August 28, 2006

Bad Water Anniversary

"Bad Water" (J. Holiday- J. DeShannon- R. Meyers)
Chuck Carbo, from Life's Ups And Downs, 504 Records, 1989

Well, it’s here. One year to the day since Katrina’s landfall near Slidell, LA, close enough to New Orleans to push storm surge up against and, at various points, over its levees and floodwalls, causing numerous failures, mainly from poor design, shoddy installation and years of inadequate maintenance. The breaches allowed massive flooding across the low-lying, vulnerable city, engulfing and destroying countless homes, businesses, and lives.

It’s hard to pick a song suitable for a day like this; but “Bad Water” kind of picked itself. It started running through my head last year, soon after I learned that the flooding had started. The LP it’s on, Chuck Carbo’s Life’s Ups And Downs, was still in storage at that time. I bought it in New Orleans when it first came out back in 1989 and used to play cuts from it on my radio show, including today’s selection. But, I hadn’t thought much about it until “Bad Water” popped up from my subconscious, where my psyche is always pod-casting. The lyrics to this song had never meant that much to me; but music can gain new meaning as time and tides go by. Now I hear this song as a statement about survivors wading out from the literal and figurative bad water that’s rolled over the soul of their city and having the spirit to endure and overcome, returning home, rebuilding their lives to an upbeat, second line strut.

Born in Houma, LA and reared in New Orleans, Hayward ‘Chuck’ Carbo is a great singer with a big, warm, mellow baritone, who started out performing in a gospel group, the Delta Southernaires, with his brother, ‘Chick’ (Leonard), in the early 1950’s. Producer Dave Bartholomew convinced them to record rhythm and blues for Imperial Records as the Spiders. When their first record, “You’re The One” b/w “I Didn’t Want To Do It”, scored double hits for the group in early 1954, they left gospel behind for good. The next year, they got into the top ten again with “Witchcraft”; but Chuck and the Spiders parted ways in 1956. Imperial kept him on the roster for another couple of years, though his two solo singles for them didn’t do much.. After that, during a ten year span starting in the early 1960’s, he made records for Teem (produced by Earl King), Cosimo Matassa’s Rex label (arranged by Mac Rebennack), Ace (ditto), Fireball/Canyon (with Eddie Bo), and Superdome (for Senator Jones).

Life’s Ups And Downs was a nice come-back album for him that generated a local hit with a single version of “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On”. The album was recorded with the cookin’ Ed Frank’s New Orleans Rhythm and Blues Band, featuring old pros such as pianist Frank, bassist Walter Payton, Jr., and guitarist Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson, along with future stars Shannon Powell on drums and Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Tenor sax men Ralph Johnson and Charlie Burbank rounded out the backing band. Unfortunately, this album also has the distinction of being Shine Robinson’s final recording, as he passed away soon after the sessions. On the strength of this LP, Carbo signed with Rounder Records, releasing two fine CDs,
Drawers Trouble and Barber’s Blues, in the 1990’s, both with Ed Frank leading the bands.

Count me in that number who think music can not only entertain, but uplift and help heal us, and make a positive difference in the world. I don’t know what Jackie DeShannon and her co-writers had in mind exactly when they originally wrote “Bad Water” back in 1970; but this solid New Orleans version certainly makes perfect sense today. So, play it loud for everyone down there trying their best to keep the bad water out and free themselves from the troubles it left them.

[As DJ Lu notes in the comments, the Raelettes did a version of this tune in the mid-1960s on Ray Charles' Tangerine label. Chuck Carbo and band leader Ed Frank covered that arrangement almost exactly.]

. . . and this was just some of it.

August 25, 2006

The Dirty Dozen Keep It Going On

I am beginning a new feature here on HOTG. When the spirit moves me and a record company sends me a new or re-issue CD, I will review it, so that I can keep what we learn about the past here connected to the present and future in New Orleans music. And what better place to start than with this:

"What's Going On", featuring Chuck D Windows Media Stream courtesy of Shout Factory

"What's Going On", feturing Chuck D Quicktime Stream courtesy of Shout Factory

from the new CD, What's Going On, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Shout Factory, 2006

How’s this for a concept? The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, elder (NOT elderly!) statesmen of the contemporary brass band movement in New Orleans, emerge from the devastation of their hometown with a brilliant new CD that takes Marvin Gaye’s 1971 soul/funk/socio-political masterpiece, What’s Going On, and recasts it to address Gaye’s burning questions and observations in 21st Century terms: new wars, new disasters, but the same old unresolved, underlying human problems. The band filters Gaye’s music through their own collective 30 years of experience as the city’s most well-known, influential second line instigators to render a work that stays true to the spirit of Gaye’s message, while re-grooving it. There’s an inspired amalgam of funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop styles at work with the added guest voices on various tunes of Chuck D, Betty Lavette, G. Love, Guru and New Orleans’ own, Ivan Neville, re-interpreting Gaye’s words and feelings. The Dirty Dozen’s What’s Going On will be released Tuesday, August 29th, the anniversary of Katrina’s disasterous landfall and the start of the events that followed from the failure of critical New Orleans levees and floodwalls. Shout! Factory is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each copy of What's Going On to Tipitina's Foundation, benefiting the music community of New Orleans.

Of all the moving New Orleans-related music that has been issued since Katrina, this record, as a whole, is both the most profound (Marvin’s message is universal and timeless) and the most enjoyable. These are grooves to be reckoned with; and you will be physically and emotionally moved by this seductive recording. The music pulls you into it rather than putting it in your face. Yet it is still powerful, infused with anger, sadness, concern, revelation and, ultimately, love.

Admittedly, I am often wary of records with lots of guest artists sitting in. The fit’s not always comfortable and can distract from a band’s own distinctive sound; but the extremely flexible players in the Dirty Dozen have a good track record integrating guests into their recording projects; and What’s Going On is no exception. The vocals are all spot on and heartfelt. Also, when I first read what they were up to with this project, I was a bit skeptical, thinking Gaye’s album was virtually untouchable. Well, touch it they did, caressed, undressed and re-assessed it. I should have known, since it’s not the first time these adventurous, amazing musicians have tackled material from outside the brass band genre, made it their own, and made it work in new and exciting ways. They have been doing it since their inception.

Yesterday, I got the chance to talk with one of the founders of the DDBB, baritone sax player Roger Lewis, about the new CD, music, life in New Orleans after the 2005 flooding, and the origins of the group. Although my call woke him up, he very generously agreed to talk to me and spoke freely about - what’s going on – what else?

As Roger explained to me, the concept for the CD was a collective decision by one of the producers of this project, Shawn Amos, and the band, who have a profound appreciation for Gaye’s music and message on What’s Going On. In the course of discussing doing some of Gaye’s material for the CD, the idea evolved to cover the entire album to honor both the 35th anniversary of the original and the one year anniversary of Katrina. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

HOTG: After you all decided to re-do What’s Going On in its entirety, how much of a stretch was it to wrap the Dirty Dozen sound around it?

Roger Lewis: It was quite a project, believe me, because James Jamerson, the bass player on those Marvin Gaye albums – this cat was an incredible bass player. Kirk Joseph did a fantastic job of emulating – not playing exactly what Jamerson played – but what he did on tuba was incredible, because it was like what Jamerson did on bass. I was trying to figure out how we were going to cover these tunes. I mean, we’ve recorded a lot of CDs in our day; but taking on Marvin Gaye’s music is quite a challenge! And not only that, our arrangements were created in the studio. Usually, we take the music out on the road for a couple of months and play it before we record; but we worked so much, we didn’t have a chance to do that. So, we just went into the studio and put our heads together, the band and producers, and everybody had input on arrangements; and that’s how it came out.

HOTG: It came out well. I commend you all for doing such a fine job on it. If you’re going to do that album, you don’t want to do it wrong, or not do it justice. But I really think you all did.
RL: We hope that Marvin, wherever he’s at, has a big smile on his face.

