In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Roger Lewis, Saxophones BORN: New Orleans, October 5,194.1 Long-term member of Fats Domino's band before joining the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which he has been with for twenty-five years Interviewed at his home on Myrtle Street, October zooz When I came to music was round the ageof eight, or evenyounger than that, because that's when I started to takepiano lessons. I was raised on Pleasant and Harmony Streets: Pleasant on one side, and Harmony on the other! As I remember, when I was a kid, I had afascination with the saxophone—I would roll up a newspaper and make like I wasplaying. I can remember this stuff just like it was yesterday—I can see it,you don't forget stuff like that. I heard the sound of the saxophone— the first sax that my dad bought was a tenor—that's when I was about tenyears old. There was a record out called "Feel So Good" by Shirley and Lee. Everybody was trying to learn Lee Allen's saxophone solo off that. I was injunior high school. In those daysyou could come out ofjunior high school with a trade—woodwork, sheet metal, auto mechanics, homemaking—everything thatyou need to survive, allfrom the public school system. 'Cause everybody's notgoing to college,you know? It's not like that now—theypulled all thoseprograms. It's a wholenother thing now. And they had music programs, and the schools had bands—all the schools used to compete; they had contests and all that. The thing was,I wanted toplay music in thejoints, where it was happening, you know? The first thing I did when I got my saxophone was I took it loose. Took everything off it, stripped it down. My first liveperformance was with a guy named Sylvester. He was a drummer, he used to come over by the house. What this cat did, he used to have a couple of twigs and Roger Lewis, Jackson Square, 1986 Photo by MarcelJoly 77 flay agarbage can on the rim. Wethought we wasplaying—we werejust kids having fun. So anyway, we moved downtown, and we hooked up a little band with some guys around the neighborhood. The Lastie brothers lived in the next block. They had a guy called Ornette Coleman—he was staying with the Lastie brothers. I used to hear those guys—he lived in the upstairs house,and I would be in the kitchen. I never had the courage togo over there—Iprobably would have learned a wholelot of stuff if I had knocked on that door at that time. Anyway, we hookedup a little band round the neighborhood; we wereplaying at the Cafe Theater.Wewereyoung kids—we hadplenty of energy. Wehad no car;we used to have tophysically carry the drums and all that stuff. We're talking about a wholemile, man. Then Igot hooked up with anotherguy—he wasa tenorplayer—and thefirst paidgig we did was at a littleplaced calledMabel's Tavern, on Magazine. They'd sit down and listen to us. I had to "walk the bar": theguy told us, (< I wantyou to walk the bar, knock all the drinks over,so the drunks can buy somemorealcohol." You'd run out thefront door, come in through the back door, slide on the floor honkingyourhorn . Four-piece band—guitar, drums, bass, and me. I learned showmanship. I made so much money playing that horn. We went home with forty-seven dollars in change apiece. And whenyou did a back flip! People had never seen nothing like that. In those days, people was earning a hundred dollars a week—if you had a dollar,you was rich. Sothat was myfirst paying gig. Then I hooked up with the Impressions—Curtis Mayfield was the guitarplayer in that band. Wecould listen to a songandplay itjust like the record.AndJohn Moore, he would sound like the cat who was singing the song on the record. Our instrumentation was alto, tenor, and baritone saxes—Iplayed tenor. On tenor,you can do all kinds of stuff—you can sound like a trumpet player, alto, whatever. When weplayed biggigs, we would have Eddie King on trombone, and we would maybe hire an extra drummer. Al Miller was our regular drummer. Earl Derbigny was the bassplayer, Henry Joseph was the baritoneplayer, Sam Bijou was onpiano. And we would have Alvin Alcorn and his son on trumpets to fill out the horn section. This band never had no charts—we never had a writtenpiece of music. Everybody had good ears. Bobby Blue Bland had a song called "Cry, Cry,Cry." We did a show with him. Wewould learn a song as soon as it came out. With us being kids, we was the opening band—we wouldplay all his songs before he came on. Whenyou're kids,you do stuff like that. And he wanted to know, where did weget the arrangements. Like, we hadjust listened to the records—it wasn't no big thing. As a matter of fact, when weplayed at the Dew Drop, he came over and sat in with us. There was nopain—you do that sort of thing now,people wouldgetpissed off, but back then, it was a wholedifferent thing. 