It's High Time That You Found "On Your Way Down"
"On Your Way Down" (Allen Toussaint)
Renee Geyer, from Renee Geyer, CBS/Portrait, 1982
First off, I consider this song to be one of Toussaint’s stone classics, a perfect blend of slow, moody funk and soulful, worldly-wise lyrics speaking karmic truths learned the hard way. It was first released on a Lee Dorsey Polydor single (14181) around 1971; but, to me, his was not the right voice for it. The song next appeared on Toussaint’s self-produced Life, Love and Faith album in 1972 on Warner Bros./Reprise, which had the Meters on board; but, while you can certainly sense it’s potential, he just vocally can’t quite nail his own creation. The next year, his WB labelmates, Little Feat, recorded what I hold to be the definitive version of “On Your Way Down” on their Dixie Chicken album. That was the first version of the song I heard; and it hipped me to Toussaint’s true power. Before that, he was really just a name on some records to me. On their cover, singer and el supremo slide guitarist Lowell George and the band deliver the song just as it should be with a smoky, well-worn vocal, awesome instrumentation, and the prefect atmospheric groove. Though they based their arrangement on Toussaint’s, they own the song, simple as that.
As Little Feat’s benchmark is still fairly easy to find (and you should definitely avail yourself), I’ve decided to feature a later, rarely heard rendition of this song by an Australian soul/rock singer, Renee Geyer. Her effective effort, recorded in Los Angeles in 1981 with the Bump Band backing her, is not well known, in the States, anyway. Those of you from the Land o’ Oz may be more familiar with it. Down Under, “On Your Way Down”, appeared on her RCA/Mushroom album, So Lucky. The next year, the LP was released here as Renee Geyer on CBS/Portrait to little notice, which is too bad, as it was quite decent and enjoyable. The Bump Band consisted of some high quality rock players: drummer and co-producer Ricky Fataar, keyboardist Ian McLagan (formerly of the Faces), Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Ray Ohara on bass, and Bobby Keyes on sax. To goose up the soul factor, producer Rob Fraboni, stirred in backing vocals by Bobby King, James Ingram, and Venetta Fields, as heard here. While the track isn’t quite up to George and the Feat, I find it to be a fine take on a song that is extremely difficult to do well. Kudos to Ms Geyer and the band for making it work. In particular, I enjoy hearing a gutsy woman on this tune, and especially like the way she holds her own with those sublimely soulful co-vocalists on the ride out.
I owe props to my old friend, Bill, who played bass in several bands with me some years back and is an extraordinary musician and record collector, for turning me on to Geyer’s LP over fifteen years ago. He gave me a long term loan on it, until I found my own copy (certainly worth the full $1.99 I paid for it at the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records in Memphis). Back when I started my radio show in the late 1980’s, Bill was my secret source for the rarest cuts – many of which took me many more years to track down, and some of which I’ve never seen since! Anyway, thanks, Bill. And thanks to Allen Toussaint and his interpreters taking us all to this musical higher ground.
PS: I also have found a version by Clarence Carter on an ABC single from 1974. About it, I'll just say again that it's hard to do this song well. . . So, we'll hear Clarence do another Toussaint cover later. Finally, almost forgot to mention Elvis Costello's reading of this tune on his collaboration with Toussaint, River In Reverse. It was a good pick for a post-Katrina themed album, but it doesn't really break any new ground musically or vocally for me.