When I was very young, my Auntie Dorothy put me in a parade for the Eastern Stars. They dressed us in the black and white with a little small apron, the hat on, and some white gloves. We walked down the street in two lines with a little brass band. At Washington, when I got around by the Magnolia projects, my friends went to call my name, and I was ready to cut loose. The band was playing “I’ll Fly Away.” Everybody else is shaking their head, and I’m like, “What’s wrong? It’s time to dance!” One of the Eastern Stars said, “You can’t do that, son. You can’t do that.”  I cried, I cried, I cried. My aunt didn’t tell me I had to stay still. I’ll never forget that moment. I couldn’t wait until I grew up and got my own parade.

When I see my friends from the Magnolia, I still get so excited. I grew up in the Belmont Court. We stayed there five years, and then wound up moving downtown to Jane’s Alley—that’s where they have parish prison—and around other parts of the city. My mother raised me as a single parent. She cooked at K&G Cafe on Broad and Canal and at my uncle’s nightclub, Uncle John’s Lounge near the Calliope Projects. He sponsored the NORD baseball team, Big John’s Outlaws. He had plenty trophies from that. I run the same building as the Club Good Times II now on Conti and Dupre.

It wasn’t none of that gangster rap back then. It was bands like the O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass. We had grown folks music, so we learned to grow up. In the projects, Woodson Middle School’s band came out early in the morning and marched around Shakespeare Park. It wasn’t too far away, and the music woke us up. Tuba Mark Smith stayed two hallways over. He was dedicated to horn from day one. This guy used to walk around the project with it playing his horn by himself. People were like, “Why?” That’s how dedicated he was. 

Tuba player Mark Smith with the Pinstripe Brass band
Tuba player Mark Smith with the Pinstripe Brass band; 1982; by Michael P. Smith; THNOC


A lot of the brass bands played the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money.” We grew up on that song. We caught the bands at the Glass House. The Dirty Dozen wasn’t nothing nice to play with. The dancers had to be fast. They’ll cut you up if you come in there slow, jack. After the Glass House, we went to Kemp’s on LaSalle Street to hear Rebirth. When I had my son, Perry Sam, I wanted to raise him with the music, too. When he was young, I used to take him to catch Rebirth playing for tips in the French Quarter. Eyes used to let him play on the drums, so he knew who some Eyes was. Yes, indeed. The youngest trumpet player was Derrick “Kabuki” Shezbie. He was the little bitty boy blowing on the trumpet. My son was tickled pink with all that.


Dressing Up

When I was 15, I met Eddie “Sugar Slim” Durell in the Calliope Projects. He used to be with the Indians—Big Chief Jerod “Rody” Lewis and them with the Black Eagles—and also paraded with the Mella Fellas. They were part of the Young Men Olympia. It was a big ole parade and each division had their own color, was doing their own thing, but everybody was together. I liked it there. The Mella Fellas decided to branch out on their own, and I joined them. They used to meet at one of their member’s house on Jackson and Willow. They call him Cat Killer. Everybody knows Cat Killer from uptown.

I was with the Mella Fellas for three years. They loved, loved to dress. A lot of people don’t know about Nowak’s right off of Canal on South Rampart, but back in the day, that’s where we got our clothes. They had some nice stores around there. They don’t have that no more—most of it is torn down. They were some expensive clothes, but that’s what they like to do. On Sundays, we used to hustle at the second line, selling cold drinks and water. Perry Sam used to help me pull the grocery store baskets to raise our money to parade. I thought that was a real good thing to do and learned a lot. When a club needs help, get out there and let the public support them. The club will give back to the public when they have their parade. You get known out there.

I wound up going with The Revolution, the only solution. I stayed with The Revolution for more than a decade. It was a brotherhood in there. I loved it. I swear I did. Joseph “Joe Black” Baker and I knew each other uptown by Kemp’s and all that. There were five or six little new guys, we all joined at the same time, so it made them bigger and better. Back in the day, people really wanted to do it. That’s why all the older fellas around now, you know where they come from. Let the new guys have their fun, but the older guys, that’s what’s happening.

The first year I paraded with Revolution, we started at Armstrong Park. It was Perry Sam’s eleventh birthday, and he paraded with me. Ah, man, the tears come to my eye on that one. Joe Black and I picked out canes to carry with us. Back in the day, people used to cut a pool stick to make a cane, but I wanted ours to have the pretty handles like in Petey Wheatstraw, a movie back in the 1970s, where the cane had magic power. Every time the main character wanted to do something he just held his stick up. You buy the cane one year you don’t have to change it. Matter of fact, I still have mine. It means a whole lot to me. 

Perry Franklin with The Revolution
Perry Franklin with The Revolution; 1995; by and courtesy of Kevin Evans


Ciera and Warren Sam
Ciera and Warren Sam; 2015; by and courtesy of Pableaux Johnson

Revolution liked to do all the schemes on the street. We might go around in a circle, blow the whistle, go together in one line. We paraded all the way uptown by the old bricks around the Magnolia and stopped at Silky’s Lounge. Parading in my old neighborhood brought back so many memories. In the school yard of our elementary school, all the kids used to play on a statue of a turtle. The school is gone now, but the statue is still there where it always was—thank God. During the parade, we stopped by the statue and sat there for a minute. We didn’t have no cameras to take no pictures, but the memory is still there and it’s so beautiful. Over time, I started to go out to the parades on Sunday to take pictures. I was a good photographer. I took a lot of action shots and charged reasonable prices.

