Photograph: Courtesy of Ava Motley, via NOLA Media Group
As reported today on The Times-Picayune’s website: “John Boudreaux, an early New Orleans R&B drummer, died on January 14, according to members of his family. He was 80 years old and lived in Los Angeles at the time of his death.
“Mr. Boudreaux was born in New Roads on Dec. 10, 1936, but it was New Orleans that shaped his sound.
“In [the book] New Orleans and Second Line Drumming (1995) by Herlin Riley and Johnny Vidacovich, Idris Muhammed is quoted as saying, ‘John Boudreaux and Smokey (Johnson) and I used to practice in my house and they were the better drummers. Smokey could play all of Art Blakey’s stuff, John could play all of Max Roach’s things, and I was just listening. … John was a perfect single-stroke roller. I mean clean, man.’
“Considered an influential part of New Orleans’ music scene — especially for his fellow drummers — Mr. Boudreaux learned and played R&B, jazz, funk and everything in between. He first began playing drums in elementary school when his mother found a snare to be cheaper than a saxophone, according to a 2002 interview he did with Offbeat magazine, and his music teacher then was none other than Harold Battiste.”
“Mr. Boudreaux eventually began his music career with the Hawkettes, serving as drummer for the group’s iconic ‘Mardi Gras Mambo.’ His skills on a drum set made him a sought-after studio musician in the 1950s, which meant he worked with Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Professor Longhair, among many others besides being part of the A.F.O. Executives. It’s Mr. Boudreaux’s drums that are heard on Longhair’s ‘Go to the Mardi Gras,’ Jessie Hill’s ‘Ooh Poo Poo Pa Doo’ and Lee Dorsey’s ‘Sittin’ On My Ya-Ya.’
“But at home in Los Angeles, where he moved with the A.F.O. Executives in the early 1960s, Mr. Boudreaux was a ‘gentle giant,’ according to his daughter, Troye-Lynn Boudreaux-Starks.
“’Being a musician, he wouldn’t get home until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, but every single night he would wake us up because he would bring doughnuts,’ Boudreaux-Starks said. ‘He would want us to see, so he’d get us up.’
“Mr. Boudreaux’s love for his family extended past his fatherhood, according to his sister, Ava Motley, who said she spent one of her first years with her brother’s family when their mother dealt with a health issue.
“’I remember being raised by [Boudreaux and his wife, Ruby],’ Motley said. ‘To this day, I appreciate it.’
“Music was always a part of their lives, too. Mr. Boudreaux helped buy instruments for his siblings and children when they were interested, and family members remember conversations with him and lessons about music.
“Mr. Boudreaux eventually got his hands on his own saxophone, teaching himself to play later in life when nerve damage kept him from playing the drums, Boudreaux-Starks said. And once he learned, the sax rarely left those hands.
“’He’d blow his saxophone at football games. He was well-known at [the football stadium for] USC,’ Boudreaux-Starks said. ‘He’d also go to Pasadena … and play his saxophone on the promenade. Regulars knew him, and they would go and sit and stand and watch him play the saxophone up until maybe a year ago.’
“A memorial in New Orleans has not been planned for Mr. Boudreaux.”
Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack shared his thoughts about Bodreaux with Offbeat magazine: “What John Boudreaux was doing on drums deserves a special look. Instead of playing a backbeat on the snare drum, he played all four beats on the snare, a little New Orleans funk cha-cha. Suddenly, the Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’ and other Motown hits had John’s groove stamped on them. They didn’t know how to play as funky as Boudreaux, but you could hear it all the same.”
Learn more about Boudreaux’s life and career by reading this Q&A interview from Offbeat magazine’s March 2002 issue: www.offbeat.com/articles/john-boudreaux.
For a sampling of Boudreaux’s drumming, listen to this recording of Professor Longhair’s “Go To The Mardi Gras.”
And here is Boudreaux drumming on Lee Dorsey’s 1961 recording of “Ya Ya.”