A Masterpiece In Under Two Minutes
"Let The Four Winds Blow" (Domino-Bartholomew)
Dave Bartholomew, from Fats Domino Presents Dave Bartholomew & His Great Big Band, Imperial, 1961
In the early 1960’s, Dave Bartholomew was nearing the end of his run as premier producer, arranger, songwriter, talent scout, and bandleader in New Orleans, having been hugely successful since his start in the late 1940’s. But the record business was changing, rhythm and blues and rock ‘n roll were giving way to soul and funk, and talented multi-taskers, such as the young Allen Toussaint, Eddie Bo and Wardell Quezergue were coming along to develop the sounds and artists of the 1960’s and beyond in their hometown. As well, the label Bartholomew had worked for nearly his entire career up to that point, Imperial, was winding down and would be soon be bought out by Liberty. But Dave did not depart quietly. He put out two instrumental LPs with his big band on Imperial, Fats Domino Presents Dave Bartholomew & His Great Big Band (1961) and New Orleans House Party (1963), that closed the books on his era with an outstanding two-part artistic statement.
Taken from that first big band album which featured instrumental re-workings of Domino’s hits, our feature today is a brilliantly arranged and played take on the Dave Bartholomew/Antoine Domino composition, “Let The Four Winds Blow”. Bartholomew had first recorded it, doing the vocal himself, on Imperial 5350 in 1955. That version sounds rather like a demo, with out of tune horns that toot more than blow, and is not a good representation either of the song or the producer’s talents (singing was not among them). He made up for that in 1957, producing a lean, clean version of the tune for singer Roy Brown on Imperial, with a great drum groove from "Hungry" Williams, that became the singer’s final hit. Fats also recorded a hit version of the song with Bartholomew at the helm in 1961 for Imperial. But, for me, none of the hit versions can touch this attention- grabbing instrumental interpretation, wherein Bartholomew and band pack high energy blowing and innovative, exciting stylistic shifts into a scant one minute and 55 seconds.
If you want to hear state of the art New Orleans drumming in 1961, laying groundwork for the funk to come, listen closely to the syncopated chops rampant on this record. I am sure Smokey Johnson is the perpetrator. Bartholomew was using him on sessions a lot at this time and featured him on the House Party album, also. Obviously inspired by the spirited groove Johnson creates, Bartholomew has the band shifting between funky R&B and quasi-Latin feels, with plenty of instrumental syncopation thrown in, similar to what James Brown would be doing in a few years with his band. I’m pretty sure that another James (Booker) is on organ here, just from the feel of it, and the fact that he was doing a lot of sessions for Bartholomew, too, at this time. Frank Fields, long-time bassist with the band, is most likely on this date. With no session listing, I can only guess, too, that the horn section probably included such regulars as Herb Hardesty, Buddy Hagans and Lee Allen on tenors, Clarence Ford and "Kid" Jordan on baris, Bartholomew and Wardell Quezergue on trumpets, among others.
Departing from the interpretation of R&B hits on his first LP, Bartholomew upped the ante on New Orleans House Party with more purely jazz arrangements on original compositions and covers that varied in style and tempo and ended up not sounding much like New Orleans at all. To me, the best tune on that LP is Bartholomew’s “Portrait Of A Drummer”, which allows Smokey Johnson to give a dynamic tour of his force on that straight ahead big band number. Since December is the birth month of both Bartholomew and Booker, I thought this rarely heard piece from the bandleader's last years with Imperial would be a fitting way to kick off the month. Hope you’ll agree.