I remember seeing Kermit Ruffins at Grundy’s Music Room, a subterranean jazz club on Birmingham’s rough and tumble Northside when I was an 18 year old kid fresh out of the hollers of Eastern Kentucky-what seems like a million or so years ago now.
This was my introduction to New Orleans Jazz played by a true believer who could hold sway over a room like a master player twice his age. I’ll never forget that show and in spite of seeing Kermit dozens of times since then, it’s still my favorite performance of his to this day.
So when I found out Kermit has his own club in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans I was determined to visit, have a drink or two and hopefully get lucky enough to catch a set from the man himself.
Hoofing north out of the Marigny some folks definitely find my presence interesting once I cross St. Claude. While it wouldn’t be the best part of town to be strolling around in at 3 in the morning I reckon I’ll be alright as long as the sun’s high in the sky.
Sidney’s Saloon is a stone’s throw from Rampart Food Store one of the finest, cheapest po boy shops in town and not too far from Hi Ho Lounge one of the great old school punk rock bars of New Orleans.
Walking in a group of older Black cats all swivel around to see who’s coming into their spot.
Everybody’s nice and friendly at Sidneys. I pull up a barstool, order a bourbon and soda and set back to take in the scene.
It’s a good one.
The conversation is all about food. Chicken in particular.
“I’m like a surgeon, I dissect that ol bird”. One fellow claims. He continues on explaining his cooking technique. Another fellow’s opinion differs. “You can’t take the bone out-YOU GONNA GET A DRY HEN CARRYING ON LIKE THAT”. He raises his voice to demonstrate how important the bone is.
The talk of smothered chicken and gravy goes on for awhile as I content myself with my high dollar [$5] well drink. The bar room is nice and small. I inquire as to whether Kermit might be around later and the bartender tells me he’s playing an afternoon party up in Baton Rouge but he has been known to blow his horn a bit at Sydney’s every once in awhile.
The walls are covered with all sorts of Kermit ephemera. I particularly like that his phone number is posted in giant block letters right by the front door. He won’t be hard to get in touch with if somebody needs him while they hang out at his saloon.
I finish my drink and say my goodbyes to a crescendo of “Noooo, you can’t be taking off like that…we just getting started”.
I explain that I’ve come from Texas and I appreciate the hospitality but I’ve got to head back to the Inn to get cleaned up for a Sugar Pie DeSanto show tonight.
They can’t believe the near 80 year old Sugar Pie is still around and playing this very night so I’m [grudgingly] allowed to leave.
Walking into the clear Autumn light of the 7th Ward on a sunny afternoon with the whole world in front of you and a great hang in your rearview mirror has to be the finest way I can think of to spend a Saturday afternoon in New Orleans.
1301 Saint Bernard Ave