February 26, 2005

JB Horns In Da House, Too

Wolfman & Da Band

"Glasshouse" (W. Washington - J. Cruz)
Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters, from Blue Moon Risin' (1995, 1999)


Been back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s so long. . . how about something newer, the late 20th century anyway, from an enduring, still regularly gigging New Orleans soul/funk/blues outfit, Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters.

“Glasshouse” comes from Blue Moon Risin’, one of their best recordings, that was only released in Europe. The band has made a slew of good CDs over the past 20 years; but the draw on this one is that the JB Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis) are on it, augmented at times by the Roadmaster Horns (Tom Fitzpatrick, Larry Carter, and Dave Woodward), as is the case on this cut. Supposedly, this was the last recorded group appearance of the JB’s. Don’t know who wrote the happenin’ horn charts; but they are definitely worthy of the famous guests.

Though he can burn when he wants to, Mr. Washington’s vocal handling of the rather disposable lyrics seems hiply offhand here, in contrast to the band’s intense, tight, focused performance. Add Wilbert Arnold to your list of great New Orleans drummers, as he unleashes a high-energy, funky groove locked onto by long-time bass player and co-writer Jack Cruz, keyboardist Brian Mitchell, and the Wolfman himself on lead guitar. Other session guests include Pat Wettstein on percussion and Adrian Weyermann on rhythm guitar. I’ve seen this band live over at least the last 15 years and am always impressed by their chops and delivery of tasty arrangements on original songs and choice cover tunes. Guess that’s how they’ve remained popular at home and on the road. If you’re ever in the Home of the Groove or see that they’re playing in your vicinity, catch this band.

Walter Washington claims kinship with Ernie K-Doe and esteemed guitarist Walter Nelson. In his dues paying days, he played guitar in Lee Dorsey’s band for several years in the mid-1960’s before a stint in Irma Thomas’ ensemble. In the later 1960’s, he did session work in New Orleans, including the funk fretting on Eddie Bo’s hit workout, “The Hook & Sling”. Washington formed The Solar System in the 1970’s; and the band began backing another of the city’s premier singers, Johnny Adams, an association that continued into the early 1980’s. Having learned much from Adams, the Wolfman struck out on his own, making his first album for Hep’Me in 1981. He’s made seven more with the Roadmasters since then, including Blue Moon Risin’; and I’ve got more details about them over a
t Da Big Greasy Guide, if you’re interested. I’m glad I finally got around to bloggin’ some Wolfman & the Roadmasters, with the JB Horns for lagniappe.

February 22, 2005

The Soul of Whit

"Question" (Price/Logan and Powell/Whitfield)
Bobby Powell, Whit, 1971

Don't ask

Well, no, it really isn’t all that swampy around Baton Rouge, where Bobby Powell is from; but, as I’ve said before, I use the Swamp Side designation as just a figure of speech to identify Louisiana soul or funk not directly related to New Orleans.

As I think you’ll agree after sampling “Question”, Mr. Powell’s obscurity is certainly undeserved. I rank his vocals up there with the Crescent City’s Johnny Adams for seemingly effortless delivery, incredible range, and soul power; and I picked this song to showcase that. Yet Powell, who had some minor hits in the 1960’s, is virtually forgotten today, while the late, great Adams’ flame burns on, maybe due to his late blossoming popularity through his Rounder recordings.

I didn’t really become a big fan of Bobby Powell until I heard his mid-1960’s to early 1970’s sides compiled on the now out of print WESTSIDE CD, Into My Own Thing. Most of those records were done for Lionel Whitfield’s Whit label, based in Baton Rouge; and, while the production values were sometimes less than optimal, the unnamed backing bands and Powell’s performances take many of the tunes to higher ground. Bill Dahl, in his informative, insightful CD notes, mentions that the lyrics to “Question” are based on a 1960 Lloyd Price song of the same name, while the music is totally redone. So, I’ve given two writing teams the credit on this one.

I encourage y’all to hear more Bobby Powell. He also did an LP for Excello in the 1970’s, plus recording later that decade for Hep Me in New Orleans, which is what I first heard. But his hometown work made me realize what a gem this guy was in his prime.

Latebreaking: Monkeyfunk has the flip side of "Question", "Peace Begins Within", posted right now. An inspired choice. Check it out. And, I've got some suggestions for finding Bobby Powell on CD over at Da Big Greasy Guide.

