The King of Mardi Gras
The King of Mardi Gras is the track from Nine Lives I have sung most often in my live shows and that is because it is fun. It is a scene from the musical where Billy Grace has finally become the King of the Rex parade. He is about to meet his court and is nervous until his father-in-law George whispers all the dirty secrets of the wealthy people who will be his court.
It takes an ironic look at the blue-bloods of New Orleans and having grown up in the Irish Channel just a few blocks from 2525 St. Charles (where the Rex Mansion of the book Nine Lives is located) I was happy to take that ironic look.
Colman came from the Upper East Side in New York and his own social background was private schools and a bit more access to and understanding of this life than my own so his ironic lines brought touches that only he could have added. They are lines that make me smile when they go by. I mean, no way could I have come up with the line “the foi-est of gras” without Colman.
It is also another song where Matt Perrine, the “behind the scenes hero of Nine Lives” as he was referred to in an review that John Swenson wrote, did a brilliant job of arranging a pop song into a baroque classical piece. He added a harpsichord intro before each verse that is beautiful and increasingly comic as the song progresses. He also arranged the vocal harmonies to sound like a baroque choir sing along with the chorus. The formality of his arrangement only serves to heighten the comedy of the lyrics and the moment.
Eric Bolivar plays drums on the track. Eric must be one of the most versatile drummers working because he can play in any style and make it sound like he has played it his whole life. For goodness sake, how many drummers can swing a baroque groove? Eric did on this track.
Tim Laughlin plays clarinet and the spirit of Pete Fountain was called into the studio every time Tim blew into his instrument… which happened to be a clarinet given to Tim as a gift by Pete Fountain himself.
Alex McMurray on banjo added the percussive feel and melody that banjo gives a song but with that unique attack that Alex brings to playing music. There’s an almost savage release of energy that explodes on to the track and the record itself whenever Alex plays.
Tom McDermott plays the harpsichord on the track and his mastery of different styles of piano playing was perfect. John Swenson, in the same review from Stereophile Magazine, says that “Tom McDermott is so perfectly cast as pianist for Nine Lives that he acts as a sort of shadow musical director for Sanchez”. Tom brought Matt’s harpsichord part to life and brought the room to laughter every time the pause came up that lead back to the solo harpsichord.
The background singers who were to represent the party guests were Arséne DeLay, Debbie Davis and Tara Brewer. They did not know each other at all when the sessions began but by this time in the sessions were relying on each other as friends to get through the hard parts and were delighting in each other’s company in between the work. They made each other laugh, helped each other through and gave the record a chemistry that comes from trusting and digging the people you work with and I believe that is something you can hear and feel in the music.
The singers were Harry Shearer as George Montgomery, father-in-law to Billy Grace, who was again sung by Kevin Griffin. Harry had quite warmed up to his concept of singing the role as “Bing Crosby drunk on red wine” as he said, and he really enjoyed the chance to “Bing it up” which was perhaps my favorite expression from the sessions. His voice swoops low, he adds a bit of tremolo, and speaks a couple of words for emphasis. We were watching a master at work… an actor who sings, understands drama and can switch in an instant to comedy, broad or ironic whichever the moment calls for. From the moment Harry agreed to take part in Nine Lives it was a bit surreal for me and a huge honor. I’ve loved his work for years, who’s comedic bits I’ve imitated and who, for reasons all his own, took part and lent his tremendous talent and name to the songs Colman and I had written. Honestly, I am still a bit in awe that he appeared on both the record and at the Live show we did at Le Petite. We had no money to offer or at least not the kind of money an artist of his stature is used to making for his work. We just had a love of New Orleans, work that reflected that love and we appealed to his love of the New Orleans which is a very real and active part of his life. What a pro! If you see Harry out and about tell him “Thanks!” for Nine Lives.
Kevin Griffin sings the part of Billy Grace and again it was a delightful surprise to take him out of his rock context and put him in a theatrical setting. He is a big fan of Harry Shearer as well and was smiling again at the sound of Harry’s voice with the occasional mumble to himself, “I’m singing with Harry Shearer”. Having spent a lot of time on tour buses myself in my rock years, I know that The Simpsons, Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind are all staples of road life and I was charmed by Kevin being excited to sing on a track with him. Having asked him to sing with a high timber for the earlier Billy song when he is supposed to be young, I asked him to use his natural voice for this one and he aged Billy twenty years by adjusting how he let his voice come out of his body. This time it came more from his chest which gave the voice a weight that the lighter head tone he used in the earlier track did not have. It worked so wonderfully that Colman, who is not a singer, was wide-eyed. He came up to me and said, “He sounds older! How did he do that?” I knew what a singer Kevin Griffin was when we asked him to sing the voice of Billy Grace so I smiled and didn’t say anything. Proud to watch an old friend work, one who has had far more success than I, but who will take time to sing for nothing on a record of mine just because I asked.
The work that Matt put into the arrangement along with the level of talent that Harry and Kevin brought to the singing makes for a light, breezy, track that is deceptively complex and palpably wicked fun with The King of Mardi Gras.
~ Paul Sanchez – July 20, 2011