Did you know that Kirk Joseph’s innovative “Sousafunk” project, the Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove “Sousafunk Ave” LP is proudly presented in our mix at DHR?
For those unaware, Kirk Joseph, son of trombonist Waldren “Frog” Joseph, is a master sousaphone player (that’s the one that looks like a tuba), one of the founding members of the legendary New Orleans-born Dirty Dozen Brass Band, band leader of Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove and the 504 Brass Band, and a pioneer of Sousafunk. So, what’s Sousafunk you ask? It’s Kirk Joseph with a microphone shoved down the throat of his sousaphone, and a wah wah pedal under his foot. It’s thick. It’s heavy. It’s sweaty. It’s funky, fat-bottomed, booming, jamming, non-stop good time tonic! Oh, and Joseph’s also a personal friend of Dr. Jonh, who he simply refers to as Mac (after his more proper name Mac Rebennack). Dr. John appears on the “Sousafunk Ave” LP guesting on piano and vocals for two tracks, including lead vocal on the serenading, bluesy ballad “I Can’t Get Started.”
It’s strange to call such an occasion a pleasure, but we deeply appreciate the results of less than desirable coincidences which allowed us to meet Kirk Joseph and come to call him friend. As it goes, years ago, we DHR founders were a couple of young and eager regulars at a legendary blues, jazz, and funk venue in Hermosa Beach, CA: the one and only Cafe Boogaloo, under the direction of original owner and New Orleans transplant Steve Roberts. Boog was our sole refuge for real music, and an exclusive melting pot for art, craft beer, artisanal food, fine wine and soulful people. Exclusive, because it was the only joint in town of this nature, and it was most definitely only for those few who got it. Those floating high upon a surrounding sea of buoys and sunken vessels, as if atop a lighthouse whose beacon was way ahead of its time. A place where you could order a drink without a set of fake tits in your face. Where you could experience live music without 50 football games contesting for your attention on 20 flat screens. Where the doorman would push you across the threshold with a big paw across your back as he encouraged you to get your ass in there quick because the band was so good. Where you could honestly say you had a genuinely good time.
I digress; however, it was within this context, swirling around this sphere, that we encountered the blazing horns of The Big Easy, and the chirping, undulating, ripping guitars of the funkier side of the swamp. It was here where we encountered the sweat of Kirk Joseph’s brow.
Probably lagging ass over a cigarette, I remember walking into Boog behind some friends who’d already made it in. By the time I’d caught up, the band was on break. I asked my pal how the band was. He replied that they were pretty good. I asked if there were any horns. He thought about it for a sec, and said yeah, there were some horns. I think he was a little stony, because when the band came back on there were 2 trumpets, 2 saxophones, and after trying to figure out who was playing bass… a tuba player as well. Only, of course it wasn’t a tuba at all, but Kirk Joseph on sousaphone! A funky ass sousaphone player.
Now Steve was notorious for booking the heaviest shit in town, whether you’d heard of it or not, including major touring acts who would only stop to play his little venue because he was the one running it. Any given night, Steve would turn to you and say, “This is the real deal right here. The best shit you’ve ever heard.” Always. This kid, that kid, these guys, this gal… I honestly think he earnestly meant it every time. However, with Kirk Joseph, his Backyard Groove, and the scattered entrails of the Dirty Dozen, it wasn’t planned at all. Hurricane Katrina had hit, and blown these displaced musicians into the solace of our fantasy land beach town.
Boog acted as a resource center for Joseph and Co., facilitating living arrangements, and providing a paying place to play. We were blown out of our boots from the caliber of music brought by our relocated brothers, and we instantly became regulars of their shows. The “Sousafunk Ave” original “Laid Back” (featuring Dr. John on vocals and piano) became our anthem and number 1 encore request. All the while, they got to know our faces, our names, our dance moves, and as our proximity narrowed in that intimate venue, it was clear to see that throughout the ritualistic moments of music and joy, these fellows wistfully missed and longed for their proper home.
The band played for nights upon weeks over the months that followed, often absorbing local patron musicians on stage to join in, including Jake Eckert (of the jam-based jazz outfit New Soul Underground) on guitar and slide. Eckert, who’d also been putting Joseph up in his Hermosa Beach apartment, soon became the new sousafunk guitarist; and, in fact, it was here in our little beach bubble, during this time, that he was also officially assimilated into the Dirty Dozen Brass Band through Joseph as well. That was a cool thing to witness. The gang eventually made it home, taking Eckert with them, but the whole experience was amazing and stood as a stark reminder that hardship cannot diminish the beating flame of humanity, joy, and growth, often causing it to burn brighter.