Hot Enough For Ya?
Here’s a trivia question to stump your friends who don’t read HOTG (probably most - if not all - of them): what classic New Orleans album has Whitney Houston and her mother singing on it?
"Fire On The Bayou" (Neville-Nocentelli-Porter-Modeliste)
The Neviile Brothers, from Fiyo On The Bayou, A&M, 1981
I’m taking about a week off from pounding out da blog and thought I’d leave you with a song that to me is a quintessential summer groover, summoning literal and figurative heat as it contemplates various recreational pleasures along the meandering waterways of the Deep South. Originally done by the Meters with Art Neville on lead vocal, as he is again here, this version of “Fire On the Bayou” by the Neville Brothers converts the steamy street song into a funk anthem from the Church of What’s Happein’ Now, complete with a celestial choir (Cissy and Whitney Houston with Eltesa Weathersby).
Fiyo On the Bayou was the Neville’s second LP, but the first one much of anybody bought or heard. I certainly completely missed, at the time, their eponymous debut on Capitol, produced by the great Jack Nietzsche and released in 1978, soon after the break-up of the Meters. The backing band was most of the same young guys, a New Orleans group called Black Male, the Nevilles had been playing with live since deciding to join forces. Unfortunately, while the brothers and band turned in fine performances and did some good cover tunes, their originals were fairly weak. The label couldn’t figure out how to promote the LP, so they didn’t bother, letting it twist in the wind.
Luckily for the Nevilles (Art, Charles, Aaron, and Cyril), despite the failure of their initial effort, they had a fan and friend in influential jazz and pop producer Joel Dorn, who tried to assist them in getting another label deal. He was not successful, though, until one of the acts he had produced, Bette Midler, heard the band at Tipitina’s one night and, of her own accord, convinced Jerry Moss of A&M to sign the them and have Dorn produce the album. Given the green light for the project, Dorn dropped the Black Male backing, recruiting some more seasoned local and national players, including former Meter Leo Nocentelli, local drummer Herman Ernest and bassist David Barard (of Chocolate Milk), Dr. John, and outside names such as Ralph McDonald on percussion and David ‘Fathead’ Newman, who did all the tenor sax solos (leaving brother Charles Neville, the band’s regular saxman, to just play percussion on a few tracks). Art Neville was the only brother to actually play on the entire album, though they all sang; and, from reading the Neville’s biography, I gather that this may have been due to the heavy drug habits of the other three brothers at the time. As a matter of fact, they were so seriously involved that is amazing that Dorn managed to bring to birth such an outstanding album on the group.
The producer wisely kept the recording local, doing most of the tracking at Studio In the Country in Bogalusa, LA, where the fist LP was recorded, with some additional work done at Sea-Saint. In addition, he used Toussaint’s studio horn section (two of whom, Amadee Castenell and Joe Fox, were also in Chocolate Milk), and had Wardell Quezergue arrange them, probably in later overdub sessions. On “Fire On the Bayou”, Herman Ernest puts his own stamp on the primal beat, varying just a bit from Zig’s original take. That and Barard’s bass reinforcement, killer percussion by Kenneth ‘Afro’ Williams (another Chocolate Milk man), Nocentelli’s signature rhythm guitar chops, and Art’s percolating keyboards make for an awesome groove. Layering in the horns and vocals, Dorn renders the parts into a transcendent track that just knocked me out back then, and still does.
I had seen the Neville Brothers live several years before this record came out at Jed’s, a long since defunct club on Oak Street across from the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans; and it had been a life changing musical experience for me. Fiyo On the Bayou reaffirmed my respect for the group and their funk, soul, and R&B roots. That show made me get serious about exploring the strong funk threads running through the music of the Crescent City that I had been listening to casually for years.
I'm not here to review the entire album; but I strongly suggest that, if you don't have a copy, go get you one. It's not all this hot and heavy, but is a satisfying mix of the brother's influences and roots. To me, along with Yellow Moon and Walkin'In The Sahdow Of Life, it is among their best sudio efforts in a career that has spanned over 25 years.
So light up, drink down, or whatever you choose to do to loose thy booty, and enjoy this taste. See you around the 1st of August.