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Friday, 03 February 2006 09:22
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Mardi Gras Indian Recordings

By John Sinclair


You re listening to the new Stanton Moore CD on Verve Records and all of a sudden the Wild Magnolias pop up on Falling off the Floor.  Anders Osborne shares his new CD on Shanachie with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles. There's Monk again with the Forgotten Souls Brass Band chanting the title track, Don t Forget Em.  And there are Monk and Bo again, singing on a benefit Christmas compilation with guitarist John Scofield.

Ten years ago or so, Robbie Robertson came and got Monk Boudreaux and Big Chief Bo Dollis to work with him on a big project for Capitol Records. That led to the Wild Magnolias signing with Capitol's Metro Blue imprint and making their major-label debut with Life Is a Carnival in 1999--almost 30 years after their first release, a two-sided 45 of Handa Wanda  with Willie Tee and the New Orleans Project that ushered in the modern era of Mardi Gras Indian music on record.

But, like they say in the 6th Ward, a whole lotta people don t know that there's an entire little universe of Wild Indian music that's come into life since Handa Wanda  (Parts 1 & 2) hit the jukebox at Stanley's Bar on St. Bernard Avenue one afternoon before Mardi Gras in 1971. Astute listeners can find albums by the late lamented Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Golden Eagles, the dearly departed Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. and the Guardians of the Flame, the Bayou Renegades, the Indians of the Nation (including Chiefs from the Black Eagles, Black Feathers, White Cloud Hunters, West Bank Indians and Golden Arrows), the Flaming Arrows, the Young Guardians of the Flame, and a whole rack full of CDs by Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias.

But before Handa Wanda,  there's only one known recording of the Mardi Gras Indians, made documentary-style in 1956 by blues scholar Sam Charters and issued on a Folkways Records 12  LP called something like The Music of New Orleans: The Music of Mardi Gras. It's a question-and-answer session lit up by spirited impromptu renditions of Indian Red  (here titled Indian Race ), Red White and Blue Got the Golden Band,  and To-Wa-Bac-A-Wa.  The singers are assorted members of several tribes invited to the microphone by Mr. Charters, and their responses to his questions about Wild Indian reality half a century ago are spontaneous, revealing, and well worth hearing.

The other side of the equation was represented by the irrepressible Danny Barker & His Creole Cats when they cut a pair of 78s in homage to the Mardi Gras Indians that swung three traditional Wild Indian songs-- Indian Red,  Chockamo Feendo Hey  and Corrine Died on the Battlefield --plus a closely-related number, Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing.  Released in time for Mardi Gras 1955, the two 78 rpm singles died a sudden and ignominious death when the Cats learned that all the jukeboxes in town had just switched over to the 45 rpm format.

Jelly Roll Morton had talked about the Yellow Pocahontas and demonstrated Wild Indian tunes for Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress in 1938, and a New Orleans jazz ensemble, Louis Dumaine's Jazzola 8, had recorded a musical salute to the Wild Indians called To-Wa-Bac-A-Wa  (a retitled Bucket's Got a Hole in It ) for Victor Records as far back as 1927.

Many more tributes would follow, starting with the Dave Bartholomew classic, Carnival Day,  in 1949, and the Sugar Boy Crawford perennial, Jock-A-Mo,  in 1954. Other enduring homages to the Mardi Gras Indians by New Orleans recording artists include the Earl King/Professor Longhair/Wardell Quezergue collaboration, Big Chief ; Pass the Hatchet  by Roger & the Gypsies with Eddie Bo; Iko Iko  by the Dixie Cups; and Mama Roux  by Dr. John, all from the 1960s.

These funky R&B concoctions may have functioned to set the stage for the historic wedding of traditional Mardi Gras Indian songs with the contemporary funk movement so well represented by pianist/composer Wilson Turbinton, known professionally, and on his 60s hits for Atlantic Records like Teasin  You,  as Willie Tee.

This union was consummated under the supervision of a very young Quint Davis, then a student at Tulane University, who brought the Wild Magnolias together with Willie Tee and his New Gaturs at the Tulane Jazz Festival in 1970. Later that fall, after a series of rehearsals at Professor Longhair's house, they all went into the studio and came up with their ground-breaking version of Handa Wanda. 

This humble Crescent City Records 45 rpm single touched off somewhat of a musical revolution in New Orleans and even found its way to France, where producer Philippe Rault was moved to sign the Wild Magnolias to a contract with Barclay Records.

