Carlos Lando: New Orleans loves their musicians. The shining jewel of this country is the way that people just have a reverence for what good music is all about and you certainly epitomized that Kermit. First of all, you came up in the 60s and early 70s. That’s a special time for music evolving and so forth. You weren’t necessarily right into Armstrong right at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about being a young man and gravitating towards music and from there getting out there and hustling.
Kermit Ruffins: Yeah man, I came up in the lower ninth ward, I mean actually right where the levees broke on Jordan Avenue during Hurricane Katrina. I came up in the lower ninth ward and went Lawless Senior High School where my band teacher, Mr. Herman Jones…my god without Mr. Herman Jones and my uncle Percy Williams, that plays trumpet with Irma Thomas right now. My uncle used to come by my house every Saturday and just let me play on his trumpet. I was about six, seven years old. When I got to high school, I got my first trumpet in the eighth grade. And I played all those parades. Mardi Gras parades, football games, basketball games, and forming a small band within the marching band. And finally, I went to the senior high school at Clark Senior High School and met Phil Frazier and started the Rebirth Brass Band in 1982. We hit the road for about 15 summers in a row before I decided not to travel no more cuz the Rebirth was a lot of fun and a lot of wear and tear.
Carlos Lando: Tell me a little bit about how you just evolved into the man you are today. Kermit Ruffins, the Barbecue Swingers.
Kermit Ruffins: One day man I went down to the place called Mulays (sp) and got me a shrimp po’ boy…and while I was waitin for my po’boy, I played the jukebox and I played Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling”. When I heard that solo that he played on there, I just lost it. I went crazy on nothing but Louis Armstrong music…any videos I can get my hand on. And during that time, I started just going to Tower Records that used to be here downtown and I started renting all the black and white videos of all the old-timers…Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Count Bassie. I fell in love with the big band and that style of music and the way those guys dressed. Just the love that they had on stage for the music, especially Louis Armstrong. So, I just lost my mind and dove into that stuff man and I never looked back.
Carlos Lando: We’re talking with Kermit Ruffins in his home in New Orleans and he’ll be out here for our signature fundraising event at Balistreri Vineyards on August 10th. It’s Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. Now, you know, by 1993 you were just getting that group set up.
Kermit Ruffins: All I could think about is just playing simplicity at it’s best. You know just real simple and just sing the words clear as I can and play the tune like they used to play it back in the days but just a little bit more updated. But I just love the New Orleans traditional and I just love the storytelling of those tunes. The stories behind the tunes you know it’s so genuine and so loving. And just happy music.
Carlos Lando: Well, I know one thing. The great series on HBO “Treme” certainly opened up our eyes to the passion of people in New Orleans. The resiliency of people in New Orleans, coming out of the heels of Katrina. And of course your participation in that series and so forth. It introduced you to a national audience as well. Do you have some good memories about “Treme”?
Kermit Ruffins: The HBO series “Treme” was um the best thing that could have happened to New Orleans far as letting the world know that we’re here and we’re still here after the hurricane. David Simon came to my house about a year before the hurricane looking to do a movie, an HBO series about the lifestyle of musicians and everybody in New Orleans and HBO told him no. And then after the hurricane, HBO told him yes. I know it helped a lot of people. It let the world know that we were still here you know. And New Orleans is always ready for a good party. And it’s good to see the city coming back. I mean, that’s the story of our life right now.
Carlos Lando: This conversation can’t go on much further without delving into the relationship between New Orleans musicians, in this case, you, and food. After all, your band is called the Barbecue Swingers
Kermit Ruffins: Man, when I tell you, I love to cook. I used to bring a little hibachi and put on the tailgate of my truck just so we can have something to snack on for the break. And before you know it, I just started feeding the whole freaking crowd. And I woke up one morning and said “Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers”.
Carlos Lando: Kermit, so you’re going to be here in less than two months. Big party. We’ll have about a thousand people outdoors, eating, drinking, having a good time.
Kermit Ruffins: Yes, indeedy. I’m quite sure I’m going to find a nice restaurant and grub out before showtime and have me a case of Bud Light on the side of the stage and I’m going to show you a thing or two. Can I say that?
Carlos Lando: Yes you can. You can say whatever you want Kermit.
Kermit Ruffins: Hey this is Kermit Ruffins! I’ll see ya’ll at the Vineyard on August 10th. We partyin! All aboard!