July 20, 2006

Hot Enough For Ya?

Here’s a trivia question to stump your friends who don’t read HOTG (probably most - if not all - of them): what classic New Orleans album has Whitney Houston and her mother singing on it?

"Fire On The Bayou" (Neville-Nocentelli-Porter-Modeliste)The Neviile Brothers, from Fiyo On The Bayou, A&M, 1981

I’m taking about a week off from pounding out da blog and thought I’d leave you with a song that to me is a quintessential summer groover, summoning literal and figurative heat as it contemplates various recreational pleasures along the meandering waterways of the Deep South. Originally done by the Meters with Art Neville on lead vocal, as he is again here, this version of “Fire On the Bayou” by the Neville Brothers converts the steamy street song into a funk anthem from the Church of What’s Happein’ Now, complete with a celestial choir (Cissy and Whitney Houston with Eltesa Weathersby).

Fiyo On the Bayou was the Nevilles' second LP, but the first one much of anybody bought or heard. I certainly completely missed, at the time, their eponymous debut on Capitol, produced by the great Jack Nitzsche and released in 1978, soon after the break-up of the Meters. The brothers had recently been touring, splitting the bill with their uncle' s Mardi Gras Indian group, the Wild Tchoupitoulas,. For those shows Art Neville recruited a young funk band called Blackmale; who helped establish the Neville Brothers' sound; but Nitzsche only used a few of those players on the album sessions. Unfortunately, while the brothers turned in fine performances, many of the tracks lacked their infectious stage dynamics. Added to that, Capitol proved incapable of adequately marketing the record, which left if twisting in the wind,

Luckily for the Neville's (Art, Charles, Aaron, and Cyril), despite the failure of their initial effort, they had a fan and friend in influential jazz and pop producer
Joel Dorn, who tried to assist them in getting another label deal. He was not successful, though, until one of the acts he had produced, Bette Midler, heard the band at Tipitina’s one night and, of her own accord, convinced Jerry Moss of A&M to sign the them and have Dorn produce the album. Given the green light for the project, Dorn dropped the Black Male backing, recruiting some more seasoned local and national players, including former Meter Leo Nocentelli, local drummer Herman Ernest and bassist David Barard (of Chocolate Milk), Dr. John, and outside names such as Ralph McDonald on percussion and David ‘Fathead’ Newman, who did all the tenor sax solos (leaving brother Charles Neville, the band’s regular saxman, to just play percussion on a few tracks). Art Neville was the only brother to actually play on the entire album, though they all sang; and, from reading the Nevilles' biography, I gather that this may have been due to the heavy drug habits of the other three brothers at the time. As a matter of fact, they were so seriously involved that is amazing that Dorn managed to bring to birth such an outstanding album on the group.

The producer wisely kept the recording local, doing most of the tracking at Studio In the Country in Bogalusa, LA, where the fist LP was recorded, with some additional work done at Sea-Saint. In addition, he used Toussaint’s studio horn section (two of whom, Amadee Castenell and Joe Fox, were also in Chocolate Milk), and had Wardell Quezergue arrange them, probably in later overdub sessions. On “Fire On the Bayou”, Herman Ernest puts his own stamp on the primal beat, varying just a bit from Zig’s original take. That and Barard’s bass reinforcement, killer percussion by Kenneth ‘Afro’ Williams (another Chocolate Milk man), Nocentelli’s signature rhythm guitar chops, and Art’s percolating keyboards make for an awesome groove. Layering in the horns and vocals, Dorn renders the parts into a transcendent track that just knocked me out back then, and still does.

I had seen the Neville Brothers live several years before this record came out at Jed’s, a long since defunct club on Oak Street across from the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans; and it had been a life changing musical experience for me. Fiyo On the Bayou reaffirmed my respect for the group and their funk, soul, and R&B roots. That show made me get serious about exploring the strong funk threads running through the music of the Crescent City that I had been listening to casually for years.

I'm not here to review the entire album; but I strongly suggest that, if you don't have a copy, go get you one. It's not all this hot and heavy, but is a satisfying mix of the brother's influences and roots. To me, along with
Yellow Moon and Walkin'In The Sahdow Of Life, it is among their best sudio efforts in a career that has spanned over 25 years.

