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June Gardner: The Boom Boom

Lucien Barbarin, of June Gardner's band. Josh Jackson hide caption

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Josh Jackson

Lucien Barbarin, of June Gardner's band.

Josh Jackson

I met drummer June Gardner in the late 1990s. I was working on an oral history project with Bob French, who took enough of a liking to introduce me to the history of New Orleans rhythm and blues — trumpeter, impresario and producer Dave Bartholomew, saxophonist Alvin "Red" Tyler, and Bob's drum friends Joseph "Smokey" Johnson and Albert "June" Gardner.

Gentleman June, as Bob called him, sat very patiently and educated this then-24-year old kid about his life in music. He made his own wonderful sessions on a small New Orleans imprint, Hot Line, in the 1960s. Pianist James Booker played on those dates. So did bassist Walter Payton, father of trumpeter Nicholas Payton.

Gardner had assumed the drum chair in Sam Cooke's last band, a position he inherited from fellow New Orleanian Leo Morris (aka Idris Muhammad). June Gardner played on my favorite Sam Cooke record that isn't Night Beat, a live date from the Harlem Square Club. He was with Cooke again at the Copacabana, playing an altogether different set.

Friday morning at the Economy Hall tent, he assembled his traditional jazz band, the Fellas, for their annual Jazz Fest gig:

Bassist Chuck Badie, a contemporary, played fortified root notes, and June matched him with an irrepressible swing, so in-the-pocket that the younger members of the band — pianist Thaddeus Richard, trombonist Lucien Barbarin, and trumpeter Leroy Jones — had ample space to inhabit the wide-open seats between the beats.

Standard repertory kept the older crowd happy. Songs like "What a Wonderful World" commingled with "Sweet Gorgeous/Georgia Brown" and "When My Dreamboat Comes Home." Just before the band launched into "Avalon," an elderly gentleman, trumpet in hand, walked slowly to the stage. He was the pianist's father, Renaud Richard.

Renald Richard. Josh Jackson hide caption

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Josh Jackson

That's not a household name, but it should be. Renald, now 84, was a longtime member of the Ray Charles band. He co-wrote a couple of Brother Ray's biggest hits for Atlantic records — "Greenbacks" and a little ditty called "I Got a Woman." I wonder: does Kanye West knows this, or does he even sign the royalty checks?