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SHAKE DANCERS

A raised cage where “shake” dancers in bikinis performed.

Washington remembers working at Dorothy’s as early as 1972. After stints as a sideman with Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey, Walter began leading his own bands in the late 1960s, and asked Johnny Adams to be his featured vocalist.
The association with Adams was a long one the singer was a mentor to the teen-aged Washington when they sang gospel music in church together and when Washington began hanging out at the Dew Drop Inn and sitting in with bands on guitar.

Washington and Adams also did tours in the United States and Europe, but when they returned to New Orleans, there was always a gig at Dorothy’s waiting for them. Eventually it turned into a permanent eight-year residence, five nights a week, until the club’s closing in the late 1980s.

Bassist George Porter, Jr. (Funky Meters, George Porter, Jr. and the Pardners) remembers working at Dorothy’s in the late 1970s in a band led by saxophonist David Lastie. The group included David’s brother Walter on drums and Richard Knox on keyboards. The repertoire was eclectic, says Porter: “We might have started the night off playing old school swing and bebop, and before the night was over, we’d be singing “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” The band was called “A Taste Of New Orleans,” and it reflected, pretty much, a taste of New Orleans—some 7th Ward, 6th, 9th, and some 13th Ward.”

Porter admits, “I don’t have a whole lot of memories of the place. During that time period, we would be doing, like three gigs a day. It was like going and playing—I never hung in the club.” Porter preferred other haunts, such as Mason’s, a multi-club complex off Claiborne Avenue, in his off-hours. Mason’s had a series of rooms with different entertainment—a small lounge with jazz, a disco, and a show room that presented R&B reviews with multiple singers and dancers. Like Dorothy’s, it was part of a network of nightclubs in the black community that had live music. Porter and Washington also remember the 808 Club, located at the corner of Cadiz and Robert streets. It was run by Whitney Bacarni, who Washington remembers as being part Italian and having alleged ties to the Mafia. This was the heyday of Carlos Marcello, and many of the black clubs were believed to be bankrolled by the mob.

Most of these clubs seemed to have closed by the time Washington and Adams’ tenure at Dorothy’s Medallion reached its height, so in a sense, the club represented the end of an era. Since the music at Dorothy’s began at 1:00 AM, it gave musicians an additional opportunity to earn before calling it a night. Walter Lastie sometimes even went out the following morning to play on the street, and that’s where he died one Sunday morning, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” in front of St. Louis Cathedral.

Walter “Wolfman” Washington

The scantily clad dancers who performed while the band was playing gave the Dorothy’s experience a different, slightly surreal quality.

George Porter says some of the other black nightclubs where he worked had dancers, but they usually came up at a specific time in the show and did a routine. One well-known dancer on the scene, Mona, performed with a live snake. Interestingly, Walter Washington had met Mona in Mobile, Alabama, and he was the one who encouraged her to come to New Orleans.

Having dancers perform in a cage continuously was unique to Dorothy’s. Perhaps the most unique of all was “Big Linda,” the dancer who took the idea of plus size beauty to the limit. But big as she was, Linda had beautiful skin, and one got the sense she could fulfill some foreign prince’s wildest fantasies, if only one should happen into Dorothy’s.

According to Porter, Linda had a thing for keyboardist Richard Knox, and one night kept reaching for him through the bars of her cage as he played. The next night, he set up his keyboard on the opposite side of the stage.

Like a few other great New Orleans clubs and bars, Dorothy’s Medallion represented an alternative reality—when you were inside, time and the outside world seemed to stop. Often, you would find the sun not just rising, but high in the sky by the time you walked out the door.

The club, Dorothy, and her family nurtured and sustained two of New Orleans’ greatest—Johnny Adams and Walter “Wolfman” Washington- and helped Washington in particular find his voice as an artist. It also offered a glimpse into a fading bit of New Orleans’ black music culture, open to all that cared to visit.

Big Linda
By Jerry Brock

It was 1977.

My friend Jack Cook and I were in his car driving down Orleans Avenue and as we passed over Bayou St. John I looked up and read a sign that said “Dorothy’s Medallion – Wolfman Washington and Johnny Adams Friday and Saturday 12:00am.” That Friday Jack and I went.

We arrived around 11:30. The place was full of older people drinking and having a good time. The jukebox featured blues and soul from Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Most of the people bought setups. This was a half pint of their chosen liquor along with plastic cups and a bucket of ice with their favorite cold drink.

The place was dark and on the walls were afro-erotic images painted on black velvet shining brightly under the blacklight bulbs. The stage area was in the rear of the room and to the left of it was a well-lit bamboo cage.

Wolfman and his band began at about 12:30. Johnny Adams wouldn’t come on until the second set around two.

Featured along with the band was the shake dancer affectionately known as Big Linda in the bamboo cage. She weighed approximately 350 pounds. She wore a string bikini and danced with her pet boa constrictor draped around her frame. She would do a handstand with her feet up in the air and shake to the music.
When this woman shook, the whole place took notice.

I returned to this scene many a weekend night. There was always some other girls trying to win the audience with their feline shape and moves but when Big Linda came in they had to get out of the cage because the audience wanted her.
While Johnny Adams sang “Hell Yes I Cheated” and Linda shook, the place was in an uproar. When Big Linda shook her whole body shook. She was the quintessential shake dancer. Big Linda passed away from a heart condition in the early 90’s.



Dorothy held forth from behind the bar.

She favored blonde wigs and large sunglasses, despite the dim light in the club.

Charlie, her son, helped run the place. He wore three- piece suits with wide ties and a large gold medallion. Stocky and barrel-chested but quiet, he brought to mind a cross between a mob torpedo and a preacher.

The bandstand was in the back, perpendicular to the bar, and next to it was a raised cage where “shake” dancers in bikinis performed while the music was playing, like a throwback to 1960s “go-go” dancers, minus the white boots.

The crowd was mostly middle-aged black people, with a few young local white hipsters and music junkies, and an occasional European tourist who had heard about the place from Walter and Johnny’s tours abroad. The younger black crowd preferred discos, which had cut into the live music scene by this point.

Dorothy's Medallion
By Spike Perkins

In the 1980’s the definitive place to catch Walter “Wolfman” Washington was at Dorothy’s Medallion, where he led bands that backed the late, great vocalist Johnny Adams.

Located at 3232 Orleans Avenue, just off Bayou St. John, Dorothy’s was on the ground floor of a raised cottage. A red brick facade with an iron gate had been erected in front of the steps that led up to the residence and club goers entered through a door on the right side, essentially under the steps. Inside, the brick motif continued, evoking one of the rarest of all building features in New Orleans, a basement.