So light up, drink down, or whatever you choose to do to loose thy booty, and enjoy this taste. See you around the 1st of August.

July 18, 2006

Back To Louisiana Purchase

"Don't Turn Your Back" (Terry Manuel)Louisiana Purchase, from Louisiana Purchase, Basin Street Records, 198?

In the year since my last post-up on Louisiana Purchase, a little known New Orleans soul/funk outfit that only had this one LP and a couple of singles during their run, I haven't learned much more about them [see below* for an update]. I think they probably played more on the road than they did at home. Several months back, I finally found a mint copy of the album, likely recorded at least in part in New Orleans, and have been listening to it off and on since, having in mind to post something from it. Then, as has been happening all too often lately, the recent death of one of the members, vocalist Donald Whitlow, moved the piece up toward the front of the line.

I had received e-mails about Mr. Whitlow’s passing from his daughter and son. His son told me that one of the most popular tunes his father sang was “Baby’s Love” from this album, which had been played on WYLD in New Orleans. While I find that song to be a very well-done piece of deep soul and one of the record’s stand-out tracks, my mission here has lead me to chose the more uptempo and funkified groove of “Don’t Turn Your Back”, sung I am guessing by its composer, keyboardist Terry Manuel. Manuel may be familiar to at least some of you way into the New Orleans scene as a member of the Neville Brothers band during the mid-1990’s and of Cyril Neville’s side project,
the Uptown Allstars, around the same period. Of the eight tracks on the LP, Mr. Manuel wrote three of the strongest, the others besides our feature track being the down-tempo but intense “When You’re Not There” and another highly percussive groover, “Can’t Get Your Love”.

While I may be old school in my tastes for funk/soul/R&B, I don’t automatically shy away from ‘urban contemporary’ and funk using synths (although, I am not at all a fan of programmed drums), if used tastefully and tastily. This undated album (I am guessing early to mid-1980’s) is so well recorded, arranged and performed that I can overlook the gear involved, the ultra-slick, highly processed sound they went for, and some of the more hokey spoken word production elements. The LP’s song selection is nicely balanced, too, with ballads, mid-tempo grooves, and out and out dancers. Of course, “Don’t Turn Your Back” the lead-off track, is definitely among the latter. It just feels good; and I find myself hitting repeat often after the fade. Guess it’s the fantastic drumming of Brennan Williams that is the basis for it all. He kicks ass and takes names, breaking up the beat with syncopated abandon. Meanwhile, the other instrumentation seamlessly integrates, the keyboards, synth bass, guitar and precision horns layering intricate, interlocking patterns. It’s a masters class in the art of tight arrangement; and the sound and style probably owe a lot to the Maurice White/Earth Wind and Fire school of the groove.

As my friend and frequent contributor, Dwight Richard, has pointed out, like his band of roughly the same era, Chocolate Milk, Louisiana Purchase was shooting for the national charts with their sound and approach. You don’t hear this record and think New Orleans; but the quality of the performers and the funky, if polished, underpinnings bespeak a source where the talent pool is deep and standards are naturally high. This nine-piece band had four lead singers, two of whom played instruments as well. You can see them listed at my previous post on the band linked above. Also, see Dwight’s comments there on the background of Louisiana Purchase. I will just add that one of the other singers, Arthur Booker, may be the same guy who did a duet with James Booker (as Arthur and Booker) for Chess back in the Fifties. I hope to find out more about the career of Donald Whitlow, too, later on.

Finally, note that the Basin Street Records label for this album was Chicago-based and has nothing to do with the outstanding
contemporary New Orleans label of the same name started in 1997. I guess this recording was released just before CDs totally nudged out vinyl. If the masters are still available, it would be a worthy candidate for digital reissue. Maybe that would spark a rediscovery of this largely unknown group of great players who, as Dwight said, “definitely added to the musical legacy of New Orleans funk.” 

