September 29, 2006

REVIEW: Big Easy Benefits From Big Apple's Polish

Having only been able to read about this concert, I eagerly agreed to review the new two DVD set from Rhino Entertainment. The promo man’s e-mail said that the original New York City show(s) raised over $9 million for long-term Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in the New Orleans area, and 100% of the of the funds from net DVD sales will also go toward that cause. So, if you buy it, you are still contributing to the ongoing efforts – that could mean more substantial drops in da bucket down the line. Fortunately, this concert has plenty of memorable performances that will make your support seem that much more worthwhile.

Released on August 22nd, it took a while for the set to get here; but I got to watch it this past weekend and will cut right to the chase. My number one reason why you should own this concert film? Irma Thomas singing “Time Is On My Side”, backed by Allen Toussaint and his band. In a word – transcendent. She appears about halfway into the first DVD, one of many vocalists (not all of them from the Big Easy) who come on to do an individual number (many of them Toussaint-penned) with the master himself. On a night when there were many fine, memorable performances, Irma's can't be topped. When she started singing, I immediately teared-up. Her voice is so strong, full of conviction, and utterly soulful. I’ve heard her sing this Jerry Ragavoy tune many, many times – but never have I heard it mean more to Irma, her audience, and her hometown. It says all that needs to be said about why New Orleans and its people are important and why they will endure. Everything Irma sings at this show is magic (a frequently reached state for her – as those who saw her at the re-opening of the Superdome can attest); but after hearing “Time Is On My Side”, her other efforts and the rest of the show are just good soppin’ gravy. My wife agrees with me on this, so I must be right!

That said, let’s talk some gravy, then, about what else awaits you as your digital decoder processes the over three hours of performances from Madison Square Gardens on September 20, 2005, just about three weeks after the floodwalls and levees failed, and much of New Orleans and environs was still aquatic.

Toussaint and band are awesome accompaniment for much of Disc 1. Everything they play on is worth hearing, from his own upbeat take on “Southern Nights” to the strangest turn of this night, a duet with Cyndi Lauper (!?- well, the girl can sing, and is a New Yorker)) on a fusion of his “Last Train” with Barbara George’s “I Know” that defies all common sense by not becoming a train wreck. Of other highlights, Art Neville, beset by back problems, hobbles out on-stage and nails Toussaint’s “All these Things” – best version he’s ever done of it – perfectly touching and understated. Brother Cyril Neville’s powerful “Big Chief” also rings true – it’s a Professor Longhair song he’s done so much, he just about owns it now. Aaron Neville’s vocals with Toussaint and elsewhere over the two discs are, as always, amazing to hear and behold, even if his lung capacity isn’t quite what it used to be. On “Hercules”, Lenny Kravitz sounds a bit out of his depth (Aaron’s original version casts a big shadow), but redeems himself later in the “Blues Band” segment. Elvis Costello’s reading of two Toussaint classics is heartfelt; and I think it spawned their later CD collaboration. Also, I have to give props to Bette Midler for pulling Randy Newman’s moody classic, “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” out of left field. It was one of the more satisfying surprises of the show.

The “Blues Band” segment ends the first DVD with Kravitz, Ry Cooder (who dressed this man?) and Buckwheat Zydeco jamming together on a few tunes, including Lenny’s great version of “When The Levee Breaks”. And then, they back Irma on “Backwater Blues”, another excellent turn for her, where you catch a few tears rolling down her cheeks.

The second DVD is much more of a hodgepodge of bands and styles that don’t really mesh all that well – not that anybody had much time to plan this monster concert.

