By Geraldine Wyckoff | Contributing Writer
The thousands of people who have fondly rubbed the head of Professor Longhair’s bust as they entered Tipitina’s might caress it again next time in remembrance of its creator, bluesman and artist Coco Robicheaux. Similarly, when they stroll into the Apple Barrel where the gritty, spiritual guitarist and vocalist performed so often, they could or should contemplate his contributions to this city. It would almost be impossible for Frenchmen Street regulars to pass by the bench where Robicheaux held court and philosophized, chatted, and offered his unique insights without remembering the long-haired rings on his fingers, man with the smiling face. Coco Robicheaux, who will forever remain an icon of New Orleans died, Friday, November 25, at the age of 64.
It seemed fitting to those who loved him that Robicheaux, who was born Curtis John Arceneaux of Choctaw and Cajun parents and grew up in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, spent the last moments of his life at the Apple Barrel. Robicheaux’s essence flowed from the Frenchmen Street club reaching out to those lucky enough to come within his aura.
Though many might have presumed his name, Coco Robicheaux, was created as a stage persona, he actually was dubbed with it as a child. The name comes out of a folk tale about a naughty little boy who was abducted by a werewolf. Many people first heard the name when chanted by Dr. John, a longtime friend and musical mate of Robicheaux’s, during his infamous song, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” on the pianist and vocalist’s haunting album Gris-Gris.
Robicheaux definitely put his stamp on his own mystically inclined album, Spiritland, in 1994. One can feel the bluesman’s sincerity and personal energy as the album opens with “Walking with the Spirit” as this is what he did, how he lived.
On the second episode of the HBO series “Treme,” Robicheaux appeared as himself — well, more or less — sacrificing a chicken in the studio of radio station WWOZ. That’s not, however, something the real, peace-loving, affable Coco would necessarily participate in.
A memorial service for Coco Robicheaux was held at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 3, at D.W. Rhodes Chapel, 3933 Washington Avenue. Later that day, his life was remembered at Marie’s Bar, 2483 Burgundy Street, at 5 p.m., followed by a second line that ended at the Apple Barrel. On Monday, another second line starts up at 3:30 p.m. on Frenchmen Street and heads to the House of Blues, where an evening of music in honor begins at 6 p.m.
This article was originally published in the December 5, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper