Iko Iko (David & Roselyn/ African guitar)

maskedIt’s Mardi Gras, so chronology be damned…

The first time I went to New Orleans was in 1987. I hitchhiked down the east coast, hugging the shore most of the way, and it took a few weeks, during which I fronted a country band in Southport, North Carolina; played oldies in a biker bar in Myrtle Beach; jammed with a Dixieland band in Charleston; painted a house in the Georgia Sea Islands; slept in a park in Savannah until the sprinklers came on; had my first taste of boiled peanuts at a roadside stand outside Boston (the Boston near Waycross); sang the requisite Jimmie Buffett songs in a bayside bar in Choctaw Beach, Florida; and don’t remember anything about the rides through Alabama or Mississippi.

In New Orleans, I cadged a bed from my sister’s partner’s mom’s apartment-sitter and hit the streets in hopes of making a little money from the tourists, only to discover how hopeless it was to work the French Quarter solo with an acoustic guitar. Fortunately, I met David and Roselyn…

David and Roselyn cassetteThey were living in a Dodge van with their two youngest kids, Autumn and Stormy, and taking showers at the apartment their middle daughter, Arlee, was renting in the Quarter. They knew nothing about me except that I had just got to town and was stuck, but loaned me a battery-powered amplifier so I could compete with the noise on Bourbon St., and I teamed up with a pair of tap dancers who figured live music might be a good gimmick, and we did OK.

That was the first of many visits — the next time was for Jazzfest, sleeping in a tent in a vacant lot owned by Alan Toussaint, next to the van where Toussaint’s juggling teacher slept.  Then David and Roselyn got a house in the Upper Ninth ward, and that’s where they are still, except when they’re on tour or visiting one of their kids. They celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary a half-dozen years ago, and when Sandrine and I decided to get married, we figured it would be good luck to have them officiate, and they were kind enough to come up to Boston and do the honors.

wedding photo

We’re long overdue for the next visit, and so is everyone else who doesn’t live there — especially today, when David and Roselyn are riding with Rex in the Mardi Gras parade.

If you’ve got the money or the connections, hire them! They’re great! There’s lots more about them on their website.

dixie cupsAs for “Iko, Iko,” I’m pretty sure the first version I heard was by the Dixie Cups, and I’m pretty sure it’s still my favorite. This is also the song that sent me to the Congo to study with Jean-Bosco Mwenda — I spent many roadside hours on that hitchhiking trip trying to figure out how to fingerpick this rhythm, and decided I needed help.