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Breathin’ fiyo:Three NOLA greats play under one Krown

by Ryan Snyder

Even as one of the masters of the New Orleans Hammond B-3 sound, Joe Krown might not be a NOLA boy from birth, but he’s as steeped in the city’s musical heritage as anyone. From his regular gigs at the famed Maple Leaf to his buttoned-down performances at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, there aren’t many corners of the country’s greatest musical heritage that he hasn’t explored. His current incarnation is as the Joe Krown Trio featuring Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste, Jr. A mouthful to say, indeed, but between the three masters rests a profound love and reverence of jazz, funk, blues and R&B with the skills and musical arsenal to match.

YW!: With so deep a pool of music from which to draw between the three of you, how do you build your sets?

JK: It’s pretty much a call-it-as-I-feel-it kind of thing. Sometimes I’ll just turn to the guys and say, “Russell call a tune” or Walter, what do you feel like singing?” It’s a pretty on-the-spot kind of thing, which is how we like to do it because it leaves a lot more spontaneity.

YW!: Spontaneity is the hallmark of a Joe Krown Trio show? JK: It’s one of the focuses, that anything can happen and anyone can do whatever they want and we’ll all kind of jump towards it. In other words, if Russell, in the middle of his drum solo starts another song, we’re right with him, or if I start quoting a melody from a tune in the middle of a solo they’ll start playing the changes with me. It’s one of those things where we I like to encourage everyone to give me input on it and we all go in whatever direction any one of us feels like at the moment.

YW!: Your Organ Combo was active for so long and put out a lot of records; what do you do differently with the Trio?

JK: The thing about the trio that’s different is that we’re all bandleaders.

We have our own bands and careers and all that stuff. The trio is going to be different in the sense that we’re all playing each other’s music and our own. The Organ Combo has a bass player and in the Trio, I don’t play pedals, but I do play left-hand bass. So it’ll have that classic organ sound in the sense that organ carries the bass in the band. Just the personalities of Walter and Russell, in this trio I encourage them to have their personalities be a part of the sound. If it means a little bit of a different groove or a tempo in something that I’ve written, I encourage them to bring it as they feel it.

YW!: You mentioned everyone in the trio being a bandleader in their own right. What does that do for the group’s chemistry?

JK: I’m kind of the guy who put it all together, I’m kind of the driving force in this and in fact, Walter told me that he prefers to be billed as a sideman because he doesn’t want to have any sort of conflict in his band the Roadmasters. The other thing about it is that Walter has many times said to me that it’s just nice not to have the stress of being a bandleader. Just to be up there and plug your guitar in and play a set and unplug your guitar and walk off the stage. It’s a nice luxury from being a bandleader for 30 years where everybody’s issues you had to deal with. I can appreciate that and that’s the situation I’m in. They’re all about it in a lot of ways and I know my name’s out in front on it just because there has to be a point person talking to the booking agents and directing the show, but by no means on stage does it work that way at all. We play more of their music than my music throughout the night. It’s always a follow-the-leader set-up, but the leader can change at any given time. My idea was I can treat you guys like side guys that I hire, or we can go a partnership at this because we would definitely sell many more records than if it were just my name on here.

YW!: Sort of like PBS (Porter Batiste Stoltz) did. JK: Correct. I don’t know how the business was done in PBS, whether there was a point person. I know they had management that handled all three of them. Russell is a unique individual to say the least and to try and get information about how business is run, I’m not even sure he concerns himself with that.

YW!: I’ve always heard that the general rule of thumb at the Maple Leaf is to expect the unexpected. What are some of your more memorable collaborations or sit-ins there?

JK: We’ve had some really great players come and sit in with us. Leo Nocentelli, Fred Wesley, we’ve had a revolving door of great musicians sitting in. We all have our schedules and when Walter can’t make it I get someone like June Yamagishi of Papa Grows Funk, who is one of New Orleans great guitar players. I’ve used Papa Mali many times. When Russell can’t make it I use Raymond Webber. We’ve had Stanton Moore come and play with us, Johnny Vidacovich always comes and plays with us, who’s a real pleasure. When I can’t get these two guys, I just call the best I can get and I end up playing with all of my favorite guys.

But wait, there’s more! Find out Joe’s thoughts on “Treme,” the irrepressible personalities of his bandmates and the next generation of NOLA greats at yesweeklyblog.blogspot.com.

wanna go?

Catch the Joe Krown Trio live this Friday at the Triad Stage in Greensboro.

From left, Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste, three Crescent City legends, take on Triad Stage Firday night. (courtesy photo)

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