Willie Tee assembled an all-star aggregation--his brother Earl on reeds, the great Snooks Eaglin on guitar, the late, great Julius Farmer on bass, Larry Pania at the drums and the legendary Alfred Uganda  Roberts on congas--and called it the New Orleans Project, then put some delightfully funky music under the Indian chants of the Wild Magnolias to create an exciting new fusion of ancient and modern elements of the African American musical tradition.

Titled simply Wild Magnolias, the very first Mardi Gras Indian album saw its initial release in France and was picked up for American distribution by Polydor Records in 1974. Dr. John's Gumbo LP (Atlantic Records, 1972), with its thrilling versions of Big Chief  and Jockamo,  had piqued considerable interest in hearing the real thing at last, and Wild Magnolias delivered like a ton of bricks. The songs and the music grooving like crazy together presented an entirely new musical experience, the back cover photo pictured a group of the most beautifully dressed humans you d ever seen, and the lyric sheet tucked into the LP sleeve helped the unsuspecting listener grasp the potential meaning of a phrase or two here and there.

But Wild Magnolias was like music from another planet for most American ears, and the LP slowly faded out of sight. The second Wild Magnolias album with Philippe Rault, They Call Us Wild, wasn t even picked up for U.S. distribution, although New Suit  b/w Fire Water  saw release locally as a 45 rpm single. Yet songs from these albums like Smoke My Peace Pipe,  Soul, Soul, Soul  (a play on Sew, Sew, Sew ), Ho Na Nae  and the super-charged traditional text, Two Way Pak E Way,  have become classics of the genre and continue to be heard today.

The Wild Indians next entered the national consciousness in 1976 when Island Records issued Wild Tchoupitoulas, the historic meeting of the uptown Indian gang led by Big Chief Jolly (George Landry) with his nephews, the Neville Brothers; the original Meters; and producer Allen Toussaint.

Wild Tchoupitoulas offered the venerable tribal prayer, Indian Red,  and established several numbers-- Here Dey Come,  Golden Crown,  Meet the Boys on the Battlefront --as staples of the modern-day Wild Indian repertoire.

But 12 years would pass before the next Wild Indian album saw the light of day, the long drought broken only by a 45 rpm single of Shotgun Joe  cut around 1983-84 by Ernest Skipper, backed up by members of the Yellow Pocahontas, Spirit of Fi Yi Yi and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

In 1988 Mark Bingham took his portable recording outfit into the H&R Bar at 2nd and Dryades for Rounder Records to make a true documentary of the Golden Eagles titled Lightning and Thunder. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux contributed Shallow Water O Mama  to the recorded canon of traditional Wild Indians songs and added terrific live-in-context  readings of Indian Red,  Shotgun Joe  and Two-Way-Pak-E-Way. 

The Wild Magnolias finally returned to record in 1990 with I m Back...at Carnival Time (Rounder), a fascinating mixture of pure  Wild Indian performances, several songs backed by a hard-driving funk band, and a set of revolutionary collaborations with the Re-Birth Brass Band which brought the two most potent forms of African American street music into a new and ecstatic fusion on Big Chief,  Shoo-Fly  and Shallow Water O Mama.  Another great cut by this pairing is Let's Go Get Em,  which turned up in 1992 on the Rounder compilation called Super Sunday Showdown, along with the Magnolias  funk masterpiece Oops Upside Your Head  and a merciless version of Battlefront. 

The new Wild Magnolias album would set off the explosion in Wild Indian recordings that lit up the 1990s. Donald Harrison Jr. featured his father, Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame, on his great Candid album Indian Blues. The Bayou Renegades, led by guitarist June Victory, saw their self-titled album released in France and later on the New Orleans label Monkey Hill.

A new generation of Wild Indians began to emerge when the Young Guardians of the Flame debuted with New Way Pak E Way on the First Tribe label, and Kevin Goodman & the Flaming Arrows were showcased on Here Come the Indians Now, a fine album for Mardi Gras Records with Milton Batiste's band which introduced Hell Out the Way  and My Gang Don t Bow Down  to CD.

