o you know what it means to miss New Orleans? I'm always more relaxed and cheerful in the Crescent City than in more intellectual and neurotic San Francisco. New Orleans truly is the city that care forgot, a friendly slacker party town where life revolves around drinking and music and dancing and having a good time. It's hard to be in a bad mood here, just walk down the street and around the corner comes a brass band leading a parade of second liners carrying flourescent colored drinks and the next thing you know you're an hour late and many blocks away from where you were headed.

flew into the city on Friday night, descending through lightning steaked thunderclouds hovering north of Lake Ponchatrain. The Arabic cab driver who picked me up at the airport drove 80 mph down Interstate 10 to the French Quarter, in contrast to most of the local cabbies, who usually poke along. Once an old timer driving a cab practically held together with wire coat hangers and duct tape took me into the city down Airline Highway, and at every stoplight the engine died and had to be restarted. We passed the motel that I stayed in the first time I visited New Orleans fifteen years ago, when I threw all my belongings into storage in San Francisco, filled an army duffel bag with clothes and hopped on a plane bound for New Orleans, intent on finding a job and an apartment and staying. I hopped a bus from the airport to the cheapest motel I could find in the phone book, a sleazy joint out on Airline Highway. The manager sat behind a glass window, a big .45 revolver on the desk. The room was nasty, and when I flushed the toilet it backed up all over the floor. I went back to the office and told him I was going to stay all week for Jazz Fest and wanted a better room. Oh man, he said, why didn't you say so, I thought you wanted a room for a whore. He gave me another room across the courtyard, not any better than the first. The toilet worked, but the door to the room had been kicked in, and the metal plate and chunk of wood that had ripped out of the frame were nailed back into the door jamb. All night long hookers brought guys in and out of the room next door, and one night a cab driver dropping me off told me that it was pretty dangerous around there. I found out later that in the Town And Country motel next door were the offices of its owner, Carlos Marcello, the infamous head of the Mafia all over the South, the man responsible for organizing the mechanics of the hit on JFK in Dallas. The inside of Marcello's office door used to sport a sign that read three can keep a secret if two are dead. Jimmy Swaggart was busted with a hooker in that motel years earlier.

hen I got to Dave's apartment on Esplanade, I dropped off my bags and we headed over to Decatur Street, ate at Coop's, went next door to Molly's and had a couple of beers, then walked back to his place, and after we watched an Eddie Izzard DVD I crashed, wiped out from traveling on a plane all day.

aturday morning I stopped by the goth accoutrement shop in the Quarter, Gargoyles, and bought a couple of black net tank tops and a black straw cowboy hat to take back to San Francisco, so I could leave the old one I brought with me at Dave's. Before I visited last time I bought a second Pignose battery powered amplifier and left it with Dave so I wouldn't have to bring one with me every time I visited. As I stashed it in his closet Dave said What, are you moving in? Yeah, I said, can you make some room in your dresser too? Next I reluctantly went grocery shopping at the A&P on Royal Street, since the Whole Foods on Esplanade had closed, and was pleasantly surprised to find the produce section had undergone a make-over and carried organic fruit that actually looked edible.

hat afternoon I hopped the 48 Esplanade bus to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the fairgrounds. The weather was beautiful, sunny, breezy and not too hot. I saw legendary local bandleader Dave Bartholomew and Buddy Guy, who thankfully doesn't fuck around onstage as much as he used to, and the reunion of the original Meters, who also got back together for a show at the Fillmore a few years ago, but I wasn't about to pay $75 for a ticket. Hearing the original band play all those great songs was cool, but somehow the spark wasn't quite there, in part because they're still kind of pissed off at each other, but more so I think because the drummer, Zigaboo Modeliste, has had serious health problems over the years and the beat just isn't as uptempo and sharp as it used to be.

he effigy of pianist James Booker that I last encountered riding on the back of a mobile sound truck in the Quarter at Mardi Gras turned up outside one of the crafts tents

inside of which a Cajun was making guitars.

