Based on the premise that the true Home of the Groove, at least on the North American landmass, is the irreplaceable musical and cultural nexus, New Orleans, Louisiana, this audioblog features rare, hard to find, often forgotten, vintage New Orleans-related R&B and funk records with commentary. Some general knowledge of N.O. music is helpful here, but not required to get your groove on. Hear the affiliated webcast at HOTG Internet Radio.
Former resident of Memphis, TN, where I did a volunteer weekly radio show called "New Orleans: Under the Influence" from 1988 to 2004 on WEVL 89.9 FM. I've been collecting this kind of music (& others) much longer.
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QUOTES OF NOTE:
"New Orleans is of such key importance to American music because historical factors combined to make it the strongest center of
African musical practice in the United States, and, cliches aside, that practice really did travel up the Mississippi and did
spread overland." - Ned Sublette, from Cuba And Its Music
"I heard a group called Huey Smith & the Clowns, out of New Orleans. Now this is where funk was really created! That's where funk originated....
I couldn't understand how to do it, so this drummer from Huey Smith's band [Hungry Williams] showed me how to play [it]." - Clayton Fillyau,
drummer for Etta James and James Brown, on the origins of the 'James Brown Beat', in The Great Drummers Of R&B, Funk & Soul, interviewed by Jim Payne.
"A lot of those New Orleans drummers would come through, and I got a lot of stuff from those guys....Tenoo [Coleman] was...as funky as any of them.....
I learned some of that funk by listening to Tenoo." - John 'Jabo'Starks, drummer for Bobby Bland and James Brown, to Jim Payne as above.
"At the risk of sounding egotistical, a lot of the broken up stuff that these guys are playing now stems from the stuff that I had started doing." -
Earl Palmer, on his early days drumming with Dave Bartholomew's band, to Jim Payne, as above.
"With funk, it's almost more what you don't play than what you do play. I like those long silences between riffs,
I like the empty spaces. Those empty spaces, when you stop and let the groove wash all over you, make the
difference between fake funk and real funk." -Art Neville in The Brothers Neville
"Thank the good Lord for the funk musicians." -Jon Cleary ("Pin Your Spin")
"Without New Orleans, there would be no America." -Keith Frazier, Rebirth Brass Band, 2005.
"....don't be fooled. This city is deeply wounded. I'd say it's like an amputee
with phantom memory." -David Freedman, WWOZ, post-Katrina.
"If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom."
-Judy Deck, in an e-mail to Chris Rose at the Times-Picayune
"I'm not finished!" - Wardell Quezergue's final comment of the night after accepting the 2008 Best of the Beat
Lifetime Achievement In Music Award from Offbeat
"I discovered New Orleans along the way, and that made a big difference - It loosened me up." - Richie Hayward, the late drummer for Little Feat.
When we were in New Orleans two weekends ago for my step-daughter's graduation from Loyola (we're proud - and relieved!), my wife and I got a chance to go out that Saturday night and catch a tribute to saxophonistAlvin 'Red' Tyler, a free event at the Contemporary Arts Center put on by theNew Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. Red, who passed away in 1998, was a talented, dependable constant on the local R&B and jazz scenes in town for some 50 years and was definitely overdue for some formal props. While living, this solid, humble gentleman was probably too much taken for granted, even overlooked, in his own hometown, not being a showboater, but rather a genuine ensemble player even as a leader of his own groups and on sessions. But the musicianship he displayed was always first rate. So, the high quality of performances presented that night at the CAC and the admiration and respect shown for Red certainly went a long way in making up for the 11 year delay in honoring him postmortem for his many accomplishments.
The evening was divided into music segments highlighting his R&B and rock 'n' roll session work as well as his long-time devotion to jazz. These were separated by discussions about and remembrances of Red by people who knew him well, such as jazz vocalistsGermaine Bazzleand Ed Perkins, legendary musician and educator,Harold Battiste, and author, filmmaker, radio host andBreath Of Lifeblogger, Kalamu ya Salaam. Things began with a brief audio/visual overview of Tyler's career. Then the musicians took the stage. Performing over the course of the concert segments were a top of the line aggregation including drummersAlbert 'June' GardnerandJohnny Vidacovich, bassistsChris SeverinandGeorge French, saxophonists Roderick Paulin andThaddeus Richard, trumpet master Clyde Kerr, Jr., guitaristSteve Masakowski, and musical director of the program, pianistDavid Torkanowski(who also surprisingly got up during the rock 'n' roll segment and blew some pumpin' baritone sax!). Bazzle and Perkins also sang with the band, as did French; and all were outstanding. Most definitely, it was a memorable show that I'm glad we could attend. My thanks toDavid Kunianof WWOZ for hipping me to the tribute and suggesting that I do a post about Red. Duly inspired, I am more than glad to oblige.
STARTING NEAR THE TOP
FromHarold Battiste's bio on Tyler in the well-done booklet included in his limited edition, four LP retrospective box set, New Orleans Heritage Jazz 1956 - 1966, I learned that Red did not play an instrument until he returned home from the service in the late 1940s, but had been fascinated by music since childhood, particularly jazz from brass bands to Earl Hines. Like many other musically inclined young WWII-era ex-enlisted men, Tyler used his GI-bill benefits to attend Grunewald School of Music on Camp Street in New Orleans. There he quickly learned the rudiments of the saxophone along with theory and arranging. In fact, Tyler said his studies and instrumental abilities came almost too easily for him. Soon after completing his courses, he was given the chance to play in the Clyde Kerr Band, which also allowed him entry into the musicians union. Clyde Kerr, Sr., an influential local musician and educator whose son later played regularly with Tyler, had a band full of serious players; and the experience of performing live in that company surely pushed Red to continually improve his skills. Union membership gave him the opportunity for other gigs and even some work on the road. Then, in 1949, he caught a real break when drummer Earl Palmer recommended him toDave Bartholomewwho had one of the most popular big bands in town. They were playing jazz and swing when Red joined, but soon began backing R&B singers such asTommy Ridgleyand Jewel King. Lew Chudd of Imperial Records had recently come to town and hired Bartholomew to scout local talent and produce records for the Los Angeles-based label; and, using his own impressive band, Dave began doing sessions on Ridgley, King, and the then unknown Fats Domino atCosimo Matassa's first studio, a small room (10 x 12!) in the back of his record store, J&M Music Shop, on Rampart Street. That put Red in on the ground floor of the emergent New Orleans recording scene.
Those were exceptional times; and Tyler was off on a whirlwind of recording activity. In addition to tenor sax, he also played baritone, increasing his opportunities for horn section work, as more and more labels came to town to record and catch some that New Orleans magic. Much of the band on those early Imperial sessions became the core studio players in New Orleans R&B and rock 'n' roll for the next decade; and with them Red participated in countless sessions for various labels, backing Fats, Shirley and Lee, Lloyd Price, Little Richard, Professor Longhair, Paul Gayten , and Clarence 'Frogman' Henry, among so many others. What set those studio musicians apart was their ability to contribute creatively to each project, coming up with collaborative arrangements on the spot that gave the sides a fresh, innovative sound that helped change the face of popular music. Unfortunately, their arranging skills usually went uncompensated - but session work was plentiful and paid well enough that the players did not rock the boat to demand their due. Red was particularly gifted at those "head-arrangements" and was a valuable resource on most any session.
As Jeff Hannusch relates in The Soul of New Orleans, Cosimo Matassa referred Red toJohnny Vincent, owner of Ace Records, one of the first independent labels operating in New Orleans (though technically based in Jackson, MS). Vincent was looking for someone to oversee sessions and began using Tyler, who did a lot of work for the label in the later 1950s on an informal, ad hoc basis. After providing stealth production on records by the likes of Frankie Ford, Jimmy Clanton, Joe & Ann and even James Booker, in 1959 Red was given the chance to record his own instrumental LP for Ace, Rockin' and Rollin'. Vincent probably was spurred to do so by the success Tyler's frequent saxophone partner, Lee Allen, had with his 1958 single, "Walking With Mr. Lee", and album of the same title for Ember Records (which Red contributed to), plus Allen Toussaint, who had his 1958 instrumental debut LP on RCA, The Wild Sound of New Orleans by Tousan, and also utilized Red as a player and co-arranger/co-writer. Of course, there were plenty of other instrumental releases on the radio and in jukeboxes in those days by Bill Doggett, Ernie Freeman, Plas Johnson, and a host of others; and Red certainly had the chops to run in that company.
I've got several cuts up for auditioning and discussion from Red's own releases on Ace . But first, let's hear one ofJames Booker's sides that had Red's participation.
This was young Booker's third release on as many labels, having first recorded a single in 1954. at the ripe old age of 14, produced by Dave Batholomew for Imperial (#5293), and then one for Chess (#1637) in 1956, a duet with Arthur Booker [no relation], credited to Arthur and Booker and produced by Paul Gayten . When this 45 was made, Booker was still just 19 and the keyboardist inJoe Tex's touring band. Tex was based in New Orleans at the time and signed to Ace himself, doing rock 'n' roll more or less in the style of Little Richard. According to Hannusch in I Hear You Knockin', Tex suggested to Vincent that he record the always remarkable Booker; and a session was set up, probably with Tyler in charge. Supposedly, Booker was to do two versions of an instrumental he had written, with one side featuring him on piano and on the other side, organ, which he had not been playing all that long. That's how it was originally recorded. Before the 45 was mastered, however, Vincent seems to have had second thoughts and got Joe Tex to overdub a vocal on the A-side, "Open The Door". The resulting patch job, done in the days when overdubbing was a rather crude process at best, had Tex's vocal drowning out the band's instrumental backing, leaving Booker's piano hard to hear. The single was issued anyway, credited to Little Booker, which had also been the keyboardist's alias on Imperial. There was no mention of Tex on the label of "Open The Door". I've chosen to feature the more compelling flip side. Although it was Booker's first recording on organ, he really cut loose.
