November 29, 2009


As some of you have already discovered, the webcast, HOTG Radio, came back online late yesterday. After a shakedown cruise, it appears to be stable and relatively glitch-free. Personally, I think the audio needs a bit of tweaking. So, that will be next on the agenda.

Sorry for the down time. Couldn't be helped. Hooboy. I hope we'll have a long stretch of uninterrupted music now. Stay tuned for additions to the playlist to come. And don't forget the "donate" button still works. . . .
The Management

November 23, 2009

In Pursuit of Bo-Consciousness - Part 7

[Updated 11/24/2009 with Instant 3283]

Although the two would never exactly bond professionally, Joe Banashak hired Eddie Bo not only as a producer, arranger, and writer, but also as a recording artist. Starting in 1966, Bo worked primarily on projects for the Seven B label, including his own releases, and also did writing and production duties for Instant, Alon, Tune-Kel and Busy-B (busy he was). His impressive catalog for Seven B has been discussed and featured by Larry Grogan at his
Funky 16 Corners web-zine and blog, and, of course, by Martin Lawrie's Eddie Bo Discography; and I encourage you to look into those sources, if you haven't already. There was so much good Seven B material of Bo's to get into that I will have to come back to it at a (much) later date. I'll be focusing here on just a few of the other interesting records Eddie oversaw for Banashak at the time.

Alon After Allen

Instead of returning from his stint in the armed service to reinvigorate Banashak's foundering multi-label, record-making enterprise, Allen Toussaint, who had run the studio operations and been the creative catalyst for Mr. B's many labels since 1959, quickly realized that it was time to move on. While still nominally with Banashak in 1965, he was hired on the side by independent record promoter and deal-maker Marshall Sehorn to write and produce a number of songs for Lee Dorsey. Sehorn shopped the tracks to Amy/Bell and had an immediate hit with "Ride Your Pony". Having done some covert work for Sehorn before his army hitch, assisting with the production of Dorsey's first big hit, "Ya Ya" and producing a release for Bobby Marchan, Toussaint readily agreed when Sehorn proposed that they go into partnership and form a new production company on the strength of the Amy deal on Dorsey. His departure left Banashak even more at loose ends, needing a creative, resourceful A&R man in the studio to replace Toussaint and fashion musical raw material into finished products the public would want to hear and buy.

As discussed in Part 5, Banashak had a chance encounter with Bo at Cosimo's Studio in 1965 which resulted in Eddie helping to liven up Earl Stanley's production of "Pass the Hatchet". That led to Bo writing "Timber" and producing it with Chris Kenner on lead vocal. The single was released on Atlantic in the name of Candy Phillips for unknown reasons; and I speculated that the project had been set up by Banashak mainly to see if Bo could be a fitting replacement for Toussaint. And whether it went down exactly like that or not, Bo soon became Banashak's new main man.

One of the tasks Bo's boss assigned was picking up the slack at the Alon label, which had been originally set up around 1962 as the main imprint for Toussaint's projects. Ever since Toussaint had been in the service, the label had not done particularly well. The fine vocalists that Allen had written for and worked with, such as Benny Spellman, Eldridge Holmes and Willie Harper had fallen by the wayside; and Banashak was still releasing to little avail the instrumental material that Toussaint had recorded in Houston with the Stokes, a short-lived group he had formed at his army base. That state of affairs was the main reason Toussaint decided to jump ship. About the only promising artist Banashak had left on Alon was a young, expressive white vocalist named Skip Easterling.

Jeff Hannusch relates in
The Soul of New Orleans that Banashak had signed Easterling several years earlier on the strength of a demo tape the singer, a teenager at the time, had brought in. Toussaint was already in Texas doing his military duty; so, Banashak had Skip overdub vocals onto various unissued songs that Toussaint had written, recorded and left behind. These were released on a succession of Alon singles, starting with "Don't Let Him (Come Between Us)" b/w "Sugar Blocks" (#9012). Though Easterling's singing was tentative, the A-side got a lot of local airplay in 1963. Encouraged, Banashak quickly followed up with "Wishing Well" b/w "You Sit and Cry Alone" (#9014), which also got local airplay but was lost in the shuffle as the pop stations shifted more and more to the onslaught of music from the British Isles. Running out of suitable material for the singer, Banashak decided to abandon pop and try to get Skip into the soul market, having him re-cut vocals on two tracks that Toussaint had done with a singer named Johnny Myers around 1961, "Little Wonderful Girl" and "Shiny Gold Ring". Myers version of the former tune, as "Wonderful Girl", written by him and Lou Welsch, had been released on Instant 3243 in 1962 along with "Lonely Fool", which Toussaint penned.

