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Oliver Wells and a New Orleans Groove

Updated on October 3, 2014

Oliver Wells grew up in the heart of steamy New Orleans, listening to live jazz, watching his dad playing the guitar with the likes of Fats Domino and other legendary artists. From there, it wasn’t a big leap for him to become a bass guitarist himself. The music was already in him.

Originally a drummer with the St. Augustine High School Band, he played regularly at carnivals and parades. Played his heart out, always wanting more. The band rocked the Superdome, back when “Katrina” was still just a name, just another pretty girl coming out to hear the music. “The whole city was music and food,” he says. “It was the greatest of times.”

With his father, he hung around seasoned artists who would become unforgettable names in the industry, musicians who would come to define New Orleans music and set the standard for a generation.

“People like Fats [Domino] would talk to me, try to tell me something about my music and I’d say, ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about. After I got some sense in my head, I started listening,’ “Wells remembers ruefully. “They let the air out of my head real fast.”

One time, Fats was visiting their house and delivered a personal message to young Oliver, who was playing around on the drums and guitar. “Fats said, ‘You’re puttin’ too much groove and fancy stuff in there. All that fancy stuff won’t get you work. Stay in the pocket.’ “ Wells paid attention. “He was tellin' me, be disciplined. Know when to do the fancy stuff and when not to. I never forgot that,” says Wells.

Wells played bass drum in the Southern University band for three years, then went on the road with the old time Blues singer Richard Fields. “I made a little money, and learned a lot more,” he says. Then he played for six years with the unforgettable vocalist Jackie Neal, and was playing with her at the time of her tragic death. “It was tough for everyone. What made it easier was I kept on playing with her family. It was how they coped with it. We just kept going.”

He continued to broaden his experience playing wherever and whenever he could. He played the guitar with the old school Funk band Flave, then took a job with Blues singer Marvin Sease, playing drums on twelve tracks on Sease’s last CD.

From then on, it was all guitar, all the time. He started playing with a local band in Baton Rouge, and eventually struck up a friendship with saxophonist Lazarro Nettles, who seemed to be all over the Baton Rouge music scene. On the strength of Lazarro’s recommendation, Oliver jumped headlong into the Baton Rouge funk band, SugaFUNK, and began writing original music to supplement the band's offerings.

These days, Wells has a digital recorder with him all the time, is always ready to write music. “I record a melody when it comes to me, then go home and put the vocal part in.” He is into the classic sound,the modern sound, whatever is good music, whatever is going to pull people in and speak their musical language: Funk, Blues, Jazz, or an original combination of those.

He lives with his wife, Lizzie, and their baby daughter in Baton Rouge. He is a first time father, and is motivated in a different way now. “My daughter is a big inspiration,” he says. “I would love for her to be extremely proud of me. Everything I do now, I do with her in mind.”

A man destined for great things.


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