MO' MARDI GRAS MUSIC.......
Yea verily, the Mardi Gras spirit is upon us. My wife has King Cake Baby's picture up on her Facebook page [she showed it to me, since I am angling to be the last person on Earth not on FB ]. The big fat day is nearly here. Meanwhile, funked-up seasonal music has been pumpin’ since Saturday on the HOTG webcast stream and will be in rotation through at least Ash Wednesday. Now, I can’t let the 2013 Carnival season pass without posting more tracks here, too, can I?
“Handa Wanda”, Pts. 1 & II (B. Dollis)
Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indian Band, Cresent [sic] City, 1970
I featured the top side of this historic single back in 2006. After seven years, it’s high time for the entire outrageous studio performance. I usually don’t combine the sides of two-parter into one track; but I’m taking the liberty here to provide something closer to the way it went down without the interruption of virtually flipping the record over, though the fades out and in on the record itself still break it up a bit.
Quint ‘Cosmic Q’ Davis, a Tulane University student who was a budding musicologist and impresario, sought out the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians and put them onstage at his campus jazz festival in 1970 where they jammed with pianist Willie Tee, who was performing with his new funk band, the Gaturs. At that point, the Indians usually only wore their elaborate costumes and did their music on the streets of the city’s black neighborhoods on Mardi Gras and St. Joseph’s Day and were nearly invisible to the outside world. The combination of their ritual singing and percussion with Tee’s funky touch was such a revelation that Davis arranged to make a record of their collaboration that was cut in Baton Rouge later that year. The rhythm section for the session included Tee without his regular band, instead joined by Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters on drums, and bassist George French, who had played many prime R&B sessions in New Orleans during the 1960s. Dollis sang lead, with other members of the Wild Magnolias providing the chorus and playing percussion. Amazingly, the ensuing magic was captured in only one take.
Here’s what I said about the results in that earlier post:
There’s just no denying the elemental energy and unvarnished funk of this track, maybe one of the most unrecognized masterpieces of in-studio wildness ever magnetized on tape and pressed into grooved vinyl. No, it’s not recorded all that well; and Tee and French are pretty much just vamping around. But Zig, Bo and the Indian brotherhood - on drums, congas, tambourines, bottles, whatever - issue forth an undulating percussive flood that sweeps away all obstacles and resistance to rhythmic body movement. Above the churning sonic waves, Dollis’s raw scream of a vocal, surely born of gargling razor blades, tears through the roar and sears itself into your brain.
Issued on Davis’ one-off Crescent City imprint [misspelled on the label itself], the record helped to make the influential Mardi Gras Indian sound accessible. A subsequent 45 and two groundbreaking LPs, The Wild Magnolias (1974) and They Call Us Wild (1975), continued to mix their music and rhythms with hometown funk, opening more doors worldwide for all the Indian street tribes, and bringing their beautiful costume craft and performance art to decades of shows, concerts and festivals. Still, the deep traditional culture of the Indians is not fully understood or appreciated by outsiders.
The year this record came out, Quint Davis was also involved in organizing the first New Orleans Jazz Festival and Louisiana Heritage Fair, working for master festival organizer, George Wein, and later becoming the ongoing director of JazzFest, as it has come to be known, now rolling into its 44th year. Thanks to Quint, there has always been room for the Indians to show-out at the fairgrounds, too.
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“Streets/My Darlin’ New Orleans” (Ron Cuccia, Ramsey McLean, Charles Neville)
Ron Cuccia & the Jazz Poetry Group, from the eponymous Takoma LP, 1979
The live set that this album documents was recorded by Cosimo Matassa at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans on July 13 and 14, 1979. At the time, the Jazz Poetry Group was at its height and fairly active around town, a fact that goes to show the open-minded musical tastes of club-goers, since, at its core, the group consisted of poet Cuccia rapping his verse over the grooves and riffs of a jazz-funk outfit, alternating with the riveting vocals of a diminutive diva. The band consisted of Cuccia on lead vocal, Leigh Harris also on vocals, Charles Neville on saxophone and vocals, bassist Ramsey McLean, drummer/percussionist Ricky Sebastian, and Johnny Magnie on piano and vocals.