If you look at the listings I am sure the question will arise, as it did to me watching: why do Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band (with Sonny Landreth sitting in) get 6 out of the 18 tunes? From what I hear, there was much more show than made it to DVD. So, Disc 2 is inexplicably Reefer heavy. Why not more Rebirth Brass Band, say? Well, if you’re a Parrot Head , no problem, you’ll be satified; but, if you’re not, you can just skip those and maybe John Fogerty, too, whose voice just flat fails him on his two energetic classics. That will get you to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and friends’ three tunes; two of which should not be missed. On one, the legendary Dave Bartholomew comes on for his proto-rap, “The Monkey, with Costello shouting out those telling verses. Dave is still so cool it’s scary, and ,well into his 80’s, plays a mean trumpet. That’s evident on the three horn showdown between Bartholomew, Troy Andrews (trombone), and Kermit Ruffins (trumpet and vocal) on “St. James Infirmary” with the Dozen that is truly a workshop in the living New Orleans jazz spirit.

On their short set, New Yorkers Simon and Garfunkel invite Aaron Neville in to take a verse on “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (how could they not do that one?), and, of course, he steals it. Then, the remainder of the show is rightly given over to New Orleans acts. Out comes the current Neville Brothers Band, who summon up some righteous funk on their own before joining with the Meters to strut on “Hey Pocky Way”. Seeing and hearing ‘Mean’ Willie Green and Zig Modeliste pumping up the groove together - priceless. Then, Aaron , backed only by brother Art on organ, takes “Amazing Grace” into deep goosebump territory, as only he can do. And, finally, all the Big (Un)Easy krewe join in on “Saints”, just so you know it’s a wrap.

Along the way you also get to hear just a bit of the Rebirth, who parade in to start the show, Sir Elton, Frogman Henry, the Dixie Cups, plus Paul Shaffer (I think it’s a union rule that he has to be on all music shows) and Diana Krall sitting in here and there on keyboards, among other stars and notables hanging and introducing. On a big benefit concert like this, you don’t begrudge at all any big names stepping up to respect and help New Orleans. It’s amazing how well-done this show is considering it’s sheer size and the speed in which it came together, under the executive production of Quint (Jazzfest) Davis with the assistance of so many others. It is well-shot; the sound quality is excellent; and the New Orleans performers rise to the occasion, overcoming shock, heartbreak and loss to make a unified musical statement that cannot be denied:

New Orleans - the birthplace of jazz, one of the vital nexus points in the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, a seemingly inexhaustible font of R&B, and the full-blown foundation of funk – must and shall rise again. Enjoy the show.

September 24, 2006


Today I am offering my first large HOTG Special Feature. I don’t expect you to swallow it whole. Take it at your own speed. One of the pleasures of doing this blog has been the contact I’ve made with some of the under-recognized artists and unsung sidemen involved with the music featured and discussed here. I’ve been archiving my conversations with several of them over the past year or so and am now beginning to develop the information they’ve shared into more detailed pieces that I will be occasionally bringing to you.

[This is the first installment of a two part piece. There is a direct link to Part 2 at the end of this post.]


Although he is not a New Orleans native, versatile guitarist and composer Theodore ‘Teddy’ Royal has made a significant contribution to the music scene of the city during his various extended sojourns there over three anda half decades. In this first installment, we’ll trace the circuitous path that led him to New Orleans and explore his role as a frequently used session player and musical collaborator.

Teddy Royal was born in New York City in the late 1940’s and raised in the Bronx. His mother was a local fashion designer; and his step-father was from Barbados. At a very young age, Teddy began admiring guitars he’d see displayed in pawn shop windows; so his mother bought him a toy one when he was about six. He took to it immediately, trying to copy tunes he’d hear on the family record player. But his first paying performing experiences as a youngster were tap dancing on the street in Harlem for tips. After his uncle gave him his first real guitar, Teddy woodshedded on it into his teenage years, when he wasn’t working a part-time job and going to school. R&B and soul were his early musical influences; and he was drawn to songs that had both a strong groove and a good structure.