aturday night I ate across the street from Cafe Du Monde at the River's Edge cafe, which is sort of a tourist trap but it was late and I wanted an omelette and didn't feel like eating at the Clover Grill, the greasy spoon diner on Bourbon Street—I'm over the novelty of eating at places that use auto hubcaps to grill food. Afterward I checked out bands playing the bars on Frenchman Street in the Marigny, the next neighborhood over from the quarter. Frenchmen Street was a pretty well-kept secret for a long time, where the locals hung out to escape from the tourists, but it's been discovered and was a mob scene during Jazz Fest. Wandered back over to Decatur and went dancing at the Whirling Dervish, the only goth club in the Quarter, and said hello in person to someone that I encountered over the Internet a few weeks ago, a beautiful bellydancer from New York City who was in town—unfortunately—visiting her sweetheart.

azz Fest again on Sunday—sunscreen properly applied on my now bright red arms—and the first thing I did was eat.

erformers included Dr. John, Chris Thomas King, and a summit of great Chicago blues harp players performing Little Walter songs, which included (left to right) Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton, Jerry Portnoy, New Orleans native Johnny Sansone, and Carrie Bell.

The only top flight harmonica guy missing was Kim Wilson, who I caught at Jazz Fest last year and said hello to at the Ponderosa Stomp—he's a friend of Dave's. That night Dave and I went drinking at Molly's and Freeman wandered in and joined us. Dave, Freeman and I all used to work together at Towers Records in New Orleans, and Freeman took over my position as the shipping clerk when I left to go work for Record Ron. Dave and Freeman now work at a groovy local record store in the Quarter, the Louisiana Music Factory. Freeman is the hardest drinking guy I know, after a few Irish coffees his eyes began to close and he put his head down on the bar and passed out for a bit while Dave and I kept drinking. Dave went to the bathroom, and on his way back to the bar a guy asked him where he got his black pointy toed shoes, and Dave replied On my feet on Decatur Street, where's my five dollars? which is really funny if you've ever been accosted by a kid on Bourbon Street trying to bet you five dollars he can tell you where you got your shoes. Freeman eventually woke up, ordered a giant plate of nachos and another Irish coffee, and we filled him in about the shoes. Around one thirty I left them still drinking at Molly's and walked down the block to the Whirling Dervish and danced until three in the morning.

onday I slept late and spent the afternoon looking through Dave's albums.

The problem with crashing at Dave's is that you can have a thoroughly entertaining time just staying home and having a few beers and listening to the thousands of albums and CDs he owns. Or watching stuff from his amazing collection of music, Hong Kong, horror, and cult videos and DVDs. Or playing with his kinetic O.J. Simpson scultpure. Click on the picture below to watch it in action. (Quicktime movie - 1 MB download)

'm collecting songs to make a mix CD about cats, not rockabilly dudes, but the four legged feline variety. I would've had an easier time of it if I had been looking for songs about hound dogs, or chickens, or gators even, but I found about a dozen obscure country and R&B kitty songs. Around sundown it began to lightly rain, and I walked to the Louisiana Music Factory

at the other end of the Quarter, where Freeman and Dave and his pointy shoes were behind the counter

selling records to throngs of tourists jammed into the store for a live in-store appearance by Chris Thomas King. The store has a permanent bandstand set up next to the checkout counter, outfitted with two Fender blackface amplifiers, a drum kit, bass amp, upright acoustic piano, mixer and PA, and every year on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between Jazz Fest weekends, all day long the store has rotating bands playing one hour sets, and the festivites are emceed by John Sinclair, WWOZ disc jockey and former 60s activist and manager of the MC5. Artists that played in the store this year included the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, Little Freddie King, Beausoleil, Ellis Marsalis, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, who is just about to die from cancer. I said hello to him one day a couple of years ago when he was leaning on his big Cadillac parked across the street in front of the House Of Blues, and told him I thought he never got the credit he deserved for some of his 50s Peacock recordings qualifying as early rock and roll. Well, he said, puffing on a cigar, that's how they do a black man in America.