Easterling's single was released in 1964 on Alon 9017; and, as the singer recalled to Hannusch, "Shiny Gold Ring" was deemed enough of a soul song to be pitched to the black stations in town. Skip called it "one of the worst songs I ever cut"; and, understandably, it did not get far (Toussiant likely did not write it, as the title is not listed in BMI). Thus, things stalled for the singer until Toussaint came back to town and wrote and produced two good new songs: "All For You", which sounded like something written with Aaron Neville in mind, and the upbeat, catchy but rhythmically tricky "Run Along To Mama". They comprised Easterling's next single (#9030) early in 1966, which went nowhere, while Toussaint literally went somewhere else, setting the stage for Eddie Bo's coming to the rescue.

"The Grass Looks Greener (On the Other Side)" (Edwin Bocage)
Skip Easterling, Alon 9033, 1966

(Tune into HOTG Internet Radio)

"Keep The Fire Burning (In Your Heart)" (Edwin Bocage)
Skip Easterling, Alon 9033, 1966

(Tune into
HOTG Internet Radio)

Probably the best thing that happened for me was when Eddie came along. -Skip Easterling to Jeff Hannusch in The Soul of New Orleans.

Recorded in October of 1966, "The Grass Looks Greener" was exactly what Banashak had been looking for, a stone soulful and exquisitely sung tune that the R&B stations would jump all over - and they did. Soon after it's release, the song climbed to the #1 position on the local soul charts, helped in large part by incessant spins by DJ Shelly Pope. That really got Easterling's name out there. Already working regularly as a part of a band that played nightly at two Bourbon Street clubs (Earl Stanley, Joe Barry, and Freddie Fender were also members), Skip began getting gigs on his own in area black clubs after this record hit, and was always well-received.

Well-arranged and recorded, "The Grass Looks Greener" was one of Eddie Bo's top productions and deserved not only the attention it got at home, but should have broken out nationally. Though the song itself was rather conventional, Easterling milked the regretful, cautionary lyrics for all they were worth and sang with a fluidity and range that showed just what a great talent he had. He credits Bo for encouraging him to not sing like Banashak thought he should, but to make the song totally his own. Advice that he obviously took to heart and delivered on. Also of note are the supportive and well-sung backing vocals, probably done by the Triple Souls by this point. Finally, Bo had a chorus that benefited his songs instead of torpedoing them!

With an A-side like that, you might think a throwaway flip was in order - after all, how could it possibly compete. But, though it was surely overlooked, "Keep The Fire Burning" was one tough cookie of a soul-rock hybrid that could and should have broken out on its own, too. Easterling's performance was again exemplary as he held his own, refusing to be dominated by the insistent beat, vocally bobbing and weaving with finesse through the punches and stabs of the outstanding rhythm section and horns. That groove, impossible to ignore, was rendered by the drumming powerhouse, James Black, as Skip recalled to Martin Lawrie in an valuable interview linked above and found at sougeneration. The pounding four to the bar beat is similar to the groove found on several other Bo productions from the same period: the driving soul of "Hook, Line and Sinker" recorded by Art Neville for Instant (3276) in 1966, and Chris Kenner's "Cinderella", a strong Instant B-side (3280) from the same year. In the context of the times, I also hear a synchronicity of feel with two hits I recall from 1966: "Keep On Running" by the Spencer Davis Group, featuring another extremely soulful white boy, Steve Winwood, on vocal [how did a 50 year old whiskey soaked, chitlin' circuit voice get into that kid from the UK?] and "Black Is Black" by Los Bravos, whose lead singer interestingly also had a high tenor delivery in Easterling's range. I'm not exactly saying Eddie consciously copped a feel from either of those - but the songs were in (an on) the air back then; and even if he did, he made something unique out of it. "Keep the Fire Burning" would have been a worthy competitor for those tunes. Though radically different from the top side of Easterling's 45, it is another impressive example of Bo's ability to create a cracking track and is on my list of his career best work. It still hits on all cylinders and burns pure jet fuel.

