It's hard to be an overnight sensation when you've been in the business for 40 years. But Big Easy Entertainer of the Year bandleader/guitarist/vocalist Deacon John Moore, long one of New Orleans' best-kept secrets, is a national story since the release last year of the CD/DVD Deacon John's Jump Blues and the forthcoming documentary film covering his life and times.
"The phone rings a little bit more than it used to," Moore says with a sly laugh. In the past, those calls have marked the heavy schedule of local private parties that he has played over the years. ("Now I'm playing the weddings of the kids whose parents had me at their weddings," he says.) But in the wake of Deacon John's Jump Blues, a large band session featuring a host of New Orleans R&B legends, the calls for work are coming from all over the world.
"I'm not going to tour per se, because to do a tour with a band this size would be too difficult," Moore says. "But I'll do special dates like Mountain Stage, Lincoln Center, festivals and some special events."
The idea for Deacon John's Jump Blues was actually born after a Big Easy awards show, Moore recalls. "I was playing the after-party with Wardell Quezerque and Sista Teedy and we were doing a number of jump blues tunes. Cyril Vetter was there, and he said how much he liked it and we started talking about putting something together that paid tribute to all the great music and musicians who came out of New Orleans during that time, when jump blues was happening after the big bands and before R&B. We had the same idea at the same time, to try to do a Buena Vista Social Club of New Orleans, because a lot of the people who were there are still around to tell the story."
After four decades in the music business, you learn to not get too excited about the prospects of last night's great idea, but in this case, all the parties involved followed through. "I was amazed at the way it went down," Moore says. "The one show went real smooth. Everybody got along fantastic. It was a labor of love. You get that amount of people together, usually it doesn't happen the way you'd like it to. There were a couple of little glitches. Even when people weren't available, we lucked out. Eddie Bo couldn't do it, so we got Davell Crawford, and he was great."
The documentary, which takes Deacon John back to his childhood growing up on Tonti Street near Elysian Fields Avenue, is bound to bring even more attention to the New Orleans musician when PBS uses it as part of its national fundraising program later this year. "Yeah we lived right over by where the highway overpass is now," Moore says. "Of course, that wasn't there then. When I was coming up, it was just railroad tracks and cow pastures, it was semi-rural back then. I remember when they built the overpass. I was riding on the bus with my mama and there was a sign there about the construction, I guess. I asked Mama, 'What does the sign say?' and she said, 'It says, "Shut up."' Heh, heh, heh," Moore laughs.
The documentary traces John's roots and influences and reunites him with some of his cronies from the 1960s studio era when his guitar was on virtually every hit cut in New Orleans. "I played all the stuff for NOLA Records. I did 'Barefootin' with Robert Parker, I played on the Willie Tee hits, I played on most of the hits, and some that weren't hits, too," he laughs. "Songs like 'Barefootin',' where I got to play more guitar, really stand out for me. Roy Montrell and I were on that one. Dr. John played guitar on some of the sessions. I got a lot of work because a lot of the guitarists were with the hot bands; Papoose (Walter "Papoose" Nelson) and guys like that were on the road all the time.
"Back then the guitar usually had a secondary role as a rhythm instrument and the piano was the main sound. That turned around over the years to where we pushed the piano into the background and the guitar became the main thing." With all of those sessions under his belt, it's surprising that Moore never made a full-length record until Singer of Song in 1990. "I did do a couple of sessions for Rip Records," he says. "You gotta ask Allen Toussaint about that. Ask him, 'How come you don't record on Deac, man? You had him in the studio with Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Jessie Hill, Oliver Morgan, all of them great people, you never recorded him? What's wrong with that?' Heh, heh, heh."
- Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu congratulates the Ambassador of Entertainment honoree, American Routes' Nicholas Spitzer.