagine my amazement when in 2005, Mike Varney from Guitar Player magazine knew about the band and yelled into the phone "Can you get me a copy of the "LAFOOOCHY" album?" during our interview for my spot in his "Spotlight" column - he's a mega-collector of vinyl LPs! This band was tearing up the highway in 1978 during my third year at LSU in engineering, and it was the 'semester from Hell'
where I made every grade you can make and destroyed my GPA and cemented
Bobby Ingram Project, early lineup circa 1983.
Tell us about how China Sky came to be, and how you got a record deal.
After that 'summer in chemical plant Hell' and the subsequent 'semester from Hell', I graduated in December 1980 in the 'dead center' of my class (truly 'middle class trash') and I swore I'd never set foot in a chemical plant again! Well, when you're in the middle of your class, guess what? Your options are chemical plant or ... chemical plant around here, so when my pal Eric Hunter took a job with the Jacksonville Naval Air Station (aka Jax NAS), I followed his advice and interviewed there and wound up moving to sunny Jacksonville, Florida in February of 1981. I was a huge fan of the city's musical progeny such as The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackfoot, The Rossington-Collins Band, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special and so forth, but to be honest, the real factor in moving to Jacksonville was to escape the clutches of a life in Chemical Plant Hell. Needless to say, I was itching to play music but surprisingly, it took about six months before I found a band that seemed to be a good fit to my taste and style.
I had 'engineer bucks' coming in and I bought a Wurlitzer electric piano and a Hammond "Porta-B" organ and Leslie speaker and was getting deeper into reviving the keyboard jones from when I was a young kid. The music scene was shifting drastically at that time and 'new-wave' and 'heavy-metal' were killing off Southern Rock in Jax, so I looked around and found a 'new-wave-rock' band called 'The Philters' and it seemed to be a good match. That band filled a niche in Jax and got popular quickly, and we wound up opening for the Rossington-Collins Band at the Jax Colisseum in February of 1982 - amazing night. The other guitarist in The Philters was Scott Montgomery, and Scott had played in a band called 'Rum Creek' with Bobby Ingram, and Scott introduced me to Bobby at a gig and a few weeks later,
Bobby called to ask if he could borrow my TEAC four-track tape recorder and get some engineering help on some demos he was doing with a new band he was putting together. Bobby and the guys had a great 'wall of sound' with slamming drums, big twin guitar arrangements, and some catchy songs and I thought "I wish I could play the keyboards behind that group."
I had seen Bobby play with The Danny Joe Brown Band on MTV just a few months earlier right after MTV descended upon Jax, and I couldn't believe he was in this stinky old sweatbucket of a bandroom right down the street doing demos with some guys I knew from a couple bands around Jax that had just broken up - I thought he must be riding around in a limo or some giant tour bus 'living the dream' because I'd heard about the giant advance DJB had gotten from Epic Records and all that star-type thing. Little did I know that good-ol' Southern Rock was dead as a doorknob and that MTV was about to eat the planet.
A few months later, The Philters broke up and Bobby called right after I had gotten a gig playing drums with a "show band" to go to Japan and do 'Fifties Revival' type-stuff. How strange is that? I decided I'd rather play 'my kinda rock' with Bobby and the guys and I knew and liked Rik Blanz (guitar), Kevin Taylor (drums), and Jim Wheat (bass) from seeing their old band "Asylum" around Jax a bunch of times at gigs and various music stores and I had met Richard Smith (singer) during the demos where Iloaned them my beloved TEAC.
We all slaved away at day jobs while writing, rehearsing, and recording demos six nights a week, four hours a night - sometimes more! We kept this up for months and Bobby was on the phone with all these bigwigs, and finally about a year later around mid-1984 "The Bobby Ingram Project" (BIP) signed a management contract with Pat Armstrong & Associates Management who had Molly Hatchet, Pat Travers, and Stranger on their roster at that time. We managed to squeeze in some gigs and opening-act slots around this time to keep our sanity, but Armstrong kept us busy writing and doing demos on a tight schedule and brought us to Orlando several times over this period to do demos at Bee Jay Studios and 'showcase' for various producers and A&R guys and we were hopeful of getting a 'big record deal'.
