February 28, 2006

H A P P Y M A R D I G R A S 2 0 0 6 ! !

If you made it to New Orleans this year for any of Carnival and want to share part of your experience - visual, musical, emotional - e-mail me; and I'll post some or all of what I get here over the next few weeks.

One more thing, the syndicated radio program, American Routes, has had a Mardi Gras show running this past week. Hope you got to hear it. You can hear portions of it and see Nick's playlist at the website.

February 26, 2006

Get Your Ticket In Your Hand

This is my last musical offering for Mardi Gras 2006. Hope you’ve enjoyed the series, most of which will stay up for a few days after Fat Tuesday. As I mentioned, the party has pretty much been off for me and mine this year; but we can always hope that there’s a next time. I’ll be back later in the week to continue to follow the groove wherever it leads. . . .Until then, hope y’all ball the wall.

Note: You can find the following track, plus many of the others I posted in this series on the Mardi Gras Records CD compilation, Mardi Gras In New Orleans, that I've mentioned before. It is a great Carnival music starter kit.

"Go To the Mardi Gras" (R. Byrd - T. Terry)
Professor Longhair, Ron 329, 1959/60

Try to make it next year. . .

Although “Go To The Mardi Gras” is Professor Longhair’s most well known and frequently heard version of the song, due to its annual heavy rotation at Carnival time, he wrote the song in the late 1940’s and originally recorded it during his earliest sessions for the Star Talent label in 1949. That side, titled “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”, with “Professor Longhair’s Boogie” comprised his debut 78 rpm (#808), a wickedly rare record. It was withdrawn from distribution soon after being issued because the sessions were non-union. But 1949 became not only his first but biggest recording year, anyway. During August and September, Fess and band also put down nine sides plus alternate takes for Mercury as Roy Byrd and His Blues Jumpers. Then, in November, Atlantic came to town and recorded ten sides on him, including a re-make of “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”, which was released in 1950 in the name of Roy ’Baldhead’ Byrd

One of his Mercury sides, “She Ain’t Got No Hair”, made it into the top ten on the National R&B charts in 1950, and several of his subsequent singles, including “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” and “Tipitina” for Atlantic, did well in the local and regional markets. After being sidelined with a stroke, Fess came back in 1957 to record some fine tracks for Ebb Records, which released three singles. Of those, only “No Buts, No Maybes” was popular locally. His next stop on the record company merry-go-round was the newly-formed, local label, Ron, where, in 1959, he laid down our feature, “Go To the Mardi Gras”, a re-make of “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” (these days the song is known by either title) that improved on the earlier versions.

I think credit for the improvement goes to the better recording quality, and definitely to drummer John Boudreaux, who manages to channel the rhythm of Professor Longhair’s unique keyboard style into a propulsive second line march/shuffle. Earlier versions took it slower with the drummers not locking in with Fess’ playing, although the Atlantic track had claves that reinforced the “blues-rumba” feel of his style. Also contributing to this track are Richard Payne on bass, Morris Bechamin on tenor sax, and Eddie Hines on trombone. Mac Rebennack is also credited on guitar; but I do not hear him here. And, I think Eddie Bo may have had a hand in production and/or arranging. Together with Fess’ off to the races intro, funky Latin-tinged playing, hip whistling, and unmistakable vocal, the elements converge to make this take an all-time keeper.

This is truly motivational music with lyrics that simply recommend partaking of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, even pointing out a good place stand to catch the Zulu parade and see the king and queen, a still potent inducement to travel to and party in the home of Professor Longhair.

Take his funky advice

February 24, 2006

Indians Comin', Get The Hell Out De Way

In which two wild Mardi Gras Indian tribes square off to have some fun. . .

Seek it out

"Meet De Boys On the Battlefront" (George Landry)
Wild Tchoupitoulas, Island, 1976

Indians gone

This is the flip side of the Wild Tchoupitoulas single I featured last month. You can find more background information on it and the group there.

Written by Big Chief Jolly (George Landry), “Meet De Boys On The Battlefront” is an interesting expression of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Boasting about their beautiful handcrafted suits and fighting spirit, his song tells of taking to the streets Mardi Gras morning to have “fun”, displaying, singing cryptic chants, drinking, and doing battle on the holiday. Of course, over the past 40 years or so, their battles have become ritualized public competition to see who has created the best regalia and shows out best on the streets, rather than the sometimes violent gang-style turf fights (using shanks, axes, and even guns) that kept the Indians underground and outside the law for many years earlier in the 20th century. Thanks to the Wild Tchoupitoulas and Wild Magnolias, Mardi Gras Indian music became a recognized genre unto itself and brought increased recognition and popularity to these once furtive, fringe figures.