The first band he joined was called the Whips, managed by Honey Cole, who worked at the Apollo; but, that didn’t hold together too long. Then, in the later 1960’s, Teddy hooked up with a vocal group called the Four Pennies that had formed in Tampa, FL and come to New York. One of them, John Myers, had previously been in the Five Pennies, a vocal group going back to the 1950’s that had done some recording on their own, as well as singing backup on many R&B sessions. Just prior to Teddy’s joining their band, the Four Pennies recorded two singles for Brunswick in 1966 and 1967. Although the teenaged guitarist was still learning his instrument, figuring out keys and chording, the much more seasoned group took him on, because he was willing to rehearse with them for long hours and learn their material for virtually no money.

With Teddy in the backing band, the Four Pennies hit the road, making a repeated long circuit North that included Halifax, Nova Scotia, Boston, MA, and Providence, RI, as main stops. In Montreal, one of the group members became involved with Stephanie DeParis, who became the group’s manager. Setting up their base of operation in Providence, DeParis booked them regularly at area clubs, where the hardworking, energetic show band built a large following. Around the start of 1970, she had them work up a demo tape of material, for which Teddy wrote the original music. She took it to Detroit to shop it around, having changed the group’s name to Hearts Of Stone. In short order, Motown expressed interest in signing the group and brought them to Detroit to record.


These were the first major studio sessions for Teddy. He and the group spent at least a month at Motown working with arranger and producer Hank Cosby. The arrangements Cosby worked up for the Hearts Of Stone sessions were based around the music that Teddy has written for the demos; and the resulting tracks were released on Motown’s VIP affiliate. There were two singles, “It’s A Lonesome Road” b/w “Yesterday’s Love Is Over” (25058) and “If I Could Give You The World” b/w “You Gotta Sacrifice” (25064), and a album, Stop The World - We Wanna Get On (404), which included all the single sides, plus other originals and cover tunes.

When not cutting with the group, Teddy still came to the Motown studios every day and played with the house band (collectively known as
the Funk Brothers) on whatever sessions Motown had going. It was exciting for a young, inexperienced guitarist, but also daunting. As he recalls,

I would come in everyday and play on songs I didn’t know if I was on or not. I just knew that the band was playing, and I started playing; and the producer who was doing the orchestrations was looking at me laughing because he knew that I didn’t read all that well. But, I was playing and I was in tune. I must have played on a lot of records that I didn’t know I was on, because they didn’t put my name on [them]. I didn’t know any better. . . I was coming in the morning, punching the time card and putting it up in the box. We would go in there from 9:00 AM to around 12:00. One o’clock was the break. It was a house; and, as you went in, the studio was in the basement. You went down these stairs and they had little sections cut off where the guitars [an other instruments] would be; but you could still communicate, because the guy who was doing the music was standing in the middle with headphones, conducting. They’d have two drummers, three guitars. . . .

After the LP was released, the Hearts Of Stone went to Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater on a big show with acts such as Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Kool and the Gang, the Originals, Martha and the Vandellas and the Stylistics. Then they returned to their Northeastern circuit. As much as Teddy acknowledges his debt to the members of the group for giving him a start, showing him the ropes, and employing him for many years, he admits that he became disillusioned with them after the record came out. He had been promised co-writer credit for the material he contributed; and that didn’t happen. When the records did not sell, the band started going downhill. Teddy knew it was time to wise up when his roommates in the band stole his guitar to buy drugs. On the road, he had become a much better, more confident and experienced player, and was ready to move on.

Early in 1971, through a chance meeting in Boston with percussionist Eddie Folk, who was touring with King Floyd at the time on the strength of his first hit, “Groove Me”, Teddy was introduced to Floyd. He gave the singer his contact informatiom and said he was available to play. Within just a few days, Floyd sent a telegram, telling Teddy he was sending him the money to come to New Orleans to join his road band, the Rhythm Masters. Teddy immediately quit the Hearts Of Stone and headed to the Deep South.

