February 13, 2012

Feel Good Music

With just a week to go until Mardi Gras, it’s high time for some more seasonal music short takes here; and, starting this Friday on the HOTG webcast* Carnival themed and flavored music will once again be streaming 24/7 until Ash Wednesday. So feel free to listen in and catch some more spirit, especially if your particular patch of the planet doesn’t normally (?) celebrate this season of indulgence.

*[Update: Friday, Feb 17 - The musical Carnival cruise is now fully engaged and funkin'. Tune in and enjoy.]

Last weekend, my wife and I made our annual pilgrimage with friends to the Krewe du Vieux parade that rolls through the narrow streets of the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter, the first procession of the season. The weather was wonderfully warm and the rain abated just in time for the festivities to begin. As usual, the costumes went from weird to raunchy with plenty of just plain funny in between, and the range was the same for the mainly mule-drawn floats of the myriad sub-krewes with their creatively satirical/salacious variations on the event’s central theme, Crimes Against Nature, defaming politicians (as if they needed much help) and/or depicting various lewd acts or giant sized body parts that might be deemed obscene any other day of the year. You know, family entertainment. Let your imagination run wild and free........

The effect of these shenanigans on mental and physical well-being is a judgement call, I guess, which, thankfully, we choose not to make this time of year, if ever...but, when you see what the rest of the human race is up to most days, one thing is clear. Dis beats dat!

And, of course, let's not forget that feel good music, as pointed out by the Meters once upon a rejuvenation, is efficaciously beneficial to both body and soul. So, apply liberally.
Good Call

“They Call Us Wild” (Wilson Turbinton)
Wild Magnolias, from They Call Us Wild, Barclay, 1975
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

With They Call Us Wild, their second and final LP for French producer and label owner Philippe Rault, the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, under the leadership of straight-razor-voiced Big Chief Bo Dollis, completed their history-making collaboration with the project’s musical director, Willie Tee (Wilson Turbinton) and band. They had been working together since the start of the decade on the fusion of the Wild Magnolias’ variations on highly percussive, traditional MG Indian songs with the poly-rhythmic instrumentation of funk. They recorded two landmark local singles and the two LPs that brought it all to the world, creating some fine new songs in the process, like this title track by Tee, and changing the local musical landscape forever.

The union fittingly completed a circle, a mini-yuga (metaphor courtesy of yet an even more ancient tradition of Indians), if you will, in which the rhythms of the backstreet black Indian culture in the city became a foundational influence on the emergence of funky beats in the city's popular music. It all comes back around.

Read more on what all the well-deserved hoopla was and is about at the links found on last year's Carnival post featuring another cut from this album.

Partying Up In The City With Mr. Earl

“Mardi Gras Party (Pt 1)” (Earl King)
Timothea, Grand Marshall 102, 1984
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Soul and blues chanteuse Timothea Beckerman’s musical energy and enthusiasm may have outstripped her vocal ability at times, but that only made her a better entertainer; and, as does good whiskey, her smokey singing voice improved with age. By the time she passed away way too young in 2006, she had several worthy, self-released albums to her credit with musical backing by some the best players in and out of town.

Unfortunately, this rather muddled recording did not showcase her voice to advantage, putting it too far back in the mix, and compounding that fault by applying some electronic processor to her singing that only made it sound more ill-defined. Still, the single itself is worthy of note for it’s relative rarity and who her co-conspirator was on the project. Not to mention that it still grooves.

It was Timotheas’s friend, the legendary Earl King (heard saying “awright” on the intro) who wrote the tune, arranged the session, played piano and tambourine on it, and co-produced the whole shebang. As I have learned from the session details on the back of the decorative record sleeve, other players included Paul Henahan on drums, Steve Nelson on percussion, Dave Renson on guitar, and bassist Jeff Cardarelli, with Paula Rangell on sax, and Wes Mix and Leroy Derby on trumpets.

Though it obviously was a quick, low-budget project, the song’s potential to be a happy addition to the Mardi Gras song list can be heard in its catchy central riff and “Willie and the Hand Jive” meets the second line groove. Had the quality been upped a notch or two, or had Earl recorded the song himself at some point, there probably would have been more prominence for this particular Mardi Gras Party music.

