I’ll never forget the first thing that my friend Theryl ‘The Houseman’ deClouet said when he walked into the living room of my parents guest house in El Dorado, Arkansas on the morning of August 29, 2005: "I’ll just be damned. I escaped the motherfuckin’ hurricane just to end up back on a fuckin’ plantation."
It was a perfect example of the sardonic sense of humor that Theryl used to mask his tender, sensitive interior.
Less than 24 hours before, we had finally left New Orleans together after he had spent hours trying to convince his beloved 83-year-old aunt that he lived with to leave the family home, situated maybe a hundred yards from the 17th Street canal, and come with us out of town. She would have none of it. It would be six days before Theryl knew that she was alive, and 20 months before he saw her again.
Katrina is old news now, and although New Orleans rocks on musically, the scars that remain are permanent.
Theryl has lived in Chicago since leaving Arkansas some five days after the storm, and has had a ferrocious battle with a congenital kidney defect. He’s not a rich man, and the waiting list for a transplant is around six years. Donor requirements have prevented myself and others from giving him one. He told me when I offered, ‘thanks bruh, but I don’t want to end up with no redneck kidney after all this time…." – another beautiful example of a sensitive man using harsh-seeming humor to weather whatever storm. I laughed so fuckin’ hard.
Nevertheless, Theryl deClouet has something more valuable than gold. He has a lot of friends. And a whole lot of fans.
For two fantastic nights during the last week of July, there was a magnificent confluence of both friends and fans at The Independent in San Francisco. Jason Thompson and his wife Ruth Carleton, principals of The Independent, along with Stanton Moore, Robert Mercurio, Jeff Raines, Ben Ellman and Rich Vogel (known collectively, of course, as Galactic) put together a two night show billed as ‘A Benefit for The Houseman featuring Galactic and Friends.’
To paraphrase Lennon and McCartney, ‘a splendid time was had by all.’
‘Friends’ included legendary Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, baddest-to-the-bone sousaphone player on earth Kirk Joseph, the one and only Ivan Neville, up and coming guitar virtuoso Ian Neville, bassist extraordinaire Les Claypool, brilliant West Coast rapper Radioactive, and New Orleans funk/hip hop MC Derek ‘Mr. Smoker’ Freeman.
And that’s the short list. Bonnie Raitt, The Radiators and Bonerama sent regrets that they could not be there.
The Independent has a capacity of about 600, and both nights were sold out a week in advance – the place was packed to the rafters. And all were especially delighted when the beneficiary came out to rip through almost all of his Galactic songs and several from his solo albums, with a voice that was as strong as ever. I was reminded of New Orleans producer Jimmy Augustin’s remark after Theryl came into the studio and did some vocals for Johnny Sketch and The Dirty Notes debut album. ‘Thanks for puttin’ some grown man on that track Theryl.’
Mr. deClouet put the grown man out all over The Independent those two nights. I never cease to be amazed by the synergy generated when he and an audience start feeding off each other. There is a tremendous amount of energy flowing from crowd to stage and stage to crowd. It gets going and it’s hard to stop, especially when you have a group of seasoned New Orleans musicians who are all used to gigs that go until daylight and a crowd that had been with them when they had done it.
When the time came for the 1:30 am curfew (what’s with these early-to-bed Californians?), Galactic and friends were just getting warmed up. It was hard to stop the first night, with band and crowd hard into the Meter’s super-funky call-and-response classic ‘Hey Pocky Way’ when the witching hour came, and damn near impossible the second night when after ‘People Say,’ the band just took off into the funkiest version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ as staffers at The Independent threw up their hands, locked the doors and closed the bar. Nobody left. Joyous pandemonium ensued.
It was somewhere in the vicinity of 4am when Theryl was finally able to quit getting hugs and signing autographs. A magic night among many magic nights, but one with a very special feel to it because we did it for and got to share it with our dear friend, Theryl deClouet.
The Houseman has a new album out that he has been hand-honing for almost four years now. It’s called The Truth Is Out, and offers the listener a rich selection of Theryl’s original and collaborative composiions that showcase not only the power of his voice (backed by a band of New Orleans all star musicians), but his exquisite ability to sing beautiful ballads. The tough and the tender sides of a giant of a vocalist are beautifully displayed on this album, and, as always, there is a touch of sardonnic good humor.
Theryl deClouet is a man of many fascets, and The Truth Is Out lets all of them shine.