After the Wild Magnolias mixed their traditional music with more linear, rawer funk grooves (see and hear the post below) in their historic collaborations with Willie Tee, the Wild Tchoupitoulas’ followed but did not copy, working with members of the Meters and Neville family to bring a more lilting, Caribbean feel to much of their music. “Meet De Boys On the Battlefront”, with its elements of reggae and calypso, has a casual, addictive island bounce. While the material on
their eponymous album, from which the two single sides were taken, was their only recorded output, Big Chief Jolly’s tribe, family and friends created a unique cultural artifact with influences that reveal links to other avenues of the African diaspora than run through New Orleans’ many musical neighborhoods. Again, no serious fan of New Orleans music should be without it.

"Handa Wanda Pt. 1" (B. Dollis)
Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indian Band, Cresent City 25, 1970

'til St. Joseph's Day

“Handa Wanda Pt 1 & Pt 2”, recorded in late 1970 and released as a single on the Crescent City label, marks the first Wild Magnolias studio session. It came about after Quint (“Cosmic Q”) Davis, a Tulane University student, budding promoter, and fan of Mardi Gras Indians, heard Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias spontaneously jam with Willie Tee’s funk band, the Gaturs, at a campus concert earlier that year. Davis, who went on to become the long-time director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, was inspired to try to capture the magic he heard and set up a recording session for the Indians at Deep South Studios in Baton Rogue. For the backing band, he enlisted Tee on keyboards, ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste on drums, and George French on bass. Members of the Wild Magnolias* provided the other percussion and vocals, with Bo Dollis on lead.

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 this churning waves, Dollis’s raw scream of a vocal, surely born of gargling razor blades, tears through the roar and sears itself into you brain. Subsequent sessions raised the musical ante and recording quality; but it is hard to argue with what sounds like a newly discovered tribe from some lost continent. By comparison, the later Wild Tchoupitoulas record (see above), great as it is, sounds like funk parlor music.

As I mentioned in
a previous post on the Wild Magnolias, the mixing of mysterious, primal Mardi Gras Indian music with the earthy, syncopated soul blossoming in New Orleans at the start of the 1970’s produced a musical blend still potent over three decades later. It seems inevitable in retrospect; but, it must have been a powerfully amazing, wondrous thing to behold at its inception, if this groundbreaking track is any indication.

*The Wild Magnolias on this track on vocals and percussion are
Big Chief Theodore Emile 'Bo' Dollis, Joseph Pierre 'Monk' Boudreaux, 'Gator June' Johnson, Jr., 'Crip' Adams, 'Quarter Moon' Tobias, 'Gate' Johnson, 'Bubba' Scott, James Smothers.

NOTE: You can hear a recording of that original 1970 WM + Gaturs jam, other unissued tracks and recent studio jams on 30 Years..And Still Wild.

Big Chief Bo

February 23, 2006

"They Even Inquired About Ya"

"They All Ask For You" (L. Nocentelli-G. Porter-A. Neville-J. Modeliste-C. Neville)The Meters, Sansu 1014, 1976

I was never exactly sure how this Meters song got balled up into Mardi Gras celebrations and became a standard. Singing drummer Zig Modeliste, backed up by Cyril Neville, throws in some New Orleans cultural catch-phrases and a few rather unusual local food combinations amidst the playful put-down lyrics; but there’s no direct or indirect mention of Mardi Gras or Carnival. Then I read Red Kelly’s recollection on his fine blog, The "B" Side, “My first Mardi-Gras was in 1976, and a local single. . .”They All Ask For You” (Sansu 1014) was THE carnival song that year, blaring from every car radio and jukebox in New Orleans.” There you go, then. That it is a funny, easy to pick up, sing-along party song by the city’s premier party band makes “They All Ask For You” perfect for the spirit of the season. Released at the height of the Meters’ popularity, it made Mardi Gras 1976 more memorable and ascended from there to realm of the classic.

