"They Even Inquired About Ya"
"They All Ask For You" (L. Nocentelli-G. Porter-A. Neville-J. Modeliste-C. Neville)The Meters, Sansu 1014, 1976
I was never exactly sure how this Meters song got balled up into Mardi Gras celebrations and became a standard. Singing drummer Zig Modeliste, backed up by Cyril Neville, throws in some New Orleans cultural catch-phrases and a few rather unusual local food combinations amidst the playful put-down lyrics; but there’s no direct or indirect mention of Mardi Gras or Carnival. Then I read Red Kelly’s recollection on his fine blog, The "B" Side, “My first Mardi-Gras was in 1976, and a local single. . .”They All Ask For You” (Sansu 1014) was THE carnival song that year, blaring from every car radio and jukebox in New Orleans.” There you go, then. That it is a funny, easy to pick up, sing-along party song by the city’s premier party band makes “They All Ask For You” perfect for the spirit of the season. Released at the height of the Meters’ popularity, it made Mardi Gras 1976 more memorable and ascended from there to realm of the classic.
This Sansu single combines “They All Ask For You” with “Hey Pock A-Way” on the flip, for double-sided Carnival action. Both songs are reissued cuts from earlier Meters albums. “Hey Pock A-Way” was on Rejuvenation and also came out on a Reprise single b/w “Africa” in 1974. Fire On The Bayou, released in 1975, contained our feature song; but it was listed as “They All Ask’d For You” there and on the Reprise single b/w “Running Fast (long version)”.
Though the Meters are shown as songwriters, the origins of “They All Ask (Ask’d ) For You” are murky. In his notes for the CD reissue of Fire On The Bayou, Bunny Matthews states that the song is based on a New Orleans nursery rhyme as recalled by Modeliste. But, just a bit of research I have done reveals that the New Orleans R&B master, Paul Gayten, did the song that is the basis for the Meters' version on a single he recorded for Okeh in 1952, calling it “They All Ask For You (Down At The Zoo)”. I also recall reading that Louis Armstrong did a version of it; but I have never run across a copy to hear. As well, there is a much earlier possible version from 1923 called “Down On the Farm (They All Ask For You)”, as can be seen in the photo of the sheet music; but the song goes back even further, as I have read about an Appalachian folk song called "Down On The Farm", that mentions various farm animals that "asked for you". A commenter to this post pointed out that Little Feat also did a song called "Down On The Farm" on their LP on the same name, which shares some of the same verses as that folk song, and owes at least inspiration to the Meters, also. In any case, the concept goes way back.
Wherever it came from, it’s obvious that this tune is no funk monster. Instead, it has a simple, child-like quality to it, which combined with Leo Nocentelli’s happily countrified guitar licks, makes “They All Ask For You” certainly one of the most unusual and charming good time Carnival songs ever.