As 1967 rolled around, Bo worked on just one more Easterling single, going with the fairly standard ballad format of "Just One More Time" (hear it at The Singing Bones) b/w a cover of "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands", issued next as Alon 9034. Skip performed them well; but the tune on top didn't have as much substance as his recent hit, while the B-side was marred by canned female screams, for phony added "excitement" - very likely Banashak's idea. Eddie followed that record with a production of two songs written and sung by the almost totally unknown Dave Reynolds, "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "Tears In My Eyes", on Alon 9035, a 45 so obscure it is not even shown on the EBD, although full Alon discographies do list it. The sides, blues and soul, respectively, both nondescript, would be Bo's last project to appear on Alon, as his relationship with Banashak was deteriorating. Easterling, on the other hand, remained under contract and recorded a few more 45s for Alon, at least one of which was produced by Earl Stanley, before Banashak shut the label down around 1969. Skip then was moved onto Instant, where he worked under the direction of Huey Smith, who produced some genuinely funky tracks for him in the early 1970s; but he never did get a chance to have real break-out record and remained off the national radar.

A Few Instances on Instant

But, back to 1966. Bo's multi-label projects for Banashak also included producing some sides for artists signed to his boss' oldest remaining imprint, Instant. As mentioned, Eddie worked with Art Neville on the impressively rockin' "Hook, Line and Sinker" b/w "Buy Me A Rainbow", a ballad written by Skip Easterling. I featured the A-side on a post in 2007 and have reactivated the audio there for reference. He also produced three notable Instant 45s for Chris Kenner.

The first consisted of two tunes written by Kenner under his nom de plume and wife's maiden name, Tessie Mae Marshall (to avoid paying Fat Domino or the IRS - likely both!). "I'm Lonely, Take Me", was an impressive deep soul turn for the singer, who got up into his falsetto a few times, and "Cinderella", a lively dancer that Martin at
the EBD nails as inspired by Jr. Walker's "Shotgun". I've been harboring a hunch that the similar grooves on "Cinderella", Neville's "Hook, Line and Sinker", and "Keep the Fire Burning", may have all been rendered by James Black, who has been confirmed as playing on Easterling's record. I have no back-up; but it's worth a thought.

"Cinderella" (T. M. Marshall)
Chris Kenner, Instant 3277, 1966
(Tune into HOTG Internet Radio)

Released just after Art Neville's single, this was the most simple and bare bones of the three compelling tracks I mentioned and is a good mover once you get past the strange start/stop horn and vocal introduction. The singles being sequential, it would make sense that most or all of the same players were used. The arrangement was just driving drums, guitar, bass and horn lines that seem a bit James Brown-ish. Kenner's singing on both sides of the 45 was very good, indicating that Bo had the good luck or expertise to keep Chris at least somewhat sober during the sessions. Kenner was not a musician; and his songs were mostly kept in his head (and the leakage was surely substantial). Considering his murky mental state most of the time, it surely took a lot of patience to coax the material, like this fantasy about Cinderella's dancing prowess, out of him and get it into some sort of acceptable form. Obviously, Bo had a way with the guy, persevered, and got some good takes.

The second Kenner single Bo contributed to was a somewhat funkified throwback. I say "throwback" because, musically, this tune is nothing more than a re-make of the classic, "Junco Partner" or "Junker's Blues" covered by many New Orleans artists over the years in various forms, sometimes with different lyrics. Fats Domino cut it as "The Fat Man" in the late 1940s, and Professor Longhair soon thereafter did it as "Tipitina" (and later in the "standard" form, too), for example. The original song, which pre-dates the R&B era and came out of the New Orleans barrelhouse piano tradition, definitely became a New Orleans anthem, a tale of dope addiction and its consequences. Anyway, it was on its familiar blues structure that Bo and Kenner fashioned their more up-to-date take-off.

"All Night Rambler, pt 1" (T. M.Marshall)
Chris Kenner, Instant 3280, 1966
(Tune into HOTG Internet Radio)

"All Night Rambler, pt 2"
(Tune into HOTG Internet Radio)

Recorded late in 1966, about a month after Skip Easterling's "Keep the Fire Burning" session, the two-sided rocker had some obvious New Orleans funk to its groove, primarily in the syncopated kick drum and the interplay of attacks by rhythm guitar and Bo's piano professor keyboard work. As he had on "Timber" and "Cinderella", Eddie stuck with an uncluttered arrangement, better to emphasize the visceral elements of the playing that drove the tune; and he kept to that approach on his final known production for Kenner.