Around 2004, a bunch of new guys came into the Revolution, and some of the older members decided we wanted to go to the back of the parade with our own band. We were going to be called Revolution Part Two, or the Second Division, but it didn’t work out right. Right before Katrina came, I was listening to the song by Shaggy, and he was talking about going through struggles with your friends, and how you have to keep it real, so when I decided to start a new club, I came up with the name Keep’N It Real.



Keep'N It Real

We start at Bayou St. John. I was inspired by Tamborine and Fan’s Super Sunday parade. Back in the day, people lined up out there by the water, ready to have fun, so I thought starting in the same place would be a good thing. We pull up in a limousine or Rolls-Royce, and a lot of people out there they have their cameras ready. Our parade stays downtown on the big streets that give us more room to spread out.

We go from the bayou down Orleans, up Broad Street to the Avenue Barber Shop. We leave from the Avenue Barber Shop—now Xquisite Kuts— and we go to Sid’s Nightclub. After we leave Sid’s Nightclub, we used to stop by Justina’s the Next Stop on St. Bernard, turn on Claiborne, stop at Jackie and George’s on Claiborne, and then take it back home to Club Good Times II. 

Perry Franklin coming out the door
Perry Franklin coming out the door; 2019; by and courtesy of Charles Muir Lovell


 A lot of them older clubs stayed around a long time because they had fun together. Outside of the parade, we go to the casino, bus rides, and do dances together. To get ready for our parade, we do the same thing we did with the Mella Fellas. We get out there, hustle on Sundays to raise some money to keep us alive. If we throw the raffles, that’s extra. My motto is, “The more you hustle, the more you have.” We ain’t got to come out our pockets. I learned that from the Lady Buck Jumpers.

One year, I was fussing with my wife on the phone because I thought she didn’t pack my stuff right—I thought my suit was still at the house and the club’s about to leave me. They’re about to go about their business, and I can’t hold them up. I’m about to lose out. I had club members trying to tell me, “Just come on.” No, that wouldn’t be right.

I looked at one of my club members and I’m wondering, “Why you got them big clothes on?” Then I realized they were mine: “Man, what is you doing? Take my clothes off!” His were still on the wall. I was so happy after that it was a shame. We still laugh about it, but that will never happen again. I got a bodyguard for my clothes.

When we first started, Hot 8 was my band—my band to the max. The leader of the band, Bennie Pete, is a humble person. He been there with it, and people love Big Bennie. He put the band together, and they made us some good songs. A lot of their music they put together themselves. They had members in their band who were that strong. When I got the bar, I asked them to come over, and they did real wonderful for me.

We knew the band really well. One of our club members, John Ostroska, shot a video with Disco, Joe Black, and I with the Hot 8 and 5th Ward Weebie uptown by Studio 79 where the Hot 8 used to play. Disco and I worked with the Hot 8’s drummer, Dinneral Shavers, out on the riverfront. Every year, we do a tribute to him on Broad and Dumaine where he got killed. He had gone to pick up his stepson, and when he got in the car, people started shooting at his stepson. They shot Dinerral instead, and he passed away after that. Every year since he died, we make a cross with the sticks on the grounds while the Hot 8 plays “I’ll Fly Away.” 

Keep 'N It Real honoring Dinerral Shavers
Keep 'N It Real honoring Dinerral Shavers; 2009; by and courtesy of Leslie Parr


TBC perform at Keep'N It Real parade
TBC perform at Keep'N It Real parade; 2015; by and courtesy of Pableaux Johnson


Michael 'Disco' Valdery
Michael "Disco" Valdery; 2014; by and courtesy of Pableaux Johnson
Colbin Wright
Colbin Wright; 2016; by and courtesy of Pableaux Johnson

After all these years, I still have one of our original founders with me, Colbin Wright. Disco doesn’t parade with us anymore, but he was a good leader. I miss him out there on the streets. He comes to our parade and I’m like, “Get in the row, run the parade like you used to do!” He don’t want to hear me. 

Since Bennie hasn’t been playing on the street as much, we’ve been going with TBC for our parades. The music’s faster now. You have to keep up with the band or you’ll be stuck behind. The young folks are going to dance no matter what. If you can make the old folks dance, keep up the good work. One of my favorite songs is TBC’s “Fuck Wit You,” and it begins with Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” I love that. I hear that, I’m going to work. Big 6 have a song I like, too, “Bald Head Hoe Shit.” It’s funky. 

In March of 2020, Keep’N It Real was the last parade before the shutdown. I was the last thing out the gate. That was a scary moment. I’m just happy we got through it. After that, they shut it down—ain’t no more parades. 

Perry Sam lives in Miami, but he comes back for all the parades. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Miami to visit him. It’s real different than New Orleans. You’re driving all the time. To see somebody, you have to look in the next car cause there ain’t nobody walking. At nighttime, it’s pitch black, nobody outside.

At Club Good Times II, the lights are on. We’ve been doing chargrilled oysters and steaks. People come to get plates on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. It worked out. By me cooking in the same way my moms used to cook, it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing. When I was young, all I could do is peep in the door, but now I understand what she was doing. I’m looking forward to getting a baseball team one day. I’m going to name them The Outlaws, too.

Darrly Lynn and Norma 'Lil Bit' Brown
Darrly Lynn and Norma "Lil Bit" Brown; 2020; by and courtesy of Charles Muir Lovell