Turnin' and Burnin' (Replay)
"Wheel Of Fire" (Allen Toussaint)
Etta James, from Changes, T-Electric, 1980
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
Here’s another of my features from October, 2004, the frist month of HOTG. Again, I have revised what I wrote. I’ll have something “new”, but still old school, up later this weekend.
Allen Toussaint produced and arranged the decidedly funky album, Changes, for Etta James. As I recall, one of the the engineers on the sessions, Danny Jones, told me in an interview I did with him back in the 1990’s that the LP was recorded over a fairly long period of time [between 1978 and 1980]. Warner Bros started the project and then withdrew, followed by RCA in 1979,, before MCA’s T-Electric put it out in 1980. "Wheel of Fire" is one of four Toussaint compositions appearing on the disk. The atmospheric, sultry slow burn of the verses with a well-turned bridge build-up, and the fact that no one else seems to have done this Toussaint gem, are the reasons I originally picked it out.
Changes deserves to be reissued. Etta does soulful and gritty justice to not only the tunes by Toussaint (the others being “Don’t Stop”, “Night People”, and “With You In Mind”), but to those penned by Willie Hutch (the fonky “Mean Mother” and “Donkey”), Carol King (the title track), and obscure NOLA songwriter, Jimmy Jules, a/k/a Charlie Julien (another slow smoker, “Night By Night”). And, as with other recordings done at Sea-Saint during Toussaint's peak production years, the session players are among the HOTG's funky finest: Herman Ernest, III (drums); Tony Broussard (bass); Leo Nocentelli and Steve Hughes (guitar); Sam Henry, Robert Dabon and Toussaint (keyboards); and Ken "Afro" Williams on percussion. You might recognize Hughes, Dabon, and Williams as members of Chocolate Milk. On this cut, Toussaint is on the piano, Nocentelli on wah lead' [and an uncredited Johnny Vidacovich played drums on this an two other numbers, according to Jones, who I interviewed again in 2011].
I had been looking for this album for a while around Memphis back in late 1980’s with no luck. When I went back to New Orleans next, I stopped into one of my favorite vinyl haunts, Record Ron’s, on lower Decatur in the Quarter. As I was browsing the bins I heard Etta James' voice coming through the speakers, singing something decidedly funky. As the record cuts played on, she started in on “Night People”; and I went up and asked Ron if that was her Changes LP. He said, “Yeah, I pulled it out because a guy had called for it today and never showed up.” Whoever that guy was, sorry, I bought it on the spot – about ten bucks, I think, for the only copy in the store. Ron eventually had a couple of locations in the Quarter and one Uptown; but, sadly, he died in the 1990’s and the store stock, including his huge lunchbox collection, was sold off on eBay I heard.
I highly recommend your seeking this record out, too. You can still get a copy for around what I paid, looks like.