High time to get down and dirty
December 16, 2003
Bob Marley said, “Things are not the way they used to be. Don’t ask me why.”
It’s been 27 years since the Dirty Dozen Brass Band tooted its first horns, members have come and gone – though there’s never been a full 12 pieces – and the band finds itself in a different part of the world nearly every day.
“This band keeps changing. It keeps reinventing itself,” said Roger Lewis, baritone/soprano saxophone player and founding member.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s roots lie in Louisiana at a place called the “New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club.”
“We never had a dozen members,” said Lewis. “Our name came from that club. The club was run by a bunch of guys who ran around in wigs and high heels and played baseball, clown around and just entertain the neighborhood.”
The band recently released a new live Compact Disc titled “We Got Robbed” – which is only available for purchase at the show or from the band’s Web site. The title is based on a true story that goes back two years to Conway, S.C., when someone stole the band’s trailer and all of its instruments.
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“We had shows, so we got a U-Haul trailer and people donated instruments to us,” said Lewis. “It was a trip. We were headed all the way up to New York at the time.”
Dirty Dozen’s next album is set to be released at Jazz Fest this year. It consists of traditional gospel, which is a stark contrast to the other stuff Dirty Dozen has been producing lately.
The band has made nearly three decades worth of music, which means its had the chance to share the stage and recording studio with an enormous list of familiar names, including Miles Davis, Robert Randolph, Norah Jones, Count Basie, Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews and Elvis Costello, among many others.
“I’d say I’ve been around the world about 30 times,” said Lewis.
When asked whether he had a favorite artist he’d ever worked with, Lewis said: “I’ve had the opportunity to record with two living legends. I recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Domino. That was one of the highlights of my career. To be on the same record as these guys is an honor and a privilege.”
Lewis also spoke highly of Widespread Panic and Government Mule.
The band’s current line up includes three founding members – Lewis, Kevin Harris on tenor sax and Efram Towns on trumpet – two long-time friends and players – Julius McKee on sousaphone and Terrence Higgens on drums – and three relatively new members – Frederick Sanders on keyboards, James Mclean on guitar and Sammie Williams on trombone.
“Julius is one of the finest sousaphone players in the world. Higgens is one of the finest drummers New Orleans has ever produced,” said Lewis. “James is a fine player and the first caucasian in the band. Sammie’s a fine player, and so is Frederick. Kevin has a great ear. And, Efram joined the band when he was 14 or 15 and he’s 40 now. We kind of raised him, so he’s kind of a mischievous fella.”
Dirty Dozen’s no stranger to Colorado.
“Colorado is one of our favorite places on planet Earth,” said Lewis. “The people up here are so nice, and they love the Dirty Dozen. I was in Brazil two weeks ago, and the people were very warm and nice, but the air pollution out there was kind of rough. It’s clean air up here, healthy.”
Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.