[Update 4/20/2007 - I've learned from Mr. Whitlow's daughter that the band has a new CD and a website now. ]

July 14, 2006

A Reprise For Fats

I’ve never gotten around to doing a full post on Fats Domino before. He’s had such a long career and released so much material, it’s a daunting task to tackle the Fatman. So, for now, I’ll just take on this side, recently pulled out of storage, from a time when circumstances had him recording far from home.

"Have You Seen My Baby" (Randy Newman)
Fats Domino, Reprise 0891, 1970

In the early 1960’s, Domino’s record sales were finally starting to slide; and his longtime label, Imperial, where he had an incredible run of hits for over a decade (60+ million records sold in just his final six years with the company), sold out to Liberty. His switch to ABC-Paramount did not help his cause, though; and he and the label parted ways after a few years. Fats then did some recording again with his long-time Imperial producer and friend, Dave Bartholomew, on his short-lived Broadmoor label and continued to tour, playing Las Vegas a number of times in the mid to late 1960’s. That was where Mo Ostin, head of Warner Brothers Records, and producer Richard Perry went to meet Fats, hoping to sign him and revive his recording career. He agreed to the comeback plans they laid out for him; and, in 1968, Perry set up sessions, mainly held in New York, which resulted in the Fats Is Back album. The producer and label wanted this to be the rotund legend’s splashy return to prominence: major label, hotshot young producer, nice budget for A-list players, etc; but it didn’t work out that way. For starters, Fats refused to play piano on the record! Instead, he recruited James Booker, who had the facility to easily cop his style, to cover his keyboard parts on most of the tracks. Still, the album was a strong showing for Domino. But, although his cover of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” (inspired by Fats in the fist place) made some noise as a single, neither the LP nor the three other singles pulled from it generated great sales. Since the reviews had been encouraging, Perry, a pretty good producer, but no Dave Bartholomew, kept the faith for two more singles, “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey” (a new Beatles cover – there had been two on the LP) b/w “So Swell When You’re Well” (from the LP - James Booker’s classic, which Fats nailed!) in 1969, followed by “Have You Seen My Baby” b/w “Make Me Belong To You” in 1970. Everything Fats did for Reprise, including the earlier Broadmoor material that they reissued in Europe on the Fats album, can be found on the Rhino/Handmade limited edition CD, Sweet Patootie: The Complete Reprise Recordings.

Composed by
Randy Newman, who did most of the horn arrangements and played some piano on Fats Is Back, “Have You Seen My Baby” is a good fit for Fats. He gives Newman’s sly lyrics their due; and the track is well-arranged and played. Newman probably did charts for the horn section again; and Booker was likely back on that electric piano that gets more rambunctious as the tune progresses. Perry used a plethora of players on the sessions for the album and singles, and they are not listed individually by track on the CD notes. But some of the more recognizable names on the impressive list are drummers Earl Palmer (another HOTG connection) and Hal Blaine, bassist Chuck Rainey, guitarist Eric Gale, and King Curtis on sax. Also in 1970, Fats recorded his final Reprise 45, “Sweet Patootie” b/w “New Orleans Ain’t The Same” with producer Fred Smith in Los Angeles, who, for reasons hard to fathom, put a kazoo prominently in the mix on the A-side. And thus, to that ignoble tooting, the comeback, an attempt to merge Fats’ classic New Orleans style with some conceptualized hipness of the day (covering Beatles and Newman tunes, not kazoo soloing), finally came completely undone.

Domino and Perry compare notes

Fats kept it together on the touring circuit after that for another 30 years; but the past year has not been good for this cultural icon and member of the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon, or his city. The images of Fats being pulled from his flooded Ninth Ward home last year made front pages and web pages around the world. He and his family had to relocate to the less damaged Westbank, across the river from New Orleans – surely a trauma for a nearly 80 year old man rooted in his homebody ways. And he cancelled his long anticipated 2006 Jazzfest set at the last minute. But, on a very positive note, Rick Coleman’s impressive biography, Blue Monday: Fats Domino And The Lost Dawn Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, was issued. It effectively details Domino’s career and gives a good feel for the social and cultural conditions of the times. I recommend it.

