Down In New Orleans
"Mardi Gras Mambo" (Frankie Adams-Lou Welsch-Ken Elliott)
The Hawketts, Chess 1591, 1954
Hope you had some good mambo
Here’s another Carnival music classic from the Hawketts. The session for this single was the first recording date for lead singer/pianist Art Neville, as well as for virtually all the other teenaged band members. In 1953, Art was recruited to join the Hawketts by George Davis, who was playing saxophone at the time (later he became a great guitarist, bassist, songwriter and producer). The band quickly became popular and were heard by a local DJ, Jack The Cat (Ken Elliott), who got them to record “Mardi Gras Mambo” at the WWEZ radio studios in January, 1954.
But the Hawketts were not the first to record the song. The original version, written by Frankie Adams and Lou Welsch, who ran Sapphire Records in New Orleans, was performed by country (!) singer Jodie Levens on a Sapphire single released late in 1953. It had a syncopated latino beat and nice sax on it; but Levens’ straight, country-tinged singing about Mardi Gras with a steel guitar in the background made the track a textbook example of incongruity. Wanting to remake the song for the hot local R&B market, Ken Elliott changed some of the lyrics, kept the Latin feel (though not quite a mambo, I don’t think), got a great take from the young Hawketts (see below), and managed to get it released by Chess for that Carnival season. It was a local smash and has become a standard of the Mardi Gras genre year after year.
The Hawketts remained a poplar local band for several years after the release of “Mardi Gras Mambo”, even though Chess did not try to follow up their hit with another record. In 1956, working with Harold Battiste, Specialty Records’ A&R rep in New Orleans, Art Neville made a series of demos and recordings that got him signed to the label, which released several fine but unsuccessful singles on him. Soon thereafter, he went into the Navy. When he got out in the early 1960’s, he recorded singles for various labels and started a club combo that by 1968 evolved into the Meters, after they were hired by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn as a studio band. In 1975, the Meters recorded their own worthy version of “Mardi Gras Mambo” that appeared on the Fire On The Bayou LP, with Art, of course, again on vocal.
The Hawketts at the time of the “Mardi Gras Mambo” session were
Art Neville – lead vocal, piano
John Boudreaux – drums
Alfred August – guitar
Israel Bell and August Fleuri – trumpet
Carroll Joseph – trombone
George Davis - alto sax
Morris Bechamin – tenor sax