This Sansu single combines “They All Ask For You” with “Hey Pock A-Way” on the flip, for double-sided Carnival action. Both songs are reissued cuts from earlier Meters albums. “Hey Pock A-Way” was on
Rejuvenation and also came out on a Reprise single b/w “Africa” in 1974. Fire On The Bayou, released in 1975, contained our feature song; but it was listed as “They All Ask’d For You” there and on the Reprise single b/w “Running Fast (long version)”.

Though the Meters are shown as songwriters, the origins of “They All Ask (Ask’d ) For You” are murky. In his notes for the CD reissue of Fire On The Bayou, Bunny Matthews states that the song is based on a New Orleans nursery rhyme as recalled by Modeliste. But, just a bit of research I have done reveals that the New Orleans R&B master, Paul Gayten, did the song that is the basis for the Meters' version on a single he recorded for Okeh in 1952, calling it “They All Ask For You (Down At The Zoo)”. I also recall reading that Louis Armstrong did a version of it; but I have never run across a copy to hear. As well, there is a much earlier possible version from 1923 called “Down On the Farm (They All Ask For You)”, as can be seen in the photo of the sheet music; but the song goes back even further, as I have read about an Appalachian folk song called "Down On The Farm", that mentions various farm animals that "asked for you". A commenter to this post pointed out that Little Feat also did a song called "Down On The Farm" on their LP on the same name, which shares some of the same verses as that folk song, and owes at least inspiration to the Meters, also. In any case, the concept goes way back.

Wherever it came from, it’s obvious that this tune is no funk monster. Instead, it has a simple, child-like quality to it, which combined with Leo Nocentelli’s happily countrified guitar licks, makes “They All Ask For You” certainly one of the most unusual and charming good time Carnival songs ever.

February 22, 2006

Down In New Orleans

"Mardi Gras Mambo" (Frankie Adams-Lou Welsch-Ken Elliott)
The Hawketts, Chess 1591, 1954

Hope you had some good mambo

Here’s another Carnival music classic from the Hawketts. The session for this single was the first recording date for lead singer/pianist Art Neville, as well as for virtually all the other teenaged band members. In 1953, Art was recruited to join the Hawketts by George Davis, who was playing saxophone at the time (later he became a great guitarist, bassist, songwriter and producer). The band quickly became popular and were heard by a local DJ, Jack The Cat (Ken Elliott), who got them to record “Mardi Gras Mambo” at the WWEZ radio studios in January, 1954.

But the Hawketts were not the first to record the song. The original version, written by Frankie Adams and Lou Welsch, who ran Sapphire Records in New Orleans, was performed by country (!) singer Jodie Levens on a Sapphire single released late in 1953. It had a syncopated latino beat and nice sax on it; but Levens’ straight, country-tinged singing about Mardi Gras with a steel guitar in the background made the track a textbook example of incongruity. Wanting to remake the song for the hot local R&B market, Ken Elliott changed some of the lyrics, kept the Latin feel (though not quite a mambo, I don’t think), got a great take from the young Hawketts (see below), and managed to get it released by Chess for that Carnival season. It was a local smash and has become a standard of the Mardi Gras genre year after year.

The Hawketts remained a poplar local band for several years after the release of “Mardi Gras Mambo”, even though Chess did not try to follow up their hit with another record. In 1956, working with Harold Battiste, Specialty Records’ A&R rep in New Orleans, Art Neville made a series of demos and recordings that got him signed to the label, which released several fine but unsuccessful singles on him. Soon thereafter, he went into the Navy. When he got out in the early 1960’s, he recorded singles for various labels and started a club combo that by 1968 evolved into the Meters, after they were hired by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn as a studio band. In 1975, the Meters recorded their own worthy version of “Mardi Gras Mambo” that appeared on the
Fire On The Bayou LP, with Art, of course, again on vocal.

The Hawketts at the time of the “Mardi Gras Mambo” session were
Art Neville – lead vocal, piano
John Boudreaux – drums
Alfred August – guitar
Israel Bell and August Fleuri – trumpet
Carroll Joseph – trombone
George Davis - alto sax
Morris Bechamin – tenor sax

For Pops

My family's Carnival season took an unexpected turn for the worse yesterday with the death of my wife's father, Jemy Plaisance. He had not been in good health for some time; but the sudden case of pneumonia that claimed him surprised and saddened us all. He left behind two sons, two daughters, six grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and several siblings of his own.

I am still going to try to post the Carnival music I had set aside for this run-up to Mardi Gas (next Tuesday, the 28th). But I could not do so without saying that I will be offering it in honor of my late father-in-law, who we call Pops.