ext to the record store is an old style Creole restaurant called Olivier's where I had shrimp creole and peach cobbler, and later that night I headed back over to the Marigny for a dance club upstairs at Mimi's Lounge called The Big Payback: Revenge Of The Funk 45 Nerds.

he second floor of the bar sported sofas and coffee tables and floor lamps and a TV set, and it was like a dance party in someone's living room, except with a large mahogany bar at one end. Eleven different DJs from New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Atlanta set up two turntables atop a folding table and spun nothing but funk 45 singles from the 70s, eye candy was provided by the local girl dance troupe The Camel Toe Lady Steppers, and it was a blast.

uesday afternoon I caught a few more in-store appearances at the Music Factory and auditioned all of Dave's Christmas albums, scavenging a few more tracks for my already full double CD Christmas compilation—that long Springsteen track is going to have to go. Early that evening I caught a cab out to Mid-City to the Rock N Bowl. The cab driver had a Sony laptop computer mounted on a rack next to him, and I asked him if it was for work. Oh no, he said, picking up a vocal microphone on the floor beneath it, it's for karaoke. He popped in a CD and as we drove up Canal Street he sang "New York, New York" for me as the words flashed across the screen.

he fourth annual Ponderosa Stomp was in full swing by the time I arrived at the Rock N Bowl

which has two music stages, one downstairs and one upstairs to the right of the bowling lanes. The Stomp goes from four-thirty in the afternoon until three in the morning on Tuesday and Wednesday night, and is organized and promoted by a local practicing physician who is a huge music buff and books very cool garage, rhythm and blues, and country artists that are often obscure to anyone but knowledgeable music fans. Last year in the audience I met Ray Davies of the Kinks, who was still walking with a cane after being shot in the leg by a mugger in the French Quarter that January. At the time I read a BBC article about the incident which reported that the New Orleans police said "muggings were uncommon in the French Quarter," which is a laugh because muggings happen all the time but are deliberately kept out of the news for fear of scaring away tourists. I went over to Ray and said I was surprised he stayed after what happened. He shrugged and said Well, you know . . . I told him I've been a huge admirer of his over the years and was very honored to meet him. He said thanks and asked me my name, and I said Believe it or not it's James Brown. I gave him my demo and said I know you play harmonica, you might get a kick out of this. He looked at the cover and smiled and slapped my shoulder and said Thanks, man. I've met a lot of musicians over the years, but I don't remember ever being as excited to meet someone as I was Ray Davies, maybe in part because I had recently made a mix tape from the Kinks' RCA albums while rereading John Savage's biography of the band.

his year's Ponderosa Stomp line-up included Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana along with Billy "I Can Help" Swan singing old Elvis songs, an extremely loud Link Wray who did an awesome ten minute version of the Batman theme

plus Lonnie Brooks, Blowfly, Ray Sharpe, Dale Hawkins, Robert Lockwood Jr., the great Barbara Lynn, Barrence Whitfield, Deke Dickerson, and the man I made a point of arriving in time to see, James "Blood" Ulmer.

lmer, who started out playing with John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, has over the years journeyed from free jazz to a progressive version of blues and funk. The previous two years he played the Stomp with a trio that included Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and G. Calvin Weston on drums, a combo that sounded like Hendrix's Band Of Gypsys meets Ornette Coleman meets Funkadelic. I was talking to a girl who caught him with that same line-up at two previous Stomps and we both thought he was the best of all the performers both years. This year he played solo, but still knocked me out. I also renewed my acquaintance with Lazy Lester, who was so nice and again complimented me on my playing.