After waiting for Floyd to return from a road trip, Teddy’s accommodations were seen to by producer/promoter, Elijah Walker; and he took up with the Rhythm Maters. The group consisted of Folk on congas, a hot young drummer named Herman Ernest (who later became a first call session player in New Orleans and plays in Dr. John’s band these days), keyboardist Robert Dabon and his bassist brother, Ernest, (who both would join Chocolate Milk), Frank Parker and John Longo (who later taught Wynton Marsalis and played with Branford Marsalis) on trumpets, Mike Pierus (?) on saxes and flute, and Royal on guitar. They had a busy touring schedule, traveling mainly in the US, but also made several trips to Jamaica to play large multi-act concerts. The Rhythm Masters were strictly King Floyd’s road unit and did not back the singer in the studio. Those duties were handled by the Malaco studio band in Jackson, MS; although, later, Teddy did participate in some of those sessions.

When not touring, the guitarist began writing songs with singer Willie Harper, who lived nearby, and went into the studio with him to record them, under the direction of
Wardell Quezergue
, who did the arrangements. Of course, Quezergue had been instrumental in developing King Floyd and his sound. It is not entirely clear whether these sessions were done at Jazz City Studio or at the new Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans. In either case, Sansu Productions was likely behind the Harper-Royal recording project; but it doesn’t appear that anything the two wrote together was released at the time.

"Look At The Clock" (W. Harper - T. Royal)
Willie Harper, unissued, from Battle Of Soul, 1980

“Look At The Clock” is one of two funky numbers from the Willie Harper-Teddy Royal collaborations; and I first posted it in 2004, when I had far less information to go on. I thought these sessions were done around the time of Harpers recordings for Allen Toussaint in the late 1960’s, released on Sansu and Tou-Sea. In light of what I’ve learned in my conversations with Teddy Royal, I now know that he and Harper wrote and recorded together four or five years later (1971-1972). So, I felt like we should listen to this one again. I found it and the duo’s mid-tempo soul cut, “Walk You Out Of My Life”, on a 1980 Japanese compilation LP of mainly Sansu and Deesu releases, Battle Of Soul. The album also contains Harper’s deep soul cut, “I Don’t Need You Anymore”, from his 1967 Tou-Sea single (mistakenly credited to Harper and Royal on the album track listings). Meanwhile, that other Harper-Royal funk song, “Why You Wanna Do It” (HOTG, March, 2005), and their soul/pop delight, “That’s What You Need”, showed up on the Charly compilation LP, Sehorn’s Soul Farm, also in the 1980’s. It’s a shame none of these tunes got to the public when they were first written and have yet to be compiled on CD.

During the same period, Teddy also wrote material with Larry Hamilton, Willie West and Willie T, and worked with Quezergue on various projects, including Jean Knight sessions at Malaco, but rarely got credit for his efforts.


"Black Conversation" (Royal-Parker-Longo)
Rhythm Masters, Success 100, c. 1972


On the road with King Floyd, the Rhythm Masters got stranded in Seattle for several weeks when the club they were supposed to play burned down; and they had no money to get home. While waiting, Teddy wrote two fine instrumental funk tunes, “Black Conversation” and “Nickel Bag”, which the band worked up and later recorded at Malaco. The sides were released as a single, Success 100, with “Nickel Bag” re-titled “I Can Do Anything You Can Do”, and Floyd shown as the producer (and co-writer of the latter song). On “Black Conversation” Royal shared co-writer credits with horn players Parker and Longo, who had worked up the lines he vocalized for them. 

I first heard “Black Conversation” in the late 1990’s on the Funky Delicacies first Funky Funky New Orleans comp; and the flip is also on that CD. At the time, I didn’t know who the Rhythm Masters were or who wrote "Black Conversation"; but I knew it was way cool, even if the sound quality of the vinyl it had been taken from was not so good. It wasn’t until I began talking with Teddy that I found out the story behind one of my favorite tunes. After a long search, I just recently found a near mint copy of the rare single online.

Though the Success 45 didn’t have any, the project did allow Teddy to start writing music with King Floyd that would appear on several of his singles and albums over the next few years, between 1972 and 1975.