HOTG: You mentioned Kirk Joseph’s good job; and it’s great to hear him back playing with you all.
RL: Well, he’s not playing gigs with us. Our regular tuba player, Julius McKee, is back. About every time we recorded a CD, Kirk managed to be on the CD. He did some touring with us for a little while – came back for a minute – made the record and made a few gigs; but he’s doing his own thing, Backyard Groove.

HOTG: He sure sounds good on it. I know you all have a long history with Kirk, so I’m sure it was a comfortable fit.
RL: Oh yeah, it was very comfortable.

HOTG: It is coming up on the anniversary of Katrina; and, needless to say, New Orleans is not back in any way like it was before culturally or otherwise.
RL: Oh, no, man, culturally it will never be back, as far as that.

HOTG: How endangered do you think the brass band scene and movement is in New Orleans with all the upheaval and relocation?
RL: Oh, it’s not in danger at all. They’re still second lining there. You got the Treme Brass Band, the Rebirth, the Hot 8. A lot of these bands are back in the city. I don’t think it hurt the brass band scene at all; but you’ve got a lot of musicians that’s scattered all over the country.

HOTG: Yeah, a lot are having to commute in, like from Houston, to make their gigs.
RL: Just like our band. the drummer’s in Atlanta, Efrem’s in Virginia, Kevin’s in Baton Rouge, the trombone player’s in Jackson, MS, one guy’s in Slidell, I’m back in New Orleans, and Gregory Davis is back in New Orleans. People are still scattered.

HOTG: I read that a number of you took a really big hit.
RL: Yeah, our trombone player [Revert Andrews] lived down there in the lower Ninth Ward. His house is totally demolished from the storm. I had 15 or 16 feet of water in my house; and Gregory had about 10 feet of water in his house. In another house, I had 5 or 6 feet of water in it. That had to be renovated. Now, Efrem lives about 8 blocks from me; and he didn’t have any water in his house; but he had wind damage from Rita. Everybody took a major hit except our drummer who lives in Algiers [New Orleans neighborhood across the river on higher ground]. He had some wind damage from Rita, but it didn’t flood over there. I lost all my history, because the [first house] was the house I grew up in; and I had a lot of pictures from when I first started playing music in junior high and high school. . .all the family pictures. All that’s gone. All that stuff you can’t replace. You know, a lot of people lost their lives, all their worldly possessions. You know, older people who retired off these bullshit jobs they’d been working all their lives and finally got some retirement money where they could sit down on their porch and have friends over for gumbo, you know how we do in New Orleans, and get together on Thanksgiving and Christmas – these people got to start all over, man; and some of these folks in some areas didn’t even have flood insurance. People are committing suicide and just stressed out. My little brother just had a stroke from all the stress, you know, trying to figure out, waiting to see how they’re going to do, what they’re going to do. I mean, New Orleans is in a bad way emotionally. . . .

[Like with any conversation down here these days, we got into it a whole lot deeper on the fate and hopes for New Orleans, what is being done, and what needs to be done. The injustice inherent in the benign neglect that precipitated this catastrophy and in the plans to rebuild and re-populate the city. It’s not surprising that much of our conversation mirrored what Spike Lee covers in When The Levees Broke. I asked Roger if he had seen the film, yet; and he had not.]
HOTG: You’re one of the founding members of the Dirty Dozen. How did you get started playing in the brass bands?
RL: I came up playing in regular bands with guitars, bass, piano, and stuff like that. I started playing music in 1965, somewhere around up in there. I never played brass band music. I played in marching bands in junior high school; but I had always seen cats marching up and down the street in brass bands; but I had never played in a brass band, because my thing was always rhythm section, big bands, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, some jazz, that kind of thing. That’s what I came up doing. . .

[Around 1971] I was playing with Fats Domino’s band. The first time Fats took a year off [the mid-1970’s], I moved to Las Vegas and lived up there and in California for about a year, year and a half, then I came back to New Orleans and went back to Southern University and took some music classes under the direction of Kidd Jordan, and met a guy named Charles Joseph. He was taking some classes back there, also. So, one night I was hanging out in the Treme area; and I ran into a guy by the name of Darryl Adams. Darryl was playing alto with the Olympia Brass Band at one time; and he had a contract for a second line parade. I think it was a Sunday or Saturday parade; and he asked me, just hanging out with some cats, “What’re you doing? Would you like to participate in a second line parade?” I said, “Yeah, I ain’t doing nothing. I just got into town. Fats is on break again; and I’m hustling some gigs.” So that was my first time playing a second line parade. That’s before the Dirty Dozen got together.

So, through that, and meeting Charles Joseph. . .when I saw bands marching down the street, I’d just pick up my horn and go play with them and got to meet some of the cats. One of the dudes I met was Benny Jones. His band was the Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen Brass Band, they were calling themselves. He had connections with a lot of Social Aid and Pleasure clubs – everybody knew Benny Jones. Charles [Joseph] was a part of that Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen Brass Band; and one day Charles and I got to talking. A lot of guys don’t really know this story because, first of all, they weren’t there [laughter]. Everybody involved with the Dirty Dozen has a different story to tell; but they don’t know this story. So, Charles and I got to talking, and I said, “Man, we’ve got all these cats and Benny’s got all these gigs. Why don’t we get together and just organize the band and start rehearsing.” Charles [trombone] knew Gregory Davis [trumpet], so he called Gregory. Kevin Harris [tenor sax] lived down the street from his house. He called Kevin and Benny Jones [bass drum] and Jenell Marshall [snare drum]; and we started rehearsing at his daddy’s house. Tuba Fats [Anthony Lacen] was the first tuba player, but he didn’t stay too long. He decided he wanted to do his own thing, the Chosen Few [Brass Band], because we had different ideas about what we wanted to do musically. We wanted to play all the music. We wanted to do blues, bebop, avant-garde – so we just started rehearsing all different kinds of music.

Charles got his little brother, Kirk Joseph, who as in high school at the time, to play the sousaphone. We just rehearsed and rehearsed; and, later on, I think Jenell found Efrem Towns [trumpet, flugelhorn] and brought him into the band. So, we kept rehearsing and coming up with our own original music and playing music like Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, Michael Jackson – you know, not trying to change the traditional music of New Orleans, because we were still rehearsing music like “South Rampart Street Parade”. . .and all this traditional march music that they played in these parades along with the gospel music. All we did was add these other contemporary sounds to the music, for which we got a lot of static in the beginning from a lot of the older brass band musicians, ‘cause they said we weren’t a traditional brass band; but we were playing traditional music. We just added other contemporary sounds to the music which made a different feeling and a different beat, kind of picked the beat up a little bit. And the people loved it! [laughs]. I mean the jazz we were playing caught the ear of the producer and director of jazz festivals, the great George Wein, who recorded our first [album] on the Concord label and we took it all over the world.

HOTG: I’ve got that. It’s a great record.
RL: Yeah, My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now. So, he took us all over the world; and we got to be known among the jazz community and started recording with everybody. The horn section was so tight that some of the other artists wanted us to perform on their records; and we recorded over the years with Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, Buckwheat Zydeco, the Neville Brothers, Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews, you know the list goes on and on. We like what we do; and we’ve been together 30 years, four of us, anyway.

HOTG: And behind you came all the younger brass bands.
RL: There was the Pinstripe and the Rebirth Brass Band, the Algiers Brass Band; and later on there was the New Birth and others. You know, a lot of these guys who came out after us play our music, but they play it a little different. They got their own style. But a lot of them don’t even know they’re playing the Dirty Dozen. [laughs] They keep playing all this stuff; and a lot of the young people don’t even know they’re listening to Dirty Dozen music.

HOTG: You’ve become traditional!
RL. Yeah. They don’t really know the history of the music they are listening to and how that came about.

HOTG: You all have inspired a lot of players down there and brought it to the world. So, you’re going to keep on going. Do you have big plans after the CD comes out?
RL: We hope the record will be successful. It’s making a real strong statement politically; and we hope that it has an impact and may even change some things and make some people aware of some things. We hope it gets that kind of airplay. We don’t want people to forget what’s going on, not just in New Orleans, but in the world as we know it.

