Freddy Staehle: a rhythm rooted in New Orleans

Staehle with a statue of his former band leader, Al Hirt (Photo credit - Max Sullivan)
Staehle with a statue of his former band leader, Al Hirt (Photo credit – Max Sullivan)

Freddy Staehle knows New Orleans. If he’s on drums for your set, you’ll have every flavor of Big Easy rhythm at your disposal.

“He knows the New Orleans traditions,” said Steve Rohbock, New Orleans pianist who jams with Staehle frequently in the Big Easy. “I’ll say. ‘Hey, play a second line rhythm, and he’ll go, ‘Do you want the Ninth Ward? Do you want the Upper Ninth Ward? Do you want the Lower Ninth with the Seventh Ward? Which one you want?’ because he knows specific neighborhoods.

If you ask Rohbock what that means – the difference between the Upper Ninth and the Seventh Wards – he’ll say he couldn’t explain it like Staehle does.

“Ask Freddy about that,” Rohbock said. “I say just go with it, I don’t even tell (him) anything.”

It’s no accident that Staehle has mastered the sound of New Orleans. At 8 years old, he followed his brother Paul, 10 years older and who studied drums with Gene Krupa in New York City, all over Bourbon Street to see the best New Orleans drummers play. At 20 years old in 1966, he joined legendary New Orleans jazz trumpeter Al Hirt in centerfield at Shea Stadium to open for the Beatles.

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Staehle at Cafe Beignet on Bourbon Street (Photo credit – Max Sullivan)

But one connection that stands out in Staehle’s career is the one with Dr. John.  He met the Doctor in 1956 when he was just 12 years old. It was a connection that has lasted for decades, as he joined the Doctor on recordings like Dr. John’s Gumbo (1972) and the Grammy-winning Goin’ Back to New Orleans (1992).

Of all the things that Staehle has gotten out of playing with Dr. John, it’s the Doctor’s tremendous sense of rhythm. Dr. John is a master of the beat, especially that of New Orleans.

“(Dr. John) has just got his tree has some deep roots in the ground,” Staehle said. “You can study and be a great technician, but the rhythm is the first thing before melody and that’s where people feel and want to create.”

(Photo credit - Max Sullivan)
(Photo credit – Max Sullivan)

It’s that pedigree, trombonist Dave Ruffner  said, that makes him so knowledgeable – and so desired.

“Freddy’s really special because it’s kind of links you up to a big past,” Ruffner said before taking the stage with the drummer at Café Beignet on Bourbon Street Sunday. “He’s kind of like a living museum. You want to be associated with him because that links you vicariously to other great musicians. Everybody wants to play with Freddy because of his pedigree.”

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