March 26, 2007

Adams Sings Bo

"Tra-La-La" (D. Johnson)
Johnny Adams, Ric 992, 1962

Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties, Joe Ruffino, owner of the Ric and Ron labels, was putting out some great records in New Orleans by top-notch local artists such as Tommy Ridgley, Eddie Bo and Professor Longhair, plus promising newcomers including Irma Thomas and Johnny Adams, who both scored national R&B chart hits. Thomas' "You Can Have My Husband" rose to #22 in 1960; and Adams's "A Losing Battle" made it to #27 in 1962. With a background in gospel music, Adams was a truly gifted singer just learning the ropes of the music business at this time. He went through his ups and downs with Ruffino, but managed to have 11 singles released on Ric between 1960, when he made his debut as a recording artist, and the demise of the label, due to the death of its owner, in 1963. Though some were good local or regional sellers, nothing else he did for Ric broke nationwide; and he did not have another substantial hit until 1968.

For the most part, what I've collected from this era in Johnny Adams' career has come through the Rounder Records 1991 CD compilation,
I Won't Cry. It contains 14 of Adams’ Ric sides; and, while not complete, aptly shows how accomplished the singer was when he was starting out. Not all of the songs were top rate; but he already seemed comfortable with various styles and had a voice that could make good songs great and lesser ones palatable. A few weeks back, I bought this copy of Ric #992, which came out later in 1962. It has two fine sides that are not on the Rounder CD: “Showdown”, a Mac Rebennack-penned soul/blues ballad (he also wrote and produced "A Losing Battle"), and the uplifting “Tra-La-La”, written by Eddie Bo under the pen name, D. Johnson (for his second wife, Delores). Both Rebennack and Bo were quite active with Ruffino’s labels during this period, assisting with production, writing and arranging. While I have not discovered much of any session information for Ric and Ron, it is likely that either or both Rebennack and Bo were involved in the making of this 45.

Funny thing is, Adams recorded this one twice. He redid it and several of his other Ric tunes when he was with Shelby Singleton’s SSS International label, recording mainly in Nashville between 1968 and 1971; but it remained unreleased until
CD compilations of that material started coming out. On those, it is titled, “Down By the River” (surely confusing a few Neil Young fans). I believe “Tra-La-La”/"Down By the River" to be one of only four Eddie Bo songs Johnny Adams recorded in his 40 year career. He cut "I Want to Do Everything For You" when he was still recording for Ruffino; and it was released on Ron in 1962, after the owner's death. Two others were on a Gone single (5147) Bo produced on the singer in 1964, the incredible "Going To The City" b/w "I'm Grateful".

Having only heard the SSS version of our feature before, I am glad to have found the original, which can't be topped. Johnny’s inspired delivery dovetails perfectly with the song’s gospel leanings. Just the way he lets lose with the first four words, “I’m on my way…”, lets you know you're hearing a formidable vocalist. The track is expertly arranged and played to boot, with righteous piano runs throughout (Bo?), hip, understated horn charts, and a swinging back-beat groove.

Right before this record came out, Adams had gone to Detroit with a group of other New Orleans artists (including Joe Jones, Earl King, Smokey Johnson, and George French) to audition for the fledgling Motown label. It is said that, out of the bunch, Berry Gordy wanted to sign Johnny, but Ruffino threatened to sue them, so it didn't happen. Instead, the singer returned home and went on to have a respectable but sometimes lackluster recording career, until Rounder made a string of impressive, first class CDs with him during the final dozen or so years of his life. Makes you wonder, though, what might have happened decades earlier had he become a part of Motown's impressive stable of artists and gained more exposure to a national and worldwide audience.

You can hear a few more sides from various stages of Johnny's early career at the Soul Club Jukebox, and sample some of his later Rounder material here.
And, as Lyle helpfully pointed out in the comments, a few Rounder cuts are also available as free downloads at amazon. So, you have ample opportunity to hear the man that Cosimo Matassa said was his favorite New Orleans singer.
For some more background, check out this earlier post.

March 21, 2007

The Lingering Mystery Of Shoo-Rah

Somebody mentioned wanting to hear some more Shoorah tracks back when I had all the Toussaint covers going in January, which made me go into the archives (actually I live IN the archives, for the most part!) and see how many I have now that refer to the mysterious name - or word. Having rounded up eight tracks, I decided to feature the four I hadn't run before and re-activate the audio on the four I orginally posted two years ago. You can follow the links below back to those posts, hear the songs, and, I hope, get more background. While you're there, be sure to read the long comment to the Tamiya Lynn post by Anonymous, giving his rather invloved, speculative history of Shoo Rah that goes back to the Middle East and the Middle Ages! His explanation ends up having more to do with the music that came to the New World via African slaves than it really does with Shoo-ra. I admit that I am still at a loss to explain what or who Shoo-rah is, if it indeed is anything other than a nonsense lyric, which Anon also suggests. Generally speaking, as you can tell when you hear these songs, all have a repetitive simplicity (more or less) that recalls children's play songs.

Before proceeding, then, I recommend that you go back, listen, and read or re-read these posts:

In Search of Shoo Rah - March 15, 2005
Toussaint's Shoo-Rah - March 16, 2005
On the Ship Of Love (Shoo Rah) - March 18, 2005

OK, now that you're caught back up, here are three covers of Toussaint's tune plus Mac Rebennack's laid back take on the Shoo-Rah theme. Anyone having knowledge or another educated guess about the origins on Shoo-Rah, please let me know.

"Shoo-Ra" (Hill - Rebennack)
Mac Rebennack, from One Night Late, Karate 1977

Probably recorded a year or so before the sessions for his first major label debut as Dr. John on the 1967 ATCO LP, Gris Gris, "Shoo-Ra" is from sessions Mac Rebennack cut in Los Angeles, where he had gone to seek work as a musican, songwriter, and producer and to escape lingering legal problems back in New Orleans. As he relates in his autobiography, Under A Hoodoo Moon, a number of his sessions from that era, many of which where simple songwriting demos not intended for release, were later appropriated and sold to cash in on the success he had as Dr. John. An aggregation of hustling shysters, including Mac's former manager in the 1960s, Charile Green, Charlies Underwood (engineer on some of the sessions), and Huey Meaux of (aptly named) Crazy Cajun Records, who Mac worked for off and on, were the perpetrators. Many of the tunes that just had Mac playing paino and singing were even overdubbed to add other musicians; and, in a few cases, instrumental tracks had a "sound-alike" singer added. P-i-t-i-f-u-l. The cobbled together, random results were released on various low-rent LPs over the years and are still coming out in CD versions. The unauthorized LP I picked up long ago, One Night Late, is just one example (I have several more - one of which strangely has some uncredited Ronnie Barron tracks on it, too). Green and Underwood share "producer" credit here; and most of the songs on the record are Rebennack/Jessie Hill collablorations, as the two friends were writing/publishing partners out in LA, CA in the pre-Dr. John days.

On "Shoo-Ra" (mispelled "Shoo-Ria" on the LP cover), which very well may be one of the demos that had the band added much later, the lyrics suggest, as did Fats Domino's version, that Shoo-Ra is a dance, though the pace of the piece doesn't back that up; and, while some of the words echo the earlier Fats and Kenner versions, Rebennack and Hill's creation is distinct. In my opinion, it puts us no closer to any Shoo-Rah revelations. But it's well worth hearing for purposes of edumacation, as Mac might say.

