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Clint Maedgen: Life Before & With Preservation Hall


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Like 'video killed the radio star, smart phones killed neighborhood’s star' to the point that everyone’s head is buried in a phone, looking at 350 things an hour and continually blowing their mind.
My first memories of listening to music as a kid? I was probably listening to Fats Domino and rock 'n' roll on the radio. The power of AM radio at that time in the '70s was a huge foundational influence on me, as it has been for a lot of people in those days. And sittin' in the car with my father, as he played cassettes with Hank Williams and Bob Wills, among others, I remember filing all that away in my memory bank and guess you could say I've always been a fan of and continue to love classic country music.

I was really lucky to have been introduced to some incredible live music at an early age. I think the first show I ever saw in person was Heart performing in Baton Rouge, maybe around 1978. And I know I saw Alice Cooper in 1979 perform at the same time that album was out—Welcome To My Nightmare—soon followed by Kiss on their Dynasty tour, and Ozzie Osborne at the City Park Stadium here in New Orleans, about six weeks after Randy Rhodes died.

I once hitchhiked from Lafayette to Baton Rouge to see U2 play—the Unforgettable Fire Tour. I was wearing engineer boots because I wanted to look like Bono [laughs]. I walked from the arena all the way down Highland Rd. to the Greyhound Bus stop and by the time I made it back to Lafayette by 12 noon the next day, my feet were all torn up by those boots. The things kids will do to make a fashion statement! [laughs]

I recall listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin when I was in middle school which, when I think about it, is just amazing—perhaps a foreshadowing of where I'm coming from today? Led Zeppelin was my life at that time, around 1980, and vividly recall when John Bonham died.

And then years later, Robert Plant came to visit us at Preservation Hall, and is up on stage singing with us! I am guessing many have a connection with Led Zeppelin but mine was very deep, I often sang along to Robert Plant's vocals followed years later by playing with him at The Hall—all very surreal from my perspective!

Al Jarreau also had a huge impact on me. I remember once standing outside the Saenger Theater waiting for him to show—he was my hero at the time. I wanted him to sign his "Breaking Away" poster [singing—"Breaking away, your love has opened eyes, that couldn't see"—laughs]. That was my stuff. I've actually been singing most of my life! I loved singing while listening to Prince, Sting and maybe Al Green more than anyone else actually. I'd try to sound like those guys, which if I think about is like learning muscle memory. I'd flip on the radio and [starts singing—"I'm so tired of being alone"—[laughs] there was so much magic in the air. I've been singing like a little bird throughout my entire life!

Wait a minute—I've been totally remiss in failing to mention Dylan as Bob has probably had the greatest impact on the music I create—I continue to listen to him daily. I particularly like his Blood On The Tracks period as well as, obviously, The Rolling Thunder Revue and all that theatrical flair with the various performers and more. Blood On The Tracks has to be the very best 'breakup' music album of all time, closely followed by Beck's Sea Change record.

I've been a Beck fan for some now too, the Beck fan that nobody else knows about, as I never really reveal it! To play with him at the Hall was huge for me, and I was probably the only one in the theater at the time who knew who he was! [laughs]

But my absolute hero is Tom Waits. He might be the one who has influenced me the most. But I really did not discover him until I was 19 or 20. I may have first heard his albums through my parents and was always fascinated by that guy with 'the voice.' I probably would've never made my space rock band, Liquidrone, had it not been for the music of Charles Mingus, Mud Honey and Tom Waits—all of which along with my love for theater and performance lead me to create The Bingo Show.

And I actually met Tom Waits, a beautiful experience that checked such an important box helping me to realize that life's real. The message? You should be busy doin' your thing because we're over here busy with ours. It's like meeting the guy behind the curtain; it could not have been more awesome. I feel like I do well in rooms with people like that, because I've imagined it thousands of times before it ever happened. I have a conversation with him every day in my mind. I still tear up thinking about how sweet every second of it was.

I don't want to blow it [laughs] but the only reason we get to work with these people is because no one else knows who they are! One of the reasons all these different people finally come to the Hall and appeared with the band might be due to a list I made for Ben when he first hired me. He told me, "Hey, write down the names of all the people you'd wanna work with." and I offered the names of about 100 people and we've gone through about 85 of them by now!

