Legends reunite in Crowley
Legendary blues musicians, from left, Lazy Lester, Lee Allen Zeno, Jockey Etienne and Little Buck Senegal, played together at Crowley City Hall on Tuesday. A statue of famed Crowley music producer J.D. Miller stands in the window behind them.
Lazy Lester signs a picture of himself which was hanging on the wall at Crowley City Hall. Looking on is Acadia Parish Tourism Director Charlotte Jeffers.
Somewhere J.D. Miller was smiling.
For one historic afternoon, the second floor of Crowley’s City Hall was temporarily shut down and Miller’s legendary recording studio was reopened.
A lineup of some of Miller’s top recording artists — Lazy Lester, Warren Storm, Lee Allen Zeno, Little Buck Senegal, Guitar Gable and Jockey Etienne — were in town to take part in a documentary being filmed by a Canadian film company.
“We’re hoping to have the film complete in time for the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto in April of next year,” said Daniel Cross, the movie’s director. “We don’t have a permanent title set for the film but for now we are calling it ‘Old Blues Devils.’
“I became interested in J.D. Miller while I was doing some reading on blues in Louisiana and Mississippi,” Cross added. “I was surprised to learn that his studio was one of the first in the south to be integrated. There was a wealth of blues musicians who played in his studio back then, including the guys that are here today. For me, this is a historic afternoon.”
And for all of the aforementioned “devils,” it was a chance to reunite with old friends and do what they do best — play a few songs together.
Though Miller may not have been able to attend, two of his sons — Billy and Mark — were there.
“I grew up with these guys,” said Mark Miller. “Lester and his girlfriend used to babysit me when I was just a child.”
The event was made possible by New Orleanian Ira Pandros, who was contacted by Cross to help bring the musicians together. Cross, founder of the annual Ponderosa Stomp Music Festival in New Orleans, used his connections to contact each of the musicians who were in Crowley on Tuesday. Some, including California native Lazy Lester, traveled a long way.
“We were hoping to have Carol Fran (a soul, blues singer from the 1950s and 1960s who recorded in Miller’s Studio) here as well, but she was unable to make it,” said Cross. “All of these guys recorded with J.D. Miller at one time or another.”
Though nobody was quite sure how long it had been since the men had played together, the group’s bond was evident and despite their ages (all of them are over 70 years old), they didn’t seem to miss a beat.
They also had a camaraderie anong them that only they could understand. Lazy Lester, the group’s oldest at 81, and Senegal playfully picked on each other throughout their performance.
“I don’t understand why you can’t get this right (a song’s opening chords) ... maybe it’s because I haven’t turned Cajun like you have,” said Lester.
“Maybe it’s because none of us were born when you wrote that song,” replied Senegal.
Though Lester’s age was evident as he moved and spoke slowly, it seemed to disappear as soon as he put a guitar in his hands or a harmonica to his mouth.
The group played songs like “They Call Me Lazy” and “The Ponderosa Stop” to the delight of the crew.” When it came time to perform “Sugar Coated Love,” Storm took over on drums and vocals.
“Can you believe that man is 75-years-old and he still sings like that?” asked Mark Miller to no one in particular.
As soon as the song finished, Storm leaned towards the mike and said in his trademark voice “Hell, let’s cut that thing.”
When they stopped playing, the group stayed around to visit with Lester and Gable being asked to autograph pictures that were hanging on the wall. Then the men parted ways with one of them joking “We need to do this again in about 20 years.”
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” said Gable as the group departed. “I’m still jazzed up.”