"Can't Give It Up" (K. Floyd - T. Royal)
King Floyd, Chimneyville 10206, 1975

“Can’t Give It Up“ is a prime example of the Floyd-Royal style, which engendered numerous tunes with good grooves. It’s definitely got the funk going on, with drummer James Stroud laying it down and a great basic arrangement by the Malaco staff that reflects Wardell Quezergue’s ealier work with Floyd. Teddy and second guitarist Charles McCullough dig down into it; and the Memphis Horns punch and strut their magic throughout. The 1975 single was backed with another Floyd-Royal tune, “I’m Gonna Fall In Love With You”; and both songs appeared on the 1975 LP, Well Done, along with two of their other co-creations.

By the time Teddy started writing with King Floyd in 1972, the singer’s record sales were already starting to taper off. Over the next few years, Floyd became increasingly erratic and irrational in his business dealings on the road and with this record label, Chimneyville, a Malaco house label, driving away master arranger Quezergue in the process. Through Malaco president Tommy Couch, Teddy learned at some point that Floyd had removed his name as co-writer on the song “Here It Is” from the 1973 album, Think About It; and Teddy was not getting his due royalties. That revelation was the last straw in his relationship with the singer.

The Rhythm Masters had already quit King Floyd by that time, after several experiences where he left them out on the road without paying them. The band stayed together, including Teddy, for about six more months, changing their name to World Blues and playing New Orleans clubs where they backed singers such as Larry Hamilton and C. P. Love, and had added their own female vocalists, Bonnie Brown and Marilyn Barbarin. But, eventually they did break up; and Teddy followed Herman Ernest into a new band, Cypress, that also had Steve Hughes on guitar and a strong Chaka Khan-style vocalist. After playing with them for a while, Teddy got a call in 1976 from Tommy Couch to go out on the road with Malaco artist Dorothy Moore, who had just hit it big with “Misty Blue”.

He led the band and played behind Moore on many big shows around the country, until he was forced to quit in Macon, GA due to the jealousy of Moore’s husband about their close working relationship. So, Couch sent Teddy out on tour throughout the South with another house artist, McKinley Mitchell. But Mitchell had a severe drinking problem; and the two soon parted ways, because Mitchell refused to pay him in full as bandleader. On that sour note, Teddy came back to New Orleans and began doing a lot of session work at Sea-Saint Studios for producers Quezergue, Senator Jones, and Allen Toussaint, playing with other session regulars such as Herman Ernest, Smokey Johnson, James Black, Red Tyler, James Booker, Sam Henry, plus various Meters and Chocolate Milk members.

During the later 1970’s. Teddy played guitar, assisted with arrangements, and, in some cases, wrote material for various local artists recording at the studio: Tony Owens, Lee Bates, James Rivers, Johnny Adams, and the Neville Brothers, among others. Quezergue preferred to use Teddy and Sam Henry (formerly of the Soul Machine) on his projects, and Senator Jones followed suit.

Here’s a single side that Teddy wrote and helped Querzergue arrange for a Johnny Adams project Jones produced that was leased to Ariola Records, appearing on the album, After All The Good Is Gone, in 1978.

"Chasing Rainbows" (Teddy Royal)
Johnny Adams, Hep' Me 10-137/Ariola 7701, 1978


Chasing Rainbows” was the b-side of the single, with the title cut from the album (a Conway Twitty song!) on top. It appeared both on Hep’ Me and Ariola and is a well put-together, pure funk-fest of a tune. Most likely, either Herman Ernest or Dwight Richards (of Chocolate Milk) is drumming here. Royal and a second guitarist really chop it up; and Adams is in fine vocal form. I covered the tune here in December, 2004; and am glad to revive it in this new context, as a further example of what Teddy brought to the sessions he worked.

Throughout this period, Toussaint also used Teddy regularly on various projects: the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Labelle, James Cotton, Lee Dorsey, the Staple Singers, and Joe Tex. Considering the producer’s rather demanding expectations and work environment, this meant that Teddy was a trusted and dependable professional who Toussaint felt comfortable working with. In Teddy’s own words,

Working with Toussaint, . . I never knew what was coming next. He was a very private person. . . . The working relationship was very strict and disciplined in a serious atmosphere. If the session did not go right, he would excuse himself and disappear. Sometimes, a musician who was on the session would not return, due to the mistakes. Toussaint would utilize the same people for his recordings. He had his selection for each type of music.

Although he spent much of his multifaceted career in the background, playing a strong supporting role in many different situations, Teddy Royal has recently begun to make a name for himself and earn the respect he is due. In the second part of his tale, we’ll take up his sudden entry into and long association with Fats Domino’s band and, also, the alternate path that led him to his current career as a top-notch jazz guitarist* and composer. That’ll be coming to you later on down the road.

--- To purchase Teddy Royal's latest CD, see his upcoming gigs and contact him for bookings, visit his website: Royal Blue


September 21, 2006

A memo from the editor

Yeah, it's been a while since the last post; but rest assured I am working on a rather large one. It's been about a year and a half in the making; so I decided to drop everything else here and get it done, since I have several more to tackle. It should be up by this weekend.

And by the way, I've been meaning to mention this. . . . I go into New Orleans every few weeks; and I've got to tell you that the city needs visitors, you know, tourists, coming in, spreading the green around, staying in the hotels and guest houses, eating the food, drinking the potables, hearing the local bands, some of whom are still commuting in to make their gigs! It's great to support the cause(s) from a distance; but please do what you can to make the trip down and see for yourself what's going on. There's still plenty of enjoyment to be had, although some of the sites to be seen are sobering, if you want to go there. I've been in the French Quarter some days and found it still almost as eerily deserted as it was two months after Katrina. Ditto for the establishments up and down Magazine Street. The city cannot recover and rebuild without one of its most vital industries, tourism, coming back. So, please, give the place some face time - soon. Or your once and future favorite spots might not be there anymore; and the hurricanes will have won.

September 15, 2006

Good Time Bobby Powell

"Have A Good Time" (Bobby Powell)
Bobby Powell, Whit 729, 1968

I ran across this record going through a box of 45’s I’ve been holding to clean up and listen to. I’ve got to do that more often. “Have A Good Time”, by Baton Rouge’s greatest soul man, Bobby Powell, is the flip side of the churchy deep soul ballad, “I Care”, from 1968 on Lionel Whitfield’s Whit label. As far as I can tell, neither one of these songs has appeared on CD as yet. I know they’re not on Westside’s fine Powell retrospective, Into My Own Thing (highly, I mean, highly, recommended!).

To my mind and ear, there are scant few soul singers whose vocal quality and abilities approach those of New Orleans’ treasure, the late,
Johnny Adams; but Bobby Powell, Adam’s junior by just two years, is certainly his equal.* There is a deceptive ease to their styles that belies their great dynamics and range, which both can move through with a smooth fluidity, seeming not to break a sweat. Unbelievably, neither singer ever moved into the soul mainstream, though Adams is much more well-known than Powell, mainly due to his many Rounder CDs recorded later in life.

“Have A Good Time” is a perfect weekender, light but groovin’. Although I think most of Powell’s Whit material was recorded in Baton Rogue, this tune has a decidedly New Orleans feel to it, especially the funky drum shuffle, which would have sounded at home on many a popeye-style record from the Crescent City earlier in the decade. Add to that a great bass line with horn accents and the thing works itself out as the cool dance tune it was meant to be. I have yet to find any musician information on the Whit sessions, although I am sure that’s Powell on piano. And speaking of range, just listen to his playful falsetto as he takes on the solo late in the song, approximating a soprano sax.

