(Graphic by Eric T. Styles)
Seventeen years ago, I quit my last full-time job and became an entertainer, artist and occasional jack-of-all-trades. I’ve had very little training in any field except for music, so any side hustle has been incredibly short-lived, less than two months. My chosen industry just did the big math for 2020 losses. Pollstar had predicted a roughly $12 Billion fiscal year and just announced that since the cancellation of concerts since March, we were an estimated $10 Billion short of that prediction.
Billion. $12 Billion. How much of that would have gone to me? Four figures at most. You see, most of my performances aren’t known by PollStar. The bigger dollars that I make are at novelty festivals, like Tales of the Cocktail, or corporate events that want a specific style of music that requires a director’s touch.
Then, of course, there’s playing with Squirrel Nut Zippers and my bands in New Orleans. I know the Zippers are listed on Pollstar’s database (but most of my shows are not). That is how MOST concerts in the U.S. are. Just because you’re listed in the paper for playing at a dive bar, doesn’t mean that you are listed on the national database of concerts; and just because you’re not playing at an arena doesn’t mean that your bills didn’t get paid by live performances. And, shout out to my burlesque dancer family, I can almost guarantee there are only a handful of acts listed on Pollstar, namely Dita Von Tease or anything happening at a corporate venue like House of Blues or theaters, or in Vegas.
But I digress. For the sake of this math, let’s stay within live music performances. Now, a lot of people might think that 12 billion is an inflated figure, but I don’t think that it reflects the blue-collar musicians in the U.S. who, day in and day out, perform in bars and clubs, in the streets and the subways, playing shitty cover band gigs in Bourbon Street (Nola) or 6th Street (Atx) or Broadway (Nashville) or weddings, WHATEVER, just to fund their own music career and pay their bills and still be able to look in the mirror and say “I’m a professional musician, nothing more.” I’d hope that there’s another billion unaccounted for, even if the vast majority of players have to share the table scraps of an incredibly corrupt industry.
“If that’s how you feel, why don’t you quit and get a real job?”
I have rehearsed so many excuses for why I am not qualified for gainful employment in any conventional manner. But I guess the real fact is, when I look in the mirror, I know I’m not supposed to do anything else but make noise and invite people together to be affected by it, for better or worse. I would’ve been the caveman banging rocks and sticks together at the fire pit to bring the hunter gatherers back to camp and to shew the predators. And I’d have been domesticated much like the wolves. Table scraps then, table scraps now. But the only place I’ve ever felt comfortable in this world is behind an instrument.
As this year is coming to a close, we can see the finish line for this hundred year plague. Modern science has moved rapidly in a way it never has before, and although things will be different than before, relative normalcy will return relatively shortly.
Whatever happens next, make sure to take care of the creative people in your community. We can be a hyper-sensitive ilk, prone to anxiety and depression. But it’s through those anti rose-colored lenses that we can occasionally interpret the world in a way that draws members of society subconsciously towards undeniable truths of the human condition. That’s a fancy way of saying for instance, “Hank Williams had his problems, but when he sang about them it made me feel like I wasn’t alone”
That said, I’m going to do a couple more online shows this year. Next Friday my band will be held hostage by the Consortium of Genius, 8 p.m. Then I think I’ll do my one man version of Nightmare Before Christmas in the days leading up to said holiday.
I feel very fortunate for all of the support I’ve gotten from friends, family and fans, and I hope I’ve helped y’all relax into this necessary temporary isolation, which I suppose in a way is the exact opposite what my caveman artists and ancestors are prone to do. On one hand, they inspired people to congregate, whereas I’ve attempted to inspire social distance. On the other hand, the caveman and I have the common goal of keeping our community alive, and I plan to continue along that path until it’s my turn to rest.
If you made it this far, thanks for letting me rant. Now let’s all wash our hands while singing the chorus to Jolene twice.
Dr. Sick is a burlesque manager and a member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. He can be reached at fiddlekiller.com, by email email@example.com, on Facebook and Instagram @fiddlekiller. This post was slightly edited for clarity and the original version can be found here.
