Pullman Porter Blues is the musical that just kicked off the 50th Season for The Seattle Repertory Theatre. This jewel of a play sheds light on a dark slice of history when trains were run with the help of the Pullman Porters who were treated often like train slaves. Pullman Porter Blues is written by Award winning Seattle playwright, Cheryl L. West and she has delivered her best work here with great lines and an excellent cast with three generations of men singing three part harmony and blending beautifully. The female lead, Sister Juba, played by E. Faye Butler, gets to deliver the best lines and gives a raucous delivery of some of my favorite classic blues songs such as Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues written by Ida Cox. They also sing Sweet Home Chicago, See See Rider, Trouble In Mind and other great blues tunes that work seamlessly with the words in the play. The subject matter of organizing to empower the worker is also very timely as we see workers on strike at Walmart today. This premier is a real masterpiece for Seattle to be proud of for it’s historical enlightenment and pure entertainment, clearly headed for more stages. This showed the blues is Real music for Real People and elevated it to a place of respect on stage at The Rep for the start of it’s 50th Season. Pullman Porter Blues runs thru Oct. 28th. Written by Marlee Walker
Just after the unexpected death of club owner and jazz & blues enthusiast, Gaye Anderson from The New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle's historic Pioneer Square, we lost powerful blues vocalist, Kathi McDonald. What follows is a piece written by Kate Hart, leader of the Seattle Women in R&B, who featured Kathi McDonald in the group for many years. The Funeral for Kathi McDonald was held on Saturday October 6th at Hawthorne Funeral Home in Mt Vernon Washington. Donations for the Kathi McDonald Life Fund to support expenses and for more information on Kathi's life celebration events in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit www.marinrecords.com.
KEEPER OF THE COMPLAINT
Written by Kate Hart
I had bought Kathi’s records in the seventies and had seen her name on the back of at least fifty albums. She had performed on two hundred and at least one hundred of those were certified gold. She was considered one of the best back up singers in the world, one of the best in the style that she sang. Style? It was, ‘I’m scraping my face on cement-need to get screwed right now-I feel everything too much-missing a layer of skin’ style. When Kathi’s voice went to the place right above her hair, I guarantee you’d cry. I never understood any words she sang. Words weren’t important to her. It was how her voice moved, how total her range was. It was about the abuse her throat could take night after night. Kathi McDonald was a singing machine.
I grew up in Detroit. Leaving in 1977, I drove until the water stopped me, which meant Seattle. I had heard Kathi lived in the Seattle area. While I was busy singing for my supper, Kathi was singing for the famous--none other than The Rolling Stones, Long John Baldry, Elton John, Freddie King, Tina Turner, Big Brother & The Holding Company and Joe Cocker. Leon Russell used to take her along with the other women in his stable to the revival tents in the South so they could learn the right way. Her first band was The Santana Blues Band, later to become Santana.
I didn’t meet her until 1991 at Bumbershoot, when Nancy Claire (another great female vocalist featured in Seattle Women in R&B) and I went to ask her to join Seattle Women. Her talent was everything I thought it would be. She was better in person than on record, if that was possible. I stood watching, not believing what I was hearing. How could anyone be that good? I was excited. Finally, I would meet the great Kathi McDonald. There she was 5’3” wearing the same high heels that were part of being an Ikette with Tina Turner, stomping each foot as if the ground was where the sound was coming from. As soon as we met, Kathi started to talk at me, as if she had known me for years. She was yelling how there was no dressing room. What I didn’t realize then is that everyone was of equal importance to Kathi, unless you got her work, then you were elevated by a small degree above the rest of humanity. That was how we would communicate for the next 20 years: Kathi complaining and talking at everybody in the room. I tried to ‘really talk’ over and over again but to no avail because Kathi didn’t do meaningful conversation. Everything was a joke, a quip, a bit of gossip – hopefully all of which would make us laugh, which it did. And her wit! It was sharp and dangerous. Something like Dorothy Parker meets Janis Joplin. She hated that she was often compared to Joplin. Honestly, I sort of understood because Kathi was a better singer than Joplin. (Kathi had taken Janis’ place in Big Brother and the Holding Company when she died). I think that she believed Joplin’s fame should have been hers. When a fan would ask her to sing Joplin she would turn on them and spew out something like, “I don’t sing dead white people!” That would shut them up. Probably wouldn’t be asking for am autograph after that.