"Shoorah, Shoorah" (Allen Toussaint)
Frankie Miller, from High Life, Chrysalis, 1974

Here is likely the first commercially recorded version of Toussaint's "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah" (as his 1973 copyright title reads), without hyphens and sung by Scottish rocker Franke Miller. His 1974 album, High Life, was produced and arranged by the songwriter himself at the WEB IV studio in Atlanta. As you may recall, Toussaint and his partner, Marshall Sehorn, were having to record outside of New Orleans after the demise (due to tax probelms) of Cosimo Matassa's studio around 1970 and before they could complete their own Sea-Saint Studio in 1973. Playing on this track and the album are many of the same musicians who played on the Mylon Fevre and Browning Bryant projects Toussaint also worked on in Atlanta. As usual, though, he used his own worthy stable of New Orleans horn men, including Gary Brown on tenor sax, featured on this cut. Toussaint also made something all his own out of "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah", while keeping it playfully mysterious. I mean, read the lyrics and try to decode what's going on.

The digital transfer here is from my fairly clean DJ copy of the LP. The photo is from my wife's well-worn regular album (the promo just had generic artwork), which she bought and listened to a lot when it first came out. Having discovered the record 20 years later, I've never really thought it much to shout about, actually. Sure, Miller covers five Toussaint numbers; but, to me, he never lifts any of the performances out of the ordinary. Toussaint mainly keeps the production very simple and straightforward - the same approach he took with Lefevre, King Busicuit Boy and Bryant; and no outright funk emerges. As if in reaction, soon thereafter, he would conspiculously go in the opposite direction with the wonderfully over-the-top, funkified arranging and production work on Labelle's albums, Nightbrids and Phoenix. I read where Miller's album work had been re-issued on CD; so, you may be able to find this one in the digital domain.

"Shoorah! Shoorah!" (A. Toussaint)
Betty Wright, Alston 3711, 1974

First off, I wonder why Betty's vocal is so far back in the mix on this slick production. It would have increased the impact if she were more up front. Still, it charted (#28 R&B); so I guess nobody else much cared 'bout dat. Anyway, a good groove sells this one. And I definitely like the tune done by a strong female vocalist. It works for me that way. The more you hear this song, though, the more you realize that its rather unusual, bouncy rhythmic pattern and the hooky horn charts are musically it's strong suit - not much of a melody going on. And, having attempted this song in a band at one point, I can tell you that, as simple as it may sound, it's hard to nail (well, it was hard for US!) - it has to be played flawlessly or it just falls apart. Despite the technical problem, Ms Wright turns in a super fine performance on this tightly arranged cover version.

S&D earlier on

"Shoo Rah, Shoo Rah" (Allen Toussaint)
Sam & Dave, from Back At 'Cha, United Artists, 1975

Man, I said how much I liked Betty Wright's take; and Toussaint's performance of the riverboat with Chocolate Milk is spot on. But, damn, Sam & Dave tear this one up. It's an oustanding song choice for them; and the rhythm and horn sections are exceptional, turning Toussaint's quirky, syncopated composition into an in-the-pocket perpetual motion machine. It doesn't hurt to have Steve Cropper calling the shots and playing guitar on the session with his old MGs partners Duck Dunn on bass and Al Jackson on drums. And, yo, these are the cats who played on Sam & Dave's Stax hits, too. To complete the Memphis session, recorded mainly at Cropper's Trans Maximus Sound Studios on Poplar Avenue in 1975, he adds the full blown Memphis Horns, with Wayne Jackson on trumpet, Ed Logan and Andrew Love on tenor saxes, Jack Hale on trombone, and James Mitchell on baritone sax. I'm fairly sure that's Love doing the hot lead sax riffing throughout.

I featured the other Toussaint cover on this album, "Blinded By Love", in January, which was also quite well done. Kudos to Cropper for bringing these tunes to the party. Back to Shoo-rah, though. Sam & Dave play up the "you won't catch me" lyrics on the song's ride-out - recalling again childhood games. If you listen to all the different Shoo Rah songs, that element can't be denied, which is why I still have the strong sense that it somehow came up into popular music through kids at play in the streets and schoolyards of New Orleans. I hope somebody can remember that and reveal the missing link.

