August 21, 2008

K-Doe's Final 45 Revelation

Gotta love the lamentably late Ernie K-Doe, Emperor of the Universe (Local 504), whose helter-skelter musical career was an all-American entertainment amalgam of moxie, mojo, mayhem, flim-flam, ham, raw talent, copious energy, alcoholism overcome, shameless self-promotion, and, just possibly, delusions of grandeur. Over the years, he had far more misses than hits in the marketplace, played more dives (including his own beloved Mother-In-Law Lounge) than first class venues; but, to his credit, he kept on plugging, the perpetually optimistic Comeback Kid, just one hit record away from regaining his rightful place in the Big Time.

Ironically, how right he was. Had he hung on a few more years beyond his 2001 passing, he could have resumed his path to multiverse domination. Late last year, his recording of Allen Toussaint's "Here Come the Girls", from the 1970 Janus LP,
Ernie K-Doe, was used in a popular commercial in the UK and became a hit single there. Because of that, more than 35 years after it first came out, the album was re-issued on CD. His regal widow, Antoinette, who is now always accompanied on official business by a bewigged, dressed out K-Doe mannequin, and fans had a fine release party for the occasion; but would that the actual Ernie could have been around to do a victory lap and bring it all full circle. Life, death, and certainly the music business, just ain't fair. But, at least, he didn’t have to deal with Katrina. . . .

Today's rare find is something else, done much later in the game when the singer was in his 50s, and quite unlike anything else he committed to vinyl. It should have had more commercial impact; but, by the late 1980s release date, the 7" 45 rpm record was already an artifact of old technology - almost everybody was selling and buying their music on cassette tapes and the new marvel, CDs . So, as a marketing move, this single was dead in the water from jump - tragic, because, amazingly, it was one of K-Doe's few recordings that ever edged close to the feel and appeal of his whirling dervish, anything can happen, live performances.

Credit has to be given to Milton Batiste, also departed, who co-wrote the tunes with K-Doe and produced this single and most all of K-Doe's later recordings for his Olympia Music and DuBat companies. Batiste was a trumpeter and co-leader of the Olympia Brass Band for many years; and after producing and recording singles and albums for the band, he branched out to record other local talent, including K-Doe, who he also managed (as much as anyone could). With a strategy of just letting K-Doe be K-Doe, Batiste oversaw a number of solid sessions with the singer - but none were more quirky and intense than the sides of this 45, starting off with "Jump Into Your Love".



"Jump Into Your Love" Mr. Ernie K-Doe and the Olympia Music Company, Syla 120, ca 1989
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From jump, the full-tilt groove of this mover and shaker careens back and forth on a bucking backbone of bass and drums, while the horns, probably Batiste's arrangement, spew the hooky central riff in a fusillade of blows and jabs nearly drowning out the hot, processed lead guitar. K-Doe rides this runaway rave-up with the confidence of a seasoned champ, not so much singing as rhythmically vocalizing with an abundance of attitude and joyous abandon. With shouts, screams, giggles, and random asides, he freely embellishes his Drano-gargling delivery of the scant lyrics, a mix of obvious (and oblivious) innuendo with mangled nursery rhyme verses ("Little Miss Muffin, sittin' on a tuffin ....."). There should be a warning that K-Doe's enthusiasm is wicked infectious, and giving in to the sheer frenzy of it all will very likely induce the electrocuted money dance and result in your ending up a tangled, breathless heap on the floor. Strangely, Ernie's "Burn, K-Doe, Burn" vibe was never fully exploited in the studio, and shows up even his hits as pretty tame affairs. In a just world, it should have propelled him back into the spotlight like a cannon shot. But, like I said, . . . at least he missed the flood.



"Do You Want Some"
Mr. Ernie K-Doe and Bayou Renegade, Syla 121, ca 1989
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Then, there's "Do You Want Some", which K-Doe turns into far more than just a suggestive musical question. It's a linear, fairly generic, funk groove. But lyrically, Ernie is again left wholly to his own spontaneously free-associating devices, providing much bizarro spunk to the track, as he issues forth an off the hook series of lustful entreaties and vocal effects, including several blood curdling screams, with the one at around 1:08 making James Brown sound like a nancy -boy. Good gawd, indeed. As if the soft-core trashiness needed reinforcement, they mix in a woman's voice emitting sounds of arousal to Ernie's over-the-top come-ons. Nice touch. Not only should there have been video - but you get a sense that Ernie could have had a lucrative second career in porn movie soundtracks.

Backing him on this amazing and hilarious adventure in sleaze are Bayou Renegade, a/k/a the Bayou Renegades, a group headed by, I believe, guitarist June Victory, who recorded the original version of their Mardi Gras wild-thang , "Down On The Bayou", for Milton Batiste back around that same time. Within a few years, Batiste issued these two sides along with a batch of reworked K-Doe hits and a few covers on a K-Doe CD with the daunting title, I'm Cocky But I'm Good Just Standin' On Top Of Da ' World. In the mid-1990s came another CD, Fever!, produced by percussionist Ken 'Afro' Williams (a member of Chocolate Milk) for Batiste's DuBat label, a mixed bag of cover tunes and new material, highlighted by K-Doe's haunting vocal on "Only 11 Roses". Various tracks from those CDs have since been recycled on several compilations of his later work, including The Best Of Ernie K-Doe, where you'll find both "Jump Into Your Love" and "Do You Want Some".

I've had these two tracks for years on CD; but, until I discovered the single, I never listened to them closely or realized that they came from what was the last 45 Ernie K-Doe made. The fact that it really is a revelation of what could happen in the studio when K-Doe didn't hold back (didn't have anything to lose?) gives this plastic piece of the past an intrinsic value far beyond price lists and auction bids, affording new insight into one of New Orleans' most eccentric and enduring entertainers. Long may he burn.

