Born in New Orleans and raised in nearby Algiers, Terence Higgins personifies New Orleans drummer swag. With one foot in the Second Line and brass band traditions and the other in just about any type of stank he can find, the man they call “Swampgrease” is among the tastiest and most versatile players on the scene today. From Ani DiFranco to Warren Haynes to The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, you can also find him bringing that Nigerian funk all the way down to BrasiNOLA; Higgins is called upon to power the groove train behind of any number of high-profile performers, always dripping in Crescent City Crisco. 
The stalwart drummer keeps a tight calendar; yet Terence was gracious in taking a few moments chop it up with L4LM’s B.Getz on a myriad of topics. The duo touch on the NOLA Crawfish FestivalJazz Fest schedule tetris, the NCF Funk SquadBayou GypsiesJoe Marcinek Band, and collaborating with the new generation of rhythm assassins in The Wahala Boys 

L4LM: Terence! What’s good? Thanks for the time, my man. I know it’s about to be Jazz Fest if I’m talking to you! So much to discuss! So, let’s start off with the big midweek event, the second-annual NOLA Crawfish Fest (tickets here), if you don’t mind. I know you’re pretty dialed in with Shaggy; tell us of your experiences with crawfish boils and playing music, you know, the stories of years past, and why you good people like to do that sorta thing down in New Orleans.

Terence Higgins: Well you know crawfish is a main event in New Orleans! I mean, we look forward to crawfish season, which usually kicks off sometime in December actually, late, and runs through late May, I think. You know, we love it. We look forward to that time of year and it’s Jazz Fest too, and that coincides with the crawfish season. I think I met Shaggy back when a few years ago. He was running with the Anders Osborne clan, and we would always cross paths on tour or at an event, and I found out he did the big crawfish boils. We had a really good connection and I would play with Anders sometimes, if I was available, if he needed a drummer, but that was my connection with Shaggy I think even before crawfish came into the picture. Then, once I figured out he threw the crawfish boil, we were friends already. He asked if I would be interested in playing one of them. I think one of them was a Shaggy boil or Mud Bug Madness or something, but it was one of those all-star lineup events with George Porter and other local favorites, and that’s how I got connected with the crawfish boil scene. Me and Shaggy have been connected ever since. They are always a blast, and I look forward to them every year.

L4LM: Yeah, he put together a super group for you guys this year. I’ll tell you, that NOLA Crawfish Fest Funk squad with George and Krasno and Medeski, you cannot ask for much more than that, right? Murderers’ row, that is.

Terence Higgins: Yeah, so we kind of put this thing together first during a Warren Haynes Christmas jam. Shaggy saw us and said, “We have to have that group at Crawfish Fest,” and we were like, “If we can make that happen, let’s do it.” We were back and forth with all of our schedules and the days we could perform, so we found a time we were all available. We were able to get the same band together that did the Haynes Christmas jam: me, Kraz (Eric Krasno), Medeski (John Medeski), and Porter (George Porter), and we had a bunch of special guests at the Christmas jam, and it’s probably going to be like this at Crawfish Fest . . . though not saying Bob Weir is goin’ to come jam!  But definitely some special guests. So we had to figure out a name for the band, and I think we threw a few around but Shaggy came up with the Funk Squad and you know, NOLA Crawfish Fest Funk Squad, and we all dug it. (Tickets available here)

L4LM: Yeah, it’s wonderful to hear everybody’s story as it pertains to crawfish boils: the food, culture, and music together vibin’ to the funky stuff. Well, you’re not just doing that NCF Funk Squad gig, obviously. I’m looking at your schedule, and you have one day off in fourteen days. Some days you have two, even three, gigs. I’ve seen you play a Swampgrease crawfish boil, and I know how you get it in down there. What’s up with that Mad Skillet gig with Medeski, Kirk Joseph, and Will Bernard. Can you talk about that project? I’m definitely checking for that show.

Terence Higgins: That all started out with me. I mean, I’ve known John Medeski forever—we became friends after we made a record, and Kirk Joseph is a friend of mine through the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I had played a little bit with Will Bernard off and on, and we had always talked about doing a project together (with Will). It turns out Will did a thing call the Blue Plate Special during Jazz Fest, and he called me in one year to play that gig. Well, John Medeski does that project so he kind of took it over and asked us to do a recording with him, and we formed a little bit of band called Mad Skillet. We have done a European tour, played some festivals together, so it’s kind of a thing. We have a record in the can, might come out soon, so Mad Skillet, it’s turning into kind of a thing for us.

