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This Wednesday, local rock outfit and Adult Music Club spin-off The Rakers will be performing the second installment of their new series, River City Rewind. The series, presented by Rob Chidester (aka Royal Cyclops Production, aka the guy who presents the wildly popular Drop the Needle series as well as many other great music events), gives the audience a glimpse of bygone times in Baton Rouge by digging into local music history to uncover– and cover– great songs from local artists of the past from a variety of genres. Wanting to know more about the project, I emailed The Rakers’ lead vocalist and songwriter, Alex Cook, to get the scoop.
Cook, who holds down a respectable day job as Presentation/Technology Instructor at the LSU School of Mass Communication, is also an accomplished freelance writer, music critic, and the author of a witty, fun, and indispensable local reference book, Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking For a Good Time In South Louisiana’s Juke Joints, Honky Tonks, and Dance Halls. His answers to my questions about the River City Rewind series sold me on its importance for the Baton Rouge music community, so I hope you will all get out, enjoy, and support this innovative series Wednesday night, 7:30pm at Chelsea’s sidebar.
Cover is $8. Songwriter Anna Byars will close the show. More details here. Now for the Q&A!
JF: How did the idea for the River City Rewind series come about?
Cook: This is an idea brewing for some time. I had a half-hearted promise that if the Rakers were going to do covers, they should be songs from Baton Rouge. We learned Lightnin’ Slim’s “I’m Grown” and Tabby Thomas’ “Popeye Train” early on and it’s gone from there.
Rob Chidester approached us about doing a monthly show at the Chelsea’s sidebar, so it seemed like a great time to put this into action.
JF: What is your goal for these shows?
Cook: I like this town and what it creates. I want to highlight the musical past we have and bring it into the musical present. There are plenty of people cataloging and performing every piano tune in New Orleans, every chank-a-chank performed in Lafayette. I just want to dig into what’s here.
For me, it also says something about culture and place. Every place is shaped by those that lived there and that history is worth knowing.
JF: Who is involved? Is this strictly the Rakers or are others joining in?
Cook: We love having guests. For the first installment, we brought in our friend Kevin Hurstell, member of a number of great Baton Rouge bands in the last twenty years – Slobot, Star Drag, Frozen Bears as well as his current band Too Many Numbers. They closed the set. Our drummer Jamye St. Romain wasn’t able to practice the Rewind numbers, so Kevin sat in on drums and then he played guitar and sung some of his songs. He asked me to sing his song “I Am Barry Bonds” which is a thrill – it’s a brilliant tune.
We brought in Arisia Gilmore on [french] horn to augment one of our tunes and one of Kevin’s, and I thought that added a real glow to the songs. I love bringing people into the fold. I’d eventually like to get a lot of local musicians involved in this.
JF: What’s the show format?
Cook: We do a short set of our original material, a 30-minute Rewind set and then have a special guest close the show. This week we have Anna Byars. people are familiar with her band Polly Pry, but I first got to know Anna when she fronted the Anna Byars Band. She is a brilliant guitarist and great songwriter, one of those people brimming with music.
JF: What bands will be covered this week?
Cook: It’s a diverse set. We are going to do a Mary Gauthier tune – she isn’t from here but got most of a philosophy degree at LSU before moving up to Boston. She’s actually playing the Red Dragon that same night, so I like the idea of running a musical wire across the city like that.
We have a couple of blues tunes, a Silas Hogan number that our guitarist Leon LeJeune has been dying to do, as well as “Prisoner’s Talking Blues” by Scotlandville’s Robert Pete Williams originally recorded while he was in Angola on a murder charge. The story goes that the governor was so moved by this song that he was pardoned so he could play the Newport Folk Festival.
We have a number by the Greek Fountains, one of BR’s beloved garage rock bands and one by Butch Hornsby, a storied raconteur – kind like Gram parsons crossed with Jerry Jeff Walker. Butch Hornsby is one of city’s real treasures. They ought to put up a statue of him strutting down State Street.
As a joke, I wanted to do a Kyper song. Kyper was a popular bumpin’-in-da-club rap/dance band in the ’80s. Everyone I mentioned that idea to totally lit up, going “XTC XTC… wanna hold your body next to me…” so I kicked it to the band and they leapt full into it. I never thought the Rakers as a band you could jack your body to, but get ready…
JF: Any real gems you’ve covered or are looking forward to covering?
Cook: The Shit Dogs tune we do is a hit; we’ll definitely cover more of their tunes. I think we should at one point be the Shit Dogs for a Halloween show. But there are countless tunes I want to do. Buddy Stewart (of Buddy Stewart’s Rock Shop fame) had a band called the Herculoids that I’m dying to emulate. Who doesn’t want to be a Herculoid?
I picked up a compilation called “Funky Funky Baton Rouge” at a record stand at the flea market that has a couple tunes by a psychedelic soul band Black Blood and the Chocolate Pickles that I’d really like to do.
JF: How are the musicians approaching song interpretation?
Cook: We try to make a song our own while still tapping into the essence of the original. I think that is key to doing a cover. I’m really lucky to get to play with this band. We all bring our own musical histories to the table which is what gives us our sound. The running tag line is that we are a “drinking’s man’s thinking band” because that allows us to pull country and blues and rock and punk and whatever in the service of doing songs we like about characters we all know and love. The Baton Rouge songs fit right into that, bringing some of these past artists back to life.
