Lets start off, I'm interested in each of you
talking a little bit about growing up in New Orleans and the kind of music
you were exposed to as a kid and the kind of music you hear in the street
and from what I've heard, you know the vegetable man had his song, and there
was music everywhere in this town. Can you talk about that a
Well I'd like to start off by saying
that I was raised in a area that was very close to the St. Louis cemetery so
I did see a lot of parades bringing the bodies to the cemetery. After they
would cut them loose there they'd get into that second line, kind of a thing
so I saw that growing up. Also during the time that they had dances at some
of the local clubs, radio wasn't a bit thing and no television. They would
up ply cards but they would have bands in trucks and they'd go on a corner
and they'd ah play a tune and make an announcement we going to be at su...
such a club tonight. So we would see those kinds of things going on
I would think....in those days
that was the equivalent of what's now called a sound check, only a sound
check out on the street advertising the event. The band's on the truck...
flat bed truck and I...
I'm not sure everybody who
will watch this understands what second line is all about. Could you just
explain that a little bit.
A second line is... a second line is the
situation where you'll have a band playing, now it wasn't only behind
funerals, it was also ah social and pleasure clubs would get together and
they would give a function and it would have a band and they would go from
club to club over approximately 2 miles or 3 miles and they'd go around to
these different bars and stop and get a drink. What would happen after they
go along, they would... people in the neighborhood latching onto it and
Behind the band so it... they were considered the
line. The main line was the club and the band. So the second line is where
the people that ah in the neighborhood, yeah they would tag along.
Party crashers to... to a degree, but they had a
par... they had more fun than anybody else because they... they did what
there kind of dance. The clubs used to have uni... uniforms and routines
sort to speak, but the second liners were pre-ad lib. The... they had a
Is that something you would do as children
where you kind of joined in these parades.
Oh yeah, you come up learning that. I used to always say, I... you never saw
a kid for New Orleans who clapped his hand on one and three. Seemed to be
born clapping on two and four.
Earl you were a dancer as a kid, could you tell me about
Yeah, I was a tap dancer. As a
matter of fact before I was every involved in playing drums I was a tap
dancer up and down Bourbon Street for tips and um then after getting out of
the service many years later, I went on the road with my mother and my aunt
doi... doing vaudeville after that but then when vaudeville kind of petered
out, I went back to playing drums. There was no way to tap dance then at
that time and ah, finally after I went to playing drums, fortunately I
developed pretty good and what was considered the best job in town and I had
come to be called the best drummer in town until I decided, ah, what am I
going to do with my GI bill, you know, that I had coming to me and ah, I
thought about liking to dress up by going tailoring school as opposed to
going to Harry Hyman paying a dollar a week on a pair of pants until we got
it out. I thought about making my own clothes and other people say go into
refrigeration that coming and I asked Red, I said, what do you think I ought
to do and he said well why don't you go to music school and I said why, I'm
the best drummer in town. I got the best job in town. He said but you don't
know what you're doing and it dawned on me, I didn't. So as I'd to him, I
went to music school.
I'd like to make a
point about the second line, I think that is the reason that feeling and the
concept of New Orleans music is so instilled in the musicians because we
came up with a certain beat that even when it's not played, we hear it. You
don't have to get a second line beat, but in all New Orleans musician we
feel it even though it's not played. We can play straight ahead jazz, be
bop, rhythm and blues, we still hear that second line and it's different
than any musician around... around the world that I've... I've seen they can
play, but they don't have the same concept.
you say you hear it, is there any way to communicate that. Could you like
sing it or give us an example.
give you an example. The bass drum...
beat that you're always hearing in your head. What is it?
Well actually the bands would be marching down the
street and they'd have the second liners even though the horns wouldn't be
playing to keep the beat going, the bass drummer would play boom, boom,
boom, ba boom boom, boom variations boom de de boom boom de boom ba boom ba
boom de ba boom but it's that kind of a feeling and that people would sway
to that... just to that beat even before the band came in and ah.
And even if that beat would happen to stop from the
base drum and they'd switch to snare drum maybe playing. If that would stop,
it's the shuffling of the feet of the people moving along, still in that
rhythm without ever hearing anything it's... it's another thing that was
innate in the people that they continued ah, even without the music
There was always just... just... it
was inbred I would always say about New Orleans. That's what very unique
about New Orleans.
And something else I'd
like to ah bring up about that, I think per capita, New Orleans turns out
more great drummers than any city I know. Great drummers. Not just good
drummers, great drummers.
I would think
that innate feeling of rhythm would have a lot to do with that.
Oh yeah, yeah. It's a different thing. I mean, ah
there's a whole lineage of drummers that we could go through and each one
was unique unto himself imp... impressed by the one before him but their own
Yes, it's very true.
What about the peddlers singing. We were starting to talk
about that. That's something that everybody around here growing up
Yeah and many years ago, particularly
in... in ah in the neighborhoods where Red and I pri... primarily came up
you hear a lot of that because people were a lot farther away from markets
then and uptown was the same way, I'm pretty sure, but I don't it happened
as much as downtown the pe... the peddlers...
All these brothers, each of
them had a wagon with a horse pulling and they had fruit and vegetables and
they'd come through the neighborhood. They do that a lot in South America
too I understand.
Well actually it was a
way of announcing that we are now in the neighborhood. You know ah, the...
the family's the wives, would be inside and the guy wa... was selling
watermelon and hey young lady I got watermelon red to the rind and then he'd
come out you know and ah we have bananas, nickel a dozen. Those kind of
things you know it was ah a sort of announcement that I'm in the
Here I am so come out of the
kitchen and buy your vegetables if you need them and the other thing about
that I think that you were trying to get to is the fact when you said they
had different songs, they did, depending on many times depending on what
they were selling or just if they were selling the same thing off of their
wagon. They had their own melody that ah, it's not... not any... any complex
melody at all, it was like he said, pretty much one note, but sometime it'd
vary with a twist and turn watermelon, I got watermelon, watermelon. I got
bananas and it changed the melodies. They only unique melodies.