I am truly grateful to Roger Lewis, the Dirty Dozen, and their record company for giving me the chance to have this conversation and share it with you. I wouldn’t have done the interview and reviewed the CD if I weren’t already a huge fan of the band and totally impressed with the new release. The creative energy, talent and faith that the Dirty Dozen have put into this project gives me hope that the people of New Orleans, the state, the Gulf Coast region, our country and and the planet can work to keep our heads above water, do the right thing, and make a positive difference in what’s going on. This one’s another keeper.

August 23, 2006

Rat Trap Winner

"I Can't Lose (Part 1)"
Tony Owens, un-issued, early 1970's, from I Got Soul *

For the real groove hounds among us (you know who you are), we can sometimes be quite happy with a track that’s got great (or, at least, interesting) beats going on and not much else. Those of you who prefer your music with such niceties as melody, changes, meaningful lyrics, and further complexities should probably skip this one. When I heard “I Can’t Lose” a few months back on the Grapevine CD compilation* of Tony Owens material, I Got Soul, I knew I would have to feature it. The drumming style and Tony shouting out, “Take it, Rat!”. before the first drum break immediately caught my attention.

Let me backtrack a bit. Last year, in response to a piece I did on
David Batiste and the Gladiators, my friend, Dwight Richards, frequent commenter here and Chocolate Milk’s funky drummer, told us a story about a drummer he knew back when he was coming up on the music scene in the late 1960’s. Here’s some of what he said:

The Gladiators were one of the hottest bands around during the mid-60s. They rocked all the talent shows back then! This is when talent shows were premier events. I believe the drummer on that track [“Funky Soul”] was none other than [someone] I only knew as Ratty! Back then, “ratty” meant funky, and, to have the name Ratty, one had better be Damn funky. And he definitely was. I had the good fortune to be one of his friends or protégé, more likely. The reason Russell Batiste is so good today is because he got to see and hear and watch Ratty on a daily basis.

Of course, Dwight is talking about Russell Batiste, first class New Orleans drummer and son of David Batiste, who grew up playing in the family band, the Batiste Bothers, and went on to funk up, among others, George Porter’s Runnin’ Pardners, the Funky Meters, PBS, as well as his own group. If Ratty influenced Russell, he had to have some chops, alright. But, as Dwight told me later, Ratty had all sorts of problems with the law and was never able to work steadily as a drummer and didn’t ever get to record much. Dwight wasn’t sure what ever happened to Ratty. This track, then, from an unreleased early 1970’s Tony Owens session, is one of only two recordings I can pretty much say for sure he played on. Of course, as soon as I discovered it, I immediately got a hold of Dwight and let him hear it, too; and he knew it was Ratty.

So, enjoy the quirky, spring-loaded syncopations of Rat’s trap drum style on “I Can’t Lose (Part 1)”, where he’s called out for two breaks. The other accompaniment (bass, guitar, piano and tambourine) is sparse, but definitely in the groove. I don’t want short change vocalist Tony Owens
(see last year's full post on him) . His singing is nothing short of searing here. But this one is Ratty’s ride, and Tony knows it.

* I highly recommend this CD for fans of New Orleans soul singers. Primarily an impressive deep soul man, Tony Owens could throw down, too, as evidenced on today’s feature. The Grapevine comp also includes the funky Island single side I featured on him in 2005, “Do What You Wanna Do”. And, by the way, Dwight played drums on some of the tracks on this CD, too.

August 22, 2006


Last night I watched the first two parts of When The Levees Broke, Spike Lee’s remarkable documentary on the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans. It’s hard to watch, yet riveting. If you have HBO, Parts 3 and 4 will be shown tonight; and you can check the schedule for repeats. This is a well-made, heart-breaking testament to the best and worst of humanity in a time of crisis for our country – a crisis, I might add, that continues. . . . To help the public better understand the devastating extent to which the city and region have suffered and how various levels of government have failed them, Lee’s work is invaluable. It is instructive to see the President at the time in photo-ops pretending to give a shit and acting surprised by the consequences of his administration’s inaction (Ronald Regan was a far better actor), while various of his top officials are either absent (out shoe shopping, for example), clueless, or not even bothering to pretend -final proof that the term “compassionate conservativism” was never more than a meaningless oxymoron. I'll stop, but strongly recommend that you find a way to see this film that Lee calls “A Requiem In Four Acts”. Man, what a year it has been.

* * * * *

On a much brighter note, I have updated my August 4, 2006 piece about Sam & The Soul Machine, the Meters and the song they both recorded. I’ve had the good fortune to speak with Sam himself, and also heard from Gary Brown, as well. To see what I found out, scroll back down to it or find it in the archives.

August 17, 2006

Barbara George Remembered

Yesterday, I was contacted by Naomi King, a reporter for The Courier in Houma, LA, who was writing a feature on Barbara George, because, as she told me, Ms George recently passed away, just shy of her 64th birthday, which would have been yesterday. That was news to me. Ms King told me that George had been living in the Chauvin, LA area (South of Houma); but she was born and raised in the New Orleans Ninth Ward. The reporter had seen my early piece on the singer while doing an online search and wanted some details about that for the article in the paper. We talked for a while about what I could remember; then I sent her some more information, including this discography at Soullfulkinamusic. So, again, as has happened all too often these days, I started to work up a remembrance of Barbara George and decided to feature two examples of her work, the second being a replay of my earlier post.

"I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)" (Barbara George)
Barbara George, AFO 302, 1961

Barbara George was still a teenager when popular local singer Jessie Hill brought her in to audition for
Harold Battiste, who had just started AFO (All For One) Records in New Orleans with several musician partners, in 1961. Battiste, a fine musician, producer, and arranger, who had previously recorded numerous New Orleans artists for Specialty Records and worked with Bumps Blackwell on Sam Cooke’s first pop sessions, recognized her potential and set up a split recording date for her and another young singer who had just come in to accompany George, Lawrence Nelson, a/k/a Prince La La. At the session, George performed two of her own compositions, “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)” and “Love (Is Just A Chance You Take)”, which became the two sides of their first release on AFO, and just the second release for the fledgling label itself. The hooky, charming “I Know” immediately caught the public’s ear and was soon in high demand. So, on the strength of the song, AFO entered into deal with Sue Records to distribute the record nationally. Once available to a wider market, it soared to #1 on the R&B charts and #3 on the Pop charts. But her second AFO single, “You Talk About Love” b/w “Whip-O-Will” stalled at #46 on the R&B charts in 1962. That same year, AFO issued the album, I Know, on which all songs but one were composed by the singer.

Playing on “I Know” and the subsequent album were many of the founders of the label, the AFO Studio Combo: John Boudreaux; drums, Peter ‘Chuck’ Badie, bass; Roy Montrell, guitar; and Melvin Lastie, cornet; with Marcel Richardson on piano and an uncredited vocal chorus. Lastie’s solo on this single, written by Battiste for a distinctive change from the standard sax break, is a catchy, miniature classic perfectly suited to the song. George’s vocal, while youthful and not having a big range, is strong and has conviction on this and her other sides for AFO.

Unfortunately, the sudden success of “I Know” led to the rather rapid demise of both AFO and George’s career. Juggy Murray, the owner of Sue Records, was able to convince George to buy out her AFO contract and sign with Sue, plying her with inducements such as a new Cadillac which, unknown to her, was charged against her own royalties. Removed from her New Orleans backing, George’s four subsequent singles for Sue during the next year were decent enough but went nowhere; and, by 1964, she had left the label. Meanwhile, having lost both their main seller and national distribution deal, which Murray had severed on a technicality, AFO did not last too much longer, either. Some of the principals of the label relocated to California with Battiste, who tried in vain to keep the label going there. He went on to have a long association with Sonny and Cher as musical director, produced numerous other artists, including Dr. John’s first two albums, and eventually returned to New Orleans as a music educator.

"Satisfied With Your Love" (Joan Parker)
Barbara George, Seven-B, 1968

Very little is known about Barbara George’s personal or professional life; but, for whatever reasons, she did not record again until around 1967, when she did a session for the Seven B label in New Orleans, under the direction of Eddie Bo. That effort, a re-working of Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got” b/w “Satisfied With Your Love” (a Bo composition under alias), was not rewarded either; and at least a decade passed before she recorded again.

