Q&A with Moss Bluff native Rory Partin

Moss Bluff native Rory Partin and his All Star Big Band will release his self-titled, fan-funded album on Aug. 19. - Credit: Submitted

Moss Bluff native Rory Partin and his All Star Big Band will release his self-titled, fan-funded album on Aug. 19. The album features the late Opry/Cajun music legend Jimmy C. Newman accompanying Partin on Jambalaya (On the Bayou) as well as standards running the gamut from swing to contemporary.
In a recent interview with the Southwest Daily News, Partin talked about his album, his time with Newman and growing up in the Southwest Louisiana music scene:
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Moss Bluff. Awesome place to grow up!
Q: Where do you live now?
A: I live in Los Angeles. It’s a LONG way from Moss Bluff, let me tell you!
Q: Are you married? Do you have children?
A: I am married to an amazing woman, Alexa James. She, like myself, is also a recording artist and actor. We don’t have any children.
Q: Do any of your relatives still live in Calcasieu Parish?
A: My whole family lives in Calcasieu Parish: three big brothers, a big sister, my mom and dad, and a whole slew of nieces and nephews.
Q: When did you first become interested in music?
A: I’ve been interested in music as long as I can remember. Seems like my mom used to play records — actual LPs — on the stereo all through the day when I was growing up, great music from Mahalia Jackson, Andraé Crouch, The Oak Ridge Boys gospel albums, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Satchmo, Ray Charles ... while I heard my older brothers listening to The Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, The Eagles, etc. Then I started playing trumpet in the sixth grade and seemed to have a knack for it.
By the time I graduated from Sam Houston High School, I had made All-Star Marching Band and All-State bands on trumpet both my junior and senior years and had offers for full rides coming in to play trumpet at colleges all over. We didn’t have a choir at Sam Houston, so I had no clue how the whole high school singing thing went and how to go about getting scholarships there. But I started singing with my family in middle school. We would sing at church and would get invited to sing at revivals. I started singing solos, and quickly found that singing was my most natural way of expression. I was hooked. And still am.
Q: Beside your voice, what other instruments do you play?
A: I play piano, trumpet, flugel horn, Irish Tin-Whistle, harmonica, French horn (though it’s been a few years since I don’t own one), a little guitar.
Q: Were you involved in the Southwest Louisiana music scene before you took to the road?
A: Absolutely I was involved in the Southwest Louisiana music scene! I was a vocal performance major at McNeese for four years before hitting the road, so it mostly played out with my singing and playing trumpet for LOTS of weddings, local churches, community events and festivals — like Contraband Days — a few studio sessions at Lake Charles Music, business men’s luncheons and of course many, many musicals, operas and band and choir concerts at McNeese. Pretty much anywhere I could get in the door that made sense to perform, I was there!
Q: Tell me a little about your new album. How long did it take from concept to production?
A: Concept to completed production of my new album took about nine months. I decided that I was going to get more in touch with my roots and influences on this album. We had the idea for me to record the new project in September 2013, worked on the concept, and were in the studio in Nashville, Tennessee on my birthday — October 21, 2013! That was a bit of a whirlwind. I was still receiving arrangements and charts for the session, at the session. We would track a song, and as we were finishing up the recording process on that song, the next arrangement would literally be coming through via email from my friend Tim McMillen (Sulphur High School band director), who was doing the arranging. While I was directing and producing the band in the big room, my wife would receive the email and print out the chart in the control room. I would then pass it out to the band, and we would record it. On and on the day went like that. Living on the edge, baby! After that day of tracking, in which we knocked out all the tracks, I began recording vocals, which took through February, working in-between travels. It also took some time to get my and Jimmy C. Newman’s schedules to coordinate.
I first met Jimmy backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in October 2013. He walked off stage with a limp, because he was there rebelling against his doc’s orders to rest and not sing at the Opry. He was trying to make a bee-line to his dressing room when as he passed me I said, ‘Comment ça va, cher?’ He stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me with not a little shock, and started rattling off in Cajun.