PS - Also, anyone hanging out here at HOTG needs to hear more of Fats’ copious earlier material cut in New Orleans. It's available on various comps. but the
Bear Family box set is awesome and definitive. Rick Coleman wrote the notes for it, too. And finally, as one of my good commenters pointed out, I neglected to mention Fat's latest CD, a compilation of tracks he's done over the past decade or so, Alive and Kickin', the procedes of which benefit the Tipitina's Foundation (non-profit) and their continuing work with New Orleans recovering music communtiy. Buy dat.

July 11, 2006

Tough Fluff

"Tough Guy" (Oropeza-Theriot-Jackson)
Kathy Savoy, Instant 3273, 1965

Today we address this bit of New Orleans pop fluff from Ms Kathy Savoy, a/k/a Cathy Savoy, or Kathy Savoie [see update below*], about whom I’d found out next to nothing over the years since I first heard this side on the Bandy LP compilation, Love You New Orleans. I later came across the single, too, which seems to have been her only release. While it’s not typical of the stuff I feature here, it is a fairly rare, and, I think, tasty piece of aural cotton candy. Besides, posting it gives me a chance to talk some about Earl Stanley.

“Tough Guy” was written by two of the same team that brought the world “Pass the Hatchet”, Earl Stanley (whose actual name was Earl Stanislaus Oropeza) and his partner, Ray Theriot. Oscar Jackson, who is unknown to me, is also given writer’s credit on Savoy’s single. Stanley, a mainstay guitarist and bassist in New Orleans back then, and Theriot were partners in Thunder Recording, a small New Orleans studio and production company where Stanley and his revolving band, the Stereos, recorded their own material and backed up many mostly unknown singers who didn’t have connections and wanted to cut a record on the cheap. The producers either released one-off singles for them, or leased the sessions to other local labels. That’s how “Pass The Hatchet”, the legendary 1965 record and subject of much cult-worship, got onto Joe Banashak’s Seven B. As well, Savoy’s project, the ballad “Let This Love Of Ours Begin” (same writers) b/w the hooky pop of “Tough Guy”, probably came to Banashak’s Instant label through a similar process that same year. While it may be empty calories, there’s some good musical energy and a nice, simple arrangement on our featured side, somewhat reminiscent to me of the Newbeats’ “Bread and Butter” (and maybe Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” a bit) from the same era. Savoy’s vocal is decent but unexceptional, like the single itself, I suppose, which seems to have gone nowhere in short order. [Note 7/20/2006: I've learned from the singer herself that she was only 15 when she recorded this single. So, her lack of vocal dynamics is due to inexperience. Still, there's an innocent charm to her voice that's appealing.]

For more insights about Earl Stanley’s long career, read
Micheal Hurtt’s fine Offbeat piece on him. It reveals that Stanley’s record business model was that there’s no telling what will be a hit, so to up the odds of scoring one, release lots of product, which he and his partner tried to do, good and bad, much of it on the fly, just to see what might take off The busy bandleader and side musician continued to do some production work for Banashak later in the 1960’s on sides by Art Sir Van, Lenny McDaniel, Skip Easterling, and possibly Lee Bates. Aside from his success on Eddie Powers’ now forgotten hit, “Gypsy Woman Told Me”, on Sims in 1964, none of his other songwriting or production ventures took flight; although, I would hope that the latter day recognition of “Pass The Hatchet” and it’s use in several film soundtracks and on CD compilations have brought him and his associates a few royalty checks for their efforts.

The only reference to other possible players on Savoy’s single is a mention I found by Stanley that drummer Wayne Tschantz worked with him on the sessions. As for Savoy herself, other than a listing as a background singer on some of Johnny Adams’ sides for Senator Jones in the 1970’s, there’s nothing more to tell. If you know anything about her, please drop me a line.

* Update: 7/18/2006 - An anonymous commenter has supplied this information: I just saw her sing as a walk-on guest in a Metairie lounge a couple times this past week. She also sings with a group called the Wise Guys. . .and has sung backup on Benny Grunch's "12 Yats of Christmas" CD series.

