Heart of Louisiana: Teddy's Juke Joint

Image from teddysjukejoint.com
Image from teddysjukejoint.com

Lloyd "Teddy" Johnson started spinning records in the early 1970's, before disco took over the turntables and the dance floor.

Johnson says, "I gotta cum lauda degree in record spinning."

That's when he gave up painting houses and opened his own "juke joint" near the town of Zachary, spinning his own unique blend of rock-n-roll, soul and the blues.

Johnson says, "I figured if I can come to your place and help you make some money, why not open my own place and make all the money?  But it don't work like that. I was better off letting you pay me exactly what I'm going to get. When I opened up my own place, I don't get nothing. Just pay bills."

And that's what the blues is all about. But Teddy says promoting that kind of music got him into hot water with his church pastor. He says, "He gonna stand up in the pulpit and tell the people the blues is the devil's music, when he got the whole band at the church that plays at the juke joints."

The juke joint really is home for Teddy, literally. It was his aunt's house, and it's where he was born.  To liven up his place, Teddy says he would scrounge for after-Christmas decorations from trash cans. And then customers would add to the decor.

Johnson says, "When I first started hanging stuff all over the wall, my wife said, 'What you hanging all this junk for?'"

But that junk is now part of the charm at Teddy's.  And on one particular night, it was the perfect spot for blues piano legend Henry Gray to celebrate his 88th birthday.

Gray tells how he would play hooky from school to take piano lessons.  He says, "I'd hide my bicycle in the bushes… I got a few ass whoopings though. Daddy tore my butt up, man, [saying,] 'You're supposed to be at school.' The hell with school, I wanted to play piano. I was 8 years old, I got a few whoopings but I didn't care. I wanted to play the piano."

There's a reason they call this music the blues.  Gray says, "It's just a feeling… your woman done left you, gonna leave you crying and carrying on, or you done did something dirty and gone to jail, you got blues, you got it, that's it."

At age 88, Gray has a new recording and he has no plans to slow down.  He says, "As long as my fingers keep doing that. I feel like I'm in pretty good shape. I don't smoke and I don't drink… yes, I chase a few ladies… a man's got to have fun."

And the blues has a way of taking the edge off sorrow and hardship, and turning it into something that can make a person smile.

Teddy's Juke Joint hosts a weekly jam session and occasional live performances.  And every night, Teddy's has an old time blues and soul record spin.  For more information, go online to   http://www.Teddysjukejoint.com/fr_thejukejoint.cfm