If you go

What: “Take Me to the River — New Orleans” featuring Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ivan and Ian Neville, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Mardi Gras Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Tower Theatre

Cost: $67, $52 or $37 plus theater preservation fee

Contact: towertheatre.org or 541-317-0700

Before Martin Shore produced and directed documentaries about American music, he played that music alongside luminaries such as Bo ­Diddley, Albert Collins and Clarence Clemons.

Soon after graduating from the University of New Hampshire in the early ’80s, Shore hit the road as drummer for Diddley’s band. He had his first experience in Europe while playing with the R&B pioneer, and the enthusiasm for classic American soul and R&B that he encountered in audiences there blew him away.

“We would go over there and it was almost like we were playing festivals and bigger venues, and then we would come here and we’d do the college circuit,” Shore said. “What stuck out in my mind was the dichotomy that our music was accepted and the fandom was way bigger in Europe at the time than it was here.”

That dichotomy is a big part of the reason Shore embarked on the “Take Me to the River” project, which so far encompasses a documentary film of the same name focused on Memphis music, and an upcoming documentary on New Orleans music.

Those documentaries spawned educational programs at schools across the country and package tours — three behind the Memphis documentary and two for the New Orleans film — featuring multigenerational lineups of musicians. The New Orleans tour plays the Tower Theatre on Tuesday.

“(American music) feels really natural for us, and therefore not special in the way that people not from America would look at it,” Shore said. “I always say the same thing: We gave the world a cultural jewel, and that cultural jewel is popular music. Our music continues to influence and inspire the world’s popular music. If you look at India and the hip-hop movement that’s going on over there, and all these more secular genres and more culturally specific music, even the most what one might call remote (music) has now been influenced and infused with American music.”

The second “Take Me to the River — New Orleans” tour features the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ivan and Ian Neville (descended from the Neville family of Neville Brothers fame, and also members of Dumpstaphunk), Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Mardi Gras Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Tipitina’s Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters.

Washington, one of the tour’s elder statesmen, was struggling with the high altitudes in Colorado when he spoke with The Bulletin.

“Durango was the highest one,” he said. “And man, I didn’t sleep at all. They had to get oxygen for me. And it’s dry; it’s not like New Orleans.”

But he’s happy to be part of the tour and upcoming documentary film, which coincides with a career renaissance of sorts for the funk-blues guitarist and vocalist. His first studio album in 10 years, 2018’s “My Future is My Past,” featured Washington performing in a much more intimate setting than the usual horn-fueled funk he’s come to be known for alongside his band of more than 30 years, The Roadmasters. Many songs strip the sound back to Washington’s voice and electric guitar, while others include a simple rhythm section spearheaded by Ivan Neville and producer Ben Ellman of Galactic.

“I actually was able to hear me sing — hear my voice in a way where I haven’t heard,” Washington said. “And then by being older now, it gives me a chance to relax when I sing with a small group; I don’t have to work so hard. That’s a different realm because basically I just do the words (and) maybe play the guitar before I sing, so it gives me a chance to really study the words and give it a little more of my feelings over what’s being said in the songs. It’s more of a free thing.”

Other guests on the album include Irma Thomas, whom Washington played with as a sideman early in his career.

“I played with her for like two years, and all I did was just play guitar behind her,” Washington said. “This time I had a chance to sing with her and it was totally different and amazing too, because I didn’t really think she would want to do a song with me singing.”

Washington said he hopes to collaborate with Thomas again on his next album — but only if she wants to. He teased a similarly stripped-down affair focused on traditional blues.

“I don’t know if she’d want to do it again,” he said. “I’m just thankful she did it the first time and I was able to sing the song without being nervous.”

Despite his humbleness, Washington sang long before he ever picked up a guitar, and started a group called the True Love and Soul Gospel Singers before he hit his teenage years. When that group played a radio session for WBOK-AM, Washington was fascinated by the guitar player in the studio. He watched the guitarist play with at least four vocal groups “for almost two hours,” and then went home and tried to replicate the chord shapes on a homemade, cigar-box guitar.

“The chords didn’t sound right,” he said. “So one of my uncles said, ‘Man, you’ve got the guitar tuned wrong.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You have to have the guitar tuned to 440 (hertz, the frequency of middle “A”).’ Well I didn’t know what the hell that was. So he showed me how to tune it, and man, when I hit that first chord, knowing how to tune it, I’ve been loving guitar ever since.”

Being self-taught allowed Washington to develop his signature style — equal parts funky, soulful and bluesy.

“I was playing one night and one of the cats in one of the bands told me — he said, ‘Bro, you’ve got a unique style of playing guitar,’” Washington said. “I said, ‘What you mean?’ He said, ‘You play guitar like a person playing keyboards.’ And oh, wow. I said, ‘Oh, maybe so.’”

This reflects the unique mix of sounds that put New Orleans on the map — and also inspired Shore to focus his second documentary on the city. Memphis and the Mississippi Delta gave birth to American popular music, while the melting pot of New Orleans music is “the first example and the example of what world music is,” Shore said.

“It was the Ellis Island before Ellis Island, so everyone that came to this country, especially and starting with slaves, came through New Orleans,” Shore said. “And because of that and because of the shipping routes, there was an infusion of a lot of influences and music from around the world. … You have Afro-­Cuban, Haitian, West Africa, European, American Indian and Brazil, South American influence — it all comes together and makes this, for lack of a better word, a gumbo.”

The first “Take Me to the River” documentary, released to Netflix in 2016 after premiering at South By Southwest in 2014, focused on Memphis musicians recording together in unexpected pairings. The sessions featured legendary performers (Luther Dickinson, Bobby Blue Bland and Booker T. Jones among them) and younger generations (Snoop Dogg, Eric Gales) alike.

“Take Me to the River — New Orleans” follows the same model to chart the city’s musical history from its early days to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the mid-2000s and the subsequent rebuilding. A clip from the film screened at shows on this tour features veteran singer Thomas recording alongside R&B vocalist Ledisi. Other pairings include rappers G-Eazy and Snoop Dogg (who has ties to Memphis and New Orleans), and Dr. John (in one of his final recording sessions) and Devall Crawford.

“We got together The Neville Brothers for their last session,” Shore said. “I think everybody in that room knew that that was a distinct possibility — not that that was what was motivating it, per se, but I think everybody including them liked the way that it organically came together.”

Washington also used the gumbo analogy when describing what makes New Orleans music special, and why he is a part of the documentary and tour.

“A lot of musicians in New Orleans, they’re more closer than a lot of musicians elsewhere,” he said. “We knew each other like the back of your hand. And then on top of that, they have different styles — so many different styles of music in New Orleans. They have a variety of ’em. It’s almost like having a gumbo in a city of musicians. It’s been that way for years, but it’s getting to be more so, and I’m glad I’m a part of it.”

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