I actually prefer this cut to the better known cover of the Kenner classic on the other side, as George seems like she’s more comfortable and having a good time with the slightly suggestive (at least for the 60’s) lyrics. Bo’s arrangement is strong and steady; but neither the production nor the song itself are any great shakes. Still, just a stock Bo enterprise is worth hearing and enjoying any day. [As noted, Larry Grogan of Funky 16 Corners graciously allowed me to use his scan of this side. I transfered the audio from a Bandy LP compilation, It's Raining.]

Although her final two singles (see discography link) for Senator Jones’ Hep’ Me label in the late 1970-s era weren’t bad performances, neither of them got the attention of the public either. They aren’t particularly rare and can be found in shops and online fairly often. After that, nothing else was released on George until Collectables re-issued
her first and only album on CD in 1994.

I had never been able to find any solid biographical data about this singer/songwriter, who seems destined to remembered only as a “one hit wonder”. Searches only revealed that at some point she performed at the Lion’s Den, the club owned by Irma Thomas and her husband (which was destroyed by post-Katrina flooding) and sang at K-Doe’s funeral. Fortunately, a real journalsit, Ms King, had better luck with her research, being able to speak with family and friends. If you haven't done so, I suggest you read her article, even if you have to register at the site. Other than that, all I can says is, "Rest in peace, Ms Barbara."

August 14, 2006

Not Just Another Soul Singer

"Just Another Morning" (Charles Brimmer)
Charles Brimmer, Chelsea 3039, 1975

My friend, Red Kelly, put up an outstanding, informative post on the B-Side last Monday, August 7, featuring New Orleans soul singer, Charles Brimmer. As I’ve had several of Brimmer’s recordings on the back burner to post here for some time, I thought I’d just save some bytes and put one of them up at the same time as Red's excellent overview on this singer’s career, which I highly recommend.

Though not well-known nationally, Charles Brimmer was extremely popular in New Orleans and the South from the late 1960’s to the mid-1970’s. His primary calling card was his deep soul balladry, of which Red provides a good example with “ God Bless Our Love”, his biggest hit. Brimmer’s tenor is not of as exceptional vocal quality as Johnny Adams or Aaron Neville, two of New Orleans finest male soul singers; but he’s a very respectable, often quite moving vocalist; and he also has songwriting talent.

“Just Another Morning” appeared on Brimmer’s 1975 Chelsea LP, Expression of Soul, and as a Chelsea single, backed with “Please Let Me Come Home”, a soulful slow-burner written by Elijah Walker, who produced many of King Floyd’s early sides for Chimneyville. Raymond Jones (a/k/a Ray J), who was the musical director in Brimmer’s band at the time, arranged most of the songs on the album, including today’s featured track; and the entire project was a Senator Jones production. But it is not entirely clear where it all was recorded. Jeff Hannusch’s book, The Soul Of New Orleans, quotes Brimmer as saying that “God Bless Our Love”, his first and by far biggest Chelsea single (initially released on Jones’ JB’S label as “The New God Bless Our Love”) was recorded at Deep South Studios in Baton Rouge; but it is unclear whether all the tracks on Expression Of Soul, which also contained that hit, and the two follow-up singles, were recorded there. It is at least possible that some of them were done at Sea-Saint; but, there’s no telling, since neither studio nor session player information is listed on the album sleeve.

It’s my modus operandi here to go for the groove; and the Brimmer-penned “Just Another Morning” caught my ear when I first heard the single. It’s not really a New Orleans funk thing, having a more general mid-tempo Southern soul feel to it; yet it does kind of sound like a tune King Floyd could have done. While the arrangement is fairly straightforward, with a mid-song modulation, it’s the comfortably loose, in-the-pocket drumming that makes this number a fine ride. Brimmer’s voice sounds just a bit thin and strained here; but I still enjoy his performance. These sessions may have been rushed to get an album out after “God Bless Our Love” sold so well regionally, and even nationally.

Like I said, I’ve got another number from Charles Brimmer that I’ll try to get posted in the near future. My earlier post on the instrumental side of a single credited to him,
“Kung Fu Man”, which was just a goofy novelty tune, did not do the man justice. I hope “Just Another Morning” and Red’s B-Side tribute will help to show that he’s not just another soul singer.

Charles Brimmer c. 1975

Right On, Ms Mercedes

I have been getting some fantastic e-mails and comments lately, including some coming directly from people involved with the music I've been discussing. I am hoping to develop these contacts into features through which we can learn more about the New Orleans music scene from the viewpoints of those who were and/or are a part of it. Stay tuned for that; but, right now, I just have to give you a taste and share a couple of e-mails I got from Ms Mercedes Davis. As I think you will readily be able to tell, she not only has a wealth of information to convey, having grown up around and been a part of that scene, but she has a gift for expressing herself, too. So, imaginge my delight when I got these messages in the past day or so. I have combined them, edited them just a touch, added a few links to CDs she references, and a made few comments in [ ] brackets.

It's so great to see someone who has such a deep appreciation of New Orleans music/musicians. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of being on the inside, so to speak. Of course, back in the day, my girls and I (The Triple Souls: Inez Cheatam, Sena Fletcher, and Mercedes Morris-Davis) [!!!!!] were just a trio of nameless voices who were heard on many of the sessions being produced by Allen Toussaint/Marshall Sehorn, Wardell Quezerque, Eddie Bo and others. I had the pleasure of singing background on sessions with Betty Harris, Lee Dorsey, Johnny Adams, Curley Moore, Eldridge Holmes, Aaron Neville, and The Meters. Many of these sessions are on a 2-disc collection called Get Low Down. Aaron did some good songs on Make Me Strong. On this CD he re-did Art's "All These Things". The Meters joined the girls on this cut. I nicknamed Aaron Neville and Johnny Adams "The one-take wonders." When Aaron stepped up to the mike, we went through the song once and it was a wrap. Johnny was the same way. Aaron's "Speak to Me" is spellbinding. As far as I know, The Meters used female vocals on only one album --Rejuvenation. This is a must have CD.

Rejuvenation was not a pieced-together session. It was a work of art -- no sheet music, no rehearsing, etc. When they got the signal from the control room, they just jumped in with both feet and set the studio on fire. When they finished, we were just the icing on the cake. But, the funk was so thick in the studio that night, it just rubbed off on us and we took it from there. The albums (CD's) I've mentioned were recently purchased by me online from Tower Records. My albums were damaged during Katrina and I wanted to have this music in my collection for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I don't want to just tell them about this music, I want them to hear it.

Now, let's talk about Sam & The Soul Machine. There were some people who tried to create a competition between this awesome band and The Meters. The Machine's recordings were even canned because The Meters were a certain record producer's house band. They were told they sounded too "Meter-ish." Bull!!! The only resemblance was that both groups were extra funky. While playing at the Desert Sands (formerly on North Claiborne and Esplanade), the people attending Straight's Business College used to walk across the street to listen to the Soul Machine rehearse. It wasn't long before the owner saw an opportunity to make a few bucks and started a $1 cover charge for rehearsals!! On the weekends, you'd better get there about an hour early if you wanted a seat. You had a super tight band playing everything from Booker T. and The M.G.'s to Jose Feliciano plus three dynamite singers: Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville, and Gary Brown. When Cyril sang "Light My Fire" everyone in the club who had one would flick their BIC's -- almost gave the owner a heart attack. No matter how long of an intermission Aaron and Cyril took
[they were, unfortunately, out copping dope, according to their autobiography! -- Dan], the audience would patiently wait for the next set. I'm not telling you what I heard, I'm telling you what I saw -- I was there.

When the group alternated to the Greystone across the river in Algiers, a lot of their following went with them. The Stone was smaller and the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed. Gary Brown (The Pied Piper) would go out on the sidewalk playing his sax and the people would follow him in. His signature tune was "Drown in My Own Tears." He'd play this while walking up and down the narrow aisles between tables -- no mike. These guys were family; they just didn't have the same parents.

