M usic is elemental to the rites of matrimony. Songs of love and hope make the newly- weds swoon, and charge the family and guests at receptions to kick up their heels in breaks from the feasting and toasting to the bride and groom and their life ahead. Weddings make musicians happy, if not so much for vicarious memories of their own cake-cutting day long past as for the economics: Receptions that really rock are high-dollar jobs compared to nightclub or festival gigs. Deacon John Moore, the effervescent 70-something New Orleans bandleader, was playing weddings before America put men on the moon (1969.) A few thousand weddings later, some of his clients are the grandchildren of couples at whose weddings he once played. “The songs people love for weddings have changed some,” says Deacon John philosophically. “When I first got married in the 1960s, I sang ‘AllTheseThings’ for my bride” — the Allen Toussaint composition that Art Neville’s vocals made popular. “I was in the studio when Art sang it in 1962. I played it at a wedding a few weeks ago.” What are the most-requested songs? “Number one is ‘At Last,’” reports Deacon. “The version sung by Etta James.” As often happens in the evolution of a given song’s popularity, soul singer Etta James came late to it. Written in 1941 by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, “At Last” was popularized by Glenn Miller’s big band, and then in 1960, James recorded it on her debut album, probably the most popular set of lyrics the blues diva put on wax: At last my love has come along My lonely days are over and life is like a song, oh yeah At last the skies above are blue My heart was wrapped up clover the night I looked at you I found a dream that I could speak to A dream that I can call my own I found a thrill to press my cheek to… Jimmy Maxwell, the namesake leader of the orchestra he launched in 1981, is a mainstay of Mardi Gras balls and by his

own “conservative estimate” has played “well in excess of a thousand weddings.” Maxwell, too, finds “At Last” to be the most-requested song. “The bride chooses the first song,” says Maxwell. “The song is human nature-driven, emotionally and psychologically — that tempo, those lyrics put the bride in a special place.” But descending from the pinnacle of Etta James’s pipes on “At Last,” the most- requested song tier diverges between Maxwell and Deacon John. For Deacon John: “Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World.’” Mmm. A good waltz, sweet lyrics — skies of blue, red roses too. For Maxwell, whose orchestra has a sleek website with video clips of grand wedding moments: “Number two is ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ as Frank Sinatra sang it.” Makes sense entirely— it’s moody,romantic, man sings love, woman feels adored. Where Deacon John and the Ivories captured a corner of the wedding market as the premier rhythm-and-blues cover band inNewOrleans, the Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra traveled the South in the 1990s, playing “older, more moneyed weddings,” says Maxwell. “Atlanta’s Piedmont Driving Club, country clubs in Houston, Dallas, the Florida Panhandle. We might have peaked in the late ’90s, playing 200 a year.Things shifted after 9/11. If we do 50 in a year now, that’s a lot.” That’s still around a wedding a week, with a dozen musicians and attendant travel costs. “Time marches on,” says Maxwell. “A prophet is not guaranteed honor in his own town unless you work at reviving and remarketing.My dad was once the drummer in my band. He’ll be 90 in January. I live Keep that breathless charm. Won’t you please arrange it? ’Cause I love you Just the way you look tonight.

next door to him. My son Robert Maxwell is the drummer now. I am not quite retired. We work with an incredible singer, Mark Monistere — the kid sounds like Harry Connick Jr. — and he can do a lot of pop rock. Robert and Mark are carrying us into the 21st century.” The third most popular song for Maxwell is the Harry Connick Jr. version of “It Had to Be You,” and at four, the soul crooner Al Green with that ineffable falsetto on “Let’s Stay Together.” Deacon John counters with his most popular list, which descends to the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” and Percy Sledge singing “When A Man Loves A Woman.” “I’m a chameleon of sorts,” says Deacon John. “I can blend in with the woodwork. People have flownme and the band out to California and up to New York to play weddings. I save all the thank-you letters. I’ve had families that had three daughters, and they called me back to play each one’s wedding. “I have played for Jewish, Greek, Latino and African American weddings,” says the Deacon, smiling like a candidate warming to his stump speech. His most memorable gig on the wedding circuit was in 1989, when the actor John Goodman married Anna Elizabeth (Annabeth) Hartzog, a UNO graduate he met in 1987 while filming Everybody’s All American in Louisiana.

“Goodman was such a nice guy, and he loves New Orleans culture and music; he married a girl from Bogalusa and pulled out all the stops. Chef Paul Prudhomme was there in person. Great food. We were on a riverboat. Aaron Neville sang ‘Ave Maria’in the church, and he sang at the reception. Goodman had the Dixie Cups.They sang ‘Chapel of Love.’ Bruce Willis, one of his friends, jammed with my band. I didn’t know he could play the harmonica; he did a few blues songs. Roseanne Barr was there with her [former] husband Tom Arnold. Jesse Hill sang ‘Ooh “ Goodman had the Dixie Cups. They sang ‘Chapel of Love.’ Bruce Willis, one of his friends, jammed with my band. I didn’t know he could play.”

[Page 18] Deacon John, photo by Cheryl Gerber



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