Touched By Toussaint
"I Am What I Am" (A. Toussaint)
Mylon Lefevre, from Over the Influence, Columbia, 1972
Unitl the early 1970’s, Allen Toussaint, along with his business partner in Sansu Enterprises, Marshall Sehorn, had only produced a few “outside” acts - that is, non-New Orleans artists - such as Maurice Williams, Betty Harris, Wilbert Harrison, and Lou Johnson. Of course, that was about to change. After Toussaint’s studio band, the Meters, gained national attention, and he came out with his first solo album, Toussaint, both he and the Meters signed with Warner Brothers. As a result, many WB artists started covering his material and singing his praises. Other labels took notice and sent artists to New Orleans for the Toussaint touch. Thus began a very active period for Toussaint, Sansu Productions and their Sea-Saint Studios, working on many projects for national (and international) acts into the early 1980’s.
In the case of Mylon Lefevre, a Southern rock performer with strong gospel roots, Toussaint was enlisted by Atlantic Records to produce the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s Cotillion label debut, Mylon, in 1969. How Toussaint got such a call of out left field I do not know; but he went to Atlanta for the project, working with Lefevre and a group of backing musicians, some of whom later became known as the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The resulting album is interesting as an early example of both the Southern rock and Christian rock genres. Strange to find an HOTG legend associated with that; but, in those liberated, experimental times, rock, soul and funk were often freely mixed. Several of the tracks, mainly written by Lefevre and the backing musicians, have a funky feel to them that is surely due, at least in part, to the producer. A perfect example is the song, “Peace Begins Within”, which was well-covered by Baton Rouge soul man, Bobby Powell, soon thereafter.
Lefevre’s next LP, Over the Influence, came out on Columbia in 1972 and was also a Toussaint production recorded in Atlanta. On this LP, the core backing unit was Lefevre’s own band, Holy Smoke*, augmented on various tracks by such notables as Toussaint himself, Dr, John on piano, Leslie West on slide guitar and Little Richard on vocal. I’ve chosen to feature the album’s sole Toussaint composition, “I Am What I Am”, a true rarity that has the writer/producer on backing vocals and keys. I don’t think anyone else ever recorded it; but I have heard Toussaint do it live. With the signature quirky syncopation of the arrangement, this is really the only song on Over The Influence that has the true Toussaint touch so many later artists would seek. Other than this, the rest of the tunes don’t do a lot for me; so, I’ll have to give the nod to Mylon as a better effort, overall.
I also have to give props to my friend, Charles, long-time host of ‘The Night Train’ on WEVL Memphis, for turning me onto these Mylon Lefevre albums back in the 1990’s. Over the years, I’ve learned much from listening to Charles’ show (I encourage you to check it out online – Thursday nights) and from him sharing with me his truly encyclopedic knowledge of “boogie music”, as he often calls his multi-genre audio adventures. So, hey, Charles, I know you’re not much into the ‘net and might not see this; but “I Am What I Am” goes out to you, man.
*Holy Smoke on Over The Influence was
Auburn Burrell, guitars
J.P. Lauzon, guitars
Marty Simon, drums
Tom Robb, bass
Lester Langdale, keyboards