Waxed - Record Review from Issue #18 Nov-Dec 1998
By Jim Markel, No Depression
Carlo Nuccio has been kicking around New Orleans for over a decade, serving as the drummer in residence for the roots-rock scene in the Crescent City. Some might recall him from the Continental Drifters’ first recordings; he contributed much to that band’s earthy soul with such songs as “Mississippi” and “Mezzanine”. His vocals are also distinctive, falling somewhere between Tom Waits and Levon Helm on a bender.
Nuccio left the Drifters a few years back and has stayed busy by doing session work for such diverse artists as Tori Amos and Buckwheat Zydeco. Finally, he has found the time to put together his first solo record, on which he wrote or co-wrote all the songs while providing most of the instrumental backing.
Loose Strings does not disappoint those listeners who heard something special in Nuccio’s tenure with the Drifters. While keeping to that band’s rootsy sound on songs such as “My Home” and “Church Of The Dwindling Spirit”, Nuccio peppers the record with pop elements, from White Album-era John Lennon (”Sake Of The Family” and “Jesus Freak”) through Byrdsy jangle (”Losing My Direction”) to early Elvis Costello (”Don’t Call Me A Flirt” and “The Analyst”). However, at the heart all of these pop smarts lies a shadowy side announced in the Waits-like opener, “Zoo”. Drunken nights, twisted people and relationships gone wrong float throughout and are given weight by Nuccio’s world-weary vocals.
Drummers have often been the brunt of musical humor, but Loose Strings proves that drummers and their music aren’t always a laughing matter. Nuccio’s music stands as solidly as the rhythm he provides.
01 January 2010 — by Kathleen McCann, Offbeat Magazine
The first time Carlo Nuccio heard the phrase “Who Dat” was from the mouths of radio show characters Amos and Andy. “‘Who dat say who dat when I say who dat?’” he quotes. “I remember that, and to tell you the truth, when we went to do it, I got the words wrong. You know, it’s New Orleans. I’m pretty familiar with the diction, and we’ve all read A Confederacy of Dunces, but actually, ‘Who dat talking bout’ was well more proper than ‘Who dat say.’”
Who Dat 1983 session (L to R) Dave Waymer, Brad Edelman, Steve Monistere, Jim Hill, Carlo Nuccio, Reggie Houston, Aaron Neville, Lewis Oubre, Ron Swoboda and Art Neville. Photo by Rick Olivier.
In 1983, the New Orleans Saints were facing what could be their first year in the playoffs, and Nuccio, a lifelong, hardcore, thick-and-thin Saints fan, was 22. He saw his opportunity. He and his friend Steve Monistere, a musician and producer, decided to take the “Who dat” chant, heard at the time from the St. Augustine High School marching band, and put it to a song.
“I think we mutually agreed the song would be ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’” Nuccio says. “We didn’t know how we were going to do it. I opted for a traditional arrangement. It’s not really second line; it’s more of a military type of thing. I figured out a place to put it in that felt good, felt right.” Once the skeleton of the song had come together, Nuccio says he felt committed to continue. He called pianist Dave Torkanowsky, whom he enlisted to get the rest of the musicians together.
“I was listening to rock ’n’ roll at the time,” Nuccio says. “I didn’t really know a lot of Dixieland horn players, and I knew that he would. He ended up playing bass and piano, I played drums, and he got the horn players. We got that in an afternoon.”
To fill out the song, Nuccio, a Hawkettes fan, decided on Art Neville. Neville told Nuccio it might be more his brother Aaron’s style. Aaron agreed.
“It was so exciting when we first recorded it,” Neville remembers. “I’ve been a Saints fan since there were Saints. We used to hang with the players in the late 1960s and early ’70s at the Nite Cap on Louisiana and Carondelet, and I was working with some of the actual players on the original.” Neville recorded “When the Saints Go Marching In” and the “Who dat” chant with the Saints’ offensive line.
From then on, there was no stopping it. “At the time, B97 was a big chain station, and Walton and Johnson were here in town,” Nuccio says. “They did this crazy stunt. They locked their door and played it back to- back their whole show. We were laughing about it, but at the end of that day, it was kind of sewn into the fabric of New Orleans. A week or two later, Howard Cosell opened Monday Night Football—a very educated man. They played the song, and after the music stops, the first words you hear were, ‘Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints,’ and that was it.”
Twenty-six years later, the song is nowhere near the end of its run, and neither is Nuccio. As a diehard Saints fan, he couldn’t resist a revamp, not now, in the best season the team has played yet. So he gathered a who’s who of local musicians, gospel-fied the song, and “Glory Bound” was born.
Aaron Neville returned to help, joined by Theresa Andersson on vocals. “It was cool working with Theresa,” Neville says. “She was a big fan, and she put a lot of energy into it. It was amazing. It was nice to be rerecording and refreshing the song.”
