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.


Blogger Tuwa said...

No, this is not typical Mayall, but I like it. Good find.

7:48 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mayall is no stranger to New Orleans R&B. The first version of Sonny Landreth's "Congo Square" that I heard was from his 1990 album "A Sense of Place" which featured Sonny on guitar as I recall. I know Sonny recorded it himself earlier but I didn't hear his version until later.

7:20 AM, September 10, 2006  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

great song from an unlikely place!

...good lookin' out, Dan... ol' Elvis Costello's just a little late to the party, I guess!

7:59 AM, September 10, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yeah, you rite, Bill. Mayall has excellent taste in blues and R&B songs, and musicians. I have that album be did with Sonny Landreth, too. Good version of "Congo Square" on it. Sonny's own first recorded version was on the 1985 LP 'Way Down In Louisiana', re-released on CD in 1993 by Epic as 'Down In Louisiana'. Thanks for remininding me, I'll put it on the list to post.

And, Red, I guess better late to the party than never. Although, in his defense, EC did invite Toussaint and the Dirty Dozen to one of his parties, 'Spike'; and I read long ago that he was/is a major fan of NO R&B.

10:14 AM, September 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photo with the 2 guys killed me

6:41 AM, September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for highlighting this. I've discovered Allen via Elvis Costello and have been checking out his past stuff. This Mayal album is easily available via Amazon; I got the 2000 BGO re-issue. It's astonishing to hear how similar Mayall's vocalising is to Allens'. This is especially apparent on Just Knowing You Is A Pleasure (a highlight ; this is really a lost classic). On first listen I really thought they were singing alternate verses.

In the CD sleevenote Mayal is quoted as saying that Allen was 'totally in charge of the session. It was proposed I work with him. So we had to do it his way. It was his studio production entirely. I was lucky to get two songs on it!'

7:01 PM, October 28, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Very good point, John, on how alike their singling voices are. And, while I still don't think this was a very comfortable fit for Mayall and band, they certainly took Touusaint's direction well and rendered some fine performances.

Tracking back on Toussaint and his productions will lead you down some interesting paths. Happy hunting.

9:03 PM, October 28, 2006  

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