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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this and all the other tracks you make available, good work

2:03 AM, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not Gary and Phil Neville, then.

(nice blog you've got here)

3:29 AM, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Fiyo On the Bayou' is a bomb. Hope the aligator survived it ;-) where is Whitney today?

3:40 AM, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deep funk, sweet. I like this version better than the Meters. Thanks for turning me onto it. They have the remastered version on ebay. Have to have it.

8:50 AM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Not Robbie Neville, either, Harry!

Those gators are tough, Michael. And Whitney is...in rehab maybe?

Yeah, Marco, it's good to know that this album is still available on CD. The Meters' version is pretty simple and effectively down and dirty. The bigger production on 'Fiyo' was a risk that turned out to be worth it, due to the quality of the players and some great mixing.

11:09 AM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger TravelingMermaid said...


11:10 PM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger J Epstein said...

The Wardell Quezerque string arrangement on "Mona Lisa" may be the best thing about this truly unbeatable album. I've been a big fan since the year it came out and there was once a time when it was in the heaviest possible rotation chez moi. Thanks for the memories!


8:33 PM, July 24, 2006  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

yeah, you rite!

10:48 AM, July 25, 2006  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Great track and better story. I never knew anything about the Meters/Nevilles transition. You have done another great, New Orleans-related public service!

3:05 PM, July 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet, I'll have to check that one out.

3:17 PM, July 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the version of 'run joe' is quite good. obviously, the original piece has a bit different lyrical bent. did any other nola artist cover jordan's classic bit prior to the nevilles here? trying to remember....are there any other recordings of louis jordan covers by meters/nevilles? louis lived in nola for several years before retiring to the west before his 1975 demise. i dont know much about his involvement with the local scene around that era.

8:34 AM, July 30, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yeah, the Neville's version updated Jordan's lyrics a bit and has a similar island feel (Jordan's was pseudo-calypso, I guess you could say); and it is a nice cover of the tune. I don't recall another version of 'Run Joe' by other NO artists; and I don't think the NB have ever covered anything else that LJ did. LJ is a personal fave of mine; but I was not aware that he ever lived in NOLA and have never seen or heard anything about him being involved in music there during that time. If you ever run across anything, please let me/us know.

5:07 PM, July 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, i think i overstated things a tad regarding jordan. louis did live in nola for most of 1974, working a solo gig with pick up bands in the quarter. he made his last recordings there, with the wallace davenport band. mostly standards and some with a gospel singer whose name escapes me (it was NOT bessie griffin). i have never heard these recordings, pretty sure they are not in print, and pretty sure they are not available on cd. but if any of yall have a copy......
i know little else about jordan's nola tenure. it does fit-although he was from brinkley arkansas, he could well have hailed from nola or nearby.

8:45 PM, July 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Dirty Dozen have done a version of Run Joe off the record they did w/ John Medeski (name escapes me now.)

Please post if you hear anymore of Louis Jordan in New Orleans in 1974. I wonder if the stuff he recorded has been released on Evidence and include "New Orleans and a Rusty Old Horn."

Louis Jordan is the bomb. Brinkley Arkansas - famous for being his birthplace, Levon Helm's birthplace, and having one of the biggest bridal shops in the South. On Highway 49 too.

Great site, by the way.

Jazz Lunatique

1:54 PM, August 01, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Good recall, JL (hmmm, those initials sound familar...) on that Dirty Dozen version of "Run Joe". It's on the great 'Buck Jump' CD.
We all need to research Louis Jordan's stay in New Orleans and find any recorded evidence. I've got it on my loooong to-do and want lists. And, yes, I've passed by and/or through Brinkley many a time - missed that bridal shop somehow. Gotta be a righteous place if Louis and Levon started out there (the town, not the shop).

3:23 PM, August 03, 2006  

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