Remembering Big Chief Jolley of the Wild Tchoupitoulas

We’re marking the anniversary of the birth of George Landry aka Big Chief Jolley of the Wild Tchoupitoulas. He was born today back in 1917.

Let’s visit Sea Saint Studios in Gentilly where Landry coaxed his nephews: Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril; the Neville Brothers into backing him on what would be his debut, and only, LP. The Wild Magnolias had already charted the territory of wild-ass, black-masking Indians recording their culture’s music but nobody in New Orleans had the chops of the Nevilles, and Landry knew his kinfolk would be his ace in the hole.

It would be the first time the four brothers recorded together fulfilling a wish that their mother Amelia had before she passed in a hit and run auto accident in 1975.

‘Man, this is the winning combination right here—y’all can’t see that?’ Mick Jagger

They got Allen Toussaint on board, and he offered up his Sea Saint Studio as well as getting in touch with Island Records so the men would have a label, Antilles, to issue their work.

The band lead off the album with Brother John, a Cyril Neville-penned tune written in homage to John “Scarface” Williams, Big Chief of the Mohawk Hunters who once sang with Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns. Williams was stabbed to death in front of the Dew Drop Inn in March 1972.

Cyril Neville reflects on early memories of walking along LaSalle Street with his uncle: “I remember going back there with my uncle George, Chief Jolley, and him telling me that was where Louis Armstrong was born in Jane Alley. I used to go back there because I knew the history of that area. They called it the battlefield, that’s where a lot of the Indians came from.”

After the Indians record dropped, a revue of Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Earl King and Big Chief Jolly with the Wild Tchoupitoulas played a handful of gigs. I get goosebumps just thinking about what a bill that was.

“It turned out so magical, with all the tunes and words my uncle had written, based on the traditional Indian chants. There were no real arrangements until we got into the studio, where it all just happened.” Charles Neville.

Sadly there would be no second album from Big Chief Jolley and his nephews, in an interview Landry declared that “he had not been properly compensated by Toussaint and Sehorn.”

This was not the first or the last time that Marshall Sehorn was accused of playing it fast and loose with New Orleans musicians money.

George Landry, Big Chief Jolley of the Wild Tchoupitoulas passed away in August of 1980 at the age of 60. He’s buried at Resthaven Cemetery in New Orleans East in section B near the main roadway.

His one LP is now regarded as a stone cold Deep South cult classic. If it’s not in your collection beg borrow or steal til you can lay your hands on it.

The Library of Congress added the album to the National Recording Registry in 2012

“Like I used to say with the Meters all the time on a gig: We ain’t taking no prisoners tonight! School is in session, y’all!” Art Neville

The Wild Tchoupitoulas:
Big Chief Jolley (George Landry)
Spy Boy (Amos Landry)
Flag Boy (Carl Christmas)
Trail Chief (Booker Washington)
Second Chief (Norman Bell)

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When Brer Rabbit Meets Coyote: African-Native American Literature edited by Jonathan Brennan

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