Four Kings(Part 4): Earl & The Meters Get Real
"The Real McCoy" (Earl King)
Earl King, 1970, unissued at the time
“The Real McCoy” features one of New Orleans’ finest, Earl King, backed by the Meters on an Allen Toussaint production for Sansu, which recorded more than an album’s worth of King's material in 1970. Sansu partner Marshall Sehorn had interested Atlantic Records in releasing an LP from the sessions; but Atlantic wouldn’t give Sansu an advance. So, in another tragic showbiz twist of the knife, the majority of the project, certainly Earl King’s best showcase since his Imperial sessions in the early 1960’s, got shelved. Only three singles were released at the time, the Mardi Gras themed “Street Parade” on the obscure Kansu label, and two unsuccessful issues leased to the Wand label in New York [one of which I have since found and featured here]. So, King’s comeback hopes were dashed. In the early 1980’s, Charly in the UK licensed the tracks and released their Street Parade LP (and later CD*), which is where I first discovered this lost trove of soulful funk, around the same time that King was beginning his re-emergence with a series of fine CDs for Black Top.
The general consesus is that the Meters played on all of these sessions; and listening to the tracks confirms it. That surely goes for “The Real McCoy”, which definitely has the Meters sound and feel about it, although I don’t hear any keyboards at all. Listen to the quirky, off-kilter drum syncopation that only Zig Modeliste could pull off with such a combination of nonchalance and near abandon. The guitar work has the stamp of Leo Nocentelli’s early style: clean, agile riffing and rhythmic chording. King is probably doubling the central riff with him. And what bassist other than George Porter, Jr. could find that funky bottom end and keep up with Zig and Leo? Nice horn charts, too, which Toussaint arranged. There are a few other tracks with this much Meters’ stylin’; but the Street Parade sessions have plenty good grooves and well display King’s unique songwriting gifts.
The other featured Kings in this series were blues men who had no direct connection with the Crescent City but, in various ways, crossed paths with its music at some point and felt its influence. Earl King (born Earl Silas Johnson, IV) is a different story, as he was proudly in and of the HOTG heritage. He may have started out playing the blues (even impersonating his indisposed mentor, Guitar Slim, on the road in his early days), but he had a much broader musical palette that he developed over a nearly 50 year career. Although King made some great records as a performer, his main strength from the start, and his ultimate contribution to New Orleans’ musical legacy, was his songwriting. “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”, “Come On”, “Trick Bag”, “Big Chief”, “Teasin’ You”, and “ Make A Better World” are just a few of his compositions. He performed many of them himself; but they got the most attention when performed by others: Lee Dorsey, the Dixie Cups, Danny White, Willie Tee, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr. John, Jimi Hendrix, et al.
I’ve featured and spoken of Earl here before and will again. There’s simply no getting around what a profound role he plays in the whole HOTG story, not just as a composer and songwriter, but a great producer, too. About a decade before his 2003 passing, I was lucky enough to have him on my WEVL radio show when he was in Memphis for a gig. This friendly, soft-spoken, humble man was a font of information. I wish I could have talked to him for days and days, ‘cause he truly was the real McCoy.
*Note: Street Parade has seen several more CD incarnations. In 2003, Fuel 2000 released it; but that’s been deleted, looks like. Now Aim out of Australia is having a go at it. You can look over pretty much all of what’s currently available on CD for Earl here.
And a happy St. Paddy's Day to ya.