July 28, 2014


The randomness continues with three more unrelated tracks, plus, two that might have someone in common. Each features a saxophone as lead instrument. . . and poly-rhythms, of course. The first two tunes in particular display a Latin music influence that fits naturally into the funky rhythmic underpinnings of New Orleans jazz and R&B that go way back through the Caribbean into Spain, the Middle East, and Africa.

“Reo” On Tulane

“Reo” (B. Tate)
Earnest Holland and His Orchestra, Tulane 102, 1960

Information on saxophonist and bandleader Earnest Holland is scant. I have found just a a few tidbits on his musical career other than his credit on this single, which appears to have been his second release, and quite possibly his last. When, starting in 1954, Sugarboy Crawford held down a two year gig at the Carousel Club in West Baton Rouge, LA, Holland was a member of his band, the Cane Cutters. As Crawford told Jeff Hannusch in I Hear You Knockin’, his entire group relocated to the town for that stint. In Bruce Bastin’s liner notes to a 1984 Flyright LP compilation of mostly unissued material recorded for producer J. D. 'Jay' Miller in Crowley, LA, rather misleadingly titled Going to New Orleans, I found the assertion that Holland came from Baton Rouge; but, since Bastin's subject was alternate takes of songs on Holland’s 1956 first single, I’m not sure if that means he had lived there for a while, or was actually raised in the area.

That record, “Give It Up (or tell where its at)”/”If I Had My Life To Live Over”, was cut by the saxman and his band at Miller’s studio. It was released on Excello 2089 under the name of Vince Monroe with Ernie Holland and his Orchestra. Monroe [actual name: Monroe Vincent] was the group’s singer, who, Bastin noted, was working out of New Orleans at the time, which ought to place Holland there too. I also found a credit for Holland playing tenor sax on a 1962 Danny White session at Cosimo’s for Frisco Records. So, one way or another, he had a presence on the local music scene.

The writer of “Reo”, Billy Tate, also played in Sugarboy’s band during their run at the Carousel, and later started the small Tulane label in New Orleans, when a lot of small, independent, local record companies were trying to get in on the action. A blind New Orleans guitarist and bassist (who also played accordion, according to Mac Rebennack in Under A Hoodoo Moon), Tate had been in the house bands at Club Tijuana and the Dew Drop Inn during the 1950s, as Earl King recalled to John Broven in Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans, and to Hannusch. He also did session work going back to the late 1940s, and recorded at least three singles of his own, with “Single Life”/”You Told Me” on Imperial 5337 from 1955 being the most well-known.

Tireless collectors and researchers, Peter Hoogers and ana-b, note in the Cosimo Code Forum that Tulane 102 was probably the label’s initial release of its five known singles. Peter found a 1960 Billboard review of the 45, and thus dates it by that. No doubt the session was recorded at Cosimo’s studio in New Orleans, but just prior to his use of the unique numbering system he developed to keep track of his studio clients and their releases, known these days as the Cosimo Code. Both sides of the single were instrumentals, with “Salt And Pepper” on top, a fairly standard, mid-tempo R&B outing in the same mold as Bill Doggett’s earlier hit, “Honky Tonk”. But “Reo” was a different matter, having a much more complex rhythmic approach.

The tune’s main draw, a highly percussive, danceable groove, was generated by an unknown drummer who stuck to the tom-toms and kick, joined by other percussionists, one playing bongos or congas, plus someone hitting a clave beat on a bottle. As for the song title, I’m not sure if Tate was going for Rio and misspelled it, but the rhythm does have somewhat of a samba feel to it. The melody line played by Holland’s tenor sax, voiced mostly in its lower register, is almost childlike in its simplicity. Clearly, the record was geared for the pop market; but got lost in the deluge of great material coming out in the city at the time, and quickly went under.

“Adam and Eva” By Way Of NYC

“Adam And Eva” (Reichner-Hardesty)
Herb Hardesty, Federal 12423, 1961

Herbert Hardesty, a consummate R&B saxophonist, was a dominant instrumental fixture in Fats Domino’s band from the late 1940s until Fats stopped performing a few years ago; but Herb also made some remarkable, mainly instrumental recordings of his own between 1958 and 1961. Many of these had never seen the light of day until 2012, when the Ace label in the UK, released The Domino Effect, a CD compilation of almost all of them, which I reviewed here. Integral to that project were the efforts of my friend, George Korval, who not only advocated for wider recognition of Hardesty’s talent and contributions, but uncovered a trove of his material recorded in the late 1950s but never issued. That important find became a major part of the Ace compilation. George also wrote an invaluable set of notes for the CD and gathered together some of Herb’s rare photos for the highly recommended package.

