January 29, 2006

Holy Moly! More Lagniappe

photo by Herb Greene

If you read the comments in the “Blinded By Love” post, you’ll recall that DJ Lou Kash offered up another version of that song by Sam & Dave for us to hear. As the thread went on, he mentioned another favorite Toussaint-penned track, the Pointer Sisters’ workout on the nearly eight minute album cut, “Going Down Slowly”. When I said I’d likely never post it due to the bandwidth involved, DJ Lou up and offered to host it himself, if I’d do a piece on it. So, with gratitude and props to the Czech from Switzerland for the link, session info, and enthusiasm, here ‘tis.

"Going Down Slowly" (Allen Toussaint)
The Pointer Sisters, from Steppin', Blue Thumb, 1975

Totally down. Again, thanks to Lou Kash for carrying the audio load on this one. . .

The Pointer Sisters (Anita, Bonnie, Jean and Ruth) got on the charts with Allen Toussaint songs at three different points in their career. But the first time generated the biggest hit, when “Yes We Can Can” (originally done by Lee Dorsey as “Yes We Can” in 1970) rose to #1 on the pop chart in 1973 and helped make their eponymous debut album go gold. Our feature today, “Going Down Slowly” (originally recorded by Toussaint himself on Life, Love and Faith as “Goin’ Down” in 1972), comes from Steppin', their fourth album. The song (substantially edited for the single) made a respectable showing on the R&B chart in 1975. In 1978, Toussaint’s “Happiness”, which he had released on his own Motion LP that year, was another chart success for the group, who were by then a trio.

Produced by David Rubinson, who gave the sisters their first break in the business and oversaw all of their Blue Thumb albums, “Going Down Slowly” takes its time building, but becomes a powerhouse of pre-disco dance-funk energy in its final half. As DJ Lou Kash comments on the arrangement by keyboardist Tom Salisbury, “There's the contrast of the words 'going down slowly' while the band actually keeps on getting faster and LOUDER. And when they sort of realize that they can't get any "higher" and faster, then they FINALLY slow down and bring the song to an end. That's a pure genius!” The dynamics of the song and its variety of instrumental riffs and rhythms certainly make for a memorable production worthy of Toussaint. Particularly notable in the fist half are Eugene Santini’s hip bass lines and Wah Wah Watson’s wahka-wahka guitar. After the song modulates to a higher key about mid-song, the intensity starts kicking in, with Gaylord Birch’s drums becoming more driven and complex, compelling all involved to dig in and burn. Ruth’s lead vocal with her sisters’ back-up rises to meet the challenge, starting strong and soulful, then ramping it to a full tilt rave-up by the climax.

As I’ve said before, I've collected many cover versions of Toussaint tunes; and there are many good ones and some great ones out there. I could almost do a blog based on those. Certainly, the Pointer Sisters’ hit rendition here is monumental in more than just length (I’m sure it seems shorter on the dance floor!).
Last June, I also featured Claudia Lennear’s fine version of “Goin’ Down”. Still, I find the writer’s own recording on that first album for Warner Brothers to be the funkiest, most understated take I know; and that makes it, to these old ears, at least, the most effective. I'll have to pull that out one of these days. . . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot to make me discover such a wonderfull groovy hot sweet and energising music.
Keep goin' !

3:24 PM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous!
I am a regular reader, and this post in particular made me pause and notice how great your writing is.
the music is always awesome, really glad to get this info on our musical history.
I nevah knew pointer sisters did anything this good - having only heard yes we can can recently as well - you mention so many toussaint covers - can you recommend any good reggae versions?

8:18 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Glad y'all are digging it.

Curtis, off the top of my head, let me refer you to an album by the Mighty Diamonds, 'Ice On Fire', that they recorded in New Orleans, produced by Toussaint, in 1977. There are three Toussaint tunes on it. It's not pure reggae, since, as I recall, the session players are Toussaint's crew. But it's close. That's all I can think of right now without some research.
There may be some ska covers. Anybody else know of any?

8:41 PM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan - - What a killer track. DO you know whether Toussaint is playing piano on that track.
Thank you for putting up these tracks - it only makes me want to find the albums! I found a copy of Southern Nights up here in Canada on vinyl!

6:36 PM, February 01, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Tom -
As far as I know, Toussaint had nothing to do with the production, arrangement or performance of this track. Although I have a CD burn of a few tracks off the album with me, the album itself is in storage; so, I relied on DJ LK for
the session info. The pianist would be Tom Salisbury, who also arranged it. Herbie Hancock plays on this album, but on another track. If you dig, a decent LP copy of this album should not cost that much. Congrats on snagging 'Southern Nights', which is a great album.

11:51 PM, February 01, 2006  

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