Big Luther Kent
" BluesWax Sittin' In With Big Luther Kent
By Bob Putignano
Big Luther Kent was born and raised in New Orleans, and at age 14 he began singing professionally and simultaneously signed his first record deal with Louisiana-based Montel Records under the pseudonym of Duke Royal and released a single, "I Wanna Know." Not long afterwards Walt Daisy, who had a hand in making Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders very popular, managed Kent.
By 1970 Kent became the lead singer in a group that previously had been the rhythm section for Atlantic Records at Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida, known as Cold Grits, who signed with Lou Adler's Ode Records in Los Angeles, who bound Kent to a lengthy and fruitless contract. After the breakup of Cold Grits, Kent was asked to join Blood, Sweet & Tears as their lead singer, with whom he toured worldwide from1974 to '75, as well as part of 1976. Throughout this time Adler's Ode records would not grant Kent a release to record with BS&T, he never got the opportunity to make a name for himself with the very popular band.
Kent then went solo and recorded his first complete album at Abby Road studios in London. The album was titled Luther Kent World Class and featured the Brecker Brothers and members of the London Symphony & Philharmonic with arrangements by Dell Newman.
In 1978 Kent teamed with Wayne Cochran's former music director, Charlie Brent, and together they went on to form a large New Orleans horn band, which became known as Luther Kent & Trick Bag, and became the after-hours band for many artists to sit in with in New Orleans. Some of the big names who sat in with Kent included Boz Scaggs, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Page, Bonnie Bramlett, Greg Allman, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Stevie Winwood, Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Rita Coolidge, the Righteous Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, ZZ Top, Rickie Lee Jones, Mick Fleetwood, Billy Preston, Ernie K-doe, Mike Post, the Average White Band, Al Hirt, Maynard Ferguson, Billy Eckstine, and Pete Fountain. These were great times, so much so that many of these musical hangs were chronicled in books by Jimmy Buffet and football great Kenny "The Snake" Stabler, and in another book titled Up From The Cradles of Jazz.
During this ten-year run, Trick Bag released three CDs and won a Clio (the advertising industry equivalent of the Grammy) award with another Louisiana artist, John Fred of Judy In Disguise fame. Kent also does a lot of radio and TV commercials and is also a multiple Addy (regional advertising award) award winner. In 1987, Dallas-based independent record promoter Ernie Phillips signed Kent to FM Records. Phillips immediately introduced Kent to Grammy Award-winning producer Mike Post, who produced the album Past Due. Post, being one of the hottest producers of TV themes. Kent was later cast a singing role in the show Cop Rock. Another product recently released under Kent's name is Classic Songs. Two additional releases followed with the multitalented Texas/Louisiana-based band The Chicken Hawks, under the leadership of Jack Calmes, which featured the great Al "TNT" Braggs, Lou Marini, and the White Trash horn section from Edgar Winter's band.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Big Luther Kent at the same time a new compilation CD was released to help New Orleans musicians that were affected by the storms of Katrina. The CD is called Fulton Street Live: New Orleans. More information can be found at www.tipitinasfoundation.org. Kent is on the opening track
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing Luther?
Luther Kent: I'm doing great, and how is everybody doing in the New York area?
"...and when the lights slowly came up
Boz looked over at me and said,
'Hey Luther, it's Halloween night and I'm scared,'
and then we tore into 'Hoochie Coochie Man,'
BW: Missing you, we have to get you back to the Big Apple.
LK: I'll get there, but you know what happens here in February, it's Mardi Gras time!
BW: Followed very shortly by French Quarter Fest, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest...
LK: Don't forget the Baton Rouge Blues Fest, April 19, and as you mentioned Jazz Fest for two weeks; last weekend in April, first weekend in May. So thank goodness the next few months is real busy for me and is in fact chaotic.
BW: Plus you've been a world traveler these days.
LK: Yeah we've done two stints in Italy and the last trip was great in Norway for the Silda Jazz Fest, too. And what a great festival that was a beautiful, beautiful place.
[Editor's Note: To check out the review of the Slida Fest click HERE to read it now in our ARCHIVES.]
BW: This Fulton Street Live CD is pretty nice, thanks to the folks at Harrah's Hotel for getting me a copy, and you too, as I know you lit the fire to make sure we had a copy in time for the interview.
LK: I tell ya, Bill Johnston is the executive producer and I thought Harrah's did a terrific job packaging the record, which has fourteen New Orleans artists on it like Barbara Shaw, George French, John Boutte, and many others. Plus it's for a good cause as most, if not all, of the proceeds go to the Tipitina's Foundation to help New Orleans musicians who are still in the process of getting back on their feet. So everyone involved is doing their best they can to provide help where it's really needed.
BW: The sound is very good on this CD, too.
LK: We did it in a Jazz club at Harrah's in New Orleans and they brought in the top class engineers and gear. Plus when I saw the microphone selection I said, "You guys aren't messing around." So they did it right, I'm really pleased and honored to be a part of this CD.
BW: Now, you were born and raised in New Orleans, but now live nearby to Baton Rouge.
LK: That's correct, I moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge while I was in high school and have been living here ever since, but I still feel like I am a New Orleans resident, especially considering how much time I have and still spend there.
BW: You were telling me about a new club on Bourbon Street.
LK: Yeah, some folks spent a serious amount of money building the Jazz Emporium, which is on the 400 block of Bourbon Street, and it is a world-class nightclub. And the great news is that I am booked there regularly through the first of this year and then February it's Mardi Gras time all over again!
