January 10, 2007

It's High Time That You Found "On Your Way Down"

"On Your Way Down" (Allen Toussaint)
Renee Geyer, from Renee Geyer, CBS/Portrait, 1982

First off, I consider this song to be one of Toussaint’s stone classics, a perfect blend of slow, moody funk and soulful, worldly-wise lyrics speaking karmic truths learned the hard way. It was first released on a Lee Dorsey Polydor single (14181) around 1971; but, to me, his was not the right voice for it. The song next appeared on Toussaint’s self-produced Life, Love and Faith album in 1972 on Warner Bros./Reprise, which had the Meters on board; but, while you can certainly sense it’s potential, he just vocally can’t quite nail his own creation. The next year, his WB labelmates, Little Feat, recorded what I hold to be the definitive version of “On Your Way Down” on their Dixie Chicken album. That was the first version of the song I heard; and it hipped me to Toussaint’s true power. Before that, he was really just a name on some records to me. On their cover, singer and el supremo slide guitarist Lowell George and the band deliver the song just as it should be with a smoky, well-worn vocal, awesome instrumentation, and the prefect atmospheric groove. Though they based their arrangement on Toussaint’s, they own the song, simple as that.

As Little Feat’s benchmark is still fairly easy to find (and you should definitely avail yourself), I’ve decided to feature a later, rarely heard rendition of this song by an Australian soul/rock singer,
Renee Geyer. Her effective effort, recorded in Los Angeles in 1981 with the Bump Band backing her, is not well known, in the States, anyway. Those of you from the Land o’ Oz may be more familiar with it. Down Under, “On Your Way Down”, appeared on her RCA/Mushroom album, So Lucky. The next year, the LP was released here as Renee Geyer on CBS/Portrait to little notice, which is too bad, as it was quite decent and enjoyable. The Bump Band consisted of some high quality rock players: drummer and co-producer Ricky Fataar, keyboardist Ian McLagan (formerly of the Faces), Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Ray Ohara on bass, and Bobby Keyes on sax. To goose up the soul factor, producer Rob Fraboni, stirred in backing vocals by Bobby King, James Ingram, and Venetta Fields, as heard here. While the track isn’t quite up to George and the Feat, I find it to be a fine take on a song that is extremely difficult to do well. Kudos to Ms Geyer and the band for making it work. In particular, I enjoy hearing a gutsy woman on this tune, and especially like the way she holds her own with those sublimely soulful co-vocalists on the ride out.

I owe props to my old friend, Bill, who played bass in several bands with me some years back and is an extraordinary musician and record collector, for turning me on to Geyer’s LP over fifteen years ago. He gave me a long term loan on it, until I found my own copy (certainly worth the full $1.99 I paid for it at the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records in Memphis). Back when I started my radio show in the late 1980’s, Bill was my secret source for the rarest cuts – many of which took me many more years to track down, and some of which I’ve never seen since! Anyway, thanks, Bill. And thanks to Allen Toussaint and his interpreters taking us all to this musical higher ground.

PS: I also have found a version by Clarence Carter on an ABC single from 1974. About it, I'll just say again that it's hard to do this song well. . . So, we'll hear Clarence do another Toussaint cover later. Finally, almost forgot to mention Elvis Costello's reading of this tune on his collaboration with Toussaint, River In Reverse. It was a good pick for a post-Katrina themed album, but it doesn't really break any new ground musically or vocally for me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I've loved the Feat version of this tune for a long, long time and I think she (and the band) really do a great job with it. A real keeper. Thanks for sharing.

7:11 PM, January 11, 2007  
Blogger ndiginiz said...

Tena koe ehoa
One of the biggest and unfortunately best kept secrets from the land down under!
Although I'm a Kiwi I can attest to the RAW vocal talent that Renee Geyer possesses. I had the enviable pleasure of seeing her live on several occasions in Australia n my own Aotearoa.
Vocally majestic Renee Geyer has a live show report that is second to only a handful of other musicians.

Her version of the James Brown classic "It's A Mans World" is also something very much worth the effort if you can get your hands and ears on it!

7:11 PM, January 12, 2007  
Blogger ndiginiz said...

The version of "It's A Mans World" is for my opinion best performed on the album Live At Basement released on ABC Records 1986. I would definitely recommend listening to it and the complete Live At The Basement album.

7:19 PM, January 12, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I plan on seeking out more from Ms Geyer. I just pulled this LP out of storage a few weeks ago. That live set sound like a good place to start. Regards to all the other Kiwis downunda.

12:40 AM, January 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bump Band also backed up Bonnie Raitt on one of her better efforts, "Green Light".

Also, the current incarnation of Little Feat does a great version of this tune spotlighting Shaun Murphy's vocals. These days Paul Barrere is the primary frontman but Shaun's voice is well suited to this style. Those who gave up on Little Feat after Lowell George's death should definitely give them another chance.

7:17 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Bill (not the Bill I spoke of in this piece, by the way) for the heads up on the later Little Feat version - good to know. It's been a few years, but I have seen/heard them live wtih Ms Murphy and also with Craig Lee Fuller right after they re-formed. Can't compare with the show I saw when Lowell was alive; but both later ones still sounded great - such a killer rhythm section.

7:25 PM, January 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great version of the song.

As for Feat, I've seen all lineups a few times. The shows with Craig Fuller were pure dynamite ! He's touring with Pure Prairie League the last few years and they have put on some incredible concerts.A new PPL CD All In Good Time ranks with the best of any country rock done.Fuller still packs a powerful punch, he's one of the greats !

12:04 AM, January 04, 2008  

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