There I was, combing through unmarked boxes of 45s at Euclid Records in New Orleans, when I came across a pristine 1968 Arthur Conley single on Atco: “Otis Sleep On” appears on one side and is backed by a cover of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Producer Tom Dowd, who cut it at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, slowed down the groove from the Beatles original to a ska pulse built around David Hood’s bass line. When Conley hits the bridge, an amazing ten-note guitar lick reimagines the melody with an against-the-grain rhythmic twist, almost as if Thelonious Monk were interpreting the figure.
“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” asks the old saloon song, recorded most famously by Louis Armstrong. Speaking personally, my answer is “no.” I’ve been there a number of times, eaten passably well, and seen the sights, but I haven’t been in ages, and I don’t miss it one bit. In the period since my last visit, I’ve been to Cajun country dozens of times, most recently a few weeks ago, and as always, I’m ready to go back. But New Orleans? Not so much.
For fifteen seconds a year, Steve Buttleman is the most famous man in America. On the first Saturday of every May, sporting his famous red jacket and tiny black hat, he marches from the white pagoda behind the Churchill Downs Winner's Circle, lifts a polished brass horn to his caramel-colored mustache, and plays "Call to Post." Buttleman's rendition—a brief ditty that signals jockeys to lead their horses into the starting gate—grabs the attention of movie stars in Millionaire's Row, infield drunks, and countless television viewers. It's also the sign for Kentucky Derby fans to clutch their betting slips and start praying.
George Jones’s passing has inspired volumes of words, but none can touch his singing. Torn in pieces, soaked in tears and bad booze, haloed in cigarette smoke and neon, he could gut a honky tonk in a single note, the reverberations of loss and regret echoing like the broken heart he seemed to endure.