(Photo: Windex Pete, center. | Dave Minsky )
Windex Pete’s washboard was reported missing from a French Quarter bar last month although he was able to get it back in a matter of days.
He reported his washboard missing on Oct. 24. It was separately reported stolen Oct. 24 from Cosimo’s bar, located at 1201 Burgundy St., although there’s no evidence of this, and it may have been misplaced and simply forgotten about.
But Windex Pete eventually got his washboard back on Oct 26. It was spotted in the safe keeping of a local DJ’s tricycle sound cart.
Here’s an unpublished issue of New World Quarter I drew in 2015. I began to draw the second part as soon as I sent the first to print in China and never went to print because of the low sales of the first issue, which sold for $5 a piece with no ads.
I still have three unopened cases. It’s my last work and I will probably never do another.
(Picture: the location of the former J & M Recording Studio at 840 N. Rampart St., where Little Richard recorded “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. Jason Riedy/CC Flickr)
Little Richard (born Richard Penniman in Macon Georgia) passed away on May 9 at the age of 87 and was earned the nicknames such as “The Innovator” for his contributions to rock and roll music, even though he didn’t invent the genre. Penniman’s hit single “Tutti Frutti,” which was recorded inside a French Quarter studio, is often credited with shifting the evolution of rock music for the next 60-plus years.
J & M Recording Studio, located at 840 N. Rampart St., was operated by Cosimo Matassa, a young sound engineer and Tulane chemistry dropout who recorded Penniman’s single, along with some of rock and roll’s earlier hits. The historic building, which many consider the birthplace of rock music, currently houses a laundromat.
Archived interview footage, including with Penniman and other historical figures, provide brief, first-hand accounts on the genesis of Tutti Frutti inside J & M.
While historians often cite late 1940s hits performed by Fats Domino and Roy Brown as some of its earliest examples of rock and roll recorded at J & M, Penniman’s recording of Tutti Frutti in 1955 changed things.
It wasn’t just Penniman’s energetic piano playing, but also his vocal ability and flamboyant showmanship, which included fancy dress and flashy hair styles, that added to his repertoire.
“Everything he did was dynamic,” Matassa told WGBH in 1995. “He’s an exciting performer. He performs as one of the best and he believes he’s the best, and he plays that way and he sings that way.”
Penniman had recorded under several labels before Los Angeles-based Specialty Records sent him to New Orleans to record in early 1955, although it took several months for inspiration to manifest itself.
Tutti Frutti’s exact origins aren’t clear, although rock historian Richie Unterberger said it was an obscene little ditty played by Penniman in between recording sessions. Penniman gives a similar account, according to one interview.
According to biographer David Kirby, the song refers to anal sex. Penniman gave such a clue during a 1987 interview with David Brenner.
Dorothy LaBostrie, a songwriter hired to work with Penniman, offered a different version of events in an interview with WGBH. While she acknowledged Penniman’s tendency to recite songs with “dirty” lyrics, LaBostrie said Tutti Frutti‘s title was inspired by an ice cream flavor and wrote its lyrics in 15 minutes upon hearing a request from Penniman.
“I listened to his voice and I saw down and I wrote it,” LaBostrie said. “When I came back out and he stood at the piano. He went to banging, banging, hollering and then I took the song up and began to sing wamp poma luma poma lump bam boom. He couldn’t take a word from mine.”
The song was hit and earned Penniman instant fame, along with other subsequent hits. The success, however, was short-lived as Penniman suddenly quit rock and roll in 1957 while on tour in Australia.
Expressing “great fear” over the recent launching of Sputnik by the Soviet government and believing the world would end, Penniman ended his world tour early to “get his affairs in order,” according to the Atlanta Daily World.
Penniman became a gospel music performer and vowed to become an evangelist, enrolling in Seventh-day Adventist school at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama—his reported final resting place, according to Essence magazine.
Penniman returned to rock and roll in the early 1960s with a little help from British invasion bands, according to Unterberger, but never regained the success achieved years earlier and instead lived out his days as a living legend.