A new book captures the quirks and talent of one of New Orleans' most celebrated and eccentric entertainers, as well as his ups and downs and the era that shaped him.
The title of the book, published by the Historic New Orleans Collection, is "Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans." Later in life, K-Doe proclaimed himself the "Emperor of the World," and few fans would disagree with him.
K-Doe emerged in the early 1960s rock and R&B scene, and until his death at age 65 in 2001 was one of the most unforgettable figures in New Orleans music.
The book is the second for the Historic New Orleans Collection _ a private collection of Louisiana materials and a museum _ which plans a series on the shapers of regional music. The first _ "Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man" _ focused on jazz composer-producer Harold Battiste Jr. and was published in 2010.
Author Ben Sandmel, who lives and plays music in New Orleans and knows the city's quirky music community, tells K-Doe's story in lively detail and colorful anecdotes.
He opens the book with an incident that took place at K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge, named after the song that took him to national fame in 1961.
K-Doe, whose birth name was Ernest Kador Jr., called the police during a performance in 2000 to report a robbery. When the cops showed up, guns drawn, K-Doe said the robbery was a man taping his performance. Not only could police do little about the alleged intellectual theft, the man turned out to be a New York Times critic planning an article "to let people know about Mr. K-Doe."
That sort of incident was not unusual for the man who made his motto, "I'm cocky but I'm good."
K-Doe followed up his original hit with a string of national hits. While it's difficult to say just how much his style influenced Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and Led Zeppelin, they and other performers hung out with K-Doe when they came to New Orleans on tour.
In some ways K-Doe's career was similar to many musicians.
Rising to stardom in the 1960s, he fell to oblivion as music styles changed. But along the way he cranked out three albums and numerous singles on his own and performed with other artists, including McCartney, on about 70 albums.
Then K-Doe had hit rock-bottom, mired in alcoholism.
In 1996 he married Antoinette Dorsey, whom he credited with rescuing him from booze and kick-starting his dead career. He began performing again, and he found a welcoming audience.
On stage, K-Doe dressed in bright suits with capes and crowns, as befitted a fanciful emperor.
The couple opened the brightly painted shrine to K-Doe, the Mother-in-Law Lounge, in the mid-1990s. It became a magnet for K-Doe fans.
Antoinette had a life-size mannequin of K-Doe made, and dressed it in his colorful duds. It presided over the bar in some of his trademark outfits, ensuring K-Doe hung out with his fans even after his death.
Antoinette died on Mardi Gras in 2009. The lounge since has closed.
"Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans," ($39.95, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Amazon, and book stores) is a hefty book with 137 photographs that alone are worth the price.
For K-Doe fans, New Orleans music fans, and those just interested in the sometimes bizarre story of a Big Easy legend, Sandmel has provided a very tasty dish.