We got all the usual rejection notices with comments like 'dated style', 'wrong singer for the band', 'not the right look', 'needs work on the songs / lyrics' until late 1984 when A&M records got interested in us. Pat looked over the offer, and advised us that we'd be stupid to take the deal because it was a one-chance thing, and if the single they were interested in ('Restless Hearts') flopped... stick a fork in us, we're done! We kept beating our heads to bloody pulp with demo after demo of new songs tailored to Pat's suggestions, and it was grinding us down because we all wanted to play more shows, but Bobby insisted that we would be wasting our time, and it was more important to keep writing because that was our ticket outta the bandroom to the 'big time'. We finally moved to an air-conditioned bandroom and spent a year from late 1985 to late 1986 auditioning new singers and Jim threw in the towel and quit to join The Johnny VanZant Band, so Richard moved to bass and harmony vocals and we kept experimenting with different music styles with some strange tunes Pat found and got us to demo like "Eyes In The Back Of My Head" and it was a case of 'left shoeon the right foot' for quite a while.
Around the middle of 1986, Molly Hatchet was going through some turmoil, and Bobby started playing guitar for them after Dave Hlubek left and Bobby was gone for a couple weeks at a time every month. Just when it looked like the BIP would collapse under the weight of all the time struggling to find a new singer and make something happen, Ron Perry came down from Michigan after being contacted by Pat Armstrong and auditioned for the job singing with BIP. Finally, it seemed like the wheels were starting to move and then Pat struck a deal with CBS records to start his own record label called PARC Records and built a state-of-the-art recording studio called PARC Studios in collaboration with Full Sail Recording in Orlando.
Pat signed BIP to PARC and now he was our manager, our publisher, President and Owner of our record label, owner of our recording studio, our babysitter and our psychic advisor... does anything seem "FUNNY" about that scenario? Pat arranged
for us to work with a 'big-time' songwriter whose name escapes me, and we did a bunch of demos of those tunes, and CBS decided it was time to do a record based on those demos so we borrowed or rented every guitar, amp, keyboard, and gizmo known to mankind and landed in Orlando to work with renowned Producer/Engineer Karl Richardson- a heck of a nice guy- at PARC.
After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, about 13 songs made their way onto tape and got mixed and mastered and massaged into being. Along the way, a little phrase ("under a china sky") in a ridiculously overblown 'Journey-on-steroids' ballad (or was
it Ex-Lax?) was uttered and became the moniker of doom for the BIP.
Ron wanted to vomit when we heard that this phrase had been ramrodded down our throats as our new identity and we saw the photos of just Ron, Richard, and Bobby on the back in these insanely cheapo trendy 'wannabee BonPoisonRatt' vinyl leatherette outfits with the poofy goofball aquanet hair treatment and all. They wear ya down so much in this biz, that after five years of beating yer head against the wall and salivating over fortune and fame, you'll sign, wear, and do just about anything and try to smile pretty in the process! By this time, in reality, BIP had already collapsed under its' own weight and no longer existed. Half the band had been 'released' from the contract - a polite phrase for 'fired' - for being too scary looking for the pre-pubescent female demographic that was targeted for the marketing campaign. Ahh, the history of the mainstream music biz in one short sentence. Thank God that the Beatles and the Stones and the -fill in the blank- were pretty enough for the young girls and that the music got released, promoted and distributed and we have it to listen to today in this
prefab cyborg pop era.
What was Bobby like to work with?
Bobby was like a Zen Hillbilly Preacher Accountant Referee Diplomat Guitar-Slinger. He had amazing discipline, perseverance, drive, ambition, and insight and would just not give up when disappointment was the daily word. He quietly negotiated settlements in the daily songwriting wars between six opinionated dudes and always focused on meeting milestones and deadlines and had a clear plan and procedure worked out and stuck with it.
Lots and Lots and Lots of folks in Jax told me and the guys that we were outta our minds to join with Bobby and that we wouldn't see a dime when the dust settled because Bobby had a degree in Accounting and would work the 'smoke and mirrors money game', but Bobby had a way of building faith by calmly explaining the way the business worked and giving examples of the way the record company / publishing
money is invested and divided from his experience in the 'big leagues' with the Danny Joe Brown Band.
Tom and Bobby after a late night demos session.
Bobby could play some amazing chop-busting parts on the guitar, and was very consistent in his performance and repeated the Skynyrd mantra of 'work out yer parts and never ever ev vary them, play them exactly the same every time you play the song and put every ounce of yer concentration into the execution of the melodies and chords'. We came up with a handful of what I thought were potential hit songs that had the Southern Rock drive blended with big vocal harmonies from Bobby, Richard, Ron and me but those songs reside in magnetic heaven and you will most likely never hear them because the A&R guys said they were 'dated'. Oh Well.
How did that band break up, and what did you do next?
I got a call at work one day around May of 1988 from Bobby at about 4:00 P.M., and he told me that Pat had decided that only Richard, Ron and Bobby would be in the band to promote the record and that I would be 'released' from the contract. Needless to say, after five plus years of effort, I was pretty depressed about it, but I was also relieved in a way because even though I had not seen the embarrassing pictures and promo stuff, I didn't like the music on the record very much except for a couple of the songs and the production of those songs took all the power and life out of them and I didn't like the sound of the final mix, either, so the news was kind of anti-climactic at that point.
Talk about your musical influences...
Well, they are all over the map, but the obvious ones in semi-chronological order are Creedence (my Dad and I loved them for the sound and the songs and I still try to sing like Fogerty), Cream (the obvious), The Beatles (I think you understand this already...), The Monkees (Okay, admit it you hipsters, you had a copy of 'Headquarters' or 'The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees' or 'Head' hidden somewhere in your collection - Mike Nesmith is like Einstein in the sky... his song 'Writing Wrongs' transported me to another dimension at age 10...) Jimi Hendrix (speaking of transported to another dimension... what can you say about Jimi that isn't obvious to the least among us? 'Hear My Train A-Comin','Drifting', 'Ezy Rider', and 'Villanova Junction' along with any Band of Gypsies immediately come to mind at the mention of his name - the deepest blues in existence), Rolling Stones (who can write a better simple song? That's the hardest thing in the world for me! Also, Keith's open-tuned rhythm guitar and other tricks, Charlie's groove and tone, the rest is obvious), Allman Brothers (Duane's fire and drive and Dickey's sound and lyricism and Gregg's voice and especially that thick swirling Hammond organ like on "Dreams"...), The Who (Live At Leeds with 'Summertime Blues' and the 'My Generation/Tommy medley' - great drums from Keith (another main influence), great guitar with unique tone and harmony and songs from Pete with great vox and bass that redefined the role of the instrument in rock), Derek & The Dominoes (the obvious), Johnny Winter (probably my biggest influence from the time in Texas... the stingin'-est, most intense slide and lead guitar I'd ever heard), ZZ Top (one word: Hombres), Chicago (the first five albums with Terry Kath on guitar and Robert Lamm writing songs...), Mahavishnu Orchestra (Billy Cobham was my favorite drummer for ages, and I thought the music was the most intense and harmonically interesting stuff my thirteen year old brain could consume...), Yes (the keyboards and the strange unique songs... something I had in common with Bobby), Led Zeppelin (the obvious), Lynyrd Skynyrd (the songs grabbed me right away when my friend Patty Brady told me to check out this new band from Florida when I was in the ninth grade... I loved 'Things