All the best to you and yours. Enjoy life while you can. You never know what's around the corner, y'all.

February 20, 2006

Irma On Irma

The Times-Picayune has a nice little interview with Irma Thomas, in which she talks about her new CD project, among other things, and also says, ". . . my turn is coming. This is going to be my year. This is going to be the year that they sit up and take notice that Irma Thomas is still around and doing OK." May it be so, Irma dear.

Throw My Baby Out The Window, Let Those Joints Burn Down!

"Carnival Time" (Johnson - Ruffino)
Al Johson, Ron 967, 196?

Time's up

If you were going to be a one-hit-wonder in New Orleans, then it should have been good to do it like Al Johnson and have your song become a Mardi Gras standard, played religiously throughout Carnival season year after year. But Johnson, not to be confused with a soul singer of the same name, lost the rights to “Carnival Time” when it was first released and spent years in litigation until he finally reclaimed them in 1999. Not surprisingly, the struggle embittered him about the music business and he has not performed or recorded regularly for decades. He attempted a comeback in the late 1970’s and again just a few years ago; but neither came to much, although he was king of the Krewe du Vieux parade last year.

Johnson’s scant three singles were recorded between 1956 and 1960 in New Orleans. As Alvin Johnson, his first, “Old Time Talkin’” b/w “If I’ve Done Wrong”, for Aladdin received limited distribution and sank without a trace. He was still in high school at the time. In 1958 , he recorded “Lena” b/w “You Done Me Wrong” for Ric Records; and the single did fairly well locally. His final, fateful record, “Carnival Time” b/w “Good Lookin’” came out on Ric 967 during the 1960 Carnival season, but was overshadowed by Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”, which was the hot record of the season. It wasn’t until the next year that Johnson’s song caught the public’s attention for the first time; and it remains popular throughout Southern Louisiana this time of year. Unfortunately, by the time it hit, he had gone into the service and didn’t get out until 1964. By then, the British Invasion had begun, his label was no more, the entire New Orleans recording scene was in decline, styles had changed, and Johnson was driving a cab.

I don't know when, but subsequent issues of "Carnival Time", such as the one I have, came out on the imprint of the Ric affiliate label, Ron Records, with the same record number. Both Ric and Ron closed down in 1962 on the death of owner Joe Ruffino. So, I do not know if the Ron issues like mine are old stock from that period or later re-issues/boots. They are of good quality; but, if boots, why not reproduce the original Ric label, which might bring more money? If anyone has a lead on this mystery let me know.

This session had many notable New Orleans players on it. The all sax horn section was Lee Allen, Robert Parker, and James Rivers, who burns on the solos. Edgar Blanchard was on guitar and Placide Adams on bass. Walter Leftie was the drummer. According to Jeff Hannusch in The Soul Of New Orleans, Mac Rebennack played piano on this take, although Johnson was on others. As you might expect from this mostly A-list of musicians, the track is a fantastic slice of rocking New Orleans R&B. Johnson was quoted was saying that the band never quite captured what he had in his head; but, hey, it’s hard to argue with the result. He gives the song a smooth, spirited go, singing the praises of hot, packed city clubs, wine drinking, and just plain having fun. The guy had a decent voice, played piano, and could write. Too bad he didn’t get the chance to do more with his talent. Still, knowing your song will be danced and partied to regularly long after you’re gone must be some kind of satisfaction.
Happy Mardi Gras, Al, wherever you are.

Al having fun at Rock 'n' Bowl

NOTE [4/6/2007]: You can help efforts to re-build Al Johnson's devastated Ninth Ward home. Learn more and donate here.

February 17, 2006

The Carnival Blame Game

It just wouldn’t be Carnival season without some brass band music. So, here’s a single from my stash featuring Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band from 1983, doing a take on Smokey Johnson’s funk classic, “It Ain’t My Fault”. We’ll send this out to all our so-called leaders who made the Katrina and Rita disasters even more memorable. How do you play the blame game? Recall that Shirley Ellis song, “The Name Game", and start off, “Bush, Bush, bo-Bush, banana-fanna fo-fush, fe-fi-mo mush – BUSH! . . .”, adding names of your favorite goofus as you go. Good times.

"It Ain't My Fault" (Joseph Johnson-M. Batiste-E. Watson)
Dejan's Olympia Brass Band, 1983

OK, my bad.

