Next door, a seafood restaurant and sports bar was in the process of opening for the day, with an employee sweeping the sidewalk out in front and more “where y’at’s” exchanged between him and some neighborhood folks on the sidewalk. The weather was beginning to heat up as I rode the streetcar back to Canal Street, and when I arrived at the hotel, registration had begun at the conference.
I met some people and networked for awhile, and then decided to go to Domilise’s Po-Boys for lunch, so I walked to the foot of Canal and caught the Tchoupitoulas bus headed Uptown. When I got to the right area, I got off and walked a block from Tchoupitoulas to Annunciation Street, which was a street of old 19th-century cottages with the latticework and front porches, battered, but still standing, As soon as I turned the corner onto Annunciation, I could hear the rat-a-tat of drum sticks, and, sitting on the porch of the last house before the big building on the corner, was a small boy, maybe about 11 or 12 years old who was practicing his sticking with a practice pad on his knees. The corner building had no signs visible at first, but around the corner on the sidestreet was a small sign that read “Domilise’s.” Unfortunately, the restaurant was obviously closed, and a small sign in the door stated that they didn’t open on Thursdays or Sundays. Somewhat disappointed, I asked the boy if he knew of any other good po-boy spots in the neighborhood. “Just them on the corner, ” he replied, so I walked back over to the shopping center on Tchoupitoulas, and while I didn’t find any poboys, I did find a PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bar, where I was able to cool my disappointment with a chocolate granita.
It took an hour for the bus to come back through headed back to the French Quarter, and I made my way back to the hotel. Then, walking into the quarter, I had hoped to take one of the boat rides out on the Mississippi River, but I soon found that their last runs were at 2:30 in the afternoon. As I walked along the Riverwalk, I noticed the men in boats along the rocks at the river’s edge, frantically spraying water and detergent, trying to clean the results of an oil spill some weeks back that had resulted from a collision between an oil tanker and a tugboat. The acrid smell of oil (and probably solvents as well) was covering the whole Wollenberg Park area, but I walked up to the Spanish Plaza at the foot of Canal Street, and into the Riverwalk Mall. The mall, which had been an exhibit building during the 1984 World’s Fair, had lots of shops, but not much in the way of restaurants. Many former eating places were closed and abandoned, so I walked back into the Quarter, and made my way to the Redfish Grill, which was owned by one of the famous Brennan family of restauranteurs. The place was a little pricey, but not excessively so, and the seafood was incredibly good.
Back at the hotel, the lobby was filled with members of the Houston Texans football team, who were in town for a pre-season game with the Saints at the Superdome. People from the Cutting Edge conference were asking some of them if they were attending the music conference, and they kept having to explain that they were football players. Around 10 PM, I walked back east to Jackson Square and made my way to the Cafe du Monde, where I enjoyed some beignets and cafe au lait. Then I headed back to the hotel, hung out for awhile, and ultimately went to bed.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.
There was a Denny’s just outside the resort gate, so I ate breakfast there and then headed south on I-75 toward Tennessee, stopping once for a breve latte at Starbucks Coffee. Once I was in Tennessee, I headed south into Oak Ridge, where I left some Haystak materials at Hamp’s Records before driving into Knoxville. I spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting JK’s Records and Cat’s Music in Knoxville, but going to the east side of Knoxville proved to be rather difficult because I-40 had been closed downtown. On Magnolia Avenue, I found that Where It’s At Records had closed, so I drove out to Sevierville, and made my last visit of the day at the Cat’s Music there. Further east, near Dandridge, there was a restaurant called Cowboy’s on the shore of a reservoir, and I ate dinner there, although the lake view was better than the food, in my opinion. Down in the little town of Dandridge, there was a crowd gathered at a barbecue and steak restaurant, and I walked around the area, snapping photos of old historic buildings and homes. Across the lake, there was a new motel, with a restaurant called Angelo’s at the Point, but I had already eaten, so I got back in my car and headed back toward Knoxville. On the Tennessee River downtown, there was a gathering of Knoxville-area Parrot Heads, as the fans of Jimmy Buffett are called. They were having a picnic, cook-out and live music concert, and it appeared that they were getting ready for a boat trip as well. I went to the Calhoun’s on the River restaurant there and enjoyed a slice of key lime pie while watching the sun set over the river and listening to music playing outside on the riverfront deck. I had called Memphis jazz pianist Donald Brown to see if he knew of any jazz going on in Knoxville, but he wasn’t playing, and one of his sons was playing in Crossville, Tennessee and the other was playing at a Knoxville brewhouse, but the place was a rock club, and he didn’t expect they would be playing jazz. So I settled for a jazz club called Swanks in Maryville, and found that there was a quartet playing there, although the music was more R & B than jazz. Driving back to Knoxville, I rolled past Baker Peters Jazz Club, but there the music was loud from the outside balcony, and was definitely rock, so I made my way back to my room at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was crowded with Pop Warner football kids in town for some kind of tournament, and they seemed to be running all over the hotel, but I had no trouble falling asleep.
