Why you should care
The blues make feeling bad feel so terribly good.
Like so many New Orleans musicians, Marc Stone earned his first bones playing and sweating for coins in the French Quarter. Back then, rent in the city was $250, and the streets were filled with world-class players who now tour the world. Today, Stone plays the same songs as a fixture of New Orleans’ festivals and premier venues. His regular gigs around town routinely find him onstage with guitarists Walter “Wolfman” Washington and slide master John Mooney. (The latter puts Stone one degree from Son House, whom Mooney played with as a young man and who gave Robert Johnson some of his first guitar lessons.)
In the late 1980s, a thrilling time to be a young blues guitarist, Stone got his real start — not in NOLA, not in Memphis or Nashville, but in New York. The city was pulsing with a blues revival that fueled clubs like the Wonderland Blues Bar and Manny’s Car Wash. The local scene was bursting with talent, and regular touring acts included guitar legends Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Chuck Berry and B.B. King.
Among those gobbling up the live-music riches was Stone, then a young Manhattan native. It wasn’t long after he graduated high school in 1986 that Stone started sitting in at open mics at the Dan Lynch Blues Bar in the East Village, considered the home base of the city’s booming blues scene. Soon he’d decided his path in life: He’d make it or break it as a bluesman. In late 1993, Stone packed up his Fender Telecaster and National steel guitars, and moved to the world capital of the living blues: New Orleans.Twenty years later, Stone is a band-leading force in the Crescent City known for his fusion of modern and traditional blues, soul and funk — a sound he calls “roots in the present tense.”
In May, Stone celebrated the release of his second record, Poison & Medicine, on New Orleans’ Louisiana Red Hot Records. Seven of the eight tracks are originals, such as “Tell Me,” anchored by a chorus that Offbeat magazine describes as “something Isaac Hayes might have written for Sam and Dave back in the day.” The album also features a veritable who’s who of talent from Stone’s adopted music community, including percussion maestro Mike Dillon, the Bonerama Horns, the late tenor sax master Tim Green, and members of Galactic, Honey Island Swamp Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Stone’s knowledge of the blues is deep, and he shares it with a global audience every week during his blues show on New Orleans’ legendary jazz and heritage station, WWOZ 90.7 FM. An appreciation for the roots of the music can be heard in many of the songs on Poison & Medicine, despite its often deceptively modern sound. “If you’re inspired by music with strong history, then you have to immerse yourself in it,” Stone tells OZY after an afternoon set at the Funky Pirate, the last club on Bourbon Street known for its commitment to serious blues.
“At the same time, after you drink from the well, you have to take that feeling and apply it to what you have to say,” Stone says. “All of the great masters we love weren’t trying to faithfully re-create the past. They were trying to be [as] successful as the hip new shit. They took what came before them and said what they had to say in their own voice in their own time. And ultimately, that’s why it meant so much.”