The New Orleans musical community offered another example of its bottomless heart recently with a rousing benefit for local bassist Will Ainsworth, who is undergoing a slow and painful recovery from cancer with the help of his peers, the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic and the MusiCares program. A Who's Who of local blues players turned out for the show at the Maple Leaf.
Ainsworth, who has played with many of the musicians who performed during the night, is suffering from a particularly rare and aggressive type of cancer, and has been unable to work for most of this year.
Vocalists Charmaine Neville, Irene Sage, Kim Carson, Leslie Smith, Denise Marie and Paula Rangell began the evening supported by drummer Cory Walters, bassist Cassandra Ankrum, violinist Nancy Buchan and others. Smith was the last person Ainsworth played with before he was felled.
Chris Thomas King played a fierce set in a trio format, opening with Johnny B. Goode, referencing Prince and turning in a spectacular version of James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing." Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the Roadmasters blew the place apart, with Walter supported by Kipori "Baby Wolf" Woods on second guitar. Washington, fresh from his mind-boggling performance the weekend before at Robyn Halverson's annual Bywater bash, "Decadence XXVIII," which went past 4 a.m. in the lot next to the abandoned Rice Mill on Chartres street, was given his own benefit earlier this year at the House of Blues after his van was stolen with all his equipment in it, and he definitely returned the musical favor at the Maple Leaf.
Mem Shannon put his shoulder into "Who Are They" and "Time" with guitarist E.J. standing in front of the stage hanging on his every move and urging him on. Rockin' Jake, backed by Randy Ellis on guitar, Dirty Mouth bassist Josh Kerin and Anders Osborne's drummer Doug Belote, played a great mini-set of "Hit the Highway," "Goin' Back to the Big Easy," "Full Time Work" and Clifton Chenier's "Zydeco Cha Cha." Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, Coco Robicheaux, Washboard Chaz, and J. Monque 'D and Jerry Embree were also on hand, not to mention all the musicians in the audience who just turned out to support the gig.
"For a side guy who's not really a band leader it went well," said Ainsworth. "Hank told me we raised something like $3,000 dollars at the gig. I feel blessed. I'm cancer-free at the moment, although I have to have radiation treatments and I have a lot of physical therapy in front of me.
"At one point my doctor was concerned he might have to amputate my leg. In early March I was gigging with Pat Ramsey and the Blues Disciples. I had a 70 pound unit that sits atop two 4x10 speakers, and I'm used to just swinging it off the top at the end of the night. This one night it hit my inner thigh and I thought I had a charley horse. The bump didn't heal right. I kept thinking it was a hematoma but it never went away. I scheduled a visit through the Musicians Clinic and the surgeons who examined me both mentioned cancer. They scheduled me immediately for an MRI.
Ainsworth has recorded with Sunpie Barnes and Coco Robicheaux as well as the Kenny Wayne Shepherd classic "Ledbetter Heights." He came to New Orleans in 1984 from Austin, Texas in a 327 Chevy Impala Station Wagon he got from guit-steel maverick Junior Brown.
"We were roommates briefly in Austin," Ainsworth said with a laugh. "At the time he had no money. "I found the apartment, paid the deposit and the first months rent, got the utilities set up, and after about four days it was clear that we weren't gonna get along. I ended up trading him the apartment for that car, which I lived in for several months."