American Routes Shortcuts: Tipitina's
Come along for an historic jaunt around New Orleans, as we visit great nightclubs including the legendary Uptown institution Tipitina’s, founded by fourteen close friends in 1977, who wanted a place to hang out and hear players like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, James Booker, and the Neville Brothers. Some years ago, one of the original Tipitina’s founders, Jeanne Dumestre, told us about a 1973 letter that indirectly led to the founding of the club.
Jeanne Dumestre: I got involved in Tipitina’s because I was involved before Tipitina’s. We had this New Years Eve dance. We rented the Behrman gym. We had the Meters, Professor Longhair, Aaron and Art Neville. This is the letter we received from the New Orleans Public School superintendent after the New Years Eve dance:
Dear Mr. Armbruster,
As a result of the rental of the Behrman gymnasium to your group on December 31, 1973, we had several complaints from the neighbors. The complaints centered around noise, the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and the fact that a police officer was not on duty during the function. I find it necessary to inform you that any application by your group for the use of our facilities will be carefully scrutinized and approval predicated on a high degree of assurance that all the rules of this board will be adhered to.” People who came kept saying, “You all need to open a place. You can’t keep getting kicked out of other places.”
Steve Armbruster: I’m Steve Armbruster, and I was there when Tipitina’s got started. Tipitina’s is on Tchoupitoulas and Napoleon. It had been a neighborhood bar for decades. There was a couple called the Bevilacquas that had owned it back in the 40s, and we took it over, and we’re talking mid-70s, 1977. The club got its name Tipitina from the song Tipitina by Professor Longhair. We wanted to honor Professor Longhair, and we thought it was a cool name.
Nick Spitzer: In addition to the song, Tipitina, the club had another trademark.
SA: So you had the “Tipitina’s,” and then under the T you have this banana, which is partially peeled.
JD: We always loved bananas, the banana republic, you know, living in the third world of New Orleans and the whole thing. There was that sex thing too, but we liked bananas, you know, we were a healthy group of kids! It was more than just a club; it was like a community center. It had garage sales there, vegetable co-op. People had kids there dancing around.
NS: Sometimes Tip's broad welcome led to unexpected encounters.
SA: Fats Domino, one night, this lesbian group was having a benefit. Well that was the night of course Fats shows up, and he walks smack dab into this lesbian love fest. Fats stuck around for a while, and he visited with people, and he had a good time. He came back again.
NS: Classic New Orleans music like the Neville Brothers and James Booker was usually the order of the day
SA: James Booker was the element of surprise. He might play a Chopin polonaise or a blues tune and maybe roll them together, and then turn around and do it backwards.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.