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David Egan

David Eagen at Piano
Denny Culbert
/
John Sellards Design

Our afternoon with David Egan at KRVS in Lafayette is one of my favorite afternoons, ever. Having listened to nearly all of what he’d written or recorded, I’d come from New Orleans with an iPod filled with Egan songs and a pile of questions.

Egan didn’t rush his answers, which may be why we spent hours together in the studio. He sat at the piano, with a no-ticeable disinterest in playing. But he seemed comfortable there. He also seemed unusually present — in the way people are when they don’t know what’s going to happen next but give themselves over to what’s happening now. That made Egan a good conversationalist. Talking with him was like dancing the foxtrot — quick-quick-slow.

“People give me the business because I’m a slow talker,” he said. And he was. Egan thought before he spoke. He also thought while he spoke and retained the right to re-think an answer if he wasn’t satisfied. He was positively Proustian in how lost he could become in a memory. One of the best moments of the show is when Egan tells a 6-minute story (a lifetime in radio) and midway through asks, “What was the question again?”

 

Joe Cocker was perhaps the most famous singer to re-cord, “Please No More.” Like many of Egan’s songs, it was about breaking through to wisdom after everything else gets broken in a relationship, including the furniture.

 

We start a fight, who knows what for?
Who knows who’s winning and who’s keeping score?
You say, “It’s all right” as you slam the door
All I can say is, “Please no more, please no more”
 

I’ve had enough after how I swore
I’d never give you up
Loving you was easy but one thing’s for sure
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, you’re trying to please no more

 

But that part of our conversation never made it into the show. Nor were we able to include the many times Egan praised his musical collaborators — in particular, Buddy Flett and the groups A Train, File and Little Band of Gold. There just wasn’t enough room. We even cut the story of Egan regaling his family with an all-gibberish version of a love duet in Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” In Italian, “Bimba, Bimba, non piangere” translates to “Sweetheart, Sweetheart, do not weep.” Who knows what Egan might have sung. But what he lacked in fluency, he said he made up for with bombast.

It’s amazing how fast an hour slips by. What remains is the sweet conversation that aired, as well as Egan’s deep legacy of songs and memories. That will have to do, for now.

Songwriters talk about a song being “honest.” And according to David Egan, that’s all about telling the truth about our battles and our triumphs — our loves and losses.

“We write music for grownup people,” he said. “Grownup music for grown-ass people.”

They’re the people you might see at the gas station, or in the grocery store. Or in the mirror.

David Egan lived in Lafayette where he made his living writing songs for those grown-ass people, but he was raised in Shreveport, in what he calls “a symphony family” — with an opera-singing mother and an orchestra-lawyering father.

There he’d rub shoulders with visiting conductors and ballet dancers at his parents’ cast parties that went on ’til the wee hours. On school nights!!

Life took him to LSU, and Nashville, and Denton, Texas for awhile before landing him back in Cajun country and the music circuit that has nourished him.

His big break came when Joe Cocker recorded the Egan song “Please No More” on the album Night Calls.

And in the years since many of the great voices of American music have recorded David Egan songs: Percy Sledge, Etta James, Solomon Burke, Johnny Adams, Marcia Ball, and Irma Thomas among them.

He could be found playing piano and singing with the swamp pop supergroup Lil’ Band O’ Gold, with the likes of C. C. Adcock, Steve Riley, Jockey Etienne, ‘Dickie’ Landry, Tommy McLain, Lil’ Buck Senegal, Pat Breaux, and John Troutman.

Our thanks this week to John Sellards, Jasmine Egan and Beverly Egan Houston, photographer Denny Culbert, and the staff of KRVS-Radio Acadie in Lafayette, Louisiana. 

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Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.