The appropriately titled, "Teen Age Rock" was a raucous little mover kicked off by Charles 'Hungry' Williams' seriously grooving solo drums. Frank Fields was on bass, Lee Allen on tenor sax, and Tyler on baritone. Booker hit the keyboard running, flashing some of his killer virtuosity and getting a great sound out the instrument. Not that anyone noticed at the time. I'm sure with the sonically impaired A-side, DJs dumped this record without even flipping it. Can't blame Red for that, though. Johnny Vincent was notorious for messing with perfectly good tracks. Hannusch relates that Booker took great offense when he heard what had been done and skipped out on his contract, soon leaving Tex's band, as well. A few years down the road, he got revenge of a sort, when he briefly wound up in Houston and recorded some fine instrumental organ sides for Don Robey's Peacock label; and, on the first release, the now classic"Gonzo"became a substantial hit on the R&B and pop charts. It would be Booker's only big record. Later in the 1960s, he recorded more organ numbers as part of Lloyd Price's instrumental project,This Is My Band. Booker had no more releases until 1976, when he made the solo piano LP,Junco Partner.
Meanwhile, as noted, Tyler recorded his own sessions as a featured instrumental artist for Ace in 1959, resulting in the release of two 45s and that LP I spoke of. While the music was not groundbreaking, Tyler cut a nice batch of mostly original tunes that were well-played and up to date contenders.
"Snake Eyes" (Tousant [sic] - Tyler) Alvin 'Red' Tyler, Ace 556, 1959
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There was some collaboration between Red Tyler and myself which was really terrific. He was really good at puttin' things together in the studio. He knew how the studio and recordings functioned so much better than I did at the time.- Allen Toussaint to Rick Coleman in the notes toThe Complete 'Tousan' Sessions(Bear Family).
Long a favorite of mine, this thing is an unrelenting roller-coaster ride of a tune. Both "Snake Eyes" and the flip side, "Walk On" were co-written with Allen Toussaint and were likely unused material worked up for Toussaint's solo LP project on RCA from the previous year, mentioned above. I say that because the songwriting credits for these in the BMI database, show Toussaint as 'Al Tousan'. The sides were also included on Tyler's Ace LP, Rockin' and Rollin', from 1960. As Tyler told Jeff Hannusch, the players on his solo sessions were 'June' Gardner on drums, Frank Fields on bass, Justin Adams, guitar, Toussaint, piano, and Rufus Gore on second tenor sax. Other likely players on some tracks were James Booker on organ and Melvin Lastie on cornet. Of course, Tyler played both tenor and baritone saxes - though not simultaneously - and was the featured soloist.
While I do not have Tyler's original LP, I do have a reproduction of sorts from the mid-1980s released by the mighty UK re-issue label, Ace (no relation), Rockin' & Rollin', featuring all of Tyler's LP tracks plus a few other selected sides he produced for the US Ace label by Albert Scott, Joe & Anne, and Calvin Spears. In 1998, WestSide in the UK released a CD,Simply Red, containing all of the original Ace album tracks plus some alternate takes (with notes by Hannusch). It came out shortly after Red passed away; and it's too bad Red was not around to experience more people discovering his work.
"Lonely For You" (Alvin O. Tyler) Alvin 'Red' Tyler, originally on Rockin' and Rollin', Ace 1006, 1960
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Also one of my favorite Tyler compositions, "Lonely For You" has that classic '50s minor key, film noir soundtrack feel that conjures up shady ladies, perpetually wet streets, and cigarette sucking private eyes investigating the gray areas of a black and white world. As I'venoted before here, I'm a sucker for that semi-sleazy musical vibe. Red did a nice arrangement on this; and June Gardner's drum work was effectively understated. During the period, Gardner played regularly with Tyler's jazz combo (Toussaint and bassist Peter 'Chuck' Badie were the other members) at the Joy Tavern, but would soon leave the city to join Sam Cooke's touring band, a gig he kept until Cooke's untimely death in 1964. Leo Morris (Idris Muhammad), who had been Cooke's drummer, briefly took Gardner's seat in Tyler's band, followed by Smokey Johnson.
