January 08, 2010

Under The Toussaint Covers

January being the birth month of Allen Toussaint, I thought I'd come back from my year-end break and devote a few posts to some music associated with him, as I used to do on my old radio show, and here some years past. On another note, I'll also be putting up some Carnival-related tunes in the coming weeks, as the season is now rolling with Twelfth Night just past and Mardi Gras just a bit more than a month away. But, back to Toussaint for the time being, let's kick off HOTG 2010 with three cover versions of songs that he originally wrote, arranged and produced for Lee Dorsey and John Mayall.

 A Big Easy Resolution For Don Covay

"Everything I Do Goin' Be Funky" (Allen Toussaint)Don Covay, Atlantic 2725, 1970
tune in to
HOTG Internet Radio

Don Covay has been funky from way earlier than the date of this release, with a career that started in the late 1950s. A long-time fan of the R&B pioneer, I was in high school in the 1960s when he was hitting his stride as a songwriter, performer and recording artist. "Mercy, Mercy",from 1965, did well for him and was soon covered by the Rolling Stones, which got it a lot more attention. I was hanging out daily after school back then at Pop Tunes, a record shop on Summer Avenue in Memphis where my friend, Linda (rest her soul), who worked there, would pull all the fresh soul 45s out of the recently delivered shipping boxes and slap them on the turntables one after another; and we'd listen for hours on end. That's where I first heard and got into Covay's other stuff, including "Sookie, Sookie" (later covered by Steppenwolf) and "See Saw" (also well-covered by Aretha Franklin), two stone groovers co-written with Steve Cropper and recorded by Covay just a few miles away, down in South Memphis at Stax studio. Aretha also had a huge hit with her cover of his song, "Chain Of Fools". Like I said, the cat was already way funkifried.

Lee Dorsey did the original "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)", which charted in the summer of 1969, under Toussaint's guidance and with the Meters as backing band. Covay's "Everything I Do Goin' Be Funky" was cut in September of that year at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, when he was there working on an album that would be titled The House of Blue Lights, a blues-based project which he produced and arranged. Many of the songs for the LP had already been laid down earlier that year in New York. This song wasn't part of the LP, but seems just to have been an attempt to cover Dorsey's recent hit and ride in the slipstream, though Atlantic didn't get it to market until 1970. One of the cuts pulled from the album sessions, the blues standard, "Key To The Highway", was on the B-side.

Covay called the band he assembled for the album sessions the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band; and they included John Hammond, Jr. and Joe Richardson on guitars, Jerry Jemmott and Butch Valentine on bass, drummers Daniel Jones and
Charles 'Honeyman' Otis, plus an unknown organist and a fine horn section. The crew did Toussaint's joint up right, while putting their own stamp on it; and, though I don't know for sure, I'd like to think the funked-up, down in the groove drumming was delivered by the legendary 'Honeyman', whose New Orleans roots helped deliver on the song's promise. Covay pretty much followed the spoken introduction from Dorsey's original (which was done by a Georgia-based studio engineer on that session), then took his own liberties with the tune. While Dorsey's rather spare, low-key take is still the winner for me, Covay's cookin' version was a rousing success, if only in terms of the arrangement and performance. It failed to cash in any substantial way commercially.

The House of Blue Lights
LP charted, but was to be the singer's last project for Atlantic, after a five year run. Moving to Mercury (Records) and a succession of other labels as his recording career tapered off over the decade, he kept it pretty funky on down the line and has remained active, at least up until the turn of the century. Obviously, for Don Covay, making this resolution was a piece of cake.

 A Hint of the New Orleans-Jamaica Connection That Could Have Been

"Get Out My Life Woman" (Allen Toussaint)
The Mighty Diamonds, from Ice On Fire, Virgin, 1977
tune in to
HOTG Internet Radio

In the 1950s and 1960s, R&B from New Orleans and elsewhere in the US had a great effect on Jamaican musical styles, players and singers. It's certainly too big a topic to open up here; but, suffice it to say, the Crescent City has long been recognized as the Northernmost Caribbean cultural point (if not its own peculiar banana republic), with a continual cross-pollination of musical influences over and beyond the Gulf of Mexico. 

