The Bookends: Boutte Call/Li’l Percolating Queenie
There’s only one man who can make your heart melt with just his voice. He gently teases you when singing about what life would be like if he lived next door, turning Mr Rogers’ “Won’t you be my neighbor?” inside-out and filling it with innuendo at the very end of his song. He sings about his sisters so gorgeously, it makes you want to be next to him listening to them “right there bitchin’ “. His version of “Southern Man” makes you want to weep at the “screaming and bull-whips cracking” that the man in the song seems to be oblivious to.
There’s also only one man who, in my current workplace, called to a woman that I would least expect to be moved by his work and had her running for the nearest music store to get herself a copy of his excellent Good Neighbor album…which also has the Treme opening song on it, John Boutte‘s “Broke Down The Door/Treme Song”.
Boutte has an incredible vocal ability, his background is New Orleans through and through, and here he is with a band of local musicians who called themselves the New Orleans Social Club, turning Annie Lennox’s “Why” into a cathartic plea for understanding not just the pains estranged lovers inflict on each other, but the hurt of an entire city in agony. Boutte brought folks to tears at the 2006 JazzFest with his rendition of “Louisiana 1927”, and he brings down the house at Austin City Limits with this:
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Rolling over the credits was something a little different: Li’l Queenie and the Percolators’ version of “My Dawlin New Orleans”, a song originally written by Charles Neville, Ramsey McLean, and Ron Cuccia (thanks for keeping me honest, commenters – had to go back and look at my copy of Home for that one). The band was only in existence for five years, but definitely left their mark on New Orleans music. Only two recordings exist of the rockin’ good time Leigh “Li’l Queenie” Harris would pull out with her scorching vocals, backed by an incredible group of musicians, two of whom would one day form the subdudes (which is why it’s no wonder this great article, complete with links to some Percolators’ mp3 excerpts, is on the subdudes’ site).
The thing that makes hearing Leigh Harris’ voice so bittersweet for me is that she was performing live all over town for years after the demise of the Percolators, establishing that she truly was “the head motherfucker in charge” as far as carving a place for herself in the New Orleans music scene was concerned. The woman soaked up musical influences like a sponge and poured it all out in her own way everywhere she went – whether it was onstage at a local club or in the living room of a friend’s house one night as we sat or stood anywhere we could and drank it all in. She was one of those people that was such a force of nature musically that you didn’t think anything would ever silence that voice of hers.
Unfortunately, Leigh Harris is somewhere in North Carolina, exiled from the events and effects of 8/29/2005. She is performing here occasionally, but not as much as she used to. She is a musical great and an inspiration whose rendition of the song “Inspiration” from the Percolators’ album Home gives me chills. There is a web presence sitting there, waiting for her words and news of her performances, but it dates from September 2009, and the “About” section says only this:
“She has a voice that makes muses, sirens, mermaids, and other magical singing creatures get really depressed and go take lessons and get therapy and shit.” – micah herman
There’s simply no better indication that events are percolating for the characters of Treme than the insertion of the Percolators singing about the “sprawlin’ hometown” New Orleans and all its ups and downs. At least, I hope that’s what’s gonna happen. We’ll just have to stay tuned.
Update, 11:43 AM: Many thanks to Virgo, who finds this link to a North Carolina article about Li’l Queenie
Harris says she can’t get over her sense that local, state and federal officials failed to do all they could for New Orleans. Plus, she hates the weather, the politics and the crime in New Orleans.
Harris said she has grown to love North Carolina.
But she still misses the people of New Orleans.
“I miss them so much my fingertips ache because I want to grab them and hug them,” she said.
New Orleans misses you right back, I can tell you that, lady.