RL Reeves Jr’s New Orleans Album of the Week: The Batiste Brothers Freeze

John Jeffrey Batiste and his future bride Estella, met in New York City, fell in love, and migrated to New Orleans where they raised a family of seven boys. Miss Estella inspired her kids to pursue careers in music, and her home became legendary as a place of Sunday afternoon jam sessions where the family would gather to raise the roof with one mighty voice.

We had people like Al Green practicing in our house. You’d see stuff like that downstairs, and we’d always come and check out all these great musicians and want to play. They just couldn’t keep us out of the rehearsal room. Dad got special permits to bring us to nightclubs and stuff like that

Russell Batiste

At the time of Miss Estella’s passing in 2007 she was survived by 7 sons, 23 grandchildren, 20 great-grand children, and countless nieces, nephews, and cousins.

You should know that when it came down to music in the family, Mom ran the show.

Paul Batiste

Crate-diggers across the globe start reaching for their billfolds if they prospect a dusty old 45, 78 or LP with the word Batiste or Baptiste on it. There have been hundreds of musicians bearing those names that have played and recorded over the decades.

David Batiste formed his band The Gladiators when he was still at St Augustine High School. In 1962, they took home first place at one talent show that’s still spoken of in reverential terms by the folks who saw their performance some six decades later. The brothers would go on to compete and win at their next battle at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater in 1965..

The Gladiators would record two highly collectible 7″ records: Funky Soul, and 6th Ward High Step before disbanding in the mid-70s. Out of the ashes of that group, brother Paul formed the legendary Batiste Brothers Band.

That brings us to our RL Reeves Jr’s Album of the Week. Freeze by the Batiste Brothers Band.

With hundreds of Batistes in Louisiana which of the family are on the LP? David Batiste, keyboards and vocals; Paul Batiste, guitar, flute and vocals; Michael Batiste, lead vocals and bass; Peter Batiste, keyboard and vocal; Russ Batiste, drums and percussion; Damon Batiste, percussion.

The album is now considered a classic in the deep southern funk canon but at the time it did not become the runaway smash that many felt it should have

In 1982, I wrote, It’s All About the Family. It’s a great song, but it seems it didn’t get the attention it should have gotten. When I conceived it, I thought it would become a million seller. When it didn’t become an all time favorite, I knew how hard the battle would be

Paul Batiste.

The Batiste Brothers Band recorded their debut LP in 1982. You can expect to pay up to $700 for a mint condition copy but before you lose the plot, and do something rash, please remember that somebody somewhere has an old banana box filled with unopened copies that they can’t figure out how to get rid of.

So why did Freeze not turn into a million seller?

What was going on in New Orleans in 1982?

The NFL team, the Saints were dealing with a cocaine scandal; Nastassja Kinski was in town to film Cat People; a Pan American World Airways jetliner crashed trying to take off from our airport and killed over a hundred people including 13 Wisconsin school girls who’d just returned to their motel room after having supper in the French Quarter; MTV was so brand new that it was being broadcast in mono; and Winnie’s Bar was the hotspot where cat’s like Ernie K-Doe, Johnny Adams, and Lee Dorsey were playing.

It’s not hard to figure out the Brothers couldn’t gain traction. The big pop acts of that long-ago year were Olivia Newton John, Survivor, and Joan Jett.

There’s not an ounce of funk in any of them.

The biggest R&B smash of 1982 was Boy George’s Culture Club. You know the Batistes would’ve loved to run the Culture Club off the stage had they had the chance to share a bill with them.

Meanwhile the Brothers were trying to kick off a dance craze with their title cut Freeze, that didn’t connect with the local steppers; It’s All About The Family sounds like Donny Hathaway and should’ve been a solid, mid-tempo FM radio hit; Can’t Get You Off My Mind did not end up being the soundtrack to every Louisiana teenager’s hopeful romance but had the right radio station gotten a hold of it who knows where it could’ve charted?

Party Down should have been an MTV monster hit had the Brothers hired an agent with the clout to get them on the network. It’s my favorite cut off the record and a great snapshot of what at least one band of musicians was working with 38 years ago.

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The musicians:
Alto Saxophone – Louis Bibbs
Baritone Saxophone – Kenneth Anderson (3)
Drums – Izzy (11), Stanley Ratcliff
Drums, Percussion – Russ Batiste
Engineer – James Griffin
Flugelhorn – Clyde Kerr Jr.
Flute – Kent Jordan
Guitar, Flute, Vocals, Arranged By, Design Concept [Cover Direction], Coordinator [Production Coordinator] –
Paul Batiste
Keyboards, Vocals – David Batiste
Keyboards, Vocals, Coordinator [Production Coordinator] – Peter Batiste
Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar – Michael Batiste
Management – Batman Production
Mastered By, Mixed By – Eugene Foster*
Percussion – Damon Batiste
Producer – Dynasty Batiste Bros., Inc.
Tenor Saxophone – Kirk Ford
Vocals – Andrew Joseph (4), Dawn Hudson, Jennifer Tate, Kenneth Landry, Ray Rushing
Written-By, Music By – Paul Batiste

Sources:
Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans By John Broven
The Blues Encyclopedia By Edward Komara, Peter Lee
Hear Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Rich Musical Heritage…by Michael Murphy
Musical Gumbo: The Music of New Orleans by Grace Lichtenstein, ‎Laura Dankner

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