Posts Tagged ‘Dr. John’

Professor Longhair

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Listen: Mess Around / Professor Longhair

‘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.

Dr. John

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Listen: Right Place, Wrong Time / Dr. John

I recall while living in London during the early 70′s, Dr. John, The Night Tripper, who had by now shortened his stage name, or maybe Atco did the the shortening, to Dr. John, visited London for a handful of shows. The press and beautiful people were drooling. Despite ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ not being a UK chart hit, unlike in the US, those in the know weren’t fussed. It was a classic, way more important than a chart number. These hommies knew and besides, Dr. John was the real, real, real deal. I believe the show happened at the Rainbow.

Of course, Ronnie Wood couldn’t cut the media line fast enough to be name checked as a supporter. A leopard don’t change it’s spots, as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins once rightfully proclaimed.

But for true authenticity, Charlie Watts stepped into the spotlight to affirm his excitement.

Dr. John has many great singles, basically all of them. ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ was just one.

Jessie Hill

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

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

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 Spin Doctors

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Listen: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong / Spin Doctors
Little Miss Can't Be Wrong / Spin Doctors

I recall when The Spin Docotrs were drawing record crowds at Wetlands, located in what eventually became a very trendy part of New York: Tribeca.

The club had an out of character for New York City aura. Between the decor and general booking policy, it could have just as easily been in Nashville, but we all loved the place. Walter Durcaz was resident dj, and he would play the most unexpected, and therefore, wonderfully satisfying records. I’d go early, just to sip beer and listen to his choices. Things like The Keef Hartley Band’s ‘Roundabout’ into Cal Tjader ‘Soul Sauce’ then seamlessly segueing Dr. John’s ‘Jump Sturdy’ straight into Juicy Lucy ‘Who Do You Love’. Flawless journeys every time.

Due to their early origins with jam bands, The Spin Doctors were never hip, in a downtown way. I recall when Frankie LaRocca signed them to Epic. Despite all the other folks in the A&R community quietly trying to do the same, once it was decided Epic would be their home, those same folks suddenly wanted the band to fail, basically turning their hipster noses in the air towards The Spin Doctors. This, by the way, was a rather common reaction to every bidding war conclusion, another thing of the now powerless major label world was guilty of in their day.

But if you ever saw The Spin Doctors, in their original classic ’89 lineup, there’s no way you could not have become a fan. Blistering players, a non-stop happy energy and many, many great songs. Most never seeing the light of day, when it came to official releases that is.

‘Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong’ had a hint of The Georgia Satellites during those solos, but it was the Jimi Hendrix style riffs and tones throughout the body of the song that has placed this top of the list amongst The Spin Doctors’ 7′ singles section in the SO MANY RECORDS SO LITTLE TIME Hall Of Fame.

Bobby Charles

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Listen: Small Town Talk / Bobby Charles BobbyCharlesSmallTalkTown.mp3

When Bobby Charles was invited by The Band to participate in their final concert and accompanying documentary, THE LAST WALTZ, seems the group and Rick Danko in particular, had a dream come true. For years regarded an important member of New Orleans’ swamp / cajun music fraternity, Bobby Charles soon after headed to their home base in Woodstock and recorded his sole album for Bearsville.

With John Simon and Rick Danko as his co-producers, the result is to this day, a perfect document of southern Louisiana-influenced rhythm and blues and magnified The Band’s quality as players better than just about anything else they recorded, in my opinion.

Even the sound those guys succeeded to document in of all places, upstate New York, rivals the most revered French Quarter studios. ‘Small Town Talk’, the 7″, is a completely different version to the album, with Dr. John, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and John Simon essentially his make shift band. The record got a bunch of evening plays on BBC programs back then. I recall John Peel championing the single which indeed now, is a cherished possession.

John Hammond

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Listen: Mellow Down Easy / John Hammond JohnHammondMellow.mp3

Never got to hear or see John Hammond in his introductory years, despite a few chances at The Fillmore. The sleeve of his Atlantic album, I CAN TELL, made me way curious. He looked like a cross between Mick Jagger and Arthur Lee. But it wasn’t until this single, a few years later, that I finally got the chance.

One of John Hammond’s consistently strong points was his ace ability to interpret classic blues tracks, using what turned into a signature style: minimal unprocessed guitar and harmonica.

His version of ‘Mellow Down Easy’ not only gave the song possibly it’s best white rendition ever, but spilled into Dr. John’s space. Like electric blues in the late 60′s, New Orleans music was brand new. Seems there were so many singles that introduced me to yet more genres and styles in a short period, and I became insatiable for them all.

