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Kermit at Vaughn’s – An End of an Era

23rd September 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

For almost two decades, Kermit Ruffins’ Thursday night gig at Vaughn’s stood as a New Orleans institution. First populated by locals and then discovered by music-loving visitors from around the country and abroad, the Bywater bar swung like crazy propelled by the trumpeter’s and the setting’s authenticity. With much regret, the “Kermit at Vaughn’s” era, a time of much music, fun and memories, is over though it will never be forgotten.

Ruffins, a busy musician and club and restaurant owner who was once renowned for his late night escapades, now prefers an early to bed and early to rise lifestyle. His gig at the funky, corner spot used to start at 10 p.m. In order to accommodate the hugely popular trumpeter’s new outlook, the showtime was changed to a 7 p.m. show. Understandably, Ruffins acknowledges, no bar owner really wants to see a crowd leave three hours later at 10 p.m.

Now that his Thursdays are freed up for the first time in almost 20 years, what will Ruffins be doing this Thursday night?

“I know I’ll be in bed by 9 o’clock,” he replies with a chuckle. “I just have to do what my body tells me to do. As much as I love Cindy and Chris {owners Cindy Wood and Chris Songy) and as much as I love that place, I just didn’t want to wake up Fridays and feel so bad.”

Ruffins’ first job at Vaughn’s was playing at a birthday party for Cindy’s father, widely known as Daddio. The trumpeter had met him when, during breaks from playing at Jackson Square with the likes of Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen and drummer Shannon Powell, Ruffins would stroll over to Chartres Street to the Alpine Restaurant where Daddio was a bartender. “He was the funny man behind the bar and he would always play my CD on the jukebox,” Ruffins remembers.

As the tune “One Mint Julep” goes, “that was the cause of it all.”

Ruffins says that he relishes the fact that he was able to bring jazz to a small, neighborhood bar and in doing so that he made so much “big history.” One of his most memorable nights was when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis came down and played with the band. “That was real special,” he rightfully adds. (Just a note: A friend with a snazzy red convertible and I brought Marsalis to Vaughn’s that night after the noted trumpeter had played an earlier gig.) Ruffins also savors the memory of Cindy and bassist Chuck Badie dancing to the jukebox until 4 a.m. and Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. regularly sitting in with the group.

When Ruffins began playing at Vaughn’s, trombonist Corey Henry would usually be by his side on the front line. Fittingly, Henry, along with Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill and the Tremé Funktet will take over the Thursday night spot.

Ruffins will undoubtedly show up at the Bywater bar again, most likely during Jazz Fest. Mean­while, the trumpeter will continue to blow on the road and around town including at his club and restaurant, Kermit Ruffins’ Treme Speakeasy, where he also keeps the pots bubblin’ and barbeque smokin’. Ruffins’ big grill and Chris’ break time red beans were also institutions at Vaughn’s.

More big news is that Ruffins says that in November he will, definitely open the Mother-In-Law Lounge, the legendary North Claiborne Avenue club he began leasing in 2011.

“If I don’t open it by November, we have to go back to City Hall and get it rezoned again,” explains Ruffins who has had to jump through often expensive and complicated bureaucratic hoops to get it up and running.

“Guess what the latest problem was? Where we were going to put the garbage!” he exclaims incredulously. “It’s been nothing but going to City Hall and doing what we have to do. Money, money, money… It’s so well-worth it though.”

Ruffins calls his years at Vaughn’s like college. “It really taught me everything I know to be able play strong like that once a week in front of that beautiful audience from all over the world. What better way to really learn how to play the trumpet and New Orleans music and experiment with my own little stuff?

“We had the time of our lives.”

This article originally published in the September 23, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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