Watching Kathi in action singing, complaining, talking, walking, dancing, performing, cleaning house, working, or whatever, was like watching a monkey screw a football. It was exhausting. She was the type that had to have the rockets on her back. But like any veteran performer knows, keeping rockets on your back carries a high price, because there is re-entry and that is always difficult. Re-entry is the worst for a performer. You need to decompress in a ‘let-out-the-steam-slowly’ kind of way. It’s taken me years to know and master this. It had never entered Kathi’s mind.
So with those rockets she, of course, had an off-again on-again; I can handle it, romance with drugs. She also drank which could lead to some interesting times on stage. Like the time she sang “Mojo Workin’” for forty-five minutes. I’ll never forget having to stand on stage, watching her and the show go completely out of control. The place was packed, my hands were tied, it was Kathi with a rocket, and the only thing I could have done was pull the plug. Hell, she even gave the bartender a solo. We informed her of her blues aria the next day. I was worried about her. This wasn’t some nobody getting drunk once in a while. She was an idol of mine, a woman who was going to kill herself with booze if she didn’t stop soon. I couldn’t really say anything, at the time I drank too. So we made light of it. The group teased her about it for years. That incident, coupled with her boyfriend, who wouldn’t put up with her drunkenness, put an end to her booze exploits for a short time. But drugs, she kept those around like a savings account, just in case she might need it on a rainy day. She never lectured us about the evils of them because she didn’t have to. Her existence and the way she sang made everything clear. She was a living example that life could be successful, tragic and corrupted. In her mind, there was no place for her to go, except for the private world of dope. I believe she was too sensitive to live in this world.
My husband and I were concert promoters and one night we were all standing on the side of the stage watching Booker T. & The MG’s. This was history, R&B history. It was how you played the stuff. The way R&B humps, grinds, builds, breathes, connects, keeping it simple, embraces, like good sex. Booker T. & The MGs. Man they wrote the book. I watched Kathi watch them, tears in her eyes, the layer of skin she was missing was so obvious. She had to use. What she felt, the depth of it was too much for her. She felt things more intensely than most of us, which made her sing so intensely.
Today, I got a call from Seattle Women alumni, Patti Allen, telling me that Kathi’s heart stopped. Of course it did. Really, what took it so long? I believe her heart was breaking from the moment she first hit the stage. Maybe the only way to keep that big heart beating was to fill it with alcohol and the preferred drug of choice. Maybe those things filled up the hole where life should have been fully experienced. Kathi had to complain, had to make it difficult. It was her safety mechanism. I loved her for that. I loved her for surviving her unique pain.
Kathi, I say goodbye to you as you join your blues sister L.J. You were a true original. There will be no one like you, in body or in spirit.
GAYE ANDERSON – RIP
Here are a few of the things people have said about her
since she passed away in late August and a few of my own words as well:
Gaye Anderson’s contribution to Seattle’s music scene was
She had a heart of gold.
She was a force to be reckoned with.
She was a voice of authority.
She was honest and open.
Generous and yet proud.
Passionate and driven.
She was a Seattle trend keeper.
As owner and operator of the New Orleans Creole Restaurant,
Gaye has been at the center of jazz and blues in Seattle like a large fountain
erupting nightly with free expressions of that great American art form called
jazz and blues.
She was a cornerstone in the foundation of Seattle music,
someone we thought would be there forever.