78 KEEPING THE BEAT ON THE STREET So after that band, I wasplaying rhythm V blues, rock 'n' roll,you know? All the artists that came through had to have a backup band, if they didn't have a band. In 1971,1joined Fats Domino's band. Herbert Hardesty was in the band. Clarence Brown wasplaying drums, and Fred Kemp. Then later on Lee Allen came back in the band, and Dave Bartholomew. When Ifirst went in the band... see,Igot in after aguy called Nat Perilliat died. Thej had Henry Joseph, the baritoneplayer from the Impressions , and I made the transition. See, I was a tenorplayer. My baritoneplaying really had started when I wasplaying with Eddie Bo [Edwin Bocage]—check "Mr. Popeye" and all them songs. The band broke up, but I stayed on tenor. Then I got Fred Kemp in that band, also on tenor. I brought a baritone torehearsal oneday, and hesaid, "Hey man,you soundgood on that baritone." I wound upplaying baritone. That's what happened—it started with Eddie Bo. Anyhow, back to Fats Domino: Dave Bartholomew came back to the band—I think him and Fats wasfeudin' or something. We had Herbert Hardesty, Walter Kimball, Freddie Kemp, and me on saxes. People say that was the best band Fats ever had—we were all around the same age, and we used topractice all the time together.And after that band, we had Dave Bartholomew, Lee Allen, Walter Kimball, Smokej Johnson, Jimmy Mqyet, Walter Lastie. At onetime, we would have three drummers set up on the stage at the same time. It was crazy—at onetime, we had two baritoneplayers. The other baritoneplayer didn't reallyplay—he was kind of an alcoholic—I'd be up there blowing my ass off, man. He was a good saxophone player—he could really cut it—but he was drunk half the time. Then Ijoined Irma Thomas, whowasplaying down the road;I went to hear her,and she said, "Where'syour horn?" I said, "At home, in the cupboard." She said, "Goget it." Shepaid mefor thegig. It was around that time that Fats decided to take a long vacation. I knew a guy called Daryl Adams, an altoplayer. Daryl said, "Howyou going to eat? Startplaying second lineparades!" I was like, "Why not?" I made thisgig with those cats—I met CharlesJoseph and started doinga lot of thoseparade gigs. That was the first street work I had done.My early experience was with big bands. I used togo to William Houstonfor music lessons—he had this music school.Charles Joseph and Daryl Adams and those cats, they was already doing that Dirty Dozen thing. It wasn't called the Dirty Dozen—that really started when I got in it. All of the Dirty Dozen, they all have a different story to tell, different from my story. We hooked up—it wasn't really organized to the level of where it is today. Westarted rehearsing. Before the band started taking that shape, we started with BennyJones. Benny's a real sociableguy; he had all theparade gigs. Benny used toplay with Lionel Batiste, kind ROGER LEWIS, SAXOPHONES 79 of entertainment for the neighborhood. What happened, he used to hire musicians, like CharlesJoseph, Cyrille Sahant, Big Daddy [Andrew Green]. Big Daddy and Benny were theperfect drum combination. Cyrille, the trumpetplayer, would not improvise.In New Orleansmusic, whenjou're going down the street, somebody got to beplaying that melody. This cat Cyrille, he was great for that—he'd play the melody all day. Youplay afour-hour parade, he's going to beplaying the melody—put all the colorsyou want around it, but he'dplay the melodj. You going to hear the song all the time. That particular band in the beginning was Benny, Big Daddy, sometimes Kirk Joseph , sometimes Tuba Fats, but he was with the Olympia at that time. Gregory Davis came in, then Efrem Towns.Benny was workingfor the electric company, sohe couldn't take a lot of gigs out of town. Lionel Batiste's son came in on drum. Weplayed our own music—what happened, we used toplay a lot of traditional songs like "South Rampart Street Parade," "Didn 't He Ramble," all the other songs that most bands wasn't evenplaying really. Then we started bringing in other stuff—I introduced "Night Train" to the band. People wouldplay "Night Train" in bar rooms—it was like a stripper routine. Webrought it to the streets. Thefirst time weplayed it out there, the older musicians said, "Oh no,j'all can'tplay that! That kind of music don't go—you can't do that on the street1 ." Thepeople loved it! Weplayed music slightly faster, and hyped up. Westartedplaying original things,too. We had aparade uptown, around Magazine Street; it was about six o'clock in the morning . Westartedplaying "Reveille"—weput all other things with it, and itjust became a song. It came together on the street—"The Flintstones Meet the President" and "Blue Monk"—no brass band in the cityplayed that before, we started that. We would begoing down the street swinging; there was a lot of creativity within the group. What made the difference was the beat was slightly faster. So, like, ifyougot heavy tennis shoeson, orjiving shoeson, we used to roll. Like, before, it was kind of in between; when we came along,we moved itfaster. You had to be in goodphysical condition—we had guys dancing to us that was doing incredible things with their bodies. Sothe combination of picking up the beat, incorporating all things like Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and Charlie Parker's "Bongo Beep" and "Dexterity"—that's what made everything different. We weren't thinking consciously about changing the music, but being in a band whereyou could do whateveryou want to do, whatever musical ideasyou had thatyou couldn't dowith nobody else—bring it to the table, let's try it. I may not like it, but we'll do it—you have an ideayou want to blow,go on and blow! The music has its structure, and we dohave written music now, like theJelly Roll Morton album. Wehired people to write that; it wasorchestrated. 