#75. I met Sade (well, the band’s forever guitarist, Stewart Matthewman)(New Orleans, 2011)

Look at that woman! Man. And that’s whatshisface all the way on the right.

After I wrote a preview of Sade’s Soldier of Love tour for Gambit Weekly, the band’s management told me they could not comp a ticket for me to cover the show. Tickets being mad expensive, I resigned to never seeing Sade. But then my luck changed dramatically…

Sade is the name of the band’s singer, but also the name of the band, and Stewart Matthewman has served as the band Sade’s guitarist and saxophonist, and written songs with its famous singer, since 1982. While not the band’s sexiest member, Matthewman is perhaps its most musically important.

I was very honored to meet him, but now, a decade later, my strongest memory of writing about him is how some Gambit editor inserted the word “unregular” into my article: “The band has remained the same since its inception, but its tours have become unregular.” Unregular is not a real word! I’d never typed that non-word in my life until my follow up complaint email to Gambit’s editors, none of whom fessed up to the crime. They did fix it online, but. That used to happen to me so much at Gambit, I started to suspect a plot. Unregular. Jesus Christ.

Anyway. Matthewman and I shared a good conversation about making music, and of course we discussed his band’s mysterious, elusive singer, who only deigns to make a record every 100 years. “Sade the person has a totally different concept of time. For Sade there is just no definite time that things will happen,” Matthewman told me. “I don’t know if it comes from her being African, but for her there are really only two times: sooner or later. Also, whatever she does, she does that thing 100 percent, so she doesn’t do music if there’s anything else going on in her life. And in order to write songs, she also has to live a bit, and have things happen to her, because she writes from the heart and from experience. In the last several years, she’s gotten settled into a new home, has new family around. So now, finally, this part of her life can be about music.”

I had to know what it was like to make music with motherfuckin Sade, so inquired about their shared artistic process. “Sade is a master of space,” he said. “In music and art and fashion and architecture, she doesn’t like big complicated things, so with music she is great at clearing stuff out. Like when I’ve laid down a bunch of guitar tracks, she comes and takes out everything but the best bits. She has an amazing ear.”

I hung up the phone and proceeded to be really bummed about missing Sade in concert. But then, on the day of the show, Gambit emailed and said two tickets waited for me at the Superdome! Not until I got to will call though, did I realize I’d be sitting on the floor, just a few rows from the stage! I think the tickets read “$380.” Apiece.

And I had an extra. Now, it’s sketchy for a journalist to accept such an expensive gift. Plenty of people stood outside the Dome looking for tickets, and I knew I could make a couple hundred dollars. I instantly met a nerdy Black dude wearing spectacles, who looked like he’d come straight from a very boring office job. He said he’d driven all the way from Mississippi at the last moment, to see if he could score a ticket to see his favorite artist. “Prince is my favorite of all time — Prince and Sade, both — and I was sitting at home thinking about how bad I felt after I missed Prince’s last show here in New Orleans, and so I jumped up off the couch and got in my car and drove as fast as I could. I couldn’t miss my other favorite artist, Sade…”

So, I sold him the ticket for $50.

This Sade nerd stranger turned out to be great company during the show. The concert was amazing, right up front, where I could watch the exact chords Matthewman’s hands played. As each smooth-ass song began, my new friend would lean over and tell me at least one trivia fact about that tune. Dude ended up being the perfect person with which to watch Sade.

NOTE: After every Superdome or Smoothie King Center concert, I buy a $10 t-shirt from the bootleggers outside the show. Sade, Van Halen, etc. all sell their official tour shirts for like $40, so I always try and support the local economy instead. My bootleg Sade t-shirt is still perhaps my favorite piece of clothing — not least of all because it draws many compliments from Black ladies.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#74. I met Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records (New Orleans, 2011).

Russell Simmons and Rip Van Winkle

Since I met Def Jam records founder Russell Simmons in 2011, he’s faced rape accusations that look credible. It’s tough to admire him any longer.

But regardless of my feelings, he remains one of America’s very few, real self-made men, who rose from dirt poor to Oprah rich, and brought a lot of Black people up with him: Run DMC, Public Enemy, EPMD, Slick Rick, Beastie Boys (oops wait, not Black)… With no seed money, Russell Simmons made rap music popular.

Our interview in 2011 though, was about yoga. And it was exceptionally corny.

Simmons visited New Orleans during Essence Fest, to promote his then-new book Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All, wherein he claimed that being rich is just a state of mind, and that money cannot buy (yaaaaaaaaaawn) happiness. Which is easy to say for a guy who wears each pair of his Jordans just once before donating them to charity.

Simmons told me, “Super Rich means ‘needing nothing.’ It’s a state where your connection to your higher self is so strong …that there’s no difference between being broke and being a millionaire.”

Nowadays, that would be called trolling. I might let the broke guy try and teach me that trick, but not a rich dude.

