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The big secret is that the New Orleans Ninth Ward has had one of the best underground music scenes in the United States for some time now. Because they tend to care about making music and having a party more than trying to push themselves or their music on the outside world, they’ve always been very insular. The most notable exception is Mr Quintron and Miss Pussycat – who have been steadily cultivating a substantial fan base with over a decade of constant recording and touring. Because much of this community has been relatively invisible to outsiders, one story that hasn’t been told enough within the indie community or elsewhere, is what Katrina means for this very colorful, uncompromising, and tightly-knit music scene. I decided to get in touch with my few friends left in New Orleans to try to get a line on their experiences regarding the hurricane and their time in exile– as well their opinions what this all means for their city, their neighborhood, and, most of all their music.

While this is primarily a New York music magazine, I've chosen to address the Ninth Ward underground music scene for a few reasons. First, like quite a few other folks that I know, the New Orleans Ninth Ward music scene has been an important part of my cultural experience as both a person and a musician - and a substantial influence as well. Secondly, since all of the gang's been scattered around the country, New York has had the good fortune of hosting no small number of New Orleans musicians - some of whom became part of our community - though not as many as in Texas and California. Third, a small but significat portion of New York's underground is either New Orleans or its sister scenes like Memphis - all of whom share a common cultural experience. And finally, the unfortunate events that have befallen New Orleans' underground musicians are our problems as well as part of the bigger community - and thankfully, though we were a bit later than say, Motley Cru, there's been no shortage of benefits and other attempts to help in the last few months.



Over a decade ago, when I still lived in Austin, I was introduced to the unusual assortment of folks from the New Orleans Ninth Ward from a close friend Chris Wassell who was moving back there to play in Crash Worship – many of whose members had either moved or were preparing to move to New Orleans at the time. While I was familiar with his earlier band, Nipples of Isis, and also Mr. Quintron, both of whom had made it out, I knew nothing else about these folks and what they had going on. The first group of people I met included MC Trachiotomy (pre-Trachiotomy), his wife at the time, and their extended circle of neighbors and friends. They occupied a huge house that’s been sitting on its corner for a couple of hundred years - longer than any other building in the Ninth. They christened the house “The Pearl” and had parties on Sunday nights for many years – really rowdy homemade affairs with all kinds of bands, burlesque, performance art, off-color comedy acts (that's you Marcus)... I think I even remember a penis puppet show. And, speaking of puppet shows, not far from the Pearl, Quintron and Miss Pussycat also had a huge pre-Spellcaster Lodge living/performance space named “The Pussycat Caverns” – which was central to goings on in the neighborhood’s art/performance/music community.

Because Austin was very hopping at the time, with tons of good bands and parties, I was often really jaded about other places. But in the case of this extended peer group in New Orleans, I was amazed. Before I knew it I was coming back almost monthly, sometimes even weekly. Everything these people did was completely on-target. People dressed up, stayed up, and took every night to its deepest conclusion. There was plenty of drinking, dancing, and, as in Texas, the occasional late-night throwdown. Conversations ran into the next day as they took all kinds of obscure and unexpected turns. And the music is difficult to separate from these social circumstances. Bands were typically noisy tongue-and-cheek high-concept affairs that often were no longer around by the next time I was in town. But that didn’t mean that there weren't also more conventional styles like acoustic blues, jazzy cabaret stuff, garage or other more traditional musics. But again, everything was about the people – every member of every band not only seemed to know one another, but each member of the audience as well – so everything was an inside joke and often a deliberate parody of itself.

Of the many features that set this scene apart from others, my personal favorite is the way in which they appropriated local culture into their own subculture. The Mardi Gras tradition of costume and theme parties was a year-round type of thing - and it also wasn't unusual for the girls to sport boas, beads, and related accessories in the evening, and sometimes day. In terms of the Mardi Gras itself, Quintron continues to lead the hard rock-riff-driven Ninth Ward Marching Band – who will march once again this year. There’re also all kinds of other 9th Ward-based events during the Mardi Gras - many of which I’ll try to list here. While I’m not too sure how often this occurs, I once witnessed a traditional large male chorus, The Ninth Ward Men’s Choir, ringing in Y2K – and deliberately “duh-ed” their way through everything – cacophonous, sarcastic, and crude - but with total New Orleans ceremoniousness. Raw oysters, shrimp and crawfish boils, and other local culinary traditions often play a part in underground goings-on. Finally, interactions with local legendary musicians, most notably Ernie K-Doe (R.I.P.), his wife Antionette, and the Mother-In-Law Lounge in general, strengthens the underground's involvement with the equally unusual local culture.

