3:15pm / April, 8th 2017View Map
Of all the musicians who have passed through Preservation Hall, Carl Le Blanc is certainly among the less likely to have embraced and mastered its style. Not for lack of talent, certainly; he was wailing on guitar before he was ten years old, having first noticed the instrument in the hands of the Beatles during their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. And it wasn’t for lack of exposure; some of the best marching bands in New Orleans were known to parade beneath his window as he was growing up in the Seventh Ward. But without the family history that had steeped many members of the band in jazz tradition from Day One, Le Blanc drew his inspiration from funk and rock music. When he did get called one day to sub on banjo at the Hall, he showed up with his hair in dreadlocks, his banjo set to guitar tuning, and, by his own admission, an attitude that didn’t exactly inspire anyone to call him back. From that point his career ranged far and wide, from stints with the avant-garde visionary Sun Ra to acting appearances in stage productions and films. It took twenty years for a second chance to play at Preservation Hall, but by this time the hair was trimmed, the banjo tuned correctly, and his appreciation for tradition considerably deepened. Today, when not on tour with the band, Le Blanc applies his Southern University degree in music education and graduate study at New York’s Columbia University to conducting workshops at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and at facilities throughout the United States as well as conducting music education performances throughout the United States.
“When I was younger I didn’t want to learn from the older guys; I just wanted to play music by James Brown or Jimi Hendrix. In other words, I started my education at the wrong end. If I’d started at the beginning, it would have made my journey easier.”
“What we play at Preservation Hall is rooted in the black experience, which is to personalize the music. We’ll play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ with each musician putting his fingerprints on it. That’s the African tradition.”
“Not long ago I sang ‘When I’m 64’ at the Hall, and we made it sound traditional. I might even try ‘Purple Haze’ on the banjo – it’s never been done.”
Le Blanc, displaced from New Orleans, lost many of his instruments in the storm, including his vintage Gibson hollow body L5 guitar. He did evacuate with the banjo that had been passed down to him by the last surviving member of the original Preservation Hall band, Narvin Kimball. Through Music Rising, a Hurricane Relief Organization founded by U2’s Edge and producer Bob Ezrin, Gibson Guitar Company replaced his guitar with a new Freddie Green hollow body. Currently, Carl lives with his family in Houston but is dedicated to rebuilding his New Orleans home and returning as soon as he can.
“The respect and love we’ve received since Katrina has increased tenfold. Audiences have always gone along with the joy that this music brings, but we have a special place in the hearts now. So when I think about what I’m supposed to do now, I realize that it’s about being true to this music and realizing that it’s bigger than me or even than Preservation Hall itself. We’re not looking back to the past and misfortune; we’re looking to the joy that the future holds. And our music will endure.”