So, I pulled the Grunch CD from my archives and found her listed there as one of the vocalists, her name shown as Kathy Savoie. With that spelling of her name I was able to find her bio and photo on the Wiseguys website. It gives a pretty good rundown of her long singing career. Of importance to this post is her recollection that "Tough Guy" was cut at Cosimo's studio on Governor Nichols, rather than at Earl Stanley's place.

Now, I've got to try to find that LP she did with Wayne Chance backed up by Skor. I happen to have a late 1970's Skor single that I've never listened to (well, I've got a lot of singles, what can I say). I'll have to go grab it now, though I doubt she'd be on it. I am so glad to finally find out more about Ms Savoie (Savoy) and learn that she is still active in music. I will try to contact her through that website. Again, thanks to the unknown Metairie lounge hanger who sent me the leads!

Band Member of Louisiana Purchase Passes On

I received several e-mails today informing me that one of the vocalists from Louisiana Purchase, Donald Whitlow, passed away yesterday. For anyone who knew him, services will be held Tuesday, 7/18/06 at Charbonnet, Louis - Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home. Our sympathies go out to his friends and family. It is such a trying time for the people of New Orleans, still grieving for their area's damage, trying to rebuild and re-start, and then suffering these personal losses, too, that also tear at the city's cultural fabric. Do not forget about the people of the Gulf Coast. Healing and restoration here will take decades - and things will never be the same; but they can still be good with the right attitude and energy applied.

Just about a year ago, on July 15, 2005, I did a post on one of the band's unreleased cuts; and,
recently, I finally found a copy of their Basin Street Records album. I had been planning a post on it and will try to get that done in the next week or so, as time permits.

July 07, 2006

Voodoo Boogey On The Cusp Of Capricorn

"Sick And Tired" (Chris Kenner/Dave Bartholomew)
Johnny Jenkins, from Ton Ton Macoute!, Capricorn/Atco, 1970

There’s definitely some New Orleans influence to be found on this obscure, legendary album by the late Macon, GA native Johnny Jenkins, even though no musician from the Home of the Groove played on it and the sessions mainly took place right in his hometown. Seeing recently that Jenkins, an eccentric singer and guitarist rooted in the blues, had passed away (sad to see so many going), I thought I’d feature one of the funkier tracks from Ton Ton Macoute! with a direct link to the Crescent City and reveal some of the other connections, as well. You can currently hear another album track, “I Walk On Gilded Splinters”, a convincingly atmospheric recreation of the Dr. John vibe, at Monkeyfunk, which has also posted an obituary.

This LP was the second release from Phil Walden’s new Capricorn label, at the time distributed by Atco, the first having been the
Allman Brothers Band’s 1969 eponymous debut. I think it was probably Walden and drummer/producer Johnny Sandlin who were mainly responsible for getting elements of the New Orleans funk approach onto this record, as they had recently been in close proximity to the Meters and were well aware of Dr. John’s groundbreaking early albums on Atco. Because of the closure of the main recording venue in New Orleans, Jazz City Studios, due to owner Cosimo Matassa’s tax troubles, Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint had the Meters record a number of tracks for Josie in Macon at Capricorn’s new facilities around 1969 into 1970. No doubt their chops and consummate groove opened some ears and minds around the studio. Walden was so impressed that he managed the band for a time, or tried to, depending on who tells the story. Obviously inspired, the production team took the Crescent City route on several of Jenkins’ cuts, including Dr. John’s Gris Gris masterpiece. Jenkins and the fine staff musicians* also summoned up that psychedelic Mardi Gras hoodoo bogeyman feel on “Voodoo In You” and “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats”, which, while a bit hokey lyrically, were delivered convincingly enough.

Another New Orleans classic tracked was Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired”, stripped down to a rhythmic groove that obviously attempted to inject the Meters’ style into the mix. It’s an enjoyable, unusual take on the song that has Jenkins absolutely testifying about his woman troubles over the funky syncopation. While not quite up there with the masters, the track holds it own, much to the credit of Sandlin and band. Pete Carr is the only guitarist listed on this one. So, if he worked alone, he overdubbed some great interlocking parts.

