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Looking forward to the return of our ‘Mother-in-Law’

27th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Following the news that the City Planning Commission gave the thumbs up for trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins to reopen the world-famous Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, the question buzzing around the music community was: “When?”

“In my head, the way I calculate how long it takes to get everything done, it’s looking like December,” says Ruffins, who feels assured he’ll get approval when he goes before the City Council though a date for the meeting has not yet been set. “I hope it goes a lot faster but I know City Hall. You have to get permits and something is going to go wrong and they have to do inspections and all that kind of stuff.”

Ruffins knows of what he speaks. He signed a lease for the building in January 2011, expecting to open the North Claiborne Avenue club for Mardi Gras of that year. Much work was done, but he didn’t get the club up and running within the six-month limit for it to be grandfathered in as a bar with live entertainment. Thus began the long, tedious and expensive road to procure the approval to rezone the property. He also had the experience of dealing with the red tape of City government previous to opening up his Basin Street bar and restaurant, Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy during the spring of this year.

That leads to the next question on music lovers’ minds. How will Ruffins, who holds down weekly gigs at a number of clubs – Sundays and Mondays at the Speakeasy, Tuesdays at Bullet’s, Thursdays at Vaughn’s, Fridays at the Blue Nile plus other dates around town – manage running two clubs as well as having an interest in Sidney’s Saloon on St. Bernard Avenue. Oh, yeah, and he also does the cooking at the Speakeasy.

The answer is pretty simple: family. His eldest daughter, Tawanna, who is taking care of the business end at the Speakeasy, will also manage the Mother-in-Law Lounge. “She’s going to run the business and I’ll be hiring all the bands,” Ruffins explains.

This summer, his daughters Christina and Misha also came in to help out waiting on tables at the Speakeasy. Misha, who is studying classical piano at Southern University of Baton Rouge, would also play piano at the club between Ruffins’ sets. Christina attends Spellman College, and is pursuing a career in dance.

“Those girls have done me some good,” Ruffins exclaims proudly. “I can’t stop braggin’ on them.”

Hanging around barrooms is something Ruffins has enjoyed all his life so hosting his own spot is right up his alley. His mother worked at a number of bars including the Underground on Galvez Street, Moore’s on St. Claude Avenue and the 5106 on North Claiborne Avenue in the Lower Ninth Ward. He remembers that the latter had an adjoining barbershop with a window that opened into the bar. “I would sit in the chair and listen to the conversation,” he says.

“I always did love the bar atmosphere,” Ruffins offers. “I think it’s a place where people really let loose. It’s one of the happiest places you can go besides church,” he adds with a laugh.

Ruffins intends to keep the murals that depict K-Doe and his wife Antoinette, Big Chief Tootie Montana and his wife Joyce and others exterior decorations intact. He plans to erect a bamboo fence around the side yard to offer some privacy. “We really don’t own the yard but by taking care of it we have access to it,” he explains. His ideas for the interior that include a wall-sized photo of K-Doe and a stage floor with the icon’s image demonstrate that the venue will remain a shrine of sorts to the great R&B singer and self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe.

The Mother-in-Law Lounge will be open seven days a week and its hours, from noon to about 11 p.m. are well within the guidelines set by the Planning Commission and reflect Ruffins’ recent shift away from late night hours. The doors will stay open later only during Jazz Fest or other special occasions. “If you can’t get it between noon and midnight, you can’t get it,” he proclaims with a laugh. On several nights a week, Ruffins plans to book “bluesy, old-school” artists that recall K-Doe’s era for 6 p.m. shows.

Naturally, Ruffins, who loves his pots and pans as much as his trumpet, would eventually like to put a kitchen in the Mother-in-Law Lounge. The upstairs apartment, where K-Doe and Antoinette resided, has been renovated and Ruffins hopes to use it as a bed and breakfast. “People will come in from all over the world and I’ll tell them that the ghost of Ernie K-Doe comes out every night,” says Ruffins who vividly imagines himself controlling a hologram of the New Orleans rhythm and blues legend from his iPad.

“I can’t wait to get it all up and going,” Ruffins exclaims. “Between the Speakeasy and the Mother-in-Law, I’ve kind of exhausted my monies, but I know deep in my heart that in a five-year period I’ll be smiling. I was kind of scared as I was doing it, but when I walked into the building and sat there for a little while I could really see it.”

Black Men of Labor Jump to October

The always highly-anticipated Black Men of Labor parade, which for the last 18 years has rolled—with a few interruptions—on the Sunday during the Labor Day weekend, has been permanently moved to the third Saturday in October. For its 19th anniversary parade, the BMOL, an organization dedicated to keeping traditional brass band music vital, will take to the streets on October 20, 2012, starting at its headquarters at Sweet Lorraine’s.

“After a series of being canceled by the weather, it was getting to be a little unmanageable,” Fred Johnson, the president and a founding member of the BMOL, explains. Moving the date to October, he adds, lessens the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms disrupting the event that requires so much planning. Johnson, who is known for his sharp attire, also looks forward to a seasonal change in the members’ outfits.

This article originally published in the August 27, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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