BY JOHN WIRTLINK
February 01, 2013
“It was a must to play this song at every Mardi Gras ball. That’s why they wanted to resurrect it. And after I went in the studio that day to record it with them, I really fell in love with it.” Luther Kent, singer.
Even in a city that’s accustomed to doing things big, the convergence of Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl bumps the excitement in New Orleans to a new high.
The 2013 Carnival season hasn’t seen much newly released Mardi Gras music but the Dukes of Dixieland, the New Orleans band that performs nightly aboard the Steamboat Natchez when it’s not touring the nation and the world, has opportunistically timed the release of its CD, Super Bowl @ Mardi Gras, to the two grand occasions.
Super Bowl @ Mardi Gras, previously released as New Orleans Mardi Gras, features the Dukes of Dixieland and Baton Rouge-area singer and New Orleans native Luther Kent performing classic Mardi Gras songs such as Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” and Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” plus such non-Carnival New Orleans standards as “Bourbon Street Parade,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired” and the Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way.”
The disc also contains a traditional Mardi Gras song that Kent had never heard prior to his recording it with the Dukes. Although Pete Fountain, Al Hirt and others performed and recorded “While We Danced at Mardi Gras,” the song isn’t as well known as it once was.
“It was a must to play this song at every Mardi Gras ball,” Kent said. “That’s why they wanted to resurrect it. And after I went in the studio that day to record it with them, I really fell in love with it.”
Kent has made multiple recordings with the Dukes. He’s toured with the band throughout the United States and joined the group for a weeklong engagement at The Cotton Club in Tokyo. In 2005, Kent performed with the Dukes during the band’s post-Hurricane Katrina Steamboat Natchez tour on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
“I’ve played with several different aggregations of the band,” Kent said. “They always keep a very good band together. They’ve got three horns and a three-piece rhythm section, so it’s really conducive to what I do.”
Kent and the Dukes’ Super Bowl @ Mardi Gras album has a Katrina connection. The songs were recorded at Ultrasonic Studios in New Orleans in the few years before the hurricane and its flooded aftermath. The Washington Avenue studio, which also saw sessions by Dr. John, James Booker and Fats Domino, hasn’t re-opened.
Kent made frequent use of Ultrasonic for his solo recordings with his big band. He’s preparing to issue an album of unreleased material he recorded there. The tracks include songs arranged by the late Wardell Quezergue, whose studio credits include New Orleans classics by Professor Longhair (“Big Chief”), Robert Parker (“Barefootin”), King Floyd (“Groove Me)” and the Dixie Cups (“Iko Iko” and “Chapel of Love”).
“I can’t say enough about Wardell, God rest his soul,” Kent said. “He was just a really, really sweet soul and a great arranger.
“We had an incredible communication in the studio. I never directed him on what I wanted. I just told him the vibe that I was looking for and let him go. He always came up with something spectacular.”
Growing up in New Orleans, Kent heard the city’s local and national hits played on his neighborhood’s jukeboxes. And from outside of the Pimlico Club, he heard local talent perform.
“I was a kid, like 12, 13 years old,” Kent said. “I’d go stand out in front of the Pimlico Club and hear Tommy Ridgley, all of these New Orleans acts, who played there. I couldn’t get inside but outside the wall would be breathing the beat. You could hear everything great from outside. And every little neighborhood restaurant and bar usually had a jukebox. I’d be walking down the street and hear that Wurlitzer jukebox with the 15-inch speaker like I was inside the place.
“Local records were constantly playing on the jukeboxes. National artists covered those records but I never heard those versions, I heard the original versions. That’s what I grew up listening to.”