Wardell Quezergue Tribute
" Ponderosa Stomp Lincoln Center"
Alice Tully Hall, NYC July 17, 2009

Wardell Quezergue: A True Master of His Craft

Wardell Quezergue, a.k.a. the Creole Beethoven, has been arranging and orchestrating for fifty years. He has produced "hits" for many New Orleans musicians. This tribute concert chronicled his illustrious career.

The Wardell Quezergue Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, conducted by Quezergue, is a nine-piece ensemble featuring a five-piece horn section. The horn section included Marc Franklin, trumpet; Craig Klein, trombone; Carl Blouin, baritone sax; and Joe Saulsbury and Eric Traub, tenor saxophones. Setting the beat was the able-bodied Hurley Blanchard, drums; and Brian Quezergue, bass. On keyboards was Raymond Jones while Charles Moore played guitar. Opening with "It Ain't My Fault," co-written by Quezergue in 1964, the orchestra immediately got into its infectious groove. This song served as an Overture, which was revisited each time a new performer was introduced. The orchestra was stunning as each member got to solo.

Tony Owens stepped out and with his rich expressive voice sang five songs including his own 1970 hit "Confessin' a Feelin'" and ended with 1962's "Trick Bag" which was co-written by Earl King and Quezergue and which was Quezergue's first hit. In between songs, Owens, who was sensational, kept whispering "Wardell." Next Robert Parker entered from stage right and sang two songs including "Barefootin'," his huge 1966 hit. Then The Dixie Cups (Barbara Hawkins, Rosa Hawkins, and Althegra Gabriel) sauntered on stage and reprised their 1964 Phil Spector/Jeff Barry mega hit "Chapel of Love." They dedicated the next song to Michael Jackson and out came the handkerchiefs as they sang "Iko Iko." All of a sudden, the crowd was dancin' down the aisles.

When things calmed down, out came Dorothy Moore who did a short set ending with her 1976 version of "Misty Blue." Then Dr. John, piano, and Zigaboo Modeliste, drums, joined the orchestra. They backed Tammy Lynn on her set before going into The Meters' 1974 "Hey Pocky Way" as they were rejoined by The Dixie Cups, Moore and Lynn. Dr. John a.k.a.Mac Rebennack played guitar on his own 1959-penned "Storm Warning." He reprised songs from the early days including "Somebody Changed The Lock" and "Bad Neighborhood" before being joined by Michael Hurtt who sang on "Morgus the Magnificent." Dr. John stayed onstage and sang "Lights Out" and "Carry On," both of which he co-wrote with Seth David before he and Zigaboo exited stage left. Jean Knight came out and performed two songs the last being her '71 smash hit 'Mr. Big Stuff.'

For the finale, the whole ensemble was onstage for "Big Chief" which was co-written by Quezergue. The memorable performance lasted two hours. Quezergue gracefully thanked the audience for their appreciation.

Thank you, Wardell!

Richard Ludmerer

Unfortunately, I (Bob Putignano) was unable to attend the Quezergue Tribute, but the day after I had the chance to sit down with the legendary Quezergue, who reflected on his concert and illustrious career, plus some new projects he just released too.

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing, Wardell?

Wardell Quezergue: Great and, man, I had such a nice time last night. BW: You keep yourself busy as you have a new CD, Music For Children Ages 3 to 103, The Saint Agnes Sessions.

WQ: My guitarist Jay Griggs titled the new CD, but it's not just for kids, as there's some adult material on it. too, especially "Swamp Stompin'" with Big Luther Kent's vocals, it's a very interesting song that people can dance to.

BW: And the Dr. John track is very hip. too, "Take Care of Yourself."

WQ: That's right, and Mac told me that he wrote that tune twenty-five years ago!

BW: What made Mac want to put this out now?

WQ: I asked him to do me a favor to play on this recording, and I mentioned that I was looking for songs for children. He told me that he might have something in his back catalog.

BW: Neat, Wardell, and speaking of Mac, he performed at your tribute gig, too.

WQ: Yes, and he was a great as usual. He's still amazing as he just jumped off from a flight from Switzerland and did the gig. He was gracious enough to spend some time and do it with us. Several years ago we performed some of the songs I wanted to do, and being (that) we did not have a lot of time to rehearse, this made sense.

BW: Rehearse? You had all the a-team players there last night, plus a lot of these guys prefer to be unprepared and make it spontaneous.

WQ: I'm like that, as sometimes things hit you on the fly like boom, and you go with it.

BW: Plus, you and Dr. John go way back and have had a regular recording history working together.

WQ: Oh, yes. I used to use him on a lot of my sessions. There's one particular session we did together with Joe Tex. We always talk about this session, but we can't find out the label that did it. Plus, Joe is gone, and we don't know if anyone has those tracks.

BW: Do you know if those tracks were ever released?

WQ: We don't know. But I think had they'd been released we'd have heard about it.

BW: That's wild, and an interesting mixture; you, Mac and Joe Tex. Where was this recorded?

WQ: In New Orleans.

BW: You made some runs to Memphis, too.

