Soul Serenade: The Wild Tchoupitoulas, “Meet de Boys on the Battlefront”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

Caught up in the HBO series Treme, Ken Shane is in a New Orleans mood this week. He delivers up a Crescent City classic from the Wild Tchoupitoulas.

New Orleans is a city that I’ve never visited. It seems odd for me to even write that because I have embraced the city’s culture so completely. I love the music, I love the food, I love the tradition. I wept with the rest of the world when Katrina washed the great city away in 2005.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of the HBO series Treme. I’m so involved in it that when each episode ends on Sunday night I’m disappointed that I have to leave New Orleans. The series is a brilliant showcase for that music that I mentioned (the food too!), presenting great live performances from the city’s finest musicians each week.

So Treme has me in a New Orleans place this week. After all, what city has produced more great music? The birth of jazz in New Orleans was just the beginning. And that tradition that I spoke of earlier? That goes on unabated.

Like a lot of people, my real introduction to the music of New Orleans came via the Neville Brothers. Their funky albums and incendiary live shows made me want to know more about the place that they came from. From there I went backwards to encounter some of the pioneers of jazz, funk, cajun, and zydeco music. I learned about the Mardi Gras Indians and their impact on the city’s musicians.

One such tribe is the Wild Tchoupitoulas. What set the Tchoupitoulas apart from other tribes was the self-titled album that they released in 1976. The group was led by George Landry, aka “Big Chief Jolly,” on vocals. They were backed by the legendary Meters, along with the Neville brothers, who were Landry’s nephews.

Although the album was not a commercial success, it got positive reviews, and left behind an indelible song. “Meet de Boys on the Battlefront” is a confrontational chant aimed at intimidating other tribes. It sure as hell would intimidate me.

Meet de boys on the battlefront
Meet de boys on the battlefront
Meet de boys on the battlefront
The Wild Tchoupitoulas gonna stomp some rump

Wild Tchoupitoulas is notable for one other reason; the experience of recording the album was the impetus for the four Neville brothers, Art (who was also in the Meters), Aaron, Charles, and Cyril, to form the Neville Brothers Band.

When I saw the Neville Brothers for the first time, they were at the Roxy in LA touring in support of their second album, Fiyo on the Bayou. Mark Knopfler was among the celebrities in the house that night. The Nevilles, always mindful of respecting the tradition, brought the Tchoupitoulas to the stage, in full Indian regalia. It was a spectacle that I will never forget.

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