Before NBC, MTV or anyone else puts on a telethon to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, they might want to explore some ancillary issues. To wit: New Orleans is a city famous for its famous musicians, but many of them are missing. Missing with a capital M.
To begin with, one of the city’s most important legends, Antoine "Fats" Domino, has not been heard from since Monday afternoon. Domino’s rollicking boogie-woogie piano and deep soul voice are not only part of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame but responsible for dozens of hits like “Blue Monday,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walking (Yes, Indeed, I’m Talking).”
Domino, 76, lives with his wife Rosemary and daughter in a three-story pink-roofed house in New Orleans’ 9th ward, which is now under water.
On Monday afternoon, Domino told his manager, Al Embry of Nashville, that he would “ride out the storm” at home. Embry is now frantic.
Calls have been made to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s office and to various police officials, and though there’s lots of sympathetic response, the whereabouts of Domino and his family remain a mystery.
In the meantime, another important Louisiana musician who probably hasn’t been asked to be in any telethons is the also legendary Allen Toussaint.
Another Rock Hall member, Toussaint wrote Patti LaBelle’s hit “Lady Marmalade” and Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.”
His arrangements and orchestrations for hundreds of hit records, including his own instrumentals “Whipped Cream” and “Java” are American staples. (He also arranged Paul Simon’s hit, “Kodachrome.”)
Last night, Toussaint was one of the 25,000 people holed up at the New Orleans Superdome hoping to get on a bus for Houston’s Astrodome. I know this because he got a message out to his daughter, who relayed to it through friends.
Also not heard from by friends through last night: New Orleans’s “Queen of Soul” Irma Thomas, who was the original singer of what became the Rolling Stones’ hit, “Time is On My Side.”
Let’s hope and pray it is, because while the Stones roll through the U.S. on their $450-a-ticket tour, Thomas is missing in action. Her club, The Lion’s Den, is under water, as are all the famous music hot spots of the city.
Similarly, friends are looking for Antoinette K-Doe, widow of New Orleans wild performer Ernie K-Doe. The Does have a famous nightspot of their own on N. Claiborne Avenue, called the Mother-in-Law Lounge, in honor of Ernie’s immortal hit, “The Mother-in-Law Song.”
Ernie K-Doe, who received a 1998 Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, died in 2001 at age 65.
Dry and safe, but in not much better shape, is the famous Neville family of New Orleans. Aaron Neville and many members of the family evacuated on Monday to Memphis, where they are now staying in a hotel.
But most of the Nevilles’ homes are destroyed, reports their niece and my colleague at “A Current Affair,” Arthel Neville. She went down to her hometown yesterday and called me from a boat that was trying to get near town.
“This isn’t like having two feet of water in your basement,” she said, holding back tears. “Everything is destroyed. I am just so lucky to have been born here and to have had the experience of New Orleans."
She confirmed that there had been rumors of dead bodies floating around her Uncle Aaron’s house yesterday. So far, the Nevilles are unannounced to participate in Friday’s TV telethon.
And still there are plenty of other famous musicians associated with New Orleans who would probably like to be on TV if they’re high and dry.
The Marsalis family comes from the city, and they’ve played at most of the well known clubs like Tipitina’s, The Maple Leaf, Preservation Hall and Muddy Waters.
New Orleans is also one of the few cities with a House of Blues. And Jimmy Buffet’s Margharitaville Café chain has a local franchise that is still an attraction.
New Orleans’ trademark sounds are Cajun and Zydeco. So far none of the listed benefits have named an act that plays that kind of music.
Meantime, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres’ spokeswoman tells me she will address the hurricane on her first new show of the season. The show tapes this afternoon in Los Angeles and will air on Tuesday.
DeGeneres is a New Orleans native, although it’s unclear whether or not she still has family there. But city residents will no doubt be looking to her as a strong public voice and advocate.
Her publicist, Melissa Gross, says she’s received many calls from people all over the country asking what DeGeneres would do to help victims of Katrina. Gross says a plan will be in place by Tuesday.
Since we’re on the topic of music (and imperiled music at that), the great New York club CBGB’s held a concert vigil in New York’s Washington Square Park yesterday afternoon.
Despite pleas from Mayor Bloomberg, and a show put on by Blondie and other groups, CGBG’s lease expired this morning and the landlord says it won't be renewed.
The landlord, Bowery Residents Committee, refuses to negotiate a new lease with them even though CBGB’s recently won a court case against them.
The villain in this piece is Lawrence "Muzzy" Rosenblatt, director of the homeless shelter and hospital that took over CBGB’s lease a couple of years ago.
To Rosenblatt, the efforts of the mayor, as well as other club supporters like "Little" Steve van Zandt (of "The Sopranos" and Springsteen fame), are not enough. He wants the club out and a higher-paying tenant like Old Navy or Starbucks in.
The only recourse for CBGB’s is to shame the better directors of the BRC board into doing the right thing.
They include New York Times writer Julie Salamon — who covers the arts, of all things — as well as Genevieve Chow of JP Morgan Chase; attorney Jeffrey B. Rosen of the law firm Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin, & Kahn; Marcy E. Wilkov of American Express; and attorney Simon Miller of the law firm Greenberg Traurig — a firm that specializes in making money off the music industry.
Do these people really want their firms to be remembered as the people who shut down CBGB?
Of course, as I reported a couple of weeks ago, the board has a serious conflict of interest on its hands. The Bowery Residents Committee, which with a $25 million war chest is no small-time operation, has listed the property to be shown by Cushman and Wakefield.
Alex Cohen, of C&W, is, coincidentally, on the board. And none of this explains the position of Seedco, the group that helped BRC raise their initial money and remains an important tax-free contributor.
One of Seedco’s missions, according to its Web site, is to further small arts organizations in downtown New York.