WQ: Oh yeah, as a matter of fact we did some things with the Memphis guys in New York City, too. I did a lot of my work in New York City. I always like coming to New York. I tell you why. When I would be writing there, and when I would get tired, all I would have to do is walk out the door, especially in the winter. [laughs] It was like a slap in the face, and I'd be awake in a minute!

BW: I'm glad you like the New York vibe.

WQ: I really do.

BW: Joel Dorn used to bring up here fairly regularly, too. Right?

WQ: Yes, and, oh, man, I miss him dearly. That man was a prince. Especially to me, he was so nice. We all did a session with the Neville Brothers over there. It was quite an experience.

BW: Dorn told me it was Aaron Neville's call to use you on those sessions.

WQ: And Joel did not know me that well at that time. As a matter of fact, it was because of the Nevilles is how I met Joel. He might have known of my prior work, but I am not sure. But right away we got along like we've known each other for ages.

BW: Joel used to like to come on my radio show and tell stories, and charge for those stories to be told during my fund drives. It was mostly an annual event for four-five years. And he once spoke about being worried using you for that Neville Brothers session, and he also said he had a backup arranger ready to roll in case things didn't work out with you, was that true?

WQ: Yes, I met Joel at the airport, and he asked me if I needed a piano in my room to write the arrangements. I said no, man. I don't need no piano, I just need this here tuning fork. That's all I need. He did look nervous, so about 3:00 a.m. in the morning, Joel calls my room and asked if it would hurt my feelings if we also used this other arranger, and I said no problem at all. The track we were doing was "Mona Lisa," by the way, and that other guy was a nice arranger, too.

BW: Do you recall who the other arranger was?

WQ: I don't. So they recorded with his arrangements first, and then I did mine. But I will never forget this moment. Aaron was singing "Mona Lisa" to my arrangements. He had this music stand with a picture of Nat King Cole, and he stared at that picture while he was singing, it was so moving! We did it in one take, and right after the room was a quiet as can be. The musicians were especially quiet, and after a while they just started to tap their instruments to kind of break the mood. I thought I was in trouble and also thought they were going to shoot me or something. But that one take wound up being the track they used. Imagine, just one take. That was it.

BW: Great story, Wardell. Want to say hi to Joel this morning?

WQ: Huh?

BW: [I played a radio ID Joel did for me.] "Want to hear a real radio station? Stay right where you are, WFDU." Can't mistake that voice, right, Wardell?

WQ: Good morning Joel! Man; he was a prince.

BW: Dorn was not only a great producer, but he had such a great radio voice, too. He was doing TV commercials just before he passed, too.

WQ: A real deep and smooth voice for sure. I remember when I was at his memorial service last year I was talking to this guy, and all of a sudden an airplane flew over real low, and I just got this feeling that it was a sign that Joel was saying hello to us. I'll be darned, I'll never forget that moment.

BW: Anymore new work with Mac coming up?

WQ: I have another new mass that I wrote that I want to use Dr. John on, plus a few other ideas for us to work together on. I always look forward to working with Mac.

BW: You like to keep busy.

WQ: I do, a lot of it has to do with the different people you get to work with. Some of us go back so far. Others are new acquaintances, and it's always interesting for me.

BW: You and Dr. John go back to the Cosimo Matassa days.

WQ: Oh yeah, we had a lot of fun back than. In fact, that's where we recorded that Joe Tex record I was telling you about.

BW: I got to search the Internet to see what I can find out about that. I'll also get hold of John Broven, too.

WQ: Oh yeah, John knows a lot of our history, so he might know. But that Joe Tex recording is currently bugging Mac and me.

BW: Was it just a couple of tracks?

WQ: No it was an entire album.

W: Do you still find your work challenging?

WQ: Oh yes, you know some of the artist you get to work with are really good, and I have to be at my best, and I do enjoy that challenge.

BW: And you've worked with the best of them.

WQ: I try my best all the time.

BW: You sure do. Best wishes with the new CD Music For Children Ages 3 to 103. Any last thoughts, Wardell?

WQ: Thanks for the support, Bob and, oh; we spoke about Luther Kent earlier, and he was telling me about a commercial he's about to do, so we'll be working together again soon, too, just like that last Bobby Bland CD we did, which Luther says was your idea.

BW: Yes. it was. It was a drunken evening hanging with Luther when that idea popped in my head.

WQ: You guys! [Laughs] Come to think of it, when I first met you some ten years ago I was in New York City doing a gig at Lincoln Center with Luther.

BW: Right, and I did not know who Luther was, but you made sure I got to know his work. Thanks for that, Wardell!

WQ: I remember that rainy night, and it was an outdoor show, and we only performed two or three songs that night because of the rain.

BW: Yep, it was a tough night, but we are all still friends hanging out together whenever we can. Luther says he's about to go back into the studio and record a new disc, and I bet you will be getting a call soon.

WQ: I love working with Luther, so I will be looking forward to that phone to ring.

BW: I hope to see you at the sessions! Take care, Wardell, and come back and visit us again in New York City soon.

WQ: I'd like that. Take care, too, Bob.