Ernie, Allen and Some Meters In the Moment
Being Ernie K-Doe
"Fly Away With Me" (Allen Toussaint)
Ernie K-Doe, from Ernie K-Doe, Janus, c. 1971
This bird has flown
In 1959, Ernie K-Doe teamed up with writer/producer Allen Toussaint for a four year run of recordings for the Minit label, many of which are classics, with the unforgettable “Mother-In-Law” being the monster hit of the batch. But the radio action cooled; and Toussaint got drafted. So, K-Doe signed with Houston-based Duke Records around 1964, cutting ten singles for the label over the next five or six years, several of which charted. I featured one of those sides here on March 31, 2005. After returning from the service, Toussaint started a production company and several labels with Marshall Sehorn and had success writing and producing for Lee Dorsey. He didn’t work with K-Doe again until he produced the 1970 sessions for Ernie K-Doe, released on Janus around 1971. The album was not well-received and would be their last session work together on new material.
At the time this album was made, Toussaint’s go-to studio band was still the Meters, who had started having hits of their own. By the sound of it, at least some of the band are on “Fly Away With Me”, as well as the entire album. There are no session details on the cover; but, more than any other cut, this song’s high funk quotient (HFQ) strongly suggests it’s drummer Zig Modeliste and bassist George Porter, Jr. having their way with the beat. Their intricate, nonchalant hang-time interplay is a vital part of what takes this simple, gospel-tinged tune to higher ground for me. That’s Toussaint as part of the vocal backup; and it must be his piano work on the quiet, filigreed intro that transforms into those sanctified, rhythmic changes. Along with the subtle horns, his deft keyboard touch dances around and through the song’s syncopations and hesitations. Over it all, K-Doe sings, well, K-Doe – relaxed , soulful, and melodic here; talking, grunting, and staccato there. I keep replaying to hear the end, when going to fade it breaks down to just Zig and George, who are perfectly loose and organic. Ernie free associates and shreds his vocal cords with some JB-like ecstatic, primal screams and his own unique maniacal laugh. Just a pure Home of the Groove moment I thought I’d share.
A few more things I forgot to add. . .Toussaint wrote all but two of the ten songs on this LP. A number of them tend toward a more upbeat pop sound; and, of those, I like "Back Street Lover", "A Place We Can Be Free", and "Here Come The Girls". Soul Jazz comped the latter song on their New Orleans Funk CD. "Fly Away With Me" and "Lawdy Mama" (which I think has Leo Nocentelli's guitar in a more prominent role) are the truly funky numbers. Also notable is the soul blues burner, "Whoever's Thrilling You", which Z. Z. Hill covered to good effect several years later on sides produced by Toussaint, who wrote that one, too. When I found this album at a now closed New Orleans shop many years ago, it cost me $20.00 and was a little worn. I consider myself lucky to have it. Over the years, I played numerous cuts on my old radio show. "Here Come The Girls" was always the most requested and remarked upon cut.
Anyway, I've see this on ebay for a lot less recently. So, I advise you to seek it out, not just because it's collectible, but because it is an enjoyable, historic intersection of the artist, the writer/producer, and backing musicians. Unfortunately for K-Doe, his career was headed for a long wander in the wilderness; but both Toussaint and the Meters were just at the threshold of bigger things to come.