February 19, 2005

Something Good

"We Got Something Good" (Maurice Dollison)
Irma Thomas, Chess, 1967

Ain't got it

As promised, here’s another one from Irma Thomas in honor of her birthday yesterday. On this cut, we take a trip up the road from the Home of the Groove to another groove hotbed of the day, Muscle Shoals, AL. After her mid-1960’s stint with Imperial, Irma signed with Chess Records. The label sent several of its female artists, Etta James, Laura Lee, and Thomas, to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals around 1967 to record with owner/producer Rick Hall and his outstanding house band.

“We Got Something Good” is one of the few sides that Chess actually released from Irma’s sessions. It was the flip of “Good To Me”, an Otis Redding song, which received a bit of airplay. As you can hear, the players nailed a great groove for Irma to work with. Two other singles were commercial flops; and Thomas parted ways with the label, leaving eight unreleased tracks in the can.

In 1990, MCA/Chess released a CD, Something Good: The Muscle Shoals Sessions, featuring virtually all of Irma’s tracks from 1967; but it is out of print now and very hard to come by at a decent price. Seek it out, if you want to hear Irma doing some of her most soulful singing backed up by a killer session group: Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, and the Muscle Shoals Horns. When she started recording for Rounder in the 1980’s, Irma redid several of these sides to good effect; but the originals are hard to beat. If I get a chance before the end of the month, I’ll post one of hers from an LP produced by the Swamp Dogg, too.

February 17, 2005

Dwight checks in with more Soul Machine era info...

"Dwight here. Wow Dan! That was a great find. I know all these guys and didn't even know about this record! Yes, Sam was generally known around town in the 70s as a monster keyboard player. Sam could flat out play! He could play anything, jazz, classical and of course funk! He always looked very serious, but you could tell he enjoyed playing. and he made it look effortless! When he wasn't leading his own band, he played with everyone else. I had the pleasure of playing with Sam in one of Deacon John's bands. That particular incarnation featured Cyril Neville as well as Sam Henry ( I don't know how I got lucky enough to play in that lineup!). one of Deacon John's lineups even featured Art Neville on organ! yeah, in the late 60s to early 70s all the New Orleans bands kinda had that same groove. and also throughout much of the 70s many of the various bands lineups interchanged. I remember Art and Cyril playing with different bands. (Cyril played drums in some of these bands). You probably already know who's on the cover, but I can ID from left to right: Gary Brown, Eugene Synegal, Cyril Neville, Sam Henry, Don't know the bass man, and Joe Gunn. I've played on records with all except Gunn and the bass player. I would like to get a copy of that whole alblum. where did u find it. is it on CD? "

Regular readers will recognize another contribution from Dwight Richards, drummer for Chocolate Milk out of NOLA. If you're new here, Dwight has been playing in New Orleans, live and on sessions, since back in the day and lived this stuff we merely hear, discuss and attempt to preserve somehow. Anyway, thanks Dwight for the further enlightenment and confirmations.

And no, I did not know for certain who was in that photo, other than Sam and Cyril. I guess the bass player is Richard Amos, who played on the record and supposedly was in the Hawkettes with Art Neville in the '50's. So, I have put the names in a caption beneath that CD cover. As for your mention of the interchanging players in local bands at that time, hey, it's still that way in New Orleans, ain't it? And, yes, this is on CD. You can get it at the Louisiana Music Factory in the Quarter. If Barry Smith, the owner, is there, introduce yourself (if you don't know him, you should) and give him my regards. For the rest of you, another tidbit: Sam Henry also played on a number of Toussaint-produced sessions in the later '70's and has been in music education for many years.

February 16, 2005

Lost and Found

L - R: Gary Brown, Eugene Sinegal, Cyril Neville, Sam Henry, Richard Amos (?), Joe Gunn

"Slow Motion"
Sam & The Soul Machine, from Po'k Bones & Rice, Funky Delicacies, 2002

Stop action

Laying down a greasy groove that might be mistaken for the Meters with a sax player, Sam & The Soul Machine take a fine funky turn on “Slow Motion”. The mistake would be understandable, as I am pretty sure Zig Modeliste is playing drums on this track, which is from an unreleased instrumental funk album the group recorded in New Orleans in 1969. The Soul Machine’s regular drummer had been drafted, so leader Sam Henry recruited Modeliste for some of the sessions, during the same period when Zig and the Meters were recording their early sides for Allen Toussaint.