I just found this single last week while going through a shed full of records in New Orlean; and it's the first one I’ve seen, although a few years back I picked up its immediate predecessor, Grand Marshall 101, also from 1984* and featuring Timothea doing two other compositions by Earl, who co-produced them with George Porter, Jr. Those tracks show off her voice to much better advantage; and I’ll have to feature the 45 at some point down the line. I believe there was one more single in this series, also produced by Earl. [Update, thanks to Jon at the NevilleTracks blog for verifying that single to be Grand Marshall 103, produced by Earl along with Art Neville (!), with the feature track, "No Leftovers No Hand Me Downs".] So, I’ll keep digging.

*Notably, the year of the semi-disastrous New Orleans World’s Fair.

“Mardi Gras In the City” (Earl King)
Earl King, from Glazed, Black Top, 1986 

Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
Just two years after those Timothea records, Earl made his big career comeback, recording his Glazed album with Roomful of Blues for the up and coming Black Top label (“Paving The Way To Your Soul”) in New Orleans, distributed nationally by the influential roots music purveyor, Rounder Records.

At the time, Rounder had begun to focus on the city in a big way and, mainly through the efforts of esteemed producer Scott Billington, was in the process of jump-starting the faltering careers of many of the city’s best artists, such as Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, Wolfman Washington, and Chuck Carbo, and helping to launch some younger acts, too, by giving them the opportunity to record outstanding new albums. Without doubt, along with Jazzfest, Rounder and Black Top were responsible for bringing public attention back to the musical riches of the Crescent City and environs, and invigorating the local recording and performing scene in the process.

Earl had a history with writing and recording Mardi Gras songs, having composed “Big Chief” in his youth, which became an often-covered seasonal standard after Professor Longhair recorded it for Watch in 1964. Earl co-produced that session with arranger Wardell Quezergue, and did the vocal, as well. Around 1970, he wrote and recorded “Street Parade”, an obscure Mardi Gras classic 45 on the Kansu label that at the time was one of three commercially released singles resulting from sessions Earl did for producer Allen Toussaint with backing by the Meters. The other two appeared on Wand.

As we learned above, he tried his luck again with “Mardi Gras Party”, but technical issues on Timothea's record put it in a trick bag for keeps. Then he cut “Mardi Gras In the City” for his Black Top debut. The LP was blessed to have a decent budget and no-nonsense production by label co-owner Hammond Scott, who hooked Earl up with the powerhouse New England blues big-band, Roomful of Blues, for the sessions. What the band lacked in true New Orleans funky grit, they made up for with impeccable playing and deep musical intuition, making it seem like they had been backing Earl for years.

More From Mardi Gras Weekend, 1978....

“Her Mind Is Gone” (Roy Byrd)
Professor Longhair. from The Last Mardi Gras, Atlantic, 1982
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

I featured this track five years ago and think a replay is in order. It’s not a Carnival song per say, but was captured live at Tipitina’s on the Friday or Saturday night before Fat Tuesday, 1978. Longhair, the patron saint of New Orleans funkitude, originally recorded and frequently performed two of the greatest Mardi Gras standards, his own “Mardi Gras In New Orleans" (a/k/a “Go To the Mardi Gras” and King’s “Big Chief”. You can get all the details on this performance from that prior post.

As I said last year, when I featured another cut from the album, without a doubt The Last Mardi Gras is the best live recording of Fess with a band, bar none - and the story of how it came about is pretty amazing in itself.

Special Delivery Funk

“Blackbird Special” (Dirty Dozen)
Dirty Dozen Brass Band, from My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, Concord Jazz, 1984
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Just ain’t Mardi Gras without some cookin’ brass band grooves goin' on. So how about a track from the Dirty Dozen’s first LP, released on Concord Jazz in the year of the World’s Fair. [I just realized that I featured this cut back in 2010. My mind is gone, too, Fess. Oh, well, it's a good 'un.]

By no means was it a disastrous year for New Orleans music, though, as this album was the first official declaration of the brass band resurgence that the Dozen had been stirring up out in the streets for the prior five years or so, and which continues to this day with so many bands on the scene who were inspired by these creative, highly skilled and dynamic blowers.

Produced by legendary music promoter and festival impresario George Wein with assistance from Jazzfest’s own mover and shaker, Quint Davis, Feet opened many doors for the Dirty Dozen, and they ran hard with every opportunity, becoming the new brass band movement’s first and biggest ambassadors, making countless converts with the sheer power, scope and agility of their funk.

