Wardell Quezergue

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Wardell Quezergue, Sr.
Quezergue and Gatemouth.jpg
Quezergue (left) greeting Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown at Tower Records, New Orleans, 1997
Background information
Birth name Wardell Joseph Quezergue[1]
Born (1930-03-12)March 12, 1930[1]
Origin New Orleans, Louisiana
Died September 6, 2011(2011-09-06) (aged 81)
Metairie, Louisiana[1][2]
Genres Jazz, rhythm and blues, blues
Occupation(s) Producer, arranger, conductor, band leader
Years active 1940s–2011
Labels NOLA, etc.

Wardell Joseph Quezergue (March 12, 1930 – September 6, 2011) was an American music arranger, record producer and bandleader, known among New Orleans musicians as the "Creole Beethoven".

Early life[edit]

Quezergue was born into a musical family; his father, Sidney Quezergue Sr., was a guitar player. Wardell was the second youngest of three brothers: Sidney Jr., Leo, and Arlen. His two older brothers were jazz musicians, Sidney playing the trumpet and Leo playing the drums.

Musical career[edit]

Quezergue played in Dave Bartholomew's band in the late 1940s and served as an army musician in Korea. He emerged as a bandleader in his own right in the mid-1950s, with his Royal Dukes of Rhythm. He also worked as an arranger with the cream of New Orleans musicians, including Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.

In 1964, he formed Nola Records, and Robert Parker's "Barefootin’" from the label reached number 2 on the R&B chart. Other artists on the label included Eddie Bo, Willie Tee and Smokey Johnson. Later, he signed a production deal with Malaco Records of Jackson, Mississippi, and recorded King Floyd's "Groove Me" and Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff" in a single week. Major labels, including Stax and Atlantic, initially rejected them as uncommercial, so Malaco released the King Floyd record on its own label, Chimneyville Records. "Groove Me" became King Floyd's biggest hit; it was covered by artists as diverse as Etta James and Tom Petty. Stax eventually released "Mr Big Stuff", and it became the biggest-selling release on the Stax label (currently over 3 million copies), outselling Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and the other Stax acts. Quezergue was the keyboardist on both hits. He arranged Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue", which "crossed over" and became one of Malaco's biggest sellers. At the same time, Quezergue was charting, at Berry Gordy's request, stage arrangements for Stevie Wonder and other Motown acts.[citation needed]

As a result of these successes, Quezergue's skills as an arranger and Malaco's studios were in demand in the 1970s and were used by artists as diverse as Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and B. B. King. He also worked with G.C. Cameron, formerly the lead singer of the Spinners ("It's a Shame") and the Temptations; the Pointer Sisters and many more. Quezergue produced and arranged Dr. John's Grammy Award–winning album Goin' Back to New Orleans in 1992. Already an award-winning classical composer and conductor, in 2000 he created an extended composition entitled "A Creole Mass", drawing on his experiences in the Korean War.[3]

In 2005, Quezergue received an award for "Best Produced CD of the Year" by the New York Blues and Jazz Society for his first sessions with the singer-songwriter Will Porter. Also a Blues Foundation nominee, the sessions featured Billy Preston, Leo Nocentelli, the Louisiana Philharmonic Strings, and some of the best musicians in New Orleans. The CD was awarded four stars by AMG and received what Quezergue called "the best reviews of my career".

In 2005, by then legally blind, he lost most of his belongings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.[4] The following year, benefit concerts were held in his behalf, led by Dr. John, with support from other leading musicians, including REM's Mike Mills.[5]

In May 2009, Quezergue received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University New Orleans for his selfless dedication to enhancing the careers of others, while remaining in the background; for his dedication to teaching others, especially the young aspiring musicians of the city, leading many great New Orleans musicians to refer to him as "my teacher"; and for his contributions to the sounds of the city, particularly the driving horn sounds of the 1960s and 1970s, for which New Orleans music became known. On July 19, 2009, a tribute to Quezergue was staged at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. By all standards, the show was a triumph, its concept begat from Dr. Ike and the Ponderosa Stomp crew. A nine-piece band was assembled and imported from New Orleans to back up singers like Dr. John, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, and the Dixie Cups, among others. Veteran writer, arranger, bandleader and producer Quezergue showed everyone that he still had it, as he conducted the whole concert.

In 2011 Quezergue finished what he called his "two most important works": his classical religious work "The Passion" and the second recording by Will Porter.[citation needed] On August 25, 2011, Quezergue approved final mixes of 15 tracks of the Will Porter project, featuring duets with Dr. John, Bettye Lavette, Barbara Lewis, jazz bassist Jimmy Haslip, Leo Nocentelli (all multiple Grammy nominees/awardees), again with the best of New Orleans, including the late drummer Bernard "Bunchy" Johnson (his last 12 recordings) and the Louisiana Philharmonic Strings. He also planned an album of duets by Will Porter and Dr. John.


He died on September 6, 2011, at the age of 81.[1]


External links[edit]