The origins of the first Olympia Brass Band go back more that a century; but, around 1960, saxophonist Harold Dejan adopted the name for his own outfit. The band was well-respected and popular during its long run, making several albums and a few singles along the way. “It Ain’t My Fault” was arranged for the Olympia by Dejan’s long-time trumpeter, the late Milton Batiste, and saxman Ernest Watson. They also added the lyrics to what was originally a very spare late-1960’s instrumental by Johnson. The song has since moved into the standard brass band repertoire and works well in that context, since the original rhythm was inspired by the funky second line beat.

In the local culture, African-American brass bands, which arose in the late 19th century, have served various social functions. As well as participating in parades and playing for dances and concerts, they were enlisted to accompany funeral processions, playing solemn music on the way out to the cemetery, and then letting rip with some celebratory dance music on the way back, drawing a separate crowd of revelers following the mourners that came to be known as the Second Line. From the many facets of that brass band tradition arose jazz, with its spirit of spontaneous improvisation; and, too, the city’s unique funk grooves derive from the African syncopation added to that straight marching beat. This drastically over-simplifies a hundred years of musical evolution, of course. But I hope you get a hint of how important brass band music is to New Orleans’ musical heritage.

By the late 1960’s, the New Orleans brass band tradition was in decline, as many of the musicians were getting older or dying off; and the fundamentals and spirit were not being passed on to a younger generation to a great extent. Jazz guitarist/historian Danny Barker helped revitalize the form by starting a brass band program for youths through his church; and the idea caught on across the city. As I have noted before, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was the first popular band to spring from that educational work, bringing incredible energy, talent, creativity and raw street funk into their performances. They could not be denied and inspired other young bands, such as Rebirth and New Birth, to step up and step out. Many others followed; and, up until Katrina hit, the brass band continuum kept on rollin’. Let's hope it still can.

This record came out at a time when the torch was being passed. The Dirty Dozen were starting to come on strong in1983 and other contenders were forming. Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band can be seen as a transitional mid-century link between the historic brass bands of the earliest days and the future of the genre. At least that’s one way to look at it; or maybe you can just listen to this groove and let the music do what no history lesson can - make you shake your butt. Play it loud!

C'est Levee

Last Saturday, I went to a cold and windy New Orleans for the annual Krewe du Vieux parade and public party that followed at the State Palace Theater on Canal Street. The various thematically irreverent, if not subversive, sub-krewes, their hilarious and/or salacious hand-made floats, and numerous brass bands followed a meandering path (shown on their web site as the “projected path”) from the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood into and through the French Quarter. Sizeable crowds lined the route despite the cold, enjoying the spectacle and getting various throws (beads, trinkets, funny money) randomly and inaccurately dispensed by the inebriated, costumed wanderers.

Soul Rebels passin' by

It was reassuring to see the many brass bands rolling with the parade. Clearly, there were fewer than in last year’s run, which had around twenty, as I recall; and, some of the bands this year were combined elements of bands not up to their full individual strength and also some rag-tag, thrown together aggregations that would not have otherwise seen the streets had this not been a post-flood event. Anyway, one notable I should point out in the collage shots above is the outstanding, out marching Kirk Joseph.

The party at the Palace was great. I missed both the first band, The Claim Jumpers, who I was told were good, and the last band, Juice (I could no longer feel my legs by that point and caught a cab). But, I was there for all that Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk dished out; and a steamin’ heap o’ funk it was, too. Ivan (son of Aaron), in my so humble opinion, has re-infused the Neville Brothers’ band with da fonk they somehow mislaid. And his side band is down and dirty. You know you're in for an extreme bottom end affair when there are two bass players on stage. In the group are his cousin, Ian (Art’s son) on guitar, bassist/guitarist Tony Hall, bassist/vocalist Nick Daniels, and a drummer whose name I forgot (not Raymond Weber - sorry – he’p me somebody). Also sitting-in off and on was another funky guitarist, Renard Poche. Ivan played B-3 and clavinet and sang lead all night. You can hear some of their live sound at the linked site. Ivan summed up the spirit of the whole thing at one point, when he said, “I thought I might never get to say this again; but HAPPY MARDI GRAS y’all.” Yeah, you right.

Ivan and Renard dumpstaphunkin'

February 16, 2006

Jazzfest 2006 Lineup Announced

It's late. I just got the email as I was attempting to tear myself away from the damned screen for dreamland. . . but, I gotta tell ya that the Meters will be back. And Allen will perform with Elvis. And. . . oh, just go have a look, revelate, and book it.

February 14, 2006

Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler

night trippin'

"Let the Good Times Roll" (Earl King)
Dr. John and the Rampart Street Symphony Orchestra, 1973

Tripped out

Man, it’s been hard getting a post out this week. My weekend Krewe du Vieux romp in New Orleans (more on that to come) wore me out. Not that you should care. You’re just here for some mo’ music, so I pulled out this little miracle of soundboard recording that I picked up at one of my favorite haunts a few weeks back. It’s from a show by Dr. John and “The Rampart Street Symphony Orchestra”, a/k/a his band at the time, reputed to be from 1973 on the CD. There is no further information on it other than the strange title, Funky Knuckle Music. It’s that kind of deal; but what an amazingly clean, clear and fairly well-mixed grey-market artifact it is.

From the sound of the crowd and the acoustics, I’d say this was recorded in a fairly small club. The band is in excellent form and do material from most of his ATCO albums up to that point, plus an interesting cover of “Wang Dang Doodle”. Of course, our feature today, “Let The Good Times Roll”, was written by
Earl King, who originally recorded it in 1960 on Imperial as "Come On", and notably covered by Jimi Hendrix. Dr. John recorded it on his 1972 album of classic New Orleans R&B, Gumbo; and this live version is fairly close to that arrangement. While King’s version is bluesy funk, and Hendrix rocked it, the good doctah splits the difference and puts the New Orleans bon temps spin to it. I would guess that his regular drummer from this period, Fred Staele, is the one making this party groove happen. As long as I am in speculation mode and hearing no piano here, that’s probably Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) on lead guitar with his runnin’ buddy, Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson, on rhythm. As you may know, Mac started out playing guitar primarily when fronting his early bands as a teenager and only switched over to piano (and organ) full time in the early 1960’s when a gunshot damaged a finger on his left hand. It’s a rare treat when he picks up his ax at a show.

Mardi Gras is only two weeks from today, y’all. So, from now ‘til then, we will be kicking it more into that Carnival groove, forgetting our cares, and rollin’ on some more good times. . . . Stay tuned.

[Update: 6/19/2006] As several readers have since pointed out, this recording is from a live radio broadcast. The location, band members and set listings are shown below, supplied by an anonymous commenter - thanks! And thanks to another reader, I have been able to hear virutally the entire show now. I remain impressed at the quality of the entire event archive, including the fact that legendary New Orleans drummer John Boudreaux was on this date, along with the great 'Pops' Popwell on bass. If you can snag a copy (actually there are two CDs worth of material) somehwere, do so. I will be coming back to this show again.

Dr. John Ultrasonic Studios Hempstead, NY Nov.6,1973

Dr John & Rampart Street Sympathy Orchestra:
John Boudreaux, - drums
Robert Lee Popwell, bass
Sugar Bear Welch, guitar,
Darrell Leonard, cornet and trumpet
Jerry Jumonville, tenor sax
Robbie Montgomery and Jessie Smith, vocals.

1.Loop Garoo
2.I Walk On Guilded Splinters
3.Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
5.Hard Judgement
6.Traveling Mood
8.Put a Little Love In Your Heart
10.Mess Around

1.Interview & Intros
2.I've Been Hoodooed
3.Such A Night
4.Right Place, Wrong Time
5.Let The Good Times Roll
6.Wang Dang Doodle
7.Mama Roux
9.Little Liza Jane
10.Mama Don't Allow No Dr John In Here

February 10, 2006

A-Train At The Crossroads

A-Train when they were running

"Not By Man Alone" (Buddy Flett)
A-Train, from Live At Humpfrees, Sooto, 1984

Outa steam

The other night, me and the Mrs. went to New Iberia, LA, just 20 miles or so down Highway 182, to see a live show featuring former members of A-Train, a popular regional band through most of the 1980’s. Based up North in Shreveport, the band released at least four LPs, but never got a national break. Their Louisiana-flavored blues and soul was a popular draw on the Gulf Coast circuit and benefited from a lot of good in-house songwriting, mainly from guitarist Buddy Flett and keyboardist David Egan. Flett, Egan, and singer Miki Honeycutt, who fronted the group for most of its run, appeared with a bassist and drummer this past Wednesday night at the Sliman Theatre in New Iberia as part of the Louisiana Crossroads music series. The show was so outstanding, I decided to dig out my CD burn of A-Train’s 1983 album, Live At Humpfrees, and find a song to post. That album, along with the band's final LP, River of People, is avaialble on a CD two-fer, although the vinyl sources used in the transfer sounds a bit worse for wear.

I’ve picked “Not By Man Alone”, a Buddy Flett original written for Honeycutt with a heads-up from the feminine perspective and a funk-tinged groove. She turns in a strong performance for the audience at the Shreveport club where this was taped; and, near the end, you can get a hint that this diminutive woman can rare back and rattle the rafters. Besides her power potential, Miki is also able to work emotive wonders on a deep soul song. My wife, who has a great ear for female singers, has been a big fan for years.

After A-Train broke up, Buddy Flett and his brother, Bruce, the band’s bassist, formed
the Bluebirds, a blues band that continues to this day. David Egan went on to play in another legendary now defunct roots band in these parts called Filé, and now is a member of the Louisiana super-group, Lil’ Band O’ Gold, plus has his own band, Twenty Years Of Trouble. Miki made a solo CD for Rounder in the early 1990’s, but now is retired from regular performing, although she does occasional reunions with Flett and/or Egan. Today, both Buddy Flett and David Egan are widely respected songwriters, together and separately, in the blues and soul world, having written songs covered by Percy Sledge, Etta James, Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, and Solomon Burke, among others. Egan lives in Lafayette; so, I get to see him perform around town pretty regularly and always enjoy him solo or with his band. His latest CD is Twenty Years Of Trouble.

I never got to see A-Train live that I recall; though I certainly heard about them. And I didn’t even find their albums until a few years after their demise. So, this reunion show was a real treat. The principals have all become more seasoned and bring even more to the songs now. During the impressive performance last night, I had one of those “this is why I moved to Louisiana” moments. I feel fortunate that I get quite a lot of those down here.

February 06, 2006

Irma Finds Fame

"Cheater Man" (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn)
Irma Thomas, Chess, 1967

Blame it on da cheater man

The drummer would have been the only thing different from New Orleans and that Muscle Shoals sound. New Orleans drummers have a way of syncopation that’s difficult to copy, kind of an inbred thing. As far as what we call the funky total sound, Muscle Shoals had all of that combination. The way we recorded it made it even better because everything was done live so you got to play off each other’s emotions and feelings.
--Irma Thomas, as quoted by Don Snowden in the CD notes to Something Good/The Muscle Shoals Sessions.

After signing Irma Thomas in 1966, Chess Records sent her to work with producer Rick Hall at his justly titled Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Backed by the seasoned in-house rhythm* and horn sections, plus Spooner Oldham on keyboards, she recorded just over a dozen sides. Of those, six were released on three 45’s; and only, “Good To Me”, an Otis Redding cover, briefly charted. Despite some fine material left in the can, Chess decided to cut its losses and scrapped plans to release an album on Thomas. She did one more session for the label in Chicago that I do not think was released; then, she and the label parted ways.

That none of Irma’s Muscle Shoals releases connected with the public is puzzling; that most of her work for the label went un-issued for over 20 years is a tragedy. The combination of her grown-up, soul-saturated delivery, edged with a particularly raw vocal grittiness that came from some demanding road work just prior to the sessions, and the real-deal, in-the pocket perfection of the uncluttered accompaniment made for some of Irma Thomas’ most satisfying performances. As she states above, the band may not have been from New Orleans, but it delivers its own funk quotient and earthy feel to the songs, allowing Irma to seriously connect with the material. Of course, it certainly helps that the songs were of high quality, from writers such as Penn-Oldham, Redding, Paul Kelly, Oliver Sain, and Goffin-King.

“Cheater Man” was on Thomas’ first Chess single, recorded June 6, 1967. What is featured here is an alternate mix of the song from the CD, Something Good/The Muscle Shoals Sessions that Chess/MCA put out in 1990, which is now regrettably out of print. As committed as I am to New Orleans session players and grooves, I don’t think Irma has done better pure soul than on the best of her Muscle Shoals tracks. She’s done plenty of exceptional, expressive singing, before and since; but her sessions at Fame were just something special. The deep, deep unreleased track, “Here I Am, Take Me” never fails to devastate me. If you can find the CD, buy it. Simple as that.

Roger Hawkins, drums; Jimmy Johnson, guitar; David Hood or Tommy Cogbill, bass.