In the book, Simmons writes things like, “I sincerely hope that everyone reading can employ these principles to attract every toy that I’ve had the good pleasure to play with.” Gross. In the Super Rich chapter, “Give It Away (Until They Can’t Live Without It),” Simmons suggests giving away “your gifts” for free and expecting nothing in return. “If you’re not giving away your gift, then you are not in the game,” Simmons says. “And if you are not in the game, you can’t win.”

I wonder how Jay Z responded when Russell suggested giving away The Blueprint.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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73. I took Richard Campanella fishing (St. Bernard Parish, 2016)

I‘m stretching the definition of “famous” here a lil bit. But people seem really impressed when I tell them I sometimes fish with Tulane University historical geographer, Richard Campanella, “famous” for his comprehensive books and NOLA.com articles about New Orleans. It says something good about this city that we celebrate Richard like we would a musician. The giant, sex-themed Mardi Gras krewe, Krewe Du Vieux, made Richard their grand marshal in 2018, and based their parade’s theme (“Bienville’s Wet Dream”) on one of Richard’s books (Bienville’s Dilemma). Having a Mardi Gras parade dedicated to you and your books while you are still alive and young — that’s about as famous as you can get, round these parts.

Richard and I met after he criticized one of my books in one of his books (He wrote that my Underground Guide [LSU Press] omitted Bourbon St. because it lacks hipness. That statement is officially the only time I’ve ever heard Richard Campanella be incorrect about anything. For the record, I love Bourbon St., maybe more than the average local in fact, but my book omits anything that tourists already know about, or anything that will be aggressively pushed on them). Either way, twas an honor to find my way onto Richard’s radar, and so I invited him out fishing on my boat. The handful of times we’ve hung out were all on the water. Wherever we go, he tells me something I didn’t know about a place where I’ve spent a lot of time. He always adds another layer.

This was especially true when I took him to Shell Beach, and recorded an episode of a fishing show for radio station WHIV in 2018. The following is a transcript of that day, with my narration:

The first thing I ever did with my new boat, was drive it to the very tip of St. Bernard Parish, to Shell Beach, LA on the southern shore of Lake Borgne. [music] There’s no real beach at Shell Beach. Well, technically there is but…it’s more of a beach for fish…we’ll explain later… Today I’m fishing with my musician buddy Todd Voltz who is recording us, and our special guest, Richard Campanella.

RC: I’m ahistorical geographer at Tulane University.

MPW: Have you ever caught a fish?

RC: No

Shell Beach is about an hour or so east of New Orleans. We pulled the boat out there together in the dark at 5:30 after purchasing three cups of coffee and a bag of ice from Brothers food mart.

RC: We should take St. Bernard instead of Judge Perez; this the more historical route… All roads lead to Rome here… You’re going through interesting scenic river road instead of a 1970s suburb. If this were Perez we’d be driving through K-Marts…

Fishing is all about talking. If you don’t catch anything, you’ll at least have great, expansive conversations. Just on the ride out to Shell Beach we discussed in detail freshwater intrusion, Dockville Farm and Mirot Foundation Tower, and the new plans for a beach in the city of New Orleans proper…

RC: Pontchartrain Beach opened in 1930, and the amusement park closed in 1983, making the beach completely off limits. for a whole generation of New Orleans. When the new version opens, it will be a hit from opening day, as long as fecal tests are favorable. The sheer novelty of being able to take a bus to a beach or bike to a beach, and would really diversify the range of things you can do with a family.

The farther we drive east from New Orleans, the roads shrink down to thin strips of tar with water on either side. These same precarious roads begin winding even more precariously through docks alive with commercial fishermen, crab men and oysters men…until finally we arrive at Campos Marina on Shell Beach…hands down one of the world’s best fishing spots. As we unhook, unstrap, and otherwise ready the boat, I pump up Campanella and Todd a bit with stories from other great Shell Beach trips I’ve made.

MPW: Black drum, sheepshead, redfish, trout, you can catch anything here. I’m always looking for redfish, the biggest most fun fish to catch, and they stay good in the freezer. But Shell Beach is gonna be the trout spot coming up, once the salt rolls in… Grande Isle is the closest place that has actual salt all the time. Shell Beach has just enough salt to ruin your boat if you don’t clean it… Salt cleans the water, but the water’s kind of dirty now, and trout can’t see, so they leave. But redfish are just pigs snarfin along the ground until they hit something.

We pay the $7 ramp fee and buy 100 live shrimp at 35-cents apiece, which entitles us to fishing advice from Campos Marina owner, Frank Campo., who has been catching bait professionally for his family business since the age of 12. His advice on this windy day was stay inside the MRGO, or Mr. Go, to hide from the wind and pluck the few trout that have moved back in despite the weather not cooling off like it should have by now.

