Two More From Toussaint
Oh well, another month is about shot; and my reach once again has exceeded my grasp. So much to post, and very little time to do it. And, of course, who can do anything when the Saints are playing, except gnaw our nails up to our elbows. WHO DAT? They pulled it out last night.
As promised, I've got a couple of more tunes written and arranged by Allen Toussaint to toss in here. Not exceptionally rare, but not often heard, either. Maybe after Mardi Gras rolls I can get to some of the more obscure items. But the backlog is fierce.
Lee Dorsey's Unemployment Report
"Gotta Find A Job" (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey, Amy 974, 1967
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Found on the flip side of "Rain Rain Go Away" (which can still be heard at The Singing Bones), from Lee Dorsey's seventh single for Amy, "Gotta Find A Job" still has valid socio-economic implications that we all can relate to; plus, it's full of memorable hooks crafted by Toussaint to keep the tune circling back on itself like some hip music box mechanism. The elementary, catchy melody, delivered with Dorsey's usual charm, the locked-in groove, and repeating instrumental patterns foster an illusion of perpetual motion that encourages you to hit "play" again at the fade. While the exact line-up of players is unknown, the irresistible backbeat drum pocket was probably provided by June Gardner, with Walter Peyton on bass, Deacon John Moore on one of the two guitars (unless he overdubbed the other part), plus Nat Perilliat and Carl Blouin on saxes, and Clyde Kerr on trumpet. At least, they were among the regulars at Toussaint sessions of the era, as this one pre-dated the hiring of the Meters as his studio band by about a year.
Not a big seller for Dorsey, "Rain Rain Go Away" was similar in its arrangement and feel to Dorsey's earlier hit, "Get Out My Life Woman", an often used ploy to get repeat customers for a popular artist. But, I prefer sides such as "Gotta Find A Job" that stand out because they don't sound quite like anything else the artist and/or writer has done, and have something freshly unique about them. To my admittedly warped mind, Toussaint was at his best on his job(s) when he was playfully creative and not calculating. That's the kind of material on which he and Lee did their best work together - and, lucky for us, they did a lot of it.
Other HOTG posts on Lee Dorsey:
When Lee Met Allen
Ya Ya's In La La Land
Lee Gives As Good As He Gets
I Sure 'Nuff Like It
One Another. . .
Hangin' with Night People
Betty Rides With The Meters
"Ride Your Pony" (Naomi Neville)
Betty Harris, 1968
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Originally released on Sansu 480, here's an example of Toussaint's recycling of a song done by one of his artists for the use of another - a tactic he employed numerous times over his career, without much commercial success, as far as I can tell. In this case, the revised version is in some ways superior to the original.
Of course, you fans of New Orleans music know that Lee Dorsey originally recorded "Ride Your Pony" for Amy in 1965, his first of 17 singles for the label underToussaint's supervision; and it was a big, top-ten hit for him. That success cemented a new partnership between Toussaint and record hustler Marshall Shehorn, who had gotten Dorsey his Amy deal, which was the start of their production company, Tou-Sea, which eventually transformed into Sansu Enterprises.
As much as I've always dug Dorsey's version, it sounds kind of tame and stripped down when compared with Betty Harris' harder hitting, more fleshed-out track, which I've grown to favor. The basic structure of the song and arrangement stayed the same on hers, with a few improvements: a change of chord progression in the second half of the chorus, some aggressive but sparingly used horns, and a different ride-out with female backup singers. Of course, by 1968, the Meters were Toussaint's regular session band; and all seem to be on this track except Art Neville. The keyboard work is definitely Toussaint's ; and his great Professor Longhair-style figures running through the song (another improvement) really help move it beyond Dorsey's version, which didn't even have a keyboard on it. Assuming that Zig Modeliste was on drums here, he played a pretty straight (for him) rock backbeat , but had his snare pops on the two and four hanging back just enough to give the groove a perfect pocket and a bit of syncopated push. George Porter, Jr.'s bass pumped steadily underneath, playing essentially the same basic ostinato riff as Leo Nocentelli's picked guitar, which mirrored Tossaint's original arrangement. And, finally, let's not overlook Betty Harris herself, whose vocal smoked and lent just the right gritty flavor to a song ostensibly about a dance, but really about another kind of pony riding altogether.
The audio featured here is taken from the Charly LP, In the Saddle, a 1980 compilation of her work with Toussaint on Sansu. The single is a killer combo and hard to find (in decent shape), having the exceptionally soulful and funky "Trouble With My Lover" as the top side, which I featured in the early days of HOTG. Harris recorded a lot of awesome Toussaint material* for Sansu during her too brief ride; and it has always seemed unfair for both of them that nothing really ignited commercially for all the intense heat produced. Would that Betty could have stayed in the saddle longer.
*If you can find it, the West Side CD, Soul Perfection Plus, now out of print, compiled all of Harris' Sansu and earlier Jubille material. And the Aim CD, Betty Harris The Lost Soul Queen, is essentially the same package.