In 1960, Vincent spun off a second Tyler 45 (#576), using tracks from the LP, "Happy Sax" and "Junk Village". But none of Red's Ace records sold all that well. He told Hannusch that he was too busy with sessions to do gigs to promote his singles - besides, when he wasn't recording R&B, he wanted to play jazz. By 1961, Red had left Ace, but continued his bread and butter session work for other labels. It was then that he was approached by Harold Battiste* with an invitation to join him and an outstanding roster of other African-American musicians who were starting up their own label, A.F.O. (All For One), to give themselves more creative control and better compensation for their recording work. Impressed by the idea and the people involved, many of whom were fine jazz players themselves, both Tyler and Badie signed on as founding members and began working with the other co-owners on various projects, recording Prince La La, Barbara George, Willie Tee, Oliver Morgan, Jimmy Jules, Wallace Johnson, Eddie Bo, and Mac Rebennack, among other. Meanwhile, Red revamped his Joy Tavern group, bringing in other members of the A.F.O. staff, drummer John Boudreaux, Harold Battiste on piano and alto sax, and Melvin Lastie on cornet. They called themselves the A.FO. Executives and had as their featured singer a young woman Red had discovered,Tami (a/k/a Tammy) Lynn, who performed a mix of jazz standards, show tunes, and R&B.
"Ol' Man River" (J. Kern) Tammy Lynn with The A.F.O. Executives, from New Orleans Heritage Jazz 1956-1966, 1976. Originally on A Compendium, A.F.O., 1963
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After playing together for several years and doing a bit of touring, the A.F.O. Executives recorded the album,A Compendium, in 1963 for their label. The LP contained many of their most popular nightclub numbers. "Ol' Man River" is an example of what they had to offer fronted by Lynn. It's a hip, syncopated swing arrangement that takes the tune far from Clichéville. Unfortunately for all involved, the label went under around that time, a result of a disastrous business deal involving the one big hit A.F.O. had, "I Know" byBarbara George, which was leased to Sue Records for national distribution. Sue principal, Juggy Murray, turned around and voided their contract out of the blue on a technicality and convinced George to sign with him, instead. The move deprived A.F.O. of it's major money-maker and closed the operation down in short order; and thus did a utopian music business dream dissolve. Disillusioned, the group hung together for a time and relocated to Los Angeles where Battiste had established contacts when he worked for Specialty Records and Sam Cooke. Those contacts allowed Battiste and some of the others, including Red, to do production, arranging and/or playing for Cooke's SAR label; but Tyler soon moved back home.
He started playing with pianist Ed Frank's band, but found session work less frequently in New Orleans. The recording business was changing - and where local R&B was concerned, not for the better. In the mid-1960s, Tyler, session guitarist/bassist George Davis, and Warren Parker started a production company, Par-Lo Enterprises. Their first major project was developing a song Davis and songwriter Lee Diamond had collaborated on, "Tell It Like It Is". They recruited singer Aaron Neville to record it; and the result seemed a sure-fire hit, except that they could not get any local or national record label to put it out. Undaunted, they decided to release it themselves on the Par-Lo label in 1966 and got Cosimo Matassa to handle it through his distribution company, Dover Records, which served many small labels. After giving popular local DJ Larry McKinley a cut of any publishing royalties, he started pushing the record; and it and caught fire around town, selling 40,000 in its first week of release, according to Jeff Hannusch. That amount of attention and demand caused the record to break in other markets and start climbing the charts, eventually becoming a #1 R&B record and #2 Pop, a crossover colossus that sold in excess of two million singles. Par-Lo/Dover rushed an LP out which also began selling. But....you may know the story here....in their success were the seeds of their demise. Dover was distributing the records as fast as possible, trying to keep up with demand, shipping them on credit to middlemen and retailers. When Neville's next few single failed to take off, things cooled off rapidly; and Dover could not collect much of the money it was owed or pay their record manufacturing bills. When the IRS came calling, Dover was unable to come up with taxes due, either. As a result, Matassa was bankrupt and had his asserts seized by the IRS, effectively taking down not only Par-Lo but many of the other poorly funded independent labels distributed by Dover. Soon, much of the recording business in the city had crashed. That chain-reaction implosion, plus the changing popular tastes brought on by the music of the British Invasion (much copied from New Orleans artists, ironically), dug a deep crater that only a few of the more stable local labels climbed out of. Things were never the same.
Also lost in the collapse was the second release on Par-Lo (#102), a fine instrumental featuring Davis on guitar backed by Tyler called "Hold On Help Is On the Way" that I featured inmy tribute to Davis last year. The demise of Par-Lo devastated the partners. For his part, Tyler looked around at the smoldering rubble of his recording livelihood and decided it was time to move on. He continued to play jazz in clubs, with June Gardner and others, but took a day job to support his family. His group, the Gentlemen of Jazz, played for many years around the city; and he began a long working relationship with jazz chanteuse, Germaine Bazzle. In the 1980s, when Rounder Records came to New Orleans to record classic artists such as Johnny Adams and Irma Thomas, Red began doing sessions for them. As a result, he had the opportunity to record two fine LP/CDs of his own for the label,HeritageandGraciously, backed mainly by members ofAstral Project, Johnny Vidacovich, Steve Masakowsk, David Torkanowski, and bassist James Singleton, a new generation of top notch jazz players in the city. After retiring from his job in the 1990s, Red devoted his time to playing jazz and touring as a part of Dr. John's horn section until 1998, when a heart attack took him at the age of 72.
