Many Happy Returns (revised 2/25/2008)
"Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" (A. Toussaint)
Allen Toussaint, from New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 1976, Rhino, 1989
During the 1970’s, Allen Toussaint had numerous songs covered by other artists: Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Van Dyke Parks, Robert Palmer, Etta James, and LaBelle, to name but a few. He also produced records for some of them, and many others. And even though he did four albums himself that decade, Toussaint has always preferred composing and production to performance. So, his infrequent live dates continue to be special occasions.
In this riveting, perfectly arranged version of “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”, Toussaint sings and professes on piano with authority; and the tight band is right in the groove. The song is one of his best, with funny lyrics and an intricate structure containing elements of early jazz, blues, vaudeville, and pop done with a kind of funk/swing feel – it’s a long way from “Java”. Toussaint never released his own studio version of “Play Something Sweet”, which he wrote in the early 1970’s; but it was recorded by Maria Muldaur, Three Dog Night, and Levon Helm, among others.
This live recording originally appeared on the Island LP, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 1976. The album, which was later picked up by Rhino and re-issued on CD, is a compendium of performances by Toussaint, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, Robert Parker, Irma Thomas, Earl King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Professor Longhair, most of which were recorded live at that Jazzfest. Songs by Dorsey, Parker and King were redone with tacky canned crowd noise in the studio months later, supposedly because of audio problems at the live sets. Toussaint’s portion (five songs. . .well, 4.5) was noted on the album as recorded at a 4/9/76 Jazzfest sponsored night concert on the riverboat President (a great venue that has since sailed on); but that, as it turns out was not actually the case.
As a result of a tip by a blog reader and avid Toussaint fan, Jeff Mason, I now know that the live Toussaint recordings, including our feature, were actually from a 1975 Philadelphia concert.
That show was taped by Warner Brothers, Toussaint's label, for a live album tht was never released. In 2003, Rhino issued the full 1975 performance (he opened for Little Feat, says my friend, Ed) as part of their 2003 Handmade limited edition two CD set, Allen Tousssaint: The Complete Warner Recordings. Get one. It’s got re-mastered versions of his three WB LPs, too. Although I've had it for years now, I never did a comparison of the tracks, nor did I note that the MC is the same and says the same thing at the start of both - except that, on the Island album, they they cut out him saying "Philadelphia". Jeez Louise. Thus, the producers of that record, who just happened to be shown as Toussaint and his business partner, Marshall Sehorn, pulled the old switcheroo and flat out lied about it. In Toussaint's defense, I am sure this was mainly the doing of his sometimes shady partner (may he rest in peace) - hey, this is the music business we're talking about - saints are few and far between. Ultimately, what it means beyond a distinct lack of truth in advertising is that there is really only one known recording of Toussaint live in that era. Definitely get the Handmade CD version, if you can find it, as the other album's tracks, while of the same show, are fewer in number and sonically inferior.
As good as that 1975 show was, my friend Dwight of Chocolate Milk (see his comments in the next post) says his band was backing Toussaint at the 1976 Jazzfest concert - so, I'm sure it was a hot one. It reamins a mystery if any tapes of it exist. At this point, I do not know who was onstage with Toussaint in Philly.
I’ve been lucky to see Allen play live many times over the years; and his sets are always high class fun. So, I hope this track gives you a taste of that, as today we help celebrate the birthday of this true gentleman, HOTG original, and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
(I will be replacing the songs on HOTG's webcast that I have posted from the Jazzfest album with the much better quality Rhino/Handmade versions.)