Performing In New Orleans
French Quarter Festival
Satchmo Summerfest Stage,
Friday, April 8, 4:35 p.m.
Mo' Fest B-3 Summit
Tuesday, April 26, 7:00 p.m.
Raised in Westbury, Long Island, New York, keyboardist
Joe Krown commenced playing piano as a child. In college at the State
University of New York at Buffalo, Krown discovered the Hammond B-3
organ and after his fifth semester, departed undergraduate life for
a distinguished career as in-demand sideman. In 1992, he moved to
New Orleans to become a full-time member of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's
band, an ensemble with which Krown has toured all 50 states and most
of the globe's nations. When Krown is not on the road, he regularly
performs solo gigs and leads his own Organ Combo, which has just
released Livin' Large, an album featuring eight original instrumental
Krown compositions (including "Under the Influence" and "Dame Dreaming"),
as well as selections by Combo members Brent Rose and Jim Markway,
and a simmering cover of Joe Sample's "My Mama Told Me." It's the
perfect soundtrack for crawfish boils, pole dancers or your next
illicit cheap motel rendezvous.
Were you familiar with Gatemouth before
you joined his band?
I knew about him, I knew who he was. That style of
music that Gate is into is stuff that I was trying
to study at the time. I had been out on the road with
another guy, Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson, in the late
'80s. From that band I got hired into Gate's.
Do you remember the day you met him?
Oh yeah. We were in a hotel up in Canada and I was
looking for the road manager and out popped Gate. I
was a little intimidated by him. He was pretty cool
with me up front. There were certain things that I
was real good at doing, certain things that I wasn't
as versed at. The way Gate would describe stuff was "Play
more like this" or "Play less like that." He's not
a real big fan of New Orleans music so anytime I cut
into any kind of New Orleans stuff, he was like, "Okay,
don't do that. Don't play any Professor Longhair style
piano-don't do any of that at all on any of my stuff." He
hates that, he doesn't want that, that's not what he's
Gate does a wide, wide range of music from way, way
uptempo swing stuff to regional Gulf Coast music, which
is Cajun, zydeco, Texas country, and of course, the
blues. I played all the blues and jazz stuff fine for
him. When we went into doing some of the Cajun stuff,
I really wasn't as versed, coming out of the Northeast.
He would direct me: listen to these guys. Listen to
Floyd Cramer-don't play blues on a country song, play
Gate was real specific about organ playing. There were
certain organ players that he liked and others that
he just couldn't stand their style. He loved the Jimmy
Smith style and he hated what we call "block chord
style," which is something like what Wild Bill Davis
played or Bill Doggett.
You see, the organ really came into effect in the late
'40s and early '50s when they were trying to scale
down the big bands. The organ was playing all the big
band arrangements and it sounded very chordal. When
Jimmy Smith came out, he was one of the most prominent
players of the B-3 playing jazz and that's what Gate
liked to hear. He wanted single notes, like a tenor
sax solo would be. After gigs, Gate would say, "Don't
give me that Shirley Scott stuff-give me that Jimmy
Smith stuff." I was like, "Whatever you want." The
man's your boss-that's what you've got to do when you
have a boss.
A lot of the ways he phrases stuff when he plays-especially
the swing stuff-is very horn-oriented. He wanted to
hear you blow. That was his whole thing. When he was
coming up, there was a whole competition between players
where they'd have cutting sessions. They'd have one
band and line up the guitar players and see who could
outplay who. I'm pretty sure that in his time Gate
was probably the quickest draw, the fastest hand-whatever
you want to call it. He didn't have the hits that somebody
like T-Bone Walker or Guitar Slim had but he certainly
was able to outplay all those guys. That's what his
His signature tune ["Okey Dokey Stomp"] is an instrumental.
That's what he's known more as-an instrumentalist rather
than a singer. B.B. King was originally a crooner.
Gate has a reputation for being a lot of different
ways but after working with the man for 15 years, you
don't just see that. A lot of people think he's a hard
guy to work for but everybody's hard. From where I
was coming from, I was working with an older blues
man, he was an alumnus of the Muddy Waters band, Luther
Johnson. Gate was easier than Luther. Luther was not
very educated and his range of emotions was either
loving or hating-nothing in-between. Gate has a very
big family thing-the band is a family, we're out here
as a family. You've just got to look at Gate as your
dad. He's going to spew and you've just got to take
Let's touch on Gatemouth and what he thinks of other
musicians. He likes Louis Jordan, he likes Count Basie,
he likes a lot of the jazz players-he loves Oscar Peterson.
As far as rock 'n' roll and blues players, he pretty
much doesn't like any of them.
We toured with Eric Clapton for about 60 dates in 1995.
Gate has this thing where he thinks all blues guys
are copying somebody else and that they should be original.
Then when he hears somebody doing something original,
he doesn't get it-it's beyond him. So really what he
likes is himself and he loves Count Basie. He's very
competitive about guitar players.
