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Lazarro Nettles and the Journey of a Lifetime
Saxophonist Lazarro Nettles has had a hell of a ride. And he wouldn’t change any of it.
Born and raised in that bend in the road called Independence, Louisiana, about thirty minutes outside of Baton Rouge, Nettles was brought up by his great-aunt, “Mamma,” along with his seven siblings.
She died four years ago at 98, but her presence lingers, as does her permanent mark on his life.
Nettles grew up listening to Fats Domino and James Brown, and watching the legendary television show “Night Train,” which featured the rising artists of the day. His love affair with the saxophone began after he watched David Sanborne play it like a lover on “Midnight Special.”
“It made me cry,” he says. I realized music has a spirit, something you can feel.”
Mamma bought him his first used saxophone in a store in Baton Rouge. He thought he had died and gone to heaven. When he got home, he went straight to the bathroom where the sound is the loudest and started playing. He taught himself scales and started playing in the school band.
“The first time I tried to play my horns at school, I was holding ‘em upside down. That brought me down to earth,” he laughs.
Through it all, Mamma was there. “She pushed me hard, and always knew when I was up to something I shouldn’t have been,” he says wryly.
One day in church, Mamma was convinced he needed the Lord, and would likely need him more in the future: ”The preacher was calling for altar calls, but I was so cool in my shades and looking at all the girls, I didn’t have time for any of that.”
Mamma kept telling him, “Get up, get up,” and the preacher was calling, and Mamma was pushing, so finally he went. He got up and went reluctantly to the altar and his life was never the same.
Looking back, Nettles believes he had a fortuitous encounter with the Holy Spirit that would become more evident as the years passed. “The next day, I was doing things on my horns I had never done before, and didn’t know how to do,” he remembers. “I was at a whole new level. My soul just opened up.”
He developed a skill for playing alto, tenor and soprano on the sax—“Different voices on the horn,” he calls them―and became proficient in many genres: gospel, rock, country, blues, and related forms.
Over the course of twenty-five years, he got good, and he got noticed. He started picking up gigs with well-known artists in Louisiana: The Average White Band, Dr. Mark St. Cyr, Sonny Arceneaux and Jackie Neal. He traveled with Warren Ceasar and played the wine capital in Troy, France. He opened for artists as diverse as Ricky Skaggs, Ron Isley of the Isley brothers, and Kool & the Gang. He played nearly every known venue in the Louisiana music world and throughout the country and was featured on several big-name albums.
The sky was the limit. He was on his way.
Then fate intervened with plans of its own.
Just before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Nettles went to bed one night and woke up barely able to move. He had numbness and spasms all over his body. The pain was almost more than he could bear. He ended up in New Orleans Charity hospital for surgery on the lumbar and cervical parts of his frame. The operation helped, but he spent the next two years unable to walk and unable to work. The pain came sporadically, and when it did, there was no relief.
“I fell onto a depression,” he says. “I couldn’t pick up a penny. I couldn’t tie my shoes. You don’t feel like a man.” He needed help with the simplest things, and wondered if God had abandoned him. He had been pushed aside. He felt invisible.
Dependency, though, has its blessings. “I had to depend on God. I had nowhere else to go,” he says. His childhood faith—encouraged by the firm hand of his determined Mamma―swooshed down on him like rain. Almost completely disabled, he saw a light. With the help of family and friends, he gradually began to recover physically and emotionally. He began to see a future again.
Today, Nettles plays his beloved saxophone and has a whole new vision. The acknowledged “Captain” of the hot, new band SugaFUNK, he brings a fresh clarity to his life and to his music. He doesn’t dwell on “why?”—preferring to look at his life and his journey through the eyes of faith, believing there is a reason and a plan for everything.
Today, he is the proud father of five. He is excited and confident about the future and his recovery. His world looks very different now, the way it looks when a person’s whole life is radically altered by circumstances beyond his control.
“If God calls me tomorrow, I’ve experienced a lot and am grateful for it. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” Nettles says.
And his music? “They ain’t heard nothing yet.”
© 2014 Louisiana Patriot Banner