From A Blues Boy, To A Soul Diva, To A Funk Band
If you’re a regular around here, you know that my posting project on Toussaint productions and cover tunes is ongoing. This past month, I’ve featured more than usual, yet fewer than I would have liked. So it goes. Things came up (car wreck, the flu, work...). Here are a few more notables to close out January. Rest assured, there are plenty more of such cuts stacked up around here; and I’ll be featuring them off and on throughout 2007. Hope Mr. Toussaint’s 69th year is a fruitful one.
"Mind Over Matter" (Allen Toussaint)
Richard Newell, King Biscuit Boy, Epic, 1974
This cut comes courtesy of the same Mr. Anonymous who provided me with the Browning Bryant tracks. King Biscuit Boy came out in 1974 and was one of the early album projects Toussaint produced completely at his new Sea-Saint Recording Studio in New Orleans. I think this album is also one of the last times all of the Meters participated as the rhythm section for a Toussaint production on an outside artist. They’re the core band on all tracks, along with Toussaint on piano and Alfred ‘Uganda’ Roberts on conga. The producer also used his regular horn section at the time: Clyde Kerr, Jr., Lester Caliste, Carl Blouin, and Alvin Thomas. Plus there’s a cameo appearance by Dr. John, who added a guitar solo on one track (“Riverboat”).
After Anon so generously sent me some cuts, I was surprised to discover that my wife had this album in some boxes I’d brought home from storage and not yet opened. But, as fate would have it (and fate’s been having a lot lately), when I was ready to play it, my turntable wouldn’t turn on. At All. Sheesh. From the three cuts I have heard, this seems to be a pretty bare bones production, and much the better for it. Canadian blues harpist and singer Richard Newell, a/k/a King Biscuit Boy, didn’t require much to do his thing. So Toussaint and the band keep the grooves fairly straightforward and simple, but still effective. The Meters here are following orders and playing solely as first rate hired hands, rather than bringing any of their own thing to the process. So, it’s not a funk record; but I like Newell’s voice and harmonica blowing, too, and look forward to hearing and featuring more.
[Revised 02/07/07] The only cover of “Mind Over Matter” I could find listed is Three Dog Night’s from 1975, which I’ve never heard. But, our friend, Lou Kash, recalled a Johnny Winter version in the comments. So, I searched for that and found that it appeared on the John Dawson Winter, III album from December, 1974, making King Biscuit Boy’s seemingly still the first recorded version. Also, research wiz and friend Jon from nevilletracks alerted me to a version he found by the Poorboys (UK group) on their 1990s CD, Bayou Bound! on the Italian label, Appaloosa. If you know of any others, please pass them along. I have also heard Toussaint do the song live at Jazzfest shows over the years, and one of those sets is available on CD.
"From A Whisper To A Scream" (Allen Toussaint)
Esther Phillips, title cut, Kudu 18, 1974
Here's another one from my wife's collection (photo is from another LP of the period, though). Of the great covers of Allen Toussaint compositions, Esther Phillips’ take of “From A Whisper To A Scream” ranks high up there. From her first Creed Taylor produced album of the same name, this song has so many high class players on it as to almost jinx the session. Yet, somehow they manage to pull it out! This lush, gutsy, ambitious arrangement by Pee Wee Ellis creates a three dimensional soundscape that Phillips perfectly inhabits. I’ve never heard Toussaint speak of this version; but I can’t help but think he must relish it. His own less frequently heard original appeared on the 1970 Toussaint album. Robert Palmer also took a decent stab at it on Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (1974).
"Everything I Do" (Allen Toussaint)
The Gamble Brothers Band, from 10lbs of hum, (independent) 2002
My friends from Memphis (and environs), the Gamble Brother Band, had this and numerous other deftly arranged New Orleans covers in their set list, along with their own groovin’ originals, when they were first starting out around 2001. So, it was no surprise when it showed up on their debut CD, 10lbs of hum. Originally cut by Lee Dorsey with the Meters backing in 1969, the song, as fully titled, “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)”, has engendered a number of covers, including Lou Donaldson’s acid jazz take, Claudia Lennear album version on Phew! (comped on What It Is), and Tousssaint’s own version on Toussaint. But the GBB make it nochalantly their own, demonstrating that you don’t have to bust a gut to generate da funk. Drummer Chad Gamble knows how to relax the groove but keep it just taut enough to pull you into the snake dance. It’ s a well-lubed performance by all that makes the song lyrics neither a threat nor a promise, but a pure statement of natural fact.