Archive for the ‘Allen Toussaint’ Category

Professor Longhair

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Listen: Mess Around / Professor Longhair
Mess

‘Fess, as he was known to friends and fellow musicians, waited thirty years after releasing his first single before making a lone trip to the UK. The master of “rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing”, to quote journalist Tony Russell, was promoting his PROFESSOR LONGHAIR LIVE ON THE QUEEN MARY album and ‘Mess Around’ single. Recorded on board said ship during a party thrown by Paul and Linda McCartney, the album is an oasis worth searching out.

Through time, his invention of what became known as the New Orleans Mardi Gras sound has been revered by everyone from Fats Domino and Huey Piano Smith to Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Despite a most productive period on Atlantic Records in the 50′s, he never had mainstream success, instead spiraling downward during the 60′s and 70′s, landing work as a janitor saddled with a gambling addiction. Only during the last years of his life did he begin to see royalties of any kind. And so with little fanfare, bless Paul and Linda for coming to his aid, helping secure a deal with Harvest, and giving him a deserved, overdue break.

Your initial listen through ‘Mess Around’ will simultaneously reveal everything about his distinctive, one of a kind style, apparently the result of learning to play on a piano missing several crucial keys.

Many times when legendary players, years on, try to recapture their spark via a current, contemporary album, the magic sounds tired or lost altogether. Not the case here. Not in the slightest.

Jessie Hill

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Listen: Ooh Poo Pah Doo (Part 1) / Jessie Hill
Ooh

As legend has it, by his teens, drummer Jesse Hill formed his first group, The House Rockers in ’51′ followed by periods drumming with both Professor Longhair and Huey Piano Smith. Well oiled, he formed a new version of The House Rockers in ’58, this time with a focus on singing.

The origins of ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ reportedly lie with local pianist known only as Big Four from who Jesse Hill reportedly modeled his lyrics and melody, later fleshing the song out with an intro from Dave Bartholomew. Honed to a sharp edge on stage, he demo’d then shopped it to some local record labels. Ultimately recording the song at Cosimo Matassa’s studio with Allen Toussaint producing. Released by Minit in early ’60, the single became an instant favourite at Mardi Gras, eventually going on to sell 800,000 copies and cracking both the BILLBOARD R&B Top 5 and the pop Hot 100 (#28).

Eventually moving to Los Angeles, Jesse Hill found plenty of work both writing for and playing with fellow New Orleans musicians including Harold Battiste and Mac Rebennack as they passed through town to record. During the period, he placed songs with loads of local RnB labels, even Sonny & Cher, and as well, Ike & Tina Turner, who took ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ to #60 in ’71.

The Wild Tchoupitoulas / Robert Palmer / Aaron Neville

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Meet Me Boys / The Wild Tchoupitoulas

Listen: Meet Me Boys On The Battle Front / The Wild Tchoupitoulas 02 Meet Me Boys On The Battlefront.mp3

Brother John / The Wild Tchoupitoulas

Listen: Brother John / The Wild Tchoupitoulas 01 Brother John.mp3

Man Smart, Woman Smarter / Robert Palmer

Listen: Man Smart, Woman Smarter / Robert Palmer 03 Man Smart Woman Smarter.mp3

Turns out the legendary album by The Wild Tchoupitoulas was even more legendary than originally thought. It was a bit of a first in it’s day, critics choice and all that. I remember Kathy Kenyon sending an envelope of singles to my college radio station back in ’76. She worked at Island then, left for several years and ended up returning when I started in the 80′s. Small world.

That package included these two Wild Tchoupitoulas 7″s and Robert Palmer’s ‘Man Smart, Woman Smarter’. Seems the label was going through a New Orleans fetish. Robert Palmer’s album (as well as Jess Roden’s then current one) were all recorded there with either The Meters, The Neville Brothers and/or Allen Toussaint contributing. When Chris Blackwell goes for something, he goes for it (reggae, world music, go-go).

Apparently, The Wild Tchoupitoulas project lead to the formation of The Neville Brothers, who until it’s recording, had never played together. Hard to believe they, not only as brothers but a band, started a long career as a result of that very album.

Tell It Like It Is / Aaron Neville

Tell It Like It Is / Aaron Neville

Listen: Tell It Like It Is / Aaron Neville 08 Tell It Like It Is.mp3

For some reason, they reissued the Aaron Neville single ‘Tell It Like It Is’ (originally on Stateside) in England. That pressing was also included in the package. That re-release reminded me of how much I loved it, not owning the original at the time. All in all, a pretty memorable watermark – thanks Kathy.

Lee Dorsey

Friday, April 16th, 2010

LeeDoorseyGoGo, Lee Dorsey, Amy, Alan Toussaint

Listen: Go – Go Girl / Lee Dorsey LeeDorseyGo-GoGirl.mp3

Lee Dorsey, poor soul, never did top the sound of ‘Working In The Coalmine’, probably to most people that is. I mean it’s a pretty hard one to improve on, but to have even scaled that high is huge. Technically, his first ever Top 100 single ‘Ya Ya’ peaked at #7, whereas ‘Working In The Coalmine’ got to #8. Great as that first single is, it’s the sound and production I’m referring to. Still, I must have a dozen of his 7′s, and you just can’t go wrong picking up any that you see.

