The second episode in HBO's acclaimed new drama series "Treme," set in post-Katrina New Orleans, opened with Coco Robicheaux singing "Walking With The Spirit" live in a city radio station studio. Finishing the song, the legendary musician lit a couple of candles and began performing a voodoo ritual to summon Erzulie Dantor, the Loa goddess of love.
Part Choctaw, part Cajun French, Robicheaux epitomizes the unique cultural heritage of his adopted city, with the House of Blues in the French Quarter once employing his deep Cajun drawl on its answering machine.
"He's a blues growler to the bone, a real true voice of the Louisiana spirit, colloquially cosmopolitan in the way that denizens of the South's great port city have historically been," praised a reviewer in Bomb Magazine. A fan on Amazon enthused, "Coco exudes Spanish moss and moonlit bayou fires, this is real swamp blues that will take you into another dimension," while Offbeat Magazine hailed him as, "one of the blues' best living songwriters."
A regular at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Robicheaux, whose birth name is Curtis Arceneaux, derived his stage name from Cajun mythology.
"They'd been calling me Coco Robicheaux since I was a little boy," he explained in an interview. "It was the name of the kid who got snatched up by the loup garou (a werewolf), and they would call kids that when they would be doing wrong, to scare you."
Born in Louisiana's rural Ascension Parish, set halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Robicheaux grew up not far from a nightclub where touring acts like Sam Cooke, James Brown, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, and Sam and Dave would perform.
Coco Robicheaux plays Stella Blues Supper Club tonight. Dinner and show costs $60; show-only costs $30. For reservations, call 874-3779.
The eighth annual MauiFEST Hawaii Hana Film Festival takes place Saturday at Hana Bay, with music and movies from 3 to 11 p.m. Besides Robicheaux and Vigreux, musicians performing include Brother Noland, Bradda Francis and Calvin Hoe. Among the documentaries screening are "Massacre at Kaupoa Beach," with music by Keola Beamer; "Hana Remembers Her Sons - The Sarah Joe," with music by Brother Noland; and "Endangered Species" by New Orleans filmmaker Hubie Vigruex. Admission is free. Robicheaux and Vigreux will also perform on Sunday with a "Sunset Hana Hoe" at the Paniolo Bar at the Hotel Hana-Maui from 5 to 7 p.m.
Witnessing these soul giants inspired the 13-year-old to start singing and playing trombone. When he was 15, his family moved closer to New Orleans, where, one day, he found a broken guitar on Bourbon Street, which he glued together and restrung with fishing line. Teaching himself, he created his own tunings, which still distinguish his playing today.
By high school, Robicheaux was playing nightly on Bourbon Street. And then he moved on to San Francisco, landing in the midst of the late-'60s hippie movement.
The name change arrived after his wallet and identity were stolen. The thief turned out to be a cop-killing, drug-smuggling sociopath.
"I couldn't stay in one place and keep a band together," he revealed in an interview. "In the middle of the night, I'd have to blast off. So I developed a style of playing bass, rhythm, and lead all at one time."
Moving back to New Orleans in the early 1990s, his burgeoning musical career was abruptly halted after being hit by a car while stepping onto a city street. Eventually healing enough to perform again, Robicheaux recorded the albums "Hoo Doo Party" and "Louisiana Medicine Man."
Then Hurricane Katrina hit.
Imagine Dr. John at his raspiest and you get a hint of his unique vocal style. Often talking through a song, on his latest release, "Revelator," he revels in swamp-soaked, psychedelic blues tales about magic men, fortunetellers and night mushrooms, performing with some of New Orleans' finest including Neville Brothers drummer Willie Green, saxophonist Tim Green, singer Irene Sage, virtuoso pedal steel guitarist Dave Easley and Astral Project bassist James Singleton.
Robicheaux makes his Maui debut beginning tonight at Stella Blues, accompanied by New Orleans-based percussionist Hubie Vigreux. Then the duo headline the free Hana Film Festival on Saturday night.
With Simon & Garfunkel having to cancel their 2010 North American reunion tour because of Art Garfunkel's vocal cord problems, fans of the legendary duo can kind of relive memories through musicians A.J. Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle, who have made a career out of recreating the harmony rich sound of S&G.
Swearingen plays acoustic guitar and his vocal range is similar to that of Paul Simon, while Beedle handles Art Garfunkel's high notes.
They describe their show as a retrospective, in contrast to a tribute act which tries to imitate the duo as closely as possible. And they don't try to look like the duo.
"It's not an impersonation," says Swearingen. "A tribute has taken on the meaning of a lookalike and forcing voices to sound like an act, as opposed to, this is amazing music and we're here to do it. It's like the way a classical musician would play a piece of music. Jon and I have a blend that is very reminiscent of that sound of that time. That's why I think it works and people keep coming back to see the show."
Both musicians share an admiration for the famous duo's music. "They're such a big inspiration to me," he continues. "I have my own CDs out and Paul Simon's writing and their sound was a huge influence. When I met Jon in the early '90s, we discovered we had a natural blend and we both loved the music."
Swearingen and Beedle's retrospective show encompasses songs from S&G's five studio albums and a handful of singles, beginning with some of their oldest work and advancing chronologically.
"What we're bringing to the table is just one guitar and two voices, and we're trying to recreate the sound of Greenwich Village in the 1960s," says Swearingen. "Even if you could see Simon and Garfunkel now, they're not doing intimate shows, they're playing with full bands, and they don't do the obscure songs we do like 'Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall,' 'Bleeker Street' and 'Richard Cory.' We like the hits, but we also like the obscure stuff."
A number of musicians similarly pay homage, including Fakin' It and the Guthrie Brothers in the U.S., and The Sounds of Simon and Homeward Bound in the U.K.
Simon and Garfunkel made their first recording in 1957 as Tom and Jerry. In the early 1960s they became a prominent presence in New York's Greenwich Village folk scene, releasing their debut "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." in 1964.
Swearingen and Beedle first met in the early '90s, and launched their first official retrospective show in 1992.
The duo has a new CD called "The Music of Simon and Garfunkel Live, Volume One." In 2002 they released a CD of original songs called "Paper Walls."
So how does he think Simon and Garfunkel might react to their show?
"I don't even know if they know," he responds.
Both Swearingen and Beedle also pursue solo musical careers. Swearingen released his sixth CD, "The Way," in 2009. He describes his own music closer to that of Tom Rush or James Taylor, and Rush actually recorded one of Swearingen's songs. Beedle released his CD, "A Long Time Gone," in 2006.
To check out how they compare to the original, here's a YouTube video: www.youtube.com/watch?v =by2ccW91mGg.