Goin' On' and 'Poison Whiskey' and it just got better from there... I could go on and on, but you know what I'm talkin''bout), Jeff Beck (the obvious and everything else... the most soulful and emotive guitarist of all time and space), Little Feat (Lowell George is like a Dali painting come to life in a spaghetti western... one of my biggest influences as a singer (I wish...), a songwriter, and a slide guitarist who invented a new vibe for the instrument...Bill Payne is one of my three favorite keyboard players along with Billy Preston and Billy Powell... the Three BPs... and a close fourth being a tie between Dr. John and Chuck Leavell...), Steely Dan (the obvious), Dixie Dregs (the obvious), Pat Metheny (mostly the early stuff), Jaco Pastorius with or without Weather Report (beyond innovator - he's an inventor), Jimmy Smith (the man invented the way we play the Hammond Organ in 1956... you gotta give him props...), Elvis Costello (the songs, the songs, & the songs), Ralph Towner (I just hope to get tuned into his crystal 12-string acoustic frequency at some point... not to mention the nylon string thing...), Miles Davis (almost any era, but especially the space vibe stuff), John Coltrane (Giant Steps over the tonal and atonal spectrum), Terje Rypdal (the guy created new dimensions for guitar... he's a solar system unto himself), Mike Stern (if you study the tune Fat Time from Miles Davis's album "The Man With The Horn", you'll smirk a lot when you listen to my records... he created five of my favorite guitar 'licks'/'lines'/'runs' ... whatever you call it, I can still remember the moment I first heard him play on SNL with Miles in 1981 - it was so intense, I think my watch stopped and then burst into flames...), John Abercrombie (the album 'Timeless' will always be one of my top 10...), and the list goes on and on and on...
So, no influences? (Laughs) What is the greatest record album ever recorded and why?
I can't even begin to answer that, ... but I would say that my favorite and "most listened to" is a close tie between "The Allman Brothers Band Live At The Fillmore - Deluxe Edition with the Tom Dowd edits and the extra songs" and "Timeless" by John Abercrombie because they both are among the most engulfing, transporting records I've heard that just exist in a place outside time and space and take you there where there are no cares and you float in a pool of warm jello with velvet tentacles encasing your cerebellum.
Tell us about yourself, family, hobbies...
I'm 49 going on 69... freeze-dried mentally at about 17, I have surprisingly poor motor skills and the CDs demonstrate my total compulsion to play music - those who have seen me trying to put strings on my guitar understand completely (it usually involves massive flesh wounds and Neosporin), I love my Jesus and have absolutely no vices or annoying tendencies to ramble on about... what was I talking about? My family is straight outta "Leave It To Beaver" (I'm striving to be Wally, but have been accused of being Eddie Haskell), my beautiful wife Esther has trained me to crush all opposition at Scrabble, and tolerates my obsession with music even though she can play circles around me on the piano and has tried and failed to make me into a sight reader (ya might as well teach a monkey to swordfish...) and we have three kids, two sons-in-law, one wife-in-law, two grandkids (#3 on the way), my hobbies are raising a terrifyingly sedate Doberman Pinscher named Lucy VanPelt - caution, Dobie will lick you to death...photography, graphics, tennis and fishing about every 12 years or so, movies, scrabble, home destruction/improvement, and formula one racing - yeah... that's it... my life is interesting.. yeah. I can often be found under the drawbridge 16 miles north of New Orleans on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge with massive headwounds from the 426,000 conduits and junction boxes that protrude from ceilings and sidewalls or on the side of I-10 or I-12 staring befuddled at one of the many CCTV cameras or Dynamic Message Signs that comprise the 'Intelligent Transportation System' for the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development inmy job at GEC, Inc.
Talk about how you came to record your first album... Didn't you play all instruments?
