December 09, 2006

Ya Ya's In La La Land

I learned from my friend Red Kelly yesterday of the recent passing of Marshall Sehorn, a controversial figure involved in the dealings (and double dealings) of the New Orleans music business for over 40 years. I encourage you to read Red’s excellent synopsis of Sehorn’s legacy over at The B-side and hear the track he has up by Betty Harris, who recorded for Sehorn and Allen Toussaint’s Sansu label in the late 1960s. Also, be sure to read the comment to the post from Harris’ attorney (!) for a revealing look at some of Sehorn’s contractual shenanigans as related to the singer. It’s just the iceberg tip of an incredible back story.

It was sometime in late 1960, when I was in New Orleans, Louisiana for Fury Records that I heard a record on the radio called “Lottie Mo”. I thought it was one of the best records that I had heard in the market at that time, and in searching out more information on it, I found that the artist was Lee Dorsey. . . ”Ya Ya” and Do-Re-Me” [were] the first records I ever produced on him. Marshall E. Sehorn

"Ya Ya" (Dorsey-Robinson)
Lee Dorsey, Fury 1053, 1961

I thought I’d put up “Ya Ya”, since it was Sehorn’s first record deal in New Orleans. He was working as a promoter and scout for Bobby Robinson, who owned the Fire/Fury labels in New York at the time and had put Robinson on Dorsey’s trail after hearing Lee’s first minor hit, “Lottie Mo”. As the well-worn record label notes, “Ya Ya” was a Sehorn & Robinson Production. They wanted to have Toussaint on the session, as he had produced and arranged “Lottie Mo”, but he was under contract with Minit. So, they used him on the sly. Though he did not participate in the actual session, he pretty much arranged the song, including the piano part that Marcel Richardson played in Toussaint’s style. Recorded at Cosimo’s in New Orleans using the AFO session team (John Boudreaux, drums; Chuck Badie, bass; Roy Montrell, guitar; Melvin Lastie, trumpet; Harold Battiste, tenor sax; Red Tyler, baritone sax; and Richardson) the song’s simple, high quality groove was a done deal.

As with virtually all of his recordings, Lee Dorsey’s voice conveys a lightheartedness and charm that takes “Ya Ya” to the bank. He and Robinson allegedly adapted the playful lyrics and melody from children Dorsey had heard in his neighborhood singing a rhyme about sitting on the toilet! Whatever the origin, these la-la’s and ya-ya’s can pretty much mean anything you can imagine, making for one of the great nonsense lyric novelty songs to come out of a city that birthed a lot of ‘em. It became Dorsey’s first huge hit, going to #1 R&B and #7 Pop in 1961 and set the stage for more big records when he signed with Sansu Productions a few years later.

This is not the place to get into the complex life and business of Marshall Sehorn. I’ll just say that he had much behind-the-scenes influence and control over New Orleans popular music from the mid-1960s into at least the 1980s. If you read many of my posts, you’ll see that it’s hard to speak of that period and not mention Sehorn, his production company, or creative partner, Toussaint. So, he shares in the successes and failures of that scene. I know for a fact that there are singers, musicians and writers in the city who dealt with him who will not shed a tear at his passing. But we’ll leave the final judgment on him to other authorities for now and just acknowledge his part in bringing ya-ya’s, la-la’s, and other musical marvels to the world.


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