The Dirty Dozen Brass Band - Biography
By J Poet
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band AKA The Dirty Dozen, is a second line jazz band that has added funk, rock, R&B, bebop and hip hop rhythms to the New Orleans marching band style. By taking the music into clubs and stages around the world, the Dozens have introduced an old style of music to a new audience. Their innovations have changed the way the music is played and inspired a new generation of musicians thereby keeping the Brass Band music tradition alive.
Gregory Davis, Kirk Joseph and Kevin Harris met at the Fairview Baptist Church where they played in a pick up group that evolved into the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band. That band turned pro and became a popular local group, but the brass band tradition was dying out and the group splintered.
Davis, Joseph, and Harris and the band’s trombone player Charles Joseph, stayed together and with Ephram Towns, Roger Lewis, sax man Benny Jones and drummer Jenell Marshall they kept playing, looking for a way to inject some new energy into the tradition. They started adding jazz and bebop standards to the repertoire as well as novelty tunes like “The Theme from The Flintstones.” They called themselves the Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen after a club they played frequently, the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club. They landed a Thursday night residency at Daryl's, a popular Seventh Ward bar, then moved to a weekend gig at the Glasshouse that lasted almost eight years.
In 1980, after a few personnel shifts, they were “discovered” by WWOZ DJ Jerry Brock. He became their de facto manager, helped them write a press kit and made a recording that he played on his radio show. A career making live gig at Tipitina's in 1982 was their first show outside of the city’s black Wards, and they played their first European show at the Groningen Festival in Holland. Their debut My Feet Can't Fail Me Now (1984 Concord), included be bop and traditional blues tunes and did well in the US, but in Europe and Japan their music took off and they played to huge crowds at open air festivals. A gig at the Montreux Jazz Festival was recorded by Rounder Records as Live: Mardi Gras in Montreux (1984.) Its infectious energy attracted major label attention and they signed with Columbia.
Voodoo (1987 Columbia) was a riotously energetic outing with special guests Dr. John, Dizzy Gillespie and Branford Marsalis as was The New Orleans Album (1989 Columbia) with Danny Barker, Dave Bartholomew, Eddie Bo, and Elvis Costello. They also played on Costello’s Spike (1989 Warner). For Open Up: Watcha Gonna Do For the Rest of Your Life? ( 1991 Columbia) and Jelly (1993 Columbia), 15 tunes written by or associated with Jelly Roll Morton, the band relied on its own members and their free flowing, no holds barred style. They toured as the opening act for The Black Crowes in 1995, bringing their sound to a young rock audience.
Ears To the Wall (1998 Mammoth) was an attempt at soul and smooth jazz, while Buck Jump (1999 Mammoth), produced by John Medeski, was both solidly traditional and adventurous with traces of Latin, Soca, and be bop complimented by the sound of Medeski’s big Hammond B3. In 2000, they shortened their name to The Dirty Dozen and toured with the jam band Widespread Panic, often joining them on stage. They were featured on the band’s live album Another Joyous Occasion (2000 Widespread.)
Medicated Magic ( 2002 Ropeadope) included John Bell, Dr. John, Olu Dara, Norah Jones, DJ Logic, and Robert Randolph helping out on a collection of New Orleans R&B classics like “Sissy Strut,” “Junko partner” and “Big Chief.” We Got Robbed: Live in New Orleans (2003 Rykodisc) captured their stage act in front of an enthusiastic home town crowd. Funeral For a Friend (2004 Ropeadope) took the band back to the roots of their style with a collection of hymns and spirituals that slowly built from sorrow to jubilation. They went back on the road with Widespread Panic and played on their live album Night of Joy (2004 Sanctuary) and appeared on several tracks of the Modest Mouse CD Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004 Epic.)
In 2004 the Dozens signed with Shout! Factory and released a “Greatest Hits” compilation This is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (2005 Shout Factory.) For What's Going On (Shout Factory) they reinvented the classic Marvin Gaye protest album, an angry cry of pain in the wake of the devistation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. It included guest shots by guitarists Doug Bossi and Ben Keeler, and vocals by Chuck D, Bettye LaVette, G. Love, Ivan Neville, and Guru. It may be the best, most eclectic album they’re ever made.