I heard Clapton play for almost three hours every night
for 60 nights and he tore it up every night. Gate,
on the other hand, took it as "Here's another younger
generation guitar player stealing from the older generation." He
got tired of Clapton's playing instantly and dreaded
it. But Gatemouth doesn't like listening to anybody
for any length of time.
When did you start recording your solo projects?
In the '80s, I had my own band with the first Mrs.
Krown-I'm on number two now. She was a singer and we
had records and worked around New York and New England.
When I got down here, I wanted to continue working
on recording stuff on my own. Around 1996, I hooked
up with STR Records-Sandy Hinderlie was doing solo
piano CDs. I did my first record with Sandy, Just The
Piano, Just The Blues. After doing that, we started
making Organ Combo records. We did three: Down & Dirty,
Buckle Up and Funk Yard. Down & Dirty was the old
school organ stuff that I was playing with Gatemouth.
Buckle Up was a little bit of an all-star session with
George Porter, Jr., on bass and drummer Herman Ernest
and guitarist John Fohl, both from Dr. John's band.
That record was like the bridge-I did some of the old
school stuff, sounding like Bill Doggett and Jimmy
Smith, and I wrote some New Orleans-y material, more
Meters-esque sounding stuff. That was the music that
got the most response-all the deejays were playing
that material. I love the Meters, I love everything
Art [Neville] did.
Livin' Large likewise sounds very Meters-esque.
The influence is there. You can't play New Orleans
funk without having Meters in you. If you're going
to play anything like New Orleans piano, you're not
going to get away with it without having Professor
Longhair. You can't avoid that.
When we put out Funk Yard, we were really just trying
to go down that alley. Funk Yard had really good success-I
made enough to pay it off and made a little bit to
do the next one. In 2003, I did a solo piano CD, New
Orleans Piano Rolls, and in 2004, I did the Sansone,
Krown and Fohl CD. One record a year is what I try
to do. I'm very happy with Livin' Large.
Talk about releasing instrumental records-the
lack of vocals has, at times, bewitched both the Meters and Galactic.
Do people suggest that you sing?
I don't sing but people suggest it all the time. It's
hard selling instrumental records. For me to sell 3,000
copies of an instrumental record, without any distribution,
just me selling it off the stage and at Louisiana Music
Factory and Tower, is solid. At the French Quarter
Festival last year, I sold almost a hundred CDs right
off the side of the stage, after I played. Unless you're
Britney Spears, record companies aren't interested
I'm not looking to move from New Orleans. My wife is
from here, my daughter was born and raised here. Music
is my career-this is a good place to set up base in.
Also, people look at you differently if you're a musician
from New Orleans. They definitely respond to it. Festivals
focus on New Orleans music. It's been nice.
Didn't you used to play with Chuck Berry?
I got involved with this band that was like Chuck's
band in the Northeast. We traveled all over New York
and New England whenever Chuck played up there. It
was all big concert halls.
We were up in Buffalo and Chuck had a rider on his
contract that said he had to have two Fender Dual Showman
amps-that was his only thing. He'd show up with a guitar-a
Gibson 355--and a special 30-foot stereo cord. That's
all he'd show up with. Chuck would play his 60 minutes
and at 60 minutes and one second-no matter where he
was in the song-he would end it and walk off.
We're doing the sound check and Chuck comes in, looks
at the stage and there's two Fender amps and they're
not Dual Showman tops and bottoms. He walks up to the
promoter: "Those are not the right amps. Get the right
amps. I'll be back." The promoter makes some calls.
We're in the dressing room at this point and he's like: "This
is the best I can do."
So the show starts and the comedian comes on. No sign
of Chuck. About ten minutes before the end of the comedian's
set, Chuck shows up. He puts his guitar down and the
promoter comes in. Chuck goes, "Did you get the right
amps?" The promoter says, "That's all they have in
Buffalo. There are no Dual Showman amps available-I
Chuck says, "We have two choices here. In my contract
it says you provide the amps or there's a $2,000 penalty
fee. Do you have the $2,000 penalty fee?" The promoter
says, "I don't have that kind of money." Chuck goes, "Well,
then I guess I walk." He puts his guitar back in the
case, packs up his jumpsuit and starts walking out
of the place. The promoter is freaking out: "Wait!
Wait! I'll see what I can do."
Chuck is telling us, "See, you've got to do this sometimes,
fellows." We're all wondering if the show is going
to happen. The promoter comes back with a check for
$2,000 and Chuck says, "I don't know you. The contract
says cash!" He starts packing his stuff again. The
promoter goes to the box office, cashes the check and
comes back with $2,000 in cash and leaves swearing
and cussing. Chuck turns to us: "There's no way I was
going to cancel this gig. I've got $25,000 riding on
this. But sometimes you've just got to do it to these
guys. They've done it to me all my life and now I can
do it back. That's the bottom line."
Reprinted from offBEAT Magazine, April 2005