December 03, 2006

Gumbo Weather

When it finally turns what passes for cold down here, people start saying that it’s good gumbo weather. Of course, gumbo is cooked and eaten in these parts all year long, but, as my delicious dinner (Jeanne’s gumbo’s da best!) last night proved, it is especially welcome when there’s enough of a cutting north wind outside to make the mosquitoes lethargic, and us start to shiver a little as we try to see if our breath condenses in the night air. So, in the spirit of the seasonal cold fronts that briefly invade the Deep South, I’m serving up two good gumbo songs from the pen of Dave Bartholomew.

"Shrimp and Gumbo" (Dave Bartholomew)
Dave Batholomew, Imperial, 1955

We begin with a multi-gumbo mambo featuring Bartholomew himself* on lead vocal and trumpet with several members of his legendary studio band on percussion, including Earl Palmer on trap drums, and an uncredited sax doubling the trumpet’s lead line. Recorded in November of 1955 and issued as the flip side of “An Old Cowhand From A Blues Band” in 1956 on Imperial 5373, “Shrimp and Gumbo” has an infectious latino groove with a very basic structure. The lyrics are nothing more than the bandleader calling out a number of gumbo variations. It’s an unusual tune to spring up in the midst of all the rhythm and blues and early rock ‘n’ roll emanating from the Cosimo Matassa’s studio during that decade under Bartholomew’s production supervision; and I don’t recall ever hearing anything else quite like it from this period in New Orleans. So, exactly what audience was he going for here? Maybe “Shrimp And Gumbo” was just a hip, playful studio jam. Whatever the intension, the song’s a little offhand delight from Bartholomew, the dominant force in New Orleans popular music from the late 1940s into the early 1960s. It makes our mouths water and hips move, and gives us a quick reminder of the musical and culinary roots of the city’s Caribbean and, ultimately, African cultural connections.

"Gumbo Blues" (Dave Bartholomew)
Smiley Lewis, Imperial, 1952

Now, if you’re in New Orleans and it’s really cold,
if you’ve got no chick to warm you, put some gumbo in your soul.

Amen to dat. This second serving comes via a Smiley Lewis session produced by Bartholomew in 1952, released that year on Imperial 5208 as “Gumbo Blues” b/w
“It’s So Peaceful”. This relaxed blues shuffle is lent a little something extra by the always inspiring drumming of Earl Palmer, a nice walking bass line by Frank Fields, and the keyboard running of ‘Tuts’ Washington (Smiley’s bandmate). “Gumbo Blues” not only makes the case for using gumbo as a temporary substitute for female companionship but also reveals yet another nickname for the city, the Ol’ Gumbo.

The others playing on this session were also some of Bartholomew’s A-list studio regulars at the time: Ernest McLean, guitar; Lee Allen and/or Clarence Hall, tenor sax; and Joe Harris, alto sax.

Lewis (given name, Overton Lemons) grew up in the same New Orleans neighborhood as Bartholomew; so, Dave was familiar with his strong voice from an early age. When he began doing A&R and production for Imperial, starting with his discoveries of Tommy Ridgley and Antoine Domino in 1949, Bartholomew had in mind to record Smiley Lewis, too, bringing him into Cos’ studio for sessions starting early in 1950. At the time, Lewis was a blues shouter leading a trio in local clubs, singing in the manner of Roy Brown, whose powerful voice could be heard without amplification above a band.

Although his vocal style never caught on with record buyers in a big way when he moved into the rhythm and blues market, Lewis was successful enough to stay with Imperial though the 1950s, cutting many great sides**, most written by Bartholomew. Unfortunately, several of the classic tunes he first recorded are now linked to the artists who covered them, rather to Lewis. Such is the music business. As one of the greatest of the many forgotten, or nearly so, recording artists from the Ol’ Gumbo, Smiley deserves to be heard and appreciated.

*Hear Dave Bartholomew's solo outings for Imperial on this CD.

**You can find most of Smiley Lewis' best Imperial output on the Gumbo Blues and Down Yonder CDs; or, for you completists, there's a Bear Family box.


Blogger Carl said...

Ahhh...gumbo. I miss my Daddy's gumbo (he passed away last January of cancer - he was diagnosed and one week later, he was gone). Admittedly I am biased, but his was the best IMHO and some other folks thought so as well. At least I have his recipe and someday, when I have a decent kitchen, I'm going to try my hand at making it.

2:45 PM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

It's always the best when it's cooked by or for someone you love, Carl.
True dat.

1:43 AM, December 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Dan that's not fair you make me hungry far before my lunch unfortunately I ain't gonna get a good Gumbo today :o(

That sure brings lots of memory of my short stay in the Crescent city with the Gumbo of course but also the Poo Boy sandwiches and the fried oysters as well as the Café au lait in Café du Monde with the special donuts hum, miam, miam :o)

Great groovy song btw !

I woul also like to ask you a favor ! Do you happen to have a picture of Mr Charles Brown the guitarist of the Uptown all stars form Cyril Neville ? I send a guitar to Katrina's piano fund and I heard from them that it was delivered to this fine musician I would love to make a small note on my blog but can't find anywhere a picture of this gentleman !

4:29 AM, December 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi Dan
i was in my car yesterday with Lazy Lester & we where listening to Charles Sheffield
he said that's me playing the scrapper on "kangaroo " & maracas on "Voodoo"
piano is Katie Webster & sax is Lionel Prevost
and the drummer is
Clarence "jockey" Etienne
thanks for your great blog

7:43 AM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Lazy Lester was in your car, bbb? How often does that happen? Man, I need to get into your carpool.

Seriously, thanks so much for the verification and indentification on "Kangaroo" and "Voodoo". I'll update the posts.

I'm still envisioning you and Lazy driving around in Eurpoe (which is where, I assume you are) listening to Charles Sheffield music. Cool dat.

9:41 AM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

and jipes,
I'll try to find a picture of that Allstar to send you. Cool that you know who got the guitar, and that you sent it. Good work!

9:43 AM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Hey, jipes,
I think the Allstars' guitarist you mention is Charlie MOORE, rather Brown. I have a small photo of Charlie Moore, as luck would have it. Verify to me in an e-mail that he's the one you want, and I will send it. My e-mail address link is on the left side of the blog page. By the way, feel free to e-mail me anytime on matters not directly related to the posts and comments. Thanks.

10:17 AM, December 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes Dan It's a typo mistake thoses days I'm obsessed by Charles Brown Driftin song that's maybe the reason. I am a damn fool idiot sorry :o)

Yes it is Charlie Moore I contact you by e-mail thanks a lot !

2:26 AM, December 06, 2006  
Blogger Elbo said...

"Shrimp and Gumbo" seems like it's derived from a Perez Prado mambo record. Sort of a clattering New Orleans take on "Mambo No. 5," or one of Prado's other hits. Yes?

2:16 PM, December 11, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

I don't know if DB's cut is a lift from Perez Prado - I'm not that up on PP - but I guess it could be. I'll see if I can nail that down, or if it's just a generic mambo New Orleans sytle. Thanks, Paul.

11:03 PM, December 11, 2006  

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