Hangin' With Night People
"Night People" (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey, from Night People, ABC, 1978
Just shy of a year ago (November 8, 2004), I did my first Lee Dorsey post, featuring a cut from his Night People album. Not realizing it had been that long, I had the title track running through my mind the other day and knew it was time to post it. So, at the risk of being too symmetrical with all this retrospective stuff, here goes.
As I said in that first piece, Dorsey is truly one of my favorite New Orleans performers. I was knocked out by his radio hits back in the 1960’s when I was a teenager, especially “Working In The Coal Mine” – couldn’t get enough of June Gardner’s drum groove, the cool guitar lick, and Lee’s raspy, cheerful vocal (even on a song about being overworked). I wore that record out. In 1980, I finally got to see Lee perform live at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Backed by a combo, he had to sing sitting down the entire set, because both his legs had been broken in a motorcycle accident, but was still fantastic. I discovered this album in a cut-out bin shortly thereafter. As with most of Dorsey’s earlier work, Allen Toussaint produced, arranged, and wrote all the material. The songs may not all be classics, but have that good Toussaint touch; and the playing is top rate with a high funk quotient. Lee’s vocals still display his good humored spunk, but aren’t quite up to his earlier days, probably due to the emphysema that would finally take him in 1986. Sadly, Night People turned out to be his final album; but he left it and a lot of other good records behind, many of which have been re-issued on CD.
You’ve go to love the groove on “Night People” and the effective way Toussaint’s arrangement gets every instrument involved in the sliced and diced syncopation. The core band for the entire album is Chocolate Milk, augmented by some other fine players (see the whole list below). I’m not sure whether it’s CM’s Dwight Richards or Herman Ernest on the trap set here, so I’m hoping Dwight will clear that up some time, when he checks in. And, man, David Barard ‘s poppin’ bass line is just a force of nature here.
Several versions of this tune appeared around the same time: Toussaint’s own on his 1978 Motion album, Etta James’ on the Toussaint-produced 1980 Changes LP, and Robert Palmer’s, also from 1978; but it’s Lee Dorsey’s that I find definitive with its addictive musical backing. The Night People album appears with Dorsey’s 1970 Yes We Can on a recent UK CD. And the original LP is still around, too, and usually reasonable in price. Whatever way you come across it, you ought to get this one, if you don’t have it. Then hang out, slap it on, and wait no more for something to happen.
The players on Night People were
Allen Toussaint, piano
James Booker, organ
David Barard, bass
Robert Dabon, keyboards
Marcel Richardson, Fender Rhodes 88
Kenneth Williams and Kim Joseph, percussion
Dwight Richards and Herman Ernest, drums
Joe Smith, trumpet
Amadee Castenell, tenor sax
Darryl Johnson, Steve Hughes, and Eugene Synegal, guitars