Tonight, he'll play a special, one-off show with The Tin Men at Carrollton Station.
"I've always wanted to hear piano in The Tin Men."
John "Papa" Gros is best known as they keyboard player and leader of Papa Grows Funk, but for the last six or seven years - Gros isn't sure - he has stepped out of his band to reconnect with his songwriter side and perform with some of his musical friends at Carrollton Station on the Friday after Thanksgiving. He has been joined in the past by Anders Osborne, Mark Mullins, Camile Baudoin and Theresa Andersson among others. Tonight, he'll share the stage with The Tin Men. He's played with Alex McMurray before, but this will be his first time playing with McMurray, Matt Perrine and Washboard Chaz. "There has to be some room for New Orleans piano in there," Gros says.
The series started as an effort to connect to other side of his musical personality. While Gros played in George Porter Jr.'s Runnin' Pardners and the early years of Papa Grows Funk, he also kept regular gigs playing piano and singing on Bourbon Street and in The Bulldog. It's the side that fed his songwriting side, and it's the side that was got less room for expression as Papa Grows Funk grew. Now these shows not only remind others that he's a songwriter. "I've got to remind myself," he says.
To date, the shows have only taken place in Carrollton Station as a nod to the role the Riverbend venue has played in his career. "Tom Bennett [the previous owner of Carrollton Station] gave me my first gig under my own name," Gros says. It's also a show that makes sense in the station. "Musically, it's very different and off the cuff. It's a non-show; it's just some guys playing music as best they can. It's more of a listening kind of thing."
The sense of musical adventure makes the show exciting for Gros. He and McMurray talked about rehearsing, but as of this interview, it hadn't happened and he suspected that a few emails and a couple of calls were likely to be the only preparation they'd all have time for. But it's often been like that for these shows, and that sort of sketchy preparation forces him and his collaborators to be in the musical moment together, and the same awareness is necessary whether he's playing with Porter or The Tin Men. "Some endings are going to work, some aren't, and it's okay," he says.
When Gros started doing these shows, they were about his songwriting side. Now, 12 1/2 years into Papa Grows Funk, it has taken on additional significance for him. "Papa Grows Funk's a business, and some days I feel like I'm more of a business guy than a musician," Gros says. "On something like this, I don't worry about the business side too much."