Ton Ton Macoute!, the vinyl version of which can be quite pricey these days, was re-issued on CD in 1997 by Capricorn; but that now seems to have been deleted. Before the CD came out, I had long looked for a decent copy of the LP, but never found one, passing up buying a well-beaten (maybe roller-skated on) copy once. And back then, I didn’t even know all of its HOTG connections. I just thought any record with that title (translated as Uncle Gunnysack – the anti-Santa Claus in Haiti – it was the name adopted by a terrifying shadow militia there) must have some serious attitude.

Mr. Jenkins ran with good company, working with or influencing Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and the Allman Brothers Band early in their careers; and the one album to his credit remains an engaging artifact of it’s time, made up of portions of funk, blues, soul and early Southern rock. Props to him for all his contributions to music; and God rest his soul.

*Listed players on “Sick and Tried”:
Johnny Jenkins, vocals
Johnny Sandlin, drums
Robert ‘Pops’ Popwell, bass and timbales
Pete Carr, guitar
Some players on other Ton Ton Macoute sessions were
Butch Trucks, drums
Jaimoe, timbales
Duane Allman, guitar, dobro
Berry Oakley, bass
Paul Hornsby, keyboards

[Note: for another knocked out version of "Sick And Tired", go to Soul Detective.]

July 03, 2006

Free To Be K-Doe

"A Place Where We Can Be Free" (Allen Toussaint)
Ernie K-Doe, from Ernie K-Doe, Janus, 1970

I hope many of you here in the US are already enjoying a long Fourth of July weekend. Back in my radio days, I used do a yearly special around this time where I featured a bunch of New Orleans tunes having to do with freedom of some sort of the other, or just having “free” in the lyrics. Today’s post from Ernie K-Doe was always one of them.

Written by Allen Toussaint, from the Janus album he produced and arranged for K-Doe around 1970, “A Place Where We Can Be Free” very likely features the playing of most of the Meters, as they were the producer’s main studio unit at the time.
Last year, I featured one of the funkier selections from this LP; but today’s track, if heard alone with no notes to guide you, would probably not suggest that it was a New Orleans record at all, unless you recognized the distinctive voice of K-Doe. It’s a great little production, though. I say “little” because you will note that the instrumental backup mainly consists of guitars, bass, and drums – the only keyboard is the piano doubling the guitar on those descending runs that follow the “go get the one you love” sections. Also, this is the only track on Ernie K-Doe where there are no horns. I’ve listened to this song many times over the years; and I never really noticed that before. The relentless, driving bass, rhythm guitar chops and fairly straight drums really keep this tune moving along; and the glissando second guitar figures (likely Nocentelli overdubbed) fill things out nicely. K-Doe turns in a rich, energetic vocal performance; and all of his work on the album is of consistently high quality.

Oddly enough, prior to a few CDs he made rather late in his life, this is the only album the singer had that wasn’t just a collection of mostly single sides. But, as good as it is, nobody heard the thing. It was not promoted by the label; and not too many copies were issued, as it is a very rare find these days. Although I knew it existed, I had never even seen the LP until I found mine around 1990. Janus did release two singles from it, “Here Come The Girls” (a hands down classic that Soul Jazz has comped) b/w “A Long Way Back Home” [#167] and “Lawdy Mama” b/w “ Talkin’ “Bout This Woman” [#183]. Around the same time as this recording, Toussaint produced a version of today’s feature with Lee Dorsey that was not released until Polydor comped it on the CD Yes We Can…And Then Some. Although the arrangement is very similar, I much prefer K-Doe’s version.

As crazy (and I mean that in a good way) and self-absorbed as Ernie K-Doe could be, if you listen to this record and some of his earlier sides, you’ll find that his boasts about his abilities weren’t the hollow rants of a washed-up one (big) hit wonder. He had the chops; but it seems that Allen Toussaint was the only producer who could draw the great stuff out him. It’s a pity that their reunion on these sessions did not resurrect his career. In any event, although his time in popular music had passed, he somehow created his own mythology that lives on since his passing in his still functioning house of hero-worship, the Mother-In-Law Lounge; and so, he managed to get in the last laugh on the music business, and everybody else, for that matter.