[sound of the boat’s engine starting]

One of the best things about Shell Beach is the sheer number of nooks and crannies and rocks and ponds and cuts you can fish. Louisiana fishermen are always on the lookout for clean water that is also moving, and there are a million places to check here. If the weather is a little bit off, you’ll almost always still find someplace, some special angle, where you’ll be comfortable AND catch fish.Which is good, cause today it’s a little windy as we pull out of Campo’s Marina.

RC: That monument there is the ‘Katrina Cross,’ with the listing of the St Bernard dead…

Normally I’d head straight to Lake Borgne, but given the wind we decide first to cruise down the calmer Mr GO, to fish a few cuts. When the tide is falling, water drains out of the green marsh grasses, bringing with it crabs and baitfish and all types of other surprises.

We stop and throw the anchor into the muddy marsh.

MPW: I stopped here because there are multiple cuts, and the water comes pouring out of the marsh and gets pulled into the lake. The farther back you can go into the marsh, the cleaner the water is

I have to tell Richard to stop saying he is a terrible fisherman

MPW: Why do you tell yourself that?

RC: I catch nothing.

MPW: Well of course not if you tell yourself that.

That sound you hear in the background is an oxygen bubbler, which keeps the shrimp alive. We should either call this fishing show The Bubbler, or I should buy a quieter bubbler before the next episode. For now I’m just glad the shrimp are alive — keeping them alive is an ongoing dilemma for many fishermen.

Campanella doesn’t get out on a boat much, so unlike me he doesn’t become antsy after we don’t catch anything for 15 minutes. He’s mesmerized by the marshes.

RC: They’re just a golden line, like photographing the inside of a forest.

As he muses, I catch the day’s first fish, a largemouth bass, that weighs probably about one pound.

MPW: Largemouth bass, they love live shrimp. They inhale it.

RC: A bass here would have been all but unknown ten years ago.

Because of the MRGO carved into the marshes and a thousand other smaller human diversion projects that allow fresh river water into saltier areas, Louisiana is one of very few places on Earth where one can catch a bass in the same hole as a redfish, and see porpoises swimming out with the alligators.

Richard is miffed that I would throw the bass back:

MPW: I don’t eat those. I am anti-bass. Possibly a bias from growing up in Florida.

RC: Where I come from, bass was the Rolls Royce of fish. Flakey white meat.

MPW: I guess I just feel like saltwater fish are more delicious. Though bass eat well; they don’t eat anything that isn’t moving. Redfish will eat anything, dead or alive. Trout are also prized because they generally won’t eat anything they don’t think is alive.

RC: They are foodies. Tapas with a hook.

We lift anchor and move the boat to one of strips for which Shell Beach is named. At our next stop, the dead white oyster shells are so thick they push up onto the land, creating a beach that wouldn’t feel very nice on your bare feet.

MPW: Most fish, trout especially, love a hard bottom of oyster shells. This strip of shell beach also has a sort of gully drop off running all along the shore. Predators get down in that gully and just swim up and down it, eating vulnerable baitfish. I’ve seen a lot of porpoise hanging around that gully having way too good of a time.

But even here at my best spot, fishing remains slow, so far. There’s not enough water movement, and at the same time the wind is just strong enough at a bad angle where it’s hard to keep the boat anchored in one spot — every time I get a hopeful nibble the boat drifts away from the spot.

Attempting to somehow spin this win to our advantage, we start the boat again, and go brave the shores of Lake Borgne proper. There, I’m able to position us with the wind at our backs, casting toward the rocks, which were put here to shore up the deteriorating marshes — luckily, fish seem to like those rocks as much as they like the natural grass.

RC: Lake Borgne. Borgne means “a one-eyed man.”

The wind isn’t much worse out here, and I can see baitfish being blown against the rocks. [casting sound]. I throw a heavy weight about ten feet off the rocks and feel them nibble my shrimp the moment it nears the bottom. Almost immediately, I feel a substantial thump on my line, and lose my bait entirely…

MPW: There are a lot of fish here guys. The redfish will chase the bait into the rocks, so that on a calm day you can see the bait jumping onto the rocks trying to get away.

I kept tossing toward the rocks until finally, I turn my first truly substantial strike into the day’s first redfish…about four inches short of 16, the legal size limit. It looks fat and perfect to eat but…

MPW: A little “rat red” they call that.

We throw him back. I keep throwing my bait toward the rocks and pull several more nice, undersize fish. I catch a few black drum — the redfish’s less pretty cousin who nonetheless tastes just as delicious — but they’re all under the legal limit of 16 inches.

MPW: These little black drum stealing all my shrimp!

RC: You ever fish the river?

MPW: The Mississippi? So poisonous and gross. I’d do it just for the joy of dragging up a 50lb catfish.

This leads us to talk of recent dredging projects at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi.