Back in the 1970s, I listened to many of the major and lesser known reggae bands out of Jamaica, but had just one LP by the Mighty Diamonds, Indestructible, from 1981. I didn't know about Ice On Fire until I started doing my radio show in Memphis and intensified my search for New Orleans musical connections. I bought it on the cheap in one of the local used vinyl stores, thinking it had promise, since it was produced by Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn, partners in Sansu Enterprises, and recorded at their home base, Sea-Saint Studios, back in 1977 - plus the group was doing three of Toussaint's tunes ("Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" and "You Are Just A Song" being the others). But the promise wasn't really kept.

The record had come out about a year or so after the Mighty Diamonds' scored a number of hit singles and a successful album in Jamaica and England; and, as they popular over there but not well-known in the US, it seems odd that they were sent stateside to record their follow-up, even if it was to New Orleans with its semi-tropical sensibilities. Of course, Toussaint was a hot producer back then; and reggae was coming into its own in the US thanks to Bob Marley, et al. So, such was record company short-term decision-making that maybe putting the two together would make crossover magic happen and help open up the US market.

The band's biography I've linked to calls Ice On Fire "an uneasy marriage of reggae and American R&B". That seems not quite right. More than a lack of ease, this record sounds too easy - reggae-lite, to be exact, an attempt to merge some soul and New Orleans feel with ersatz reggae rhythms. The people who felt uneasy about the quickie wedding of styles on the resulting LP were the fans of the Mighty Diamonds at home and abroad, who had misgivings about its lack of true reggae vibrations. 

That is understandable when one looks at the album credits and finds that the session players were all selected from the Sea-Saint/Sansu pool of talent. Toussaint and Sehorn also assigned the local legend, Wardell Quezergue, to arrange the music. The only Jamaicans on board were the Mighty Diamonds themselves, a tight singing trio of young reggae stars alone in a foreign land, giving it a good go. 

Despite the obvious abilities of the assembled musical staff, having some actual rasta-rooted players in on the action might have given more credibility and audible authenticity to the resulting tracks, in the eyes and ears of the group's fan-base and the reggae-conscious in general. As it was, Toussaint's team were left to come up with some kind of trans-Caribbean hybrid accompaniment; and I think they played it a little too safe. So did most record buyers; and the album was simply ignored to death on both fronts.

All that said, and with my bias well evident, I think the New Orleans-Jamaica concept worked fairly well in spots on the album, and particularly on Toussaint's "Get Out My Life Woman", originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1966 and a big hit at the time. The simple structure and syncopated, insouciant groove of the original lent itself to Quezergue's slight tweaking that nudged it into a reggae feel. From there, he and the band managed to effectively blend in the funkier hometown elements (the drums getting the groove just right), setting off the uncredited lead vocalist to good effect. The players were fairly typical for post-Meters Sea-Saint projects at the time, with the rhythm section manned mainly by members of Chocolate Milk: drummer Dwight Richards, Kenneth 'Afro' Williams on percussion, Steve Hughes on guitar, bassist David Barard, and Robert Dabon on piano (though Raymond Jones is credited on this track). Added to the mix throughout were Teddy Royal on guitar, Quezergue doing electric piano fills, and a fine house horn section of trumpeters Clyde Kerr, Jr. and John Longo, tenor sax men Alvin thomas and Michael Pierce, with Carl Blouin on baritone sax.

I can't remember if it was Dwight or Teddy - or both - who several years ago told me a little about these sessions, saying that the New Orleans cats had a hard time understanding the Jamaican patois of the Mighty Diamonds - and quite possibly there was a mutual language disconnect. Whatever the reasons, there was warmth but very little heat on Ice On Fire, which was certainly not a bad record, just not at all dynamic or memorable, with two sides worth of mid-tempo, reggae-leaning songs sounding way too much alike. A far higher octane mixture of reggae and American soul was Toots Hibbert's Toots In Memphis, recorded a decade later, with many great Memphis players on tracks built around the foundation of one of Jamaica's finest bass and drum teams, Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, who brought it home [They also had played on the earlier Mighty Diamonds hits!]. But that recording was intended to explore the essential roots and spirit of the two styles, and did so effectively. 

In contrast, what resulted at Sea-Saint with Ice On Fire was a very professionally done project that for the most part sounds like just another day at the office for the studio team, rather than the meaningful collaboration and exploration it could (and should) have been under better thought-out circumstances. An opportunity missed by those in charge and certainly not the fault of the singers or their accompanists.