“It was just Carlo and me recording,” Andersson says, “and then Aaron Neville came in. It was such a huge honor to work with him; he’s one of the great New Orleans musicians. I met him, we said hello, and then all I could do was take a big deep breath and go for it. We had really good energy.”
Andersson, a native of Sweden, says she’s been converted to Saints fandom. “It’s very exciting to me that the Saints are so strong. It means so much to so many people. It’s been tough for me to learn all the rules, but I’ve been getting more and more into it. I didn’t really follow football, but I’ve been watching the games, and even more I find myself sneaking a peek at the score if I’m not watching, or checking the score on my cell phone. You get involved because it’s your town and your team.”
The original recording “was a whirlwind,” Nuccio says, “and who could’ve known where it would go. I would’ve said you’re out of your everloving mind.” When he saw Neville for the re-recording, Nuccio says he told him, “You weren’t driving a Cadillac back then.’ Things have changed a lot for all of us. It was a different time. I think it really helped us all career-wise. I certainly have had a good run in life, in my business.”
“Glory Bound” is available for download from iTunes; a portion of the proceeds from song sales to the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.
By Maria C. Montoya, The Times-Picayune
One of the city's preeminent drummers (as well as a talented songwriter), Carlo Nuccio was once as well known for his off-stage nocturnal exploits as for his amazing stage skills. He has recorded with Tori Amos and Emmylou Harris and has gigged with just about every band that ever called New Orleans home.
That would include Royal Fingerbowl, the growly Tin Pan Alley trio fronted by the extraordinary New Orleans songwriter Alex McMurray. They broke up several years ago but Royal Fingerbowl comes out of retirement Tuesday night for a one-off reunion gig at One Eyed Jacks.
I talked with Nuccio this week about the meaning of it all.
Every review of Royal Fingerbowl seems to reference Tom Waits. I don't find that entirely inaccurate. Your thoughts?
Ugh! You had to do it, huh?
It's a sensitive topic with the band. Let's put it this way: I see why people make that correlation. But Alex swears he was doing his thing before he ever even heard of Tom Waits. And so now he's doing his thing and all anyone ever says is 'You sound like Tom Waits! You sound like Tom Waits!' Like he stole his whole shtick. But Alex's vision is so much bigger than that.
Well, like Waits' world, the people and places in the Royal Fingerbowl pantheon seem so down and out.
Anyone who has been through the trials and tribs of being a severe boozer and hanging out in bars as much as Alex and I have will encounter some pretty seedy characters. And they're hard not to recognize and pen a song about. I mean, there are certain things you can pick up from hanging out in a bar and seeing somebody fall off his stool.
Describe Royal Fingerbowl's music to me in your own words.
Alex was a fine arts major. He's a well-schooled, deep songwriter. There are not a lot of playful characters in his work, it's true. Most of them are shady. But there always seems to be some sort of liberating victory with all of his characters, whether they're selling their silver hair combs to get money to buy another drink, or they're beating their kids; somehow, when it's over, you don't hate the person. To be able to turn that kind of seedy character into a positive image is pretty tough to do. There is redemption in his work.
Let's talk about you: Exactly how many bands have you played drums with in New Orleans?
Wow. Too numerous to count. Just last weekend, I played with four.
What do drummers have in common?
Personally, I don't think I have a single thing in common with other drummers. I really don't. What most drummers are missing these days is a song sensibility. It's like they're up there just to boom, whack and beat their stuff; they're not thinking about the lyrics or dimension of the song -- you know: bringing it up, bringing it down, staying off the lyrics. Most guys -- and I'm not going to mention any names, but a bunch of 'em come to mind -- just seem to clobber right through.
You make it sound like work if it's done well.
I think the opposite: When you're just clobbering everything, that's work. But if you're just listening to everybody else in the band, listening to the lyrics and you're not thinking about what you're doing, then it's easy.
So what sets you apart?
I believe it's because I have extensive training on other instruments as well. And -- being a songwriter myself -- I don't appreciate it when somebody crushes my stuff. So I don't want to crush anybody else's stuff, either.
I have recently hired you to give my young son drum lessons. What changes in his life should I expect to see as a result?
Well, usually, when people call and tell me 'I think my son's going to be a drummer -- he's got rhythm, ' I tell them: Discourage him! But what changes will you see? You'll probably notice that his grades fall. His teachers will call you and say: 'We can't take it anymore. He beats on everything. Come take him away.' Aside from that, maybe he'll make a couple of bucks in the business.
You have a rather, ahem, "illustrious" reputation. Some might suggest that hiring you to mentor my son might be a risky venture.
Well, sure: I've had my comeuppances in all sorts of ways -- all sorts of derelict ways. But that's all over now. I'm too old for child's play anymore. Too old for the nonsense.
Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at JLIB_HTML_CLOAKING ; or at 504.352.2535 or 504.826.3309.