LIVE: Davell Crawford @ the Cock ‘n Bull, 1/20/16

January 27th, 2016, 4:00 pm by Greg
Davell Crawford

Davell Crawford

Review and photographs by Michael Hochanadel

“We better get right to it!” said Davell Crawford, doffing his coat enroute to the Yamaha spinet in the corner of the Cock N’ Bull dining room, apologizing for arriving late after Amtraking from Manhattan to Rensselaer at 7 and taking a cab up to Galway. He kept his cap on, noting he was dressed down: His luggage hadn’t made his flight from Minneapolis to New York the day before after a two-day, four-show Allen Toussaint tribute.

He looked up, around the converted barn, walls festooned with farm tools; then, he got right to it. He played and sang from 8:15 to 10:05pm; noting near the end that he’d planned to play all New Orleans music, “but I guess I moved away from that!” He sure started there, though, and kept pilgrimaging back in song. You could feel him thinking his way from song to song in easy-flowing unbroken glides, but you couldn’t see the seams since he played without any.

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Servers glided among the tables, delivering drinks and dinners smoothly, though the room was packed, some fans standing around the edges. I had a table up close where gumbo, salad, blackened grouper with rice and sautéed squash and a dessert called “ooey gooey cake” that should be illegal appeared before me. Davell reached down and opened the cover over the piano’s soundboard, letting it rest on his knees; and he patiently re-opened it after a helpful fan dashed to replace it, thinking it had fallen open. He adjusted the mic, and he floated us all down the Mississippi with these songs:

“Somethin’ You Got” (Chris Kenner) upbeat, happy rock

“I’m Walkin’” (Fats Domino & Dave Bartholomew) a smooth rolling Fats classic

“Down to Bourbon Street” (I couldn’t find the provenance of this party number) – like the first two, this was fun and bouncy, ala Fats Domino himself. Afterward, Davell paused and proclaimed, “I’ll drink to that,” then sipped the cocktail placed atop the piano. He did a double-take and exclaimed, “Whoa! This is a sazerac! Who MADE this?! You all ever been to the Monteleone in New Orleans? This is just about as good. Who MADE this!?” Good mood confirmed and bolstered, he pulled back on the tempo with “Everything Must Change” (George Benson) his first slow number; and as fun as Davell is on rockers, stroll-beat numbers, swing-time and New Orleans funk, he’s a devastating ballad singer.

“Please Send Me Someone to Love” (Percy Mayfield) upbeat, and for the first of many times, he cued clap-alongs from the crowd by hitting his thigh with his right hand while his left pushed the pulse of the tune. EVERYBODY clapped and most managed to hit on the one.

“All These Things” (Allen Toussaint) slow love song, on a stroll beat

“Three Little Birds” (Bob Marley) rocking! – a bold and boisterous transformation

“Pain in My Heart” (Otis Redding) slow, dramatic; he added the doo-wop-y “sh-bop, sh-bop” chorus from “I Only Have Eyes for You” as the coda and got a good sing-along

“Sweet Touch of Love” (Allen Toussaint) with a fervent, spoken intro of deep respect

“Working in a Coal Mine” (Allen Toussaint again) short, bouncy, kind of a tease

“Iko Iko” (a 1953 hit by his grandfather, James ”Sugar Boy” Crawford, as “Jocamo”) – the spunky, familiar Mardi Gras street-parade chant

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (by folkie Ewan McColl and a big hit for Davell’s second godmother, Roberta Flack, who replaced Ruth Brown, his first, on Brown’s death) slow and fervent

“Hit the Road Jack” (Ray Charles) segue to “Crazy” (Willie Nelson) segue to “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (Ray Charles) – a great medley with slow and mid-tempo passages

“Tipitina” (Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd) – Davell got the crowd to sing the “la-la” nonsense coda, rocking and rolling fun

He then wandered through classical reveries in segues from Chopin like and Debussy-esque flavors to marches to:

“I Was Born to Sing the Gospel” (Marion Williams, a hit for Aretha Franklin) segue to “Down by the Riverside” (trad.) segue to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (Charles H. Gabriel, 1907 – No, not the Charlie Gabriel who plays sax and sings with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; he’s only 83, the youngest of 21 in a family band, but I digress) segue to “This Little Light of Mine” (lyrics: Avis Burgeson Christiansen; melody Harry Dixon Loes), this whole eight-minute run was energetic, spirited, kick-ass gospel/soul

“Ti Na Nay” (variation on “Hu Na Nay” I think, a tune associated with 1950s regional hit maker, the revered Carol Fran, Davell’s mother’s godmother) like a nonsense Mardi Gras chant, upbeat romp

“Southern Nights” (Allen Toussaint) segue to “Many Rivers to Cross” (Jimmy Cliff) segue to “It’s Too Late” (Guitar Shorty) segue to “Shall We Gather by the River” (Robert Lowry) segue to “Because We Can” (not the Bon Jovi song, but I don’t know where he got this) segue to “Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, a gigantic hit for Ray Charles). The start of this was pure delicious lyricism before the focus changed to more upbeat gospel numbers. It was all good, but the “Southern Nights” > “Many Rivers to Cross” pairing was outstanding

“Big Boss Man” (Luther Dixon and Al Smith, an R&B hit for Jimmy Reed) blues, ala early rock and roll

“If Ray Charles Were Here (to Carry On)” – tribute to Ray Charles and James Brown – upbeat

“All I Ever Need Is You” (Dunno where/who this is from) – jump blues

“Tenderly” (Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence, a hit for everybody from Rosemary Clooney to Bill Evans) segue to “Mona Lisa” (Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, huge hit for Nat King Cole, and beautiful in the hands of Aaron Neville) really sweet medley, each song given room to breathe and charm

“Junco Partner” (James “Wee Willie” Waynes first recorded it in 1951, but James Booker owned it: a druggie’s serenade) Davell stood and spoke a long intro about shunning requests, including for this song, which he refused to play until he could identify with its message of redemption – very cool upbeat lament, ending with a turn toward Jesus

“What a Wonderful World” (Bob Theile [as George Douglas] and George David Weiss, forever identified with Louis Armstrong) – slow and sweet and steady; and no cheap-ass Satchmo imitation bullshit, either

“Ode to Louisiana” (Davell Crawford original) slow and sentimental

“Can’t Find My Way Home” (Steve Winwood) – held the homeward-yearning mood of “Ode to Louisiana” and drew the crowd into a loud, spirited sing-along that turned into a standing ovation

Davell Crawford

Davell Crawford

Afterward, following a parade of fans’ accolades and selfies with the ever-patient star, Davell and I sat in the bar over sazeracs brought by the aproned ‘tender who said these were only the second and third of these he’d ever made and accepted Davell’s praise with a bow.

Davell cooperatively identified the mystery guys I couldn’t identify from the huge band I’d seen with him at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest last May on the (biggest) Accura Stage. The nine-year-old trumpeter at the stage-left end of his six-piece horn section was his nephew, Leon “Deuce” Brown Jr., and the guitar player was Detroit Brooks, playing next to bassist George Porter Jr. – Porter’s third set that day.

Davell said he’ll be playing Jazz Fest this May 1 – the second Sunday – on the (second largest) Gentilly stage, the last stage where Allen Toussaint played. He said he’d resisted impresario Quint Davis’s urge to “theme up” his show around a central idea, like his Fats Domino tribute at Jazz Fest 2015. When I told him that was my favorite set at that Fest, he proudly said it was acclaimed by consensus as one of the top 10, period. I gave him a photo of himself playing that set, cracked him up by asking where he’d gotten the black and red paisley jacket he wore there, and he demanded I sign the photo to him. I returned the favor and asked him to sign the booklet from his CD My Gift to You – a hugely ambitious 17-song epic spanning solo piano numbers to full orchestra blasts.