RC: It’s a suit of scores and scores of projects in three categories: Shoreline Restoration, Sediment Diversions, and then dredging and siphoning — the 2nd one is most controversial. No one’s against the shoreline projects, and siphons work really well until you stop — it’s not sustainable , there’s no stasis, it’s a verb, not a noun. They’re aiming to change the plumbing of the river to bring the Birdfoot Delta down to Plaquemines, so the mouth of the river would be disemboguing into Breton Sound on one side, and Barataria on the other, much closer to populations, and filling in those saltwater areas… It’s end times…

Todd was so enthralled absorbing Richard’s specialized knowledge that he wasn’t ready with the camera when I finally nailed the day’s first keeper redfish.

MPW: We did catch this 16” redfish! Hopefully he doesn’t freeze and shrink to 15” just as the marine patrol rolls up!

After I put that lil snack in the cooler, Todd just had to fish — which meant he also missed recording the massive black and white striped sheepshead I nailed.

MPW: Sheepshead have teeth like a goat or like a person because they eat mostly barnacles, crabs, and shrimp. You are what you eat, and sheepshead is just made out of crabmeat. Sheepshead also have a very tough rib cage and it takes like a chainsaw to filet them.

Luckily, Todd made sure he was totally at the ready when the day’s biggest fish hit my line — but then I missed the [bleep] thing.

MPW: Damnit! Luckily, Redfish are one of the very few fish that will give you a second try. Do-over fish. They just sit there like a cow waiting to be fed.

I tossed my shrimp back in the same spot, and he couldn’t help himself…

MPW: Oh my ever loving christ this is a big one. Get the net. But here’s the thing about the net: you can fuck it all up and break the line if you put the net in the water too early.

Richard nets my big redfish.

RC: WOW! Look at the size difference!

Though I suspect I might could pull one or two more fish out of this hole, we decide to head to Fort Proctor before the predicted heavier winds arrive. I’d invited Richard to be my guest to Shell Beach after he told me he’d never seen Fort Proctor up close.

[Boat engine sound]

A regular lil boat like mine can only take you to the edge of the mote surrounding Fort Proctor — whereas a little kayak could get you over the moat and into the fort. We remain on Borgne’s shoreline.

RC: This is Fort Proctor, also known as Fort Beauregard, what’s known as the third system of defense, after the War of 1812, clear into the 1850s, like Ft. McComb, Battery Bienvenue. Ft. Proctor dates later… This area was a backdoor to New Orleans. The British took that route in 1814, and this fort was finalized just before the Civil War. But by that time, new artillery technology rendered them obsolete. Cannons were able to penetrate them, so they saw very limited action. A lot were abandoned. Rising sea levels and eroding coast has rendered this one vulnerable. They put a barrier around it to protect it from rising seas.

As we explored what we could of Fort Proctor the wind really began to pick up. On the way back we get turned around; the marshes can mess with your sense of direction. In many area the grasses even shift around, making a laughing stock of your GPS.

Finally back at Campo’s marina, I show the boys how to filet a redfish. As the blood flows, Richard summarizes the trip, what he learned, and how the experience might even effect his work:

RC: I spend a lot of my time thinking about the urban history and geography of New Orleans, and I live in Uptown and I spend most of my time in the core of the metropolis. But this city more so than just about any other, you need to understand the periphery and the environmental context of New Orleans and it being on a deltaic plane. So I particularly appreciated the opportunity to go out on a boat — which I do not have — and explore some of the deltaic fringes of the metropolis. It was a great experience for me. And I got to practice my fishing if not my catching of fish.”

Richard did not prove himself wrong about being bad at fishing, but at least he’s clearly smart in other ways.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#72. I befriended the Kinks’ Ray Davies after he was shot (New Orleans, 2004–2006)

A good bloke

Four quick, funny scenes:

  1. 2004

A hush would fall inside my neighborhood coffeeshop whenever the Kinks’ Ray Davies entered, but no one ever bothered him. During one of Davies’s NOLA visits, some fool snatched his girlfriend’s purse, and Davies’s stubborn English pride told him to chase the robber, who pulled a gun and shot Ray Davies, and so we didn’t see him at the coffeeshop for a while.

Davies survived that bullet to his leg, but still feared the bloodthirsty British press, and so hid out just several blocks from my apartment, at the large house of his friend, artist Robert Tannen. “Ray Davies just walks around the house in his boxers all day in a Vocodin haze, reading books,” said my friend who interned at the time for Tannen.

“Oh shit! Do me a favor?” I gave my friend a copy of my New Orleans novel, The Donkey Show, with an inscription wishing Ray Davies a pleasant recovery. I felt honored when my friend told me he watched Davies read the whole book.

Some weeks later, a wooden cane helped Ray Davies limp into the coffeeshop where I sat writing. The usual hush fell. This time I felt tempted to speak to him. I happened to be seated beside the milk and sugar kiosk, to which Davies eventually hobbled. “Mr. Davies, I don’t mean to bother you, but I wrote that book The Donkey Show…

“Oh!” his face genuinely lit up. “I really liked that book! Thank you very much!” Everyone in the coffeeshop watched as Davies sat down at my table, and began asking me lots of questions about my novel, how long it took me to write, how I went about getting published, etc.