Henry, a well-respected keyboardist, started the Soul Machine around 1968. Getting a steady gig at the Desert Sands club, they quickly became a popular draw. When the band went into the studio to record “Slow Motion” and 11 other tracks, the players were Sam Henry (B-3), Richard Amos (bass), Eugene Sinegal (guitar), Gary Brown (sax), and either Joe Gunn or Zig Modeliste (drums). Henry kept the Soul Machine going in various forms, including several years in Nashville, until the later 1970’s. And, at various times, both Aaron Neville and Cyril Neville sang with the group live.

The history of New Orleans funk could have been different, if that album had been released and well-distributed; but, unfortunately, according to the CD notes, the original master tape was seized by the IRS when they shut down Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio for tax violations shortly after the sessions. While Sam Henry had a safety copy in his possession, a label deal was never sealed; and the album gathered dust until Aaron Fuchs and the reissue crew at Tuff City/Funky Delicacies unearthed it and put it on the CD Po’k Bones & Rice, which contains six other rare Soul Machine recordings (but none with the Nevilles).

While the Meters were beginning their domination of the New Orleans funk landscape at the start of the 1970’s, other performers such as the Gaturs, Eddie Bo, and Sam & The Soul Machine, to name a few , were doing their own thing live and in the studio, but getting much less attention. Fortunately, Funky Delicacies has been re-releasing some of those grooves, allowing us to get a feel for what these other funkateers were up to.

February 13, 2005

Lee + Betty

Valentine's Day Duet

"Love Lots Of Lovin'" (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey & Betty Harris, Sansu, 1967

Loved letting you hear it

I’ve featured both Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris separately on HOTG; but here they are together for Valentine’s Day – and the subject is love. Both were being produced by Allen Toussaint at the time that this well-arranged, groovin’ duet was released on his Sansu label. Note how he works in not so subtle references to other singles: Harris’ “Nearer” and Dorsey’s “Holy Cow”. Since their voices work so well together, it’s too bad that this was their only pairing. I like the bongos, too.

(Larry Grogan reminds me in his comment to this post that the flip side of this single, "Take Care Of Our Love", is also a fine duet. Thanks. I forgot to mention that. The song is a ballad penned by Toussaint.

I also forgot to mention that "Love Lots of Lovin'" (and its flip) can be found on several CD compilations that I have listed over at Da Big Greasy Guide.)

Lot’s of lovin’ to my Valentine, Jeanne. And all the best of those rose colored glasses to you and yours.

February 10, 2005

An Irma Thomas Two-fer

Irma - these days

"You Ain't Hittin' On Nothing" (Naomi Neville)
Irma Thomas, Minit, 1963

"I'm Gonna Cry Till My Tears Run Dry" (Pomus/Shuman/Fagin)
Irma Thomas, Imperial, 1965

Her birthday is February 18th; so, in celebration, here are two offerings from Irma Thomas, both a bit off the beaten track, but I think worth hearing. From 1963 comes “You Ain’t Hittin’ On Nothing”, which was the B-side of the great “Ruler of My Heart”, both of which were written (using the pseudonym, Naomi Neville), arranged and produced by Allen Toussaint in New Orleans. Of all his work at that time with Thomas, the spare backing arrangement using just Roy Montrell’s guitar with bass and drums (possibly John Boudreaux) on “You Ain’t Hittin’ On Nothing” stands out for its spare, proto-funk feel and absence of the producer’s signature keyboard work. Irma digs in and gives a gritty, bluesy performance on this unique offering.

In contrast, “I’m Gonna Cry Till My Tears Run Dry”, written by Doc Pomus et al, and produced with style by Jerry Ragavoy in New York, shows what Irma could with a soulful pop ballad. Ragavoy’s sophisticated arrangement allows Irma to give a nuanced, powerful, and touching rendering of the tune, imparting real feelings to the rather clichéd lyrics. To me, that is true soul singing.

Not for nothing is she known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans in her hometown. Over a 40+ year career that never quite peaked with true commercial success and had some daunting valleys, Irma Thomas has survived in an often fickle, cutthroat business on her talent and determination, and done it with class. She continues to deliver quality performances live and on record. You can hear several of her Minit, Imperial, Chess tracks, and even a recent cut from a Rounder album, at the Soul Club Jukebox. I’ll give you another rarity later on this month, as well.

Oh yeah, and Da Big Greasy Guide has some purchase suggestions for an Irma collection.

February 08, 2005

Zulu King



G R A S !