August 10, 2008

No Magic Wand For Earl King

Here's another New Orleans rarity that, like the previously posted Johnny Moore (Deacon John) 45, came out on the Wand label, based in New York. Wand issued a number of singles by New Orleans artists between 1966 and the mid-1970s, leasing virtually all of those tracks from various production companies in the Deep South - in this case, Sansu Enterprises.

It features the great
Earl King, performing artist, producer, and, most significantly, one of the Crescent City's best songwriters for five decades until his passing in 2003. While Earl often favored a funky, soulful blues style when he performed and recorded his own stuff, he wrote many different kinds of pop and R&B for diverse local artists including Professor Longhair ("Big Chief"), Willie Tee ("Teasin' You"), Lee Dorsey, and the Dixie Cups. And, of course, his classics have been covered by Jimi Hendrix, Robert Palmer, Boz Scaggs, and Levon Helm, to name but a few. Until I ran across this DJ copy for sale online last year, I didn't know the record existed, although it is listed in various Wand discographies, as I've since learned.

Produced in 1970 by the principals of Sansu, Allen Toussaint and his business partner, Marshall Sehorn, the tunes on this single were part of an album project of all original material by Earl King, Street Parade, ably backed by Sansu's versatile, house band, the Meters. Sehorn got Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records interested in the album early on, hoping to place it with the company for national release. At the time, Toussaint and Sehorn were raising funds to build their own recording studio, after the demise of Cosimo Matassa's famous operation due to insolvency and IRS seizure. In Bill Dahl's notes to the
Fuel 2000 CD re-issue of Street Parade, King related that Sehorn was trying to get a substantial advance for the album from Atlantic to help secure a large bank loan for construction; but Wexler would only agree to releasing the LP without any up-front payment. Sehorn refused to budge from his demands; and the deal broke down.

As a result, very few of King's songs from those sessions ever saw the light of day back then. Until I found this Wand single, the only song from the Sansu sessions that I knew had been released was the title track, which I wrote about back in
January of this year. It came out in 1970 on Kansu, a small side imprint run by Toussaint and Sehorn. As I've recently discovered, Sansu also leased four sides to Wand, which appeared on two singles: 11230 "Tic Tac Toe" b/w "A Part Of Me"; and 11232 "Mama & Papa" b/w "This Is What I Call Living". Wand, for whatever reasons, was unable to help make the magic happen; and the few copies that were issued got undeservedly consigned to near oblivion, forgotten for so many years.



"Tic Tac Toe" (Earl K. Johnson)
Earl King, Wand 11230 A, 1970

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Although Charly and, later, Fuel 2000 and Aim released the Street Parade sessions on CD, "Tic Tac Toe" was not included (at least with that title and those lyrics - read on), nor has it ever been digitally re-issued, as far as I can tell. While listening to the single for the first time, I recognized something familiar about the backing track; and, going to my Fuel 2000 CD, I found that the accompaniment appears there under another title, "Do the Grind", with completely different lyrics. Interestingly, both versions are about dances. Though neither one is outstanding lyrically, King's vocal on "Do the Grind" seems to flow better with the funkiness of the Meter's backing, making me wonder why they didn't release that one. You'll have to find a digital copy to see what I mean.

Of course, on a song with as great a groove as this, worrying about the vocal is a trivial pursuit at best. Toussaint's arrangement here and elsewhere on the album project took advantage of the Meters' natural propensity to funk; and they didn't disappoint. It sounds as if the basic rhythm track was Zig Modeliste breaking it up on drums, with George Porter, Jr. on bass and Leo Nocentelli on guitar doing some rather simple (for them!) patterns. I don't hear a keyboard at all. Topping off the track were the typically tasty horn charts Toussaint layered in, which added some melodic supporting hooks and rhythmic counterpoint. Personally, I feel the horns were mixed a bit too far back on the single. They are much more prominent on the remastered CD version, "Do the Grind". Still, this is a fun track to listen and move to, even if the instructions for doing the dance lose me: "You make a tic with your left foot and a tack with your right. You dribble up on your toe. Pull your knees in tight." About the only part of that I could do would be the dribbling on my toe. It's a guy thing, and not at all suitable for the dance floor. So, let's move on. . . .




"A Part Of Me" (Earl King Johnson)
Earl King, Wand 11230 B, 1970
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Every breath you take. Every little step you take. . .

Hmmmm, I think Sting owes Earl King some royalties. Seriously, though, "A Part Of Me" is a great ballad with an effective performance from Earl and the band (with Art Neville probably on the organ), and a nice, no-frills arrangement by Toussaint - love the way that little intro grabs me. The song was originally recorded by Johnny Adams, as "Part Of Me", for the local Watch label in 1964, written and produced by King and arranged by Wardell Quezergue, and was a local hit, also doing well in New York City. Of course, no one could match Adams' smooth delivery, which leaped so effortlessly into the falsetto; but I actually prefer King's own version with Toussaint's deft, subtle restructuring. Also a part of Sansu's ill-fated project, this was probably the most straightforward song of the lot, and is about as subdued as you will ever hear the Meters.

I have no information about where these tracks were recorded. Again, this was a time when New Orleans did not have adequate recording facilities, which led Sansu to use studios in Atlanta, Macon, GA, and elsewhere for some of their projects. Wherever recorded, the sound on this 45 and the CD re-issues is very good. I highly recommend your picking up Street Parade, as there are some great songs and playing throughout, much of it quite rhythmic and well out on the funky side. The high quality of the project makes it all the more tragic that Earl King, through no fault of his own, lost an excellent shot at getting some national recognition for his efforts, merely due to a bad business decision that was completely beyond his control.