"Wacko" Wade Wright: Chasing tha Blues
"I learned from Lil Freddie King the deep feeling and meaning of the Blues."
One of the busiest and active members from the music community of the Saints City, the drummer, songwriter, producer, composer, manager, founder and sole owner at "Wacko" Wade Production, LLC, the multitalent "Wacko" Wade Wright is in recent years the close associate of Little Freddie King. Together they make some of the best albums: Sing Sang Sung (2000), You Don't Know What I Know (2005), Messin' Around tha House (2008), Gotta Walk With Da King (2010), and the new Chasing tha Blues (2012).
Wacko talks about the New Orleans music scene, Little Freddie King, Dr. John, Slim Harpo, Eddie Bo, James Brown his first band The Night Owls; and his European tour…
Wacko, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?
My influences when I was seventeen with my brand new WFL drum kit was Little Freddie’s buddy - Slim Harpo (60s and 70s) , and the legend, Jimmy Reed who use to perform at the “Dew Drop Inn” where Little Freddie use to play with the house band. Reed caught my pulse with “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City”, he was considered in those days as an R&B man. I do not believe they had a “Blues” music category back then, thus the album was considered R&B. New Orleans was an R&B paradise with the key note playing being a sax man. If you didn’t have the sax riff or sole, you weren’t hitting on all cylinders. Everything I listened too was R&B, either “Big Joe” Turner, Ray Charles or Bobby “Blue” Bland, Diana Washington; love the big band sound and absorbed it in my early playing style.
In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like (where, with whom etc.)?
I started playing with a band when I was 16 years old, around 1960 with guys who loved R&B. We named the band “The Night Owls” and covered every local black artist music, guys like Jessie Hill, “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Bobby Michael and Johnny Adams. Ernie-K-Doe was our main man, because he was the New Orleans answer to Georgia’s James Brown.
What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?
My first exposure to a “live” performance was back in the late 50s, when I was around 15 or 16, I use to catch the bus (7-cents) and go to the Saturday “Rhythm and Blues” shows held at the Municipal Auditorium located in “Congo Square”. It is located across from the entrance to the French Quarter. I was blown away by people like Larry Williams, singing his 1957 classics “Bony Moronie”, “Short Fat Fannie” fame. Nate “King” Cole and my favor, The Platters with “The Great Pretender” the biggest R&B hit of the late 50s.
First songs I learned musically, where “Teen Beat” by Sandy Nelson and Cozy Cole (drummer) “Toppy Part 1 and 2” – drum solos. I took drum lessons from a jazz cat named Al Doria and use to come home and listen to Ray Charles, all his stuff. In ’63 I wore out James Brown “Live at the Apollo”. We were playing with The Rhythm Kings back then and we played the whole LP. R&B ruled.
We named the band “The Night Owls” and covered every local black artist music, guys like Jessie Hill, “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Bobby Michael and Johnny Adams. Ernie-K-Doe was our favorite. You got to remember, this was back during segregation, when we basically played school dances and private parties around the city. Back in the late 50’ and 60s every weekend there was a High School dance in different parts of the city and it was “white only”. There was one dance hall that was private and held dances, whereby the band could bring in a black recording artist as the main act. This Germany hall called “Germaina Hall “ allowed the two music interest to come together, black artist with no band and the band with great musicians to showcase the artist like Ernie and Eddie Bo. That’s where these guys sold the 45 records, not in the black community, but on the white teen age dance circuit mixing of music had weekend dances held by the CYO. Remember this was during segregation, therefore all the schools were divided between Caucasians
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
I have had many great events during the course of my long 49-year career on drums. Working at Playboy Club in New Orleans, back in 1967. Having famous singers come in the Club and sing with my band The Dead End Kids. I met Rickie Nelson, he asked me if I was interested in working with his new country band and I said no. I wasn’t into country, with all my R&B background. I worked with Freddie Fender when he lived in N.O. for about one year, playing all three Spanish barrooms in the city. Freddie was a real nice dude, it was me on drums, he would play guitar and sing, don’t remember the bass player, but he was a Mexican friend of his. Freddie played N.O. before heading to Houston and becoming pretty well-known. He asked me to go , but I was playing two steady drum gigs on Bourbon Street , one job at the Playboy from 8pm to midnight and the other Papa Joe’s (jam session) gig from 2am to 6am. I use to fit Fender’s gigs into my schedule. Freddie eventually took “Little Joe” Lambert with him to Texas.
Best moment with Little Freddie King was the Montreal International Jazz Festival, back in 1995 or so. We walked on the stage, four cats from the Big Easy and looked at over 50,000 people in the square. Best part, the crowd dug it so much, they called us back for another song, something they never do.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues music?
I jumped with both feet into the Blues when I met Little Freddie at my friend’s place of business back in the early 90s. Freddie works at the electric shop and knew I played drums. He told me that played the N.O. Jazzfess every year and he needed a drummer for the upcoming fess. I never had any idea he played music. Long story short, I told him lets practice the songs he wanted to sing, so we had practice one night and when he started playing the guitar, I had never heard such a simplistic style penetrate my soul and give me “goose bumps”. I would play a four count and listen for the mood of the songs and accent accordingly. Lit’ Freddie’s guitar playing cuts right through you, it is deep and with soul. He says his words with each pluck of his figure. A beautiful natural sound. I learned from Freddie the deep feeling and meaning of the Blues. Everything he does with the guitar is an actual expression of his life’s experience.
What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?