The whole time I wondered, What the hell is going on!

2. 2004

I told my girlfriend all about Davies’s compliments, as I did anyone else who’d listen. It felt like a huge validation. Every time I saw Davies out and about in New Orleans, he treated me like a fellow artist, like a peer. Twas kinda psychedelic.

One moment I’ll hold onto forever, came during that year’s JazzFest. As my girlfriend and I squeezed through an especially dense crowd, we found ourselves almost belly-to-belly with Davies and the girlfriend for whom he’d laid down his life. “Oh, hi Mr. Davies!”

“Michael!” he said, and shook my hand. And when I introduced my girlfriend, he looked her in the face and said, “You boyfriend is very talented.”

I used that as a blurb on the back of more than one of my books.

3. 2004

Davies had not talked to the press about getting shot, but he agreed to sit with me at a bar and let me interview him. But then he kept having to put it off. We rescheduled a couple times. Then one day at my library job where I helped man the reference desk, I received a call. One of my bosses picked up and turned to me: “It’s Ray Davies?” My boss seemed slightly impressed.

Unsure how Davies knew where I worked, I took the phone. “Michael, I am so sorry that I keep rescheduling, but I am busy all this week,” Ray Davies said, “so let’s just do it on the phone right now, eh?” The line of people at the reference desk grew as he began, “The other night Trent Rezner and I were backstage at the Bowie concert together and I told Trent…”

I grabbed a paper and pen and, with the phone to my ear, tried writing his words down. But I was too caught off guard, not to mention neglecting my job in front of my bosses. Eventually it broke my heart to say, “Uh, Mr Davies, I’m sorry but I am at work…”

We rescheduled one more time before I finally gave up.

4. 2005

The last time I saw Ray Davies, myself and Ratty Scurvics busily set up our musical gear in the Contemporary Arts Center’s parking lot, about to play a concert for a special New Orleans art night, where everyone walked around the Central Business District drinking. Ray Davies wandered in, and walked right up to where I kneeled, plugging in my guitar pedals. Only when I stood did he recognize me. “Oh Michael, hello!” he said.

“Good to see you Mr. Davies. I am about to play a show here.”

“Oh wow. You play music too?” he asked.


“That’s great!” he claimed, then split as fast as he could.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#71. I know Quintron and Miss Pussycat (Tampa/New Orleans, 1999–present)

Quintron came to my class and did a killer presentation on sound.

Nation of Ulysses/MakeUp leader Ian Svenonius told me he considered international touring organist Quintron and his puppeteer wife Miss Pussycat “America’s greatest living artists.” I don’t disagree. I first met Q&P when I opened for them in Tampa, Florida. Tampa boasted a good original music scene, but I’d never seen anyone dance in Tampa, except at Goth nights or 80s nights, until Q&P rolled through town. From the moment they pulled up to the venue with three bands’ worth of gear, they introduced me to the concept of living it; Q&P remain real artists, not just two people playing rock star a few hours out of every day. I knew almost nothing about New Orleans before moving here, and while I would not say Q&P influenced that geographic decision, our Tampa show with them definitely made me interested in whatever planet they’d descended from.

By now I’ve known them as neighbors and friends for almost two decades. They’ve guestlisted me for countless concerts. They invited me on stage at a big awards show. Q came into my class and did a presentation on sound that was as badass as one of his performances at One Eyed Jacks. We’ve fished together on my boat. We’ve had our differences. I visited their flooded home 29 days after Katrina, and found Q so glad to see us that he gave me a vinyl test pressing of his yet-to-be-released Swamp Tech album (great record, btw; my favorite of theirs). We even jammed once.

I’ve already written a book’s worth of shit about Quintron and Miss Pussycat, so no need for me to write even more now. I’ll just refer you to links where you can read my previous stories about:

  1. (2019) A best buddy of mine and his 12-year-old apprentice son drove from their home in ATL to NOLA, to fix Quintron’s Hammond organ. I love this story.

2. (2015The Guardian let me write about how Quintron invented the Weather Warlock synth, while laid up taking cancer treatments. Q hadn’t really told too many people about his struggle, so it felt like an honor that he trusted me to report that news.

3. (2012This AntiGravity piece details Quintron’s involvement in helping start up the original Music Box on Piety Street.

4. (2012) I curated the abstract music festival NOizeFest for 15 years, and Q often came by and participated and helped out. That piece features great photos by Robert Hannant.

5. (2010I consider this AntGravity Q&A the best, deepest interview anyone’s ever done with Q&P.