BW: It's good to hear that real music is back on Bourbon Street
LK: No doubt, the investors spent a year and a half renovating the place and I am really looking forward to going back to Bourbon and playing there again.
BW: I am happy about this as Bourbon Street just isn't as fun musically as it used to be.
LK: Most of the music you hear on Bourbon Street are guys who are not even from New Orleans, fifteen to twenty years ago it was an incredible place where you could walk from place to place and hear world-class Blues and Jazz.
BW: You used to own a club right?
LK: My name was on the club. [Laughs] But we put the big band together in the French Quarter in 1978 and we played four to five clubs over a fifteen-year period, and somehow every one of them became the late night place to go in New Orleans. So much so that everyone who came to New Orleans to play concerts stopped by after their gig and would normally wind up on the bandstand.
BW: You were telling me about the names of the people that came by to sit in with you.
LK: You know, the only thing I am kind of bummed out about is that I was never a camera buff, as it would have been nice to have photos from those days as it was an amazing time. Great musicians like Stevie Winwood, Etta James, Greg Allman, Mick Fleetwood, Jimmy Page, Rita Cooledge, Billy Eckstein, the Four Tops, Boz Scaggs, Rickey Lee Jones, I can go on and on. In fact, one night we had the Ray Charles Orchestra there plus the Buddy Rich Orchestra, and B.B. King's orchestra there at one time on one night, it was amazing! There were so many cats on the bandstand that we couldn't fit anymore, so the rest of the guys in audience were pulling out their horns and stuff, that night in particular was incredible. But it was crazy every weekend. I never knew who would show up to jam.
BW: Where were digital recorders and YouTube when we needed them?
LK: I'm telling you, I really wish some of that could have been captured on film. A lady that worked at the same clubs I was at actually gave me a photo CD of some of the people that sat in. I don't know where she got them, but she had some great shots of me with Billy Eckstein, Etta James, and other greats.
BW: You also told me about a great concert you were involved with in New Orleans with Boz Scaggs, Greg Allman, and I forget who else.
LK: Yeah, Allen Toussaint, Greg Allman, Boz Scaggs, Lee Oskar, and some of the guys from his band; it was something like a twenty-piece band. The director of Jazz Fest, Quint Davis, put the show together on Halloween night at the RKO Orpheum Theater, which was only previously used for Classical music and this was the first show ever played there that had Pop music. We had the place packed with over two thousand people in there. It really turned out to be an incredible night of music and no one played their hit tunes either, it was a night of nothing but Blues. Quint had the stage all setup for Halloween with huge pumpkins and goblins and when the lights slowly came up Boz looked over at me and said, "Hey Luther, it's Halloween night and I'm scared," and then we tore into "Hoochie Coochie Man," ba-dan-da-dant!
BW: Boz and you had a pretty lengthy relationship right?
LK: He used to come to New Orleans two to three times a year and he would always come and hang with us. Boz actually took Charlie Brent and I out to dinner one night and said he wanted to pick our brains and about a year and a half later he came out with a CD of all New Orleans music. But don't get me wrong, Boz was a really nice guy and I used to really enjoy him coming in to sit in with us. I enjoyed his friendship, too, but I have not seen him in a couple of years now.
BW: Of all of your favorite singers, who is your most favorite that you have ever worked with?
LK: Etta, Etta James. She used to come to the club and sit in; one night she sat on my lap for about three hours and we just sang the Blues together, we wound up finishing up at about six o'clock in the morning.
BW: Now that's the picture I want to see, Etta sitting on your lap!
LK: Yeah, it was another one of those very special nights. In fact, we shared the bill last year at Jazz Fest and I walked right past her, I didn't recognize her, she lost so much weight.
BW: It's great to reminisce with you Luther. You have so many great real stories to tell. What's the future hold?
LK: I'm taking off like a racehorse again; I'm booked solid through the first of the year here and it doesn't stop all the way through Jazz Fest. Plus my dear buddy Jack Calmes of the Chicken Hawks in Dallas, who I work with often, is about to sell his business and we are getting ready to go into the studio to cut a very serious CD. We are planning to start sometime after the first of the year. We are talking about the possibility of having Jimmy Hall and Bonnie Bramlett, plus Edgar Winter will probably have guest spots on the recording. So it should be a fun project that I am really looking forward to. I am hoping Jack shakes his butt and sells his business as I really want to get started on recording.
BW: Luther, how many years you been singing professionally?
BW: And you are forty-eight years old right?
LK: Right, actually I'll be sixty next June and I signed my first record contract when I was thirteen/fourteen-years-old, right here in New Orleans.
BW: You had a stint with Blood Sweat & Tears, too?
LK: Yes, 1974 to 1975 on a worldwide tour and then again in 1976. It was a fun situation, but it was grueling, twenty-two one-nighters a month, and I was just twenty-five years old. I've played football and motorcrossed, but that was the most physically and mentally draining thing I had ever done. Plus I was in a bad record deal and never got to record with BS&T. But I enjoyed it thoroughly singing with them live, which is what I love most. Recording in a studio is one thing, but getting that instant gratification onstage is the greatest thrill.
BW: Luther, as always it's great chatting with you, what is your website?
LK: www.LutherKent.com. And I want to tell everyone in the New York area that I miss you guys and tell them folks at the Lincoln Lounge, "Hey!"
BW: The Lincoln Lounge in my hometown of Mount Vernon, yours and my favorite place to eat and have a few. I will see you there soon, Luther!
LK: Take care, Bob, and thanks again for your support.
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: email@example.com web site: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com