The blues goes back into American root music, which was basic on the opposite of being good, being bad. The Gospel took care of the good side in the day time, but the blues allows the bad side to come out at night and be naughty. Little Freddie opened the doors to many countries I would not have seen, if not for this true Mississippi sharecroppers’’ son. I watched Freddie live and play the blues for over 18-years. I have become his close friend and help in any way I can. Keeping this great blues master alive for the world to hear is my offering to the blues fans of the world. Freddie’s blues offers me the rough-edged, older musician who comes straight from a folk-rooted community – it tests the hell out of my ability to play the meter. .
How do you describe Wacko’s beat and sound? I am the last of the early R&B cats that started with Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) and a slew of noticed performers, Irma Thomas, Hughie Piano Smith, who I had the honor of playing behind in an all black club back in 1961. I developed my sound by listening to the song. I like a heavy back beat and a sonic “boom” on the bass drum with syncopation between the top hat, bass drum and snare. That’s all I need to get the job done in the blues. Blues is “KISS”, keep it simple stupid. With Lit’ Freddie it is a must. He is self taught and plays “jump time” routinely, with no malicious intent towards his accompanists, no mischievous effort to “stump the band”. If I can’t follow a time-jumper- and do so en masse, making it sound natural-then the song goes haywire in a heartbeat. Freddie is unconstrained by musical orthodoxy. To understand “jump time”, a frequent result is that the timing gets turned inside out: the 2nd and 4th beats of each measure – the ones you pop your fingers to – become 1 and 3, instead – if not 1-5/8 and 3-2/3, or something even more mangled. One of the famous “jump time” bands was Question Mark and the Mysterians.
How do you describe New Orleans philosophy about the music?
You can’t beat this city for talented musicians; they come down here to absorb the favor and the mojo of the music. Music developed in NOLA has many different influences. Me, personally – I studied the great black drummers of my day, Smoky Johnson, Earl Palmer, guys that worked with Fats Domino, Johnny Adams and Dave Bartholomew. That is why I am the last of the Mohican with that style; the musicians of today are not going back and studying the history. They are trying to reinvent the wheel, and finding everybody is doing the same thing. I have noticed that musicians jump from group to group, looking for that special sound. They never stay long in one band. The life expectancy is four years and they are drawn to a different set of friends or sound. I can only say, being an old dude, the longer you stay together the musical chemistry gets better. My philosophy, find guys you dig and get along with, then play what you like for fun. Do not set goals, just play for yourself and perhaps one or 10,000 people will think you are unique.
Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the recording time?
When we signed with Fat Possum Records, we went up to Oxford, Mississippi to record. We are coming from New Orleans, wide open town (24 hours, 7 days a week). We get to Water Valley, a small town outside Oxford where Bruce and Mathew have their studio. They took us to a trailer that was parked next to the house they used as a full studio. This was where the four of us were going to stay until the recording was complete. It was fully furnished with everything you needed. My harmonica player wants some beer. Well forget about it, Mississippi is a “dry” State, They don’t service alcoholic, and you buy it at a package liquor store. We drove all over looking for to buy beer. We got an idea to call Anthony (bass player) who was driving up from N.O. and asked him to bring some beer. Well while looking for a liquor outlet he took his eys off the road and slammed into a deer running across the highway. His van was smashed in on the side door. When he finally got to Water Valley the late late at night, we asked him where was the beer, he said “I don’t have the beer, but I got a DEER”
What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?
Montreal International Jazz Festival, and everyone after that one.
Are there any memories from Little Freddie King, which you’d like to share with us?
First time in Rome, we visited the Vatican and were making the long walk to the Basilica, when Lit’ Freddie looked up and saw the hugs statues lining each side of the courtyard. He kept smoking his cigarette and looking at them. All of a sudden he tells me “the ones on the right are the good guys and the ones on the left are the bad guys.” I said “how you know that?” he said “I just know”. The Words of wisdom.
What advice Little Freddie King given to you, which memory from him makes you smile?
On dying, “We all got to cash that check.” on woman. “Nice little washing machine, she got the agitator and the spin cycle”. On disappointment “That’s a tough frog to swallow”. On women again “Can’t live with them and can’t live without them”
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music…and what is the “recipe” for a good blues album?
As you know, there are different regions in the U.S. that have a unique style and way of presenting their regional blues. I have been brainwashed by the “purest” in dealing with Little Freddie King. I find the stripped down front porch approach my favorite blues. Lighting Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, RL Burnside, Nathaniel Mayer and Scott Dunbar are pretty much the real deal, front porch Delta stuff. Therefore, my “recipe” for a good LP would be to leave the Fender guitar, pedals and overdrive devices home, and play straight from insides and express the true meaning of the song without showing me how great a “speed” freak you are. Plain and simple, my man. There is only one Stevie Ray, he got pretty close to the blues but never really experienced it like a black man has. That is why the young bucks of today are just so so, they never lived the blues. They only are attempting to copy what has been lived and written. Can I get an Amen?
Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?
Little Freddie King, a man that lives in poverty, did not finish school, cannot read that well, cannot write, cannot drive a car, but can play a guitar or rebuild a guitar like “ringing a bell” as Chuck would say.
Do you have any amusing tales to tell from the road with the blues in New Orleans? Awhile back, when they first started security checks and scanning at the airport, we were coming back to NOLA from Minnesota. The band was standing in line going thru the scanner one by one, when I looked back for Lit” Freddie he was at the station where you put your valuables in the box. Next thing I noticed, he was putting his head with his hat on in the box. He was leaning sideways, with his head in the box. The guard said “Sir, what are you doing?” Freddie replied “Putting my head in the box”; the guard responded “No, I said put your HAT in the box”. Everyone started laughing at Freddie and he smiled and said “I was wondering why you thought I had a BOMB in my head.”
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES.
That it would get more support from this generation of listeners who have been brainwashed with electronic gadgets and sound. Pretty soon, you want have musicians, you will have a machine mix whatever you want to hear. Creativity and the art of performing on an instrument will vanish.