In my mind though, that initial overture to sing with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band could not have been furthest from the realm of possibility; it came totally out of the blue. I grew up with great respect for the Hall. My grandma owned a record with Sweet Emma Barrett and I recall hearing that as I was growing up and probably watched that Elvis movie, King Creole, with her 120 times; it was her favorite Elvis film. He actually walked through Preservation Hall in two scenes of that movie. And during middle school, I recall a field trip to New Orleans when we visited the Hall. So I had a deep awareness of what it was like, but in terms of me having a place there? [laughs] I could have never dreamed of that at all.

But, as fate would have it, Ben Jaffe attended a few of the Bingo Show performances that we were doing there at Fiorella's on Decatur Street, Thursday night shows from 8pm to 11. And he liked what he saw. The Bingo Show existed in an insulated little bubble, and I'm guessing the average age of those who came to see us might have ranged between 27 and 67. [laughs] I remember him telling me that, for him, it was his most "New Orleans experience" over the past ten years—he had actually been on the road outside of New Orleans for a lot of that time. I played sax at those shows and had something like up to 150 songs I could play along with a sensibility for theatrical performance. And I am guessing he felt I was approachable, personable and easy to talk to.

Ben is really unlike anyone else I've ever met in my entire life. We may be somewhat close in age, but that's where the comparison stops. He grew up in Preservation Hall, with complete access to all these incredibly important people and musical families that he could call his own—New Orleans royalty actually. They were in his living room everyday—literally—and his godfather is Harold Dejean! He actually grew up knowing people like Lee Friedlander and Bill Russell. His life has been such a magic carpet ride and yeah, we're close in age but that's it—he might as well be 135! He's an old soul for sure, with a vision of the future combined with the taste of a younger guy who was open to the multi media performances of The Bingo Show.

And at that time from his perspective, he needed to shake up what was already happening with the Hall. Their audience was literally dying in front of their eyes. So he invited me to his place. I made the time, when I knew I wasn't going to be busy delivering food, like at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. I rode my bike over, chained it up and knocked on the door to his place. On that occasion he asked if I'd want to come down to Preservation Hall and sing a couple songs from a Kinks album he'd been listening to. I was surprised, to say the least, and replied, "If you're crazy enough to ask me do that, I'm crazy enough to do it!"

We had never really had any conversation prior to that, maybe I'd shaken his hand after a show but we really had never spoken with one another even once. We set up some rehearsal times to run through some of the stuff with Rickie [Monie, piano] and started sitting in occasionally at the Hall on my off time from my job, delivering food throughout the Quarter!

Luckily enough for me, I was kind of a jazz guy for a long time; I loved Dexter Gordon, Coltrane, Bird, Eric Dolphy and Lee Morgan and my role evolved. There was a lot of resistance at the beginning, but ultimately it all worked out. I think those first audiences really enjoyed the fact that here was this new guy doing all this radical stuff. I recall playing some larger venues out of town, and I'd be sitting up in the rafters with a walkie talkie in my hand while backstage someone was sitting on a chair with a mic pointed at it when my song came up. I'd turn it on and start singing and it could be heard over the PA system in the auditorium. I'd walk down the aisle, through the audience and make my way on stage, singing the entire time. Then I'd just sort of disappear; I was a featured vocalist and not really playing an instrument yet with the band. I recall on a subsequent European tour, I'd be up in a tiny booth, and it would light up—like a Jiminy Cricket moment—and I'd start singing! We used to go at it hard with a really striking theatrical presentation during my early involvement with the Hall.

Ben and I had some good ideas and did some incredible stuff together. One of my proudest New Orleans moments—completing that video for "Complicated Life," a Kinks song. We had 360 of our friends, a steady cam worker who was a total pro and a director who was totally on point throughout and a city that was maybe a bit more innocent in those days—all of which added up to enable something like that to even happen in the first place without having a bunch of cops on duty swarming the streets keeping it orderly. It is just so different now; we captured a moment in time that no one will ever experience again.

A lot has happened and New Orleans has changed since first arriving here from Lafayette in 1988—it was like another planet, it was wild! It was, for many years, the last Bohemia, the last really free place in all of America. You could afford to live without having a steady job nor did you have to show an i.d. to actually get a job. You could wash dishes somewhere part time, sleep in a house with five other people who were also in a band with you. And you had 12 places you could stay and sleep [laughs]—it was wide open. And New Orleans wasn't going to judge you as long as you were cool and weren't hurting anybody. I fell in love with the place and will never be able to repay New Orleans for letting my bands live, breathe and grow with that loving of an audience. In many ways, those earliest days were certainly some of the greatest of my life.

