John “Papa” Gros Interview

He’s been performing since he was 15 years old.
He’s been a solo performer on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and led his own jazz band-Papa grows Funk between 2002 to 2013.
These days he continues to perform the music that has put New Orleans on the map.
The man we are talking about is John “Papa” Gros.

Q – John you say, “Sharing New Orleans with the world is my calling.” And people from all over the world come to New Orleans to see and hear guys like you play don’t they?
A – When I went to Bourbon Street I quit my two day jobs and played music exclusively on Bourbon Street. So, yeah I covered all my bills, and have been since 1992.

Q – Not many musicians can say that.
A – Its true. As long as the path I’ve been on and as much as I did seen and done I’ve never really climbed to the mountaintop. I’ve never had “hit” records. I’ve never been a household name but yet I had a lifestyle that’s pretty comfortable. It’s kind of nice to be able to say that and that’s a true success story to me.

Q – From 2000 to 2013 you lead your own band “Papa Grows Funk” and you recorded six albums that received rave reviews. How did they sell? Did the record company give you enough promotion?
A – There was no record company. I did it all myself. Like I said I’ve never had a record company. I’ve never had connected management. I’ve had friends trying to help here and there but I pretty much never had any help. Anything that I’ve achieved is pretty much DIY, Do-It-Yourself mentality. The first record came out in 2001 and we sold 10,000 units. The second record came out in 2003 and we sold 10,000 units. The third record sold about 8000 records. It started nose diving after that. Our last record in 2013, I believe we sold 3000 units total.

Q – What did you do, sell them on your own website? Sell them at shows? Or both?
A – Mostly sold them at shows. They were available on the website but really didn’t sell a whole lot there. We mostly sold them at shows and also sold them through CD Baby when they were doing physical product sales. Then we also have a great record store with a great Internet presence called Louisiana Music Factory here in New Orleans. They’ve been great partners to this whole process.

Q – You say after Katrina you became a New Orleans cultural ambassador who happens to be a loudmouth, piano-playing singer/songwriter if you weren’t doing it, would anyone else be doing it?
A – This town is littered with great cultural ambassadors. Our first great one was Louis Armstrong. Fats Domino was a great one. Dr. John was a great one. All of the Neville Brothers. Since Katrina everyone has taken on that role. We all know the importance of New Orleans. All that time especially in the political arena and the corporate financial arena New Orleans was very expendable. That was something we know was not a possibility and could not be a possibility. So, we had to literally shake the can for our hometown. Dr. John’s voice was probably the most important of all of ours at that time. I just did my part and realized how important it was. I’m not moving anywhere. I love life here in New Orleans. I love the culture we live in. I love the culture we came from and I love the culture as we evolve and develop into the future and I want to share that with everybody. We need to keep spreading the word.

Q – What was it like to play on stage with Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty?
A (Laughs). Well, it was a lot of business. There were so many musicians coming and going. I would love to say on a personal note that I got to meet them and know, but you get to really see the professionalism of why they are great, why Bruce Springsteen is great. Bruce Springsteen walked in after doing a three-hour show at Jazz Fest, 50,000 – 60,000 people at the Fairgrounds. Walked in and an hour later was learning Dr. John’s song Right Place, Wrong Time to perform it in an hour. I was in the Green Room witnessing that. He’s a Pro’s Pro. Of course there was no time for pats on the back and get to know you. It was pretty much we got to get through this song pretty quick. John Fogerty was a wonderful, wonderful man. When we started rehearsal with him he went to each person in like a 14 piece band and asked us our name, introduced himself to us and thanked us for being there and taking the time to learn his music. It was a week filled with those kinds of moments and definitely one of the highlights of my musical career. On stage to witness all these greats being great for one of my idols Dr. John, sitting behind the organ for all of them it was goosebumps all the way around.

Q – Where did the name “Papa” come from?
A – (Laughs). Well, when Papa grows Funk had our first jam session gig booked, the owner called me up and said, “Hey, I have to put a name on the paper for the billing. The deadline is 9 o’clock tomorrow morning. You need a name.” I don’t know what to call it and I was doing a gig that night. He showed up at my gig and I had two other friends there. After the gig he’s like, “Hey I have to know what name to put in the paper.” One of my friends whose nickname is Buddha he just reeled it off-Papa Grows Funk. “Your Papa and you Grow the Funk.” And I said that’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard of. Let’s try something else. Pretty much three hours of drinking, besides getting drunk and having a ball and coming up with even stupider names than that, but I’m tired, I got a go home. What’s the best name we came up with? And three friends altogether said, “Papa Grows Funk.” I said, “Put it in the paper and that’s it.”

Q – And here we are today, 2023.
A – Here we are today. Papa Grows Funk disbanded in 2013. So, ever since 2015 I’ve been actively working in my new band John Papa Gros . I’m still called Papa when I’m out there playing music. It’s a funny story because even Buddha who I’m still good friends with, we were recounting that story a couple months ago. He was like, “yeah. You always thought it was stupid.” I still think it’s stupid, but, it’s unique and it stuck. So there it is. If the Beatles can get away with it, I guess so can I.

Note: John’s latest record is titled “central city.”

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