August 08, 2007

From Nookie Boy to The La La Man

While the recently departed Oliver Morgan was certainly a respected and, well-loved entertainer in his hometown, in terms of a recording career, there wasn't much of one. He made just a handful of singles, plus a couple of albums later in life, and was definitely a one-hit wonder - pretty much just a local one, at that. The song he is best remembered for is, of course, Who Shot The LaLa, which I featured almost exactly two years ago, just a few weeks prior to Hurricane Katrina's landfall. In honor of his passing, I've reactivated the audio for that linked post. You can hear it and read more about the the track there.

Morgan was a product of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, the stomping grounds of legendary performers such as Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Eddie Bo, Jessie Hill and Professor Longhair. He seems to have gotten his early musical education singing in church and jamming with neighborhood musicians. In 1961, he had the opportunity to record two of his own compositions, "I Got A Feelin'" and "I'll Make A Bet" for the newly founded AFO (All For One) label, headed by producer, arranger, and jazz saxophonist Harold Battiste. AFO was owned and operated by a small group of African-American musicians, all veteran session players, who wanted more control of and financial rewards for their work. While it only lasted a few years, and only had one substantial hit with Barbara George's "I Know", AFO was responsible for making some excellent early recordings on other artists such as Willie Tee, Prince La La, Wallace Johnson, Mac Rebennack, Ellis Marsalis and Tami Lynn. Unfortunately for Morgan, his single was released in 1962 after AFO had lost it's national distribution deal though Sue Records; and the label had little exposure and mounting debts. If the noble AFO experiment had been able to build on its first success, perhaps Oliver Morgan might have gotten more attention for the two fine sides of his only single for the label.

"I Got A Feelin" (Oliver Morgan)
Nookie Boy, AFO 306, 1962

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"I'll Make A Bet" (Olvier Morgan)
Nookie Boy, AFO 306, 1962

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"I Got A Feelin'" is my favorite Morgan song. Not a simple party record like "Who Shot The LaLa", it is darker, more serious, and artfully arranged with an expressive vocal, haunting melody, and a great exotic groove. Listen to the broken drumming throughout, mostly played on the tom-toms it seems - the drums are not that well-recorded - probably by main session drummer and label executive John Boudreaux, although the great James Black did some sessions for the label, too (mostly the jazz sides). Not funk, the beats instead lend a North African feel to "Feelin'". It's a song that labelmate Prince La La (Lawerence Nelson) easily could have done; and Morgan's screams at the end remind me of La La. Of course, not too much later, Morgan would be singing about La La's demise on his next release.

While entertaining and well-done, the single's other side, "I'll Make A Bet", is more standard fare, one of myriad mid-tempo, syncopated shuffle songs associated with the Popeye dance style that came out of New Orleans in the early 1960s. It has nothing than makes it rise above what passed for ordinary at the time. But, all in all, his AFO single was an impressive, if largely unheard, recording debut. Both sides can be found on the Ace (UK) CD series
Gumbo Stew.

When "Who Shot The LaLa" became popular locally and got some national response up North in 1964, Morgan did some touring behind the record. But the buzz soon faded; and it was several years before he cut any more sides. When he did, he worked with his old friend, Eddie Bo, again, who had started to produce and record for Joe Banashak's
Seven B label. Of the three singles issued, "The La La Man", which utilized the name recognition of his prior hit, is probably best remembered, although none of his Seven B releases really caught fire or got much airplay outside the Gulf Coast region. Of course, those records are now sought after by collectors for their high quality as much as their rarity.

"The La La Man" (E. Bocage)
Oliver Morgan, Seven B 7007, 1967

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Despite its passing references to his prior hit, which had a distinct New Orleans sound, "The La La Man" really has nothing else in common with the GNP side, neither in subject matter nor groove. In fact, it owes more to national soul hits of the day such as "Midnight Hour" and "Knock On Wood" in its structure, as Bo and Morgan obviously wanted to bat for the popularity bleachers. The singer, who acknowledged being strongly influenced by Otis Redding, turns out a strong and spirited performance with plenty of emphatic soul grunts. His hometown accent, at least, is still evident. Nothing much is known about the session players on this one, although I detect George Davis' style on guitar. A good movin' record and fun to listen to, "The La La Man" just didn't possess a distinctive enough sound to take it to the next level.

After one more unsuccessful try with Bo, Morgan, as far as I can tell, was inactive on the recording scene until he another two-part single at some point in the 1970s for the RAP (Recording Artists Productions) label. Over the years, while holding down a regular day job, he remained fairly active as a performer in clubs, and appearing at Jazzfest and, later, the Ponderosa Stomp, always quick to come off-stage holding his trademark umbrella and lead a joyous second line. Around 1995 he released his first album,
Do The Nitty Gritty, which contained covers of some classic soul tunes and a few of his own songs. Then in 1997, Allen Toussaint produced a true comeback record for Morgan, I'm Home, on the NYNO label, which provided him with the backing of some great New Orleans players, including Toussaint himself, and captured his fun-loving spirit. It's worth picking up as a memorial to a man who made worthy contributtions to the musical and cultural legacy of his city.

Oliver Morgan suffered a stroke shortly after the recording sessions for I'm Home. Then, in 2005, his home was destroyed in the post-Katrina flooding, forcing him to relocate to Atlanta with his wife. Although the last years of his life were tough ones, I'll close with this glimpse into what Oliver gave to his fans, which was left in the HOTG comments the other day by someone named Toots, who said,

Oliver Morgan was an old friend of mine. I danced with him so many times. His umbrella was always passed to me from the stage or I'd help him lead everyone out of the club into the street dancing. We would clown so much and pass a great time. He lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. My friend and I passed through the nint' ward and saw his home was washed away. I cried and prayed for him and his wife. Oliver is a New Orleans legend. He knew how to start a Second Line party! I WANNA KNOW! NOW TELL ME! You will be missed by so many, LaLa. May you rest in peace. Your friend of 32 years.

'nuff said, people.

Oliver Morgan - Singles Discography
(Additions and/or corrections are welcome)

I Got A Feelin'/I'll Make A Bet, as Nookie Boy, AFO 306, 1962
Who Shot The LaLa/Hold Your Dog, GNP Crescendo 318, 1964
Roll Call/Sure Is Nice, Seven B 7003, 1966
The La La Man Pt 1 & Pt 2, Seven B 7007, 1967
What's Good To You Pt 1 & Pt 2, Seven B 7012, 1967
Once Upon A Time Pt I & Pt II, Recording Artists Productions 501, 1970s


Post a Comment

<< Home