Some other covers of "Shoorah, Shoorah" I have not heard and/or do not have are by Phoebe Snow (on Rock Away, 1980), Teresa James (on The Whole Enchalada, 1998), Pauline Black and The Selecter (English ska! - thanks to Carl for letting me hear The Selecter), and The Bloody Tears (rock). Elvis Costello and Toussaint have been performing "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah" live on their River In Reverse concer tour, as well. Feel free to alert me/us to any more covers of the tune you run across.

March 15, 2007

Laissez-faire urban planning?

This article by a native of Cuba about the unique challenges of the rebuilding and cultural restoration of New Orleans is insightful and encouraging to read. At least some people get it. The city's obvious Caribbean character - well, obvious to some of us - may be irreplaceable; but I sure as hell hope not. It would be a major loss to the planet. Realizations such as those mentioned in the article can only help in the attempt to do the right thing. Thanks to my bro', Larry, for the heads up on this.

I linked to this because understanding the once and future cultural identity of New Orleans is important. We'll get back to more music this weekend. . . .

March 13, 2007

"Funky" False Alarm

I’ve read several times over the past few years that Dyke & the Blazers had the first record with “funky” in the title, “Funky Broadway” to be exact, in 1967. Then just a few weeks ago, I got a surprise, when online I stumbled across this promo record from 1957, recorded in New Orleans, simply entitled….

"Funky" (Lee Allen - Alvin Tyler)
Lee Allen And His Band, Ember 1047, 1958 (Disc Jockey Copy)

Of course, I bought it. Had to hear it. I’d never even heard of it. I admit I was hoping for some proto-funk revelation to come blasting out of my speakers. A funk-junkie audio archaeologist can dream, can’t he? But, after doing some preliminary investigating while waiting for the 45 to arrive, I pretty much sobered up to the fact that, were it so, somebody would have discovered it and mentioned it before now, since the other side was a fairly well-known Lee Allen tune, “Jim Jam”. But I still held out some hope, as a check of the Ember discography did not mention “Funky”, and showed that, on the commercial release of #1047, “Short Circuit” was paired with “Jim Jam”. Nor was “Funky” shown as a track on Allen’s Ember LP, Walkin’ With Mr. Lee, released in 1958 to capitalize on his big hit of the same name. Finally, upon the record’s arrival, the truth was revealed. As I dropped the needle down on “Funky”, what I heard was. . . “Short Circuit”. Oh well, I guess the DJ copy used a working title that was changed prior to it going public. Could be that “funky” had connotations considered unsuitable for young record buyers. After all, it was the 1950's.

Anyway, I am pretty sure it’s not the case that they said, “Hey, we can’t call this tune ’Funky’, because it’s not; and, besides, ‘funk’ won’t be even be a common musical modifier or style for another decade at least!” Seriously though, back then, there were people using “funk” to describe music, according to Dr. John, who was there hanging out and should know: ace drummer Earl Palmer and other HOTG studio players, including Lee Allen himslef. Back in the late Fifties, they called their tight-knit session scene “the funk club”. Even by 1957 standards, though, “Funky’ a/k/a “Short Circuit” is not a funk record. Instead, it’s a good, straight ahead rocker. Although Allen was one of the great studio sax soloists, heard on countless records cut in New Orleans in the Fifties, quite frankly, his solo singles and the one LP on Ember(released between 1957 and 1962), though well done, never got me too worked up. When it comes to hot New Orelans sax instrumentals of the era, I generally prefer the material put out by Plas Johnson (although he was recording in L.A.) and Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler.

Speaking of Tyler, who played baritone or tenor in the horn section with Allen on many an R&B session, he is listed as co-writer on the copyright registration for “Short Circuit”. But, only Allen is shown on the label. By the way, a composition by either or both of them called “Funky” is not listed at all for copyright, nor can it be found on the BMI database. As a title, it didn't have much shelf-life.