"Shoo Rah" (T. M. Marshall)
Chris Kenner, Instant 3283, 1967

[Added 11/24/2009] I had not included this cut in my original post yesterday, because I still don't own the 45 and, not having seen the label, was under the impression that Sax Kari produced it. Well, first thing this morning, my cohort Peter dropped an email on me and politely said that I had missed this single, and included scans of both labels to make his point. As I have said often, I do not know much more than a smidgen of everything there is to know about New Orleans R&B, nor do I own all the records - but I do have vinyl, digital, and even tape audio archives that cover a great deal of it, with which I try to make connections as I enjoy the sounds. This blog is meant to be a learning experience for all of us. So, I actually do appreciate it when my ignorance is pointed out.

In this case, I'll plead semi-ignorance, since I already knew about Kenner's song, "Shoo Rah", at least; but not the flip, "Stretch My Hand To You", which I assume is a ballad. I had included the top side in a post I did back in 2005 on the occurrence of a good number of New Orleans songs having to do with Shoo-Rah, a name or a dance whose origins are obscure and, according to one voluminous commenter back then, possibly ancient.

The song was one of Kenner's linear groovers, free of any distracting chord changes, and comes from deep inside 1000 (give or take) dances land. His vocal ran a simple, sing-song, child-like melody that is echoed in Bo's horn charts. It's a reminder of my premise that the Shoo-Ra song at some point may have been a playground game chant. Turning Kenner's lack of musicianship into a virtue, Bo made his song all about the primal, polyrhythmic, trance-inducing beat, getting down to basics and bringing Bo Diddley, the hand jive and second-line reveling to the party, as he did on his own "Just Like A Monkey" (see Part 6) several years earlier. There is a real synergy going on between the two songs that is well worth checking out, as they both point toward Eddie's upcoming full-out funk.

Although none of his work with Kenner delivered commercial rewards, all in all, Bo produced tracks that stand with the singer's best recorded work, including the few singles he cut with Toussaint and "Sick and Tired" on Imperial back in 1957. No small feat.

Also in 1967, Bo wrote and produced one more Instant single (#3291), "Good Thing Goin'" b/w "Key to My Heart", by a group, maybe invented for the occasion, called the Rainbows. Sounding kind of. . .um, loose and relaxed, the A-side had the vocals rather low in the mix. The female group and seemingly Eddie himself sang in unison about having a good thing goin' and repeated "let the good times roll" a lot. Unfortunately, they sound so lethargic that every time I hear it I nod off - a reverse-effect party record, for sure. And the B-side was really no better, a musical plodder with more unison vocals, although a pleasant female singer takes a verse or two on her own, but can't overcome the palpable inertia. What was that record about? I haven't a clue why Bo bothered to wake up enough to hit the 'record' button. The release could only have been some sort of contractual payback that Bo left behind to further irk his former boss.

While in Joe Banashak's employ for those couple of years ending about 1967, Bo's energy mainly went into writing and producing records on himself and others for Seven B, many of them very good, a few downright brilliant. It was on some of those sessions that he began to consciously incorporate more funk into the proceedings, laying the groundwork for his future direction. Add to that body of work the other label projects he did, a few of which I've touched on here; and one can say that Eddie's time with Banashak was a real creative watershed for his career. The only problem was that, except for the first record he did with Skip Easterling, none of that work had much commercial impact at all; and his boss began losing confidence in him and finding fault with Bo's output, claiming unjustly that most of it sounded "off". Such sniping and micromanaging of his productions surely did not sit well with Bo. So he quit to pursue his hits elsewhere. Banashak seems to have ignored the fact that the entire New Orleans record business was going down the drain right about then (which was certainly none of Bo's doing!). His labels never did rise again, and began closing down after Bo's departure, until there was only Instant left by the early 1970s - but by that time Banashak had gotten religion and lost interest.

Living On

Eddie would soon go to work for Al Scarmuzza's perfectly named Scram and related labels for a while, before setting up a new batch of imprints and going it on his own by 1970. I have featured some of those records in the past and hope to do more down the road. But for now, before I get back to other funkier explorations, I want to leave you with a coda to this series, a song and production from one of Bo's own later labels. It is not the kind of record I feature often; but it is a rarely heard example of just how classy and accomplished Bo's producing and arranging skills could be.

(Edwin J. Bocage)
Tommy Ridgley, Ridge-Way 0005, 1970?

I featured the A-side, "Spreading Love", also in 2005 and you can read more about it via the link. I have little more to offer as an update! I got a copy of the single several years ago, but the label was faded out. It's fairly hard to find and hasn't been comped, as far as I can tell. But last week I found a near mint copy (a bit warped - but plays fine and looks new) for $3.00 at a record sale in New Orleans! It was a sign. Listening to it again, I realized how effective Bo's arrangement is here, tastefully employing strings into the mix, too - not a common occurrence. An often contradictory character, Bo could lay down greasy funk, rockin' R&B, and sometimes compose silly, absurd little songs - then turn around and drop something this refined on you.