As Cuccia related in the notes to the LP, Charles Neville (who had not quite yet joined up with his brothers to form their legendary band) had been gigging around town in a jazz duo with McLean. He caught Cuccia at a poetry reading one night, early in 1978 and invited him to hear the duo play, because they had been “looking for a poet”! Either intrigued or just mystified, Cuccia came to one of their gigs, sat at the bar and composed a poem, which they proceeded to jam on later. A club show together soon followed and went so well that they arranged another later that year, adding Sebastian’s serious chops and Harris’ belting vocals to the mix. As gigs increased, John Magnie soon was invited aboard, as he regularly played with Harris in their own band, L’il Queenie and the Percolators.
The Jazz Poetry Group didn’t have a long life, probably because Neville was soon pulled away by the coming together and rising popularity of the Neville Brothers; and the Percolators also soon became one of the hottest local acts, frequently gigging around the Gulf Coast region, as well. Notably, Harris and Magnie brought Cuccia’s mash note to the city, “My Darlin’ New Orleans” into the Percolators’ set list; and it became one of their most popular tunes. In 1981, they recorded it for their only release, a single with Magnie’s “Wild Natives” on the flip, which came out their own very short-lived Ignant label. It was later reissued by Great Southern; but the band broke up in 1982 due to outside forces. Harris has continued on as a solo artist up until this day. Magnie and Percolators’ guitarist/vocalist Tommy Malone, went on to found the original Continental Drifters, followed by their most well-known band, the subdudes.
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“Tuesday Mornin’” (Jon Foose)
Jon Foose with Oliver Morgan & the Royal Knights, Cypress Sounds 1000
I occasionally like to throw in something really off the wall from the annals of Mardi Gras records that went nowhere - some deservedly, some not so much. I’d put this one in the latter category. Despite the country twang to Jon Foose’s vocal that puts me in mind of Jody Levens’ original version of “Mardi Gras Mambo” back in 1954, the upbeat song itself is OK; and the playing and arrangement are exemplary.
Admittedly, I know nothing about the details of the recording, which has “Gator Get Down” on the back, starting with why Oliver Morgan gets credit along with the Royal Knights, since he is certainly not singing anywhere on either side. Maybe the Royal Knights were his band. Neither do I know who Wil Morgan is, who arranged the tracks. Foose, who I believe resides in Austin, TX or thereabouts, has a BMI catalog of just over 20 songs he’s written or co-written, but neither side of this single is among them. Likewise, the US Copyright database does not list the songs among his compositions. Time to do the paperwork! Cypress Sounds seems to have been a one shot label invented for this release, which likely was Foose’s only record. Of course, it is undated; but I’d guess the 45 came out somewhere between the late 1970s and mid-1980s.
Foose is still singing, as evidenced by this YouTube video of him performing with a blues band in Austin; and he obviously also has plenty of Louisiana music expertise, as he co-authored Up From the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II with Jason Berry and Tad Jones in 1992. If you’re out there Jon, get in touch and let me know how this record came about.
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“Do It Fluid/Do It Again” (DDBB)
Dirty Dozen Brass Band, from the Rounder LP, Live Mardi Gras In Montreux, 1986
Back in 2005, I featured the Dirty Dozen’s first recording of this tune from their debut album, My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, released by Concord Jazz in 1984. It’s a monster, especially live, as evidenced by this take recorded at Montreux in 1985, six and a half minutes of intense ensemble playing that simply overtakes your nervous system where you sit or stand and plugs it into a Higher Power. Notice that there is little to no soloing going on, just a succession of intricately arranged, contrapuntal riffs by various groups of horns, all driven by a relentless groove established by the percussionists and Krk Joseph’s force o’ nature sousaphone bottom end action. I still remember the first time I heard this album, soon after it came out, and how it totally blew me away, leaving just a palpatating pile of protoplasm with one goal: hear it again.
While the writing credits on the track go to the Dirty Dozen, the majority of the tune is their inspired interpretation of the 1974 stone funk cut, “Do It, Fluid” by the Blackbyrds. Many of the riff lines of the brass version mirror the bass and vocal melody lines of the song, but the Dirty Dozen pump it up into hyperdrive and simply run away with it. As amazing as it is, I think some props to the original writer, the great Donald Byrd, are in order.
Besides Joseph, the other members of the Dirty Dozen on this record, several of whom played with Leroy Jones in the original Young Fairview Baptist Church Christian Marching Band and Hurricane Marching Brass Band I featured in my January post, are listed at the Discogs page for this LP, which should be a well-played part of any New Orleans music collection.
I can’t think of a better song for energizing any Mardi Gras party. It should propel you on through Lent, as well. So, grab the album or at least buy a better quality copy of this track, add it to your playlist, and get down on it.
Have a ball this Mardi Gras, y’all.