Queen Ida

Born and raised in Louisiana, Ida Guillory grew up in a musical haven deep in the bayous outside Lake Charles.

Her older brother, Willie, played rub-board with church keys as strikers. Her younger brother, Al Lewis was a writer, guitarist/accordionist and aspiring recording artist. The family moved to Daly City, California, where Ida drove a school bus and her husband was a meat cutter. Her brother, Al, and I were partners in a radio production company and played gigs together.

Meanwhile, Al was teaching Ida to play the songs he wrote. Literally this finger here and those fingers there. Al wrote all the songs which he painstakingly taught Ida the positions for each of the songs. He and I produced Ida’s first two albums. Now Ida could play the ten songs on the initial album. I worked with her designing a stage act and my wife, Joy, started visually developing a stage personality and dressing Ida for stage performance from school bus driver to performing artist.

After the first album was released, Taj Majal contacted Ida to come sit in with him and she was so embarrassed because she didn’t really play accordion but had been taught those initial ten songs and she played them as it was, phonetically. As time progressed, Al wrote ten more songs which he taught to Ida; thus the second album. As Ida actually was learning the instrument she became quite proficient and now had not only learned to play and perform but began writing her own music.

By now I was assisting her as a non exclusive personal manager and she had a great booking agent who put her on the map for large festivals and universities first here and later internationally. I trained her and later her groups on video and helped develop her stage act.

Ida was an information and learn person who took a foot of information and produced a yard of results. She advanced so quickly that in 1976 she was booked to perform at the Monterrey Pop/ Jazz Festival. We knew that writers and critics from all over would be in attendance and we needed something to garner their attention. Ida and her family decided to feed the forty two professional journalists a home cooked, authentic Creole dish…..seafood gumbo…….

The absolute southern Louisiana master gumbo chef was Ida’s older sister…..Agnes.

Now Agnes had never been out of southern Louisiana and certainly never on an airplane. Consequently Ida’s older brother, Willy, had to go to Louisiana and hand carry Agnes back to California. She arrived with one of the very old, cardboard looking suitcases and a burlap bag with all her swamp herbs, rue, powders and other unknown substances. So much for 1976 airport security.

First Agnes needed someone to put the rue somewhere up on the roof under the smile of the quarter moon. Next came preparation of the ingredients and then the meats consisting of crawfish, chicken, sausage, clams, oysters and the secret concoction was mixed into a cayenne pepper sauce.

Little did the attendees realize they had just consumed a potion that had been researched and specifically designed with substances from the bottom of slews, bayous, perhaps some unintelligible droppings, flowers and herbs to ensure that they would love love Queen Ida. It was a swamp thing.The reviews, magazines and media went silly crazy writing about the Gumbo. It was tremendous. From that day forward her career blossomed. Her family all knew that they had to bring in the big guns for the media. The next day Willie took Agnes back to Lake Charles where she was a widely known healer.

Ida learned and retained at an amazing rate. Within a few years she could actually play and create on the accordion and had developed vocally as a harmony singer with her brother Al Lewis.

When Al was unable to travel on a few tours, I filled in playing guitar. In 1976 and 1977, we played the Fat Tuesday festival at Pioneer Square in Seattle. In 1977, we remained in Seattle and performed four nights at the Bombay Bicycle club. During that engagement we rehearsed daily on a specially designed set list that produced amazing results.

In 1982 Ida and her brother Al went different directions. Ida was now the lead localist and Al continued in the record business as Al Rapone. Ida traveled constantly and held her band in close and pushed them up and down the road. In the same year Crescendo Records hired me to produce the “In San Francisco” album which was to be Ida’s first Album as the lead vocalist. I recorded the project the project at Columbia Records studio on Folsom St. with multi Grammy Winner, Fred Catero, engineering. Crescendo Records was extremely old school allowing only 50 total hours to record the album, mixed, mastered with the 2 track tails out. We recorded on the newly installed Studer 24 track but used only about 17 tracks. (Fred Catero told me that during that time he engineered Santana’s albums and Columbia allowed 400 hours in the studio just for Santana’s guitar solos.)

The tracks were cut live and vocals were overdubbed. Her band was tremendous. I rehearsed them starting with kick drum and bass rehearsals. Her band was screaming tight.

In the aftermath, Crescendo commented that the album was too slick, too clean. Ida was personally unhappy with her vocals. To this day I remind her that the first time performance as a recording vocalist was the best she could do at that time in that place on those days. We only had 50 hours. While Fred and I were mixing the album, Ida was in Hollywood accepting her Grammy Award for the Best Blues and Ethnic category. Additionally, she was again nominated the following year. Two years later she was the Queen of the Mardi Gras parade.

By 1987 I had moved back to Texas when I received a call from Ida asking that I come back to California and train her current group for stage presence and set list design for her upcoming booking on Austin City Limits. First we designed a set list developed by Wayne Newton that consisted of choosing songs by category to include fast, medium fast, ballad and specialty number with an audience participation number at end of set to lead into a guaranteed encore song. Next I held kick drum/bass guitar rehearsals with just Ida on accordion.

Once the bottom was locked in we added guitar and fiddle. After the set list was polished we designed the set list with visual considerations that encompassed front line, second line and back line. The front line was microphones to include Ida and any harmony vocal participants or instrumental soloists. The second line was instrumentalists who would step up to the front line for harmonies and then return to the second line. At times the bass player would step back to the back line with the drummer. Not only did this create a continual stage movement but was specifically designed for the video cameras and filming. Consequently, most all highly successful stage acts follow the same process which was initially designed by an old Italian director during the early years in Vegas. Wayne Newton utilized the process in his career and consequently many other successful acts in most music genres.

The proof can be experienced by watching Ida’s 1987 Austin City Limits filming.

After her performance I went upstairs to the production room where I heard the shows’ producer, Terry Lacona, comment to his crew, “Her set is so damn tight it is going to be hard to edit.”

After meeting her 43 years ago, her address and phone number are still the same. Well, the zip code has changed from time to time over the years as well as her area code.

Wonderful experiences with a wonderful artist……

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