Although I just can’t seem to find the time to get together a discography for Bobby Powell, I can tell you that he recorded some 15 singles for Whit between 1966 and 1971 (as the label's primary artist), plus a release on Jewell in 1967. Still working with Whitfield as producer, he moved on to the Excello label, recording at least 5 singles and an LP between 1972 and 1974. In the later 1970’s, he was on Senator Jones’ Hep’ Me label, which released about a half dozen of his singles. The AIM label has recently re-issued most of these sides on their
Louisiana Soul CD. As was the case with many records Jones produced, the instrumental backing on those tunes can sometimes sound generic and uninspired, even though the vocal performances are good.

But Bobby Powell’s Whit and Excello catalogues are his strong suit, with deep soul, upbeat soul, and funk being well-represented. It's been too long
since I last posted on this amazing singer. So, if you haven’t yet gotten around to discovering Mr. Powell or hearing more of what the has to offer, what are you waiting for? Have a good time!


*NOTE: You can hear some other selections by Bobby Powell and Johnny Adams at the Soul Club site. Artists are listed by first name there, so just scroll down to the Bobby’s and/or Johnny’s on the particular page.
Also, you can see Bobby Powell perform on
Volume 3 of The!!! Beat, from Bear Family's excellent DVD series on that short-lived 1960's Nashville TV show.

September 08, 2006

A Trove Of Toussaint Tunes

"Who's Next, Who's Now" (Allen Toussaint)
John Mayall, from Notice To Appear, ABC, 1976

I have been meaning to post this song for a long time, but I lost the album, Notice To Appear, after my move. Still can’t find it anywhere. Then, while in San Diego this summer, I fortunately scored another vinyl copy cheap. Recorded at Sea-Saint Studios and arranged and produced by Allen Toussaint in 1975, this LP has a bounty of compositions by Toussaint (7 of the 10 songs), many of which have never appeared anywhere else*. This is rather unusual, because Toussaint often recycled his songs among his own projects and those of other artists he produced.

I saw this record in the stores for years before I picked it up, noticed Toussaint’s picture on the back side, and pulled out the record sleeve to see all the session details. It was probably not a big seller for British blues legend John Mayall, being another one of those ideas of getting a hot producer/songwriter to do your album that sounded better as a concept than in reality. Not that this is a bad album, it’s just not great, because it is not the right fit for Mayall, whose rather dry, limited tenor voice just is not the right one for many of the songs, most of which steer clear of the blues. But, the arrangements are expectedly outstanding, as is the playing by some of Toussaint’s regulars (Herman Ernest, drums; Toussaint and James Booker, keyboards; Steve Hughes, guitar; Tony Broussard, bass; Kim Joseph, congas), who are featured on three tracks, and Mayall’s outstanding band at the time: Rick Vito, guitar; Larry Taylor (Canned Heat, Tom Waits, Phillip Walker), bass; Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris, violin; Jay Spell (Tower of Power, Jimmy Buffett), keyboards; Louisiana native Soko Richardson, drums [pictured]; and Dee McKinnie, backing vocals. Toussaint’s horn section (Larry Bouin, baritone sax; Lon Price, tenor sax; Nick Messina, trumpet) come into play on a majority of the songs, too.

Since I first heard it, I’ve always been fascinated by “Who’s Next, Who’s Now”, one of Mayall’s best performances on Toussaint’s low-down lyrics. His band does an outstanding job of rendering this deceptively simple sounding, decidedly non-blues tune, with Richardson laying down a fine, in-the-pocket funk strut groove that everything works off of. As with so many great Toussaint compositions and arrangements, there’s nice, syncopated instrumental interplay, plus that insidious, repeated trilled riff that couldn’t be a better hook if it had a worm dangling on it. It sure has wormed it’s addictive way into my brain.

