October 05, 2007

Louisiana Instrumental Obscurities

I thought we needed something completely different to follow Willie Tee; so, I've pulled out four instrumentals from other parts of Louisiana, at least one of which is a mystery record. As always, if you have any information to add about these tracks at any time, feel free to put it in the comments or email me.

"Rooty Tooty" (West-Webster-Prevost)
Lonel Torrence, Zynn 1023, ca 1961

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"Rooty Tooty" b/w "Moscow Twist" was Lionel Torrence's second instrumental single for Zynn. Torrence, whose real name was Lionel Prevost*, played frequent sessions at the Crowley, Louisiana studio of J. D. 'Jay' Miller (who owned Zynn) from the late 1950s into the next decade, alongside other regulars such as pianist Katie Webster, guitarist Gabriel 'Guitar Gable' Perrodin, bassist 'Fats' Perrodin, and drummer Clarence 'Jockey' Etienne. Having formerly played in the busy road band of zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier, Prevost, whose saxophone style often raucously walked on the wild side, appeared on classic Miller swamp blues productions for Lonesome Sundown (Cornelius Green) and Lazy Lester (Leslie Johnson), plus numerous other acts Miller recorded in that era, including swamp pop legends Warren Storm, Bobby Charles, and Johnnie Allen. Allen has called Lionel Torrence "one of the top-notch swamp pop saxophonists". Making his musicianship even more impressive is the fact that he played a sax so physically funky that it was literally held together with numerous rubber bands (as fellow saxman Harry Simoneaux recalled in John Broven's South To Louisiana).

I just recently tracked down a minty copy of this single, but have loved "Rooty Tooty" since I first heard it on an early 1990s Flyright CD compilation of Jay Miller's productions, Louisiana R'nB. Likely from the early 1960s [hats off to kees whose comment to this post corrected my earlier dating from the R&B Indies], what a rockin' party record this is, with the musicians joining in on the chorus and tossing out some chatter and even a scream during Katie Webster's piano vamping. Torrence does not play a flurry of notes; but he injects a lot of grease and stretches the ones he uses just right, getting a great nasty tone. That amazing, high-pitched, suggestive squeal during his mid-song solo really gooses things up. I'll also add that, as Torrence, Prevost had another Miller produced single, "Flim Flam" b/w "Saka" out on Excello in 1962. If I could just time travel, I'd go back to some steamy Southwest Louisiana gig to hear Torrence rootin' 'n' tootin' in the horn section. But, barring that, hearing this track brings the festivities fifty years forward for at least a few minutes.

*NOTE: The first instalment of an outstanding feature on Lionel Torrence/Prevost by Paul Harris, who interviewed the sax man around 20 years ago, is now viewable at Sax on the Web. I thank Neil Sharpe, contributing editor, for making me aware of it.

Also, the Flyright LP collection of sides featuring Torrence, including his solo recordings, Sax Man Supreme, mentioned in that feature, can be found at the MTE website, based in Crowley, LA. Very cool. Check it out.

"Hogwash" (R. Shaab)
Earnest Jackson, Stone 001, 1973
(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

The party groove continues with "Hogwash", an R&B rave-up that, if it weren't for the slight "wah" of the guitar, sounds like it could have come from nearly the same era as "Rooty Tooty" rather than from the B-side of a 1973 single by Baton Rouge area soul singer Earnest Jackson. While the A-side is a fairly straightforward cover version of Al Green's "Love And Happiness" which certainly can't touch the original, the instrumental flip surprises. I don't know if Jackson actually plays on the track or not. In fact, I know very little about Jackson period. Maybe he was a guitarist, too, since this is a guitar dominated track. It might not be steeped in the funk of the day, but it cooks nonetheless and has fine playing throughout. Chalk this up as another reason you should always check out the B-sides (ain't dat right, Red?).

What little I know about Earnest Jackson comes from the R&B Indies discographies and a Tuff City/Funky Delicacies LP compilation I have, Funky Funky Baton Rouge. Jackson had just a few singles released under his own name, with this one being his first on Stone, as well as the first release for the label. A blurb for the LP on the Tuff City website suggests that "Love And Happiness" got some airplay around the country. There were two great, very funky follow-ups: "Joy And Affection" backed with an instrumental version (#202), and "Funky Black Man" b/w "Why Can't I Love Somebody" (#203). Jackson also had a later single, "Reaching Out For Your Love" b/w "My Funny Valentine" issued by Royal Shield, another small Baton Rouge label.