To cite an example, The Machine's drummer left to join the Army just before an Easter Sunday gig at the Greystone. Cyril was just getting out of the hospital (with both arms in casts). Many people didn't know what a hot drummer Cyril was. He told Sam, "I'll play drums", and he did --with casts on both arms. When it was time for Cyril to get up to the mike to sing, two girls from his hood sat behind him on stage just in case he got weak and Brother Aaron got on the drums. It all worked out fine.

These two groups are so intermingled that, when Art had to pare down his group to play at the Ivanhoe, Aaron, Cyril and Gary joined up with Sam. That's how it's used to be with the older musicians. Why can't it be like that again? It upsets me that we have lost so many musicians to Texas. Many of my musician friends are saying they aren't coming back. That comes from years and years of being taken for granted and underpaid. It comes from years and years of being pushed aside at Jazzfest time for the big name acts. To give you an example: For the grand opening of the Superdome, I performed with one of the opening acts (Margie Joseph) [wow! –Dan]and learned that Donald Byrd, The Temptations, The O-Jays, and The Isley Brothers were going to be picked up from the dressing rooms in driven to the stage in golf carts. I took it upon myself to request the same treatment for our group. We were wearing long gowns and high heels. After all, the Superdome is OUR house. Why should we be treated like little stepchildren? One year at the Fairgrounds, I witnessed Deacon John being denied the number of passes he needed for his family. Come on now, Deke has been a part of our culture since the 1950's.

I'm sorry, but something has to be done to show our musicians that things will be different (for the better) if they come back -- more money, better gigs, better treatment, etc.

So, sorry I got carried away. That's how we music lovers do!!
[no apology necessary! –Dan]

. . . Back in the day I started writing for a little free entertainment guide called "DATA News Weekly." The writing started quite by chance. I've always been a fan of Art Neville since he and his Hawketts used to play for my high school's dances (Xavier Prep when it was co-ed). They played for almost two years at a club called the Nite Cap (on Louisiana Avenue and Carondelet Street. Since the club was only three blocks from my house, I was there almost every weekend. Then suddenly, they weren't there anymore and they left no forwarding address!

A few months later, I was down in the Quarter to hear some of my friends who were performing down there. As I approached Bourbon and Toulouse, I heard some very familiar music coming out the open door of the Ivanhoe. It was Art Neville. They were called Art Neville and The Neville Sound Band. So I walked in and there they were squeezed behind a piano bar. I don't know what race you are (and don't care) but the band and I were the only African-americans in the joint. I took a seat at that piano bar and got totally involved in what the guys were doing. Then, without being aware of what I was doing, I grabbed a stack of cocktail napkins and a pen and began to write. I wrote about what they were playing; how they were playing; and how the people were reacting to them.

When I went back to work on Monday, I typed up what I'd written on those napkins. I knew if their Nite Cap
[fans] knew where they were playing, they'd fill that place. So to get the word out I sent my little article to DATA News Weekly. The founder of the paper (Scoop Jones) called me and asked my permission to print it. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays. I went back on Friday and there tons of Nite Cap folk waiting to get in. The next night, it was the same thing. During the next few weeks, Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn showed up at the Ivanhoe. Shortly thereafter The Meters were born. I'd like to think I had just a little to do with that.

Mercedes L. Davis

[By the way, I totally spaced on the fact that Ms Davis co-wrote the CD notes for the re-issue of P'ok Beans & Rice! I thought that name sounded familiar.]

Thank you for telling it like you saw it then and see it now, Ms Mercedes, and letting me share it here. To say I am impressed with your recollections and impressions is putting it too mildly. And, from what we have briefly discussed via e-mail, you have much more to tell. I look forward to talking with you in detail soon.

I'll be the first to say that much of what I write about this music I love, admire and am inspired by is gathered through print sources of various kinds in my possesion, on the 'net, or in my head sometimes. The stories and facts can get garbled passing through so many people (and my often sketchy brain) in the telling. Thus, it is always vital and refreshing to hear directly from someone who was there to provide new insights and verify or correct the information on hand. I've spent quite a lot of time in New Orleans over the years and have heard much live music there, but never lived there. I have a large archive of the city's recorded music. But, to me, hearing the stories and remembrances of people who were in the groups, in the studios, in the clubs is simply invaluable. Things are getting exciting - for sure dat.

August 12, 2006

How Did I Miss This?

Senior moments abound here at HOTG.

Through a recent comment from Jon Tyler, who offered to help find out more information on the "Gospel Bird" vs "Soul Machine" issue [August 4, 2006], I learned that he is webmaster of this site, the full title of which is The "Complete" Neville Recording Chronology, which is not only a mouthful to say, but a huge undertaking. The Neville family, in all its musical permuations and combinations, have been involved with recording for about 50 years now. While I am knocked out by what a fine job Jon has done with his site, which he keeps regularly updated, I am equally amazed that I'd never run across it in searches, read about it, or been told about it previously. As you might have noticed, I try to keep up with as much New Orleans music information as possible. Either Jon needs better PR, or I am losing it - and I suspect the latter.

I have added the site to the HOTG reference links and urge you to check it out.

Jon, thanks for your offer to help; and I'm glad I found out about you, too! I'll be checking in regularly.

August 10, 2006

Mudbug Love Songs

(Resistance is futile)

Well, I’m kind of off-season on this one, as the next crop of genuine Louisiana crawfish (a/k/a mudbugs) won’t be in until the fall; but I found one song about these crustaceans; and it led me to think of another. You know how it goes. And suddenly I had a theme for a weekend post.

"Crawfish" (Wise-Weisman)
Elvis Presley, RCA, 1958

I’ve recently been going through that box of 45’s from my childhood and found today’s first selection on a old RCA EP (by EP), which is actually the second of two extended plays the label released of songs from the movie, King Creole. Naturally (?), growing up in Memphis in the Fifties, I had a bunch of Elvis records; but I was no longer listening to Big E much by the time he went into the service. I saw several of his early movies back then, too, but not this one. I caught it on TV late one night when I was older. Of course, it became my top Elvis movie, as it is set in New Orleans and was at least partially filmed there. Elvis actually does a passable acting job, although imagining him as a singing Creole tough guy (with a heart of gold, of course) is a stretch.

. . .Elvis Presley was inducted into the army after he had filmed scenes for King Creole in New Orleans. Though the movie featured the singer's finest acting, it also echoed Hollywood's whitewashed "birth of jazz" travesties. Blacks were only seen in tiny, uncredited parts, including [Dave] Bartholomew's Imperial artist, Blanche Thomas, who appeared with Presley in the opening French Quarter scene as a seafood peddler lip-syncing the song "Crawfish". The film's producers also inserted ersatz New Orleans jazz into songs that ripped off rock 'n' roll recorded a few blocks away [at Cosimo's studio] - "Hard Headed Woman" was a blatant re-working of "Long Tall Sally" with a lame Dixieland break. --Rick Coleman, from Blue Monday: Fats Domino And The Lost Dawn Of Rock 'N' Roll. (Thanks to George LaTour for bringing this quote to my attention.)

Elvis does some campy, contrived songs and over-sings other trifles in King Creole - no news there, if you've ever seen one of his movies. Still, there are a few fairly good ones, such as the title track and “Trouble”. But, the strange “Crawfish” dished up for this film is unique. Though it attempts and fails to have a swampy and "authentic" sound, I still like the spare arrangement, the melody, and Elvis’ understated, sultry delivery. It’s got atmosphere, alright, but from the Louisiana of some alternate universe. And what to say about that background singer? I think she got her some crawfish boil juice down her shorts, cher.

During the annual Elvis Week festivities (which actually commemorate his death) in Memphis, that occur around this time of year, the dog days of summer, I would play a few cuts from the King Creole soundtrack CD on my radio show, as sort of a backhanded acknowledgement of the event. People come from all over the world to reverently pass through Graceland, see Elvis impersonator contests, buy corporate memorabilia, and attend the Candlelight Vigil, standing in line for hours for the privilege of passing by his tomb at night with a lit taper. The locals pretty much just hunker down and try to avoid the traffic down in that part of town; but, hey, nobody messes with the Elvis franchise and the bucks it rakes in for the city. My personal idolatry preferences lie elsewhere, as I think you can see; but, if you are into the King of TCB, no problem.

