Hot 8 Brass Band releases back-to-back albums

After years of being out of the recording studio, the Hot 8 Brass Band had too much to say in a single album.

The New Orleans band and its British record company released the Hot 8’s second album, The Life And Times Of …, in November. In quick succession, Tombstone will follow on May 21.

“It was supposed to be one big album, but it was too big,” Hot 8 Brass Band co-founder and sousaphone player Bennie Pete explained from New Orleans. “We got excited. We hadn’t done an album in a while and we had been through so much drama.”

The members of the Hot 8, like thousands of other New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, endured the trauma brought by Hurricane Katrina and the flood that followed.

The lives of three band members also were taken by gun-related deaths of the kind that continues to plague New Orleans. Another band member, trombonist Demond Dorsey, died of heart attack at 28. And trumpeter Terrell “Burger” Batiste lost his legs in 2006 when a car struck him after he’d stopped along the roadside to fix a tire during a trip to Atlanta to visit family displaced by the flood.

“We wanted to do so much,” Pete said of the album that became two albums. “We wanted to do original music. We wanted to dedicate tunes to our members who died, to the family members that we lost, the friends that we lost.”

Although Tombstone won’t get its national release until May, the band expects to get 500 advance copies to sell later this month in New Orleans.

“Since we had more time, we wound up going and changing stuff,” Pete said. “We can never leave it alone. So it’s getting pressed right now and, to tell the truth, I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that it’ll be back for Jazz Fest. But they promised me that it would.”

Despite the grief that inspired The Life And Times Of … and Tombstone, the music on the albums is characteristically joyful.

“The Tombstone album might have more energy than The Life and Times,” Pete said. “It’s kind of us musically putting away all of our issues and troubles and dedications.

“We named it Tombstone because it’s like a musical tombstone to all these great musicians who passed. We’re just writing it for them and we’re expressing it to the world, letting the world know who these guys were. And we’re doing it while we’re still here.”

Making music, in the studio and onstage, has been a healing process for the surviving Hot 8 Brass Band members. Sold out shows in the U.K. and Ireland were especially moving for them.

“Having people wanting to hear the Hot 8, seeing all these people chanting ‘Hot 8,’ people breaking down security trying to get into the show because it’s sold out, that brings tears to our eyes.”

Being an international act was always a goal for the band.

“All these guys who are not with us anymore, when we were all here together, we were wishing we could go to foreign lands where people would love our music.

“So seeing our dreams, living them out and being on top the dirt to live it, and also representing the guys who are not here, it’s definitely been healing.”

Having made the band’s musical dedications to fallen bandmates, family and friends, Pete expects that the Hot 8 Brass Band’s follow-up to Tombstone will take a new path.

“It’s going to be all original, whatever direction the band is going in in the future.”

Even though the Hot 8 tours internationally now, the band continues to play parties, wedding receptions and funerals.

“That’s what keeps us grounded,” Pete said. “We lightened up a lot, but if we ever were to stop, I think our sound would perish. That’s what keeps us grounded to the streets. The way the people dance, the environment, we can’t get it from nowhere else but New Orleans.”