Interestingly, the two sides of Stone #001 had different producers. Harold Cowart produced the rather faithful copy of "Love And Happiness". He had played bass for John Fred and the Playboys before joining three other Baton Rouge musicians to form Cold Grits, who, among numerous other gigs, played on sessions at Muscle Shoals and served as a rhythm section at Criteria Studios in Miami in the late 1960s (on "Rainy Night In Georgia", for example) and released a funk instrumental classic, "It's Your Thing" on ATCO. Corwart was involved with Deep South Recording Studio in Baton Rouge, as was the producer and writer of "Hogwash", Ron Shaab, who also worked on soul/funk singles for George Perkins and the mysterious The Sister and Brothers (you can read more about Cold Grits in the comments of that post, too). That Tuff City blurb I mentioned also intimates that Earnest Jackson's Stone sides involved the Cold Grits rhythm section (Cowart, plus Ron 'Tubby' Ziegler on drums, Jimmy O'Rourke on guitar, and Billy Carter, keyboards), but I have no corroboration of that, although it makes sense that at lease some of those players are on the sessions, since Cowart was involved with the production. I'll try to feature some of Jackson's funkier sides later and, possibly, find out more about the artist and session musicians. The Baton Rouge soul and funk scene of the 1960s and 1970s is still a relatively undocumented era; and there's much more to be revealed.

"Shootin' The Grease" (Jesse Gresham)
Jesse Gresham Plus 3, Head, ca 1972

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

[UPDATED 2011-2012]
This strange little track I alluded to as a "mystery" in my intro has had some light shed on it since I first posted this (see below). I had come up empty finding much of anything on Jesse Gresham Plus 3, whose "Shootin' The Grease", appeared as the flip side of a re-issue of Robert Parker's "Barefootin'" on the Head label, which was run by Stan Lewis, owner of the Jewel, Paula, and Ronn labels, among others, in Shreveport, LA. Head didn't release much else, a re-issue of Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is" b/w "Why Worry", and a single by the Tornados. In poking around the web on this one, I discovered that "Shootin' The Grease" is actually the same song as Gresham's two-parter, "The Penguin" that was released on Jewel (823) in 1971. The Head re-issue differs only in that it includes a drum intro that supposedly wasn't on the original. For that, they renamed the thing? Go figure. The R&B Indies dates the Head release as 1972, which sounds about right. My fellow blogger and musical archaeologist, Larry Grogan, featured this side on one of his podcasts, and thought the track might have originated in 1966; but he got that, I think, from the number on the label "SL-1966", which has nothing to do with the date. It's the matrix number for the original Jewel side, which was "The Penguin, Part 2". Part 1 was SL-1962.

In 2011 none other than the great blues journalist and historian, Jim O'Neal, contacted me throuhg the comments on another post to give me the lowdown on Jesse Gresham Plus 3. Here's what he had to say:

They were a popular soul band around Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the '70s, led by organist-pianist Jesse Gresham from the nearby town of Drew (known to New Orleanians as the home of Archie Manning [and Pops Staples!]). The band on his Jewel session (which was done at  Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis) included Johnny Agnew, guitar, and Larry Haggans, bass (both from Clarksdale) and drummer Nathaniel Jefferson from West Helena, Arkansas. The group had some vocalists, but never recorded again after the all-instrumental Jewel session. The band at times also included Josh Stewart and Earnest "Guitar" Roy, who are both still active on the Clarksdale blues scene. Gresham did double duty as a schoolteacherand is now a minister in Drew, where he narrowly lost a recent election for mayor. We included a photo of him, and of one of the Jewel 45s, on the recent Mississippi Blues Trail marker that was dedicated in Drew in honor of the Staple Singers and other local performers. The text and photos from that marker [are] posted at the Blues Trail website. - Jim O'Neal, Research Director Mississippi Blues Trail

Thanks so much to Jim for providing this information. As for the track itself, it is an intriguing bit of, for lack of a better term, garage funk - pretty basic, and probably cut quickly and on the cheap. But the spunk in its funkitude comes through, bringing to mind "Pass The Hatchet", classic progenitor of the genre by a band of young white guys in New Orleans, Roger and the Gypsies, which was actually pretty much Earl Stanley's outfit by another name, with Eddie Bo overdubbed free associating on top. I'm not saying one sounds like the other here - only that there's just the right touch of amateurishness to it, even though Gresham's band were professionals, more or less. The sound they were going for was Delta get-down, not city slick. 

Jim said that they only had one session for Jewel; but it obviously involved four sides being recorded, because Gresham's band had one other Jewel single, "Bust Out" b/w "Get It Where You Find It" (#833), in 1972. I'm hoping to get that posted one of these days, too. The fact that it came out on Jewel makes it fair enough game for HOTG.