As I speculated in my earlier post, surely Eddie was looking for this single to get picked up by a larger label. Didn't happen; and as far as I know, it was the only release on Ridge-Way. Since the label says "Bo Sound Productions", it probably is from around 1970, though it has a mid-1960s feel to it - maybe he wrote it back then. Cosimo's White Cliffs company had the publishing on it; and that went under with Matassa's other businesses by 1966 or so.

The sentiments of the lyrics are way cliched; but Ridgley's perfectly inflected, beautiful delivery coupled with Bo's uplifting musical backing makes them fresh and poignant - and a fitting tribute to the composer and supremely talented New Orleans record man, who did a lot of living and an astounding lot music making while he was among us. If you've followed this series up to now, I hope you'll agree that the world is a better place for Eddie having moved and grooved through it.

[Once again, many thanks to my colleague, Peter, for the scans of Alon 9033, as my copy had lost most of its labels due to Katrina water damage before I bought it and is even more illegible than his! He also allowed me to see and hear both sides of Alon 9035, and, as noted above, sent me scans of Instant 3283 and let me know that Bo had a hand in getting it issued, as well. That information was also soon brought up in the comments to this post by Isosceles Diego
. Further props to ana for the needed scan of Instant 3277, and for audio linkage for Skip Easterling's "Just One More Time". Much obliged to all y'all.]

[1/3/2010: The Singing Bones currently has has one of Bo's Seven B sides up, check it!]

November 01, 2009

In Pursuit of Bo-Consciousness - Part 6

Greets. Just three records this time, and a lot of back-fill. One of the records is on an archived previous post. So, you'll have to hit the link back to it to hear the audio and read the other Bo connection to it that I did not get into this time. I plan to cut off my detailed retrospective on the late Mr. Bocage's early career at 1966 or so. Other than the one Seven B issue this time, I won't be getting into that label or what lies beyond in the near future. I'm just going to do one more post on a few records Bo produced and/or wrote in 1966-67 that weren't on Seven B. Then I'll be off on other circuitous digressions. But, there will be more, less involved Bo posts at some point in the future, no doubt. By the way, if you are still around, thanks for hanging with me!

A Quick Stop At Nola
While his brief first fling running his own labels wound down without financial rewards, Eddie Bo continued working on projects for other labels, as the opportunities arose. In 1964, as discussed in Part 4, he had been involved with a Johnny Adams single for Gone and wrote the A-side of Tommy Ridgley's great Johen 45. Also that year, he connected with a new label in town, Nola Records, started by Ulis Gaines, Clinton Scott, Beryl 'Whurley Burley' Eugene, as well as producer/arranger Wardell Quezergue, who had worked on the Johen record. Just getting the operation off the ground and looking for good material to release, they enlisted Bo, who quickly cut two of his own tunes for them.

"You Are Going to Be Somebody's Fool, Too" (D. Burmah, D. Johnson, E. Bocage) Eddie Bo. Nola 704, 1964

"A Heap See (But A Few Know)" (D. Burmah, D. Johnson, E. Bocage)

It was an interesting, split-personality type record for Bo, with the A-side seeming to go for rather mainstream soul-pop, while the flip was blues. Effectively arranged by Quezergue, neither had an overt New Orleans sound. But, at least with the mid-tempo "Somebody's Fool", closer attention to the drumming reveals some subtle New Orleans funkification was going on; and I suspect that Quezergue's go-to drummer of the period, Smokey Johnson, was the reason why the beats were so tastefully messed with. Note also the syncopated guitar chops layered in, while Bo played a double-time, repetitive figure on the piano under it all. It took me a couple of listens to realize what attracted me to this otherwise fairly straightforward and clichéd song format was the way Quezergue could so artfully imbue his productions with polyrhythmic counterpoint. 

The lyrics of "You Are Going to Be Somebody's Fool, Too" (the title alone taking up two lines on the record label- see my note below about this*) were nothing to write home about; but I do like Bo's go-for-it performance. This kind of number was not usually his strong suit, but he definitely sold it. Unfortunately, all the positives of the song were virtually undone by the ramrod straight backing singers, who sound like they were on loan from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Out of their element, to say the least, they definitely contributed to this one being a no-sale, continuing Bo's chick chorus curse (see Part 5). 