Still, after only four years I moved to Baton Rouge until 1997, after which I finally returned here to live. During that time there, I was able to attend Southern University and lived in Spanish Town. I only moved to Baton Rouge because a buddy of mine, Troy Perdomo was already there at Southern. He was somebody who I played sax with and suggested I attend Southern too. At that time, I saw Kid Jordan perform, maybe 20 times or so, but I never really had the courage nor invitation—an entryway---to walk just up and take any of his time. He was something way beyond me, an amazing artist whom I admired so I gave him his space.

I was lucky enough though to study with Alvin Batiste for two semesters. His entire approach to music and life changed me, influenced my life forever. Wes Anderson was another musician living in Baton Rouge and he, along with his wife, took me under their wing and I was able to hang out with them a bit.

And in 1997 I returned. It was a cool place and remained so, at least through the storm? No, let's make it until everyone was walking around with a smartphone! Like "video killed the radio star, smart phones killed neighborhood's star" to the point that everyone's head is buried in a phone, looking at 350 things an hour and continually blowing their mind. I'm not saying people don't play music any longer or talk, but it's not the same as it once was. Bottom line, I'm glad I lived here before smart phones.

For the record, I know there are people who don't or won't use one, but the genie is out of the bottle. I've given in to some degree, as I will use Chat GPT at least once a day. Do I think AI is the devil? Definitely; it's horrible because it and the corporations using it is gonna change the world for the worse, at least in the long run.

So with it all, I guess as New Orleans has evolved, or changed, as have I, then some changes at Preservation Hall were inevitable too? And with those changes in town and at the Hall, maybe the 2nd most important thing that Ben ever arranged was the album of duets with 18 different artists, including one with Louis Armstrong. Preservation Hall got the rights from Sony to reproduce and record with an existing track by him. Some of the other performances included Richie Havens, Tom Waits, Del McCurry, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. To be able to pull that off and produce that record in 2009 or 2010 was incredible, one of my favorite things we ever did.

Between Katrina and the oil spill, and all the paperwork that went into it, the logistics of pulling that off was all daunting and to see how many people contributed to it to make it happen was something really beautiful. I think when I look at that line of people headed down to Royal Street from Preservation Hall on St. Peter everyday, I think to myself "Mission accomplished, with a lot of help from our friends!" For Dave Grohl and My Morning Jacket to open up their whole audience to us was great, something I'll never forget.

There's some real angels walking this earth who've jumped on to the Preservation Hall Merry-Go-Round, who walked up on to the stage at the Hall. I've met Daniel Farrow, a 92 year old saxophonist who worked for the postal service and took care of his disabled son his entire life with dignity, strength and dedication. The deep love you feel emanating from this man is unbelievable.

We literally have no idea who will be next to join us and play. Just the other day, Taylor Swift dropped in [laughs] and recorded some stuff with the guys who were on stage that night. You know, anything can happen and that's Ben's world—now a part of ours too. It is all due to his vision for the Hall for which I'm thankful and very grateful. Who gets to do this? I absolutely love my job!

Twenty years on in to my involvement with the Hall, and I'm still a "visitor" here, the luckiest kid on the block! I get to hang out with these guys and play music and learn from them about their culture and then, try to make a contribution to it as well however it might make sense at the time. Sometimes that might include playing a solo, sometimes it might just mean going to get a bottle of water for somebody else or park someone's car for them. There's a lot of things that go into making it all happen as it does, to make it easier for everyone to do what they do that makes the Hall run at any given time. I certainly do not have to assert myself and truth be told, would rather not do so ever; its kind of embarrassing! [laughs]

I'm not qualified to speak with anyone as an historian, rattling off dates and names but being here at Preservation Hall has definitely affected me. There are others who are absolutely traditionalists, like Shannon Powell and Wendell Brunious. And then there's Wendell's nephew, Mark, who plays here too—literally a generation younger. Still you can talk with cats who were really there long ago, or who knew people like George Lewis, studied under him, like Tommy Sancton who had a great story to tell in his book. Maybe it's not the entire story, but it's a real one for sure. So after all this time here, I still like to keep my mouth shut and listen. And learn.