Some were more flamboyant than the others. Like he
said, some were very musical things that they would... would sing out and
others would just do a monotone. You know, it all depends on who it
all of these kind of things seems like it makes New Orleans really special
for music, the parade, singing in the street.
That's what this city so
unique. Red has traveled extensively as... as have I and you will find that
ah for example anywhere in the world you are and they ask you where you
from, once they know you're American you say Chicago, say oh, and say, but
I'm originally from New Orleans. Oh yeah. The attitude changes immediately
right then and there. They want to know something about it. They want to
talk about it as opposed to wanting to talk about Chicago.
Strange as it may seem, ah all this music and talent
that comes out of New Orleans, very few mu... musicians can make a living in
New Orleans as playing music. It's a hard town to make a living.
How would you describe the Dew Drop Inn and use the name
when you answer the question in the late '40s, early '50s. What was the
scene like. What kind of music was going on?
For one thing during that particular time, the Dew Drop was the
place to go, you know because it was open until daybreak in the morning. The
music wouldn't necessarily be playing unless we were still jamming in here
because Red and I were working on the same job for the same group, different
places for quite a while ah and there was in Dave's band, just recording
with Dave's band. We were playing with different groups and we'd come in
here and guys would be waiting for us to come in and jam because the job we
were on, we played all kinds of music, high, low, vocals ah we'd... we'd
immun... we'd emulate be bop and we'd naturally be playing New Orleans type
music for the tourists that would come in ah, Earl Williams group and we'd
come in here and hang out and the guys would be waiting for us to come in so
we could jam different... you know different people and ah this place was
the place to go man, because you could... as you were saying earlier off
camera about we come in here, you could red beans and rice and hot sausage
up to four, four thirty in the morning and full meal and...
And another picture of the Dew Drop is that it was
the place to socialize. You have to take into consideration ah and at that
time most of the blacks lived in what they called shot gun houses, straight
through, living room, bed room... bed room, ah either bathroom or kitchen ah
kitchen and bathroom. So it was not a good place to have a party because if
some members of the family had gone to sleep, you'd have to go through there
to get to the bathroom or whatever to the kitchen. So most blacks would
socialize. They would come out to a club and dress to the max. Ladies ah in
finery. The men in suits and everything, so they would come out to
socialize. Another unique thing that was happening at the Dew Drop and in
most places in New Orleans is that you could buy what they call a set up.
You didn't necessarily buy a drink. You bought a half a pint or a pint or a
fifth or a quart, set it on the table. They'd give you ice, cherries, lemon,
and glasses and you would socialize with the bottle on the table. So that
was a... a form of ah socializing.
You don't see that anywhere else in the world anymore, do you?
But it was really in the late '40s, early '50s, it was
strictly segregated right? The place at the Dew Drop... can you tell me
about that. I know that I read somewhere that you were busted in '53 for
playing with whites and you had some periods and maybe you can talk about
Ok, I'll give you another example right
here in the Dew Drop. The actor, Zachary Scott had come to the Dew Drop just
to see the show. See they used to have... also they used to have shows you
know ah dances and comedians and... so Zachary Scott came here and they
busted him for miscegenation. Right here.
He only came to see the show. Yeah that was another
thing. We'd have from different time.... we'd have you know people would
come to see the show, white people that wasn't really supposed to be in here
and there were celebrities like in Zachary Scott's case. I remember a time
the cowboy singer and guitar player, Lash LaRue came in here one time and I
don't know why they didn't bust him because maybe they didn't know whether
he was black or white, but they sure should have seen them boots. No blacks
around here were wearing boots and he was bombed out of his bird, man. I
mean he sat over at the bar and listened to the music all night long and
wanted to play his guitar and we wouldn't let him.
Also you have to take into consideration black and white musicians
weren't allowed to play together.
went to... we got busted...
You had a white
musician's local and a black musician's local and ti... until today, right
at this very moment, I think we the only musician local that have two
numbers, 174-496. When they merged, they still had their own identity till
You said you were busted for playing with
white musicians? Tell me about that.
had a number of white musicians who used to like to play with us. They'd
come and sit in the club sometime, but there was nine twelve Toulouse where
a trumpet player lived who was ah the first husband of my second wife as a
matter of fact and a wonderful trumpet player and we'd go over there to his
apartment late in the morning and jam in there and a couple of times we...
we got busted for playing together. A couple of times he was pulled off the
stand at the show for coming in and sitting in with us and talking. They
just didn't want the ah, didn't want the integration of the music at any
ki... at any time. So ah... it wasn't a serious charge. It was just more of
any aggravation than anything else to teach us a lesson. You know... we
don't want you playing together so we can... we can interrupt you every time
we can you know, but we still did it. I don't know what was the matter with
us. Yeah that was a number of times and a number of places it
Let me ask you a little more about the
music. How would you say that rhythm and blues started evolving in the late
'40s, early '50s coming from jazz. Could you just talk a little bit about
where rhythm and blues came from and what made it different from the music
that preceded it.
Well rhythm and blues
is... as I remember was always there in some form and it was basically on
the spot creation. You didn't write it down. A singer would come up... and
you would... you would... you would just put an arrangement behind a singer
and this happened all over ah, in the clubs and the shows that you played
somebody would say, well I'm going to sing a tune in B flat, usually blues,
which was... really simple changes and ah you'd put in an arrangement behind
it. It was just something that was created on the spot and ah, it was rhythm
and blues was black music.