He promised that this time at Jazz Fest, instead of a themed-up show, he’d play “just a hell of a good time” with songs from the’ 50s and ’60s to now (kinda like his show, just ended) including Allen Toussaint, his grandfather (James “Sugar Boy” Crawford), Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr. John and the Meters.

He said he first played Jazz Fest at 14 in a tribute to his grandfather, then played at intervals ever since, always as a headliner, he added proudly. But he also said he often sat in with gospel singers such as Marva Wright and Irma Thomas.

I raised my drink and suggested we toast the memory of his grandfather. Davell beamed and summoned promoter Paul Siegel (who’d arranged the gig with owner Rick Sleeper, former guitar student of the late, great Jack “Mr. Fonebone” Fragomeni, but I digress…) to snap our photo together, glasses touching.

Davell said playing Jazz Fest is “much different now, because I know what it means.” He acknowledged he didn’t quite get what Quint Davis and George Wein were trying to do initially, back then when he’d first played Fest himself: to celebrate New Orleans music and culture with a spirit of respect and desire to deliver fun. “I do now,” said Davell. “I get it now.”

He said, “Besides that, it’s a chance to honor people from early Jazz Fests, like Mahalia Jackson at the first one, and Professor Longhair, and Tuts Washington – all those New Orleans greats.” He said, “Every time I step out onstage there, I know I’m standing on the shoulders of all those great, great musicians. I’ve been doing this since I was a child, but it means so much more to me now.”

“My first time there, I played on the Gentilly stage in a tribute to my grandfather,” Davell recalled. “I was just 14 and I was playing with his band, with the Sugar Lumps.”

“This time, without any tribute theme, I can be myself again,” he said. “I can jam down and funk it out, and I guarantee, you won’t want to miss it!

Just then, Tony Markellis came over to our table and I introduced them, praising Tony who offered Davell his services next time around, to play bass, plus a drummer from Broussard, Louisiana. First they talked about food and traced the differences between Lafayette (where Davell was born and raised) and New Orleans cuisine; both stating that New Orleanians back down from food-excellence claims in the face of Lafayette’s superiority. Tony has traveled everywhere, first with David Bromberg’s first band, more recently with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s big band, and he’s played with everybody. So, before long, he and Davell were swapping Marva Wright stories and talking about Earl King’s guitar style, about ‘Fess and James Booker.

As he donned his overcoat to leave and his assistant Watson gathered their dinners to go – they planned to be on the road again by 3:30 a.m. – Davell wrote his cellphone number on a bar coaster, handed it to me and said, “We’re not finished talking.”

Then we all headed out into the clear night, grinning and happy at how Davell Crawford had rolled back winter for a time; single-handed, strong and sweet.

Ton Markellis and Davell Crawford

Ton Markellis and Davell Crawford

3 thoughts on “LIVE: Davell Crawford @ the Cock ‘n Bull, 1/20/16”

  1. Michael Hochanadel says:

    Paul Siegel sent along info that helps fill in some blanks in my way-long account of that evening.

    1. “Pain in My Heart” is actually, and very much apropos, Allen Toussaint’s “Ruler of my Heart”…Allen had to sue to get credit, of course…he loved otis and stax…

    2. “Hit the Road, Jack” was written for Brother Ray by the great Percy Mayfield.

    Paul produced Allen Toussaint’s “Songbook” CD/DVD and manages Cuban-born percussionist Pedrito Martinez, who has played here a bunch, but not enough, and who has a new album in the works

  2. Rick says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this evening with us Michael. Such a thrill to have Davell in the barn. What an unforgettable evening on so many levels. When it’s all said and done, these are the nights that we will treasure! More to folllow!

  3. Rudy says:

    Thanks for a great article and pics Mike.

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