ednesday morning I actually set my alarm so I would make it over to the Music Factory by noon to catch the in-store by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band

and I also caught a nice jazz set by a good local chromatic harmonica player named Vic Shepherd. Went back to Dave's and took a nap, then went to Mona's on Frenchen Street for gyros, then back to the Music Factory for an in-store by John Sinclair and his band the Blues Scholars. Sinclair, who is a poet and jazz historian, does something very cool, an idea that occured to me once years ago, which is to vocalize excerpts from interviews with famous musicians over the top of a blues groove. Sinclair has one great song, "Doctor Blues," in which—John Lee Hooker boogie in the background—he recites the surreal ramblings of the great pianist Rossevelt Sykes from an old interview that I have at home in a book somewhere, in which Sykes compares music to medicine. Afterward I hopped a karaoke-less cab back to the Rock N Bowl for the second night of the Ponderosa Stomp, and if the billboards I see on MUNI bus stops around San Francisco concerning the nutritional value of a pint of Guinness are to be believed, I downed almost a thousand calories of beer before getting home late that night.

hursday and Friday I took a break from Jazz Fest, which started again at the fairgrounds. I wanted to see Randy Newman on Friday, but the cost of those $35 a day tickets were starting to mount up, and I was suffering from live music overload, so I mostly hung around Dave's and recorded a bunch of vinyl onto my Sony minidisc player. Thursday night I caught Gatemouth Brown's in-store at the Music Factory—he's very frail now and soon will be gone—then headed over to the Apple Barrel to catch the excellent pedal steel guitarist who played with John Sinclair the night before, Dave Easley. I sat at a table and quietly played along on harp and Dave, who is a super nice guy, tossed me a few solos.

riday night I cruised around Frenchmen Street and ran into a Darla, ex-wife of Joseph D'Angelo of the Departmentstore Santas and a former movie theater coworker of mine, who had driven down from Memphis with a bunch of friends on her first visit to New Orleans. I wound up later at the Whirling Dervish, as usual, dancing until the rainy wee hours of the morning.

ne night I reached for the toothbrush in my shaving kit sitting on top of the toilet tank in the bathroom, and a huge cockroach crawled out. New Orleans has the biggest roaches I've ever seen. Also called palmetto bugs, they grow to up to three inches long and are difficult to kill, I smacked one with the heel of a cowboy boot once and it just kept going, practically unfazed. And they can fly, and tend to launch themselves right at your face if you come too close. One night I left the balcony doors to my apartment in the Quarter open, and when I returned later that night and turned on the light I found about fifteen giant roaches scrambling for cover. It was like a bad Hitchcock movie, I turned to my girlfriend and said Let's go to your place, and we left. Once I was reading an Internet bulletin board devoted to New Orleans topics, and someone from the Midwest posted a message asking for recommendations of restaurants in the Quarter that weren't too dirty and didn't have roaches, which in reply received several hilarious posts of restaurant roach stories by native New Orleanians, all of whom advised the person not to come to New Orleans if they didn't want to encounter roaches.

hunderstorms rolled through southern Louisiana on Saturday morning, and I wondered whether Jazz Fest would be cancelled that day, as it was one rainy Friday last year, but the storm cleared out by about one in the afternoon, and I headed out to the fairgrounds one last time and caught Toots and the Maytals and a reunion of the original Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The initial line-up of the band was more of a marching band styled ensemble, with separate bass and snare drummers and a second trumpet player, compared to their current incarnation which has a kit drummer and a guitarist. Their sound was funkier, more percussive and multirhythmic in the early days, and at the end of the day when Elvis Costello was playing one of the main stages and the abominable Dave Matthews was at the other, I was hanging with the Dirty Dozen, although I did sneak off to the blues tent for a little while to catch Ike Turner. I came back to Dave's that night, ate a burger at Port Of Call, did some laundry, went out dancing again at the Dervish until three in the morning, when I went back to the apartment, took a shower, and then hopped a cab to the airport and flew back to San Francisco on Sunday morning.