Anyway, moving on. When I played “Crawfish” the other day, I immediately thought of the Radiator’s classic about the best way to eat one. When I put it on, I realized how bizarrely well they go together. So, here ya go.

(Bua, Sears, Malone, Scanlan, Volker, and Baudoin)

"Suck the Head" (Ed Volker-Camile Baudoin)
The Radiators, from Law Of The Fish, Epic, 1987

It’s “Suck the head. Squeeze the tip”. Some get the wrong idea about the words. It’s about eating the boiled crawfish. You pull the head off, suck out the spicy juice from the boil ingredients, then squeeze the mudbug meat out of the tip (tail) to savor. It’s not about doing the nasty. No siree, Bubba. . . .

Well, whatever it’s about – the sparse lyrics are open to interpretation – and whoever Lord Cortegro and Queen Alphonso are, this is a pretty swampy, funked out rock song by a New Orleans band,
the Radiators (a/k/a da Rads). While "Suck The Head" has been in their repertoire for 28 years, as I recall, it actually pre-dates the 1978 founding of the band, being originally done by the Rhapsodizers. That earlier group contained, among others, songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist Ed Volker, lead guitarist Camile Baudoin, and drummer Frank Bua. Those three later joined in with guitarist Dave Malone and bassist Reggie Scanlan to form the Radiators, after an impressive first night of jamming together, which they've been doing ever since.

I was lucky enough to see the Rads early on –1978 or 1979- at Tipitina’s and was mightily impressed. At the time, I though they were a lot like Little Feat; but, looking back, I can say that they were the kind of New Orleans bar band that Little Feat always wanted to be. And I say that as a Little Feat fan. The Rads are just more down and dirty, I guess you could say. Not everything they did or do now is as funky as “Suck The Head”; but the spirit and hot, thick atmosphere of New Orleans infuses their playing. A truly road tested club band for almost three decades now, not counting all their prior experience, they are best encountered live; and their best recordings capture them in the act. Of those, I suggest, their first, 1980’s Work Done On Premises, if you can find it, and Earth Vs The Radiators from 2004 with the Bonerama Horns sitting in. The band also tolerates, if not encourages, amateur taping of their shows. So, I suppose there are many to be had for trade, if you are so inclined.

Of all the records they’ve put out, I think “Suck The Head” may only appear on Law Of The Fish, which was their second studio album and first on a major label, Epic. Issued in 1987, it has long been out of print* on CD, and was originally available on vinyl, too, I think. While rather slickly produced, it’s was a strong effort that even got them some brief commercial radio airplay for “Like Dreamers Do” and “Confidential”. Percussionist Glenn Sears, who is heard on this album, is no longer with the band. Guess it’s no wonder that “Suck The Head” didn’t go top 40; but it’s a great, greasy tidbit that just oozes that homegrown flava. They ain’t talkin’ no stinkin' Chinese crawfish up in here.

[*Update: Jon over at the Nevilletracks discography tells me that the entire album is available for download at iTunes. Thanks for the heads up, Jon. ]

Hmmm, Elvis, da Rads, Dixie Beer, and the scent of boiling mudbugs. Sounds like a pawty to me, dawlin’.


Coco Dris, Laughing Eye, 1972

After my wife saw my topic, she reminded me of the single she got long ago from her friends from Baton Rouge who were in Cocodris (that’s what you call an alligator in French-speaking South Louisiana). On one side of that record is a version of “Crawfish” that is very faithful in arrangement to the one from King Creole, but definitely having a more local flavor

The lead singer in the band was Ms Boco LaTour, whose smoky, sultry voice, I am reliably told by my lovely wife (a music geek par excellence, in her own right), could also really deliver on soul material, especially Irma Thomas covers. And, she is still delivering, singing these days with the Avenue Cruisers out of Donaldsonville, LA. I’ve got to get out to hear her live.

Boco, an HOTG reader and occasional commenter, tells me that Cocodris recorded “Crawfish” in the closet of their practice house in the spring of 1972. They released it on their own Laughing Eye label with distribution probably limited to gig sales. So, it’s a rare crawfish, for sure. Other members of the band were Mike ‘Shotgun’ DeBozier, conga and vocals, Scott ‘Coyote’ Baker, drums and vocals, Bill ‘Hollywood’ Bennett, guitar and vocals, David Tourville, bass and vocals, George LaTour, guitar and vocals, Sheila Tourville, vocals. Sheila does a far better job on that background vocal, too, than what’s on the original.

Kudos to Cocodris for taking on “Crawfish”. It never was in the standard bar band repertoire, even in the Deep South, that’s for sure! Their version lends a more actual Louisiana connection to the tune; so, I hope it gives you a bit more perspective on the song. And, remember, folks, only buy Louisiana crawfish! It’s important

Note: I don’t discuss much New Orleans rock on HOTG, for obvious reasons. But, for those who might be interested in some more background on bands from the Sixties onward, I suggest this article, which I found while researching today’s post.

August 09, 2006

Yeah, you right, Jan

I just got around to reading Jan Ramsey’s Mojo Mouth column in this month’s Offbeat and couldn’t agree with her more. The continuation of New Orleans’ musical heritage was always endangered before the Katrina flooding and is now just about on life support. In a national society that has for decades based its musical choices on corporate dictates, momentary whims, and disposable consumerism, it’s nearly impossible to foster appreciation for the concepts of culture, tradition, and roots. So, read Jan’s entire piece. It’s good context for anything you hear or read on HOTG or about New Orleans music in general. Here’s an excerpt:

When I first started the magazine, my mind boggled at the wealth of talent in New Orleans. The music literally bubbled up from the street. That’s become a cliché phrase, but once you do any research about the source of the city’s indigenous music, you find that the Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and multiple forms of jazz have literally been spawned by the tradition of passing the music from one generation to the next.

You’d think that because we have something that is so unique and precious—and ultimately ethereal—that there would be more interest in making sure that our music, that’s so ingrained in what makes us unique, isn’t lost forever.

That isn’t the case in New Orleans.

For a deeper investigation of the value of Crescent City culture pre- and post-flood, I suggest Tom Piazza's fine book, Why New Orleans Matters.

August 08, 2006

Heads Up For Those In The Mount Vernon, NY Area

I know it's short notice - but I just got the details.

Former New Orleans resident, songwriter and guitarist Teddy Royal, is performing this evening with the jazz legend, Jimmy McGriff, in Mount Vernon, New York.

If any of you live in or near there, I recommend trying to catch this! And let me know if you did.

Jimmy McGriff, with Teddy Royal on guitar
Place: City Hall, Roosevelt Square, Mount Vernon, New York.
Time: 7:00 pm tonight

I hear the mayor will be there, too.

As I have mentioned before, I have been working on a feature about Mr. Royal, who played guitar behind King Floyd and Fats Domino (to name but a few), did numerous sessions for Toussaint, and is a fine jazz guitarist. I'm hoping to wrap that up and bring you the first instalment soon. Stay tuned.

