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Big Chief Takawaka comes to Palo Alto

February 22, 2012

Henry Clement in Mardi Gras Indian regalia outside John's Woodshop. Photo by Julia Scott-Jackson.

One event we couldn’t get to this weekend in Northern California was the Mardi Gras dance at John’s Woodshop in Palo Alto. Each month, John Seltzer clears out his shop floor and opens the space for a big potluck. All are welcome and there’s no admission fee, but everyone is expected to bring food and tip the band generously. The food often includes such delectibles as roasted oysters and seafood gumbo.

Saturday’s dance featured Henry Clement, a lifelong educator who also found time during weekends and vacations to perform with the likes of Fats Domino, Otis Redding, Barbara Lynn, Ray Charles, James Brown, Clifton Chenier, and B.B. King. From his bio:

Henry grew up in Crowley, Louisiana, a child prodigy who played piano, harmonica and drums professionally at dances throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi before the age of ten and made his recording debut on J.D. Miller’s Feature label in 1954 at the age of nineteen playing on a Lightning Slim session in place of Wild Bill Phillips, who could not make the date.

Henry’s recording career started in July 1957 as Little Henry & The Dew Drops. He recorded three songs for Jay Miller, only one of which, “Tall Skinny Mama,” saw belated release in 1981 with Lazy Lester on drumming box. He issued singles in 1958 with moderate regional success as Little Clem & The Dew Drops and as Little Henry.

Clement is also known as Big Chief Takawaka—a reference to the Mardi Gras Indian tradition developed by African Americans in New Orleans. (More on that tradition here.) At the Woodshop, Clement preceded his performance with a second-line procession (above). Although we couldn’t be there, Julia Scott-Jackson agreed to share her photos. Enjoy.

Ray Stevens, who is featured in Zydeco Nation, with Patty Barr. Photo by Julia Scott-Jackson.

John Seltzer, who throws the Woodshop parties, with Julia Scott-Jackson.

Henry Clement on the accordion. Photo by Julia Scott-Jackson.

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