"Monkey In A Sack" (G. Sam)
Lil' Buck, La Louisianne 8133, 1969

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Last, but definitely not least, we have master guitarist Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal (sometimes spelled Senegal) doing "Monkey In A Sack", a squirming, undulating, calorie burning groove that is simply one of the best funk tracks to ever come out of Louisiana, in my warped opinion. Recorded right here in Lafayette for La Louisianne Records circa 1969 using his band at the time, the Top Cats, this side and its even more frenetic instrumental flip, "Cat Scream", should have torn it up nationallyand brought the band accolades and adulation (even money!); but, as often is the story, it instead skyrocketed to obscurity, becoming another object of obsession for collectors. This single was his last of three issued on the label. I've looked at a lot of records in my time and have never even laid eyes on a copy of it. My holding comes from the out of print CD compilation, Lafayette Soul Show, that Kent put out in 1993. Great collection - so good I've even seen bootlegs of it since it was deleted. Would somebody please re-issue it?

Accompanying Lil'Buck's tasty guitar percolation, the churning organ work on this cut is courtesy of Stanley 'Buckwheat' Dural, who much later would forsake the B-3, strap on a big piano accordion and make an international name for himself as
Buckwheat Zydeco, bringing high-quality roots R&B-based creole (NOT Cajun!) zydeco music to the world, following the death of the great Clifton Chenier. The Top Cats broke up shortly after "Monkey In A Sack" came out. I guess they figured if that didn't make it, nothing would. Anyway, both Sinegal and Dural eventually joined Clifton Chenier's Red Hot Louisiana Band and played with him during the height of his popularity through the 1970s. After Chenier passed away in the 1980s, Lil' Buck played with another zydeco kingpin, Rockin' Dopsie, and formed his own band, the Cowboy Stew Blues Revue in the 1990s. Along the way, he's played on well over 300 recording sessions, including Paul Simon's groundbreaking Graceland. In 1999, Allen Toussaint, long a fan of the guitarist, produced a CD for him, The Buck Starts Here, a mainly blues outing, that was released on NYNO. Lil' Buck has performed at the Ponderosa Stomp, and, to this day, can be heard playing the clubs of Lafayette and environs with his current smokin' band. From personal experience I can tell you that they do killer shows. Buck always looks like he's enjoying it as much as the audience. Having started out in the 1950s doing R&B with the Jive Five, he's the read deal connection back to the days when Louisiana's musical styles and cultures were beginning to mix and bear amazing fruit. And one more thing, he's a cool cat and nice guy, who always says hi to me when we cross paths and thanks me humbly when I tell him how great his gig was. I've gotta tell ya, though he doesn't know it, just getting to hear him play has helped to make me feel right at home down here.


Blogger Kees said...

I would not dare to think that you are wrong in pinning 1959± to Rooty Tooty (yes, great song, thanks for blogging it!).
But B-side, Moscow Twist, that one I would expect to be of the ±1962 Chubby Checker years? Sure there was a twist before Chubby, but mostly twist song titles are post-Chubby.

3:20 PM, October 07, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Excellent point, kees; and that's why I put "ca" (circa = around) before dates I am not sure of. I ususally try to date records from several sources. The 'R&B Indies' says 1959; and I didn't go any further in my flurry of working on four songs at once. I didn't even think about the big Twist craze being '61-'62. Rockin' Records shows 1961 for 'Rooty Tooty', although that dealers' guidebook can be inaccurate, too. But it makes sense, even though I might weakly argue that Hank Ballard's 'The Twist' came out in 1959, and by 1960, Chubby Checker had first covered it.

Anyway, I've been asleep at the switch on another point, too. I have another side by Torrence, 'Flim Flam', produced by Miller for Excello in 1962. Forgot about that entirely! So, likely he recorded 'Rooty' a bit earlier. And I missed the fact that he did a single for Zynn before 'Rooty', which I discovered when going back over the Indies discog. So I'll take your advice and bump the ca up to 1961. Thanks for bringing this up. You can always dare to think I am wrong - it's often a SAFE BET!!!!
I am going to correct the post now....

9:20 PM, October 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

merci beaucoup
thank you for all those great 45

right! all those sides were recorded between 61&63

3:13 PM, October 11, 2007  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

...that's a roger on the 'B' side, podjo!

GREAT stuff, Dan, as always.


8:46 PM, October 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why many great musicians went unnoticed is what the business called the distributor. Kinda like a truck company - if they ran out of room; your records went into the back of a car - ask BB King ...

4:01 PM, November 10, 2007  
Blogger sarah25 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:24 AM, November 20, 2008  

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