5 Questions with Kevin O’Day

1.    You are one of the most versatile drummers out there performing everything from funk and hip-hop to rock and jazz.  Do you have a favorite musical genre and if so, why?

I really enjoy playing any style of music where I can hear the blend of the instruments and see the colors they create in my mind. 

If it gets so loud that I can’t hear the stick definition on the ride cymbal or the subtleties of the snare drum, it just doesn’t sound good to me anymore. 

I love to play modern jazz. Also I love to play songs that tell a story so I can play things on the drums that give the listener the feeling behind the words.

1.    One of your more exciting projects recently has been the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra.  When were you first exposed to the Indian rhythms and how did the music of the streets of New Orleans influence your development as a musician?

I dig the MGIO too. I am very interested to see what will happen next with that band because we are now in a phase where the musicians are beginning to organize the sound and take it into a new direction. 

I first heard Mardi Gras Indians through the classic Wild Tchoupitoulas recordings. When I heard that stuff, I started to seek out the people that were doing it. 

I met Big Chief Monk in a night of jamming at the Maple Leaf, and got the feeling of how the music should go by listening to his fingerprints. Geechie played bass drum and pounded that rhythm into my brain. I eventually met Big Chief Peppy, Big Chief Cantrell, Big Chief Roddy, Spy Boy Skeet, Honey Bannister, Juan Pardo, and many other Mardi Gras Indians and played with them. They make music directly from their soul. I love to play with people who don’t think about it….they just open up their soul and sing.

1.    Some people have called the mid to late 1990s the golden age of New Orleans music and you were at the center of it playing in a huge variety of bands from Iris May Tango to Royal Fingerbowl.  What are your fondest musical memories of the period?

I think every day in New Orleans is the golden age of music. The day I met Alex McMurray was a good one. Davis called me to do a gig with this new band he was putting together called All That. I showed up at Cafe Brazil and set up. This guitar player comes in, looking totally unassuming and proceeded to throw down some of the sickest rhythm and lead guitar work I had ever heard, and we clicked right from the start. We played a cover of Ozzy’s Crazy Train that night and we rode the crazy train for quite a few years after that. 

I used to love to hear Michael Skinkus and Hector Gallardo jamming together outside of Cafe Brazil…sometimes Rob Wagner would jump in with them. They were incredible together. 

I used to love seeing Brian Blade play. He used to do a jazz jam session at Checkpoint Charlie’s and Nick Payton would come sit in and blow everyone away.

There was a coffee shop called Kaldi’s that was a haven for the musicians. Nicolas Payton would come sit in on trumpet, then bass, then piano, then drums…what a monster… even back then, and that was like… 1993?  A long time ago.

All kind of stuff like that used to happen.

1.    You recently spent time in Los Angeles and had a steady gig on Monday nights.  How would you compare the musical scene in LA to the one New Orleans?

The thing is, L.A. has a music industry, and New Orleans has a music scene. Everything in L.A. is about how to sell whatever it is you are doing. How is it packaged? Who is the target audience? What genre is it? etc…

In New Orleans, people are creating music because it has a function in our culture. It is pure and soulful. I am so grateful to be HOME! 

I met and played with a lot of great musicians in Los Angeles. I am thankful for the opportunities I was given there. The Mint, where I did a five-month residency with my own band, is a piece of music history itself. It has been there since 1937…. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and a lot of greats got their start there. I was blessed to have that gig and I won’t forget the experience. 

However, my life is here in South Louisiana and this is where I want to be.

5.  Tonight you are debuting the Kevin O’Day Band at the Banks Street Bar and Grill.  Who will you have playing with you and what can people expect to hear?

I am fortunate to have James Andrews on trumpet and vocals with me tonight. James is such an honest player… he plays from his heart and is one of the greatest entertainers in the world. 

Tim Green will be joining us on baritone sax. He is more known for his tenor playing, but I asked him to play bari tonight to bring the funk to the bandstand. 

Andrew McLean is on guitar. I asked Andrew to play because I love his melodic approach that is very inspired by Indian ragas and tabla music. I can’t wait to hear his sitar inspired sound over the grooves we will lay down. 

Jon Gross will be on sousaphone; he is a solid musician and brings precision to the groove. Sitting in will be my new friend Jesse Hiatt, a keyboardist and vocalist who just recently moved here from L.A. I met him there, and he escaped the madness. I will be working with him on his project in the future. Sam Hotchkiss will also be sitting in on guitar. He is a great friend and we lock in the groove every time we play together. 

Looking forward to seeing ya’ll out there! We’re gonna play some good old New Orleans rhythm and blues, some jazz, some funky stuff, a couple of Indian raga based jams and maybe even a song about the state of the gulf and the coast.

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