Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Thank You, Mr. Butler

The one and only Henry Butler lost his battle with cancer yesterday.

The first night of my very first visit to New Orleans twenty years ago, I saw Mr. Butler perform at the Funky Butt on North Rampart Street. If you know me, or if you've just been a long time reader, you know my life was changed after that first trip to New Orleans. My knowledge of New Orleans music prior to setting foot in the city was basic. Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, The Meters and The Neville Brothers. I had heard of but not actually heard the music of so many artists that now seem like they have been part of my make all along. Henry Butler, for example.

There were a couple of records released on the Impulse label with names like Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden. Some CDs passed through my shop on the Windham Hill label. Was Henry Butler jazz or New Age? I didn't know and hadn't bothered to find out. Then, the night at the Funky Butt, downstairs in a room the size of your average living room, jam packed with bar stools and couches, with a piano shoved tightly against some French doors that opened onto Rampart, Mr. Butler finds his way to the keys and I hear Professor Longhair, James Booker, Beethoven and Monk all in the same song. His voice shook the Quarter, a wail somewhere between Paul Robeson's baritone and Ray Charles' heartbreak. This could only be New Orleans.

In 2005, Mr. Butler did an in-store at my shop. It was a modest turn-out, with a handful of New Orleans diehards in their glory. It was a special day for those who made it, a 45 minute set, not unlike those solo performances at Jazz Fest or the Butt.

Mr. Butler was diagnosed with cancer in January of 2017 and continued to perform until as recently as June of this year.

I never once called him Henry the handful of times I was in his presence. Always Mr. Butler. I bet he dug it as much as I did. He was an amazing talent and I’m grateful that I got to hear him perform as many times as I did. Gonna miss Mr. Butler.

If you feel like checking out some of Henry Butler's music, I suggest the following records:

Blues After Sunset
Viper's Drag w/ Steven Bernstein and the Hot 8 Brass Band
Vu-Du Menz w/ Corey Harris (my personal fave)


Anonymous said...

My New Orleans music collection is mainly a few compilations so I've just dusted around the edges really and never ran across Mr. Butler.

Must've been way cool to have him play in your store. Sorry about his loss but thanks for the heads up to his great music.


Anonymous said...

My NO stuff has been collected single by single over the years, except for some Nevilles, the stellar debut by Wild Tchoupitoulas (Had to buy the CD as an import, but worth it!), a Lee Dorsey comp (Still one of my favorite R&B artists), and a Prof Longhair album as percussive in its key-tickling as Bonzo was on the skins. That's a compliment. My intro was the movie Big Easy, which has a great soundtrack. Such spirit! I can't decide which Irma Thomas version of Wish Someone Would Care I like better -- her 60s version or her waaaaay-stretched-out 70s version in which she sounds like she's watching her kids get tortured to death.
I will check out Mr. Butler's stuff!
C in California

buzzbabyjesus said...

I can tell from the track you posted that he was some kind of piano player.
NO is a special place. I need to go back.

pmac said...

Born, raised and have lived most of my life in New Orleans. Lucky (and old) enough to have seen Professor Longhair, James Booker and Henry Butler perform numerous times. In my opinion, Henry's live shows were consistently better than anyone's. While I enjoy Henry's own recordings, it seems like he really stood out when he was a sideman to someone else's project. I got to see him perform at The Funky Butt a good number of times, but he also was a mainstay fir Bob French when his band performed at Donna's, a club about a block away. Also, check out Henry's performance on Papa Mali's album, Do Your Thing, and the song, Honeybee - simply amazing.
For a great retrospective of Henry's career, and the high esteem that fellow New Orleans' musicians had for him, check out Marc Stone's Soul Serenade on WWOZ from yesterday (its a 2 hour broadcast and, by the way, Marc is a great blues guitarist that has several recordings out!). Here's a link to the broadcast that has been archived for 2 weeks on OZ's website: https://www.wwoz.org/listen/archive/.

Michael Giltz said...

Any tribute that includes "The Funky Butt" must be connected to New Orleans and is sure to be good. Spotify has precious little from him so I'll keep searching this stuff out. Thanks for the warm appreciation.

Michael Giltz said...

Wait! Success! searching for his name only brought up three recent albums and appearances on some compilations. But searching for the album titles brought up both Vu-du Menz and Viper's Drag. How spoiled and lucky we are to have great stuff at our fingertips. Why in my day we had to walk through the snow to find albums. Uphill. And they were on cassette!!!

A walk in the woods said...

That was great... thanks for sharing. I'm sorry he has passed.

Michael Giltz said...

The duets album w Corey Harris is terrific fun. Kicking myself for never seeing him in concert. (How could I miss him at NYCD??!!)

And now I've gotta check out more Corey Harris too.

One album down, 10,000 great albums out there to go! :)

Sal Nunziato said...

@michael Giltz

Check out Corey Harris’s Daily Bread and Downhome Sophisticate. My two faves.