That is probably Red honking his bari in the background on this tune. Peter ‘Chuck’ Badie is likely on bass; and I’m pretty sure that’s the always cookin’
Charles ‘Hungry’ Williams on drums, as is also the case on. . .

"Jim Jam" (Lee Allen)
Lee Allen And His Band, Ember 1047, 1958 (Disc Jockey Copy

If you listen closely to the drumming on these two sides, you can see why Williams was the first call session player in New Orleans for several years after Earl Palmer relocated to the Left Coast. He lays down a driving rock ‘n' roll backbeat on both, and still has a lot going on in there. Check out those seamless fills and turnarounds. To me, it’s really his work that gives these tracks their power.

Whatever the reason “Funky” was later discarded, it looks like Lee Allen did, however briefly, first use the term for a record title* - but it’s not the first use as a song title. That honor goes to
Buddy Bolden, one of the founders of jazz, for his never-recorded “Funky Butt”, which inspired Jelly Roll Morton’s classic song,, “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”. But lets save the much deeper roots discussion for another day and just rock out with Mr. Lee for a while on this record that short-circuited my funk fantasy.

*NOTE (3/16/2007): Well, it may be the first record with "funky" in the title, but commenter Joe Germuska has enlightened me/us to maybe the first record with "funk" in the title: "Barrel Of Funk" by Hank Mobley on Blue Note in 1956. Mobely also cut "Funk In Deep Freeze" for the label in 1957. Joe says the latter is not a funk song, as we use the term, either. Has anybody heard "Barrel Of Funk"? Thanks, Joe! That makes Lee Allen's promo 45 even more of a techincality! Does anybody else have any earlier uses of either "funk" or "funky" in a song title? Let me know, if you can scoop us all.

Scoop update 3/22/2007: Commenter, Lyle, writes: According to liner notes for Funk Blast! A Collection of Classic Funk (2000, Experience Music Project): "Sure there was funk before 'Cold Sweat,' [1967] but the word meant something different. In the '50s we had funky jazz with tunes like Horace Silver's 'Opus de Funk' [1952] and Gene Ammons' 'Funky' [1957], composed by Kenny Burrell]." Funk Blast! is a great collection, although it includes no New Orleans artists. As we know now from your blog, this is a serious oversight.

Yes, Lyle, leaving New Orleans music out of a general funk compilation might be grounds for war in these parts! You have so far scooped us all with these jazz cuts you found mentioned. I checked the Blue Note discography; and "Opus de Funk" is shown as 1953, but still....that's much earlier than Mobley. And Ammons' "Funky" was recorded in January, 1957. So, I suppose he beats Lee Allen out so far by a nose for that title. Nice work. I can't help but notice how far back "funk" is going in jazz circles. Of course, maybe that should be no surprise, considering Buddy Bolden, the Funky Butt, and all go back to the very early 20th century. I'll have to try to hear both of these songs Lyle brough to light. I read that Silver's tune is Latin-influenced. He wrote some certifiably funky jazz music in his time. Not sure if Ammons' tune will live up to our concept of its title; but I do have some later stuff he did that is funked up. Let me know if you've heard these.

This just in. Lyle is now scooping himself, finding "Funky Blues" listed on a Norman Granz Jam Sessions recording from around 1952. So, we're back to the early 50's for both "funk" and "funky" in song titles. Careful Lyle, this sort of obsessive behavior can be habit forming. I ought to know. . . . Thanks for the efforts.

March 06, 2007

Papa Mali Does His Thing

With my turntable back in running order, I’ve been busy making digital transfers lately, among many other projects. But right now I’ve got a CD track and review of something new to lay on you, before we get back to vinyl time travel. . . .