February 06, 2005

"We gonna dance 'til mornin' comes"



Big Chief, Part 2: Fess, Earl & Wardell

"Big Chief, Part 2" (E. King/W. Quezergue)

Professor Longhair, Watch, 1964
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Of the standard, ever-popular songs of Mardi Gras, there are two associated with Professor Longhair, Henry Roeland Byrd: “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” aka “Go To The Mardi Gras”, which he wrote; and “Big Chief”, written by Earl King. Both songs were signature tunes for “Fess” that he almost always performed, any time of year. Since the focus for my week-long lead-up to Fat Tuesday has been Mardi Gras Indian influenced tunes, I’ve picked “Big Chief, Part 2” to close it out.

In 1964, hip songwriter/performer Earl King and arranger/bandleader Wardell Quezergue brought Fess into the studio to record “Big Chief”, which King had written years earlier. They surprised Fess, who hadn’t been active in a while, with a big session, including a large horn section. As it turned out, the song ended up being about five minutes long and was split up on the A and B sides of the record, with Part 1 being instrumental, and Part 2 having Earl King singing the lyrics and whistling as the song faded. He had intended his vocal to just be a guide for the band that Fess would overdub later, but that never happened.

While King wrote the lyrics and the basic song structure, I am sure it was Professor Longhair who devised the finger-tangling piano riff that few people other than he could ever play well, though it has been covered numerous times. Also, it is said that, in rehearsal, Fess showed drummer Smokey Johnson the syncopated beat he wanted by playing it on a cardboard box. Johnson took the quirky, demanding groove in stride and pulled it off flawlessly; but, by the end of the session, his fingers were bleeding.

The song was not a commercial success and even took a few years in New Orleans to catch on as an annual Mardi Gras favorite; but, when it finally took hold, it has had amazing staying power.

The players on this session included Smokey Johnson, drums; Curtis Mitchell, bass; Mac Rebennack, guitar; and, of course, Professor Longhair, piano. The horn section was from Quezergue’s band, the Royal Dukes of Rhythm.

Big Chief

Those "Hey Pocky A-Way" horns and more.....

...from Dwight, drummer for Chocolate Milk. Yeah, I was hoping he would have this info for us, frankly; and he came through in the comments once again, with at least a partial list. So, I'm feeding this to the main page for more to see, as he always gives a little glimpse of what it was like to be at Sea-Saint Studio back in the 1970's. Check the comments thread on this track for more discussion from others.

"Dwight here (choc milk). Dan , of course that was two of my bandmates on horns ;Amadee and Joe. I don't remember who the other horns were. Wardell did the arrangements. also talking about that drumbeat, yes everybody played that. It was a parade beat! Zig is one of my good friends and mentors. my Mom still tells stories of the way Zig would talk when he would call the house looking for me. She would ask "who's calling" zig always answered "This is Zig baby!". The Meters were good friends and mentors to us during that time. We were just out of high school. during the years I spent recording at Sea Saint on any given night some of the regulars you might find there included; Earl King(always had wild stories), James Booker(a supreme character), Irma Thomas(singing background), the Meters, Chocolate Milk, Dr. John various Nevilles,Lee Dorsey, Ernie K Doe, Allen Toussaint, visiting artists , large amounts of soul food, spirits and what not! It was the most wonderful time of my life (and remember, I travelled the world). That whole period was pure magic!"

For those of you not quite as intimate with the scene as Mr. Dwight Richards, the horn players he refers to from the Chocolate Milk band are Amadee Castenell (sax) and Joe Foxx (trumpet). [I later talked with Dwight and he recalled that Gary Brown also played sax on the sessions and John Longo was on trumpet, too.] The arranger was Wardell Quezergue (he did the next song to be posted, too), an under appreciated giant of the New Orleans music scene for over 40 years. Man, what I would have given to have hung out for one night at that studio back then, let alone daily. Dwight, cherish those memories and stories, write 'em down, start a blog. Thanks for letting us in on a few. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

February 04, 2005

Feel-Good Music

The ultimate funk album cover

"Hey Pocky A-Way" (L. Nocentelli/A. Neville/J. Modeliste/G. Porter, Jr.)
The Meters, from Rejuvenation, Reprise, 1974

And away they go

An obvious choice for Mardi Gras Indian influence and a great groove any way you look at it, “Hey Pocky A-Way” sums up the seriously casual, fun-loving spirit of New Orleans funk music and lifestyle better than any other recording I can think of. And what better version to feature than the original. Using the Indian’s chant phrase as it’s hook, the song was built on the foundation of a groove that drummer Zig Modeliste first laid down with the Meters on Dr. John’s 1973 album, In The Right Place, for the song, “Shoo Fly Marches On”, according to the Rejuvenation CD notes by Bunny Matthews. Obviously, it was a groove the Meters did not want to loose; and their song has become one of the standards for Carnival time and New Orleans music in general.