Through the 1970s into the 1990s, Red and his group were regulars at Jazzfest; and it was there that I first saw him, in the late 1970s, one afternoon at my first Fest, when I ducked into the jazz tent to escape the rain and encountered something unexpected. I did not know of Red Tyler or Germaine Bazzle then; but, once in the tent, I could not leave, even as the rain shower stopped. Red impressed me so profoundly that day with his deep, calm demeanor and beautiful tenor sax tones. There was just something genuine and spiritual about that dapper cat - a true jazz Bodhisattva. I was an instant follower and made it a point to know more about him, back-tracking his amazing musical journey through my reading and growing collection of recordings. That whole festival was certainly a mindblower to me - but, 30 years on, I still remember that hour in the jazz tent most of all.
*Note - Harold Battiste headsThe AFO Foundation. At their site you can find out more about the organizations' activities and history and purchase CDs featuring their founding members and later generations of players. Please do!
As an arranger, songwriter and backing musician, Eddie Bo assisted a number of artists who were beginning or continuing their recording careers at Ric & Ron in the early 1960s, several of whom would go on to become big names in New Orleans R&B. Around this time last year, I featured one of Bo's early productions in a multi-song post. It was Robert Parker's first Ron single,"All Nite Long", a rockin', quirky two-parter from 1959. For additonal documentation, this time I’m featuring tracks byIrma Thomas,Johnny Adams, andTommy Ridgley, three of the greatest R&B/soul vocalists the city has engendered, plus notable sides by two lesser known artists, Warren Lee and Martha Carter. There may be nothing musically groundbreaking about any of these tunes; but, Bo’s work for Joe Ruffino’s labels was an opportunity for him to learn the ropes of studio arranging and production on his own projects as well as on those of other fine young talents. While there were hits and misses in that process, even the lesser tunes are enjoyable, and, I hope, provide some context in terms of his career. Oddly, one of his earliest collaborations as an arranger for another artist proved to be the most commercially successful.
"Don't Mess With My Man" (D. Labostrie) Irma Thomas, Ron 328*, 1960 (Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
In releasing this exceptional hit single, which was Irma Thomas' recording debut, Joe Ruffino took advantage of a slip-up by another new local label, Minit, owned by Joe Banashak and his silent partner, deejay Larry McKinley. Just 18 years old and already singing with Tommy Ridgley's band, Thomas had gone to an open talent audition Minit held in 1959, where she sang backed by a young pianist already working for the label,Allen Toussaint. While impressed by Irma, Banashak and McKinley did not commit to signing her on the spot, telling her they would be in touch. Disappointed, she told Ridgley what happened; and he soon arranged an audition for her with Joe Ruffino, who had recently added Ridgley to his Ric roster. The stars were in alignment, as not only did Ruffino want to record Irma immediately, he had the perfect song for her, the sassy, provocative "Don't Mess With My Man". The tune had been recently pitched to him by songwriterDorothy Labostrie, who had also just penned Johnny Adams' debut hit on Ric, "I Won't Cry". Irma’s session was set up at Cosimo's studio; and, as fate would have it, Ruffino gave the arrangement duties to another of his new Ric signees, Eddie Bo.
Probably recorded late in 1959, the single came out early in the new year with a Labostrie ballad, "Set Me Free", on the other side. Most likely, Bo was on piano, andMac Rebennack, who was Ruffino's right-hand man in those days, ran the session and played guitar; but the other fine players are less certain. With Bo's stop-time, pumping blues shuffle arrangement, a searing sax solo, and Irma's youthful, fetching vocal, "Don't Mess With My Man", a sly ode to marital double-dealing, became a local hit pretty much from the get-go. By May, it had broken nationally, rising to #22 on the R&B chart. When the action died down in a few months, Ruffino released a follow-up on Ron written and arranged by Bo, "A Good Man" (co-written with Thomas) b/w "I May Be Wrong". The top side was merely a rehash of her earlier hit, musically and lyrically, while the B-side was an exceptionally fine ballad, sung to perfection by Irma.I featured itback in 2006.
Her second Ron single played well locally, but didn't get much farther, even though Irma had been touring the South extensively on the strength of her first hit. Without a strong new single and feeling she had not been adequately compensated for her first substantial seller, Irma refused to do any more recording for the label. That allowed Minit to come back into the picture, with McKinley convincing Banashak to sign her around 1961. At Minit, Thomas began working under the direction of hot songwriter and producer Toussaint , and cut numerous classic sides with him, putting her on the path to becoming one of the great soul vocalists. But, strangely, those records did not result in much more than local and regional attention for her at the time. When Toussaint left for military service, Liberty Records bought out Irma's contract. She moved to Los Angeles and began recording for Imperial Records, which Liberty had recently acquired. That afforded Irma greater exposure and allowed her to get into the national charts again several times over the next couple of years. After she parted ways with Imperial, Irma had one more modest charter in 1967 while briefly signed with Chess Records; but none of her other singles gave her the boost of "Don't Mess With My Man" at the start of her career. Although she never did any studio work with Bo again after those early Ron singles, her performance at Eddie's memorial service a few weeks ago is evidence of her sense of gratitude to him.
