The Alchemy of the Groove
From Punk to Funk with Jon Cleary
Like most first generation New Orleanians, Jon Cleary, a.k.a. that funky gentleman from the Ninth Ward, has a thoroughly idiosyncratic story of how he came to live in the city and absorb its musical culture. He grew up in England and arrived in New Orleans just in time to hear and meet some of the city’s best known piano players — James Booker, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, and others. Back then, Cleary was almost exclusively a guitarist. But he knew enough about the piano to know that he could learn to play it well. And he did. Now he tours the world as a New Orleans piano wizard. But that’s not all he is.
After years as a sideman, working with the likes of Earl King, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Snooks Eaglin, Ernie K-Doe and Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Cleary is a Grammy award-winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and band leader. His live shows and recordings — many featuring the aptly-named Absolute Monster Gentlemen — are splendid feats of musicianship and funk. Following his first appearance on Music Inside Out, Cleary was awarded a 2016 Grammy for the album he described in our interview. It’s called Go Go Juice, and won in the “Best Regional Roots Music Album” category. In 2018, he released Dyna-Mite. He’s since been on perpetual tour, with regular stops in his home town.
You can purchase Dyna-Mite from Amazon here.
You can download GoGo Juice on iTunes here
The Poetic Prose of Jon Cleary
When all the elements are in accord and the Monster Gents are digging a trench a mile wide in the early hours of a Sunday morning at the Maple Leaf Bar, when the mercury in thermometers is shattering glass and you can slice the humidity out in the streets with a wave of your hand, when the spirit’s in your soul and the groove takes control, and when you close your eyes and feel like you’ve been lifted six feet off the floor, that’s the moment when there’s not a man alive that can possibly feel greater satisfaction. Cornell, Big D and Jellybean, as well as being among my best friends, Absolute Monster musicians in their respective fields, soulful scholars and Gentlemen, are bloody good fun to be around and a pleasure to share the stage with. To have the fonkiest band in a city that’s renowned for having the fonkiest bands in the world is a rare privilege. Thanks Fellas!
—Liner notes from Jon Cleary’s 2002 album “Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.”
Filmmaker Jesse Hiatt’s “Occapella,” a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of some Allen Toussaint songs.