6. (2003There exists a movie called Flakes, filmed in New Orleans, about a musician guy and his wife named Miss Pussy Katz. Local music scene heads got super mad about this apparent theft of Q&P’s intellectual property. So, I interviewed the guy who wrote Flakes’s script.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#70. I met Prince Paul (Tampa, 1997)

Plug 4

Prince Paul legendarily produced De La Soul and Stetsasonic — though the word producer feels incorrect, since Prince Paul’s face and voice and, most importantly, his sense of humor, meant as much to De La and Stet as Paul’s boundary-slaughtering beats. Paul stitched together quirky quilts of samples and skits, layers upon finely-detailed layers, beautifully unique comic savant shit. And Prince Paul originated it all without anyone’s example to follow. In the late 90s, we gasped upon hearing that De La had kicked out Prince Paul! Why would they do that? And how will they survive without Prince fuggin Paul? Paul went on to invent horrorcore with RZA as Gravediggaz, and to make some great, skit-heavy solo records. I loved the ridiculously stupid Psycho Analysis: What Is It?, and the first hip-hopera before Hamilton, Paul’s A Price Among Thieves.

All that to say, Paul remained one of my all-time favorites when my redhead friend Jack booked him, plus DJs Cut Chemist and Peanut Butter Wolf, at The Rubb in Ybor City.

Prince Paul for me is a figure. Meaning, when he popped out onto the stage behind the turntables, it took a second to get used to the idea that he wasn’t a cartoon, or just a symbol, but a real, funny looking person. I enjoyed the show, even if Paul didn’t do much but wander around smiling, making obscure/obtuse jokes into the mic while Cut Chemist and Peanut Butter Wolf went off. I don’t remember if Paul even spun any records. He was just there so we could all see him and shoot love and admiration up at him.

At some point, the smoky club became too crowded for me and I stepped out of the Rubb’s front door onto normally busy 7th Avenue. Must have been a Tuesday, so the street remained empty except, there on a brick planter bench six feet from the club’s door, sat one lone guy: Prince Paul. He looked right up at me and nodded.

“Whoa, Prince Paul! Aren’t you also inside on stage right now?”

“Yes.” He made a joke about the clones of himself that he brings on tour. Then he said, “Here I have something for you.” He took from his pocket a cassette wrapped in a cardboard sleeve, printed with a photo of Paul as a child, messing with a turntable. He didn’t explain what it was.

“Well, thank you Prince Paul. You have always brought a lot of happiness into my life,” I told him. He liked hearing it put that way.

The cassette turned out to contain a brilliant and hilarious 12-minute mixtape retrospective of Prince Paul’s career from Stetsasonic, up to the moment I met him. Between all his famous cuts, Paul’s mother talked about how everyone said her son was a genius (this was years before Jay Z’s mom provided a similar narration on the Black Album). I left that tape, personally given to me by Prince Paul, in my car’s tape player for weeks at a time, listening to that same 12-minute mashup over and over and over and over and over.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#69. I met Pharrell Williams (New Orleans, 2004)

Y’crazy for this one F’Real

In the early aughts around the time I met Pharrell for a sit-down interview, The Neptunes production team dominated most weeks’ pop charts, producing hits for Mystikal, Snoop Dogg, Usher, L.L. Cool J, Jay-Z and everyone else. The Neptunes facilitated Justin Timberlake miraculous acceptance by BET, and even made Britney Spears sound killer.

These miracles were why I waited around for hours outside House of Blues to meet Pharrell, before he performed with his “rock” band, N.E.R.D. His team finally led me backstage and let me watch him do vocal warm-ups with a coach before his manager ushered in a flock of girls wanting to take pictures, which Pharrell did without the slightest smarm, not even studying the girls’ booties until they were walking off down the hall.

Finally, Pharrell and his non-Neptune N.E.R.D. partner Shay Haley found time to sit on either side of me in their dressing room, crinkling their noses up at my beat-up recorder wrapped in duct tape.

“Here you go, bless this mic right here,” I joked.

Shay and Pharrell just stared down, as if confused by the janky tape recorder.

“So, I’m a fan,” I told them, “but I haven’t read much about the music side of what y’all do. I was wondering who does what in the Neptunes?”

Still frowning down at the recorder, Pharrell replied, “We pretty much do it all, you know what I’m sayin?”

“How long you had that tape recorder, man?” Shay asked.

“For quite some time actually. It’s been a tradition throughout my long illustrious, uh, career.”

“Yeah, I can tell,” Shay huffed.

“That’s my style,” I admitted. “I rode my bike here too… Anyway, so, no one Neptune specializes in any one thing?

“I dunno. I don’t brag much, you know what I’m sayin?” Pharrell asked me rhetorically. “I make beats and play keys.”

As musicians, how did y’all first get into electronics, samplers and such?

P: We were just tryin to imitate the beats we admired, you know? We were major Tribe Called Quest fans, so we were just trying to imitate that for a while …

Lots of people make beats, and most of them stay in their bedroom. How did y’all go from making beats, to jumping on stage?

