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.