The track at hand was part of a 1959 four song session Herb was invited to do in New York City along with several fellow members of Fats’ band and the esteemed jazz pianist, Hank Jones. Herb wrote the all-instrumental numbers, “Beatin’ and Blowin’”, “69 Mother’s Place”, “Perdido Street”, and “Adam and Eve” (the title was later amended). As George details in his notes, Herb did not know who set the sessions up; but, after they were done, the first two songs appeared on a one-off 45 for the Paoli label (#1001) out of Philadelphia, naming the band Herb Hardesty and the Rhythm Rollers and giving co-writing credit to someone unknown to him named Reichner. Within a few months, the same two songs re-appeared on a Mutual single (again #1001), also from Philly; but neither had any success and quickly vanished.

Enter Syd Nathan of King Records, who in 1960 heard Fats’ band live and signed Herb as a solo recording artist. Before making any new product, Nathan purchased the New York session masters and released them in 1961 on his Federal subsidiary under Herb’s name. “Beatin’ and Blowin’”/’69 Mother’s Place” came out first (#12410) followed by “Perdido Street”/”Adam and Eva” (when the title changed). Korval goes into much more detail in his notes, but this is the short(er) version of how this tune and Hardesty’s other handful of releases came to appear on Federal.

Aside from the token “Tequila”-like intro section, I dig the Latin groove on this one, masterfully undertaken by Cornelius ‘Tenoo’ Coleman, Fats’ longtime touring drummer. It’s great to hear him on these sessions, as well as others found of the CD, playing in settings where we can hear more of his versatility and expertise. In particular, his facility with improvising beats and counter rhythms makes apparent why he is considered one of the early funk innovators, cited by such notables as ‘Jabo’ Starks, one of James Brown’s early drummers.

Accompanying Herb’s tenor sax was Clarence Ford on the baritone, also a veteran of the Domino road band, along with Jimmy Davis on acoustic bass. Guitarist and bandmate Roy Montrell was also on some of the NYC sessions, but not this particular track, it seems. Meanwhile, Hank Jones maintained a low-key sideman’s role on the tune; but his rich piano comping proved to be tasteful and rhythmically engaging.

Neither Herb’s first two singles on Federal nor another pair, comprised of sides he cut in Cincinnati during 1961, again with members of Fats’ band, did well commercially, and marked the end of his brief solo recording career. Back in 2005, I wrote about one of those later 45s (#12460), notable for a side featuring guitarist Walter ‘Papoose’ Nelson’s vocal. In fact, the other single (#12444) had Nelson singing on one track, too, and may be the rarest of them all. Another good reason to pick up the CD.

Eddie And Eddie’s Seven B Collaboration

“Something Within Me” (E. Langlois - E. Bocage)
Eddie Lang, Seven B 7006, 1966

New Orleans singer and guitarist Eddie Langlois performed and recorded as Eddie Lang from the mid-1950s into the 1970s and should not be confused with the pioneering, Italian-American jazz guitarist, Salvatore Massaro, from Philadelphia, who used the same stage name during the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the background information I have about the later Lang’s recording career comes from Jeff Hannusch’s notes to the 1988 Rounder CD compilation of blues artifacts from the Ric & Ron label archives, Troubles, Troubles; but Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven has a short work-up on him, too, plus audio of some of his other tracks. A few more of his tunes can be currently found on YouTube.

According to Hannusch, Lang was a member of Jessie Hill’s seminal band, the House Rockers, while still a teenager. When they split up, he formed a blues band with another Eddie (Jones), who was new in town and called himself Guitar Slim. The two cut individual singles for the Bullet label in Nashville, but only Slim’s got noticed. Then in 1953, Guitar Slim began recording in New Orleans for Specialty Records, and his career took off. Specialty put him with the Lloyd Lambert band for studio and for road work. So, Lang moved on to a solo career.

In 1956, he recorded a session in New Orleans for the RPM label out of Los Angeles, resulting in two decent singles, neither of which scored commercially. One side was a blues tune, while the rest were typical New Orleans R&B of period. Two years later, Johnny Vincent of Ace Records heard Lang at the famed Dew Drop Inn and signed him up for a recording session backed by Mac Rebennack’s band. Two of those tracks were slow, bluesy numbers, and the others were rockers, including the misleadingly named rave-up, “Easy Rockin’”. For some reason, Vincent let Joe Ruffino, who was just starting up two new labels, Ric and Ron, release Lang’s material on two Ron singles in 1958 and 1959. The first (#320), with “Easy Rockin’” on it, did well locally; but the second (#324) lacked similar impact. He didn’t record again until meeting up with the next Eddie in this tale some eight years later.

The smokin’ cut featured here is the B-side on the first of two 45s Lang made for Joe Banashak’s Seven B label. Eddie Bo was recording for the label at the time and also doing production, arranging, and songwriting for other artists. Over the course of just a couple of years, Bo made half a dozen fine singles of his own for the label and oversaw many memorable sessions for others.

The arrangement on “Something Within Me” was outstanding, though it seems to be a stylistic throwback to the big horn-driven R&B sound inspired by one of Bo’s early influences, Ray Charles. The pulsating power of the groove came from the stutter-step drumming, not quite funk, but driving the beat with syncopated counterpunching that the bass locked into and was picked up by the chugging horns charts. The influential drummer, James Black, would be a good candidate for this kind of playing and was doing other sessions for Bo at the time, including Skip Easterling’s “Keep The Fire Burning”, on Alon that same year. His groove on that track is similar to this one; so, I’ll vote for Black.

.As for the soloists, James Rivers, a Bo regular in those days, likely took care of the sax attack, with Lang picking guitar at the end. Also dig his flat-out singing style on this tune, letting it rip in gonzo mode at the top of this range. While no Ray Charles, Lang had a gospel-like fervor that took him to the right place, rendering a vocal performance worthy of the song’s high spirit.

While not featured here, the less tightly packed, midtempo topside, “The Love I Have For You”, gave Lang’s soulful side a chance to shine; and he played plenty of stinging guitar licks throughout to keep things stirred up. It is well worth seeking out. All in all, this great, under-appreciated 45 showcases the strengths of both Eddie’s, but somehow, like much of Bo’s other Seven B output, didn’t get noticed.

After his two for Seven B, Lang’s next opportunity to record didn’t come until 1973, when he cut pretty much straight blues on two singles for Senator Jones’ Superdome label. He had a substantial regional hit with the initial two-part release, “Food Stamp Blues”, when the more prominent Jewel Records in Shreveport re-issued it, giving it an outlet to more markets. Several years later, Lang suffered a stroke which ended his performing and recording career.

The Still Mysterious “Soul Machine”

“Soul Machine”
The Meters, from a bootleg Josie 45 (#2507), early 2000s

Of all the tracks that the Meters recorded in New Orleans from 1968 - 1971 while Josie Records was releasing their material to a national audience, “Soul Machine” stands out because of the saxophone soloing over the groove. Their signature instrumental configuration on any other session in those days was a lean, mean four-piece: organ, guitar, bass and drums. What caused this lone exception? And who was that sax player?

Contrary to appearances, Josie never released “Soul Machine” on a Meters single or album. The record pictured, which has “Here Comes the Meterman” [the actual flip of “Cissy Strut”] on the other side, is an early 21st Century fabrication (from the UK, I think) that I bought on purpose, just to have the song on vinyl. The audio was probably surreptitiously sourced from the 1999 authorized re-issue CD series that Sundazed did on the Meters’ catalog, where “Soul Machine” appeared as one of two bonus tracks on The Meters, reproducing the band’s first Josie LP. The song also showed up on Sundazed’s 2002 Zony Mash CD of mainly non-LP cuts from the Josie era. The song’s inclusion on The Meters CD suggests that the band likely cut it that same year, 1969.

I first encountered the moody “Soul Machine” on that re-issue. A few years later, 2002 to be exact, Funky Delicacies/Tuff City released a CD containing a previously unissued album (plus some other tracks), Po’k Bones & Rice, by Sam & The Soul Machine, which I bought in a heartbeat.The sessions had also been recorded in 1969 at Cosimo’s Jazz City Studio; and one brief track on the CD set off a mystery that inspired a lengthy blog post back in 2006, and still has not been totally resolved. I decided to revisit the Meters’ song because the one I have chosen to follow it made me wonder again about who the saxman might have been.

I knew about Sam & The Soul Machine primarily through the Neville Brothers’ autobiography, The Brothers Neville, which revealed that the origins of the Meters and S&TSM were intimately entwined. In 1967 Art Neville had come back to New Orleans after leading the backing band on the road for his brother, Aaron, who toured extensively off his Parlo hit, “Tell It Like It Is”. Art was ready to start a group of his own, and enlisted the then unsigned Aaron [Parlo had gone out of business] and youngest brother, Cyril, to be a part of it, along with a hot young sax player, Gary Brown. The rhythm section was in flux for a while; then. Art found three young cats, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr. and Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste, who had the funky chemistry he had been looking for. The group, Art Neville & The Neville Sounds, quickly got popular on the local club scene, with the three brothers fronting the band on vocals; but, when Art was offered a regular and good paying gig at a French Quarter bar that only had room for a foursome, he decided to take it and cut Aaron, Cyril, and Gary Brown loose.

Meanwhile, bandleader and keyboard master Sam Henry, Jr. had a popular trio going, but jumped at the chance to expand when approached by the two brothers and Brown. They combined into a new band, the Soul Machine, which soon became popular around town playing mainly cover material. Subsequently, Art and his combo, were hired in 1968 to be the studio band for Tou-Sea Productions (later to be called Sansu Enterprises), owned by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn. Besides laying down backing tracks for Tou-Sea artists, the group soon became recording artists themselves, when Toussaint began taping their improvised instrumental studio jams. Sehorn got the tracks placed with Josie Records in New York; the band rebranded as the Meters; and their tight, minimalist funk singles soon became national hits.

Inspired by the Meters’ success, Sam Henry cut an album’s worth of his own funky instrumental tracks with members of his band [he planned to do another project using Cyril and Aaron later], along with two hired drummers, Joe Gunn and Zigaboo. One of the tracks Zig played on was called “Gospel Bird”, which, for reasons unknown, is not complete on the Funky Delicacies CD. When I heard it, there was enough (about half the tune) to recognize that is was a slightly faster rendition of the song I knew as “Soul Machine”, with a quite similar arrangement. I was both confused and intrigued by these two versions with separate titles done by two different bands, who were more than just contemporaries; but I didn’t do any real research on what might have gone on until after I started the blog. I was prodded into action by an alert reader, John, who had recently discovered the tunes himself and emailed to ask what I knew about them.

His questions and mine engendered my 2006 post, “Gospel Bird Vs Soul Machine”, in which I reproduced our correspondence and speculated on the origins of the two tracks,. You can read all the details there [I’ve got to fix all those typos!]; but I will say that my thoughts were speculative at best until I contacted Gary Brown, and then heard from Sam Henry. Gary did not recall the Meters’ song or session, and, after listening to it, insisted that he was not the sax player and didn’t know who was. Sam verified that he indeed did write the tune, but added that he didn’t even know the Meters had recorded it until Art Neville mentioned it to him some 30 years later. [I had to break it to Sam that the Meters were given the writers’ credit for “Soul Machine” on the Sundazed CDs.] He also had no clue why the tape that he gave to Tuff City only had about half of “Gospel Bird” on it. So, some of the mystery was resolved, but some has lingered.

After considering the provenance of the song again recently, here’s what I’m fairly certain about. The Meters got the song via Zigaboo, who played on most of the S&TSM album sessions. Zig must have let them hear the tape, because their arrangement is so close to Sam’s. As far as I can tell from the portion of “Gospel Bird” heard on Po’k Bones & Rice, the Meters essentially lifted the whole thing, just slowing it down a bit. But, hey, Sam obviously intended it to sound much like a Meters song in the first place! Maybe the extreme similarity of the tracks was why the Tou-Sea/Sansu team never had it released, or was it that Sehorn did not have the publishing rights and would not have gotten revenue out of it?

As for the main question remaining: who played sax on “Soul Machine”? I think the next track provides at least a promising possibility.

Alvin Thomas Up Front

“Sax-O-Soul” (John Berthelot)
Alvin Thomas. Great Southern 102B, 1972

In 1972, when tenor saxman Alvin Thomas recorded this hot instrumental single for John Berthelot’s Great Southern label, both he and Gary Brown played in the horn section on Allen Toussaint’s Life, Love and Faith LP, also cut at Jazz City Studio. Each also continued working for Toussaint as session musicians after Sea-Saint Studios opened the next year.

Of course, it would have been ideal if Brown had played on both “Gospel Bird” and “Soul Machine”, since the takes sound so close to each other. Ben Sandmel’s notes to the CD re-issue of Lee Dorsey’s 1970 Yes We Can album material put Brown in the studio playing a solo on one of the tracks. So, he was in Sansu’s employ at least that early. But, as he denied doing the Meters session in question, I have thought over the years about other possibilities, maybe James Rivers or even ‘Red’ Tyler; but Rivers, it seems, did not do regular session work for Toussaint/Sehorn productions, not that he couldn’t have been called in. Tyler did tons of session work in New Orleans over the decades for everybody, but often was used more for his baritone sax skills, though he was a classic R&B and jazz tenor player as well.

When I decided to feature “Sax-O-Soul” on this post and started researching Thomas further, I got the feeling that he should definitely be in the running for “Soul Machine”. Unfortunately, I haven’t found out much about his resume prior to 1972. New Orleans studio musician credits are spotty at best for the 1960s. I only know that he was more or less a contemporary of the great saxophonist, Edward ‘Kid’ Jordan, and played with him later in the 1970s in the Improvisational Arts Quintet, a free-jazz ensemble in New Orleans. Just before the group did their first recording, Thomas died in 1977. Their album, No Compromise!, finally released in 1983, was dedicated to him. [Check out this YouTube video of the IAQ in 1976 with Thomas playing tenor sax. His solo starts around 7 minutes in.]

Anyway, Thomas was old enough to very well have been playing Tou-Sea/Sanus sessions in the late 1960s and even before. Maybe someday, I’ll stumble across something more definite. Right now, he’s just my latest hunch for sax on the “Soul Machine” session.

On to the record at hand. which was only the second issue for Great Southern. The talented Berthelot was working out of Jazz City during this period, getting this feet wet in producing, arranging and running a record label. He wrote both sides of the single and engaged Thomas to play them. The A-side, “The Hesitation”, featured his dexterous flute-work; while this one shows off Thomas’ substantial sax chops. His musical fluency as a soloist leaves no doubt why Toussaint would have wanted him onboard.

The names of the other musicians on the record remain unknown. I was fortunate to have been contacted by John Berthelot late in 2010 after he had seen my post on his label’s third single, “Dap”, a killer two-part instrumental written by him and featuring the great trumpet player, Porgy Jones. I interviewed John on the phone several times about his general background in music and planned to do more on the details of individual projects. Sadly, he passed away early in 2011, before we could get any farther.

Around 1978, John re-issued this single with new song titles, “The Roach”/”The Streetcar”, adding an actual streetcar bell to the latter track. but neither the original or the re-vamp fared well commercially. The tracks have appeared on two Tuff City compilations, Jazzy Funky New Orleans (1999, Funky Delicacies) and John Berthelot, the Maestro of New Orleans Music: A Retrospective (2010, Great Southern Records).

Guess that’ll get it for now. As always, your comments are welcome, especially if you can shed any further light on “Soul Machine”. I’ll be back with some more hot fun in the summertime in a few weeks, give or take. . . .

July 01, 2014


No big theme this time. School’s out. Summer’s in. So, whether ensconced in air-conditioned confines escaping the steamy, tropical heat, or out late at night seeking a cool breeze off the bayou that might sneak through the foliage, ‘tis yet another season to get loose and groove.

For the next month or so, I’ll be featuring some random. mostly instrumental tracks. Nearly all have some creative syncopation working and are fairly rare, or at least rarely heard. As usual, I’ve got commentary on each, but nothing too deep or heavy; and, of course, you have the option to blissfully ignore all that and just move to the grooves. No final exams or even pop quizzes ever, here at the HOTG Conservatory of Funk.

Let’s kick it with the track that inspired this whole little series.

Gatemouth’s Funky Before Its Time "Summertime"

“Summertime” (Gershwin-Heyward)
Gatemouth Brown, Cue 1050, 1964

I first heard this stunner by Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown about a year ago and had to have a copy of my own, which took a while to track down. It’s not really a certifiable New Orleans record; but seems to be Gulf Coast material from the next major seaport West. Still, the horn-heavy instrumentation and intense poly-rhythms sure make me think that, if it wasn’t recorded in the Home of the Groove, it was certainly influenced by it.

In particular, the incredible broken-beat drumming reminds me of the proto-funk Smokey Johnson was putting down in sessions at Cosimo’s back then. As a matter of fact, he just happened to record his classic percussive instrumental, “It Ain’t My Fault”, with Wardell Quezergue for Nola Record that same year.

A multi-instrumentalist, Gate started his professional music career on the drums in the late 1940s, before switching to guitar one fateful night in 1947 when he took over for the ailing T-Bone Walker at a Houston club. His high-octane playing brought the house down; and, as a result, he soon became the first artist signed to Don Robey’s Peacock label. He may not have been the most precise picker working the fretboard; but his playing and arranging were strongly rhythmic, with a drummer's sense of beat manipulation.