Needless to say, we hit it off immediately, and he invited me back to his dressing room where we talked, sang, and had a great time connecting to our roots in south Louisiana. Jimmy, having injured his leg, and being under doctors orders to rest, and then injuring his hand while helping his neighbor with his cattle (which is pretty cool that Jimmy was helping his neighbor with his cattle, when he was what, 86?), it wasn’t until February 24, 2014 that Jimmy and I finally got into the studio together in Nashville to record “JAMBALAYA.” And man was it worth the wait. What a privilege to have known and worked with Jimmy. Now that everything is finished up, the release date for the album is August 19! It’ll be online everywhere but not currently in brick and mortar stores.
Q: Will you be anywhere nearby to promote the album?
A: I have a concert in Lake Charles on December 19 at McNeese State University, with my full big band, ‘An American Christmas.’ It’s going to be a super fun night of Christmas classics and songs from my new project, including the best arrangement of “JAMBALAYA” you’ve ever heard! You don’t want to miss it! I love coming home to play. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some press and radio interviews lined up while I’m down there, so keep your ears peeled. Then I’ll be spending Christmas with my family in Moss Bluff.
Q: Please share your favorite and worst memories from your travels as a musician.
A: Some of my best memories would be my travels to over 30 countries throughout my career. I’ve traveled all over Europe, to Egypt, Iceland, and all over the U.S. I love to travel and experience new cultures and languages. We just returned this morning from Finland. I was in Russia the week of the coup attempt and in Romania while Nicolae Ceaușescu was in power. I’ve literally seen history unfold around me. I’m sure my love of all of this has everything to do with growing up in such a rich culture such as Southwest Louisiana, and the fact that in Moss Bluff, they began teaching us French in the second grade. I can’t express how much I love where I’m from, and the rich heritage I have as a result. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else in the world! Among my worst memories would be food poisoning in Arizona from a breakfast casserole that a host family fed me that had me out for weeks. And probably forgetting my pants when I was singing for the President (although that one is also a fond memory because it’s also so funny). And then there was the time I got a parasite and lost 20 pounds before the doctors figured out what was up, and of course getting sick of being fed lasagna every night by every promoter for what seemed like a month, which eventually drove my wife to become a vegetarian. I’ve got a serious bone to pick with those promoters.
Q: Who is in your band?
A: Well, I have musicians in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Lake Charles. There are a number of notables that have played with me for years. Here are just a couple. In Nashville, Quitman Dennis is my lead tenor player. He was band leader for Bobby Darin. Alan Javorcky is my lead trombone player. He’s played with lots of famous big bands. He used to play with Tommy Dorsey back when they would all jump in cars together and ride to the gigs. Bob Babbitt played bass with me. He was essentially the replacement for James Jamerson when he left Motown. It was really sad to loose Bob back in 2012.
In Los Angeles, Bill Churchville plays trumpet with me. Bill and I played together at McNeese. He went on to play with Tower of Power and just about any artist you can imagine that uses horns, and is one of the leading session players in Los Angeles.
In Lake Charles, Tim McMillen plays trombone with me. He and I played together at McNeese. He’s played with lots of names you would recognize and has arranged music for everyone from the USAF to Disney. He also was the main arranger for my latest project. Ricky Peters plays trumpet with me. He is from South Beauregard and played at McNeese as well. He plays with all the top bands that come through Texas and Louisiana. He was a trumpet student of my brother, Ronney, and we all went to the same church.
Q: What got you so passionate about the music you perform?
A: I think a lot of it has to do with my rich heritage growing up in Southwest Louisiana. Seriously. My mom was born in Turkey Creek; my grandfather was a preacher and preached in Cajun French; and I grew up playing trumpet in the best bands in all of SWLA and listening to some of the best live music in the world. And there’s no denying we have some of the most amazing food in all the world. And I’ve been around to prove it. I could go on and on. There is a soul in Southwest Louisiana that exists, and it soaks into and permeates everything. If you’ve never noticed it or thought about it, take a few minutes and consider it. It’s undeniable, and it’s everywhere. I’m also a committed Christian, and all I do is for someone much higher than this existence here on Earth that we call life. There is a passion that comes from that that drives everything I do.
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