In my mind, he will always be the King of New Orleans, even though there have been and will be many more. He has its history in his fingertips. He’s telling me about gilded splinters and I’m trying to understand what he means. He’s pulling on my coat to let me know who’s been hoodooed. He’s a street guy and has been, since he was a kid going jukebox to jukebox with his dad. He says he’s always been in the right place, but at the wrong time. He’s got a voice that takes me right down the river. You can imitate it, but not what’s behind it. He reveals the need for a little brain salad surgery, but, as far as I’m concerned, he’s always in tune, in the pocket, and talking soul to soul. He always uplifts mine.
More than forty years ago, I was a stranger in town after a long move across the country. It’s my first week there, alone, and facing the end of autumn. I go to a little bar, really a roadhouse, outside of town, where he and his band are scheduled for one-night. As I pull into the parking lot, the flakes start to fall, the first since last winter. I go in, get a beer, and wait for the show to begin.
Doc comes out alone and sits at the piano. He leans, Fats Domino-style, towards the sparse crowd, smiles a sly look, and begins a medley of Christmas carols. Winter Wonderland, Frosty, Silent Night and others. This goes on and on and is amazing me and every other lucky person there. No gravelly singing, just a sweet and funky, soulful solo that stops and silences even the waitresses, each of us present in this wonderful moment and, at the same time, lost in our own particular memories.
By the end of the night, hours later, there are horns and backup singers. The rhythm section and the Doctor are wailing. Sitting is a foreign concept. Everyone is on their chairs, truly drawn together in an experience that transcends New Orleans, is more than the cold Minnesota night, and goes beyond any holiday celebration.
When it’s all over, the audience and I reconnect with the floor, softly, like snowflakes, and I walk outside to the parking lot, now soft and white, and smile into the infinite darkness.
Dance the Night Away With You
The Nearness of You
Such A Night