By Eric Overmyer
Hoodoo queens are a whole subgenre of New Orleans music. Dr. John does his version of "Marie Laveau" on the unjustly neglected 'N'awlin: Dis, Dat, or D'Udda' (which had the misfortune to come out in the summer of 2005). I have an abiding fondness for Oscar "Papa" Celestin's version from the Fifties. There are a number of different songs about another hoodoo queen, Mama Roux, including those by Dr. John, Henry Butler and Wanda Rouzan. And then there's "Mojo Hanna," in versions by the Neville Brothers, and Aaron Neville on his own. I like Aaron's version, but Art's lead vocals for the Brothers are superb, too. "She's a gumbo cooker/And an alligator hooker/Make a dead man jump and shout/Talking about a woman named Hanna/Where she live?/Thirteenth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana/What she do?/Tell me she's a mojo worker." Work it up, Hannah. If you don't think the various Neville versions are genius, listen to Tami Lynn's early take on the same song.
Early Aaron Neville? Nothing better than "Struttin' On Sunday." Late Aaron Neville? His version of the eccentric Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence's "I Bid You Goodnight" is transcendent. Praise Jesus. And from the same album, 'Warm Your Heart,' "Angola Bound" is in the classic tradition of great prison songs like "Shoo Fly," another New Orleans subgenre, alas. "Too many mornings gonna wake up soon/Oh Lord and eat my breakfast by the light of the moon/If you see my mama tell her this for me/I got a mighty long time I never go free/Angola bound now, Angola bound/I got lucky last summer now/When I got my time/My boy got hundred, I got ninety-nine." Dr. John can be heard on the chorus harmony.
Getting back to hoodoo, how about a couple of white boys spooked/thrilled by the whole idea? Sonny Landreth's "Congo Square." from his great 'South of I-10' album. That slide guitar is genuine gris-gris. And the drums? Like the song says, "Might be superstition but some kind of something going on down there/It's that old time tradition when they play the drums at night in Congo Square/You can hear 'em in the distance/And the old folks up the bayou say a prayer/That's when the voodoo people gather/And they play the drums at night in Congo Square." Some kind of something going on down there, indeed. Marie Laveau had devotees from all walks of life, black, white, rich, poor, slave, free. That's New Orleans, that's Creole-ization.
Some more Creole-ization -- BeauSoleil's "Conja (New Orleans 1786)" from their 'Cajun Conja' album. The great Cajun band has also delved deeply into the Creole and Zydeco traditions and acknowledged the ties and connections -- and this song celebrates the coming of voodoo to Louisiana. "From Santo Domingo, Guadeloupe and Martinique/Came the voodoo in 1786/There were people of color, seeking their freedom/Musical sorcerers, root doctors and griots/Reposing their powers on New Orleans." The song goes on to reference the historical Dr. John, a rival of Marie Laveau.