Deejay/archivist CH genuflects before the underground New Orleans duo for his latest “Sonic Reducer” column.
SONIC REDUCER / CARL HANNI
By Carl Hanni
That vaguely industrial throb coming out of the speakers? That’s just the gears slowly starting to move before the low rent drum machine kicks in, followed by an organ theme down low and dirty, followed by another, higher organ line and then, just like that, we have lift off and have already achieved cruising altitude. But where is this thing going? And how did we get here? And where is here, anyway?
“Witch In The Club,” yeah. A pean to the murky dangers and most likely illicit pleasures of night clubbing in the sprit-infested deep underground of New Orleans. A steady rolling, deliriously catchy and danceable bayou boogie, built on Quintron’s thrumming Hammond organ groove. The purveyors are New Orleans Ninth Ward power couple Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Quintron: lanky, rock & roll cool like Lux Interior was rock & roll cool, player of some seriously badass organ and his infernal home made rhythm contraption, the Drum Buddy. Miss Pussycat: blonde thrift-shop misfit goddess, player of badass maracas, and mistress of puppet shows that veer from the surreal to the raunchy and the apocalyptic. They both sing, write the songs and extrude a New Orleansian version of yin and yang; he’s seemingly aloof and not especially approachable, she’s engaging and definitely approachable. Oh, and they play the devil’s music.
There might not be a whole lot truly new under the full musical moon, but there are always potent regional and local hybrid’s out there, and Quintron has long been perfecting a mutant strain of swampy, low-brow gutter raunch. From his willfully crude early solo recordings up to his most recent – ambient field recordings made during a long residency at the New Orleans Museum of Art – Quintron has always gone his own way. But that Quintron way is not exactly uncharted, and there was likely a path, of sorts, which he widened and made his own. Quintron does, after all – and even though he’s not a native – live in New Orleans, the cradle of American music and the birthplace of jazz, R&B and good portions of blues, soul and rock & roll to boot. Not to mention the even more localized sounds of the second line strut, bounce and NOLA hip hop, and, out in the bayous, swamp pop and zydeco.
So, “Witch In The Club” is indeed part of a long tradition, where the rolling-dice-with-the-devil spirit of rock & roll and R&B went straight to the tap root and got filtered back via the voodoo histrionics of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the agitated boogie of Bo Diddley, the smart-ass sexuality of Andre Williams and even the country fried swamp boogie of Tony Joe White. It not hard to spot some potential localized precursors, especially the low-fi recordings of the great New Orleans organist James Booker, and some of the earliest solo recordings by NOLA icon Dr. John, back when he added the double soubriquet The Night Tripper to the end of his already assumed name. In fact, it’s not big of a leap to consider Swamp Tech, the record that “Witch In The Club” is taken from, as being a modern bastard child of Dr. John’s classic Gris Gris album from 1968. Just add several decades of punk rock, raunchy soul and a stubborn DIY POV, and the line opens up.
New Orleans has always been a city of local characters, from the shoe shine guy that tracks his lineage back to Marie Laveau to larger than life musical characters like Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, Ernie K. Doe, Professor Longhair and Big Freedia. Quintron and Miss Pussycat are part of that tradition, and “Witch In The Club” is one of their many hedonistic calling cards.
So, Quintron and Miss Pussycat are part of a murky environment that not includes almost a century of music of dubious moral standing – from Storyville jazz to astoundingly profane hip hop – but more recently includes a whole subculture of New Orleans based circus crews and modern freak shows. It’s largely a hermetic, sealed sub-sub-culture, one that doesn’t instinctively open up to outsiders, but also one with a direct sense of purpose and it’s own code of right and wrong. Herein you will find folks that more than flirt with any number of dark sides. Forget hyperbole, story telling and clever word play. In New Orleans, it’s entirely possible that there is, indeed, a witch in the club.
This piece was originally written for the latest issue of Oxford American, but, for reasons beyond my control, wasn’t included in the magazine. The entire magazine is dedicated to Louisiana music and is, as always, worth seeking out.
Carl Hanni is a music writer, music publicist, DJ, disc jockey, book hound and vinyl archivist living in Tucson, AZ. He hosts “The B-Side” program on KXCI (streamed live on Tuesday nights 10-12 pm at KXCI.org) and spins around Southern Arizona on a regular basis. He currently writes for Blurt and Tucson Weekly.