In this case, the liberties Gate took with the standard, “Summertime”, made the tune almost all about the groove, an approach that presaged the funk movement to come a few years farther on. But there was even more innovation going on. Listen to the breakdown after the sax solo, where, to augment the Smokey-esque, heavily syncopated drum patterns, he turned his guitar into both a percussive instrument and sound-effects generator, as his reverb-drenched slurs and slides up and down the muted strings induced some freaky, Hendrix-like atmospherics that would have been tagged as psychedelic had they come later in the decade. It’s hard to believe this track is from 1964.

Not a lot of people could have heard this low-profile record. The small Cue label, based in Houston, operated for a few years in the late 1950s, releasing probably less than a dozen singles, before it dropped out of sight, and then briefly resumed operation around 1963-64 and issued a few more, including Gate’s lone contribution. Most likely, his Cue tracks were cut at a Houston studio.

At the time, Gate had been disengaged from Peacock since 1960 and wasn’t doing much recording, as far a I can tell. One wonders what he and Cue’s A&R man, Jimmy Duncan, thought would happen commercially with such a way out of left field take on a Gershwin tune. The odds were long for any kind of pay-off. But, no matter. Whatever the mysterious motivation might have been, instant obscurity was the destiny of this outre novelty cover-tune; but I’m certainly glad they put it out and pressed up enough copies that a few made it through 50 years of neglect into the next century where an aging groover, a relic of the 60s himself, could find one and offer it and the gonzo guitarist some props.

I had the pleasure of seeing Gate play live several times in the 1990s, and interviewed him twice on my old WEVL radio show. He was a great talker with a quick wit and wealth of wisdom. Wish I would have known about this record then and asked about it. I’m sure he would have had a good story to tell.

A Wa-Wa Guitar Man

“Wa-Wa Guitar Man, Part 1” (Senator Jones, Bobby Lacour, David Douglas)
David Douglas, “Hep’ Me” #1, 1970

David Douglas’ seldom seen or heard two-part “Wa-Wa Guitar Man” has at least two distinctions. It was his only known single, and the first release on Senator Jones’ “Hep’ Me” label (soon to lose the quotation marks, but not the apostrophe - or, as it is known in South Louisiana, the comma on top!). Though Jones had several micro-labels before this, and would have various other imprints off and on during the decade, Hep’ Me would become his mainstay.

The traceable part of Douglas’ career in New Orleans music as a guitarist or bass player seems to start with this record. He co-wrote and arranged the tune with another guitarist (and vocalist), Bobby Lacour, who would record some memorable deep soul on Hep’ Me and Great Southern soon thereafter. In her comment on this post, ana-b astutely suggests that Lacour likely sang what passes for lyrics, repeating the title over and over,  on the track. Since Douglas was credited as the featured artist, I had just assumed he sang it, as well as playing said wa-wa guitar [Note: For the non-technical, the more commonly spelled “wah-wah” sound is an electronically generated effect applied to a guitar signal, rather than an actual type of guitar]. Listening to other recordings by Lacour from around this time, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on that, especially since Lacour was also involved in the writing and arrangment.

The identity of the other players remains a mystery to me; but I’ll venture a guess that the session was recorded at Jazz City Studio on Camp Street, formerly operated by Cosimo Matassa, who by this time was bankrupt, having lost his equipment and master tapes to the IRS. The studio kept running somehow as a bare bones operation with Cosimo’s oversight, but his assistant engineer, Skip Godwin, was the nominal owner. The late John Berthelot, who was starting up the Great Southern label at the time and working out of an office at Jazz City, told me in an interview that Senator Jones also recorded there.

[Geek note: Another clue is the 133 prefix of the matrix number on this 45, which was Cosimo’s designation for numerous small client labels he had recorded for over the years (See The Cosimo Code for more details). Given the date, it is an indication that Jazz City was the recording site.]

Neither the song itself or the production quality of this single really provided a great showcase for Douglas. The melody was almost non-existent, and the central riff very rudimentary. The playing seems under-rehearsed, and the recording quality sounds much more like a demo than a finished, radio-ready product. Then again, Jones was never known for meticulous standards in the studio, often going for the quickest and cheapest way out. As a result, “Hep’ Me” #1, was no competition for the Meters, whose hip, funky hits at the time were surely the inspiration for this attempt. Consider it more of a conversation piece than some gem in the rough.

Beyond this obscure footnote in David Douglas’ career, his credits include serving as guitarist on a number of Senator Jones productions later in the 1970s, including sessions for Johnny Adams and Bobby Powell, which would have been done at Sea-Saint. Most notably, Douglas also played bass or guitar in Fats Domino’s road band from early in the decade on into the 1980s (as mentioned in Rick Coleman’s essential biography of Fats, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘N’ Roll).