‘Go – Go Girl’ has a strange tame studio thing going on. It certainly showcases his voice, always nice upfront. But the mix and realtive low volume of the instruments aren’t in Allen Toussaint’s usual style. The whole point is dirty New Orleans funk.

Well that makes this one even more intriguing. Plus I love a mid-chart flop every time (#62).

Betty Wright

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Listen: Shoorah Shoorah / Betty Wright 11 Shoorah_ Shoorah_.mp3

I was working at Discount Records in the early 70′s when this came in. Discount was a deep catalog chain between ’65 – ’75 or so. Their stores were concentrated in the northeast, and their home office was in Scarsdale. The location on the Syracuse University campus was always a haven for the most obscure albums, all the British and west coast names you’d heard of. When I finally got a job there in ’74, it was a real win. You see, each store could buy direct from the labels. So although it was a chain, you weren’t just allocated the hits. There was serious inventory maintenance and responsibility required. This was of course huge fun.

One weekend, I really got into the old BILLBOARD magazine collection and with intense detail, compiled a many-paged list of singles to order from each of the labels. The one that really came through was London Records. Unlike pretty much all the others, somewhere deep in their fulfillment warehouse were tucked sole copies of countless singles. I opened that big shipment box about a week after placing the order resulting from said weekend, to find crazy London, Parrot and Deram singles from years prior (Them, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Honeybus, The Attack, Hedgehoppers Anonymous, The Cryin’ Shames, Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours, Savoy Brown). Ah, the good old days.

But back to Betty Wright’s version of ‘Shoorah Shoorah’. I was very into The Meters around this time and hence insatiable for all things Allen Toussaint. Reading that he had written this one in the BILLBOARD singles review section that particular week, I ordered myself a copy. Smart move. It was a classic. I proceeded to get in a box, and with in store play sold them through nicely. Wish I had kept a few more.

Lee Dorsey

Monday, July 6th, 2009

leedorseygetuka, lee dorsey, allen toussaint, mala records, amy records, stateside

Listen: Get Out Of My Life, Woman / Lee DorseyLeeDorseyGetOut.mp3

leedorseyworking, lee dorsey, allen toussaint, bell, amy records

Listen: Working In The Coalmine / Lee Dorsey LeeDorseyWorking.mp3

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s version from their EAST / WEST album was my inroduction to Allen Toussaint’s ‘Get Out Of My Life, Woman’. Seemed like all of a sudden, I was seeing Allen Toussaint’s name in the fine print on a bunch of records. All those ignored-by-everyone-else details on the labels were fireside reading for me. A $1.99 mono cut out of his RIDE YOUR PONEY / GET OUT OF MY LIFE, WOMAN album was irresistible around the time, brimming with Allen Toussaint this and that. I was hooked.

‘Working In The Coalmine’ always felt just like…working in a coalmine. Even though I was a youngster addicted to English rock music, it still left loads of room to fantasize about the deep south and it’s chitlin circuit. Anything ethnic was a big magnet, and always on first listen. I’d heard Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang’ but this sounded like working on a chain gang. The pipe clinging sound effect probably being the clincher for a kid. Yeah, Lee Dorsey has the vocal torture down pat too. Definitely rivals ‘Honky Tonk Women’ for best intro.

Betty Harris

Friday, June 19th, 2009

betty-harris-cry, betty harris, jubilee, bert berns, the pretty things, solomon burke, the rolling stones

Listen: Cry To Me / Betty Harris BettyHarrisCryToMe.mp3

betty-harris-liar, betty harris, jubilee, bert burns, the pretty things, solomon burke, the rolling stones

Listen: I’ll Be A Liar / Betty Harris BettyHarrisIllBeALiar.mp3

Bert Berns’ classic ‘Cry To Me’ had the luxury of being recorded by some truly seminal acts: Solomon Burke (who cut the classic original RnB chart entry), The Rolling Stones and The Pretty Things (see previous post). Often criminally overlooked when sighting legendary versions, Betty Harris not only belts out a rip roar performance for this A side, but actually out does herself on the flip ‘I’ll Be A Liar’. Also written by Burns, and as with it’s top side, produced by Leiber & Stoller, I’d bet this is the hotter of the two. The sparsity of the arrangement leaves plenty of space for her to shred the lead – pretty much scaring off any female competition. I don’t know of another version.

Betty went on from Jubilee to the Sansu label, recording ten singles there with Allen Toussaint. Although most of her work is collectable to both Deep Soul and Northern fans, my money’s on this essential double sider as the Betty Harris desert island choice.

Benny Spellman

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

bennyspellmanfortuneuka, Allen Toussaint, London, Decca, Benny Spellman, The Rolling Stones

Listen: Fortune Teller / Benny Spellman BennySpellmanFortune.mp3

One hit wonder – but what a hit. An early staple for many a London RnB combo in the mid sixties, ‘Fortune Teller’ proved essential for The Rolling Stones, The Merseybeats, The Who and The Downliners Sect.

Hailing from Florida, Benny Spellman had a foot in both blues and rockabilly, via New Orleans. It was writer Allen Toussaint who provided the song, somewhat reminiscent of Bo Diddley. I guess it was the maracas. Originally released by LA’s Minit label, word is Benny was signed during the thriving New Orleans RnB goldrush at the turn of the decade.