*[Note: Many, if not all, of these red and black label Ron 45s are later pressings released after Joe Ruffino's death by his brother-in-law, Joe Assunto, who ran the One Stop Record Shop. The label for the original issue was yellow and black; and other stock Ron singles of this period had a pink and black label. It seems Assunto continued pressing some of the Ric and Ron popular sellers using the red and black Ron logo for quite some time after 1963. Besides "Don't Mess With My Man", the Mardi Gras favorites, "Carnival Time" by Al Johnson (originally on Ric) and Professor Longhair's "Go To The Mardi Gras" are often found in the red and back version. I would consider them re-issues. In addition, Assunto released unissued Ric recordings by Johnny Adams also using the red and black Ron logo around 1964. Read more about them later in this post. According to the R&B Indies, Assunto sold these post-Ruffino Ron singles exclusively at his store.]
WARREN LEE It's not always what's on a record that makes it a hit. It's what you got behind a record. You had to have money to get records played then. I didn't have connections and wasn't the kind of guy to sniff a deejay's behind to get mine played.- Warren Lee Taylor to Jeff Hannusch in The Soul of New Orleans
Another artist who started his recording career working with Eddie Bo on the Ron label, Warren Lee Taylor certainly did not ever become a household name, unless maybe your household has an avid New Orleans music collector in it. Although he made good records and wrote much of his material, he had no substantial hits in more than a decade of releases on various small labels. With that frustrating track record, you can see how he acquired the record business wisdom in the above quote. Had Jeff Hannusch not tracked him down within the last ten years and gotten his story, virtually nothing would be known about Mr. Taylor today.
In the late 1950s, as a guitarist and vocalist, Taylor fronted his own band at various clubs around the New Orleans area, and gained a reputation for his impressive showmanship. He knew and was influenced by many of the guitarists playing locally at the time, including Guitar Slim, Earl King and Roy Montrell. While scouting talent for Joe Ruffino, Eddie Bo heard Taylor one night in 1961 at the Dew Drop Inn, and told him that he had record-making potential. Taylor was interested; so Bo arranged a session for him at Cosimo's. Two of the singer's own tunes, "Unemployed" and "The Uh-Huh", became the A and B sides of his first single, released under the name of Warren Lee.
"Unemployed" tells the story of a hapless, out-of-work loser who get thrown in jail and can't even get his wife or mother-in-law to bail him out. Sporting the virtually ubiquitous Popeye shuffle groove of the period, it was a decent cut, but had nothing to really make it stand out, including Lee’s hangdog vocal and Bo’s low-key piano solo. The flip side, was a more upbeat dance number, but again had nothing really memorable going on. Still, the single did well enough locally for a second release to be worked up.
For that next single, Taylor collaborated with Bo and Mac Rebennack to come up with “Anna (Stay With Me)”, an answer record to Arthur Alexander’s hit, “Anna (Go With Him)”. Again credited to Warren Lee, the 45 came out on a new subsidiary label Ruffino had started, Soundex , and garnered Taylor more local attention and better paying gigs, but still did not break out too far beyond the city limits. At that point, his contract with Ron was up; and Bo probably had already left Ruffino's employ, as well. So, Taylor opted to move on to the newly formed Nola label, working with Wardell Quezergue on several singles. Then, in 1965, Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn picked up Warren for their new Sansu production company, releasing his singles on the Deesu, Tou Sea, and Wand labels over the next four years, with the material getting markedly funky once the Meters became the studio band. I featured one of his enjoyable pre-Meters Deesu sides,“Climb the Ladder”in 2005. As far as I can tell, Taylor did not work with Bo again, after his Ron days.
For more details on Warren Lee Taylor's story, including a discography, I recommend Larry Grogan's overview of his career at theFunky 16 Cornerswebzine; and, of course, Hannusch's profile on the singer in The Soul of New Orleans is essential, as well. TOMMY RIDGLEY
One of New Orleans' best R&B vocalists, Tommy Ridgley signed on with Joe Ruffino's Ric label shortly after Bo, having been a recording artist for about a decade by that time. In the late 1940s, he won a talent contest at theDew Drop Innand soon started singing professionally in local clubs, where he was spotted byDave Bartholomew, who was scouting talent for the Imperial label. Dave hired Tommy as a featured vocalist in his band and signed him to Imperial, as well. In late 1949, Ridgley and Jewel King, another Bartholomew find, cut their debut records for Imperial, and were the first of many New Orleans artists on the roster of the Los Angeles-based label. Tommy had number of fine records for Imperial over the next few years, with most doing well on the local level; but he did not have a national hit. He also had releases on King and Decca, followed by a brief stint with Atlantic, after Imperial dropped him. All the while, he continued to be a popular local entertainer in the clubs. In 1957, he signed with Herald Records out of New York City, releasing half a dozen singles, with a number of the sides being novelty tunes; but nothing broke big for him there either. Meanwhile, Tommy formed his own band, the Untouchables, who were very successful playing regionally and also backed big name artists who performed in town. When he and Herald parted ways for lack of hits, Joe Ruffino quickly recruited him.
