Dick Waterman is no stranger to Jazz Fest, but he is in an unusual role this year. The veteran blues manager and journalist is in New Orleans to talk about his first book of photographs, Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive.
Waterman was among the first group of blues aficionados to scour the South for retired blues greats in the early 1960s. By the end of the decade, his Avalon agency was booking and managing some of the biggest names in the business -- Son House, Lightning Hopkins, Fred McDowell, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Luther Allison and J.B. Hutto -- before eventually branching out to work with younger musicians like Bonnie Raitt.
Waterman's best Jazz Fest memory involves Raitt.
"Bonnie didn't play Jazz Fest until she had at least three or four albums out, so when we first went there she was already a veteran performer," he says. "Bonnie had a piano player who doubled on saxophone named Marty Grebb. One of the songs she played was an Allen Toussaint song, I think it was 'What Do You Want the Boy to Do,' and Marty played saxophone on that one. She was playing on one of the smaller stages, it was only about 3 feet high. I'm standing behind the stage and Bonnie is playing the song. Suddenly coming through the crowd behind me is Allen Toussaint. He stands next to me, motions like 'Can I go up?' He steps up behind Bonnie and he sits at the piano. Bonnie doesn't see this.
"Allen is listening for the key and his fingers are over the keys, not touching them, searching. Then he starts to play, tentatively, and Bonnie is looking at her sax/piano player standing next to her. So she turns and looks right back over the top of the piano and there is Allen, playing and looking at her and smiling. She looked at him and then looked at me as if to say, 'Are you shitting me?' The beauty of it was he played the song and when the song was over, he slipped off the stool, slipped off the stage and went back into the crowd."
Waterman didn't set out to become a photographer. "I started shooting about 40 years ago in 1962 or 3," he says. "It was just kind of something I did. I was a guy who managed older blues men and I had a camera over my shoulder and when I wanted to, I would just take some pictures. I did that until about '71.
"Then one Jazz Fest, Quint [Davis] brought Champion Jack Dupree from Germany to appear at Jazz Fest and make a Rounder album. So I put Jack Dupree's last tour together between Jazz Fest at the beginning of May and the Chicago Jazz festival in mid-June. I though I'd better bring the camera along, so that's how I got back into it."
Though he never worked with him, Waterman loved James Booker. "I went to see One Mo' Time and it was a very early curtain, 7 p.m. or something," he says. "I went in there and this small black man in a tuxedo was playing. He had a big brandy snifter with money in it, whatever, and he was playing cocktail piano. I listened to him, put some money in, then I came out at intermission and he was doing stuff like the 'Shadow of Your Smile' 'Moonlight in Vermont,' 'The Very Thought of You,' standards. So I put some money in and said, 'This is a good life, here you are, it's only 8 o'clock and you're already finished for the night.' He said, 'Oh no, I'm gonna get out of this tuxedo and go play my gig tonight. I'm playing the Maple Leaf.' I looked at him and said, 'You can't be playing at the Maple Leaf, I'm going over there later to hear James Boo . I looked at him, he looked at me and he said, 'Yeah that's me.' Hello, it was James Booker."
Waterman came close to working with Professor Longhair, but it didn't work out. "I actually tried to bring Professor Longhair to California to play," he recalls. "I had dates booked for him to play and I was waiting for him to show up. He never got off the plane. So I called to find out if anything was wrong, and he answers the phone himself. So I say to him, 'What are you doing there?' And he went into one of those incredibly long stories that always plague blues people: 'Well, the guy who was supposed to pick me up, he didn't come by, you just can't count on them guys anymore.' That was the end of it, he just didn't go to the airport.
"It's tough to get New Orleans musicians out of there," he concluded. "They're reluctant travelers."
- Dick Waterman's portrait of Roosevelt Sykes, from Between Midnight and Day.