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Kermit Ruffins: Five Essential New Orleans Songs

Kermit Ruffins (photo by Braden Piper, courtesy of Basin Street Records)

Kermit Ruffins (photo by Braden Piper, courtesy of Basin Street Records)


Beloved New Orleans trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins teaches and preaches the gospel of the city's ecstatic music, whether at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (his set happens on May 3) or via one of his life-affirming hometown gigs over the years with his band, the Barbecue (or BBQ) Swingers, at Vaughan's, Tipitina's or the Little Gem Saloon.

He's even got his own hangout — Kermit's Treme Mother in Law Lounge in the 7th Ward, which he took over in 2011, a couple of years after the death of Antoinette K-Doe, the widow of club's original, storied owner, Ernie K-Doe. Ruffins knows every corner and historic nook of NOLA, and he's so synonymous with the spirit of the city, that he played himself as a recurring character on HBO's "Treme" and served as a consultant to creator David Simon and the writers on the show.

As co-founder of the Rebirth Brass Band, which began when he was just a teenager, Ruffins helped usher in a younger generation's funkier take on New Orleans' traditional brass collectives parading through the French Quarter armed with trumpets, saxophones, trombones and sousaphones. By the early '90s, Ruffins went solo with the BBQ Swingers, and over the years, he's traveled the world, sat in with Jon Batiste and Stay Human on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," and released over a dozen solo albums, most via Basin Street Records, a label dedicated to the music of New Orleans.

So as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival marks its 50th anniversary, what better musician to ask for his "Five Essential New Orleans Songs" than Mr. Kermit Ruffins? We did — and he delivered a charming and personal list, which includes his own Rebirth Brass Band tune that's now one of New Orleans' most defining anthems. And New Yorkers rejoice, even if you can't get to Louisiana this spring — Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers are headed to Times Square to play Sony Hall on September 21.

Kermit Ruffins: Five Essential New Orleans Songs:

Rebirth Brass Band, “Do Whatcha Wanna (Pt 2)," Feel Like Funkin' It Up (1992)
My favorite. The most special time of my life, and I didn't realize I was writing a hit.

The Neville Brothers, “Brother John/Iko Iko," Fiyo on the Bayou (1981)
One of the most inspiring New Orleans songs ever! There is a story of how “Jocamo” by James “Sugarboy” Crawford (Davell’s grandfather) started becoming known as "Iko Iko," but that’s for another time.

Olympia Brass Band, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans," New Orleans Jazz Party (1995)
The most influential music ever; down to my first introduction to New Orleans music at 19 years old, when I started the Rebirth Brass Band in 1982.

Lee Dorsey, “Holy Cow," Working in the Coal Mine - Holy Cow (1966)
Just one of those old school songs that talk about love and bad luck. It’s just old school New Orleans!

The Meters, “Be My Lady," New Directions (1977)
I grew up in the lower 9th ward in New Orleans, and before I even started playing trumpet, I used to love to hear that song on the radio.

- Kermit Ruffins
April 2019

Read all of FUV's Five Essential Songs and Albums here.