Free To Be K-Doe
"A Place Where We Can Be Free" (Allen Toussaint)
Ernie K-Doe, from Ernie K-Doe, Janus, 1970
I hope many of you here in the US are already enjoying a long Fourth of July weekend. Back in my radio days, I used do a yearly special around this time where I featured a bunch of New Orleans tunes having to do with freedom of some sort of the other, or just having “free” in the lyrics. Today’s post from Ernie K-Doe was always one of them.
Written by Allen Toussaint, from the Janus album he produced and arranged for K-Doe around 1970, “A Place Where We Can Be Free” very likely features the playing of most of the Meters, as they were the producer’s main studio unit at the time. Last year, I featured one of the funkier selections from this LP; but today’s track, if heard alone with no notes to guide you, would probably not suggest that it was a New Orleans record at all, unless you recognized the distinctive voice of K-Doe. It’s a great little production, though. I say “little” because you will note that the instrumental backup mainly consists of guitars, bass, and drums – the only keyboard is the piano doubling the guitar on those descending runs that follow the “go get the one you love” sections. Also, this is the only track on Ernie K-Doe where there are no horns. I’ve listened to this song many times over the years; and I never really noticed that before. The relentless, driving bass, rhythm guitar chops and fairly straight drums really keep this tune moving along; and the glissando second guitar figures (likely Nocentelli overdubbed) fill things out nicely. K-Doe turns in a rich, energetic vocal performance; and all of his work on the album is of consistently high quality.
Oddly enough, prior to a few CDs he made rather late in his life, this is the only album the singer had that wasn’t just a collection of mostly single sides. But, as good as it is, nobody heard the thing. It was not promoted by the label; and not too many copies were issued, as it is a very rare find these days. Although I knew it existed, I had never even seen the LP until I found mine around 1990. Janus did release two singles from it, “Here Come The Girls” (a hands down classic that Soul Jazz has comped) b/w “A Long Way Back Home” [#167] and “Lawdy Mama” b/w “ Talkin’ “Bout This Woman” [#183]. Around the same time as this recording, Toussaint produced a version of today’s feature with Lee Dorsey that was not released until Polydor comped it on the CD Yes We Can…And Then Some. Although the arrangement is very similar, I much prefer K-Doe’s version.
As crazy (and I mean that in a good way) and self-absorbed as Ernie K-Doe could be, if you listen to this record and some of his earlier sides, you’ll find that his boasts about his abilities weren’t the hollow rants of a washed-up one (big) hit wonder. He had the chops; but it seems that Allen Toussaint was the only producer who could draw the great stuff out him. It’s a pity that their reunion on these sessions did not resurrect his career. In any event, although his time in popular music had passed, he somehow created his own mythology that lives on since his passing in his still functioning house of hero-worship, the Mother-In-Law Lounge; and so, he managed to get in the last laugh on the music business, and everybody else, for that matter.