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Kermit at Vaughan's, October ji, 2002 Vaughan's Bar and Grill Photo by Barry Martyn It's Halloween, and a distinctive pickup truck, easily recognizable by the barbecue hardware in the back, is parked on the corner of Dauphine and Lesseps, deep in the Ninth Ward,just by Vaughan's Bar and Grill. Kermit's habit of spontaneously cooking up for anyone who feels hungry has brought hot sausage to many people, and consternation to a few.Afriend of mine from out of town once looked through the windows of Cafe Brazil, saw what he thought was a car on fire, and took off down Frenchmen before the gas tank blew. Vaughan's is featuring Kermit Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers, as it has done most Thursday nights for a number of years. The band is Emile Vinet, piano; Kevin Morris, bass; Corey Henry, trombone; and Shannon Powell, drums. The musical menu is described by the leader as "traditional swing"—basically, nice old songs from decadesago, played with equal amounts of sincerity and musicianship . It's an unlikely formula for commercial successin the current musical climate of the city, but it certainly has worked for Kermit Ruffins. He's not the most technically complex player—there are plenty of those in New Orleans—but he has great stage presenceand charisma. And a sense of fun. Tonight being Halloween , Kermit has come as a convict, in a white shirt and trousers with broad black horizontal stripes. The penitentiary effect is alleviated by his boisterous geniality and fedora hat. The atmosphere inside the bar is the usual New Orleans combination of soul and sleaze,and the fifty or sohabituesin the placeobviouslylikeit that way. Behind I2O the bar, the usual lady is dressed as a fairy, with netting wings and a black tutu. Each beer is delivered with a few dance steps and a kind of fairy flutter, although the plies might have been more elegant without the black Doc Marten boots. The music is advertised for 10:00 P.M., so promptly at n:zo the band kicks off with "Please Don't Talk about Me." It'sthe kind of music that welcomes people in, straightforward and warmhearted and unquestionably in the New Orleans tradition. Kermit has identified a niche for himself, that of Louis Armstrong -type trumpet-playing singer/entertainer—like a latter-day black Louis Prima. A party of bearded gentlemen revelers wearing wigs, false bosoms, and fishnet tights comes in as the band launches into "Tiger Rag." First in the solo order is trombonist CoreyHenry, who tears off four immaculate choruses before wandering off for a beer. He's wearing white gloves, a full-length red robe with white trim, and a large golden crown studdedwith imitation jewelry. Trumpet players Gregg Stafford andJames Andrews arrive within minutes of each other, just as the band winds up "World on a String" to closethe set.Kermit picks up the mike: "And now, y'all, we gonna take a reefer break—OH NO! Why did I saythat? I made a mistake." The bandfilesthrough the fire exit in the corner behind the drum kit to chill out on the Dauphine Street sidewalk. It'sreally not the time or placefor any kind of interview, but we do manage a few minutes' chat. Kermit's playing career began with a ten-year stint fronting the Rebirth Brass Band,which ended in 1993. He combined his interest in older stylesof jazz (sparked by sitting in at the Palm Court Cafe) with his extrovert presentational style to form the Barbecue Swingers. He has the ability to deliver old-time hip nonsense with complete sincerity: "Wegonna bring you back to one of those good old tunes, so flip your fedoras, and swing out like the rest of us!" The band startedwith a Monday night residencyat the Little People'sPlace,a bar in the Treme owned by Kermit's in-laws. At the time, Kermit had no thought of wider success; he was just happy to have somewhereto play his favoritemusic. But a one-time appearance at Jazz Fest led to a recording contract with Justice Records. The band's first CD, World on a String, recorded at UltrasonicStudios, got good reviews and did well. He's confronted by the problem that faces all bands that win approval in the wider music scene: either spend long periods on the road to bring home lots of money, or stay home and maximize on the opportunities New Orleans can offer...


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