Whereas my friends in Austin were all obsessed with the latest underground bands, New Orleans didn’t care – (except for the crusties – who existed in separate circles - but in the neighborhood). The scene seemed to move at its own pace, find its own avenues, and generally exist as a universe unto itself. As I said earlier, everything was very much tailor-made for the audience of the thirty to a hundred friends that would be there. I was impressed with this attitude because it was so removed from the cycle of indie consumption trends and entirely based on community and pleasure. Nowhere was the 9th Ward disregard for the hip more apparent than in their unusually eclectic, thrift shop-driven record collections you found at homes as well asbehind DJ booths.

This isolation is also reason that few nationally-known underground bands came out of there and other indie bands often skipped New Orleans entirely. During this period, in addition to The Howlin’ Wolf, where you would play if you could open for a relatively popular band that would appeal to the college crowd and suburbanites, there were also venues like RC Bridge Lounge, The Mermaid, Monocle Bob’s, and a few others where underground local and touring acts could do their thing for very few people. A promotion company called Devil Dog tried to make it happen for quite some time, but the locals didn’t much care – unless they actually new the folks who were playing. I remember once opening for Zeke at the height of their popularity, and, a couple of nights after selling out the big room at Emo’s in Austin, they drew roughly twenty people in New Orleans – most of whom were my band’s friends. The few underground acts that did stop in New Orleans did so at a loss just to be able to hang out there. This inevitably cut New Orleans off from the whole. Austin, Chapel Hill, Chicago, Portland, or heck, even somewhere like Lawrence, KS, were much more in the loop because touring bands could play to substantial audiences – and in the process would get hip to local bands and spread the word. New Orleans could’ve cared less either way. This has changed a bit the last few years thanks to 1) the startup of the community’s first consistently active label, Rhinestone Records, 2) the opening of really strong local music venues like the Circle Bar and One Eyed Jack’s, and 3) national touring by folks like Quintron, MC Trachiotomy, Tiana Hux (Sweet Tea), The Detonations, El Radio Fantastique, A Particularly Vicious Rumor, and a few more that I’ve caught in New York in the last year. So its time that folks start talking about these bands regardless of the fact that they had to endure this mass-tragedy. There’re plenty of musical samples and links in this issue to point you in the right direction.



Though I’ve been outside of the New Orleans loop for many years, the Ninth Ward, its folks, its parties, and its music are forever present in my heart and my thoughts. Maybe you feel the same? So when Katrina went down, one of the big questions that I had that wasn’t really answered is, what will happen to this little piece of the cultural map and these people that mean so much to me? I had seen enough in the mass media about all of the great jazz, R&B, funk, etc., but the underground music media barely addressed their New Orleans brethren at all. Overall I was sympathetic to their plight but not too worried because I knew that, as long as these people were alive, everything I like about the place would live on – they’re not weaklings by any stretch of the imagination. But the truth is still that no one really knows what will happen. Least of all me - an outsider.

As with the last issue, I’ve decided that this story is best told from the horse’s mouth. The accounts here are from a random sampling of Ninth Ward underground musicians: some of whom dug in for the hurricane and others who evacuated, some who’ve decided to stick around and others who’re starting over elsewhere, some whose bands broke up and others who are still together, some who had everything destroyed and others whose lives and possessions remained intact, some who fear that the New Orleans they know and love will never return and others who are positive that it can’t be brought down. They discuss the New Orleans “police,” charities, rescuing friends and neighbors, insurance, sneaking into town, and reception from out-of-town communities and a number of other topics. I hope you make it through because there’s really an astounding variety of viewpoints from an astounding array of musicians – and it’s one heck of an entertaining read to boot. Use this not only to learn about what’s been going on from the people who are living it, but also to initiate your own New Orleans underground music exploration. And get a last-minute ticket down to Mardi Gras – this year promises to be one of the best.

I’m going to play a couple of shows down there next weekend and will hopefully get more of the word from the locals – and, when I return I’ll be able to fill you in on what’s going on - with more songs, stories, and pictures. Until then, enjoy, open your mind and ears, and don’t forget to visit the charities section if you have a little extra cash and want to help out.

Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to the musicians who shared their stories, sounds, and photos with us: E.P., John Henry, Kid Twist, Lefty Parker, MC Trachiotomy, Miss O, and Ratty Scurvics - may the world be yr dawg.

Au Revior Mes Amis,