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.]


Blogger dannye said...

Heh. Johnny Sandlin's living room in Decatur, AL, was the first place I ever met Duane and Gregg Alllman. Sandlin's dad owned the hardware store in that little town and he let his boy practice with his bands in the living room. We used to go over there and watch those practices. Pete Carr was also there. He had been jamming around with some some other friends of mine, so I knew him fairly well. But, even at that early age, it was obvious that Duane had some primal knowledge about playing the guitar that could probably be in the "sold your soul" category.

10:11 AM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Uncle Groover, you have been holding out on me. Or did you once tell me all this and I forgot it?
Probably the latter. Just out of curiousity, when were they all jamming at Sandlin's folks' house?
Before, during or after they were in the Allman Joys together?

10:56 AM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger dannye said...

Well, as you can imagine, all this is a bit fuzzy to me now. But I do remember that they played as the Hour Glass at the local armory that summer. So I'm thinking this must have been in 1967, the year I graduated high school. And I'm sure at some point we have discussed all this, but don't ask me when or where.

11:18 AM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

OK, I wasn't trying to test your recall; but your 1967 estimate would seem to be spot on with the fuller Allman's band history I found (I'm going to change the link on this post to it). The original Allman Joys had broken up by then and the brothers came to Decatur to work with Sandlin's band, which was called the Five Minutes (remember that?) and supposedly had Paul Hornsby on keys and Pete Carr on bass. Those guys all went out on the road with Duane and Greg, up to St. Louis, then out to L.A. to record as the Hour Glass.

You, Uncle G, were witnessing music history, for sure. Thanks for letting me/us know.

And,thanks to John Paul, for making me start thinking about the Allman's again in the first place.

12:12 PM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger dannye said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:22 AM, July 14, 2006  
Blogger dannye said...

If you're interested, I wrote about Duane a few years ago over at the E2 site. The link is http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1149732.

I also wrote about a little-known story recalling where they might have gotten some of their early financing. That link is http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=797928.

9:24 AM, July 14, 2006  

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