In late 1995 I bought my first real Baby Grand piano, and the feel and sound got me started thinking about writing songs for the first time since 1987 when BIP got burned out on writing songs after the marathon demo-mania. I had about 20 songs written by 1998 when I met my pal John Lisi and we started recording his music together at my little home studio and John heard some of the tunes and said "dude, you gotta finish that stuff and turn it into a CD and get a band together and play the tunes..." so I started polishing the efforts and then edited the rewrite of the revisions to the original ideas and then it started sounding like a nice cluttered cacophony. I had been playing drums again for fun with my pal Mike Owings (aka R.L. Spencer of the Delta Rockets and Allen Collins Band (Mark II) and with John Lisi and Tabby Thomas and I could
once again get a groove going with the guitar recorded to a click track and then I'd add bass, keys, vox, etc. until John said "erase all that junk at the intro and let the guitar have room to breathe" and then it started to sound like music. I knew better from all the observations of Karl Richardson and other experiences, but my OCD kicked in and I couldn't stop myself from dubbing the dubs until John put the razor to my throat and forced me to edit. Then I got addicted to editing and they had to call the fire department to get the jaws of life to pull my head outta my backside.
What about your second album....
Encouraged by the reception from Germany and vicinity to the First CD (aka "Backwater Tales" by Tom Coerver - roots, rock, and blues from Planet Louisiana), I decided that I had enough steam left in me to start doing another CD. I had put together a band that we called 'Backwoods BBQ' to play the first CD material, and that was fun but it broke up when our other guitarist Johnny Rosetti broke his arm after the bassist Denise Brumfield quit to get married (in completely unrelated events). Having a bit more time on my hands led to indulgence in recording cover songs such as "Sitting On Top Of The World" by Howling Wolf, "One Hundred Pounds Of Trouble" by Burton Gaar, "Don't Let It Bring You Down" by Neil Young, and my medley of two clever songs about the music biz by Robert Lamm from Chicago "Sing A Mean Tune, Kid" and "A Hit By Varese" in between working on 13 new original tunes I had percolating in my subconscious mind. The second CD came to adopt the title "Waterfront View" while I was pondering what to put on the cover to follow in the footsteps of "Backwater Tales" and saw the photo of me walking past 'beautiful' Alligator Bayou in the swamps just outside of Baton Rouge. In other words, I had already paid for the photos and I wasn't getting any younger, thinner, or 'less gray', so I used what I had (Laughs).
And then you did Thirds....and more... This one with a band called Goin' South. Tell us bout the band members.
The "Thirds... & More" CD by Tom Coerver & Goin' South has so many little puns that crack me up... I'll share some with y'all: First, the title: "Thirds... " is a play on words in the sense of the musical interval of a 'third' between two notes, my third CD under my name, one of my favorite CDs from the early 70s is "Thirds" by The James Gang with Joe Walsh, who is one of my favorite guitarists and songwriters, and the term for the third course of a 3-course meal... a pun on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Second Helping" LP to clue people in that this is Southern Rock music (whatever that really means...); Second, the cover: the blue sky is from the chorus of 'Sweet Home Alabama' (where the skies are so blue); Third, the band name: we were searching for a name that screamed "we play Southern Rock music" and 'Southbound' was already used, and Esther's favorite 70s movie was 'Goin' South' (starring Jack Nicholson) so we picked that with tongue firmly in cheek; and fourth, the cover (again): Our bodies sinking into the road (goin' south or 'goin' down'...) symbolizing the fact that, yes, we are getting kinda old now.
The band came together in a kind of organic way - just before Backwoods BBQ broke up, my classmate from 1974 Bill Doran called me up to re-connect after he was talking with one of his co-workers down in New Orleans who happens to be my son-in-law who happened to ask Bill if he knew Tom Coerver in Baton Rouge since he knew Bill played upright bass in a 'Rockabilly' band. Well, Bill called and it turned out I needed a bass player and Bill told me about this great drummer he had played with in an old band, and he got Keith Simoneaux to come over and jam, and it worked right away. Keith and Bill know how to play together, and it was easy to do my thing with them and they seemed to be 'in tune' with my style right away.
Do you still gig?
Yep, we're still doing gigs around Baton Rouge and vicinity.
What would you like to see come from your musical work? Besides a million dollar farm?