In the second part of my 2007 feature on guitarist Teddy Royal, Teddy related the story of how he joined Fats’ touring ensemble in 1979. Roy Montrell recruited him as the bassist (though Teddy didn’t play bass) for an upcoming European tour on which Douglas was to play guitar. During rehearsals, Douglas had trouble getting a guitar part, and Fats had Teddy try it. When he immediately nailed it, Fats summarily made Teddy the guitarist and put Douglas back on the bass.

The most recent credit I have found for Douglas listed him as guitarist on Tommy Ridgley’s 1992 Modern Blues Recordings LP/CD, She Turns Me On.

Tropical Funk Via Shreveport

“Tropical” (Louis Villery)
African Music Machine, Soul Power 111, 1972

I featured this song almost 10 years back, but it was a cut from an LP that re-issued all eight sides of the four singles African Music Machine released on the Soul Power label between 1972 and 1974. I’ve since tracked down all of those 45s. My post at the time was light on information about the eight-member band, as I had only the LP track information and some brief notes from a 1973 piece on them by David Nathan included on the inside cover. But, fortunately two commenters and notes from a later CD compilation have since filled-in at least some of the gaps.

Bass player and bandleader Louis Villery was a session musician at Sound City, a recording studio in Shreveport, LA, where the African Music Machine material was cut. As I learned from Paul Mooney’s excellent notes to the 2007 Soulscape CD, Sound City Soul Brothers, which featured three artists associated with the successor to Soul Power, Alarm Records [subject of a future post], Sound City was started in 1969 by Jerry Strickland and two partners with the help of a group of investors. By 1971, Strickland was recording a number of regional soul singers and needed a viable outlet to release records by some of those artists. So, he set up the Soul Power label with Stan Lewis, who ran Jewel Records, a successful record distributorship in Shreveport that handled a number of independent labels, including three of its own, Jewel, Paula, and Ronn.

During its two years of existence, Soul Power’s main artists were George Perkins (from Baton Rouge), Ms Tommie Young (from Texas), and African Music Machine, who were Shreveport-based. There was also a lone funky soul single (#107) by Shay Holliday, a local female singer [hope to feature that record one of these days]. Villery likely played bass on all the Soul Power singles, which numbered around 14; but, contrary to what David Nathan wrote, none of the other members of African Music Machine were in the studio band, according to Da Clinic, a commenter on my earlier post, and backed-up by Mooney’s CD notes.

Instead, Villery put together AMM with other musicians from the area,, giving each member an African-Muslim type alias, as listed on the LP; but the true identity of about half of them remains unknown, at least to me, because their actual names weren’t included. My friend Art Edmaiston, a sax player who toured with Villery in Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s road band around 2000, said in his comment on my earlier post that the bassist was originally from Tunisia, which explains the African references. Art added that Villery had also been in Bland’s band during the late 1950s and early 1960s. How he came to be in Shreveport, I’m not sure.

Clearly, though, the man was a musical multi-tasker. Not only did he write the six instrumental tunes and collaborate with lyricists on the other two, he produced and arranged the AMM sessions, as well. His tunes, while well put together and played, were somewhat derivative, evoking other funk artists and bands of the day.

For example, “Tropical” sounds influenced by the JB’s (certainly not a bad thing), and positively cooks from the bottom up. Villery’s offbeat bass patterns are juxtaposed with the broken beat drumming of Louis Acorn (Abdul), Osman’s percolating congas, and Jumbo’s primo guitar scratching. Layered on top are some fine horn chart counterpoints, adding melodic lines with their own rhythmic flavor. Tyrone Dotson (Yuseef) and Ete-Ete were on tenor saxes, with Amal on trumpet.

Further credits I have seen indicate that Villery also played and recorded with B. B. King in the later 1970s. As also mentioned by Da Clinic, he released an African Music Machine digital album of new material in 2001 on eMusic, which I grabbed back when it was still available. It is a worthy collection of well-arranged and impressively played funk instrumentals with overtones of jazz, African, and Caribbean influences. We can only hope there will be more.