Who's Next, Who's Now?

"Who's Next, Who's Now" (Allen Toussaint)
Jackie Moore, Kayvette 5140 , 1981
tune in to
HOTG Internet Radio

This is the only cover version I know of this way funky tune by Toussaint, who produced/arranged the original recording on John Mayall's 1976 album, Notice To Appear. Back in 2006, I posted the Mayall version; and you can read about the details of that session via the link, if you've a mind to.

Of the three tracks posted here, this one probably has the least to do with New Orleans, except for the material, of course. Jackie Moore, a Southern soul singer originally from Jacksonville, Florida, cut this for Kayvette around 1980 with Brad Shapiro, owner (at least in-part) of the label, producing and arranging. Based in Florida, Kayvette was distributed by and affiliated with a true music music mogul, Henry Stone, through his T.K. Productions in Hialeah, which operated numerous labels such as Alston, Cat, Dash, Glades, Sunnyview, and TK , issuing of a lot of substantial soul/R&B, funk and disco, not to mention the pop hits of KC and the Sunshine Band, from the later Sixties through Eighties.

Moore recorded some of her best sides at Criteria in Miami for Atlantic Records over the course of a few years, starting in 1969, getting signed through the intercession of her cousin, Dave Crawford, who worked for the label as a producer, arranger and writer. He wrote or co-wrote a number of her early tunes, including her first big hit, "Precious, Precious". After a number of lesser hits for the label, she signed with Kayvette in the mid-1970s. With Shapiro producing, Moore had a huge seller, "Make Me Feel Like A Woman" in 1975. She then signed with a "major", Columbia, a few years later, but was back at Kayvette by 1980 for two more singles, including the one with our feature, before moving on again.

Shaprio's approach to "Who's Next, Who's Now" didn't much mess with the groove or the basic arrangement of the original, but did add some rapped vocal parts in the intro and mid-song breakdown before the horn riff comes in again. It's a really linear composition, with only minimal chord changes, which focuses the energy on the rhythmic elements; but Shapiro didn't wind it as tightly as Toussaint's signature clockwork instrumental interplays. Still the song moves well and has a good, loose booty feel to it. Moore's rather limited vocal range should have worked better than it did here; but her voice kept bottoming out on some of the end lines. I wonder why he didn't' take the music it up a half or whole step to give her some clearance and more dynamics. After all, this was the A-side.

Neither of her Kayvette 45s from the second go-round went anywhere; and this tune doesn't seem to be on any CD comps. I picked up my copy and some of her other Kayvette and Atlantic singles as part of a big lot of 45s I bought several years back, and was surprised to see Toussaint's song on the label. While I dig the tune, neither Mayall or Moore are who I really want to hear doing it. So, I'm hoping there is maybe some better cover hiding out somewhere, or, maybe, yet to be made. Soulsters and funksters take note (Yo, Sharon Jones!). Ball's in your court. You're next. You're now!


Blogger K. said...

My first exposure to Allen Toussaint was Boz Scaggs 1973-4 cover of "Hercules" on Slow Dancer. At the time, I had no notion of the rich and complex tradition from which it had emerged: I just thought that "Hercules" was a toe-tappingly great song!

Have you heard Michael Doucet's cover of "Funky." I didn't want to like it, but it's irresistible.

12:05 PM, January 09, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was putting together a mix CD the other night of my fave Toussaint covers.. they include Lou Johnson (Volt LP is full of them), Ernie K.Doe (Janus LP is full of them), also William D.Smith whose 'Take a Trip' is quintessential early 70s Meters funk, and Little Buck's "Whisper My Name" which is totally spine-chilling

10:02 AM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger K. said...

I don't suppose there's any chance of you listing the complete contents of the mix?

10:59 AM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Sorry to rain on your mix at bit, anon, but Toussaint had nothing to do with "Whisper My Name", which was written by the singer, Edwin Ross, Jr (Little Buck), Huey Smith (who produced both of the Seven-B single sides), and Norman Williams.

On that William D. Smith track you mention, do you mean "Take Your Pick (Do Your Trick)", a Toussaint song Smith recorded on his 1976 LP that AT produced? If so, the only Meter on those sessions was guitarist Leo Nocentelli. It may be funky, but it ain't da Meters.
Interesting LP, though. I need to remind myself to do a post on it sometime. Appreciate the nudge!

