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Big Easy's players need work

September 18, 2005|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

ALLEN TOUSSAINT, one of the architects of New Orleans' storied soul and R&B legacy, is confident about a strong return of his city's musicians after the devastation and diaspora resulting from Hurricane Katrina.

"It's on intermission, but it will never leave. Just come back after the break," says Toussaint, whose writing and production credits include Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-in-Law" and LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade."

But for the musicians, what will there be to come back to? And what do they do in the meantime?

"Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, musicians gotta play," says Scott Aiges, music commissioner of New Orleans, who has relocated to New York for the time being.

And to do that, the musicians need two things: Gear and gigs.

Various efforts are now underway to address these matters and try to keep musicians active while waiting to return to the city.

This is not so much for the Neville Brothers, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and others who have a history of national and international touring success but for the hundreds of artists who have made their living from regular gigs in New Orleans' clubs and bars.

Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, is reaching out to major touring acts and promoters.

"It will be quite a haul until there will be casual dates, street corners to play on, bars and clubs to work in when the tourist trade returns," he says. "Could we find a major promoter to package shows from this community, the Nevilles and all that but also bring along some lesser-known locals?

"Could we get major headliners already on tour to bring along someone as an opening act? This is not about a handout, but a paycheck and dignity to keep them stimulated and active."

The recording academy is already teaming its MusiCares Foundation with the Guitar Center stores chain and Gibson instruments manufacturer to raise funds for the most severe needs of displaced musicians -- housing, food, medical care and such. Gibson is making a special-edition guitar for sale through Guitar Center with 100% of proceeds going to hurricane relief.

But all three are also exploring ways to replace lost instruments and other equipment, extending such existing initiatives as the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, which collects donated goods for distribution to school music programs. Guitar Center chairman and CEO Marty Albertson is open to the idea of his stores being used as drop-off locations for donated equipment that could be sent to the affected Gulf Coast musicians.

Meanwhile, several one-time events are being planned to raise money and give work to musicians. Gibson and Michael Murphy Productions are collaborating on a concert Oct. 27 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in L.A. A Denver concert, tentatively planned for Oct. 9, is being organized by public radio showcase "E-Town" to present New Orleans musicians.

And the seventh annual Voodoo Music Festival, a rock-oriented event that had been scheduled for Halloween weekend in New Orleans' now-swamped City Park, will still emphasize a locally focused Heritage Stage that had been added this year when it is rescheduled for a different city.

On a more individual level, the suggestion has been made that buying CDs by New Orleans artists will help support the music directly. The best source is the website of the independent Louisiana Music Factory store (, which is still active although its French Quarter store is closed for now.

A tale from beyond the rave

AS one of the key promoters of the Southern California underground rave scene in the late '80s and early '90s, Les Borsai has plenty of colorful stories to tell. But he's chosen to tell them in the form of fiction. Under his full name, Laszlo Borsai, he's written a novel, "The Death of Wizdem," drawing on the real-life dark adventures of his suburban youth and his rise to success in the edgy, drug-filled, hedonistic world of the often illegal electronic dance music parties.

Why fiction?

"It's 85% true," says Borsai, 37, who went on to a legitimate music business career in management, overseeing the band Unwritten Law and other acts. "I think it was easier for me to be brutally honest about most things by being able to embellish a few things. And it does deal with a real death, so I wanted to put a little distance to that."

The novel details an array of antisocial and criminal activities of the main character, nicknamed Grip, and his cohorts, in a prose style Borsai relates to the works of Bret Easton Ellis ("Less Than Zero") and Chuck Palahniuk ("Fight Club").

"There's no accountability or moral stance," he says of both the book and the lifestyle it portrays. "And a single page of redemption. Creating the raves, you envision it and go in and do it. The book was the same thing, a place where I had a voice and didn't have to apologize to anyone and be as brutally honest as I could."

Borsai has self-published the novel, which will be available through his website (

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