P: We don’t really look at it like that. For us, music is music. You just do it and have fun, and when it becomes too technical it becomes…difficult. I mean, when you over-analyze it yourself…it can become difficult. But when you are free-spirited about the way you play your music, and let your instinct run things, it’s cool.

So, when you produce a song, do you record the vocals too, or do you finish the track and send it to someone else to record the vocals?

P: We do the whole thing. Whenever we do something for somebody we do the whole thing.

There’s a Mystikal song you guys did that has some really complicated horn arrangements… “Bouncin’ Back.” Who did the horn arrangement?

P: That was synthesizer at first. I played that by ear. I’m classically trained with drums, but chords I play by ear.

Any of y’all go to music school?

P: Of course. That’s where we met, Beginning Band. Then in Summertime we went to a school in Virginia Beach for the gifted and talented, that’s where me and Chad met.

You guys ever hang out in New Orleans much?

P&S: (shake their heads, no)

During Mardi Gras every year the band kids learn Neptunes and OutKast songs for the parades.

P: Wow. I’d love to hear that shit.

It’s not uncommon to turn on Clear Channel Radio and hear four or five of y’all’s songs in a row. Obviously this benefits you and that’s great, but as musicians and music fans, don’t you have criticisms of that kind of radio?

S: But that’s like everywhere you go man; whatever’s hot at the time, they tend to keep in regular rotation.

But don’t you miss hearing new stuff on the radio all the time?

Pharrell reluctantly nods.

Well, thank god at least y’all are on the radio.

P: Thank you so much.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, e

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#68. I met Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs (Florida, 1992)

We missed more than a few concerts by our favorite bands before my younger sister and I realized that our parents couldn’t ground us badly enough — no punishment imaginable compared to the pain of not getting to see Jane’s Addiction or The Pixies six months before those bands first “broke up.”

Before my sister wizened up though, at the age of 18, she missed her absolute favorite band of all time. I never loved 10,000 Maniacs, but my sister became obsessed. I gorged on a host of angry dude 90s bands, but my sister only ever gorged on 10,000 Maniacs. I filled her life with lots of bands, and as kids we’d both emphatically loved Hall & Oates, but 10,000 Maniacs remains the only band she ever genuinely imposed on me. While I didn’t love 10,000 Maniacs, I did have to take them seriously because of this.

So for her 18th birthday, I bought her and I tickets to finally see 10,000 Maniacs live, somewhere near where I attended college in Florida. My parents though, surprised her by telling her no, she could not drive two hours from home to see her favorite band with her brother. Disobedience wouldn’t pay off, our parents promised her, and my sister wasn’t yet ready to rebel.

My parents were not ignorant of my sister’s intense relationship with 10,000 Maniacs, which made their decision even tougher for me to respect. Today, if either of my daughters loved a band that much, even if I hated the music I would escort her to the stupid concert, before I would ever allow her to miss it. Come on.

I found myself stuck with two tickets to see a band I didn’t love. But the story gets worse.

Still young enough to find concerts novel, I and the earthy girls who drove me from our college dorms to the show in Wherever, FL, arrived to the theatre three hours early. We parked and walked around the venue’s perimeter and quickly ran into a giant tour bus, beside which Natalie Merchant herself played an impromptu game of softball with some road-crew dudes. The earthy girls gasped, and we all paused 20 feet away, watching as if these were penguins in their natural environment — except I myself didn’t give much of a shit about penguins other than that my sister decorated her room in penguin posters and drew penguins all over her Trapper Keeper, and now I instead of she bore witness to the best most intimate penguin scene ever.

Cellphones wouldn’t be invented for decades, or else my sister would have footage of Natalie Merchant playing softball. Instead, my blood beat faster on behalf of my sister. And I wondered if I should even tell her about seeing this.

After getting an eye full of my sister’s hero, we all continued walking around the venue, waiting for the actual show to start. With our tickets finally torn, we headed in to our seats, but first I veered off to use the men’s room. On the way into the loo, I spotted her, using the pay phone between the men’s and ladies’ rooms, Natalie Merchant again! Tis wild to think that, before cell phones, not even the star could just stay on her tour bus and call someone, but rather, was forced to make herself vulnerable to people like me.

“Oh hi Miss Merchant!” I blurted.

Caught off guard, she covered the receiver, “Hello,” then went back to her conversation.

My sister would never forgive me. I breezed past Merchant, heart pounding.

While emptying myself into the urinal, I fantasized that I would walk back out and tell her my sister’s sad story. I’d tell Merchant, very quickly, how my sister had filled my life with 10,000 Maniacs, but now wasn’t allowed to come see the concert. Maybe, I hoped, Natalie Merchant would maybe call my sister on the payphone and say a quick hello, maybe.