As for me writing this stuff down, all these stories and events I've witnessed over the years—it is something I've thought about but that's as far as it has gone. I do have a list of stories I tell to close friends at moments when it seems appropriate and fun. I have a story about how we accidentally left Charlie in Oslo, Norway and an imaginary story about Del McCurry and his wife, Jane, getting gas in Abbeville in the late '70s. When things happen, I'll just repeat it in my mind enough times so I can tell it at a later date, but I think I missed the window to do a book the way I imagine it should be done. I just don't remember half of the stuff; the first three years are pretty clear but the past 20 years...? [laughs] It's all been a blur!

With that said though, I do remember shaking Charlie Sexton's hand at the Newport Folk Festival. Charlie Sexton is a beast—that guy can really play guitar! At the time, I told him, "Man, you're a biggest rock star I know!" and he kind of looked at me like I'm crazy. But think about it, he's Bob Dylan's guitarist, and who gets to do that for so long? You gotta be able to work with him for over 200 concerts a year and never talk to him once! [laughs] Who does that? No one, except Charlie Sexton and he does it very well too.

I love Dylan—he's been a big influence in the songs I write for myself, my bands. I basically stopped listening to his records in 1978 when he released Desire. After that, I don't know what goes on with him, as I'm still hung up on [starts singing] "It's alright Ma, I'm only bleeding ... "After that song, why write anything else? Anybody, ever! [laughs] That song of mine—"Hanging On for My Baby's Arms"—is one of my "Bob" songs, greatly influenced by listening to his Rolling Thunder Revue material.

Theater and theatrical performance has always been meaningful to me. It does not surprise me when people say some of the photographs I've taken are reminiscent of Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz with bicycles flying through the air and things like that. I've always been intoxicated by film, with the magical little things that happen that you can't possibly interpret or anticipate either. You could set up a scene for magic to happen in a photograph—sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. You really don't know until you get the film back or, when recording, when you play the tape back. And I love that because you're interacting with something that in many ways—at least in my way of thinking—is alive.

I have a real love affair going on with my camera, which I found by chance at store in New York when you could not find that model with anyone anywhere. I had to have it, dug deep into my pockets, bought it and ate Ramen noodles for two weeks! [laughs] For me, taking photographs is like keeping a diary, but it's a visual record where I have to remember what shots I've taken. Sometimes, I'll retrace my steps back a mile because there's a tile that works perfectly in tandem with a shot I've just taken. After an entire day of doing this, my phone dies along with my google map memory and I have to figure out how to get back home. [laughs]

Taking photos—it's like participating in something that's magical; I love it! But I can't do it any longer in New Orleans or in New York, or San Francisco, or any big city, at least not as I once did; American cities have changed and I have to be aware of that. But the road is still there, so on tours with Preservation Hall, I can set aside some time to wander with my camera.

The trip to Cuba was an education, not only for me but all of us. I feel like it changed all of our lives in many ways. We connected with it on many different levels. There's just so much incredible musical talent there. The art of the place is off the chain, and being in a place that so closely resembled New Orleans, I felt the infancy of our great city here. It is like Disneyland, New Orleans; upon returning to the French Quarter it felt really cute. And Cuba was all that times a hundred, in the most decaying, beautiful and romantic way. I simply fell in love with it. And you certainly cannot take a bad photograph in Cuba and it is probably my favorite place to film anything.

Home or away, my days are always full with five things to do in terms of being a creator. I might be working on two or three of them at the same time. I play every Monday and Tuesday night with the Hall, which allows me to do all the other things, like working on photography. And of course I'm trying to create a niche for the Roussel Maajon release, creating my advanced vinyl sale thing together with a limited release featuring art by Peregrine Honig, the illustrator based out of Kansas City. And there are other things too, including producing micro cassette one of a kind recordings that I do on piano. I'm always busy with something!!

At the end of the day though, I do like to relax—nowadays reading a book by Prince, an account of his life between 1985 through 1987. It is a real insight into his mind; he was working all the time, in the studio every day of his life that he could. Reading this daily account—a record of his tenacity—it inspires the hell out of me. I'm absolutely delighted to be here, I forge though it all and see what the next days is all about. I'm grateful, and thankful that music is a part of my life and I don't see that ever ending.



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