Gaye Anderson’s depth of commitment to live music was
unmatched and personal. She waited
tables, served drinks, cooked food, did the books, hired & fired, fixed
toilets and still managed to make everyone feel special. She was born the oldest of four kids, in
Tukwila, Washington, and went to Foster High School. She measured up to maybe 5 feet tall, 95
pounds and platinum blonde hair and yet was occasionally seen dragging
misbehaving 350+ pound men out the front door by their ear. Her mission was to bring local and some
touring traditional jazz & blues to the people of Seattle for 27 years,
first on Yesler and later moving around the corner to 114 - First Avenue South,
with decent and very reasonably priced New Orleans food. Her demeanor was fast and furious, with kind,
yet hot-tempered hospitality, and most often it came with a welcoming smile and
kind words for whoever walked in the door.
She didn’t hold back much, sometimes she was grouchy. The blues is, afterall, real music for real
people. Drummer Clarence Acox got it
right when he said she was ‘completely unpretentious’ in her recent Seattle
Times obit written by longtime Seattle jazz writer, Paul DeBarros on Sept.1, in
which he referred to the her club as ‘ground zero for traditional New Orleans
Jazz’. She loved people especially on
Mardi Gras, as is demonstrated by the wall of Polaroid snapshots on her bar
wall of various visitors, not celebrities, just happy patrons often pictured
cheek to cheek with Gaye herself.
Love thy neighbor?
She lived it. She didn’t need a
church, she created a space that is still a ‘church’ for traditional jazz &
blues and everyone is welcome. She knew
how important this sense of place was for the people of Seattle that she, and
her life-love Jimmy Allen, had created.
She gave us all a sense of belonging that is an essential need we all
share. Her stage is a sacred space for
live jazz and blues seven nights a week.
She had that stage built JUST so Dizzy Gillespie could play at The New
Orleans. Gaye was one of the first in the
entire country, to offer Charles Brown a ‘comeback gig’ when he had yet to make
a comeback recording. She took big risks
on music she liked such as boogie-woogie piano queen, Katie Webster for one of
her annual Fat Tuesday events – one of the most memorable nights for blues
fans. She also booked blues and jazz
names you may not have known, but were touring and needing a place to
play. She booked lots and lots of great
names before others got smart such as Big Miller, Alberta Adams, Eddie Shaw
& The Wolf Gang, Winard Harper, Tony Coleman, and so many local groups too
many to count, and helped to give home to such notable names as Tom McFarland,
Isaac Scott, Dave Conant, Filé Gumbo, The Seattle Women in R&B, and many,
many others before it was cool. Many of
these artists are framed in photographs or charcoals all over the brick walls
of The New Orleans. At one point, she
took a big risk sponsoring the first run of “Janis” a very well-received
original musical at a local theatre, starring our favorite, Duffy Bishop, as
Janis and another New Orleans favorite, Edmonia Jarrett as Bessie Smith. As it turned out, Janis’ sister got a lawyer
and stopped the production from continuing because she could, but Gaye got the respect
of many who did get to see it because she was willing to get behind this great
The New Orleans won a variety of awards from various local
jazz & blues organizations over the years, and Gaye was personally inducted
into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame. She
was always the first to offer her venue up for FREE for a benefit, memorial,
wedding, or other good cause. She was
the first to say ‘yes’ to posters on her walls, fliers and pamphlets and
newsletters of all kinds on her entry table, even from her competitors. She was generous to a fault and probably gave
more than she should have, yet insisted on paying the musicians, many who
offered to play a benefit for the club many times over yet she always
refused. She bought food and cakes and
drinks for many and refused to take people’s money. When things got tighter and tighter, I would
tell other club owners, ‘if the New Orleans goes you all take a hit’ because
this venue is a landmark in the Pioneer Square and overall Seattle brand.
Michelle O’Bama said in her recent speech at the DNC,
success is not the amount of money you make, it’s the amount of difference you
make in people’s lives. Gaye Anderson
made a big difference in many people’s lives.