A few of Toussaint’s songs on Notice To Appear are unexceptional; but, along with today’s feature, I think “Mess Of Love”, “That Love”, and the more complex “Hale To The Man Who Lives Alone” stand out. Of those, the only one I know of that appeared again was “Mess Of Love”, which Toussaint reworked at bit and re-titled “Just A Kiss Away” for his 1978 Motion LP. Sometimes with records, you want to keep them not for what they tried to be, but for what they are, despite their flaws. In this case, Notice To Appear fails to well-represent John Mayall; but if you hear past that, you’ll find some great grooves and fine playing on this trove of rarely heard Toussaint tunes. That is worth quite a bit to me in terms of audio-archaeology and getting the bigger picture on what Toussaint was up to during his prolific productions in the Seventies.

* Note: 9/30/2006: I just discovered that Jackie Moore covered "Who's Next, Who's Now" on Kayvette 5140, a 1980/81 single. I don't think Toussaint had anything to do with the production; but it is his song.

September 02, 2006

High Class Junk

"Junk Man" (Bartholomew)
Dave Bartholomew, Broadmoor 101, 1967

Twenty years after trumpeter Dave Bartholomew began his run as New Orleans’ premier bandleader, talent scout, producer, arranger and songwriter, the salad days of the music business were essentially over for him. Since the late 1940’s he had worked as Imperial Records’ main man in the Crescent City, producing virtually all of Fats Domino’s sessions as well as cutting records on many other local and national artists.

But, by the early 1960’s, Fats’ new records were no longer hitting, and neither were Imperial singles Bartholomew produced for Earl King, Frankie Ford, Snooks Eaglin, Huey Smith and the Clowns, and Shirley and Lee, fine as many of them were. Then, in 1963, a succession of surprising moves helped close the book on Bartholomew’s preeminence. First of all, Fats did not renew his contract with Imperial, signing instead with ABC-Paramount. As a result, Imperial’s owner, Lew Chudd, sold the Los Angeles-based company to a group that also owned Liberty Records; and Bartholomew chose not to stay with the new Imperial. Meanwhile, Domino, his long-time main focus and songwriting partner, was shunted off to Nashville by ABC for a lackluster few years of recording. Bartholomew continued working off and on as Fats’ bandleader on the road while still making a fine royalty income from his impressive song catalog. In 1967, the semi-retired Bartholomew decided to start his own record label, so he could continue to dabble casually in the business, naming it Broadmoor, after an established Mid-City New Orleans neighborhood.

He inaugurated the label by releasing his recordings of “Junk Man” b/w
“Hey-Hey”, along with co-vocalist Fats Matthews, whose group, The Hawks, had worked with the producer back in the early 1950’s. Both sides, written by Bartholomew, were strong musically, rocking along atop syncopated drum grooves, most probably laid down by the ever-funky Smokey Johnson. But the single was a commercial non-starter, as were the nearly dozen others the label released on artists such as Leonard Lee (formerly of Shirley and Lee) and Charles Brimmer during its brief two year run. Bartholomew even convinced Fats Domino, who was between deals, to record two singles for the label; but neither the enjoyable “Work My Way Up Steady” b/w “The Lady In Black” nor its follow-up caught any kind of action either. So, Bartholomew quietly let Broadmoor slide, and did not record again until putting out a traditional jazz album in the early 1980’s and making an enjoyable comeback CD, New Orleans Big Beat, with his re-vamped big band in 1998.

He continued touring with Fats for many years and has played Jazzfest in New Orleans occasionally with the big band. I’ve been fortunate to have seen several of those sets in recent years. While awesome, they were made more amazing by the fact that the bandleader was an octogenarian. As I have pointed out previously, before Allen Toussaint came into his own in the early 1960’s, Dave Bartholomew was untouched as the predominant behind the scenes force in New Orleans music. He stayed that way because he had a great ear for what the public liked, he demanded the best of his musicians and singers, he stayed true to the New Orleans sound he helped popularize, and he was a wise businessman. So, it’s ironic that one track on his last 45 was “Junk Man", since this classy, successful gentleman definitely never dealt in that commodity in the real world.

Mr. Dave