A further advance was made near the end of the 20th century when a group of Big Chiefs and other members of several tribes banded together as the Indians of the Nation and recorded United We Stand, Divided We Fall (Ch Ching, 1999), featuring superlative singers like Big Chief Roddy of the Black Eagles, Big Chief Little Charles of the White Cloud Hunters, Chief Peppy of the Golden Arrows, Chief Lionel Black Feather, Chief Smiley Ricks of the West Bank Indians and Wild Man Ivory of the Carrolton Hunters. The album introduced a host of songs new to record, including Early in the Morning,  No No No  and Calliope  from the Black Eagles, Chief Peppy's provocative Indian Story  and the eponymous White Cloud Hunters  and Chief Black Feather. 

While United We Stand is a pure  Wild Indian recording, Chief Smiley Ricks and Wild Man Ivory organized a second group of Indians of the Nation to record a very successful project called Feathercraft (1.5 Sound, 2001) with a band including percussion, tuba, trombone, Donald Harrison Jr.'s saxophones, Gregory Boyd's steel pans, the electric guitars of Chris Mule and Marc Stone, and a batch of new Indian anthems like Nothin  But Trouble,  Mighty Hunter,  Runnin   and Gang Shot the Pistol. 

Finally, to end up where we started out, there are the fine Wild Magnolias albums from the 2990s: 1313 Hoodoo Street for the Australian AIM label and their exquisite 1999 collaboration with Dr. John, Life Is a Carnival, on Capitol's Metro Blue imprint, which introduces the traditional Coochie Molly,  the praise songs Black Hawk,  Old Time Indian  and Herc-Jolly-John,  and a philosophical Who Knows  to the Wild Indian repertoire.

The Magnolias  latest release, 30 Years--and Still Wild (AIM), presents a set of five new pieces with Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. and a gathering of previously unissued material from 1970-1972, including an historic meeting between Bo Dollis and the late Big Chief Jake Millon at a White Eagles practice in 1970 which was the very first of the modern-day Wild Indian recordings. Mighty coup de fiyo!


Wild Indian Favorites

Golden Eagles: Indian Red  (Rounder, 1988)
Wild Tchoupitoulas: Here Dey Come  (Island, 1976)
Wild Magnolias, Let's Go Get Em  (Rounder, 1992)
Wild Apaches with the Mahagony Brass Band: Indians Jumpin  On Fire  (SONO, 1997)
Young Guardians of the Flame: Big Chief Donald Had a Heart of Steel  (New Orleans Musicians Clinic, 1999)
Indians of the Nation: Indian Story  > Calliope  (Ch Ching, 1999)
Wild Magnolias, Coochie Molly  (Metro Blue, 1999)
Guardians of the Flame: Chong Chong  (First Tribe, 1998)
Chief Smiley Ricks & Indians of the Nation, Nothin  But Trouble  (1.5 Sound, 2001)
Flaming Arrows: My Gang Don t Bow Down  (Mardi Gras, 1997)
9th Ward Hunters & Re-Birth Brass Band: Shoe Fly  (GPG, 1992)
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & Forgotten Souls Brass Band, Don t Forget Em  (New Orleans Music Online, 2001)
Wild Magnolias, Smoke My Peace Pipe  (Polydor, 1974)
Young Guardians of the Flame: Indian Red  (First Tribe, 1998)
Wild Indian CDs

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & Anders Osborn, Bury the Hatchet (Shanachie)
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & Forgotten Souls Brass Band, Don t Forget Em, New Orleans Music Online)
Bayou Renegades (Monkey Hill)
Chief Smiley Ricks & the Indians of the Nation, Feathercraft (1.5 Sound)
Flaming Arrows, Here Come the Indians Now (Mardi Gras)
Guardians of the Flame, Indian Blues (with Donald Harrison, Jr.) (Candid)
Golden Eagles, Lightning and Thunder (Rounder)
Indians of the Nation, United We Stand, Divided We Fall (Black Eagles, Carrolton Hunters, Black Feathers, White Cloud Hunters, West Bank Indians, Golden Arrows) (Ch Ching)
Wild Magnolias (Polygram)
Wild Magnolias, They Call Us Wild (Polygram)
Wild Magnolias, I m Back...at Carnival Time (Rounder)
Super Sunday Showdown (Rounder)
Wild Magnolias, 1313 Hoodoo Street (AIM)
Wild Magnolias, Life Is a Carnival (Metro Blue)
Wild Magnolias, 30 Years--and Still Wild! (AIM)
Wild Tchoupitoulas (Antilles)
Young Guardians of the Flame, New Way Pak E Way (First Tribe)


--New Orleans
January 17, 2003



(c) 2003, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.


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