I'd like for U.S. Americans to be able to be able to better find and locate the USA on a world map of the world and I believe that our education such as South Africa and Iraq such that and our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. help South Africa and Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us and the U.S.A. I think. Uhh... OK, I couldn't think of a better answer than Miss Teen South Carolina gave in the recent Miss Teen U.S.A. pageant, and being that y'all are from South Carolina, I thought that y'all would relate to her revelations. Now, if you could explain to me what I just said...
Describe what it was like during and after Katrina down there... and what is it like now.
Katrina hit Mississippi much harder than Louisiana and Baton Rouge only had a few gusts over 30 MPH and we didn't lose power until late morning on Monday, August 29, 2005. The next couple days were hot and smelly without power and the radio was blasting scary stories of flooding and chaos in the New Orleans area. Thursday, September 1, 2005 was one of the strangest days of my life. I was out on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway ("The World's Longest Bridge" - 24 miles long from Metairie
(just west of New Orleans) north to Mandeville) for my job to do a survey of the damage to the Causeway's electric power system from hurricane Katrina and the winds and ominous grey sky were still hanging around to make the vibe like a bad dream.
Military helicopters large and small were zooming overhead following the path of the bridge and being refueled in flight by those giant prop-driven cargo planes and the
whole vibe reminded me of the Gulf war. Only emergency vehicles were allowed on the bridge and we had a Causeway Police escort as we made our way from North to South and it was strangely quiet except for the helicopters fighting the wind. The electrical vaults are a couple miles apart, so we spent a lot of the day in the car riding from vault to vault and the first thing we heard on the radio was a talk-show when the president of Jefferson Parish came on and started ranting about the chaos and crime running out of control with stories of a shopping mall being burned and the firemen being shot at by the thugs looting the place and hospitals being robbed and shot up by thugs stealing drugs and thugs shooting up the police headquarters with automatic weapons and thugs shooting at the rescue helicopters and he said he had just come back from Baton Rouge (Louisiana's Capitol City) where he had tried to seek help from the governor in restoring law and order but had to stop at a police barricade near the downtown Government building because there was "a disturbance from the evacuees" near the area in the River Center complex and the State offices were "locked down" and the interstate was closed and the police said he'd just have to go back to New Orleans for now. This was about 72 hours after the hurricane had passed through and the levees had breached and the city was flooded and most of the stuff you heard about in the media was just getting really bad.
I ran across some technicians from Sprint at the bascule (drawbridge) control house who looked like they'd just seen a ghost and they said they'd just come from the Morial Convention Center and had seen some dead people whose throats had been cut and that the scene was way out of control. Then, when we were almost finished (about a mile from the south shore near Metairie), the Causeway police told us we had to clear the bridge to "make way for the Red Cross convoy" and right about that time the "man on the radio" was ranting about how the "Red Cross is not welcome in Jefferson Parish if they don't get in here right now because everybody is out of everything". Of course, we never saw a convoy but we did see one (1) little box truck with the Red Cross logo on it and it turns out that they held off until the mayor and the governor and the feds finally got "squared up" with all the paperwork signed and then the National Guard troops came in the following day and cleared a path for them so they wouldn't get shot. The national media started backpedaling around then and changing their story about all the chaos but I have it from eyewitnesses that it was horrific and an extreme example of what happens when the bad guys have the upper hand and when I was doing FEMA trailer site assessments a few weeks later everybody was talking about "secret deployments of special operations military teams" to take care of the bad guys because the police were so overwhelmed by the storm damage situation. I don't know about all that, but I do know that the next few weeks were super-heated tense around Baton Rouge with the "couple hundred thousand" extra people in our city of around 400,000 population and the roads were jammed and crawling and power was still out in lotsa places and gas was scarce.
