Quezergue Onstage and Behind The Scenes
From left, Quezergue, Sam Henry, Charlie Moore, Tony Owens, and unidentified band members at the 2007 French Quarter Festival
Going to the final day of the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans last weekend inspired me to do a series of posts on some more records that Wardell Quezergue had a hand in birthing. Sunday afternoon, I got to see the fine band that he put together for the festival and was directing from a chair on stage left. We got there after the start of the set; and they were cooking on a jazz/funk instrumental. When that ended, singer Tony Owens came to the stage and let loose with a string of outstanding vocal performances on some of the tunes that he had recorded back in the 1970s and some classic blues and soul. After that rare treat, Al Johnson got up and sang his local seasonal standard, "Carnival Time". He had us all thinking it was Mardi Gras again.
Though obviously not in the best of health, Quezergue led the band of seasoned players with enthusiasm and class, impressing everybody with his arranging talents. There on the riverside, I had another one of those overwhelming experiences - a New Orleans Moment - hearing that music directly from the musicians who have given so much to their local culture and to the world, and are still at it - and all over it. There are those of you who know what I'm talking about. For those who don't, you simply must hear New Orleans music live sometime, somewhere, but especially in the city itself. Recordings are, at best, artificial constructs only able to hint (if we're lucky) at the magic of a live performance. No matter how many you buy or listen to, you're still far removed from the real deal. Of course, many of the real deals are no longer with us; but its the ones still kickin' you need to support and appreciate while we've still got 'em.
The sermon being over, let's kick off the musical portion of the service with something Wardell produced after his association with Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi had ended. The company really owes much of its existence to the talented artists and great songs he brought to the studio from New Orleans between 1970 and 1973 which really helped them get recognized with some substantial hits and quality production work that influenced their musical direction for many years. Though this record was not cut at Malaco, it ended up being released on their label
"E-Ni-Me-Ni-Mi-Ni-Mo" (Small-Quezergue-Royal)Elliott Small, Malaco 1031, 1975
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"E-Ni-Me-Ni-Mi-Ni-Mo (Part 2)"
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Deftly arranged by Wardell, this fine funk groove was recorded at Sea-Saint studio in New Orleans, probably in 1975. The featured artist, Elliott (a/k/a Elliot) Small, produced the session and co-wrote the song along with Wardell and guitarist Teddy Royal. According Rob Bowman's notes to the box set, The Last Soul Company, Small, who had recorded previously for Malaco when Wardell was working there, brought the master tape to the Jackson studio early in 1976, hoping they could find a company to release it. Instead, they purchased the master and released it themselves.
Shortly before this single's release, Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue" 45 had come out on Malaco and hit almost immediate paydirt, bringing the faltering company back to life financially. Unfortunately, Small's two-parter did not continue the trend and sank with hardly a ripple. He and Wardell may have been trying to revive the kind of feel that had been successful earlier for King Floyd at Malaco when he was working with Big Q, and his records were being released on the Chimneyville subsidiary. In fact, Small even affected some of Floyd's vocal mannerisms on the song; but nobody went for the funkified children's chant, no matter how danceable it was.
Based on my extensive discussions with Teddy Royal, I know that he worked and collaborated regualrly with Wardell on sessions in the 1970s, mostly at Sea-Saint. He would often come up with melodies, riffs and basic grooves for songs, often without credit, that Big Q would then develop into full arrangementsand and record. The way it probably worked on this tune was that Small came to them with an idea and lyrics that Royal and the arranger helped shape into the song. I would also assume that Teddy played one of the guitar parts on the track. That's Elliott
taking the unique harmonica solo on the back side.
I must confess that in the year and a half since I posted Elliott Small's earlier, much different pop collaboration with Quezergue, "Girls Are Made For Lovin'" (note: audio re-activated while this post is hot), I haven't learned much more about the singer/songwriter, even after several phone conversations and meeting him. Shortly after that post, I was contacted by friends of Elliott who live outside of Baton Rogue and had taken him in after Katrina. They had found my piece on him and wanted me to know where he was. When he finally moved back to New Orleans, they gave me his cell phone number; and I talked to him several times. He confirmed that, as I had discovered in my research, for a number of years he has been one of the regular street performers in the French Quarter, where he goes by the name of 'Grandpa', playing harmonica and singing. At the time of Katrina, he was partnered with blues performer Stoney B; and they had played at least one gig at a music festival. But it seems they were separated by the storm. Anyway, Elliott was much more interested in having me help him try to get gigs than in talking about the past and his record-making days of long ago. So, I gave him the number of a guy I know who used to book blues acts and, I thought, might be able to help; but I don't think they ever connected. The last time I spoke with Elliott he was back performing on the street; and I introduced myself to him between songs, as he was playing tunes with two women outside Cafe Du Monde. I'm not sure he even knew who I was. Next time I see him though, I'm going to drop a goodly amount in the kitty and request "E-Ni-Me-Ni-Mi-Ni-Mo".
[Update 2010: As you may know, Elliott has become something of a sensation in the US and abroad as a result of participating in Playing For Change. He has been touring here and internationally as a result and performed at Jazzfest for the first time this year. It's great that he's had this success; and I can only wish him even more.
The both sides of this single, plus a number of other Quezergue productions can be heard on that CD box set Malaco retrospective I mentioned, The Last Soul Company, if you can find it. [It is now out of print.]