Legend Eddie "The Rhythm Man" Gabriel, 1910-2005
Thursday, 23 March 2006 would have been Eddie Gabriel's 96th birthday. Sadly, the iconic Pat O'Brien's musical performer perished in his Lower Ninth Ward home during the post-KTMB "Brownie" days in August 2005. Mr. Eddie has been a fixture of Pat O'Brien's for nearly its entire existence since 1938 which to me is nearly incomprehensible. There have been twelve Presidents of the United States in those 67 years. Think about that. Over the past 15 years I have been legally able to drink, I don't ever recall an evening at Pat O'Brien's when I was there and Mr. Eddie was not. I have one of those "official" Pat O'Brien's black and white pictures of Hollis P. Wood and myself standing with a smiling (as always) Mr. Eddie taken back in January 2001 when he was young--only 91. I don't have it framed yet, but plan to . . .
To honor and remember his life and career, Pat O'Brien's held an honorary tribute for him at the Piano Bar on his birthday. Myself, Hollis P. Wood, and nolagirl insisted on attending this celebration of the true legend Mr. Eddie was.
As a slideshow presentation of Mr. Eddie throughout the years projected onto the Piano Bar's St. Peter Street wall, the event kicked off with one of the owners offering her reflection and stories about him and his life. Unfortunately there was a woman sitting at the bar near where I was standing who didn't quite understand that everyone within earshot of her was trying desperately to hear the ongoing presentation. Instead of hearing about Mr. Eddie I got to hear everything about this Midwestern woman's job with Belfor and about her being "on the ground" in New Orleans since 30 August 2005 and about how she had been at this train accident last year or about that tornado the year before. When I begrudgingly asked her to please be quiet in the most possible polite way I am capable, she gave me the "how dare you" look and her frigid friend wanted to know "what my problem was." Under normal circumstances I likely would have lost it. But not on this night.
(Now honestly, I wouldn't have even brought this part of the story up, but to me (and I came to this realization right after it happened) this episode is symbolic and personifies the entire situation in New Orleans post-KTMB both with outsiders not "getting" (or remotely caring about) us here and the complete lack of respect most carpetbagging contractors have for our city, our culture, and our existence. They don't--and are incapable of--getting New Orleans and it's people. (Am I reading wayyyy too much into it . . . . Perhaps. Let's move on . . .)
Several long-time co-workers (piano players), friends, and family came up on stage one after the other and told touching stories about Mr. Eddie and of specific memories of times spent with him. Among some of the things (paraphrased from memory) said about Mr Eddie:
"Mr. Eddie had a very gentle spirit,"
"the staff tried to get him to retire for years and he'd always come back he couldn't retire because he still needed the money" (at 95 years old),
"he didn't finish high school, but was very smart and always gave the best advice,"
"he was as 'easy as Sunday morning,'" and
"he took his vitamins every day, enjoyed every day of his life, and always smiled--these were what he thought was the key to a good, long life."
His niece (the lady in red in the picture below) gave a long emotional account of her uncle and even sang a tribute to him requesting everyone in the Piano Bar to hold hands. There were some tears in the crowd, but overall the tribute was joyous--and not sad--the way death is supposed to be celebrated in New Orleans. After the heartfelt presentations were complete, a brass band entered the Piano Bar and a second line march with a picture of Mr. Eddie in the lead paraded through the Piano Bar then out to St. Peter Street and then back inside to the patio. The whole event was fitting and a great way to pay tribute to "The Rhythm Man" which I will never forget. Mr. Eddie--another piece of New Orleans washed away on a Monday morning in August 2005--will be sorely missed . . .
Here are some pictures: