December 04, 2007

Art Neville and Two Guys Named Bo

By my calculations, Art Neville, whose musical career spans over 50 years, will turn 70 on the 17th of this month. Way to go, Poppa Funk. Long may you groove. In honor of that and the fact that two other Meters members (George and Zig) celebrate birthdays in December, too, I thought I would do some random posting related to them for a while. So, let's start with two 1960s vintage numbers from Art, each having in common really only the singer himself and the fact that they were written by these two guys named Bo.

"Hook, Line and Sinker" (E. Bocage)
Art Neville, Instant 3276, 1966
(Tune into HOTG Internet Radio)

By 1966, when "Hook, Line and Sinker" came out, singer/pianist Art Neville had been recording with various labels* for over a decade, but never had a hit outside of his hometown. "Mardi Gras Mambo", a perennial local favorite of Carnival season, was his first record in 1954, credited to the band he would lead for many years, the Hawketts. He was just 17 at the time. By 1956, he was a Specialty Records artist, cutting numerous sides ("Cha Dooky Doo" and "What's Going On" were stand-outs) over the next three years, interrupted by a stint in the US Navy. Many of those sessions were under the direction of Harold Battiste, who was the local producer and A&R man for the Los Angeles based label. Art Rupe, Specialty's owner, had set up a production operation for Battiste in the Crescent City after having huge success with home-boy Lloyd Price ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy", 1952), and Little Richard's monumental sessions there at Cosimo Matassa's studio, using the A-list players who were defining the sound of rock 'n roll on so many records in the 1950s.

But, by the early 1960s, Specialty's run was over; and Neville hooked up with entrepreneur Joe Banashak, who had started several new local labels, generating fresh hits by employing Allen Toussaint to write and arrange songs, find and develop artists, and produce recording sessions. Toussaint had already helped Art's younger brother, Aaron, make his first single on Banasahk's Minit label; and the A-side,
"Over You", had gotten up to #21 in the national R&B charts in 1960. Art seemed set to follow suit, when his second single for Instant (another Banashak imprint), the soulfully delivered, Toussaint-penned ballad, "All These Things", became a substantial hit in New Orleans and much of the Deep South in 1962; but it never broke nationally to become the major record it should have been. Paid no royalties on the sales of his hit, Art had to take a day job to support his family, temporarily sidetracking his music career. He managed to make a follow-up single ** for Instant in 1963; but it didn't do much anywhere. By then, Toussaint was going into the service himself; so, Art moved on to the small Cinderella label, owned by Irving Smith, who had co-founded Instant with Banashak, but parted ways with him. Smith issued three ultimately unproductive singles on him, the best being a big band take on Toussaint's "Lover of Love". Then, for the next few years, Art's only appearances on record were as a session musician.

1966 found him back with Instant, this time working with producer, writer, arranger, and pianist Eddie Bo. Art's great take on Bo's pounding dancer, "Hook, Line And Sinker", backed with "Buy Me A Rainbow", a ballad written by Skip Easterling, were released as Instant 3276. I'm featuring the top side, because it's such a strong song, with an outstanding arrangement by Bo that puts the horn section to good use - listen to that bari sax pumping under the second verse and chorus. The groove is insistent, strongly attacking every beat to drive everybody out onto the dancefloor. To match that feel, Art roughed up his vocal and brought plenty of energy to bear, making this rocker definitely one of his best studio performances; but, for whatever reasons, it failed to connect with the public.

One more Instant single for Art followed in 1967, "House On the Hill (Rock 'n' Roll Hootenanny)" with a great funked up popeye dance groove, but lyrics about as lame as the title, and "Darling, Don't Leave Me This Way", another nice ballad. But Art's efforts were suddenly completely overshadowed by the huge success of brother Aaron's Parlo single, "Tell It Like It Is", which had come out in late 1966 and quickly climbed to the top of the charts. Although the small label could not handle the demand for the record and folded, never paying Aaron anywhere near the royalties he was due, the gifted singer was deservedly thrust into the national spotlight, allowing him to tour nationally while the record was hot. Art became the bandleader for the tours, supporting his brother during his all too brief fling with stardom; but it wouldn't be long until Art would finally come into his own.

"Bo Diddley - Part 1" (Ellis McDaniels[sic])
"Bo Diddley - Part 2"
Art Neville, Sansu 481, 1968

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

After running Aaron's road band during 1967, Art came home with the determination to start a new group that would include Aaron and their youngest bother, Cyril, on vocals and have a new sound with Art playing the Hammond B-3 organ. While he got it going, the band, Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, had a revolving rhythm section backing the brothers, plus Gary Brown on sax. They played around their home base, the Uptown New Orleans area, frequently at the Nite Cap; and soon the backing musicians solidified, Art giving the nod to three strong, young players: bassist George Porter, Jr, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, and drummer Josepth 'Zigaboo' Modeliste. Barely out of their teens, they already had master chops and quickly displayed an intuitive and uniquely rhythmic feel as a unit that lifted the whole group to higher ground. The make-up and concept of the Neville Sounds changed, though, when Art was offered a steady, well-paying house band gig at the Ivanhoe on Bourbon Street, with the provision that the unit must be a four-piece. The small club did not have room for more; so, suddenly, Aaron, Cyril and Gary were out (they soon started the Soul Machine with keyboardist Sam Henry); and Art and his already tight rhythm section went on to become a popular nightly attraction at the French Quarter bar, packing in the crowds and developing their own lean, mean, funkified signature sound based on improvisation and intense focus on the groove above all.

When Allen Toussaint and his business partner, Mashall Sehorn, heard them there, they quickly decided to hire them not just as recording artists but as the studio band for all of the Sansu Productions sessions. And in short order, the group was at Cosimo's new studio location backing the likes of Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris and beginning to bring to the forefront the funk that had always percolated within New Orleans R&B.

It was during this time that the quartet, who had yet to change their name to the Meters, cut tracks for their own first two singles, leading off with "Bo Diddley, Part 1 & Part 2", written and originally recorded by
the great Mr. Diddley himself. Released on Sansu under Art's name only, this single grants a chance to hear what the band sounded like after just a year, more or less, of playing together: high- energy, fine-tuned and relentlessly funky. [Excuse, if you will, the occasionally harsh, slightly distorted sound on this single, which is a near mint promo copy. I think the fault is with the pressing] Taking on a song of iconic proportions, covered by countless bar bands (it may be easy to play, but not easy to play well!), they boldly upped the ante on Diddley's own proto-funk groove and made it their own, thanks in large part to Zig's driving, inventively sliced and diced beats, Porter's propulsive bottom end syncopation, and Nocentelli's playful riff-running and locked-in rhythmic chops. In other words, this was definitely already a Meters record in all but name. No B-3 here, though - just a piano, I think, way down in the mix. Usually very hands-on as a producer, Toussaint wisely gave this group a free hand to create and arrange the music on their own records, essentially allowing them to produce themselves, even if he and Sehorn got the credit. Probably what he contributed here were the effective, complementary horn charts.

And, by the way, Art's vocal is just way cool. His brother Aaron's one-of-a-kind pipes have always been so remarkable that Art's seemed lesser by comparison, which is unfortunate, because Art is a great R&B singer, who can deliver hard edged rock, sinewy funk, or heartfelt soul.

Neither "Bo Diddley" or its Sansu successor, "I'm Gonna Put Some Hurt on You", originally done for Toussaint by Raymond Lewis in 1962, got much attention from the public. But shortly thereafter, Toussaint would capture the band jamming in the studio like they had regularly done on stage at the Ivanhoe, and start releasing their fresh, funky exploits nationally through a deal with Josie Records and, later, Warner Brothers, creating hits and a legacy still resonating through the music of Sugar Town and beyond.

* NOTE: For a full rundown on the details of Art's recordings, plus discographies for all of the recording Neville family, Jon Tyler's nevilletracks is essential, offering the "Complete" Neville Recording Chronology. It's exceptional work by a devoted fan.

** ONE MO' THING: For a great overview of Art's career and a chance to hear one side of that 1963 Instant single, check out this entry from the B-Side. Thanks to Red Kelly for reminding us about it.


Blogger Jipes Blues said...

Great to discover the first singles of Popa Funk. On The Eddie Bo song he has such an incredible igh voice it's really amazing ! I was a fan of the Meters even before my travel in New Orleans but to have seen Art playing live with the Funky Meters was a great experience ;o)

8:35 AM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Divinyl said...

Wow! I have just found your blog and you really know your stuff! There is so much (great) information here, and so many songs that I can't wait to be introduced to. I really like what you are doing here...and I am thoroughly impressed! D.x

10:15 AM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Nevilletracks Blog said...

Great work, as always, Dan!!!! (And, thanks for mentioning Nevilletracks!)

I have always viewed Art as being one of the most underappreciated voices in pop music. Even on weak material, his voice shines. ("House on a Hill" is proof of that. Average song - killer vocals!) His live performance of "All These Things" at the "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy" concert proved that he can sing a ballad as well as ANYONE.

Strangely enough, the single version of "Bo Diddley" has never been issued on CD yet, although Part 1 is available through iTunes. The Part 2 available there is NOT Part 2 at all; it is the commonly reissued version (which is the single version minus horns and backing vocals.)

Thanks for making these rare cuts available on HOTG for all of us to enjoy!

And, again, thanks for one of the best Blogs on the web!!!

Happy Holidays!


4:59 PM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, y'all. Glad you dig these.

Jon, strange indeed that their single version of "Bo Diddley" has never appeared in the CD format. Kudos to iTunes for making Part 1 available, from a master tape I would hope. Maybe the master tape for Part 2 is lost or damaged. Being the dinosaur that I am, I often forget to check the download sites - although I'm pretty sure most of what I post ain't there.

10:55 PM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Guys -

You already know what a big Art Neville fan I am (you can check out another of his early Instant sides, You Won't Do Right, over at my place), and I agree, his voice is the real deal.

I just wanted to point out that "Bo Diddley, Part I" appeared on the excellent Sundazed 'Soul Of New Orleans' Comp, "Get Low Down" as well... strangely, though, there's no backing vocals or horns... just Art singing over the instrumental track (making it sound even more like a Meters cut, which is OK with me!). Anyway, very cool to hear the original single (which I just snagged on eBay last week, strangely enough)...

Thanks, brother.


3:00 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yo, Red - Forgot about that post you did. Can hardly remember the posts I do. Anyway, thanks for the heads up (and the ho-ho-ho). I've put the link for dat up on this post.

By the way, the fact that the stripped down version of 'BD' is on the Sundazed CD comp (as well as at least one on Charly) still does not answer the question why nobody has ever re-issued the actual 45 version. Sundazed had access to the Sansu masters. Was it an oversight? Or is the final master no longer around? Gotta wonder.

And congrats on snagging the 45. Question, does yours have that high end distortion on it, too?

4:42 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Dan -

The 45 is still in transit, but I'll certainly let you know.

I think, sometimes, that the folks who put out these re-issue CDs do a little, shall we say, retro-fitting?

I mean, if you hear something like a raw work tape, before it had all the bells & whistles added, and it just CRANKED, naturally you'd want to use it, I guess.

I'm reminded of the great Z.Z. Hill song that Rhino included in it's 'Soul Shots' series back in the eighties, I Need Someone (To Love Me). It's like the best song on the CD (next to Little Richard's, of course). I hunted it down for 10 years. When I finally got it, there was these intrusive, annoying strings overdubbed over the whole thing on the original 45... I truly THANK the Rhino guys for picking the pre-mixed version... but, like, they could have told me...

Anyway, I'm about ready to go with that Case Six we talked about on ol' SD early in the new year, so shoot me an e-mail, bro.

Thanks for listening.

6:55 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Nevilletracks Blog said...

Yeah, you definitely have to wonder if things like this happen by accident or by design. In many ways, I like the stripped down version of “Bo Diddley” better myself. It has been reissued on CD countless times. However, the version on the “Get Low Down” CD that Red mentioned is noticeably longer than any other version. (Unfortunately, I can’t check the timings because - due to a major life change recently - most of my CD collection is not easy to access.) If my memory serves me correctly, the timing difference is due to the end vamp going on several seconds longer.

The iTunes version of Part 1 sounds decent (as good as a lo-res, lossy file is going to sound, I suppose.) Not much high end on it, so I don’t hear much distortion. I can’t tell whether it was from a tape or vinyl source. (The horns still have the same warbly sound.) As I mentioned, the track listed as Part 2 is actually the commonly released version, which lacks the horns and backing vocals. (This would likely be accidental and not intentional.)

I’ve seen a few older Neville recordings show up on iTunes first and then on a CD several months later. “BD Part1” was released on iTunes in August ’06. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been issued on CD by now. I guess we all have to be thankful that good quality vinyl copies of a lot of older recordings still exist.

6:11 PM, December 12, 2007  
Blogger Freddie L Sirmans, Sr. said...

This is a very, very interesting blog.

7:29 PM, December 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Now that's how you raise one's spirit instantly!! Let's all raise a toast to my main man, Chef-Boy-RT honoring his long career...I'll be making my annual "Happy Birthday" telephone call to Big Chief of Valence Street~


7:11 PM, December 14, 2007  
Blogger Jon Tyler said...

Hey, Dan. Long time no speak. Three-and-a-half years later, the UK label, Snapper (Charly) has released a new 2-cd set of previously-released Meters recordings ("Here Comes the Meter Man.") I don't have my copy yet, but Amazon has audio samples and it looks like "Bo Diddley Part 2" is finally seeing its first digital release! Unfortunately, what it lists as "Bo Diddley Part 1" is really just the commonly released version sans backing vocals and horns. So, (if Amazon's samples are to be believed) Part 1 is still unavailable on CD (although it is available through iTunes and Amazon's mp3 store.) I hope all is well. ~Jon Tyler

10:13 AM, May 12, 2011  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks for the update, Jon, and good to hear from you. So strange that the 45 version is still MIA on CD but available as a download. What's the deal?

When you get a chance, shoot me an email. I need to make sure I have a valid email address for you. Keep up the good work over at nevileltracks.

2:02 PM, May 12, 2011  

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