April 17, 2005

Left Coast Swamp Side

Guess which one is Big John

"I Just Find Myself Falling" (W. Devillier - J. Vinidigini)
Sweet Salvation, from Sweet Salvation, Elektra, 1972

You liked it....you really liked it

As with most of my Swamp Side designated tracks, this one and the album it comes from have ties to Louisiana, and, in this case, New Orleans, too.

I found the Sweet Salvation album in a pile of dollar records at one of the shops in Memphis back in the 1990’s. I’d never seen one before, didn’t know it existed; so I took a look and was floored to see on it “Big John” Thomassie, a New Orleans drummer I had heard live with Luther Kent’s Trick Bag band and admired. Also listed as band members were several cats with French sounding names that indicated possible Louisiana origins. I thought it was a buck well-spent, even before I put it on the turntable. Listening to it didn’t disappoint either, as it turned out to have a funk flavor to its mostly r&b feel, with a little blues and gospel in the mix.

“I Just Find Myself Falling” lands on the funky side of the fence for sure, with an arrangement that immediately brings to mind Little Feat (a band that heavily channeled New Orleans in its heyday). Yet, this record came out about a year before Lowell George and crew brought their funk to the forefront on Dixie Chicken. Leon Russell as well as Delaney and Bonnie were artists who were expressing somewhat similar leanings around the same time. So, although they came and went virtually unnoticed, Sweet Salvation were running in good company when they recorded in Los Angeles in 1972.

DeEtta Little does the vocal on this one and gives it up soulfully. She’s also featured on an eight minute, full-tilt “Rock Steady” that closes the record, where she and the band do some real roof raisin’. Her claim to fame seems to be a duet she did on one of the Rocky soundtracks in the later 1970’s. Fritz Baskett is the other female vocalist of the group. On the sanctified piano is Wayne DeVillier (a/k/a Wayne Deville), who has got the chops, and, if I am not mistaken, came from the Morgan City, LA area, where he fronted Wayne and the Velvetones in the early 1960’s. Another possible Louisiana suspect is guitarist Don Normand. The group’s bassist is Alexander Smith, Jr.; and, of course, Big John’s the HOTG skins man, who most notably played on Tom Waits’s 1980 album, Heartattack and Vine. Thomassie, who passed away in the 1990’s, had the unmistakable feel of his hometown in his stick work; and I feel lucky to have seem him play live numerous times. Assisting him with the groove is top shelf percussionist Bobbye Hall. Together, they cook up a hot little track on an album that definitely has its moments; but it hardly saw the light of day before being remaindered to the cut-out bins and dollar boxes. Dat’s showbidniz.

<------- Los Angeles, 1,900 miles


Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Cool track, Dan! I like the piano a lot, and the Little Feat comparison is right on the mark.

9:06 AM, April 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan: This is the kind of find that brings one back to flea markets on a perpetual basis.Like a rat in a Skinner box. (Whatever that is) Great find. Reminds me a wee bit of the Stovall sisters out of L.A. around the same time.

5:58 PM, April 24, 2005  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks for writing about your dad.
If you will e-mail me at hotg@bellsouth.net (also shown on left side of main page) I will be glad to share with you the little I know about your dad from research I have done. I have a Night Train compilation CD with tracks Wayne and his band did for Drew-Blan Records in Morgan City in the 1960's. Have you ever seen or heard it? I will be interested in reading your book. Please at least let us know when it's out.

3:31 PM, February 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I realize this blog is a little dated, but my Dad (Allan Linker) was one of the original members of Sweet Salvation. They had a horn section that went out to LA with them but returned before the studio work due to leaving wives and children behind in NO among other things.

My Dad speaks of Wayne Devillier as a largely unheralded piano genius as well as an amazing vocalist and was close to him during this period. I'd be happy to ask him for more detailed info if you are still looking or perhaps even put you in touch with him.

1:09 AM, March 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, Big John was one of the reasons i started playing drums myself. He had a feel that was larger than life.

1:12 AM, March 11, 2008  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

I wish I would have seen these posts in 2006-2008! Esp. Wayne Viller's daughter's. When Sweet Salvation were in California recording (in 1972?), they played at a club where I worked in Costa Mesa called Pier 11. In the most gentlemanly way possible, they befriended me, took me along to recording sessions, and were generally some of the nicest men I ever met. Big John invited me to their California apt. especially to cook red beans and rice for me, and called me "Movie Queen"; Don Normand was the ladies man and made my boyfriend very uncomfortable. I remember Wayne DeVilliers laughing a lot, but generally not talking much. DeEtta Little was a sweetheart, and told me a story about her middle name... They changed my way of listening to music, and instilled a love of the New Orleans sound.

3:14 PM, July 12, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Wow. Great story, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing that glimpse of the band at that time. It could have been '71 when the were recording the album, by the way. This makes me realize that I never got back to any other stuff by Sweet Salvation or any other recordings the members were involved with. I'll have to do some digging around here and see if I can come up with some more. I definitely have other things Big John played on. Needed that reminder!

4:49 PM, July 12, 2012  
Anonymous pam thomassie said...

i am big johnny's baby sister it is great to read about him and especially sweet salvation i surely remember the band my family was very proud also remember wayne devillier, don norman johnny vindigni, wayne wasan excellent pianist n song writer, i remember when he played for the president,{nixon}. do you remember the song that johnny sang.

2:00 PM, September 02, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Hi, Pam. Thanks for checking-in. The song your brother sang lead on was "Stick With Me". Let me know if you'd like a copy of it. Email:

By the way, I continue to accumulate material for posts on Wayne DeVillier and Big John, both of which will include other Sweet Salvation songs, I'm sure.

2:32 PM, September 02, 2012  

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