Playing a Mardi Gras Parade is not as easy as it looks

February 23, 2020

“I grew up in South Carolina. I moved in with one of my sisters at the age of 14. My sister’s husband was transferred to Mobile and we moved to Daphne. Everyone swears I went to high school with them. Vigor, B.C. Raines, Shaw, Murphy, McGill. But I didn’t, I went to Fairhope High School. I have lived in Mobile and Baldwin counties, but my favorite place to live was in the building that was Grand Central was before it was a nightclub. We had downtown to ourselves and raised a lot of hell. We went to the Seamen’s Club for burgers and the porn theater in the old Club Royal for popcorn. Hayley’s was a chicken restaurant open for breakfast. I bought my Converses at Weber’s. That was a year or two before I started playing Mardi Gras parades. Sometimes I paid my rent winning dance contests.

My dad played everything but the drums. My two older brothers played drums. I am the youngest of six. Most of us could dance and would turn on the radio in the living room and go. My oldest brother DJ’s. All of them rubbed off on me. I have spent many hours on practicing drumming on the simplest of things. Practicing right-handed and left-handed and working to be ambidextrous. I was also practicing the tricks. When I let go of the sticks I have a pretty good idea if I am going to catch them. I do have some drops, but most of the time it works. I start with six to ten pairs of sticks for a Mardi Gras parade and I hand a lot out. When I am done I will have one pair left. One or two were unrecoverable from a drop. Sometimes I go for the gusto and put them in the sky and the truck pulls off before I catch it.

I had just moved here when a buddy told me I had to go to Mardi Gras. We had festivals all of the time in South Carolina so at first I didn’t get it. In 1991, I was a roadie for a band that played in a Mardi Gras parade and thought I needed to play this. At that time, I was in a band called the Scape Goats. We were a three-piece rhythm and blues band that played rock and funk. We played Rick James, The Cult, the Who, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Our first parade was the Polka Dots and I have been playing in that parade for 28 years. Then it was Soup Bone Band and Los Bastaros. I have played with a hodgepodge of great musicians and instruments on floats throughout the years. It has been about energy and showmanship from the beginning.

Playing a Mardi Gras parade is not as easy as it looks. An average parade is two hours but can go for three. It can be 70-80 degrees one day and 30 degrees with wind and rain the next. I did one parade for a freebie but couldn’t hire a band. I chopped up popular dance music and triggered and looped it and played on top of it like a DJ would. It worked and opened the door for smaller organizations to hire me for their parades. I started doing those by myself.

I put together a band called the Disco Rednecks and we wore overalls, baseball caps, and had the accent. I started adding a TV and triggered and looped the video program in. It also gave me the chance to sing, dance, and act a fool. It took off a little bit, but it was also time for me to work solo and that is where Chico Drums began. I started gigging on my own and have solid bookings through the rest of this year. This is the first year all of the parades are just me. I can entertain and adjust the music to the crowd as the parade route changes. I play different songs every night or different songs in the areas. I am singing more now than I ever have. I think of myself as a drummer who can sing and a drummer who can rap. I am practicing the vocals more. There was the meme floating around with a picture of me pointing a drumstick at people that said, “You’ve been Chico’d.” Those were fantastic. I am usually just called ‘That guy.’

I am a crazy, goofy guy at all times of the day. But there are times I have to be focused and on business. There are times in the parade to cut up and joke and that is fun for all of us. There are still nerves and butterflies before every parade. It is less stressful by myself because I am not thinking of each other person on the float. With a band, I am trying to keep them happy and get us all a few bucks. You don’t know what happens in anyone’s life before they step on the float.

My day job is driving trucks. Bishop State asked me to be an instructor so I now I get to be home every night and spend more time as a musician again. There was many a night at a truck stop bobbing my head and trying to learn and figure the mixing. Sampling base notes, guitar chords, and learning how to create what I am doing now. I am learning about new music and catching up on what is current. There is so much work that goes into my solo show. A song can have five to ten hours of audio and video work or up to 100. I keep it simple on the parade. I hit an electronic pad on my drum and it starts a song that I have programmed. I can trigger audio, lighting and video while playing the drums.

Mashups and remixes cross all genres. I have one called ‘Girls. ‘The guitar riff is Motley Crew’s, ‘Girls, Girls, Girls.’ The vocal Is Egyptian Lover’s ‘I like them girls’, the walk in to the chorus is the vibes part of ‘Girls’ from the Beastie Boys, and the chorus is ‘Girls Just want to Have Fun’ by Cindy Lauper.

I want to create music that entertains all ages. I open my mind and pay attention to the crowd and what is happening. I am playing OOMM parade on Monday night. It is my first time to play a parade in Fairhope in 20 years.”


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