The Meters - Art Neville, George Porter, Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste - were in their collective prime at the time Rejuvenation appeared. Recruited at the end of the 1960’s by Allen Toussaint to be a recording session unit, their inspired studio jams caused them to get a deal of their own, resulting in a string of instrumental funk hits in the next few years. By 1974, the four were an influential recording and touring group whose confluence of talents had created a unique niche in their city’s music history that still can’t be touched, though many continue to try.

I haven’t posted any of their tunes up to now, because the group is so well-known; and their catalogue is readily available on Sundazed’s commendable CD series. But definitely ‘tis the season for some Meters. It looks like there may finally be a Meters reunion in the works for this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Let’s hope so. Wouldn’t it be a funky miracle to be able to catch ‘em live again?

PS – The horn section on this tune is not credited on the album or CD re-issue; and I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing anything about them. If you know who they are, let me know.

February 01, 2005

Hey Now, Hey Now

Sugar Boy and friends

"Jock-A-Mo" (James Crawford, Jr.)
Sugar Boy & The Cane Cutters, Checker 787, 1954
(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"Iko Iko" (R. Hawkins/B. Hawkins/J. Johnson/J Crawford)
The Dixie Cups, Red Bird 10-024, 1965

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"Jock-A-Mo” is another early r&b Carnival record that incorporates Mardi Gras Indian chant phrases and a Spy Boy reference, while “Iko Iko”, which came out about a decade later, seems to be a derivation of it. These songs are so closely associated that I thought I’d post them both.

By the time James 'Sugar Boy' Crawford recorded his classic celebration of Mardi Gras day late in 1953, he had already done a barely distributed single for Aladdin credited to his band, the Sha-Weez, short for the Chapaka Shawee, plus a demo session that the group had done when Leonard Chess was scouting talent in New Orleans. Despite its marginal sound quality, Chess released "I Don't Know What I'll Do"/"Overboard" on his Checker label, renaming the band Sugar Boy & The Cane Cutters; and it sold fairly well locally. As a result, Chess signed the band and promptly recorded another single with “Jock-A-Mo” on top, which caught on in New Orleans during the 1954 Carnival season and sold well nationally. It was Sugar Boy’s biggest record and the one he is remembered for to this day. The band at the time consisted of James Crawford on vocal and piano, Snooks Eaglin on guitar, Frank Fields on bass, Eric Warner on drums, Edgar Myles on trombone, with Alfred Bernard and David Lastie on saxes. Warner’s unique drumming shifts the song’s groove from second line calypso to rock ‘n roll and back during the course of the song. In Jeff Hannusch’s book, I Hear You Knockin', Crawford says that his inspiration for “Jock-A-Mo” came from his memories of the Indian maskers in his neighborhood on Mardi Gras day back when they would actually battle each other, and the songs they sang in the streets. It is still a Mardi Gras standard. After the Dixie Cups' version, "Iko Iko", came out in 1965, and then was further popularized by Dr. John on his 1972 album, Gumbo, the Crawford's song has been covered numerous times. While traveling to a gig in 1963, Crawford was stopped by police in Monroe, LA ,who pulled him from the car and pistol whipped him severely. It took him many years to recover; and his career in music was essentially over.

According to Barbara Ann Hawkins of the Dixie Cups, she, at least, had never heard Crawford’s "Jock-A-Mo" before they did an impromptu rendition with just vocals and percussion that they called “Iko Iko” in the New York studios of Red Bird Records in 1965. Instead, she and her sister, Rosa Lee, say their grandmother sang it to them as they were growing up, which sounds a bit shakey. Whatever the case, the tape was rolling; and the song became their last hit for the label. Later, Crawford’s name was added to the songwriting credits, perhaps by court order. The Hawkins sisters plus Joan Johnson had been brought to New York from New Orleans in 1963 by bandleader and talent scout Joe Jones and signed to Red Bird, one of the labels owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Originally called the Mel-Tones, they were thankfully renamed the Dixie Cups and went on to have a string of hits over the next few years, “Chapel of Love”, “People Say” and “Iko, Iko” being the biggest.