I’m sure you’re familiar with the goofy early rock n’ roll tune “Sea Cruise.” As such, I’m sure you’ll agree about its total unsuitability as walk up music. You may not know the artist who performed it, Frankie Ford. But I do. Boy, do I ever.
Pre-Katrina, I had a lot of friends who lived in New Orleans, so I tried to make a trip down there once a year because New Orleans is awesome. It is the only city in America other than New York that I can imagine living in, were it not for the complete lack of jobs and crippling humidity and floods.
One place we used to frequent was Rock n’ Bowl, a bowling alley far away from the French Quarter, where bands would often play. You could bowl, get decent local cuisine, and a beer for a criminally low price while also seeing a live band.
On one trip there, the featured artist was Frankie Ford, who is apparently also known as The New Orleans Dynamo. This was happening at about 5pm on a Saturday, but that didn’t mean Frankie wouldn’t bring his A-game.
On this occasion, The Dynamo crammed a 10-piece band into a space that was meant to comfortably accommodate five, at most. A three-man horn section, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and backup singers, all stuffed into the most unmanageable of spaces. There was no real stage per se, just an area where the bands set up behind the alleys, close to the wide, steep stairs that led up from the main entrance.
Mr. Ford looked a lot like he does in this video. Same grandma sunglasses, same John Waters mustache, same piano scarf.
He did not play the piano, however. He just grabbed the mike and belted for a good hour. Several times, he held a note loud, long, and quavering over several bars, just to prove he could do it. This was always greeted with enthusiastic applause.
He closed his set with “Sea Cruise,” of course. A 10-minute rendition of “Sea Cruise.” For real. The band just vamped on the ooh-wee bay-bee part for what seemed like hours. It went from impressive to annoying and back to impressive again, several times. Some nights, I still dream of it and wake up screaming.
But the most ridiculous part of the performance had nothing to do with Frankie himself. As soon as his set ended and he wished us all a good evening, I saw something flash out of the corner of my eye. It was one of the front entrances glinting against the sun as a woman burst through it. She bounded up the steps two at a time. She was a woman of a certain age, a little too tan and dressed to have a good time, in slightly-too-short shorts and a t-shirt with a sassy saying on it.
As soon as she got to the top of the stairs, she looked around desperately, then zeroed in on me. Naturally, I was terrified, and just barely resisted the impulse to run away.
DID I MISS IT?! she pleaded. DID HE PLAY “SEA CRUISE?!” Sadly, I had to be the one to inform her that, yes, she missed “Sea Cruise.” She was beside herself. Even though, had she arrived even 15 minutes earlier, she could’ve seen enough “Sea Cruise” to last two lifetimes.
So whenever I hear “Sea Cruise,” I think of Frankie Ford’s leathery voice, and the poor cougar who missed the longest rendition of any song in recorded history.