For some great inside background on the Dirty Dozen, read my interview with co-founder Roger Lewis.

Doin’ The Slow Boogie Roll

“Hey Pocky A-Way” (Nocentelli - Porter -Neville -Modeliste)
Idris Muhammad, from House of the Rising Sun, Kudu/CTI, 1976
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

I featured a cut from this great LP by master drummer Idris Muhammad just over seven years ago, in the early days of the blog. I had been planning to get to another one sooner, but, ya know, I kind of got distracted....

Formerly known as Leo Morris when Art Neville recruited him as a teenager to play drums for the Hawketts - they were from the same 13th Ward neighborhood - Muhammad has gone on to have an amazing career grooving with the greats of R&B, soul and jazz around the globe. Through it all, he always stayed close to his hometown rhythmic roots and influences, getting his earliest inspiration from brass band bass drum beats and Mardi Gras Indian tambourines out on the streets, and learning much from other local players such as Paul Barbarin, Earl Palmer, Ed Blackwell, Smokey Johnson, and John Boudreaux, to carry forward . But he tells it much better in this interview I referred to in that old post. Vital reading for all rhythm hounds.

I’ve long loved the hip insouciance of his take on the Meters’ classic, “Hey Pockey A-Way”. Killer groove; and the playing is topnotch all around with Eric Gale funkin’ it up on bass, Hugh McCracken on guitar, pianist Don Grolnick, and horn soloists, George Young (sax) and the J.B.’s Fred Wesley (trombone). Frank Floyd did the lead vocal.

By the way, I never did pick up that CD re-issue of this album I mentioned way back, which I should have, since I've always wanted to hear the remastered tracks - oddly, the drums sound somewhat boxy and muffled on the vinyl version, which is a rather serious oversight on an album by a drummer’s drummer. It would be great to hear them with more clarity.

Be that as it may (and it just might), this track still serves well to liberate mind and booty, so you can get way loose low down and shake what your mama gave ya all Mardi Gras day and beyond. Turn it up and get carried away....


Anonymous Jipes said...

Great review for being set-up for Mardi Gras Time Dan ! I would love to hear this Idris Mauhammad CD for sure he is hell of a drummer. Have you heard the recording that he did with Youssou'n'Dour in Goree island that's a wonderful one ?

Funny enough I have right now in my car CD player Bury that hatchett by the great Anders Osborne and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux surely make me want to shake my booty ;o)

3:41 AM, February 16, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Happy Mardi Gras, Jipes! Had not heard that Goree Island stuff. Thanks for the link. I'll pursue it.

Nice to know you're cruising around France with all that feel good music blasting in your car - but be careful about driving under the influence of a loose booty....

8:31 AM, February 16, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, Thanks as always for your excellent blog! Thanks also for the info about Timothea. Several months ago, I was made aware of her "No Leftovers No Hand Me Downs" 45 (Grand Marshall GM-103) although I haven't heard it personally. The above mentioned track was written by Earl King and co-produced by King and Art Neville (who plays on the track as well.)

-Jon Tyler

11:20 PM, February 16, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Jon, for the informative comment and for the label shots of Grand Marshall 103 you sent via email. Awesome. I am on the hunt. Great to learn that Art Neville participated on it, too.

By the way, readers should know if they don't already, that Jon is an expert on the many permutations of the Neville musical family. He has just started the NevilleTracks blog, where he will be discussing the many fascinating facets of their careers and recordings. Check it out at http://nevilletracks.wordpress.com/

Happy Mardi Gras to ya!

8:16 AM, February 17, 2012  
Anonymous Johnny Pierre said...

Hey Dan -- thanks for another dose of Mardi Gras magic this year! I especially enjoyed the part about Timothea who I got to know briefly when she was touring with Walter & The Roadmasters in 1987 -- they did a show at a little cajun restaurant where I was chef/owner at the time (The Bayou, Bellmore New York) & we had ourselves a real time. Hope your Fat Tuesday was a swinging affair this year.

1:19 PM, February 22, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Johnny. Glad the sounds triggered some memories of good times past for ya. MG here was groovin' and warm. Can't beat that combination!

1:33 PM, February 22, 2012  

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