Groove Interrupted Loss, Renewal, and the Music of New Orleans

Keith Spera




Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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The recent history of New Orleans is fraught with tragedy and triumph. Both are reflected in the city’s vibrant, idiosyncratic music community. In Keith Spera’s intimately reported Groove Interrupted, Aaron Neville returns to New Orleans for the first time after Hurricane Katrina to bury his wife. Fats Domino improbably rambles around Manhattan to promote a post-Katrina tribute CD. Alex Chilton lives anonymously in a battered cottage in the Treme neighborhood. Platinum-selling rapper Mystikal rekindles his career after six years in prison. Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard struggles to translate Katrina into music. The spotlight also shines on Allen Toussaint, Pete Fountain, Gatemouth Brown, the Rebirth Brass Band, Phil Anselmo, Juvenile, Jeremy Davenport and the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. With heartache, hope, humor and resolve, each of these contemporary narratives stands on its own. Together, they convey that the funky, syncopated spirit of New Orleans music is unbreakable, in spite of Katrina’s interruption.


Praise for Groove Interrupted

"An abidingly generous, inclusive portrait of a city and its musicians. There are cities people live in, and there are cities that live in and through their people; reading Spera's new book about the Crescent City's musicians will convince you that New Orleans is the latter."—The Boston Globe

"Moving . . . Groove Interrupted takes us deep inside New Orleans music in ways that television newscasts and feature films cannot."—Chicago Tribune

"Incisive portraits of local icons and eccentrics . . . 4 out of 5 stars."—Rolling Stone

"An inspiring chronicle of The Big Easy."—Men's Journal

"Impressive . . . With incredibly lyrical and elegiac prose—much of it more novelistic than music journalism—Spera profiles thirteen New Orleans-based musicians and scene players . . . Spera has really done something special here with this collection of tales, and it's required reading for anyone who loves the incredible sounds of the city."—Houston Press

"Eloquent . . . Rendered with uncanny empathy and an eye for N'awlins detail that only a local could summon up."—JazzTimes

"In Groove Interrupted, Keith Spera captures both the elation and the heartbreak of post-Katrina New Orleans through the stories of some of the city's best musicians. Spera knows New Orleans and its music inside-out, and he lived through the disaster and saw it all for himself. Anybody who loves the Crescent City and its music will experience shocks of recognition, humor, sadness, and intense beauty throughout. This is a terrific book."—Tom Piazza, author of City Of Refuge and Why New Orleans Matters

"With Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood that followed, New Orleans suffered a near-death experience. Eighty percent of the city flooded.  Musicians suffered along with everyone else, and in the weeks and months after the storm it was unclear if they, and the music would ever return to the Crescent City. Keith Spera's invaluable book brilliantly chronicles the experiences of some of New Orleans',  and America's,  most important musicians—Fats Domino, Aaron Neville, Allen Toussaint, among others—before, during and after America's worst man-made disaster."—Eric Overmyer, Executive Producer Treme (HBO)

"Uneven, intermittently compelling series of portraits of New Orleans musicians . . .  The chapters on Aaron Neville, Fats Domino, Jazz Fest director Quint Davis and formerly incarcerated rapper Mystikal are particularly pointed and revelatory . . . "—Kirkus Review

"Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Spera chronicles the New Orleans Jazz Fest and various musicians of the Crescent City and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on their work . . . The research is strong, the writing is personable and engaging, and the spirit of America's most musically diverse and unusual city emerges at every turn. An outstanding study of the late-20th-century and early-21st-century music of the luminaries of New Orleans and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on their lives and work. Essential for fans of all the included artists as well as anyone interested in the cultural effects of Katrina."—Library Journal

"This wonderful celebration of the 'vibrant, idiosyncratic music community' of New Orleans is a collection of profiles of individual musicians who all had their ability to make music threatened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 . . . All of them show how artists as varied as blues guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, heavy metal singer Phil Anselmo of Pantera, and New Orleans legends Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint tried 'to make sense of the storm through music, comforting themselves and uplifting those around them.' Some of the finest profiles . . . detail a combination of sadness and joy, such as Aaron Neville's triumphant return to the city after the death of his wife to close out the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Neville sums up the feeling of all the musicians as they strive, post-Katrina, to uplift New Orleans through their art: 'All of us felt the same way about the love affair we were coming back to, to the city, to the people.'"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Groove Interrupted
Chapter OneGatemouth Brown's Last RideIn the fall of 1997, photographer Jennifer Zdon and I visited the notoriously cantankerous Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown at his ramshackle bayou-side bachelor's pad outside Slidell, Louisiana. He immediately antagonized Zdon. He'd rather marry a gorilla and keep it in his lemon tree, the thrice-divorced Brown informed her, than marry another woman. Not amused, she struggled to maintain her professional composure even as Brown refused pleas to pose with his trademark cowboy hat.Eight years later, as Brown wasted away from cancer, heart disease
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  • Keith Spera

  • Keith Spera writes about music for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.  In 2006, he was a member of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage team. He has also contributed to Rolling Stone, Vibe, Blender, LA Weekly, Garden & Gun and numerous documentaries. He lives in his native New Orleans with his wife and two young children.

  • Keith Spera