Meanwhile, for the B-side, Bo and Quezergue thankfully managed to ditch the women and come up with a big, horn-driven, uptown blues arrangement for the oddly worded "A Heap See (But A Few Know)", which aspired for the sound of one of Bobby Bland's incendiary outings on Duke Records over in Houston; but, while the track is mostly well-played (the guitar noodling is a bit distracting), the song as a whole didn't quite get the cigar lit. It cracks me up to hear Bo repeatedly attempt to deliver that awkward mouthful and a half of a chorus, "A heap see, but a (very) few know". Instead of a blues lament, it sounds like something Tonto might have said to the Lone Ranger in that phony Native-American-speak that 1950s TV offered up. Also not helping to suspend my disbelief are Eddie's repeated yelps of "ow" as the song draws to a close, suggesting not psychic pain but maybe that Quezergue was whipping him with a microphone cable or something. Don't get me wrong. I LIKE it when Bo gets goofy and goes over the top. To me some of his best stuff has an element of the unexpected, the ridiculous, or at least the humorous, to it. I get the feeling that many of his sessions were highly entertaining places to be. Nevertheless, heap few bought record, kemosabe. 

At more or less the same time that he cut his own record for Nola, Bo contributed to a project on a new female singer, Betty Taylor, which resulted in the label's next issue (#705), "I'm Going Home" b/w "You're A Winner", both co-penned by Bo. I did a post on "I'm Going Home" back in 2005, before I knew much of anything about the 45 or the singer, and later updated it as more details came to light. You can read it and still hear the audio at the link provided. I'll summarize by saying that Betty Taylor seems to have been an alias for Marie DuBarry, who recorded again a little later for Cosimo Matassa's White Cliffs label under her own name, and then, as Marie Boubarere, cut live versions of "I'm Going Home" b/w "I Know" (see my post from 2008), released by Nola as a single (#731) in 1967. Why Ms DuBarry required aliases I don't know. Also still unknown is how involved Bo was with that first record. Interestingly, Quezergue's name does not appear on #705, as it does on most of the Nola releases to indicate he was the arranger and/or producer. So, for all I know, besides writing the tunes, Bo might have done the arrangements or even had a hand in discovering the singer. Other than her name(s) and three item discography, very little is known about her. Leaving unanswered questions in his wake (as usual), Eddie moved on. 

[A note on the songwriting credits: D. Burmah (which I have seen on other credits spelled "Burmak") does not appear in the BMI database. The third name on the BMI registration for both songs was Larry McKinley, a popular local DJ in New Orleans in those days, who had his hands in various record companies around town. So, Burmah or Burmak was an alias, allowing him to get cut-in on the potential royalties without being overt about it. As pointed out before around here, such arrangements were common practice all over the music business nationwide to encourage airplay by influential DJs.]

The registered title in BMI is "You're Gonna Be Somebody's Fool, Too" - a bit more compact; but I have seen copies of this record with a much shorter variant title for this side (including a promo copy), "Everybody's Somebody's Fool". That phrase is what the background vocalists were singing, while Eddie delivered the line shown as the title on my copy of the record. I have no idea why this happened; but did. So, if you are ever searching for this record online, my advice is to try both versions of the title.

Getting His Chops Up and Going to Work For Joe Banashak

I have discussed the story of Bo's contributions to the making of "Pass The Hatchet" before. They were significant, even though it was not his production, his arrangement, or his song. His added exclamatory vocalizing gave the offbeat instrumental a more dominant personality. In the story of Bo's recording career, though, it was an important happenstance that Joe Banashak asked him to make additions to the record, because that led directly to his going to work for the label owner. Because there are still some misperceptions floating around surrounding the Roger & the Gypsies 45, which was the second release (#7001) on Banashak's new Seven B venture, and since it kicked off the next phase of Bo's adventures in recording, I think's it's worth revisiting the circumstances. 

I started a new label, Seven B, that stood for seven Banashaks, in 1966. Originally it was going to be a label on which I issued masters that I had bought. . . . I got a master from Earl Stanley's group, "Pass The Hatchet", that did real well locally. I was listening to this thing at Cosimo's Studio and Eddie Bo was around and offered to help me out with it. Eddie Bo did all the shouting and clapping [?] on the record; that was overdubbed. - Joe Banashak to Jeff Hannusch in I Hear You Knockin' 

I thought it was a joke ‘cause we were just making it up in the studio. Li’l Joe came up with the beat, Nicky Bodine came up with the bass riff, Art Sir Van played the piano, Hector Nieves played the maracas, Roger played a little rhythm guitar. We just put it together and recorded it on the spot. - Earl Stanley to Michael Hurtt in the Offbeat feature "Hidden Charms".

As Banashak has stated, and Stanley (Oropeza) verified in that
Offbeat interview, Earl and his band, the Stereos, arranged and cut "Pass the Hatchet", based around a guitar riff and title supplied by Roger Leon. It took about half and hour to bring it into being at their little production studio, Thunder Recording. Stanley then invented a band name to slap on it, Roger & the Gypsies, and took the tape of the hypnotic, strip-club-rock instrumental to Banashak, who agreed to lease it. This must have been at some point in 1965. Thinking the tune needed something extra to make it stand out, Banashak then enlisted Bo's help; and his off-the-wall, verbally riffing on the title, overdub session ensued. The record came out towards 1966 and did great in and around New Orleans, getting up to #1, but did not break out nationally. Of course, it has since become not only a cult classic, but a latter day commercial bonanza for Stanley, who said that he spent less time putting the song together and recording it than anything he ever worked on. An, of course, at the time, they had no idea that Bo would be a participant.

Seemingly very soon after assisting with "Pass The Hatchet", Bo began working pretty much full time on projects for Banashak's stable of labels. One of the reasons Eddie got hired in 1965 was that Banashak had just lost the services of his main studio mojo-man, Allen Toussaint, who had been working for him as producer, arranger, writer, and master of artist development since 1959. Toussaint had a magic touch in the studio and either created or helped birth many hits on numerous artists for Banashak's Minit and Instant labels up until 1963, when he went into the service for two years. Still under contract with Bananshak, Toussaint left a lot of material to be released in his absence, and even started a group at the base in Houston, the Stokes, who recorded mainly instrumentals for the Alon imprint; but he no longer had a day to day involvement in recording and writing. 

Also during that period, Banashak had a serious financial setback when his record distributorship business went under; and that nearly shut down his music production and label operations, too. Though Banashak recovered, the dynamic had markedly changed by the time Toussaint returned; and most of the strong vocalists he had worked with previously were long gone. Sensing the stagnation, Toussaint jumped ship in 1965, going into partnership on a new production company with Marshall Sehorn, who was developing Lee Dorsey as a national artist and needed Toussaint's talents. The move forced Banashak to seek new blood in the business; and Bo was available to become not only part of the production team, but a recording artist, as well. If Bo's first job for Joe Banashak was pimping "Pass The Hatchet", he soon cooked up another project directly related to it, creating a spin-off single, as it were, featuring - in disguise - the legendary, problematic Chris Kenner on lead vocal.

Joe Banashak had first signed Kenner, a great songwriter and limited singer with a serious drinking problem, to the new Instant label in 1961. Working under Toussaint's direction, Kenner quickly had hits with two of his own songs, "I Like It Like That" and "Something You Got", before cooling off commercially. In 1962, after recording another original, "Land of 1,000 Dances", which went nowhere, Kenner and Banashak parted ways. Prone to blowing any money he got, the always cash-strapped Kenner then approached hit-master Fats Domino about recording "Land", which the rotund one agreed to do if the songwriter signed over 50% of the songwriter royalties. In return, Kenner got a small cash advance. To get more, Kenner also offered up several other of his songs to Domino in a similar deal. Fats soon cut "Land" and "Something You Got" for ABC to little avail. But, his name on some of Kenner's songs seemed to spark new interest in them.

In 1963, Kenner's Instant version of "Land" began getting airplay in several parts of the country; and Atlantic Records came to Banashak and made a deal to distribute an LP featuring the song and other Kenner material to cash in on it's popularity. The song rose only into the lower Hot 100 before stalling out; but it would not be long until Chris' tunes were getting covered by other artists, too. The cash from Atlantic helped to save Banashak's foundering record labels; and Kenner came back into the fold in early in 1965, briefly working with Toussiant again on some sides that Banashak leased to Uptown, a California label; but they did not get noticed.

By that time, though, Toussaint was on the way out; and Bo came on board to try something else with Kenner.
If A Record Gets Released Without Promotion, Does Anybody Hear It? (An old music business koan)

"Timber - Part I" (Johnson-Bocage-Menelik)
'Candy' Phillips, Atlantic 2290, 1965
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
"Timber - Part II"
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Well, spreadin' 'round the world like a wild disease,

everywhere you look, they're choppin' down trees,

hollerin', TImber! Chop it up, baby.

