There’s some foggy memory, going back to the early ’90s, of sitting down with the HooDoo Loungers’ Joe Lauro (there were no HooDoos then, only Moondogs) and talking, at length, about the great Louis Prima.
Hey, you throw a couple of New Orleans jazz lovers of Italian descent together, and eventually Louis and Keely and Sam Butera and the rest of the Witnesses are going to work their way into the conversation. So it was no surprise when sitting down with Lauro last week to talk about the HooDoo Loungers’ upcoming 10th anniversary concert at Bay Street Theater on Saturday, February 2, we led with Louis.
“It was the first film I did,” Lauro said, referring to “Louis Prima: The Wildest,” a movie he produced which won an audience appreciation award in the 1999 Hamptons International Film Festival. Lauro is CEO of Historic Films, co-owner with Andrew Solt. It is an archival treasure chest which has compiled everything from rare snippets of early musicians and actors to vintage moments of screen history. If you’re watching something on PBS or elsewhere, featuring archaic morsels of antiquated street scenes, performances, or more, chances are they were provided by Historic Films.
His creative journey continued from screen to scene — the local music scene, that is. Lauro has been performing locally for close to 30 years — first with the Moondogs, then with the Lone Sharks. “Gene Casey held court at the Wild Rose, and I got to know him really well. His band would play one night, my band would play another night. He needed a drummer, so I brought my high school friend Chris Ripley over. Chris has been Gene’s regular guy since then.”
After getting Ripley in the band, the call soon came for a bass player, Lauro’s instrument of choice. “But they wanted a stand-up bass player,” he said. “I hadn’t done that since college, and only a little bit. And those guys are really accomplished musicians. I learned so much musically from playing with those guys,” he said.
But the time came for Lauro to strike out on his own. “I wanted to play music that meant something to me,” he said. New Orleans called to Lauro, repeatedly. Besides his early film on Prima, in 2016 his film on Fats Domino aired on “American Masters.” There were many in between for Lauro: films on Howlin’ Wolf, The Supremes, and “Rejoice and Shout,” tracing the history of American gospel music.
After going down to New Orleans for 20 years — “now 30” — he decided to create a band inspired by that Mardi Gras sound. “And that’s not easy to do,” he acknowledged. Finding the right players was key. “The drummer, Dave Giacone, is the heart and soul of the band. Because all of those ‘Nawlins’ rhythms are very different than what a typical band might play. There’s street rhythms, and marching band rhythms, so if he gets called to sub with one of the local bands, he can jump in, but I can’t get a sub, because there’s no local players who know how to play this style.”
Fronted by Dawnette Darden, “a natural talent, she can sing anything,” he said, “there’s a whole spirit about it, that’s just not like anything else.” Rounding out the band is David Deitch on keyboard and accordion, Michael Schiano on lead guitar, vocalist Marvin Joshua, and the HooDoo Horns — Ed Leone, Gary Henderson, and Brian Sears on trombone, trumpet, and sax.
“It was really founded by me and David Deitch,” Lauro said. “David is key. He does all the orchestrations, and we are a score band. We have orchestrations and arrangements, for the horn section, for example. We don’t just go out there and jam.” The band will mix up their original material, which is the majority of what they play, with a few familiar covers. “We’ll stick an Aretha tune in there, or something like that, but it’s mostly original, although because of the orchestrations, the songs can sound familiar. It’s that New Orleans rhythm.”
“And keeping together a nine-piece band is not easy,” said Lauro, smiling. “But this group is the greatest.”
“Heads & Hearts & Hips,” the HooDoo Loungers’ most recent CD, their second, was voted CD of the Year in 2018 by the Long Island Blues Society.
The Hoodoo Loungers will celebrate their “10th anniversary bash” with special guests Dan Koontz on keyboards and Morris Goldberg on penny whistle and clarinet. Goldberg “played penny whistle on Paul Simon’s legendary ‘Graceland’ album and we are delighted to have him aboard,” Lauro said. The show starts at 8 PM on Saturday, tickets are available at http://www.baystreet.org.
Moving forward after this concert, Lauro sees the band expanding its reach. “We’re not like the local sensations here,” he said. “We’re not like Nancy Atlas or Inda Eaton, or even Gene. We’re more like a big band — I see us playing out more at music halls and places like that, maybe up and down the coast a little. We’re doing a bit of that but I would like to do more. And play the festivals,” he added. But, if that doesn’t pan out — “I don’t know. Ten is a nice round number,” he said with a laugh.