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Wednesday, 28 December 2011 06:00

1/29/17                                              A True Story

                                           Part 1: On Bourbon Street


For most of my career working as a musician in New Orleans, well over half of my professional career now, I avoided performing on Bourbon Street. But for three years, I was booked there at least twice a week.  I first played Bourbon Street five years before I moved to New Orleans, when EJ, the great electric guitarist who was a street fixture for years, wanted a break, and put me up there, saying “play Stormy Monday,” which I didn’t do. Several years later, after I moved to NO, I did a series of gigs with Rockin’ Jake, aka Larry Jacobs, duo engagements for the week before Halloween. New Orleans can be weird enough without bringing Halloween into it. 

I was put off by a variety of things during that short stint on Bourbon Street, not the least of which was the occurrence of being sent home after a couple of sets one night when the “ring” wasn’t up to snuff.  The manager checked the cash register every set break.

Certainly, the general pandemonium and hooliganism prevalent on Bourbon Street could put anyone off.  It can be hellish, really, surreal in its scope, sights, sounds and smells, and that’s before you take into account the occasional shootings.

I admit that I often thought I was missing something, though, something essential to the New Orleans musician experience, by not working on Bourbon.  Al Hirt, The Meters, Sam Butera, Louis Prima and Pete Fountain are among the many players to work the street over the decades.  I suppose also that I thought I was missing out on some essential dues paying. So I put some time in, three years, three shifts a week, Mondays and Tuesdays, and met mostly wonderful people along with the shakier citizens. I also met or renewed relationships with some remarkable musicians, especially Frank Fairbanks, a splendid soul band guitarist who also knocks out Jerry Reed stuff like crazy, and Dwight Breland, a brilliant guitarist and pedal steel player, and Billy Gregory, formerly guitarist with It’s A Beautiful Day, and as good a player as anyone playing blues on a Telecaster. Rain Jaudon has his stage patter so well developed he doesn’t really need the library of hundreds of songs that he knows, knows well enough to play guitar and bass on and sing the lead vocal and whatever harmony is necessary in any venue in the world. Cranston Clements is another guitarist who is as comically funny as he is musically adept, and that’s pretty damn funny.

Though I rarely trespass onto a Bourbon Street Stage in this day and age, I am proud to have been one of the many in that mostly fraternal congregation of musicians. I learned dozens of songs, got 100 dollar tips every now and again, and played in front of people such as Patti Boyd, also known as “Layla” from the Eric Clapton song, formerly married to Clapton and a Beatle: George, the quiet one.


I was setting up one evening to do a solo act when I noticed an attractive woman of indeterminate age sitting at the bar, with a ‘60s style blonde haircut with bangs. She caught my eye and waved and blew me a kiss and said something, and I smiled back politely, noticing the somewhat crusty man next to her wearing a sort of LA hippie inspired fringed jacket, leather hat, several days of beard, and a proprietary look about him. He looked, in fact, like a hanger-on at a Buffalo Springfield rehearsal, around the time when things started to go downhill for the band.

I don’t really think facing down a boyfriend or husband in a Bourbon Street bar was a good idea, never have. But flirting with the two punky looking women from Manhattan seemed fun, and they made sensible requests, always refreshing from a Bourbon nightclub audience. I could see, from the stage, that they had my website on one of their cell phones, and I thought that I’d get fifteen minutes of set break flirting out of them, maybe.

And then I lost their attention, totally, to my disappointment, which attention was diverted to the blonde of indeterminate age who was still sitting with the former-rock-stars’-former-Michoacan-weed-connection dude, both steadily drinking the hard stuff on their bar stools. And so the evening progressed, and they all took pictures together, and toasted each other with shots, and more shots, and more pictures, and then the two punky thirty-somethings rose unsteadily to go. But before they wobbled to the door, one of them came up to me and said, “sorry, we lost track of you. That lady we were talking to?!? Her name is Patti Boyd?!?!?” And I said, “The original Layla?” “Yes! She was married to, uh, Eric Clapton and George Harrison?!?!? We looked her up on google and found recent pictures, and it’s really her!?!?!?” And off into the Bourbon night she and her friend went, hopefully safely.

I finished up four sets, silently thanking myself that I had not played any Eric Clapton or George Harrison covers, especially the ones about her. Those guys called themselves guitarists-in-law, although it seems somehow they passed her around like a joint at a party. Songs inspired by her beauty including Something, Layla, and Wonderful Tonight are all tunes in my commercial repertoire, dated as it is. Patti Boyd and the guy who I now figured for a bodyguard were at the bar, where she was deeply engaged in conversation with a paunchy guy in an Hawaiian shirt which helped, somewhat, to disguise his heart-attack-on-a-plate-style-protuberant belly. But as I walked by her, she looked away from him and caught my eye, and smiled. She really was quite beautiful in that moment, not the cherry-cheeked British model girl of the Sixties, to be sure, but still, there was a Layla deep in there somewhere.

I pretended not to know who she was.

“You…are a very handsome man,” she said in a light British accent.

“Coming from a beautiful woman like you, that is a very great compliment.”

Layla looked me deeply in the eyes. “Give me some sugar.”

I leaned in very slowly, maneuvering around the guy in the Hawaiian shirt, who glared at me. I came closer, and closer, and kissed her lips gently, and held this kiss, just lips gently touching, with this iconic woman for a four count before slowly backing away, looking her in the eye.

“Whoa,” said Layla.

I had forgotten about the tourist in the Hawaiian shirt until I looked down as I slowly backed away. His hand was about six inches down Layla’s stretch blue jeans…not the Bell Bottom Blues jeans of forty years back, but the ones right in front of my eyes, which tried hard to unsee it. The words “Time to go” flew out of my mouth, or maybe I only thought they did, though I could hear them clearly.

I shouldered my guitar gigbag and made for the door. As soon as I hit the street, I checked my phone, dialed her up on the ‘net, and yeah, for sure, it was Layla in that bar.

I kissed the wife of a Beatle. 


Last Updated on Monday, 30 January 2017 14:26