A Trove Of Toussaint Tunes
"Who's Next, Who's Now" (Allen Toussaint)
John Mayall, from Notice To Appear, ABC, 1976
I have been meaning to post this song for a long time, but I lost the album, Notice To Appear, after my move. Still can’t find it anywhere. Then, while in San Diego this summer, I fortunately scored another vinyl copy cheap. Recorded at Sea-Saint Studios and arranged and produced by Allen Toussaint in 1975, this LP has a bounty of compositions by Toussaint (7 of the 10 songs), many of which have never appeared anywhere else*. This is rather unusual, because Toussaint often recycled his songs among his own projects and those of other artists he produced.
I saw this record in the stores for years before I picked it up, noticed Toussaint’s picture on the back side, and pulled out the record sleeve to see all the session details. It was probably not a big seller for British blues legend John Mayall, being another one of those ideas of getting a hot producer/songwriter to do your album that sounded better as a concept than in reality. Not that this is a bad album, it’s just not great, because it is not the right fit for Mayall, whose rather dry, limited tenor voice just is not the right one for many of the songs, most of which steer clear of the blues. But, the arrangements are expectedly outstanding, as is the playing by some of Toussaint’s regulars (Herman Ernest, drums; Toussaint and James Booker, keyboards; Steve Hughes, guitar; Tony Broussard, bass; Kim Joseph, congas), who are featured on three tracks, and Mayall’s outstanding band at the time: Rick Vito, guitar; Larry Taylor (Canned Heat, Tom Waits, Phillip Walker), bass; Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris, violin; Jay Spell (Tower of Power, Jimmy Buffett), keyboards; Louisiana native Soko Richardson, drums [pictured]; and Dee McKinnie, backing vocals. Toussaint’s horn section (Larry Bouin, baritone sax; Lon Price, tenor sax; Nick Messina, trumpet) come into play on a majority of the songs, too.
Since I first heard it, I’ve always been fascinated by “Who’s Next, Who’s Now”, one of Mayall’s best performances on Toussaint’s low-down lyrics. His band does an outstanding job of rendering this deceptively simple sounding, decidedly non-blues tune, with Richardson laying down a fine, in-the-pocket funk strut groove that everything works off of. As with so many great Toussaint compositions and arrangements, there’s nice, syncopated instrumental interplay, plus that insidious, repeated trilled riff that couldn’t be a better hook if it had a worm dangling on it. It sure has wormed it’s addictive way into my brain.
A few of Toussaint’s songs on Notice To Appear are unexceptional; but, along with today’s feature, I think “Mess Of Love”, “That Love”, and the more complex “Hale To The Man Who Lives Alone” stand out. Of those, the only one I know of that appeared again was “Mess Of Love”, which Toussaint reworked at bit and re-titled “Just A Kiss Away” for his 1978 Motion LP. Sometimes with records, you want to keep them not for what they tried to be, but for what they are, despite their flaws. In this case, Notice To Appear fails to well-represent John Mayall; but if you hear past that, you’ll find some great grooves and fine playing on this trove of rarely heard Toussaint tunes. That is worth quite a bit to me in terms of audio-archaeology and getting the bigger picture on what Toussaint was up to during his prolific productions in the Seventies.
* Note: 9/30/2006: I just discovered that Jackie Moore covered "Who's Next, Who's Now" on Kayvette 5140, a 1980/81 single. I don't think Toussaint had anything to do with the production; but it is his song.