On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.
I checked out of the Sheraton, and used my iPhone to locate a breakfast place called the Half Day Cafe, which turned out to be in a little village south of Sharonville called Wyoming. The cheerful, brightly-colored restaurant was crowded, but I had no trouble finding a table, and enjoyed a great breakfast there. Then I headed to CD Warehouse in Sharonville, CD Exchange in Kenwood and Everybody’s Records, dropping off Haystak postcards and posters, before Abdullah called me to meet him at a coffee bar near the University of Cincinnati. First I dropped more promotional materials at CD Game Exchange on Short Vine Street, and then I ran into some young men in front of a recording studio, and I talked with them briefly about Select-O-Hits Music Distribution, and then headed up the street and over to Taza Coffee Lounge, where Abdullah and a young rapper from the Elementz program were waiting for me. After enjoying a latte and talking with them, I headed on to Shake It Records on Hamilton Avenue, and then over to the westside CD Warehouse, listening to the CD of Cincinnati soul star Kenny Smith which I had purchased at Everybody’s Records earlier in the day. Afterwards, I headed across the bridge into Kentucky, and I decided not to eat dinner in the area, but to drive on to the Louisville area. The sun was just beginning to set when I arrived in Louisville, and I drove across into Jeffersonville, Indiana to the Buckhead Mountain Grill, which had an outdoor deck and was built on the bank of the Ohio River. Although it was somewhat cool, and a lot of people were out on the river deck, I chose to eat indoors. After dinner, back on the Kentucky side, I drove to Underground Sounds and then to Ear X-Tacy in the Bardstown/Highlands area. I had seen a place called the Pie Kitchen on Bardstown, so after I finished distributing promotional materials to record stores, I drove back there and enjoyed a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade chocolate silk pie just before they closed for the night. Then, driving downtown, I easily found the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where I valet parked my car and checked in. My room was large and spacious, with a beautiful view of the downtown skyline, and, better yet, an iPod dock that played the music on my iPhone. The hotel was within walking distance of the Fourth Street Live district, but I decided to go on to bed instead.
I checked out of the hotel the next morning, and drove out to Charlie Browns Pancake House in the town of Speedway, which literally sits in the shadow of the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The unpretentious little breakfast diner offered great food at low prices, and I asked the waitress if any of the NASCAR drivers ate there. “All the time, ” she replied. The rest of my day was largely spent driving around to numerous record stores, mostly Karma locations, although I also left posters at Vibes, Ear Candy, Extra Strength, City Music, Unborn Records, Joe Lee Records, Naptown Music and Dragged Up Music. It was nearly 5 PM when I left Indianapolis, and I stopped at Karmas in Shelbyville and Greensburg on the way to Cincinnati. I had called my friend Abdullah from Elementz Hip-Hop Youth Center in Cincinnati, so when I got into town, I drove into Over The Rhine, and after getting lost a few times, I finally made my way to the center. I was given a tour of the facility and met many of the young people, who were learning production, breakdancing, graffiti art, and most of all, respect for themselves and others. I wanted to eat dinner, but I decided to wait until the center closed so that Abdullah and some others from the center could go with us. We ended up heading out to the Cheesecake Factory in Kenwood, where we barely got in to order before closing time. The food was really good, and then I headed out to the Sheraton North Hotel in Sharonville, where I had reserved my room.