Terence Higgins: We have a regular Jazz Fest event scheduled at The Little Gem Saloon on Wednesday. Yeah, so I will high tail it after the Crawfish Boil to Little Gem, then after Little Gem, I go to leave to go tod.b.a. to play the Bayou Gypsy gig, which is another project I have been doing with Roosevelt Collier and Tony Hall for the last three or four years. Its kind of like a Hendrix Experience based off the Band of Gypsies record.

L4LM: I saw that the inaugural year at d.b.a. the first time you did that. It was real tight with Roosevelt and the Bayou Gypsies. Man, you are really all over the place—this is some real Jazz Fest-schedule Tetris! What’s that? A Denver hit, with Ani DiFranco? Wow. Jet setting to Colorado in the middle of Fest? Do tell.

Terence Higgins: I feel like this schedule is a little bit light. There are a lot of shows I had to pass up on. Usually, every day is like that Wednesday, with the three. It’s weird because I had to pass on a lot of gigs due to scheduling conflicts. I have been working with Ani DiFranco, and she has a lot of one off’s that take me to Denver and one to E-town, and then I come back. The last Sunday of Jazz Fest, I have to fly out to Memphis for her, which is weird, because I never like to leave town during Jazz Fest, but with her, you know, it’s one of my gigs, so I got to honor it. That kind of knocked me out of the loop a little bit, with some gigs. I had the Wahala Boys, which is an afro-funk project I’m working on, a bunch of late-night hits, some Boom Boom Room stuff I had to pass on, but, you know, I don’t mind a little bit of a light schedule too, ’cause I am doing this big thing at the Saenger Theatre May 6th, which is New Orleans is Waiting for Columbus, which is a tribute to Little Feat. With that gig and all the rehearsals, it’ll make up for what I’m missing.

L4LM: Well, that’s a one-of-a-kind performance. Those mega-tributes at the Saenger are always inspired, reverent productions from top to bottom. Last Waltz, Dr. John, they all go big every year there. I want to back track a little to the Wahala Boys. I did an interview with my good friend, Luke Quaranta, and he is real stoked on the Wahala Boys project. He told me a little bit, but I was wondering if I could get your spin on it.

Terence Higgins: What happened was, we were checking out seventies African funk music that I have this collection of, from friends that have passed me stuff. I stumbled upon this rare African Nigerian seventies, really rare funk stuff, and posted about it on Facebook. Raja Kassis—we have been talking about playing together forever but never got to—was like, “Man, I love that! Let’s do a project.” So it was kind of from me posting a song on Facebook that he picked up on. This happened about a year ago or so, and we never could schedule it, but we came up with the name Wahala Boys, finally booked our first gig, and it was just ridiculous. We had like two rehearsals, and we had Weedie (Braihmah) playing percussion. The whole premise was to tie in the funk with a New Orleans spin and the African thing, so it is coming together. We played a gig recently, and, man, we felt like we were transported to Africa 1969, 1970. It was like people were dancing, smiling, and the music was just so powerful. Those rhythms are so hypnotic and put you in a trance. The percussion is so intense, so I am really excited for Wahala Boys.

L4LM: You and me both! Both of your descriptions of the WahalaBoys are right up my alley. And no shocker that Raja is in the middle of all that stuff, goin back to the Antibalas, up through the current NOLA stuff he puts together. You and Luke both said similar things,about bringing that West African Nigerian Funk with a little bit of a New Orleans twist, especially with you driving the rhythms. It’s bound to be full of heaters!  

Terence Higgins: Yeah, you know, I gravitate to those all those types of rhythms naturally, but from being from New Orleans, we already have that Zig, Second Line, and you know, we got that swing. There’s another project that I am doing called BrasiNOLA, which is a Brazilian spin of Wahala Boys sort of. We are blending Brazilian fusion that’s sung in Portuguese but blending it with a New Orleans funk spin. It’s very interesting to watch it develop. It’s turning into to another cool project that I am doing, another that is pushing the envelope a little bit. We can only do so much of that New Orleans funk before we start expanding to other genres. I feel like African and Nigerian is already dialed into the fabric of New Orleans, so you know, it’s easy to put in those styles and make it real.