The situation in 2007 is getting better, but the recovery is moving very slowly and only about half of the pre-Katrina population has returned to live in Orleans parish in the vicinity of New Orleans. Many of these folks relocated to Baton Rouge and Houston and the city authorities have struggled to deal with traffic jams that have resulted from the sudden population growth in Baton Rouge (maybe 50,000 stayed in BR) and housing prices skyrocketed for a while because of the shortage of housing and now rents are just astronomical in New Orleans and vicinity, almost twice the old rates. My pal John Lisi and his family lived in the Lakeview area of New Orleans near the infamous 17th street canal levee breach, and their house had 12 feet of water at the peak, and then it receded to 7 feet, and now the insurance company is trying
to set the repair reimbursement based on 7 feet of floodwater. Lots of folks got the insurance screw job, and there is still plenty of corruption with bogus contractors and political diversion of funds, and our governor wisely decided it would be a 'bad idea' to run for another term. It still blows my mind that the remaining people voted that
imbecile Ray Nagin in for a second term as Mayor of N'Awluns... it just goes to show that Louisiana politics is every bit as corrupt and screwed up as ever, and with Congressman Jefferson getting popped for his shakedowns and Congressman Vitter getting popped for his philandering, I'm almost afraid to listen to the news to hear and see the next 'wound' to Louisiana's reputation. Okay, I'll towel off and get off my soapbox, for now.
As a Louisiana home boy, how do you feel about the government reaction to Katrina?
It just got more and more disgusting and by now you've all heard the stories on the news and all the politicians for both the Republicrats and the Demicans (aka Corleones and Gambinos) came out smelling like month-old catfish carcasses and the whole world witnessed the stuff of legend when it comes to "Louisiana Politics" that we've been famous for since the early part of the last century and the feds skewered their fall-guys and played damage control and it doesn't seem to matter whether yer on the red or blue side, around here almost everyone is disgusted with the local, state, and federal government reaction to this whole ordeal and having been involved with the FEMA recovery efforts and seeing the cronyism and incompetence first hand, I can vouch for this story's effectiveness as a natural laxative.
If you could play with any musician, living or dead...who and why?
I'd love to work with Bill Payne of Little Feat and take advantage of his uncanny ability to compose and perform the ultimate most complementary backing part for any song in any style with any singer on any day with any type of keyboard in any climate in any part of the world. Billy Preston could also touch the soul of the most casual observer with his fantastic organ and piano parts, especially in ballads like his incredible and simple and memorable and moving performance on "Isn't It a Pity" and "My Sweet Lord" from the 'Tribute to George Harrison' DVD. I also have a couple tunes that just beg for Billy Powell to do his old-time Americana thing like he does in the immortal piano solo at the end of 'Sweet Home Alabama'. I'd love to take some guitar lessons with Steve Khan for his chord Khancepts (and he's an all-around cool guy to have an email conversation with!) and 'dreamscape guitar' style and with Mike Stern to get a handle on his Bebop Blues Rock from outer space lead style that I have learned about seven seconds worth of in 26 years of trying (Laughing).
What are your future musical plans?
I'm about two thirds finished another CD that will probably be titled "From The Mud...To The Sky" that features Goin' South and a few friends and also some more tracks of me doing the 'One Man Band' thing on some unusual (read: 'neckadelic' or psychedelic redneck... LOL) covers of "Satuday Night Special" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, an all-acoustic version of "Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell" by The Flaming Lips - imagine if the Beatles grew up in Oklahoma and got Neil Young to sing it...can you tell I'm a big fan of irony in music? And an mournful version of 'Angels & Fuselage' by the Drive-By Truckers with a tip of the hat arrangement-wise to the Allman Brothers version of "Dreams" (since I did the MH groove version on the "Thirds" CD, I had to do the ABB thing this time!) with the swirling Hammond organ and soaring Duane-ish slide guitar with an added dash of Lou Reed's live version of 'Heroin' with Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner guitar touches. There will also be 12 original TC tunes that cover all the musical bases from L.A. to Louisiana to Macon to Jax and back. We're having a bunch of fun recording this puppy! Hope to see y'all in Gritzland soon...