Note: Last February, I featured another track, “We Got Something Good”, from these sessions; and it can currently be heard at the Soul Club Jukebox.

February 03, 2006

Meanwhile, Still Dancing On The Brink Of Disaster

"Big Chief" (Gaines-Quezergue)
Cyril Neville & The Uptown Allstars, from The Fire This Time, Endangered Species, 1994

More grooves above

This week’s Carinval post gets us up into the late 20th Century with this cut from Cyril Neville & The Uptown Allstars, Cyril’s offshoot band for many years when he resided in New Orleans and wasn’t gigging with the Neville Brothers. The Allstars are no more; and Cyril now lives in Austin, TX, helping to funkify the music scene there.

“Big Chief” is, of course, the Mardi Gras classic which first appeared on Professor Longhair’s 1965 Watch single (with Earl King on vocal). I featured it on
February 6, 2005. King wrote the song, though it was credited to Gaines and Quezergue (producer, Wardell). If you are not familiar with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian culture (see below), the song’s Indian references and terms like Spy Boy and Flag Boy can be confusing; but, in essence, the song is about nothing more than the celebratory aspects of Carnival: having fun, dancing all night, feeling good. Neville frames it with a brief introductory explanation of his take on Mardi Gras Indians, then gives shout-outs near the end to various past and present Big Chiefs, before closing with a snippet from the Wild Tchoupitoulas album..

While Cyril re-invents this song, he keeps it’s spirit intact. There are similarities to how the Neville Brothers have performed it over the years; but his interpretation does not have Longhair’s patented intricate, syncopated piano riffs or the second line march beat of the original. Still, it’s a funk monster. ‘Mean’ Willie Green, long-time drummer for the Neville Brothers, does the beat honors here, along with Cyril and others on percussion; and bassist Peter Carter offers a masters class in bottom end get-down. Brother Art ‘Poppa Funk’ Neville sits in on piano, along with Terry Manuel. Mike Napolitano and Charles Moore are on guitars. The impressive horn section arrangements are by trombonist Emmanuel Stieb; and the sax solo is by Greg Tardy. Cyril and Mr. Napolitano produced the CD.

Now out of print, The Fire This Time was originally released on Neville’s own Endangered Species (never more true than now!) label and was re-issued several years later on Iguana, and is worth picking up should you run across one. The Uptown Allstars’ sound often combined elements of reggae and Caribbean music with New Orleans street beat funk. Most of the songs were Cyril’s originals and were often even more politically and culturally conscious that in his work with his brothers. But the grooves were frequently massive from this band, which, like his family outfit, was always best enjoyed live.

Note: Thanks to
The Funk Files for alerting me to this article on a transplanted Mardi Gras Indian.

Bad News. . .Good News

Well, it just keeps coming. I am sure most of you have heard about the tornadoes (three of them!!) that hit the New Orleans area early yesterday, damaging some of the still moldering flood devastaion as well as creating some new debris fields. Obviously, the question NOT to ask these days is "What next?". Details are in the linked article. So much for the "lull" between hurricane seasons.

On a brighter note, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (a/k/a Jazzfest) is getting close to announcing the 2006 schedule. They've got a corporate sponsor, Shell Oil, for the whole event this year (there have previously been sponsors for various stages); and, while that would have led to controversy in past years, this year, at least, the attitude is that whatever it takes to get the event up and running is welcome. Jazzfest is an enormous economic boost for the city, rivaled only by Mardi Gras, I believe. Thousands of visitors come in from around the world to attend. For all of its commercialization over the years and infusion of "big name" acts who have little or nothing to do with local cultural heritage, the festival still features a lot of local and regional music, arts and food over its two weekend run.

Another much smaller festival that focuses purely on local music precedes Jazzfest. It's the French Quarter Festival. It is free and will go on a scheduled this year, adding to the rebirth of the city with its mix of various styles of music. And, like Jazzfest, great local food is available from various vendors.

Finally, I wanted to note that the Ponderosa Stomp, the deep roots music festival that had been held in New Orleans during the week between Jazzfest weekends, had to relocate to my old home, Memphis, this year. This is always a very cool event, featuring many great obscure and/or forgotten performers and bands from way back in the day who are still kickin'. It's not all Louisiana acts, either. Check it out.

Hope some of y'all can make it down for several of these events. We need you. Another music post is comin' up. . . .