Mine for one. She was not into
email or computers at all, but Gaye said ‘Yes!’ pretty much every time I
brought in a group or artist I believed should be playing her club, or an event
idea like Veteran’s Day Blues and howabout a radio station in the front
window? Well, it blocked the view of the
stage and we all agreed to make it mobile, yet she never stopped believing in
people, especially musicians and creative types. Many knew her as a friend first, then as a
friend in business. Even though she and
I did business for over 25 years, she always asked about my mom and I always returned
In recent years, she would ask me to help her listen to band
demos to see who she should consider to book in the club, always wanting to
give some artist a break, in addition to booking her favorites like Lil’ Bill
& The Bluenotes, and Jeff & The Jet City Fliers who have had the annual
Mardi Gras gig for at least the past 5 years.
She was kind beyond measure, even allowing the use of her place for
Alcoholics Anonymous lunches once a week.
As far as I can remember, The New Orleans was the FIRST club in Seattle
(besides a small number of old school piano bars) to permanently install a
beautiful full grand piano for the purpose of live ‘old school’ jazz and blues
– not lounge music. She detested people
sitting at her bar and ordering up their food and beverages (my personal
favorite is the catfish strips, a large pile with dip for under $8), only to
stare at their phones rather than enjoying the music or each other. Being in the area of the stadiums, many
ballgames would bring in non-music fans and Gaye would practically pull people
in for the music. She was the ‘soul of
Pioneer Square’ and she played an essential role in this, Seattle’s most
historic musical area.
She had a reputation for letting you know, with no
passiveness, exactly where she stood. If
she did have a reason to give you a piece of her mind, once it was done she
would go on and forgive and forget. No
B.S. She was down to earth, salt of the
earth, and loyal as can be to her true friends, one of which she herself said
was the late great Floyd Standifer, grandfather of Seattle Jazz who passed in
‘07. She provided a home for his
Wednesday Legacy jazz jam sessions, currently under the direction of award
winning drummer & teacher, Clarence Acox.
One artist told me a hilarious story about how she gave him extra money
for his CD project and he tried to give it back and she wouldn’t take it. Later, when the CD came out she was proudly
telling a customer about it and when the customer ignored her and turned to
walk away she immediately yelled out, “ F#%K YOU!” She had fierce love for her musicians.
She made a mark on Seattle, and was so loved and well
respected by artists and people of all kinds, she helped us define who we are
today as Seattleites. Gaye Anderson touched
so many people with her authenticity and tremendous friendship that we will filled The New Orleans Creole Restaurant with a huge Celebration of her Life with beads and Mardi Gras costumes for seven-days-and-nights with many, many artists
to give heartfelt performances in her honor to capacity crowds just like she
would have wanted, nothing less, although she would not have wanted it to be
about her at all. No doubt, she is now
booking bands at the Pearly Gates with the same pride, personality and
persistence as always. Gaye Anderson
went into a diabetic coma and died from heart and lung complications just as we
entered a Blue Moon (the second Full Moon in August), August 30th,
2012. She was 62 years old and is
survived by her mom, Alice, with whom she lived on Seattle’s Beacon Hill, and
her brother Joe, and a handful of nephews and nieces, not to mention the rest
of us who were simply blessed to be in the same room with her. As one artist said, ‘making music in her
honor will help us all heal from the burn.’
So how do we best honor her longterm?
You can always visit Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill,
where the city honored her brother, the late Washington Legislator. We could put an eternal flame in that park or
somewhere in Pioneer Square in her honor, or possibly tiles or bricks on the
sidewalk in front of the club giving tribute to Gaye and Jimmy for starting the
club and even raising money by selling bricks to keep the place going? We could sell shirts, hats, beads for the
benefit of the club. We could conduct
Sunday Benefit Brunches where everyone works for free and all of the money
raised goes to the club fund. In any
case, we cannot stop going to the actual venue to see live jazz and blues just
because she is not there. She would not
like that at all. Your job is to bring
your soul there and give everyone the kind of love and passion she gave to
Seattle music fans. It is now your job
to welcome the next generation of jazz and blues fans to Seattle’s legendary
New Orleans’ Creole Restaurant in historic Pioneer Square. I’ll see you there. www.neworleanscreolerestaurant.com