Posted December 29, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Stooges Brass Band: Street music that’ll move you

Stooges Brass Band
Stooges Brass Band

The Stooges Brass Band might operate in the shadow of other, more well-known New Orleans brass bands, but the group has created a significant legacy in its 18-year run. The band mixes together hip-hop and New Orleans jazz into a style it calls “street music.” In 2012, the U.S. State Department selected the group to tour Pakistan, and it became the first American band to play in Hyderabad. Band leader Walter Ramsey phoned us from his New Orleans home.

I read that you wanted to form the group after seeing a Rebirth Brass Band concert. Is that the case?
I was at elementary school and the Rebirth Brass Band came to my school and performed at an assembly. I was blown away and said, “I want to do that.” They got the kids to get up and dance and I liked the music and culture and feel of it. I was familiar with brass bands and saw them parading in the streets. Seeing them perform on stage was like, “Wow.” I didn’t know they could do that. It was a different feel from just watching a jazz performance. It was upbeat dance music that got people involved. Afterward, I felt happy and good. I thought if I felt like that, other people could. I wanted to do this.

Did you play an instrument?
I was playing the trombone in my elementary school band. It inspired me to want to do it professionally.

I like jazz, but the marching band makes you want to move.
Don’t get me wrong, a jazz concert is great music. You sit down and listen to it and clap after the song is over with. We like to have people dancing and getting involved.

You brought together rival marching bands?
Half of the band went to John F. Kennedy and half went to St. Augustine. We were marching band rivals but we became friends. But when we were playing in the marching bands, we didn’t even talk to each other. It was that competition that made New Orleans marching bands what they were. It was an experience. There was some episodes, I can tell you that much.

What year was it that the band came together?
We came back together in 1996. The music scene in New Orleans was always about the culture. We had bands come before us and they were opening the doors and teaching us different things. We had a special school called New Orleans Center for Creative Arts that taught us jazz. The half of the Stooges that went to John F. Kennedy also attended NOCCA and the other half weren’t allowed to go to NOCCA. It was fun because we came from a bigger source of marching band and made a brass band that got popular. There was always controversy about how we were doing it. It made the band popular. The band wasn’t all that good sound-wise, but we were very popular. The sound hadn’t gotten to us yet.

Did you always mix in hip-hop?
Yeah. We grew up in that time. That was our element of growing up. We naturally brought to the band what we were inspired by. Being a musicians, we listened to hip-hop and at the same time, we went to NOCCA for jazz and were listening to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. We had a horn section so we were listening to Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. There were a lot of different musical influences going in us at one time.

And those were the days of Master P.
I have to say this — and I never say this in any of my interviews — I was really inspired by Master P. He was one of the first artists to come out of New Orleans and he was a huge inspiration. I’m not saying I was in love with his music. He was giving out all these free T-shirts. I got a free T-shirt. His approach was amazing. We learned and took some stuff out of his playbook.

Was Trombone Shorty really in your group at one point?
When we first started, he had a brass band called the Trombone Shorty Brass Band. It was like 8-, 9- and 10-year-old kids. They were beating on cardboard boxes and made-up instruments. It was five of them. They were very good. As they started growing, they got instruments. They came from musical families. We found ourselves in the same perimeter. One day, we were hired to play a gig and we wanted those two young kids who were playing with them. They were so small but had real talent. He and his cousins. We got them in the band. Once they played that gig with us, they were part of the band. We were 16 or 17. They were like real brothers to us. I groomed him. I was a mentor to him. I bought him his first car. He was like my little brother. I took care of him. I’m very proud of what he is today. He’s an entertainer. I like that. That’s what I taught him with the Stooges. I showed him to be not just a great musician but a great entertainer.

I’ve been teaching band members for years. The Stooges have become an institution for brass bands. Most of the New Orleans brass bands have members of the Stooges in them.

How many albums have you put out?
Not a lot. We recorded a lot. I’m more of a perfectionist. The first record is called It’s About Time. It took us five years to create it. Not musically. We can create songs in day. It was just me wanting the music to have a certain quality. It took awhile. Since then, we put out vinyl and some live records here and there. But it’s not like we’ve put out 10 records. We put out quality songs versus records. We wrote songs that we branded for years. It’s more of that with the Stooges versus selling thousands of CDs. For us, we don’t have radio play so the world can’t hear our music. We just don’t want our songs to die. We don’t want to put out a 15th CD if no one has heard the first one. We don’t want to create a hundred songs and have somebody only know two of them. We want to create 15 and brand those songs. That was different from other bands. People told us we were crazy, but we’re just different.

What was it like playing Pakistan?
We were like ambassadors. Getting over there and arriving there, we were escorted by the finest U.S. military and armored cars. They could bomb the car and we could still live. Being with the people made us realize they’re normal, regular people. The people embraced us and loved us. It was about the music and love. We got to play with other musicians and learned a little bit of their style of music. That experience alone was priceless. The following year, they invited us back. We have been blessed to have done this many years and we have traveled everywhere but the moon. Just to have that experience and see what they culture is like versus our culture, it made me appreciative of where I come from and what I do. I’ve been a lot of places but I love home.

Upcoming 2015 Tour Dates

Jan 1, 2015

Jan 3, 2015

Jan 9, 2015

Jan 10, 2015

Jan 11, 2015

Jan 13, 2015

Jan 14, 2015

Jan 15, 2015

Jan 16, 2015

Feb 5, 2015

Feb 7, 2015

Feb 10, 2015

Feb 12, 2015

Feb 13, 2015

May 29, 2015

May 30, 2015

City Tap House – Logan – Philadelphia, PA

The Continental Club – Austin, TX

The Cutting Room – New York, NY

Buffalo Iron Works – Buffalo, NY

Music Box Supper Club – Cleveland, OH

The Ark – Ann Arbor, MI

City Winery – Chicago, IL

Broadway Oyster Bar – St Louis, MO

City Winery – Nashville – Nashville, TN

Smith’s Olde Bar – Atlanta, GA

The Pour House Music Hall – Raleigh, NC

The Broadberry – Richmond, VA

The Hamilton – Washington, DC

Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY

Crawfish Fest – Augusta, NJ

Crawfish Fest – Augusta, NJ


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].