When I awoke the next morning, I checked out of the hotel, and then drove down to the Pie Pan on North Park Drive for breakfast. The restaurant was a local favorite, and rather crowded, but I had a delicious breakfast and then I drove downtown to the Evansville library, where I used old phone books and city directories to research the city’s music history. Through the 1960’s, there had been a couple of recording studios and record shops in Evansville, as well as a number of night clubs on Lincoln Avenue, which seemed to be the center of Evansville’s Black community then. In the early 1970’s, there was a Black record store called the Soul Shack at 765 Lincoln Avenue, and a couple of night clubs. The Outta Sight Lounge was at 229 Canal Street, which was actually the address on one of the Pure Love Records 45s, and a yellow pages ad for it in 1974 stated “Top Flight Entertainment” “New Modern Off Street Parking” “Air Conditioned” “1 PM to 3 Am” “dancing”. An advertisement from 1976 touted Mr. B’s Checkerboard Lounge “Top 10 Soul Entertainment Dancing”. The club had been at 800 Lincoln Avenue. I learned that the 10th Street address on some Pure Love 45’s was John L. Robinson’s house, and I assumed that John Robinson might have been Johnny Soul. The last Rock Steady 45 had an address on Washington Avenue that a recent directory listed as the address for a Sidney Scott, so apparently Steady Wailin’ Sid was still living at that address some 30 years later! Somewhat enthused, I headed down into the Lincoln Avenue/Canal Street area to look for landmarks, but I was soon disappointed. Although Canal Street appeared on my iPhone, it didn’t exist anymore in real life, having been disrupted by some sort of new housing development. Barely a block of it remained, and no commercial buildings that may have once lined it were still standing. The same had largely been done to Lincoln Avenue as well, with no trace of the Black business district remaining except a large brick building that once had been Club Paradise and now was a daycare center. Johnny Soul’s old house on 10th had evidently been torn down for a parking lot, and 800 Lincoln Avenue was a vacant lot. 765 Lincoln, where the Soul Shack Record Shop had been, was still standing but now contained a barber and beauty salon. Stopping at Uptown Music on the corner of Washington and Kentucky, I mentioned my interest in Steady Wailin’ Sid to the owner, who said “Sid that lives down the street here?” He called him and arranged for me to meet him after noon. From there I headed over to Coconuts Music near the mall and left posters there, then browsed at the Book Broker until it was time to meet with Sid Scott. When I called him, he invited me down to his house, and talked for some time about his dual careers as Black journalist and soul singer. I discovered that he owned the Black weekly newspaper in Evansville nowadays, and he talked about his experiences at Stax Records in Memphis. He also told me about the Kitty Kat nightclub he used to own on Riverside Drive in Evansville, and finally, he sold me copies of his 45s and LP. By now, I was really behind schedule in heading north to Vincennes, and, when I got there, the record store there seemed to be closed. I called the Ars Nova sheet music store in Bloomington and learned that they closed at 6 PM, but an employe agreed to stay open for me to make it from Vincennes, so I headed out quickly, noticing the massive, abandoned hulk of an Executive Inn on the north side of town. I had often wondered about that rather strange hotel chain that seemed unique to the Ohio River valley, and noticed that its hotels seemed to be falling on hard times. Rushing into Bloomington, I headed straight to the Ars Nova store, where I purchased a number of piano scores by Joseph Achron, Elie Siegmeister, Virgil Thomson and Frederick Delius. Thrilled with my discoveries, I headed on into Indianapolis, where my jazz drummer friend Laurence Cook was playing at Rick’s Boatyard Cafe on the westside. The restaurant was built beside a reservoir, and the last daylight was fading as I sat at a windowside table. There was an outdoor deck and bar that was a little more rowdy, but I sat indoors, enjoying a seafood dinner and the live jazz group that was playing. Afterwards, I drove downtown and checked into the Marriott Hotel.