August 04, 2006

Gospel Bird vs Soul Machine (Updated 8/22/2006)

Today’s topic is something that I had meant to get to sooner. I just kept getting sidetracked. It got moved to the front of the line by this insightful e-mail I got just the other day:

Just played Sam & The Soul Machine's Funky Delicacies cd for the first time and a couple things flashed through my head as I listened: one, that the sax player (Gary Brown) sounds very much like he could be the 'unknown sax player' on 'Soul Machine', the bonus track on Sundazed's reissue of the debut "The Meters" cd...and then a few minutes later hearing the track 'Gospel Bird' a more stunned flash of realization that this track, which is a fragment, really, around 1:40 long (not 2:35 as the liner notes indicate) is in fact that very same song, although its brevity and the more primitive mix (plus the fact that without either "The Meters" or "Zony Mash" at hand, I'm unable to A/B the two tracks) made it impossible for me to discern whether these are different recordings (which is my sense) or "Gospel" is a snippet of the 'Meters' (?) track...Either way the fact that these are essentially the same piece is the most mysterious Meters event since I realized 'Grass' and 'Sassy Lady' are in fact the same exact track. Of course the instantly recognizable Ziggy Modeliste performs on both, but do you have any insight into this mystery? (Lack of recording dates on Meters material or any scholarship on their recording sessions continues to frustrate me)...Personnel on later S & the S.M. tracks is also not included in the band's cd. Thanks for your site, which I just accidently
discovered a week or two ago, when I read your piece on Cyril Neville's "Gossip." And thanks if you have any information on this topic.
John Ryan

To which I replied, mostly off the top of my head (always dangerous):

Hi, John:
Your reaction to the "Gospel Bird"/"Soul Machine" mystery mirrors my own when I got the 'Zony Mash' CD a few years back. As a matter of fact, I've had it on my list of post subjects for quite a while - just never seem to get around to it. Maybe your e- mail will be my motivation.

"Gospel Bird" is the same song, but definitely not the same recording as "Soul Machine", although Zig is surely drumming on both (he's even more syncopated on "Soul Machine"). The arrangements are similar, though. My guess is that, since both S&TSM and the Meters were quite familiar with each other, the Meters recorded "Gospel Bird" (who knows if that's the real name or not) at some point, because they dug it and knew their friends had never gotten it released. Then, the Meters' version was never issued either, for whatever reason. They may have just put "Soul Machine" on the track listing as note as to what (and whose) song it was, rather than as the actual name of the song.

An alternate possibility is that that the S&TSM covered a Meters original - maybe Zig could have composed it and hipped them to it, since he played on some of their sessions. But I doubt it. Since the Meters' version is called "Soul Machine", I am more inclined to think that they got it from that band. Zig could have brought it to them or they heard them do it live.

I'm with you on Gary Brown likely being the saxophonist on the Meters' version, and on other of their early tracks (I forget which right now) with an unacknowledged sax player. I know for a fact that Toussaint used him heavily in the 70's on his own projects (like the 'Life Love and Faith' LP from 1972) and other productions. Also, Brown is featured on Toussaint's 1975 Phiadelphia concert that appears on the Rhino/Handmade 2 CD set , 'Allen Toussaint: The Complete Warner Recordings'.

And, don't get me started on the lack of session information for the Meters and many other Toussaint/Sehorn/Sansu productions. Not having session information on many LPs they produced certainly does a disservice to the fine musicians who played on them, as well as interested fans and historians who are trying to figure out time-lines and such, years after. I would assume that, since the notes Sundazed (a pretty good re-issue label) provided with the Meters' series don't contain a wealth of information, there is little to be found.

You've got good ears, John; and you're obviously a stone Meters fan. Thanks so much for writing. Glad you enjoy the site

So, OK, here are the contenders:


"Gospel Bird"
Sam & The Soul Machine, from Po'k Bones & Rice, Funky Delicacies


"Soul Machine"
The Meters, from The Meters and Zony Mash, Sundazed

I’d let our exchange be the entire piece, except that I just had to do more research (well what did you expect?). Remember that I’ve featured Sam & The Soul Machine previously as part of my Tuff City Sides series (another project I need to get back to!); but I now can update that information. Art Neville talks a lot about the Meters. and Aaron and Cyril reveal much about the Soul Machine in the Neville Brothers’ auto-bio; and, if you don’t have it, you should get it. It doesn’t help much on dates, which can be frustrating (their co-author should have provided that context), but does fill in the back story on the bands quite a bit. The tales of the Soul Machine and the Meters are intertwined, just a few of the many related threads in the New Orleans cultural tapestry. If the Meters had not been born, the Soul Machine would likely not have existed, either. But, let’s go back a bit further. . . .

After heading the touring band and playing keyboards for Aaron Neville, who was on the road a lot after “Tell It Like It Is” hit big in late 1966, his brother, Art, returned to New Orleans and decided to get his own thing together, which initially included on vocals Aaron and younger bother, Cyril, who also played percussion and was coming into his own as a performer. As saxophonist brother Charles was living in New York, Art picked a young, hot sax player named Gary Brown for the band. Art Neville and the Neville Sounds were soon regularly playing an Uptown New Orleans club called the Nite Cap. At first, Art used various backing musicians, such as the legendary Smokey Johnson on drums; but, he soon chose some impressive younger players for his regular, increasingly funky rhythm section: Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr., and Jospeh ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste, George’s cousin. Prior to taking the gig, Leo had been playing guitar in the Sam Henry Trio and was a session player used frequently by Allen Toussaint. George, who had been a guitarist, switched to bass at Art’s urging. With steady gigging and appreciative crowds, the seven piece ensemble caught fire in a hurry in 1967.

The next event created a split that produced two new bands and altered the course of New Orleans music history. Art was offered a chance to play The Ivanhoe on Bourbon Street – but there was a catch. The stage was only big enough for a four-piece. So, Art make a tough business and artistic decision, essentially firing the front line, his two brothers and Gary Brown, to take just the tight rhythm section with him to the more prominent French Quarter. He explains that there was so much going on musically and rhythmically among the four players that he was sure they could hold their own as a basically instrumental combo, in the mold of Booker T and the MG’s, but with more funk and improvisation. And that they did from jump – and more.

While Aaron and Cyril were hurt by Art’s change of course, it didn’t take them long to re-group. Wanting to keep their gig at the Nite Cap going, they held onto Gary Brown and joined up with Sam Henry on keyboards, ‘Kent’ Morgan on guitar, Richard Amos on bass, and Richard ‘Bull Dog’ Bonnie (Boney) on drums (although Cyril occasionally played the traps, too), to form the Soul Machine, which by 1968 became a very popular cover band, doing uniquely arranged soul, pop and rock They moved on to other clubs around town like the Desert Sands. Then, at some point during the next year, both Cyril and Aaron separated from the band, pursued by their own personal demons and the law; but Henry kept the group together as Sam & The Soul Machine. In 1969, with some help from Toussaint, the group went into Cosimo Matassa’s Jazz City studio to record an album, having worked up a number of mostly instrumental originals. For those sessions, Henry hired ‘Zig’ Modeliste and Joe Gunn to drum on various tracks and was using a new guitarist, Eugene Synegal. But, the LP was never released, because the mater tape was held by the IRS when they closed down Matassa’s studio for unpaid taxes, seizing all his equipment and masters. Henry had a safety copy of the tape, but never could never get a deal; and the recording gathered dust until Tuff City/Funky Delicacies released it along with some later recordings by the band as
Po’k Bones & Rice in 2002.

Of course, the fortunes of Art Neville and his bandmates fared much better. The club-packing foursome, still called Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, were heard at the Ivanhoe by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn, who hired them as the studio band for Sansu productions in 1968. They were soon recording backing tracks for Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris, Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, Lou Johnson, and others, under the direction of Toussaint. While the producer was very strict about the players following his arrangements, the band was allowed to jam freely in the studio when not doing sessions for others; and much of that creative riffing was recorded. So, Sansu decided to market their house band, too; and encouraged them to come up with a shorter, catchier name. It was the Meters. Still, major labels all spurned the advances; and Sehorn struck a deal with Jubilee Records in New York to release the Meters material on the Josie subsidiary. The group racked up five chart hits for the label in 1969, four more in 1970, and ultimately released three albums for Josie before the label went belly up. On the strength of those hits, Warner Brothers then took them on.

