The Music of New Orleans

Many have been afraid that the culture and music of New Orleans being lost, but of all localized music sub-cultures, I’d consider The Big Easy’s as one of the most resilient. As the city’s instrumentalists were moving out of the city, their priority was locating their musician brethren. For now, the website of the popular N.O. venue Tipitina‘s serves as information portal on accounted and missing artists, donors providing housing and instruments, and upcoming gigs.

Well, come on everybody take a trip with me… way down the Mississippi, down in New Orleans!

Sidney Bechet – Summertime
The classic Gershwin tune. Bichet beat Louis Armstong to be the first important jazz soloist recorded, and also remains one of the finest jazz clarinetists of all time. His wide vibrato was trademark, along with forceful delivery, and well conceived improvisational ideas. He makes the clarinet soprano saxophone reed growl on this somber rendition of ‘Summertime’.

Kid Ory – Tiger Rag
This’ll probably remind you of the comprehensive Ken Burns Jazz Special. Kid Ory was a pioneer of New Orleans music, leading a band in 1911 as a trombonist. He collorated with Sidney Bechet (the two fought often for lead), Jelly Roll Morton, and a young Louis Armstrong. He retired from music to run a chicken farm, but returned by request of Orson Wells to record this scorching ‘Tiger Rag’.

Clarence “Frogman” Henry – Ain’t Got No Home
Very early one summer morning, Clarence Henry was performing on the bandstand and improvised his way into the basic riff behind “Ain’t Got No Home”. The crowd responded favorably, so he developed it further. Soon, Chess Records A&R was hustling Henry into Cosimo Matassa’s studio in September of 1956 to record. Local DJ Poppa Stoppa laid the “Frogman” handle on the youngster when he spun the catchy 45 and it stuck.

Snooks Eaglin – When They Ring Them Golden Bells
Although New Orleans is generally thought of as more of a jazz and R&B town, the streets of the Crescent City also gave birth to a quite different strain of the music. The Acoustic New Orleans Blues style embraces everything from itinerant street singers and guitarists to rag-tag “spasm” bands. The blind Snooks Eaglin was known as a human jukebox inside the town, being able to pull hundreds of songs out from his eclectic repetoire, often confusing his own band.

Dixie Cups – Iko Iko
Although they’re best known for “Chapel of Love”, the Dixie Cups wrote ‘Iko Iko’ quite accidentally. After the musicians had gone home from a recording session, the women were doing some overdubbing and started singing “Iko Iko” among themselves, using only a chair, drumstick, Coke bottle, ashtray, and drums as accompaniment. And although its roots are identified with New Orleans celebratory rituals, the song emerged as a quirky pop hit.

Lee Dorsey – Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?
Lee Dorsey epitomized the loose, easygoing charm of New Orleans R&B perhaps more than any other artist of the ’60s. Working with legendary Crescent City producer Allen Toussaint, Dorsey typically made good-time party tunes with a playful sense of humor and a funky, gunnagetcha backbeat. The bassline here is infectiously evil.

Louisiana Gator Boys & The Blues Brothers – New Orleans
More of a tribute song than an authetic NOLA piece. From The Blues Brothers 2000, this track was the finale for the musical journey. It features a modest lineup: B.B. King, Junior Wells, Steve Lawrence, Taj Mahal, Lonnie Brooks, Eric Clapton, Nia Peeples, Darrell Hammond, Steve Winwood, Eddie Floyd, Paul Shaffer, Billy Preston, Koko Taylor, Bo Diddley, Isaac Hayes, Joshua Redman, Lou Rawls, Travis Tritt, Jimmie Vaughan, and Dr. John.

New Orleans music from the Aurgasm archives (mp3’s back up!):
Professor Longhair 1970’s new orleans funk // piano rhumba
The Meters 1970’s new orleans r&b // funk // soul
Rebirth Brass Band 1990’s new orleans brass band

Blues musician Vasti Jackson's studio was destroyed by this tree

Other blogs covering the NOLA music scene:
Home of the Groove always showcased The Big Easy’s musical output
Jazz And Conversation offers up a mix of the spirit of New Orleans
The Entroporium has a number of choice Nola tracks
Soul-Sides rep’s some Allen Toussaint and The Meters
IckMusic has some essential Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Cocaine Blunts threw together the best of New Orleans Bounce

Full broadcast of Higher Ground, a show for Hurricane Relief live at the Lincoln Center.

24 Responses to “The Music of New Orleans”

  1. Anonymous :

    thanks a lot for all those interesting aspects of the music of new orleans. I already heard “Iko Iko”, but it was a cover by a swedish musician called David-Ivar Herman D√ľne. You can hear it at :, “media”, then “yayahoni” and “iko iko”.

  2. Stone :

    Wow, this is a pretty comprehnsive post. Unfortunately, I think that most of New Orleans’ music and culture will be lost. However, there needs to be a digital archive to preserve this music for future generations.

