The Wild Magnolias - Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right) (Barclay 30)
Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right)
When my partner Dan Phillips emailed me just three days ago to tell me that Willie Tee was hospitalized with terminal cancer, I couldn't believe it.
As Dan had reported only five weeks before, Willie's brother Earl Turbinton (aka the African Cowboy) had lost his long battle with cancer himself on August 3rd. It seemed positively unthinkable that this could be happening. What a blow to the family.
When I received an email this morning that Willie had passed on, it just knocked me down.
I saw Willie perform with the New Orleans Social Club at Jazz Fest this year, and stood there with Dan in Lafayette Square In New Orleans on May 3rd watching his killer set with Galactic and Chief Bo Dollis. Little did I know it would be the last time I'd ever see him.
I met Willie and his wife Marilyn in Memphis after his set at the Ponderosa Stomp last year. I had just driven up from New Orleans, where I had spoken to Snooks Eaglin before his show at the Rock 'n Bowl with Eddie Bo. It was soon after Katrina, and New Orleans was still basically a ghost town. We talked about the Wild Magnolias (members of which were supposed to show up that night), and the landmark 1974 album Snooks had recorded with them as part of the 'New Orleans Project', the smokin' band organized by Wilson and Earl Turbinton.
"Where Willie Tee at?" Snooks asked me. I had to tell him I didn't know. When I told Willie that Snooks had been asking about him, he broke into a wide smile."That's one of my favorite people on earth, man..." We talked, and we talked. I think Willie was glad to speak with someone who had just been 'home', as he hadn't been back since right after the storm. I ended up driving Willie and Marilyn to their hotel (after we got lost a couple of times), and they were just such sweet and genuine people. Willie gave me his card, and told me about the gig he had just gotten as 'artist in residence' at Princeton University in New Jersey.
I told him I was on my way to Jackson, Mississippi to check out the Malaco Studios, and he told me he was headed there next to visit family as well... why didn't I give his cell phone a call when I got into town, and maybe we could go together. I was floored. What a nice thing to do, man. When I did get to Jackson a few days later, Willie told me that his grandkids had taken the day out of school to be with their Grandpa... we both agreed that family came first.
To the Turbintons, family always came first.
Perhaps the title of the 1988 Rounder album Earl made with Willie said it all - Brothers For Life.
A funeral Mass will be held on September 22nd:
Our Lady Star Of The Sea Church
1835 St. Roch
The same church where Earl's funeral was held on August 11th.
My heartfelt condolences to the Turbinton family.