Listen: As The Years Go Passing By / John Hammond JohnHammondYears.mp3

‘As The Years Go Passing By’ slotted right in with then current versions from Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown, pretty much equaling if not topping them. With no small contribution being a fantastic voice.

Both tracks on this double sider ignited a John Hammond 7″ catalog completion process on my part that took years. Basically I wanted his every single and the two on Atlantic preceding this were oddly not easy finds. All great records as it turns out and worth the effort. Don’t pass any of them up.

Alvin Robinson

Friday, February 19th, 2010

AlvinRobinsonBabyDontUSA, Alvin Robinson, Atco, Holland-Dozier-Holland

Listen: Baby Don’t You Do It / Alvin Robinson AlvinRobinsonBabyDont.mp3

Correct. It’s the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit from ’64 by Marvin Gaye, covered by many a Mod band (The Who, The Poets, The Small Faces) in that heyday, and come late ’68, by Alvin Robinson as well.

Not nearly enough Alvin Robinson circulates on 45, which is both surprising and a shame. His guttural blues vocal style was instantly signature, and copied by some of the best. Plus his guitar playing, then in much studio demand, had a similar swagger. So logically, during sessions with Dr. John, did Atco decide to give him a studio whirl, resulting in this, his only single for the label. Given the purity of his sound, and his legendary New Orleans cred, it’s rather shocking that Ahmet Ertegan and Jerry Wexler didn’t release more sides.

The nice thing about this one is it’s subtlety. You don’t realized how strong a grip it has until you find yourself playing it repeatedly. Well I did at least.

Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

samtheshamjujups, Sam The Sham, Sam The Sham & The Pharoaohs, MGM, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Dr. John, ? & The Mysterians, The Sir Douglas Quintet, The Mothers Of Invention

Listen: Ju Ju Hand / Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs SamTheShamJuJu.mp3

samtheshamring,samtheshamjujups, Sam The Sham, Sam The Sham & The Pharoaohs, MGM, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Dr. John, ? & The Mysterians, The Sir Douglas Quintet, The Mothers Of Invention

Listen: Ring Dang Doo / Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs SamTheShamRing.mp3

Throw together the music of Dr. John, The Sir Douglas Quintet and ? & The Mysterians, a bit of The Mothers Of Inventions’s intimidating looks and bang, you end up with Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. Deservedly, they had some huge hits. You can probably still catch ‘Wooly Bully or ‘Lil Red Riding Hood’ on the oldies stations. But I guarentee you – don’t hold your breath waiting for ‘Ju Ju Hand’ to get played.

Polishing their style as resident house band at the perfectly named Congo Club in Louisiana, the self pressed ‘Wooly Bully’ blew up, selling three million singles in ’65, and was pretty quickly licensed to MGM. Expectations for ‘Ju Ju Hand’, it’s followup, were clearly high. You can always tell when the label would spring for a full color sleeve. Probably a touch too Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, it stalled at #26 and quickly fell back. Oddly, it’s followup, the heavily played ‘Ring Dang Doo’ repeated the process hitting #33.

Then Sam, real name Domingo Samudio, revamped those original Pharoahs, or maybe they quit – whatever – and the remaining releases (still lots of good ones) proceeded with lineups anew.

Dr. John, The Night Tripper

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Listen: I Walk On Guilded Splinters Part 1) / Dr. John, The Night Tripper

If ever, as a youngster, I felt intimidated by an album cover; or more precisely by the life that artist appeared to lead as a result of the album’s graphics, it was Dr. John, The Night Tripper’s GRIS GRIS. I was starting to get interested in drugs and this one sure did look druggy to me. A dark, menacing smoke filled back lit photo of this guy, super imposed over an even more alarming profile shot not only frightened, but of course, sold me on getting a copy. To be honest, I didn’t like it much for a the longest while but it was a bit of a dark secret pleasure still the same. My friends hated it. Even the mono (they were a buck cheaper) Atco label looked kinda ‘stoned’ to me, butterscotch and gray……these were hangover colors. I had a couple of other mono Atco albums, The Cream’s FRESH CREAM and the first Buffalo Springfield record. They were fittingly considered drug records. So Atco too became intriguing as well. Always more focused on singles than albums I was well pleased to get one of ‘I Walk On Guilded Splinters’, dividing the the 7:57 album version into Parts 1 & 2. How can you not be curious by a song with this title? I certainly was. I seem to remember it being the clincher for putting down the $2.98 of lawn mowing money to buy the LP.