Surely, Eddie Bo and Tommy Ridgley knew each other on the music scene prior to joining Ric; but I don't think they had worked together. From Tommy's comments about Bo's studio smarts quoted inmy prior post, it would seem that Eddie produced or arranged a number of sessions for Ridgley's eight singles on the label between 1960 and 1963; but there seems to be nothing definite to be found about which tunes Bo had a hand in. One that Bo would have obviously worked on, it seems to me, was the one he wrote.
"In The Same Old Way"(D. Johnson) Tommy Ridgley, Ric 984, 1961** (Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
According to Jeff Hannusch, "In The Same Old Way", written under Bo's nome de plume D(elores) Johnson, was Ridgley's most popular record for Ric; and it's easy to understand why, when you listen to it: simple structure; hip, uncomplicated arrangement; memorable melody; nice lyrics; and a vocal performance like butter. The changes are based on the repeated shift from the major chord to its relative minor for most of the song - a common device in in popular music upon which Bo built a quiet, uncomplicated tune that effectively sneaks up and grabs you with its catchy, instant familiarity. In the same old way, indeed. I've always dug this timeless song and feel that it is one of Eddie's best pop songwriting efforts.
The record, Ridgley's fourth on Ric, got a lot of radio play in New Orleans and sold well; but Ruffino refused to lease it to a larger company who could distribute it nationally - those trust and control issues again - and, thus, deprived Tommy of a chance at wider recognition. The flip side, "The Girl From Kooka Monga", a Ridgley-penned novelty number, had the Popeye groove going on, and, as the singer told Hannusch, was inspired by Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo". For the next single (#990), released early in 1962, Ruffino had Tommy cut a catchy Earl King song, "My Ordinary Girl"; but neither it nor "She's Got What It Takes" on the other side were very successful, with part of the cause likely due to Ruffino's first heart attack, which kept him from promoting the record.
Ridgley's final two singles for Ric, "Heavenly" b/w "I Love You Yes I Do (#993) and "I've Heard that Story Before" b/w "Honest I Do" (#994), were also victims of Ruffino's ill-health subsequent death, which closed down Ric for good by 1963. Likely, only a limited number were ever pressed; and promotion would have been virtually non-existent. It's hard to say if Bo had a hand in either of them; but I doubt it.
During the next few years, Tommy continued performing with his band and worked with Bo again on one-off singles for Cinderella and Bo's own Blue Jay and Ridge-Way imprints; and I'll cover more from Bo's mid-1960s period in the next installment. Although Tommy continued to record sporadically through the 1960s, and later in the 1970s, I don't think he and Eddie Bo ever collaborated in the studio again, either.
**[Note: Due to the noisy pressing quality of my 45, I've substituted the remastered version of this cut from Rounder's Ridgley LP compilation album, The New Orleans King of the Stroll, which featured many of his Ric sides. It's also available on CD and mp3.]
What little is known about Martha Carter comes via Jeff Hannusch's segment on her in his notes to Rounder's compilation CD,New Orleans Ladies: Rhythm and Blues from the Vaults of Ric and Ron***, which was also reproduced in his book, The Soul of New Orleans. From the city's Ninth Ward, she came into the world as Martha Nelson and grew up singing in church, that great proving ground for so many soul vocalists. In the late 1950s, when just 16, she got the attention of Oliver 'Nookie Boy' Morgan and joined his band. When Bo encountered her a few years later in a nightclub, Carter was still a teenager but singing with the Porgy Jones Band, tackling jazz numbers along with the popular R&B of the day. Impressed, Bo brought her to Ruffino, who immediately signed her to a recording contract in 1960. She sang back-up on Eddie's "Ain't It The Truth Now" (Ric 974) and was soon cutting her own first release. While in the Ruffino fold, she recorded four singles, all under Bo's supervision: three as Martha Carter (her married name), released on Ron, and one on Ric, as Martha Nelson.
Her first Ron single as Martha Carter (#336) from 1960 consisted of two Bo compositions, "Nobody Knows", a fairly straight-ahead pop R&B number, backed by an equally conventional, mid-tempo ballad, "I'm Through Crying", which was the side that got airplay. Though no fresh ground was broken, Carter's vocals showed promise and the single sold well in New Orleans and environs, encouraging Ruffino to green-light more sessions. The radio exposure also created a demand for Carter's live performances; and she frequently shared billing with Bo. For her next release, Ruffino wanted Martha to do an answer record toJoe Jones', "You Talk Too Much", which had recently come out on Ric (#972) and was the label's biggest seller. Jones' 45 would have probably broken big nationally, too; but he had recorded an earlier version of the hit for Roulette, who sued Ruffino once the Ric single started getting attention in other markets, stopping sales and distribution of the 45 for a time. They eventually forced Ruffino to give up the publishing royalties for the song and gained control of his master tape. Badly stung, Ruffino would thereafter deeply distrust dealings with outside companies; and his desire to do an answer record to "You Talk Too Much" hinged on commercial revenge, trying to cut into Roulette's sales and recoup some of his losses. Unfortunately, "I Don't Talk Too Much", which was issued on Ric 975 under Carter's maiden name late in 1960, did not have the intended effect and quickly faded after getting some local airplay and selling only moderately.