"Early In the Morning" (Malcolm Welbourne)
Papa Mali, from Do Your Thing, Fog City, 2007

I’ve enjoyed the multi-dimensional musical excursions of Papa Mali, a/k/a Malcolm Welbourne, since hearing him on his first Fog City CD, Thunder Chicken, back when I was doing radio. I listened to it a lot and played cuts on the show often. Subsequently, I saw Malcolm and his band live several times in Memphis and New Orleans and was impressed by the always cooking gumbo pot of greasy roots influences steaming out of his grooves, strongly seasoned with funk. There’s a thick, hot, humid, mind-altering atmosphere to his music both live, and, miraculously, in the studio (where many a good vibe can die); and the crazed, gonzo, go for it attitude displayed on Thunder Chicken makes it still one of my favorite albums. I featured a cut from that one during the first Carnival season here at HOTG; and, had things gone as planned, I would have featured today’s during the 2007 season; but too many things got in the way.

On Do Your Thing, Mali again worked with Fog City honcho, recording facilitator, and tone authenticator
Dan Prothero; and in many ways it offers a sonic continuation of the first CD: often reverb drenched and echoplexed; overdriven and vibrant as a fever dream or lowdown, dark and ominous as moonless midnight in the South Louisiana swamp. What has changed for the new one? (a) The recording venue for one: mainly Truck Farm Studio in New Orleans. (b) The special guests: Henry Butler on piano, Kirk Joseph on sousaphone, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux with the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians from the Crescent City, plus other notables from all over. (c) The material. I think it’s safe to say that many of the songs this time out are built on trance blues grooves; and they're mostly originals, save for the Isaac Hayes title track that Mali takes way, way down a lost bayou, and a nice David Egan number.

Those looking for the overt funk of Thunder Chicken or Mali’s side project gem, Jerkuleez, will not find much as such on Do Your Thing. Instead it is more subtle, implied, or enfolded into the often hypnotic goings on. To me, this is a deep summer, windows open, still sweaty at midnight, heat lightning playing tricks with your mind kind of record, to be enjoyed and explored after indulging in this or that effective intoxicant of choice, or however you wish to free your mind. Papa Mali offers a worthy modern day expression of the sanctified psychedelic hoodoo of Dr. John’s early days, as captured on the Gris Gris album of the late 1960’s. This man learned serious stuff from the late John Campbell*, a blues/voodooist so intense that it still spooks me to listen to his records.

All that said, I’ve decided to feature the exceptional exception to that mood, “Early In The Morning”, a full-tilt run and gun riff on a Mardi Gras Indian theme, featuring the incredible drum attack of the truly gifted, surely possessed Robb Kidd. This song seems to have been inspired by the Indian song, “Let’s Go Get ‘Em”, written by Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux (who’s in on the vocals), but amped up to the extreme. If the Indians took to the streets at this pace on Mardi Gras Day, they wouldn’t last 6 blocks! But that’s beside the point for this mover and shaker. It’s a wild ride and an impressive turn for all concerned.

A couple of other nice touches on Do Your Thing I’ll mention. Henry Butler’s Bookeresque filigreed piano solo on “Honeybee” transforms an otherwise simple soft-shoe number into something much more special. Also, on “Girls In Bossier City”, Kidd’s percussion on what sound like 55 gallon metal oil barrels resonantly reminds me of the late, great Gulf Coast street-beater of such drums,
Bongo Joe. As I’ve said, Papa Mali’s influences are manifold; and I could go on. But I think his modus operandi can be simply summed up. He makes music spontaneously overflowing with the spirit of the old (and, we hope, the new) New Orleans and the re-imagined Louisiana of his youth. Check this stuff out.

Thanks to Malcom and Dan for the CD and permission to run “Early In The Morning”. You can hear more and buy Do Your Thing and Thunder Chicken at the website link above or your favorite needy retailer.

For tour dates (you've got to catch PM live) and more revelations, visit and/orMali at MySpace

*Commenter, The Doorkeeper, has provided a link to a recent blog post [3/29/2007] on Campbell, with several songs, plus an interesting back story from the producer of his One Believer CD. Nice find.