  3. Anonymous :

    Lost? You can’t lose music and culture man, it just keeps rolling. The “archive” is humans and musical instruments. You can record some shit, but it has to be played to be alive.

  4. courvidae :

    Nice tribute, eff. Some great songs in there, as well as interesting info. Also wanted to make sure you’d heard two other versions of ‘Iko Iko’ through your aural travels: one by Cyndi Lauper, the other by Zap Mama. If not, I can throw them your way. (You know me and covers!)

  5. j. :

    new orlean’s music and culture won’t be lost. if this post and others like it say anything, it’s that nola’s artistic output will just gain in recognition, at least for the time being. the core of new orleans was not destroyed, nor were the people. what nola will lose, mostly, is architecture and mom & pop businesses that we all grew up with and thought of as fixtures in our neighborhoods.

    that being said, i’m happy to see people spreading nola’s music. fwiw, New Birth Brass Band is also good, but not as loose as Rebirth. Hot Venom is a particularly good Rebirth album, and the first Meters album is probably my favorite. and yeah, you can’t go wrong with professor longhair.

  6. Paul Irish :

    I got the Zap Mama and the Dr. John. Both killer. I think I’m gonna give each of those artists their own posts in a little.
    I’m seeing Zap Mama with the Platinum Pied Pipers live in Boston next week!

  7. j. :

    yeah, i’ve got a Dr. John version of Iko Iko as well.

  8. Paul Irish :

    j., definitely. I wanted to get up some Tremé Brass Band or some Youngblood.. but I’ll just have to rely on other people pickin up the slack and holdin strong the Nola music spirit!

  9. j. :

    yall might appreciate this post on James Michalopolous, a New Orleans artist of a different sort.

  10. frankai :

    interessting links thank you.

    got 3 other interesting links about new orleans ,found them at funky16corners

    (new orleans sound /eddie bo / betty harris.)

    at i found a nice article bout the meters :

  11. Anonymous :

    Sidney Bechet is not playing a clarinet on Summertime. He’s playing a soprano saxophone.

  12. frankai :

    …found another iko iko version (same melody ,same beat ,nearly same lyrics ;
    by sugar boy crawford & his cane cutters : “jock-a-mo” (rec.nov.1953 ,new orleans)
    from the nice 4cd-set crescent city soul ,the sound of new orleans (emi)

  13. Paul Irish :

    Good catch, anon. Also note how the entire song is like 90% in the right channel. Couldn’t tell you why. probably a botched mp3.

  14. Jeffrey Siegel :

    Good job with the crosssection of goodies – check out my podcast from Last Friday for more good NOLA stuff at

  15. Anonymous :

    Great to see the mention of Snooks Eaglin – a real New Orleans treasure. I hope he will be able to return to his regular gig, playing weekly at the Mid-City Lanes Rock N’ Bowl. For a more electrified Snooks, check out his album “Live in Japan” – it rocks!

  16. Anonymous :

    If you like old blues, visit my blog. Blues history in croatian, but some mp3 too.
    Bye, blueser!

  17. Justin :

    anon: I disagree — Bechet is definately playing clarinet. I play one myself, and the timbre is simply distorted and flattened by the file’s low bitrate.

  18. Kip W :

    A footnote on Sidney Bechet (who I first heard on 78s of the Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street) — the solo 56 seconds in is based on “Miserere” from Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” Two operas for the price of one! Much enjoyed, thanks.

  19. Paul Irish :

    Kip, Wow! That’s really intruiging.. thank you. :-]

  20. Philip Dunham :

    New Orleans music and culture will by no means be lost. Some contemporary additions to that list should be Galactic , The Dirty Dozen Brass Band , Stanton Moore and Robert Walter

  21. Loki :

    I’m a New Orleanian stuck in Dobbs ferry, NY while I wait to go home. I just wanted to say thanks. A lot of my music (the box of local music) didn’t meke it out. I haven’t heard any of the classic stuff in over a month.

    Humid City, A Networking Point for New Orleans In Exile

  22. Anonymous :
    Good Mardi Gras song on this one.
    I know this blues guitarist I watched him play in the French Quarter and at the Maple Leaf many years ago, he was born and raised in New Orleans Proper and he aint nothing but a poorboy.

  23. anthony :

    wheres all the oters

  24. Anonymous :

    I think people have hit some of the huge one ones but the thing I love about livin in New Orleans are all the locally famous acts that people here know. One of my favorites is a trumpter named Kermit Ruffins he has a new album coming out in New Orleans on March 3 and nationally in April. Its a live show at Vaughan’s restaurant where he has played every thursday for years! If you like New Orleans music check him out as well as Irvin Mayfield and really any other artists on Basin Street Records. Yall can find more info on some of the best New Orleans acts at These guys tour all over the country and the world and Irvin is actually touring now so if you like New Orleans music support them by buying their CDs and seeing them when they come by. THis is what will preserve unique culture and music that is the soul of New Orleans.