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The Core: Trombone Shorty

by Mike Greenhaus on October 07, 2013

Trombone Shorty discusses his new Raphael Saadiq-produced album Say That to Say This.

More Than One Direction
Some of the guys I went to school with in New Orleans moved out to California to play in Raphael Saadiq’s band a few years ago, and they introduced me to him a while back at Outside Lands in San Francisco. When it came time to make a new record, I thought it would be a great fit because not only is he a great producer, but he is also a musician. He got in the room and jammed out with us on some different things. He was able to lead us in some different directions and we were able to lead him in some different directions.

Long Weekend
I took some time off at the end of last year and flew out to LA to meet with him and his band. He wrote a tune for me—“Long Weekend”—while I was there and put down the foundation. But the exciting part, for me, was seeing how my band [Orleans Avenue] would gel with him. So the next step was that the whole band went out to LA to record in his studio. He has all this vintage equipment. I wanted to go out there so I could focus a bit more. I wanted this album to have a different feeling than the other albums, which were recorded in four or five days between tours. I wanted to see what we could create if we had a solid few weeks in the studio. We were able to dig deeper and not have to worry about switching back into the onstage mentality. We wanted to see if we could outdo ourselves.

Reuniting The Original Meters
We have one guest on this album: The Original Meters. We did a cover of their song “Be My Lady” [from 1977’s New Directions]. That album was actually the last time they recorded together in the studio as The Meters. I reached out to the members of The Meters and was able to reunite them in the studio. They all agreed to come help a young man out. It was the last track we did. I was listening to the record and realized we didn’t have any mid-tempo ballads and it worked out. I had some tracks we could have slid into that position, but it was exciting to take the journey of trying to make the reunion happen. I got them in the studio all at one time. [Non-original member Cyril Neville also participated in the session.] It was crazy: At the end of one take, they just started jamming and going into whatever they normally do and, despite whatever differences they have, at that moment, it all went out the window. I still have it on my hard drive. I was able to be part of the band for that one day. This one track had nothing to do with Raphael—I didn’t even tell my band, I surprised them.

Friendly Competition
I have been playing with some of my core band since I was 11 or 12—half of my life. We continue to learn from each other. When I was younger, I was playing with a lot of older musicians, and I wanted to bring [friends my age] in and build a sound together. There is a little friendly competition going when we take solos—we push each other. For me, musicianship is first but I like to play with the energy I have onstage. My whole goal in making a record is to create something that will intrigue someone to go see us live. When we play live, anything can happen.

Playing for the President
I met and played for President Obama twice. I got to talk with him for a few minutes—he was nice and encouraging. He is very cool. He’s so cool you forget that he’s the President when you are talking to him. He lived in Chicago, so he knows music. I played the White House with some of my idols: Jeff Beck, Booker T., B.B. King, Derek [Trucks] and Susan [Tedeschi], Mick Jagger. So I’m onstage with all these people, and then, I look out in the audience and the President is there. I almost forgot where I was. I got to live a bunch of dreams at the same time.

Uncle Lenny
Lenny Kravitz took me on the road right out of high school. If I hadn’t experienced that, I don’t know what I would sound like today. He’s like my uncle. We talk and catch up when we can on the road. I always ask him questions. I can call him at two or three in the morning and he’ll be there. Sometimes he’ll text me out of the blue and tell me he’s proud of me.


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