November 11, 2010

Good Stuff Beyond The Fluff: Toussaint, Fayard & The Stokes

As discussed about a week back, the elusive Allen Toussaint songs, “Younka Chunka” and “How Tired I Am” were sold or leased by Joe Banashak to the Uptown label, which issued them on a 45 in 1965. They featured Al ‘Billy’ Fayard on lead vocal, backed up, as far as we know, by the Stokes, Toussaint’s production band while he was in the service in Texas. Inexplicably, that single was issued in the name of K. C. Russell, a fiction instigated I suspect by the California-based record company, though I am not really sure why. It certainly didn’t make the record any more saleable.

Most, if not all, of the sessions Toussaint recorded with the Stokes were done at a Houston studio in 1964; and, from those, Banashak released nine singles on the Alon label, not counting the songs that Uptown later took. Six of those records consisted of instrumental pop songs written in an attempt to cash in on Al Hirt’s cover of “Java”, which Toussaint wrote and originally recorded. Most of them were fairly insubstantial exercises, and just one had any significant commercial impact, the well-titled “Whipped Cream”, from the very first Stokes single (9019). Actually, its success on Alon was limited; but Herb Alpert covered the song the next year and took it to MOR hitdom. As the “Younka Chunka” single shows, the remainder of his work with the Stokes, the songs with vocals, turned out of be the more fascinating products of Toussaint’s creativity and the group’s talent. Of those, the two other singles featuring Mr. Fayard are my focus this time.

“Doin’ Sumpin’ Part 2”
(Naomi Neville)
Al Fayard, Alon 9020, 1964
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

“Doin’ Sumpin’ Part 1”

Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

I am reversing the order of the parts because I think they were mislabeled by Banashak. But, of course, you can listen to them both ways and decide for yourself. It seems to me that the side shown as Part 2 was intended to be the strong lead-off, with its distinct, attention-getting introductory calls of “Ay Yi Ya...” and the rudimentary verses Fayard sang before breaking down into his improvised banter. The other side simply continued the established instrumental groove along with Fayard’s shout-outs. It doesn’t make sense as Part 1 in my book.

Despite that, the whole of “Doin’ Sumpin’” is a real keeper for groove hounds and dancers. It sounds like something Toussaint might have written with Jessie Hill in mind. The drums have a loose, syncopated stutter-step strut that Toussaint locks into and works out on with his patented percussive piano comping. Interestingly, although the song certainly pre-dated the proto-funk groovin’ that Ramsey Lewis would take to the bank in 1965 with his instrumental version of “The In Crowd”, both have a somewhat similar approach. Had the timing been right and Alon’s distribution and promotion more effective, ”Doin’ Sumpin’” might have garnered a lot more attention. Fayard may not have been the greatest of singers, but he made up for what he lacked melodically with his enthusiastic delivery - very “up” and infectious, from the way he handled the verses to his running commentary beyond them, goosed-up in spots by some wild screams (shades of his former Westbank bandmate, Ronnie Barron!). All around, it’s an impressive little R&B record that just gets better with repeated plays.

This 45, the second release of Stokes material on Alon, was followed by Toussaint’s own vocal turns with the group on the down-tempo gems “Go Back Home” / “Poor Boy, Got To Move” (9021), which I mentioned last post. Then, after a few more of the instrumental 45s came out, Fayard was back on the mic for a final vocal turn with the Stokes, the pair of remarkable, high-energy rockers on which he was billed by his nickname.

“I Get Mad, So Mad” (Naomi Neville)
Billy Fayard, Alon 9028, 1964

Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

“I Don’t Know”
(Naomi Neville)
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Along with “How Tired I Am”, the B-side of the Uptown single, these upbeat tunes reveal that Toussaint had perceptive ears for what was fresh and contemporary beyond his bread and butter R&B - the sound that the Beatles and other up and coming British bands (and various young American groups, too) were bringing to the airwaves that changed the face popular music in short order. It’s intriguing to hear him take a shot at the pop/rock market, utilizing Fayard and the Stokes for the experiment, during that brief window of time.

“I Get Mad, So Mad” was the best of that subset. Dispensing with the horns and piano to work in the combo mode of two guitars, bass and drums, Toussaint wrote a really cookin’ track and arrangement. While the beat stayed pretty straight ahead, the guitar and bass parts wound tightly around each other in rather intricate patterns that gave a springy, dynamic energy to the track. The hip 12-string guitar intro was very au courant, while the middle eight section picked up on those 1 - b7 chord changes turning up more and more frequently in the songs of the era. Even though Fayard’s vocal here is nothing spectacular, he had a knack for fully committing to the performance and making it work on sweat effort. In addition, his rough and ready sound was perfect for this genre - kind of similar to Alex Chilton in his Box Tops days (which were still three years in the future!).

“I Don’t Know” was a simpler, less intense number with another danceable beat and the same instrumentation; but, clocking in at less that two minutes, it was really no more than a B-side toss-off. Every time I hear it, though, the track makes me think of Billy Joe Royal’s hit,
“Down In The Boondocks”. Both songs work with a similar syncopated bounce to the beat; but the more well-developed “Boondocks”, written by Joe South, couldn’t have influenced Toussaint in 1964, as it wasn’t released until the next year. Maybe South heard this track somehow, but that’s a stretch. Chalk it up, I guess, to the synchronicity going on in the world of music and beyond back then. [Note: pushing this session much into 1965 would mean Toussaint was already out of the service and working on the Lee Dorsey project that made "Ride Your Pony" a hit, after which he parted ways with Banashak and Alon by that summer. Unless convinced otherwise, I still think all Fayard and the Stokes tracks came from 1964, or very early in 1965 at the latest.]