L4LM: Fascinating, global sounds come home to the Crescent City. Really amazing, conceptually, and vibe-wise too. I’m real stoked for Wahala Boys. Reaching back for traditions and steadily pushing cultures forward, that’s pretty awesome to be a part of, yeah?

Terence Higgins: Exaaaaactly, and dealing with the cast. The musicians are incredible. They are already (Raja and Luke) deep into the African language. Some of the other projects they have would just blow your mind.

L4LM: Pirate’s Choice, Weedie Braihmah and the Hands of Time, The Fu Fu All-Stars, that krewe is all about waking the town.

Terence Higgins: Yeah, and then they pulled me into that circle, which enhances what I do. I already know all these rhythms, so now I am having to utilize it and interpret in my way and to the drum kit and apply what I know to it. It really fascinates me.

L4LM: Yeah, and looking at your schedule, you are all over the map, not just geographically. Right after Ani is Tab Benoit, musically, couldn’t be any further apart, but there you are in the middle. I wanted to spotlight someone that people don’t know a lot about yet, and that is Joe Marcinek Band. Wondering if you might talk more about him and what y’all are doing.

Terence Higgins: You know what? That’s a new connection there. When I do Christmas Jam, I went out that night to hear Frank Scofield with Joe (Marcinek), and Alvin Ford Jr. was playing with him too. I sat in, and Joe was like “Man, I would love to get you to play with one of my setups,” ’cause he does Joe Marcinek Band and he pulled together a little super group. He called me up a few times after that to make some gigs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do them because of my schedule, but we we’re putting together stuff for Jazz Fest. We’re doing a late-night set at the Maple Leaf the second weekend with me, him, Nigel Hall, and Nate Edgar, and that’s something we collaborated on to fill that date. He called me back later and asked if I would do his gig on Thursday, so actually it’s my first inaugural Joe Marcinek Band gig for me. Noah Young is also playing. He is an incredible bass player for New Orleans. He plays with Naughty Professor and I think a percussionist from a jam band, from String Cheese IncidentJason Hann!

L4LM: Oh, right, Jason Hann. That just got announced this morning. He is a very versatile player, like yourself, from the jam to the electro to the world music, too. Very talented cat and super nice guy, too! So, Joe Marcinek put this all together?

Terence Higgins: Yeah, there it is. He texts me about the project, and I was available so I said yes but didn’t really know who was involved. That’s how it is sometimes. Sometimes, I’ve never played with a musician before or never met them before, and we just make it happen. Looking forward to doing that show with Joe and to see him in New Orleans and break him into the Jazz Fest scene.

L4LM: I was stoked to see you on the hit because your name is a little bolder font. People will see your name and want to check out Joe Marcinek Band even more. That Leaf hit looks great. Anytime you see Nigel and Nate back together and at the Leaf—man, that’s a beautiful thing. So kudos to Joe for pulling you and them together up there for that. I want to give you some time to talk about whatever else you’re doing; anything you want the good people who Live for Live Music to know about?

Terence Higgins: Well, I am working on music for another Swampgrease project, and that involves Nigel Hall and Calvin Turner from the last record we did. I’ve also been working on this thing called Trio Electric; it’s kind of like an electronic improvisational trio, where we just sample a bunch of stuff, figure a bunch of loops and I loop it and play. The musicians just kind of jump in and vibe on it. It kind of started with me and Roosevelt doing this thing called Electro Rage, which was one of our late night Jazz Fest sets. It turns out to be, like, really, really cool ’cause everything we would do was based off my samples. We could just create stuff, but you got to have the cats and musicians around that can hear how to develop the music as it’s happening and while we are playing live. The inaugural group was me, Roosevelt and Marco Benevento on keyboards. Marco is like a mad scientist when it comes to arranging and retaining that information and making a song—making improvisational stuff have structure, even though we have never played it before. So that’s kind of how the Trio Electric project is for me. I’ve been talking to some guys about producing that stuff, but that’s what I am working on now, that and Swampgrease.

L4LM: Word. Marco is definitely on some Doc from Back to the Future shit sometimes, tweaking and freaking the jams. Damn, Terence, no wonder both Adam Deitch and Luke Quaranta shouted you out as the man! Clearly, you are getting it in on so many levels, and doing it with integrity and hella swag, I might add. I’ll see you at the Crawfish Fest and one or two other hits next week.

Terence Higgins: Alright man, good to talk with you. Thank you for reaching out!

[Special thanks to Funk It Blog for the incredible video footage.]