8O KEEPING THE BEAT ON THE STREET Dirty Dozen Brass Band Courtesy Dave Cirilli, Big Hassle We did a rap thing, a CDcalled Ears to the Wall—/ was trying toget copies of it to sell ongigs. The record company can'tfind it—we did it, but it don't exist. You can buy everything else, butyou can't buy that one. I think that's what made the difference with the group, becauseeverybody had freedom to do what they wanted musically—you didn't have oneguy saying, "I don't want to hear that. This is the way it has togo—youplay my music, later for whatjou do." Over theyears, we've recorded with a lot of different people, too. We've recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Elvis Costello,Danny Barker, Dr.John. Dizzy was crazy about the band. We used toplay at a club called the Glasshouse, uptown. Anything might happen there. Little smallplace, a bit bigger than thesetwo rooms [around12 by2$feet]. Put fifty people in there,jou had a crowd. Sometimes, we'd have a hundred and fifty. So anyway, every Monday they'd havefree red beans and rice, and they'd charge a dollar to come in. So there's Dizzy Gillespie sitting there at the table. When we came out the back room, we'd be ready,you know what I'm saying? Everybody would come through thatplace. Being a saxophoneplayer and hanging out with Freddie Kemp—this cat was a genius on that saxophone, man. If you wanted to keep up with cats like that,you'd study Charlie Parker. When we was on the road together, Kemp would say, "Playyour major scales." Now, I had learned at high school... they teachyou to read music, and that's it. Kemp would say, "Play all twelve of them." I'm like, "They got twelve of them ?" He said, "Look, man. Before you even start talking about music, you gotta know scales. I'm going togiveyou a week to learn your major scales." Then he moved on to the triROGER LEWIS, S A X O P H O N E S 8l ads—that man was like a conservatory, man. He -would callyou at three o'clock, in the morning andplay stuff on the saxophone—you had to shed it. He would write two bars, andyou couldn'tplay it—that's how bad he was. Incredible technique. Oneof his favorites wasJohnny Griffin, and he was the fastest saxophone player in the world. Anyway, the band developed, and we ended upplaying Carnegie Hall. Then we begantouring in Europe. The audiences weregreat—I mean thereception wasfabulous. Weplayed a concert with the Buddy Rich Band. I rememberplaying opposite CountBasie. Weplayed four weeks at the Village Gate—no band had done that before. It wasn't no sudden thing—before all that, we wereplaying baseballgames,house parties, street gigs—the band really gotpopular from all thosesecondline parades. It's really stressful being on the road all the time. I call what wegot now the new band; see,what's happening right now, we'rejamming. The scenekeeps changing—right now, we're the world's greatestjam band. Westillfunction as a brass band—we did a concert recently where we marched through the crowd, thousands ofpeople. A lot of kids haven't been exposed to this kind of stuff. Now, personally speaking, I loved the band with me, Gregory, Efrem, Charles and Kirk, Kevin Harris, and Lionel. If that band was together now, seriously,there ain't no telling musically speaking, what heights wewould have reached. Not taking anything away from ourguitarplayer—I mean, I came upplaying with guitarplayers. I always wanted toplay withjust horns and drums—for somereason,you got morefreedom, and horns can dojust about anything. I mean, we've had Richard Knox, and Carl Leblanc (he's apersonal friend of mine) on organ, so we've had a full rhythm sectionwith us. Butyou take all that stuff out, just leave the horns—0 Lord! You can make a chord be whateveryou want it tobe. We get guitarplayers andpianoplayers with us, and they can't see where they can fit. Richard Knox, hefigured it out, then he quit! I said to him,"0 Lord, not now1 ." I liked the band the way it was. The band wegot now is a great band, and we have some of thefinest musicians on theplanet Earth—Sammy Williams ain't nojoke! He's the loudesttromboneplayer in the world, and he has unbelievable energy and showmanship —he's about 260pounds, about six foot three, size eighteenshoes—he ain't nomore than about twentyyears old. He'll dance all night—I don't know how he does it. I'm soloing, and I'm thinkingpeople are clapping for me—they're clapping for him and his dancing; they don'tpay me any attention. One thing I find very flattering is wego to a lot of colleges and universities—and the bands there have transcribed a lot of our things—so there's three other baritones sounding like meplaying mypart notefor note. They've written all the stuff out—some of it warn't written in thefirst place! 82 KEEPING THE BEAT ON THE STREET ...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.