Fans of "Pass The Hatchet" or even casual listeners should immediately recognize the lyrical similarities in what Kenner is singing here and what Eddie Bo spouted over the Roger & the Gypsies track about chopping and trees falling, not to mention the two times he actually yelled "timber". Though there was little musical similarity between the songs, it is obvious that Bo lyrically crafted a take-off on "Hatchet", creating a song about a new dance where everybody was swinging (hopefully) imaginary axes at equally non-existent trees (Bo may have been a carpenter; but BOTH songs are about lumberjacking!). In the music business, I guess, the question is not why, but why not. My take is that Bo didn't get any cut of the writers' credit for what he came up with on "Pass The Hatchet"; so, he decided to recycle his ideas into a song he might be able to cash in on.

I've wondered about the use of Chris Kenner, when Eddie could have done a better job vocally himself; and what was up with calling Chris "'Candy' Phillips" (though that last name has some obvious appeal). Further, how did Atlantic wind up releasing it? It did not appear first on any of Banashak's labels. 

The answer to a couple of these burning inquiries probably has a lot to do with the fact that Banashak had additional dealings with Atlantic in 1965. They were in a receptive mood because their
Land Of 1,000 Dances LP (SD-8117) continued to have sales interest incited by Cannibal and the Headhunters' cover version having made the song a hot, if decidedly altered, property. Atlantic would get another boost in '66 (as would Mr. Domino), when Wilson Pickett had a smash hit with it, as well. With that going on, Banashak coaxed them to issue "Timber" as part of a deal to pick up an Alon single (#9024) by Benny Spellman that Toussaint had written and produced, "The Word Game" (it used a recycled Stokes track) b/w "I Feel Good", issued as Atlantic 2291.

As to why Chris Kenner sang, I suspect Banashak used the session as a test to see if Bo could work with Chris, who was pretty much perpetually inebriated and not the most focused or reliable of performers. The alias? I'm stumped (so sorry). Maybe Atlantic wasn't interested in a new Kenner release at that time, with the LP still out in the marketplace. Other ideas, or even facts, are welcomed.

Whatever those reason may have been, "Timber", which would have come out** probably around the same time as "Hatchet" or just behind it, seems to have been set up to fail by Atlantic along with the Spellman single - just allowed to fall silently in the forest without any promotional support - probably meant to be tax write-offs for an operation that was growing more corporate by the day and had bigger trees to chop.

While it musically lacked the loopy, low-fi, gonzo spirit of "Hatchet", "Timber"' had an appealing simplicity and groove. Bo used that New Orleans popeye-style saunter that had been around since early in the decade, but punched it up by adding the thrust of his background grunts on the 2 of each bar (on the latter part of "Hatchet" he had put them on the 1). I wouldn't go as far as to call either song proto-funk, as some have - but there were tendencies in that direction. Meanwhile, the lyrics of "Timber" start out seeming to be going eco-a-go-go, but, soon enough, the pro-chopping message is clear cut (forgive me). Still, the despite the conceptual absurdity of doing a dance about deforesting the planet, "Timber" is actually a fun record and easily induces movement (an effective work-out number that no Zen-master could resist). On Part II, the non-vocal side, Bo delivered a fine organ solo mixed in with some cool sax work that made things even better. Still, no one danced, because no one heard; but perhaps a wave of axe wielding mayhem was averted.

Over the next year, Bo worked with Kenner again, as well as others, for Instant, and did some effective and successful producing and writing for Skip Easterling, too. Next time, we'll take a look at and listen to some of that.
**[Note: In Larry Grogan's 2005 Eddie Bo Archives at his old pre-blog webzine, Funky 16 Corners, he dated "Timber" as 1967, not saying how that date was derived. For a good while, I accepted it without questioning. When I finally scored my copy of the single and checked the Atlantic matrix numbers (8936/8937), they put the actual recording date around mid-1965, where The R&B Indies Atlantic discography also places it. For context, Wilson Pickett recorded "In the Midnight Hour" in May, 1965; and the issue number of that 1965 single was #2289 (matrix numbers 8930/8931), placing it just prior to "Timber". That changed my whole view of the sequence of events. Finally, in further geekitude, I'll point out that despite what the writers' credits say on "Timber", BMI shows the "third writer" (the first two are Eddie Bo, of course) as Gus Lewis, a local DJ, rather than Menelik, an African king and predecessor to Hailie Selassie!!!!!! As with Larry McKinley on Bo's Nola 45 credits, Lewis' inclusion as a recipient of possible royalties was surely an inducement for radio play; and use of Menelik's name was surely meant to be Bo's humorous way to hide it.]