If good things do indeed come to those who wait, 62-year-old bandleader, vocalist and guitarist John Moore -- aka Deacon John -- is long overdue. As the session guitarist for timeless New Orleans hits such as Aaron Neville's "Tell it Like it Is" and Benny Spellman's "Lipstick Traces," John helped contribute to the landmark sound of '50s and '60s New Orleans rhythm and blues. But as a solo artist, he's turned down questionable record contracts over the decades and focused on live performing. As a result, John only has two full-length albums to his credit. One showcased his vocals on standards (1990's Singer of Song), and the other, Live at the 1994 New Orleans Jazz Fest, his affinity for Elmore James-style slide guitar blues. John's sporadic recording hasn't afforded him the level of name recognition of some of his more famous peers, and his place in New Orleans R&B history is largely unknown except to aficionados.
Beginning this week, that changes in a major way. Tuesday, June 10, marks the local and national release of Deacon John's Jump Blues, a CD and DVD project born out of a historic concert on Jan. 7, 2002, at the Orpheum Theater. On that night, John led a New Orleans big band that featured Wardell Quezerque conducting the horns, and a parade of New Orleans luminaries -- Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, the Zion Harmonizers, Teedy Boutte, Henry Butler, Davell Crawford -- made guest appearances.
Electricity filled the air that night at the Orpheum. The house was packed, and with multiple film cameras roaming through the balcony and in front of the stage, there was a sense that magic could happen, and this was Deacon John's long-awaited moment in the spotlight. John knew it, too. He proceeded to lead the band with quartz-timing precision and undeniable flair, brandishing his beautiful sunset-colored '65 Gibson wide-body guitar and dressed in a sharp suit and his trademark fedora hat.
Music aside for a moment, there was one indelible moment that summed up John's commitment and belief in the project. Near the end of the concert, John pulled out some fancy dance moves that would have exhausted a man a third his age on a triumphant version of "Goin' Back to New Orleans." But a technical problem -- the only one of the night -- forced John and the band to perform the song a second time. The charismatic Creole performer didn't blink; his grin only seemed to get wider, and he displayed his nifty footwork with even more enthusiasm the second time around.
That sense of joy and professionalism is palpable throughout the resulting DVD. The project's benefactor, Vetter Communications, spared no expense in capturing John's personal and musical persona. The concert was recorded using the most modern cutting-edge technology: HDTV and 24-bit high-resolution audio, encoded with Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. As a result, the spectacular stage set-up and lighting complements the brilliant performances, illuminating moments like John spurring on Amadee Castenell's dynamic sax solo on "Losing Battle"; every sashay and wink-and-nod of John and Boutté's duet medley of Shirley and Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Feel So Good"; and John showing his church roots in a collaboration with the Zion Harmonizers on "Any Day Now." Castenell's sax work throughout is an homage to late greats such as Lee Allen, and the other standout of the band is drummer Herlin Riley, who gives a clinic on tasteful New Orleans drumming and drives the whole affair atop his elevated perch at the back of the stage.
While the CD of Deacon John's Jump Blues is subtitled "Music From the Film," it's misleading. The CD is newly recorded studio versions of songs featured in the concert, with the same supporting cast. (It also features a version of Dave Bartholomew's "Hook, Line and Sinker," which isn't on the DVD.) The CD was recorded with similar care as the DVD, using vintage equipment and microphones. Though it's hard to match the physical rush of the live performances on the DVD. That minor quibble aside, it's still easily the best recorded representation of John's formidable talent, and the CD that he's deserved to make for the past 30 years.
Best of all, the concept of Deacon John's Jump Blues doesn't end with this DVD and CD. Those are the first two components of a trilogy, and the final piece of the puzzle is a full-length documentary film of John's life that pays tribute to New Orleans R&B and John's place in that pantheon. That movie is currently in production and tentatively scheduled for release next year. It's been a long time coming, but Deacon John's moment in the sun is just getting warmed up.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Deacon John's Jump Blues is a career- defining DVD and album from an undersung New Orleans legend.