Café Mouffe: Henry Butler & Tipitina

After looking at Henry Butler’s photography, it’s time to hear some of his music. The first clip was recorded at the Clavia booth at the NAMM 2007 trade show in Miami. Henry plays a Nord Stage, and Bruce Katz jams on a Clavia C1 organ. Too bad it ends so abruptly. I’ve heard a longer cut of the same performance, but mysteriously, I can’t find it now.

The duet reminds me of jam sessions when I was a kid. My father had a Hammond B2 organ with a Leslie speaker. It was his baby (along with a Siamese cat named Stanley) and the envy of all my punk garage band friends. Thank god it wasn’t portable, or I would have had to help schlep it to gigs. My dad played it like Lenny Dee, my friends like Billy Preston or Jimmy Smith. Once that oscillating Leslie speaker began to whir, there was a meeting of musical minds across the generations. Like Henry Butler jamming with Bruce Katz, it was cool, and I wish it could go on forever. If Pops were around today, I know he’d want one of these Clavia keyboards, too.

Set 2: Henry Butler at SxSW. YouTube comments identify the singer as John Boutté. This was recorded at the South by Southwest festival in Austin in a church sanctuary illuminated by stained glass windows. For a cell phone recording from the audience, this gospel sound rocks out. I could get religion in a place like this.

Set 3: Henry Butler. Tipitina. Henry is backed by Doug Wimbish on bass (from Living Color) , Leo Nocentelli on guitar (from The Meters), and an unidentified drummer.

This all-star jam takes me back to a dulcet New Orleans night by the river when Henry’s band closed the French Quarter Festival with “Tipitina.” Ms. Modigliani had to fly back to Toronto earlier in the day, so I went to the concert by myself. I was not alone. There must have been 5,000 of us on the Great Lawn at Wollenberg Park. We packed closer and closer in front of the stage, all of us dancing elbow to hip-bone like one wild, syncopated organism. The music blasted out across the water all the way to Algiers, and the river answered with a soft, cooling breeze. After the final encore, after the crowd dispersed, I was amazed at the transition from oceanic experience back to solitary existens. I heard tug boats plying the river, and the swift, steady tap of my cane as I made my way to Royal Street.

Encore: “Tipitina” was Professor Longhair’s signature song. Now it’s a New Orleans anthem. If you want to hear more, check out clips by Fess himself and Dr. John. I think it’s Fess. It sounds like him. It looks like my grandmother’s piano room. The YouTube clip carries no documentation about when, where, or how the footage was made. Fess died in 1980, so this would have been shot with an early-generation cam-corder. If it’s authentic, it’s like finding a home video of Beethoven noodling around on the Moonlight Sonata.

Café Mouffe opens every Friday at 3:00 p.m. Please drop by for a listen and a chat. Sometimes the embedded videos don’t work here due to bandwidth constraints, but you’ll always find links to video sources in the set notes. Try them. If you’re curious about the Mouffe, here’s the original idea behind it’s creation.

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