Still, all this reinforces that the leader of the Stokes had impressive and versatile pop sensibilities, even prescience, maybe. With a more concerted effort, he could have made his mark in that realm, too, as he did numerous times as a vital part of his hometown music scene in the Sixties. During the following decade, those multifaceted skills would serve him well, as he took on the role of producer and writer for numerous artists from outside the Crescent City sphere.

Toussant’s productions with Al/Billy Fayard and the Stokes have never been given much attention. As many fans of this music realize, a comprehensive Alon compilation hasn't been attempted as yet - but surely needs to be. Until these records came my way, I hadn’t really paid this small segment of Toussaint’s career much mind, either; but the more I’ve listened, the more I realize that at least some of his output for Alon constituted more than just a musical desert topping.

>>>Note on the players. Over the years I have found two listings of personnel for the Stokes: one from Jeff Hannusch’s piece on Toussaint’s career in I Hear You Knockin’ (he doesn’t say where he got it), and the other as shown in the notes to the first of two LP compilations of Stokes material on Bandy, The Stokes - with Allen Toussaint, from the 1980s. Since the lists are identical, I assume they came from the same uncredited source. The band as shown consisted of Ronald C. Inzer, trombone; Hugh M. Preston, Jr., tenor sax; Samuel Lillibridge, trumpet; Carl E. Hayes, Jr., guitar; Aldo F. Vennari, drums; Al D. Fayard [sic], percussion; and, of course, Toussaint on piano. Since the Billy Fayard single had at least two guitar parts, they were either overdubbed, or another player (such as, say, Deacon John Moore) was brought in, probably from New Orleans - but that is idle speculation at this point. Also, in his notes to the second Bandy LP, Hannusch calls Fayard the drummer/vocalist of the Stokes, not even mentioning Vennari. I don’t know how to take that, or if drummer and percussionist were considered interchangeable; but I would suspect that Al/Billy, who was the only other member of the band from the New Orleans area, if he did play the drums, likely did so on the songs he sang, with perhaps Vennari handling the lighter pop instrumentals - but, again, I may be way off-base on that. Corrections and outright enlightenment are always welcome.

[Update 2/9/2012: As I learned via a comment to this post from his nephew, "Billy" Fayard passed away yesterday.]


Anonymous NICK DERISO said...

Dan, thanks for clearing up a few things. I've long loved of these Toussaint recordings, but could never find as much information as you provided here. Been hooked on Toussaint since I first heard Benny Spellman's version of "Fortune Teller." The Alon sides are forgotten classics.

10:50 AM, November 12, 2010  
Blogger ana-b said...

"“Doin’ Sumpin’” is a real keeper for groove hounds and dancers."

Indeed. Unfortunately, I think it's a pretty tough record to find. It's been on my list for quite awhile.

Thanks also for posting "I Get Mad". I don't know that I've ever heard it, and I'm surprised how much I like it.

11:30 PM, November 16, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

I agree, ana. "Doin' Sumpin'" is not often seen, even by those of us who are always lookin'! That second Bandy LP I referenced last time would probably be easier to come by.

Glad you dig "I Get Mad" - it's a surprise alright, and I still have more questions than answers about how and when it came about. Hope more comes to light.

8:25 AM, November 17, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have just released a retrospective

CD on my career as an arranger,

composer, and record producer.

It's not all inclusive but has 19


Also, Joe Banashak was one of my

mentors from 1970 til his death.

If there is any thing about him

you'd like to know ask me.

Please send me your mailing address.

Thanks for your comments in the past

about the Porgy Jones stuff...........

John Berthelot

4:28 PM, December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Fine Wine said...

I asked Allen Toussaint about "I Get Mad" a couple years ago after a concert and it blew his judge by the look on his face.

I love the record. Whenever I play it for anyone I say "Listen, it's Allen Toussaint doing the Beatles."

Great stuff.

3:01 PM, January 31, 2011  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

I doubt many people bring up "I Get Mad" when chatting with Mr. Toussaint, Fine Wine. I certainly didn't think to do it in my brief, unanticipated exchange with him in Memphis at a NARAS event, years back. I just sort of babbled, a lot like I do here, but even less coherently!

Wish I could have seen his expression when you asked him about it. Sounds like a priceless moment.

11:47 PM, January 31, 2011  
Blogger Keith Orgeron said...

Al "Billy" Fayard passed away today. He was a great musician, entertainer, and one hell of a character!!!! I am his nephew and he will be missed.

11:21 PM, February 08, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

So sorry to hear of the passing of you uncle "Billy", Keith. I will update the post with that news, also. Appreciate your getting in touch, and all the best to your family.

4:33 PM, February 09, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Also, seeing these comments again reminded me to belatedly note the passing of one of the commenters. John Berthelot, owner of Great Southern Records in New Orleans, passed away suddenly early last year, just a month or so after he left this comment. I was fortunate to get in touch with him before he died and get some background on him and his career in the music business. He was very generous with his time, information, and his records/CDs. I hope to incorporate what he shared with me in future posts.

4:42 PM, February 09, 2012  

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