1:21 PM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger K. said...

Possibly he arranged it? Toussaint casts a wide net...

1:40 PM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Toussaint split with Joe Banashak, owner of Seven-B, Busy Bee, Instant, Alon, Minit, Tune-Kel, etc several years prior to that Little Buck record. Toussaint went into business with Marshall Sehorn in direct competition with Banashak. Therefore, it is doubtful that Toussaint was later working on the side doing arrangements on one his ex-bosses' labels. This is why I said that AT had nothing to do with the record. It was purely a business thing - but there was some bad blood between Banashak and Toussaint. But, let me know, if you find out anything different.

4:03 PM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger K. said...

I've been looking, but can't find anything that definitively links Toussaint to "Whisper." Toussaint's work appears on many collections with it, but nothing definitive. I did find this about "Whisper""

Little Buck "Little Boy Blue" / "Whisper My Name" SEVEN B 7031
After Bo had his falling out with Joe Banashak and left his family of labels: SEVEN B, ALON, INSTANT, BUSY-B, Banashak gave Bo's artists and immediate projects to Huey Smith, Huey was busy trying to rescue his own dwindling career at the time, he was releasing 45's on INSTANT under his own name and under the name of The Hueys & The Pittar Pats, even putting out a tremendous RnB shouter "I'm Through Foolin' Around" on his own label PITTAR-PAT label. For his Hueys release on INSTANT titled "Coo Coo Over You" Huey used a vocalist by the name of Little Buck, Skip Easterling remembers Little Buck...

"the hueys - 'coo coo over you', that was Little Buck on the lead vocal. I really did not want to record 'coo coo over you', but Joe Banashak had the contract on me and thus the final word. Lil buck, i met him at Joes office and saw him sometimes coming and going. I liked his gritty soulful voice. nice guy, and then he went away never saw him again. Ahh those were the days my friend."

So after Eddie Bo left, Huey took the backing to "Lover & A Friend" and used it for one of his songs "Little Boy Blue" the vocalist was one of Dave Bartholemews singers, Little Buck - not the same Lil Buck (Senegal) who recorded the funk rarity "Monkey In A Sack" for La Louisianne. "Whisper My Name" is a nice enough blues record. This was one of the last great records on the label, shortly after Banashak would concentrate almost purely on country. Little Buck did record one more 45 for SEVEN B before slipping off into obscurity "Everybody's Love" / "Walking In The Mist". Eventually like Alon, Instant and the numerous tiny local labels he owned Seven B was closed for business and the rights to the records was sold along with the masters from under the artists and songwriters feet.

The web site, which is pretty cool, is here.

4:50 PM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Martin's Eddie Bo discography on soulgeneration is an excellent resource, K. I have a link to it in my sidebar and have referenced it numerous times on HOTG in my Eddie Bo-related postings.

As you know, Toussaint wrote a lot of material and was certainly one of the busiest and most influential New Orleans producers, arrangers, and artist developers. But there were plenty of others doing good work in the city at the same time. If you continue your research, I am sure you will find out a lot more about those others, too, who are definitely worth discovering, along with their music - the long careers of Eddie Bo and Huey Smith being prime examples, among many. Check the many cross-references in the HOTG archives, too.

9:30 PM, July 07, 2010  
Blogger K. said...

I haven't dug much into the past of NOLA music, which is a little unusual for me. I'm so impressed by the present that I've been immersing myself in it for a couple of years now.

12:59 AM, July 08, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

One more general comment for all. This, as you may have noticed, is not a current events blog about New Orleans music, or the New Orleans scene. There are great sources for that elasewhere - I suggest Offbeat, for one.

HOTG is about old records from NO and thereabouts, and creating a resource for inmformation about them and those who made them. A current event around here is when I make a new vinyl find, or we discover new inforamtion about or a new connection to the complex narrative of NO R&B music from the late 1940's into the 1970s, or so.

For some strange reason, this kind of thing is important to me. I listen to and enjoy current New Orleans music and keep up with it as much as I can; but HOTG is about the past, which of course, still resonates in what's going on today.

8:11 AM, July 08, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home