John Howell column 11-16-12

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 16, 2012

Monque’D, other musicians cheated; seeks Tipitina’s help


It was the signature door knock of our New Orleans neighbor, J. Monque’D, rendered with a force of magnitude sufficient to be detected on the nearest Richter Scale. He makes sure no one inside the house could use the excuse that he did not hear it.

He had been cheated, he said. The promoter of a weekend music festival on the West Bank had paid him and dozens of other musicians with post-dated checks. By Monday morning he had learned, even with the Veteran’s Day bank holiday, that there were scant funds in the account on which the checks were written.

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So he needed a ride to the Tipitina’s Foundation, the non-profit spinoff of the Uptown music club founded in 1977 as a neighborhood juke joint where the revered Professor Longhair could perform his unique music during his final years. Tipitina’s Foundation was created in 2003 to support and preserve New Orleans music and the musicians who perform it, including J.Monque’D.

“I was counting on that money; I don’t know what I’m going to tell (his landlords),” he said as we drove toward the foundation’s mid-city office. The foundation’s support includes free legal help for New Orleans musicians. He would meet with one of the lawyers who volunteer their help to musicians. There may be some insurance or bond that will eventually get the stiffed musicians some portion of their due, but the need of J. Monque’D, and probably many others, was immediate.

J. Monque’D has slowed considerably in recent years. His gait has been restricted by circulation problems in his legs, but he’s adopted a snazzy walking cane. Though he’s reached the age to draw Social Security, there’s not much there for him, he told us once. He was usually paid in cash or tips during his musical career. Little was paid into the system on his behalf.

But when he gets on stage, he pumps out his trademark “Swamp Blues,” in booming voice and harmonica, always a great show.

Offstage he’s loud and high maintenance. We have always speculated that he has been cut from the invitation list of some venues because of it. J. Monque’D lives, through some fault of his own, the blues he plays.

We later learned that on that same day New Orleans musician Bob French had died. He was a drummer and leader of the Original Tuxedo Brass Band founded in 1910. He was also a deejay for WWOZ, the city’s public radio jazz and heritage station, where, between playing the music of the city’s musicians, his remarks were often caustic and controversial. Often they were directed against the exploitation of musicians, like J. Monque’D.

Ever the contrarian, French left instructions that his would be a low-key sendoff instead of the traditional second-line jazz funeral.

During French’s radio broadcasts on WWOZ, he often voiced a policy that J. Monque’D and the other stiffed musicians would have been well to heed:

“In God we trust; all others pay cash.”