If you’ve read Storyteller for any length of time, you know about this place. If not, I’ll catch you up briefly. Club Desire is the birthplace of rock n roll.
Say what you will about the King — Elvis. It’s the chitlin circuit bands that passed through New Orleans in the late 1940s and early 1950s — playing anything from bop, to big band music, to rhythm and blues to straight ahead jazz — that formed the gumbo from which rock n’ roll bubbled up and eventually took form.
Who played here? Oh man. I can name a few. A few that you might know. But, the list is way, way long.
Little Richard, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and… Fats Domino.
When Fats played here, it was at that moment that the music changed. He eventually left Club Desire. He moved across the railroads tracks to the Hideaway Club. In the neighborhood of Desire. From there his career is a matter of history. He’s still alive. The Hideaway is long gone.
The place. It closed in the early 1970s. When the owner passed. There were a few one-off events that were held by his daughter. Mostly, it just sat there and mouldered. She still owned it. But, never paid property taxes. There was no reason for music fans to come out this far. The streetcar known as Desire had been gone for many years. Fans could see their favorite bands in town. In New Orleans. Eventually, Hurricane Katrina came and the area flooded with about 15 feet of water. The entire neighborhood was hurt pretty badly. It’s starting to come back. The club did not. Not now. And, apparently never.
Oh sure. All sorts of organizations tried to delay the city’s demolition process. One group even tried to have the building declared a national monument since FEMA money was used in neighborhood restoration. Not happening. Everybody wrote letters. We did too. To no avail.
I knew it. Every time I passed by, more of the building was collapsing. Even if the building could have been declared a historical monument, it would have cost a lot of money just to make it safe, let alone to restore it.
When I turned the corner to have a look at Cafe Desire, I was shocked. Stunned. Saddened.
It was gone.
Near as I can tell, the city tore it down last week. The grader is still parked there. With a ladder on top of it. The ground still has tracks on it. It hasn’t been weathered. I missed the actual event. The demo. All boys like demolitions. Just as well. I wouldn’t have been happy.
As a wise man once said, “Don’t be sad because something ended. Be happy because it happened.” You know that wise man. Dr. Seuss.
Besides. There are ghosts. Musical ghosts. Long live the musical ghosts.