Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans

 
9780917860645: Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans
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May 1961, and one tune was sitting pretty atop both the R&B and pop charts: Mother-in-Law became the first hit by a New Orleans artist to rule black and white airwaves alike. Ernie K-Doe was only twenty-five years old, and his reign was just beginning. Born in New Orleans s Charity Hospital, K-Doe came of age in a still-segregated South. He built his musical chops singing gospel in church, graduating to late-night gigs on the city s backstreets. He practiced self-projection, reinvention, shedding his surname, Kador, for the radio-friendly tag K-Doe. He coined his own dialect, heavy on hyperbole, and created his own pantheon, placing himself front and center: There have only been five great singers of rhythm & blues Ernie K-Doe, James Brown, and Ernie K-Doe! Decades after releasing his one-and-only chart-topper, he crowned himself Emperor of the Universe. A decade after his death, lovers of New Orleans music remain his loyal subjects. Journalist Ben Sandmel takes readers backstage in this intimately framed biography. Here are all the highs: Billboard raves, rock-star parties, a string of early hits that remain local staples. And here are the lows: profligate spending, go-nowhere releases, and years lost to alcohol. And here, too, is the magical second act: a radio show with a cult following, a new generation of protégés, and a fresh lease on life and love. In its broad outlines, K-Doe s story parallels that of his beloved, beleaguered city. He rose, fell, and rose again, weathering storms and lingering long after most considered him down for the count. In the end, he literally rose from the dead: an eerily lifelike statue of K-Doe held court at his castle, the Mother-in-Law Lounge, for years after his 2001 passing. Volume two in the Louisiana Musicians Biography Series, Ernie K-Doe: R&B Emperor of New Orleans features exclusive interviews with Ernie, Antoinette, and more than a hundred musicians, friends, and family members. The series, launched in 2010, exemplifies The Historic New Orleans Collection s commitment to preserving and celebrating the region s unique musical culture.

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About the Author:

Ben Sandmel is a New Orleans based journalist, folklorist, drummer, and producer. His articles about Louisiana music have appeared in national publications, including The Atlantic, and have been anthologized in such collections as Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 and From Jubilee to Hip Hop: Readings in African American Music. Sandmel has written liner notes for over a hundred albums. He is also the author of Zydeco!, a collaborative book with photographer Rick Olivier. Sandmel has worked for the Louisiana Folklife Program as a field researcher and writer documenting traditional music and occupational folklore. He produces the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, an oral history venue at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He has produced and played on four albums, including the Grammy-nominated Deep Water by the Cajun/western swing band the Hackberry Ramblers.

Review:

I love this book. Ben Sandmel has captured and conveyed the loopy genius, linguistic and musical, that was Ernie K-Doe, self-anointed Emperor of the Universe, and a character par excellence in a city full of larger-than-life characters. Ernie K-Doe put them all in the shade, and Ben Sandmel tells you how. The prose is lively, the quotations generous, the photos and graphics spectacular. This is one of the five essential books on New Orleans culture. You gotta get it. --Eric Overmyer, cocreator of HBO s Treme

Ben Sandmel tells K-Doe s story for real here, plus the stories of lots of other cats that I knew and gigged with and loved. This is a very cool book. --Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), Grammy-winning musician and songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee

Ben Sandmel tells Ernie K-Doe s tale with respect and sensitivity, scholarly research, a musician s inside understanding, and considerable wit. A compelling, lively and well-written. look at the irresistible music and street culture of New Orleans, as performed and lived by one of its most memorable talents. --Tavis Smiley, Broadcaster, philanthropist, and author of the best-seller What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America

A vital, loving chronicle of the colorful life and frequently hard times of the New Orleans R&B singer and self-styled Emperor of the Universe. To many, Ernie K-Doe (1936 2001) is a one-hit wonder: His evergreen oldie Mother-in-Law topped the pop and R&B charts in 1961. But to New Orleans journalist Sandmel (Zydeco!, 1999), the vocalist was much more, and this smart, funny and richly designed and illustrated book makes a rousing case for the musician as a quintessential Crescent City figure. Born Ernest Kador Jr. in the city s Charity Hospital, K-Doe authored his hit single and other lively R&B tracks for local Minit Records, but a follow-up smash proved elusive. While he maintained a hometown profile as a hardworking performer in the James Brown/Joe Tex mold, K-Doe was best known for years as a DJ on New Orleans WWOZ. There, his lunatic manner, unique lexicon and stream-of-consciousness raps cemented his status as a NoLa institution. Megalomania, alcoholism and a propensity for professional bridge burning left him virtually homeless by the late 80s. However, he enjoyed a second act in the 90s after he opened his famed Mother-in-Law Lounge with wife Antoinette, who restored him personally and professionally. The club, which often doubled as the K-Does living room, attracted a crowd of tourists, oddball locals, young musicians and journalists (including the New York Times Neil Strauss, who had a notorious set-to with the eccentric proprietors while on assignment in 2000). K-Doe s saga didn t end with his death: He maintained a bizarre afterlife at the Mother-in-Law and around town in the form of a life-sized sculpture created by local artist Jason Poirier. Though severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the lounge was restored and run by Antoinette until her death in 2009. Despite a multitude of personal faults, K-Doe emerges here as hilarious, complex and indomitable a larger-than-life character altogether worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of his city s oversized musical titans. A vital, essential addition to the shelf of great books about New Orleans. --Kirkus, starred review

Ben Sandmel tells Ernie K-Doe s tale with respect and sensitivity, scholarly research, a musician s inside understanding, and considerable wit. A compelling, lively and well-written. look at the irresistible music and street culture of New Orleans, as performed and lived by one of its most memorable talents. --Tavis Smiley, Broadcaster, philanthropist, and author of the best-seller What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America

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