Until we can get the definitive word from those involved, the exact origins of “Gospel Bird” and “Soul Machine” will never be known. The fact that the latter version first appeared on the Sundazed’s 1999 re-issue of the first Josie album,
The Meters (it pops up again on 2002’s Zony Mash comp), leads me to believe that it was recording during the 1968/1969 sessions used for the LP. That makes it fairly contemporary with the “Gospel Bird” session. To make matters murkier, though, the vast BMI song/songwriter/publisher database has listings for both songs! “Soul Machine” shows the individual Meters as writers and Bugaloo Music and Cabbage Alley Music as co-publishers. The writing credits for “Gospel Bird” are Richard Amos, Gary Brown, Samuel Henry, Jr. and Eugene Synegal (the Soul Machine minus a drummer), with Rhinelander as the publisher, which, as I recall, was owned by Sehorn and published many of the Meters’ early songs!!!!! Hoo boy. How’s that for musically incestuous? After all this, I’m still partial to the theory that the Meters were covering a Soul Machine tune, inviting Gary Brown along for the occasion, as it definitely required a sax player; and who better that their friend, an originator? The Meters’ BMI credits for the song may have been filed much later when this track was unearthed and released by Sundazed. Then again, I could be wrong.

Whatever the case, the song with two names is a dark, moody little number with Zig, I am sure, playing on both. I find his work on “Soul Machine” to top the take on “Gospel Bird” in funk quotient. Thanks, John, for getting me to re-focus on this little mystery. It’s not much clearer; but maybe someone out there can reveal more. If so, feel free to let us know. As for the rest of you, go get these CDs, if you don’t have ‘em. I insist.

[UPDATE 8/22/2006]
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Sam Henry, Jr., who confirmed that he indeed wrote “Gospel Bird”, one of the instrumentals on his ill-fated LP, recorded with the Soul Machine in 1969 in Cosimo’s Jazz City studio, where the Meters were also making their early recordings. He is not certain when the Meters recorded their version of the song and related that it was only recently that Art Neville had told him they had covered it. Sam learned about HOTG from former Soul Machine saxophonist and vocalist Gary Brown, who I had contacted by e-mail and who passed along my questions to Sam. Gary wrote me at the time that he did not recall doing that session with the Meters, and again, just yesterday, said that he does not know who is playing sax on “Soul Machine”. This was backed up by Sam, who said that he and Gary had discussed it, but could not figure out who the mystery horn player might be. Sam pointed out to me that whoever it was had incorporated elements of Gary’s style. So that much remains a mystery, as does why the CD version of "Gospel Bird" fades out at 1:46, when the track listing shows 2:36. Sam had no idea why they faded it early. I'll try to ask Tuff City.

But it is great to have direct confirmation of the authorship of “Gospel Bird” and to certify that it is the original. We did not discuss the ramifications of BMI showing separate songwriting credits for the Meters on “Soul Machine”. Instead, Sam had more to tell me about the songs re-issued on CD by Tuff City/Funky Delicacies. For example, he got some of the song titles (and name for the album) from a menu he picked up back then at a restaurant on an old highway into New Orleans (90, I think he said). The place was called the Water Hole; and on the menu were such dishes as Po’k Bones & Rice, and Gospel Bird, which was chicken served on Sunday. Those three names became titles for some of the tunes. As Sam tells it, the album was designed as an all instrumental project. A later album was planned with the vocalists, Cyril and Aaron Neville and Gary Brown, but never panned out, although Gary Brown did later sing on a few single sides with the band. One of those, “Get Down” is also on the CD. Cyril and Aaron were still members of the group when the LP was made, but, as I have pointed out, they never recorded with the band. Sam says the brothers were often out of town, either in New York or California (details of those trips are in their autobiography) in those days, which is why only Cyril appears in the photo on the CD cover.

As for the last five songs on the P'ok Bones & Rice CD, Sam told me that he wrote and recorded them for a separate project he produced himself at Sea-Saint studio around 1973, using the regular session players there: Herman Ernest on drums, many of the members of Chocolate Milk, including the horn section, with Steve Hughes and Teddy Royal on guitars. So, these tracks did not actually invovle the Soul Machine.

Sam Henry lost his home and pretty much all of his worldly goods to the flooding last year and now resides in Texas. He has graciously agreed to speak to me again; and I hope to do a full feature on him later, based on our conversations. Again, thanks to him and Gary Brown for helping us know more about their music. Gary has a new CD out, on which Sam plays extensively. You can hear song samples and find out more about about Gary and his recent endeavors at his website.

August 01, 2006

Love My Susie-Q

"Susie-Q" (D. Hawkins - S.J. Lewis-E. Broadwater)
Dale Hawkins, Checker 863, 1957

I’m surprised this record has any grooves left on it. I got it at the TG&Y store in Memphis, when I was eight years old – I started collecting early – and played it incessantly. I absolutely flipped over this guitar-lover’s wet dream then, and am still big on it today, although I generally play a CD version on one of several re-issues of Dale Hawkins’ early recordings. But I thought I’d give you a shot of the real deal 45 that I’ve carted around with me for almost 50 years, because it is a timeless tune with a proto-funky groove, and is a product of Northern Louisiana via Chicago’s Checker Records.

After returning from a stint in the service in the mid-1950’s,
Dale Hawkins was working in Stan Lewis’ record shop in Shreveport, LA and fronting his own band. In 1956, he bought some time for an off-hours recording session at KWKH’s broadcast studio in Shreveport and recorded his earliest sides. Lewis, who also distributed records and later owned the Jewel and Paula labels, got Leonard Chess to release some of those songs; and, when “Susie-Q” hit, further sessions resulted in an album and more singles. Although long associated with the rockabilly style, Hawkins’ blues and R&B influences are evident on “Susie-Q”. Bill Millar’s excellent notes to the Ace (UK) CD comp, Rock ‘N’ Roll Tornado, reveal that the burning Telecaster solos and the low-down, swampy, classic central riff by 15 year-old lead guitarist James Burton were influenced by the blues chops of such greats as Hubert Sumlin of Howlin’ Wolf’s band and Gatemouth Brown, among others. Prior to gigging with Hawkins, Burton had been a country music guitar prodigy, playing in the backing band on the KWKH’s Louisiana Hayride program; but Hawkins required him to listen to and learn the blues for the band’s club gigs – and the kid listened well. As Millar and others also point out, Hawkins’ lyrics on this song have similarities to the Clovers’ 1954 Atlantic side, “I’ve Got My Eyes On You” (from which it would seem John Lee Hooker also derived his 1956 Vee-Jay release, “Dimples”). Still, “Susie-Q” was something special.

Session details for this track are not completely resolved; but the three certainties are Hawkins, Burton, and Ron Lewis, who was on drums. Because Hawkins’ regular drummer, A. J. Tuminello was unavailable that night, Lewis (who was related to Stan), sat in, copying as best he could the patterns that Tuminello had developed for the song. While Lewis’ playing is a bit sloppy at times, the percussion is another key element to what makes this song so compelling. The far from straight sticking, heavy on the toms, and syncopated, loosely Afro-Cuban cowbell beat move toward a hip-swaying jungle groove. Another well-placed percussive element reminiscent of gospel music, the handclapping, was likely provided by friends of the band. Finally, Hawkins attributes the simple, poorly recorded bass playing to another Shreveport local, Sonny Trammell.

Although James Burton and Dale Hawkins actually wrote the song, when the record came out, credits were given to Hawkins, Stan Lewis, and Eleanor Broadwater, who was the wife of DJ Gene Nobles on Nashville’s R&B radio giant, WLAC. It was not unusual in the Fifties and Sixties for powerful DJ’s to get a cut of the royalty action to encourage them to play songs. Lewis took his part, it is assumed, for his efforts in getting the recording to Chess. But Burton, rightly, felt burned.

A gifted songwriter and strong vocalist, Hawkins also had a great ear for choosing young guitar slingers for his band back in the Fifties. Besides the legendary James Burton, who left the band soon after “Susie-Q” became a hit, Hawkins also had the then unknown
Roy Buchanan as a sideman for a while. With only four songs that made the charts, Hawkins faded from general popularity by 1960, but has long been a favorite of collectors and rockabilly revivalists. He continues to perform and has made several appearances at the Ponderosa Stomp in recent years; and, from what I hear, he’s still got it.

Many of you may only know “Susie-Q” from John Fogerty’s quite decent 1968 rendition with Credence Clearwater Revival. But the original can’t be beat. It is a unique, seminal side that blurs the lines between rock, blues and R&B, revealing the gumbo-pot of influences cooking in so much music emerging from the South in that decade.

Dale, back then