Eight Minutes In The Middle Of The Road

“Middle Of The Road” (The Meters)
The Meters, from Fire On the Bayou, Repirse, 1975

Of course we all know, or should know, the Meters as the definitive New Orleans funk outfit. After coming together as Art Neville and the Neville Sounds in the mid-1960s, they served as house band for Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Tou-Sea Productions/Sansu Enterprises starting in 1968. Toussaint soon began recording their unique, funky instrumental jams, and Sehorn placed them with Josie Records in New York which released the tracks on singles and albums under the band’s newly chosen name, the Meters. They had a few well-deserved hits; but Josie went out of business within a few years. Sehorn then got them signed with Warner Brothers/Reprise which released five impressive, influential albums in as many years; but the corporate overlords gave them little promotional push, causing weak commercial results. The association came apart at the seams due to prolonged band in-fighting and lack of financial rewards; and, by 1978, founder Art Neville and his brother, Cyril, left the band, who regrouped, enlisting Willie West as lead singer, but did not last too much longer.

Guitarist Leo Nocentelli was never content just to pursue funk and continually pushed the envelope with his rock/fusion proclivities as the decade progressed. But whether or not he longed to be a rock guitar god doesn’t concern me here, because, on this one lengthy track, Leo displayed a whole other side to his talent: a tasteful, masterful jazzman who led the band down a different musical path, at least for 7 minutes and 57 seconds.

They never cut anything like it before or after they dropped “Middle Of the Road” smack in the midst of their third LP,  Fire On the Bayou, a collection of intensely funky songs and some good-natured New Orleans R&B. I love the atmospherics of this tune, the open-ended. languid feeling of a long, humid summer evening, interspersed with flurries of soloing.

Though everyone got the feel just right, the stage belonged to Leo on this one; and, while the writing credit was given to the group, I suspect this is essentially his composition. The tone of his guitar was less bright than usual, shifted down to the more sonorous midrange, which served to make his jazzy fretwork more expressive, as he alternated between sliding, melodic Wes Montgomery-like double-string octaves, and inventive, intricate runs.

They certainly held their own on this one-shot sojourn; but despite the song title, it was definitely not middle of the road music. Calling it that must have been an ironic in-joke. Had they played more of such stuff, it probably would not have taken them any closer to mainstream listeners than their usual brand of deep funk did. Anyway, they didn't try to find out.

The smoother part of the road has its charms; but the riskier route moves over the bumps and breaks closer to the edge, where frames shimmy and bottom-ends shake in surprising and exciting ways - and, being from the New Orleans streets, that’s how they chose to roll.

But this captivating side excursion is there to be taken and definitely worth the ride.

Sons Of Sam Punctuate The Funk

“S.A.M.” (Sam Bros.)
Sam Bros. 5, from self-titled Arhoolie LP 1081, 1979

In funk, sometimes a great groove is enough. You don’t even need a lead instrument or complicated vocals. You just jam on it, get down. . .and do a little spelling.

When this album came out, the five teenaged sons of Herbert “Good Rockin’” Sam, an old-school zydeco player, had already been performing as Sam Bros. 5 for about five years. Based in Scott, LA, right outside Lafayette, they played mainly uptempo zydeco in the tradition of the great Clifton Chenier, plus the occasional slammin’ funk groove, as heard here, while gigging around the Gulf Coast region and as far away as California, where Chris Strachwitz recorded them and released their first LP on his legendary Arhoolie label in 1979.

Since the high-powered “S.A.M.” was not a part of their regular zydeco repertoire, accordionist Leon Sam switched over to organ on the tune; and the cheesy sound of the keyboard contributed to the song’s garage-like, raw edge. But, to me, the standout player on the track was Carl Sam on guitar, whose relentlessly rhythmic chord comping (which probably owes something to Nile Rodgers) drove the groove, taking everyone else along for the joy ride, and making for a cowbell player’s paradise [look out, Will Ferrell]. It’s no wonder serious funk fans and collectors seek this tune out, which has made the LP harder to find and often expensive these days.

As the Sam Brothers, they recorded another album, Cruisin’, closer to home in 1981 for the Blues Unlimited label out of Crowley, LA. It had another funky, non-zydeco dance groove on it, “J.A.M.”, which also appeared on a 45 (#2026). Many groove-hounds obsess over that tune, too; but I don't think it measures up to “S.A.M.” Their next long player, Zydeco Brotherhood, on which they were Sam Bros. 5 again, did not appear until 1989, issued on the Maison de Soul label. The band broke up in the mid-1990s, probably due to increased competition from the many new zydeco bands on the scene

Leon Sam then moved to Houston and joined an existing zydeco group as front man, staying with them until early this century. Attempts to revive his family band were not successful; and it appears that none of the brothers are active on the music scene at this point. But their name lives on, spelled out with funky punctuation on this stand-out, anomalous track from their musical youth.