The drummers of 101 Runners and friends featuring:
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux
Gang Flag Irving “Honey” Bannister
Flag Boy Ajay Mallory Jr.
Lionel Batiste Jr. (Bass Drum)
Chris Jones (Congas)
Alfred “Uganda” Roberts (Congas
Boubacar Cisokko (African Percussion)
Ricky Caesar (Draums)
Kerry Boudreaux (Standing Bass Drum)
Something exciting is happening in the New Orleans music scene, something that is unique to this city that could happen nowhere else. And not surprisingly for a city with such a rich musical history, it has happened before. Back in the mid-1970’s, the founding fathers of New Orleans funk – The Meters – joined forces with an uncle of the Neville family (brothers Art and Cyril were both in the Meters at that time), George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian tribe. This musical union brought together the traditional African chants and rhythms sung by the freed slaves in Congo Square in the late 19th century with the modern sounds of funk-rock, resulting in a seminal album titled simply “The Wild Tchoupitoulas”. This event also marked the beginning of the Neville Brothers band, as Aaron Neville also joined in with harmonies on the album, spurring on the brothers to go out as their own group. Now here we are in 2008, and the merging of modern funk and Mardi Gras Indian music has come around again, with the advent of a group called 101 Runners.
This musical concoction was the brainchild of Chris “BTO” Jones, a New Orleans percussion player who had returned to the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with an urge to start a fresh musical project. Long relationships with other musicians who had returned to town, as well as musically-oriented members of various Mardi Gras Indian tribes, allowed Jones to put together a band of solid funk musicians who backed a front line of percussionists and vocalists. He had similarly done this with “The BlueBrass Project” a few years earlier, bringing together New Orleans brass band players and bluegrass artists from North Carolina, even producing a fine album from that experiment. After a little more than a year performing exclusively at the Maple Leaf, allowing the band to work out the group of players who would provide consistency and growth, 101 Runners made their debut at Tipitina’s with their current (and strongest to date) lineup.
The show began with a short “soundcheck set” by the entire band, which was followed by a special duo performance of Tom Worrell (keys for 101 Runners) and Uganda Roberts, celebrating the music of Professor Longhair, for whom Uganda had been a longtime percussionist. They performed three “Fess” classics: “Tipitina”, “Her Mind Is Gone”, and “In The Night”. This tribute set the stage in “the house that Fess built” for the 101 Runners to expose their sound to longtime fans and newcomers alike. A short break ensued while the headliners took the stage, and once all the members were set up, 101 Runners began to spread their self-described “Indian Funk” through this legendary venue. Fronted now on vocals by Juan Pardo (War Chief of the Golden Comanches tribe), the percussion section is the heart and soul of 101 Runners – Jones, Lionel Batiste Jr. (Original Dirty Dozen), Jelly (Golden Comanches Wild Man) and AJ Mallory (Re-Birth Brass Band), as well as Uganda joining the band on this night. The rest of the band on this night included Worrell on piano, Sousaphone Master Kirk Joseph, and guitar Billy Iuso (Restless Natives). With a healthy crowd in attendance, the band tore through the “call-and-response” rhythms to get the crowd dancing and singing in unison. Juan also came dressed in his Indian suits from this year’s Mardi Gras, adding an extra authenticity to the music. And to add even an extra atmospheric edge, there were some amazing video collage projections provided above the stage by film-and-projection wizard, James “Dr. FX” Newby.
About an hour into the set, the crowd was granted a special treat, as the band was joined by frequent collaborator, the one and only Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles (and formerly of the Wild Magnolias tribe), dressed in his glowing pink 2008 Mardi Gras suit. With Monk now on board, the musicians were driven to take their sound to a new level, especially on songs like “Shotgun Joe” and “Handa Wanda”, Monk’s signature song. Monk sang and played tambourine with the spirit of a man 30 years younger, and Juan honored his elder by forgoing his suit, giving Monnk the center spot on stage, and joining the rhythm line behind Jones’ percussion kit. The crowd cheered loudly at the end of the 2 hour-plus set, calling out to various members of the band congratulating them on a top-notch performance. Smiles abound as everyone milled about the club, musicians and audience alike – everyone knew they had experienced a wonderful evening from a special band. 101 Runners are establishing “Indian Funk” as a rising force on the New Orleans music map, and the excitement continues. For two years now the 101 Runners have peddled their own brand of “heavy percussive Mardi Gras Indian funk.”
The current all-star roster features Big Chief Monk Boudreaux on vocals, Uganda Roberts on congas, Kirk Joseph on tuba, “Mean” Willie Green on drums, War Chief Juan Pardo on vocals and percussion, snare drummer Ajay Mallory, bass drummer Lionel Batiste Jr., guitarist Billy Iuso, keyboardist Tom Worrell and bandleader Chris Jones on congas. They celebrate their two year anniversary Saturday at the Maple Leaf.