Page McConnell, Oteil Burbridge and Russell Batiste: Living La Vida Blue (Relix Revisited)
McConnell, Batiste, and Burbridge spent their first day in the studio just setting up. They played together for the very first time that evening during Batiste’s regular Monday-night gig at the Maple Leaf with the group Papa Grows Funk. Upon returning to the studio the next day, the trio began alternating agenda-free jamming with run-throughs of a few songs Page had brought down with him. The goal was to allow the creative juices of three deeply experienced musicians of different musical backgrounds to coalesce into something unique. So while the chord progressions and melodies for the songs that became “Electra Glide,”“Who’s Laughing Now”and “Final Flight”were in hand, the rest of the album, Page says, “was improvised, created on the spot.”
“When I put the band together, I didn’t know what it would be at all,” McConnell insists. “And I had no preconceptions about how the album would sound other than thinking our chemistry would be good. All I knew was that I wanted to do something that wasn’t completely piano- or organ-based. Much of what I did with Phish was played on grand piano and Hammond organ, and I wanted to spend time on other keyboards.”
If Page is the band’s cool head, the drummer is its trickster god. David Russell Batiste Jr., 36, is a capitol-C Character, whose outgoing personality comes through loud and clear over a thousand miles of fiber-optic cable.
In addition to Papa Grows Funk, Batiste also drums regularly with family band the Batiste Brothers and his own Orchestra in da Hood. In 1989 he replaced Zigaboo Modeliste in the Meters, the funkiest band in New Orleans history and, possibly, the world. He has recorded with Allan Toussaint, Robbie Robertson and Harry Connick Jr. as a session drummer. He’s at work on the follow-up to his 2000 album, Orchestra in da Hood, a highly eclectic journey through the mind of a drummer with a surprisingly sophisticated sense of melody. McConnell and Russell met as members of oneoff group the Gyptians (along with Meters keyboardist Art Neville and bassists George Porter and Mike Gordon), who recorded the title track for Get You a Healin’, a benefit album for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.
Batiste has a special message for Relix readers: “Russell loves to smoke a lot,” he says, referring to himself in the third person,“so feel free to put it in his hands. I showed Page a new meaning of smokin’ blunts. That’s why we got along.We’re basically on the same level all the time, bro, ya know what I’m sayin’?”
“I worry about Russell if this band gets big,” laughs Page, before gracing me with a couple of unprintable stories about Batiste’s larger-than-life personality.
Batiste’s culinary preference inspired both the title and content of the _Vida Blue_track, “Where’s Popeyes,” which sounds like a techno rek through New Orleans’ back streets. “They asked me what kind f food I liked when I got on the road, and I told ‘em the first thing fuckin’ do when I get off the plane or bus is ask, ‘Where’s Popeyes?’ ’m from New Orleans, man. I got to have that flava wherever I go.”
“It’s the first question he asks in New Orleans, too,” adds a disbelieving Oteil Burbridge, who comes off as levelheaded as Batiste is haywire. Burbridge recalls a night on the tour bus when he invited Page to join him in checking out a new comedy album he’d recently bought. “Page said,‘You know,Oteil, I’d really rather sit here in the back lounge and just watch Russell.’And I said,‘You know what? You’re right. That’ll be at least as funny as listening to Richard Pryor.’ So we sat back there and listened to Russell rant all night long, laughing our heads off.And that’s what the sessions were like. Being with Russell is like being with Robin Williams. From the first minute you see him until he leaves, it’s constant show.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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