JF: What’s surprised you most about this effort so far?
Cook: Partly that we can pull it off. For most of us, we’ve never been in a band before, so this is a chance to get all our band ya-ya’s out – do R&B and garage rock and punk rock and country all within one band and have it make sense. Also, I love how people look when they remember a song that once meant something to them, something as seemingly innocuous as a Kyper tune that someone heard at that teen club by Cortana opens up a flood of memories. Music is there your whole life.
JF: What are your future plans and hopes for River City Rewind?
Cook: I really want to dig into the city’s R&B past, as well as make a connection with a number of the soul and gospel musicians that still play in north Baton Rouge and introduce that whole scene to a new audience. Not because I am a cultural pioneer or anything – they are the ones who make the music, and I want to hear it and play it. We have a ton of great music in our past that I still want to hear.
Yayyyyyy!!!! Highland Coffees is saved! Thanks to all of you who volunteered, organized, signed the petition and otherwise supported this great cultural institution! And now it’s time to celebrate with The Highlander, a FREE music fest tomorrow night at Highland Coffees featuring lots of the hottest local bands, including one of my newest folk scene favorites, a cello-vocal-guitar trio called Ship of Fools.
In other news, the gigantic art biennial Prospect out of New Orleans is taking over with a regional extension in Baton Rouge, Prospect 3+, and Jive Flamingo is proud to be a part of it. We’re presenting a preview of an ambitious new project called Songwriters in Symphony with Pacifico, Minos the Saint, and Jodi James this Saturday at 1:30pm as part of the Walls‘ Project’s twelve hour reception for Prospect 3+ at their location on the first floor of the South Chase Tower (451 Florida St.). Please come out and hear some music and be a part of Prospect 3+. Details here.
Finally, on a bittersweet note, tonight is the last night of the weekly Juke Joint Jubilee at Red Star Bar. No cover tonight, so be sure to stop by and enjoy Clay Parker, Eric Schmitt, Ryan Harris and Melissa Wilson’s last performance in this special recidency!
And now for the clips!
Ray Bookbinder at Red Dragon Listening Room – 8pm BYOB (singer-songwriter)
Anton Zholondz Trio at Lock & Key Whiskey Bar – 9pm – (jazz violin)
Black Joe Lewis w/ T.J. Black and Denton Hatcher at Chelsea’s Cafe – 10:15 (blues/Americana)
The Doctors and the Lawyers at Chelsea’s Cafe – 10:15 (alternative/rock/jam)
FREE: Sunday in the Park – Chubby Carrier at North Blvd. Town Square – 2-5pm (zydeco)
FREE: Spanish Town Market 100th Anniversary Celebration ft. St. Frantic, Adult Music Club, Minos the Saint, Righteous Buddha – noon-6pm
THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who made Wednesday night’s Monster Jam so much spooky-magic-fun! Nicholas Martino was out taking photos, and I can’t wait to share those with you. Also, special thanks to JF’s Chelsea Layne (who pretty much invented and implemented the entire night), all the musicians and artists, who came out, Dizzy Arts and our awesome volunteers. I can’t name everyone, I know, but Chelsey Gonzalez and Lauren Cross, you ladies definitely deserve a shoutout. Now we have lots of fun options for you to scare up a good time tonight. Do it! And check the calendar for more selections. #LISTENLOCALBR!
FRIDAY (show up in costume!):
And now for the clips (Seth Walker, Thou, Tera Melos, and some silly Halloween things! Happy Halloween!
Are you ready for tonight?!?!!! Check out WAFB’s Samantha Morgan’s excellent write-up on Jive Flamingo and TONIGHT’s (Wednesday) big Monster Jam with TAUK, Onion Loaf, Trailerhounds, and an ALL-STAR local jam. And for a little lagniappe, we’ll have Dizzy Arts with us featuring work from local visual artists! Get all the details here. And remember- your first drink is free if you’re in costume! So come get funky with us! And make sure you’ve liked us on Facebook and are following @jiveflamingo on Instagram and Twitter! And #LISTENLOCALBR !
Huge thanks to Twisted Oak Music Festival for having us last Friday night! The Fest was a great success for art music in Baton Rouge, and we can’t wait untill next year!
This week we have plenty of solid live music options for you, plus a hot new EP from England in 1819, Summer Lightning, that you should definitely check out:
And mark your calendars for the next JF event next Wednesday at Library Northgate: we’re having a huge MONSTER JAM with our local funk scene superstars and a dirty funk-rock headliner, TAUK, who has been tearing up the big festivals. Come to the party in costume, and get a free drink! Beat that with a stick.
Now it’s time to get on with the music. Check the calendar for more selections, and #listenlocalBR!
MULTIPLE PERFORMANCES: Choir Boy at Hartley Vey Theatre (Thurs-Sun., play/musical with gospel music and progressive themes, check the calendar for details)
And now for the clips!
So many great options this week, but I’ve run out of time to write about them– please check the calendar! Hope to see you at Twisted Oak tonight at the Shaw Center- 8pm. The line-up is innovative and absolutely stellar. Details here.
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