Next up, Bo and Carter went back into the studio that spring and cut two outstanding sides for Ron 339 (a hard record to find), "One Man's Woman", written by Bo, and "You Can If You Think You Can", from the pen ofHarold Battiste. Despite both songs being strong and highly danceable, the single did not have much commercial impact even locally for Carter; and she did not record again until 1962, when she cut what would be her final single.
For these sessions, Bo took Carter back to church, at least in spirit, with two of his own compositions. Both songs, "You Shall Not Be Moved" and this B-side, were inspired by bedrock gospel music, though the lyrics were thoroughly secularized. The arrangements were minimal; and Carter's vocals were serviceable, but not revelatory. Frankly, I don't think either the writer/arranger or performer were totally committed to this single. In fact, Bo was on the verge of leaving Ruffino's employ in a dispute over royalties due him; and Ruffino had already suffered one heart attack, leaving him unable to properly tend to his companies or artists. Though it's certainly not a bad record, I chose this cut mainly because it's the only Martha Carter 45 I own. If you get the chance, I highly recommend that you get both sides of her previous single to hear her and Bo at their best together. [*** All eight sides from her four releases can be found of the Rounder compilation mentioned above.]
Remarkably, Irma Thomas and Martha Carter were the only female recording artists on Ric or Ron, although a singer named Barbara Palms did one single for Ruffino's Soundex label late in the game. While Martha was no match for Irma, she held her own over the course of a very short recording career with Eddie Bo's assistance. Soon after Ruffino's death, Carter was forced to retire from performing and recording when an operation to remove polyps from her vocal cords failed, leaving her voice permanently impaired.
Meanwhile, even though Bo had already parted ways with the labels before they were effectively shut down after Ruffino's demise, at least one more record he was involved with did get a limited release on Ron.
Certainly one of the finest vocalists ever to come out of the Crescent City, then gospel singer Johnny Adams began his recording career when songwriter Dorothy Labostrie convinced him to take up secular music and sign on with Joe Ruffino's Ric Records in 1959. Mac Rebennack arranged, supervised and sometimes wrote a number of Johnny's releases; and, according to Jeff Hannusch , Eddie Bo was in charge of other sessions over the course nearly a dozen singles Adams made for the label. I assume that Bo would have at least arranged and/or produced the tracks he wrote, as it seems to make sense; but there is no definite documentation to verify exactly who worked on many of those records. In 2007, I featured one of those Bo songs, Johnny's final Ric release,"Tra-La-La"; and you can read about it and Adams' history with Ric via that link.
As he had done with Tommy Ridgley, Ruffino's brother-in-law, Joe Assunto, released two more singles on Adams with material recorded for Ric that had remained unissued due to Ruffino's sudden passing late in 1962. Again, according to the R&B Indies, Assunto sold those records, which had a red and black Ron label but used the Ric numbering sequence, exclusively through his One Stop Record Shop; and the first of them contained another Eddie Bo composition.
"I Want To Do Everything For You"(D. Johnson - J. Ruffino) Johnny Adams, Ron 995, ca 1964 (Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
This single contained the impressively sung waltz-time ballad "Lonely Drifter" on top, backed by our featured track, which had a fairly standard-issue R&B song structure and arrangement, including piano triplets, likely played by Eddie himself. Delivered by another singer, this song wouldn't have had much to offer; but the sheer power and high quality of Adams' phenomenal voice makes for a fine listening experience that brings out the full intent of Bo's devotional lyrics.
Meanwhile, I don't think Bo had anything to do with Adams' other post-Ruffino Ron single (#996), "Coming Round the Mountain" b/w "Cold Cold Heart" (a Hank Williams tune!). Eddie would work with the singer only once more, a single project released on the Gone label in 1964, which we will take up in the next installment. It's really too bad that Eddie and Johhny did not get to do more together over the years, as I think Adams could definitely have taken some of Bo's better material to the heights. ******* For the next few weeks, I'm going to take a Bo-break to get back to some other music I've wanted to feature for a while now; but I will return to the path of Bo-consciousness and move the discussion and musical selections into the mid-1960s. So, as always, stay tuned. And thanks for sticking around. I appreciate your patience, as I've spent most of my free time for the last month or more in New Orleans at the festivals and also celebrating the graduation of our daughter from college this past weekend!