I walked back out to find Natalie Merchant gone. I picked up the pay phone receiver that she had just held against her warm ear and earthy cheek, and called my sister. “Holy shit dude! I just watched Natalie Merchant play softball!”

The concert was good. I even cried, thinking of my little sister missing it, but also because I found 10,000 Maniacs’ overly-sincere music meant more to me than I realized. It did genuinely hurt to see them when my sister could not. Still feels like one of my life’s greater injustices.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#67. I met Morris Day of The Time (New Orleans, 2012)

Morris Day (R) and one of his musician buddies.

The world best knows Morris Day as Prince’s musical and sexual rival in the movie Purple Rain. In real life, Day played drums in Prince’s high school bands. One of their bands got very popular, with Prince as the star attraction. The story goes, Prince copped a record deal behind Day and the band’s back, and ditched them all — only to return to Day some years later, to cast him as the leader of The Time. Day had never sung in any band until Prince decided he would. Prince and Day recorded all The Time’s music, from “Jungle Love” to “The Bird” on their own, just the two of them.

In the story of Prince, there exists no other more consistent character than Morris Day.

So, I lied to myself that I wouldn’t ask much about Prince when I interviewed Day, just before he swung through New Orleans to play the famous St. Aug “Hampfest” benefit concert with three original members of The Time. I told myself I’d ask him instead about him leading full-band choreographed dance moves on stage, and about his famous “Fetch me a mirror!” bit with manservant Jerome, and about The Time’s 2008 cameo with Rhianna at the Grammys, which inspired the band’s 2011 album, Condensate (which, I told Morris Day, is a great album title).

Condensate featured all of The Time’s original members, but calling themselves the Original 7even. So, I had to ask, “Are you not allowed to use the name, The Time?”

“For recording purposes, no,” he said with a hint of bitterness. “We can only use it for the live performance.”

“You mean Prince won’t let you use the name you came up with?” I bluntly proposed. At the time, Prince was still alive.

“That’s pretty much it,” he admitted. “At first it was irritating, but we can’t let things interrupt our life too much. I ranted and raved about it, got past it, now I’m on to the next thing.”

I asked Morris Day all my non-Prince questions, but the conversation always organically returned to The Artist. After Day told me how much money he’d passed up from other artists who’d wanted him to write and produce for them, because Prince owned him and wouldn’t let him work alone, I finally asked, “You’ve know him since y’all were 13; was Prince always sort of…weird?”

“Absolutely,” Day replied. “It’s not an act… At first, whenever we’d play together, he never said anything to me, not for quite a while. He’d just be standing around looking at me all crazy and shit.”

NOTE: Recently, I bought Prince’s “autobiography” The Beautiful Ones and Morris Day’s memoir On Time in the same week, read them both simultaneously, and in the end loved Day’s book quite a bit more. Morris won that one contest, at least.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#66. I met Mike Mills of R.E.M. (New Orleans, 2008)

Pete Buck (L), Michael Stipe (M), and bassist Mike Mills (R)

My first ever band, in highschool, could play literally every single R.E.M. song up to and including those on Out of Time. I don’t have much nostalgia for R.E.M. now — I finally saw them on a greatest hits reunion tour in 2003, where they ripped through their most popular songs like Let’s get this over with, and I realized I shared the band’s disinterest— but R.E.M. did, to some extent, teach me to play guitar, and definitely taught me how to play as part of a band. So it was an honor to speak with R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, when the band came to New Orleans for VooDoo Fest.

I noticed, even back in high school, how much Mills’s sly bass gave R.E.M.’s songs melodic movement, and how his high and clear vocal harmonies bolstered Michael Stipe’s whine on most of the band’s best tracks (i.e. “And I feel fiiiiiiiine” from “It’s the End of the World”). “I also play most of the keyboards,” Mills told me from a stop on the first leg of R.E.M.’s Accelerate arena tour. “I composed most of the string parts over the years, and I wrote the string parts that (Piety Street Recording Studio owner and Louisiana record producer) Mark Bingham arranged for Out of Time. I tend to handle the colorings of the songs, filling in gaps and finishing up things.”

I didn’t have many questions for Mills, except about the nature of making albums people love, and then making albums people don’t love. “There were certain things certain people liked about R.E.M. that they wanted to hear more of,” Mills admitted, “but we never made records to sell millions of them anyway, so we’re gonna make records that sound different. We just try to make records we’re proud of. And 90 percent of the time we’ve done that. Around the Sun is the only one we’re not really happy with,” Mills conceded. “And that’s just because we made it under extremely difficult circumstances… Plus we just didn’t really know where we wanted to go with that record. We played the songs live beforehand and they sounded great, and they are great, but that record is not what we wanted it to be because we didn’t know what we wanted it to be.”

R.E.M.’s VooDoo Fest set seemed to interest the band more. They spread out and enjoyed themselves. Despite my once-deep love though, I somehow remained disinterested. Three years later in 2011, R.E.M. disbanded for good.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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