Key to the Highway 1-27-2016Mardi Gras annual (Tuesday February 9th)
Allen ToussaintNathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas
*************************So, is it better to do a Mardi Gras show 13 days ahead of time or one day late? I’ll go for the earlier day just to get you in the mood, so that is today! I really want to accent Allen Toussaint on the show, not so much because he passed away in November as because he remained relatively unheralded considering the effect he had. And my Mardi Gras annual is about the only time I throw in a healthy dose of Zydeco, and since I have three quality albums by Nathan Williams I chose to give him a lot of room. This does kinda leave Earl King getting short shrift, but he does indeed make this a show I am very pleased with. Let’s get it going so you can see if you agree ….
*************************Reminiscent of the many chores Willie Dixon handled on the Chicago Blues scene, Allen Toussaint has been a major contributor to the vibrant Rhythm and Blues sound emanating from the Crescent City for the past sixty-some years. His talents as a pianist and vocalist are obvious in today’s presentation but if you look a little deeper you would realize that he composed almost all the songs he performed, not to mention his writing many tunes for the favorite artists frequenting the New Orleans recording studios and beyond. Add to that the fact that he was one of the most prominent producers in the highly productive city and you begin to understand the impact he had for decades. Born on January 13th 1938 to Naomi Neville, a member of what could easily be thought of as New Orleans’ royal music family of which likely the best known being Aaron Neville (who could actually sing when he wasn’t employing his falsetto style), Allen often listed her name as the composer.
Even before he turned professional, AT (as I will abbreviate Toussaint) was in a band with blind guitarist Snooks Eaglin, and when Huey “Piano” Smith hit big with Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu in 1957, he inherited Huey’s role in the bands of both Earl King and Shirley and Lee (Let the Good Times Roll, Feel So Fine). Also that year, he worked under Dave Bartholomew, the dominant producer of the 50s, to play piano on some of fellow pianist Fats Domino’s tracks. That same year he had his first popular production with Walking with Mr. Lee by saxophonist Lee Allen. A short list of his writings would include Working in the Coal Mine (done by Lee Dorsey), Mother-In-Law (Ernie K-doe), Ooh Poo Pah Doo (Jessie Hill), Fortune Teller (Benny Spellman, then later by The Rolling Stones), Lady Marmalade (LaBelle), Southern Nights (Glen Campbell), and my favorite Get Out of My Life, Woman (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) just to pick a few. Other notables who recorded his songs were Otis Redding, Irma Thomas, The Pointer Sisters, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Winter, Little Feat, Boz Scaggs and, of course, Aaron Neville.
Most of the first hour of today’s show is live music to represent each of our chosen artists. The opening set today comes from the 1976 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, certainly the most prestigious annual concert in the Bayou area, and AT was given the first series of tracks as well as the most time by any of the eight performers on the disc.
The other two AT sets are from his first recording sessions under his own name, although he made it a little easier by calling himself Al Tousan. Alvin “Red” Tyler is the baritone sax player but more than that he provided the young AT with stability as he wrote or co-wrote with AT many of the tunes. Tenor sax alternated between Lee Allen and Nat Perrilliat on the first album at least even though Allen’s name does not appear on the list of players with bassist Frank Fields and drummer Charles “Hungry” Williams providing the rhythm section. Ray Montrell might be the guitarist on the first album, or it might be Justin Adams. Melvin Lastie’s cornet is on the Seville sessions.
AT became the producer for Joe Banashak’s Minit Records in 1960 and he also freelanced with other local labels. Through the mid-60s he had hits as writer, arranger, producer and pianist on several hits for locals Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thmas, Chris Kenner, Art and Aaron Neville, produced Lee Dorsey’s first hit, Ya Ya. Jessie Hill wrote Ooh Poo Pah Doo but it was arranged and produced by AT. Ruler of My Heart was released by Irma Thomas but Otis Redding changed the title to Pain in My Heart which was soon picked up by The Rolling Stones.
His work was restricted to recording while on leave after he was drafted in 1963, but after his discharge in 1965 he partnered with Marshall Sehorn, setting up Sansu Enterprises which, over time, their label created would be called Sansu, Tou-Sea, Deesu or Kansu. The house band for many of their sessions was Art Neville and the Sounds (known as the Meters since 1969) with drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, bassist George Porter, guitarist Leo Nocentelli and Art on keyboards, often with horns arranged by AT.
He produced Dr. John’s 1973 LP In the Right Place and an album for the Wild Tchoupitoulas, a Mardi Gras Indian band led by Big Chief Jolly (George Landry), uncle to the Neville Brothers Art, Cyril (then also with the Meters), Aaron and Charles. The four brothers, combined with the Meters, made up the Tchoupitoulas. Out of town artists he he worked with included B.J. Thomas, Robert Palmer, and Solomon Burke. He arranged the horns for two albums for the Band (1971 & 1972) before doing the same for their 1978 classic The Last Waltz and, of course, for their concert performances. The 1976 album Notice to appear was a collaboration with John Mayall.
Sorry, this is a very abbreviated entry but I just did not have time to complete or even proofread it.
*************************Another whose contributions cannot be counted by the times his name graced the front of an album cover or the seats he filled in a concert hall would be singer and guitarist Earl King (February 7th 1934 – April 17th 2003). “I think that one time I stopped performing for maybe seven years to just write for other artists. Songwriting has always been my priority.”
Earl’s mother, Ernestine Hampton, must have led a sad life as the first six of her children died before they reached a few months of age. Then her husband, Earl Silas Johnson III (our Earl was #IV), passed away at at the age of 26 before Earl, the only surviving child, was a year old. His father “was just a stomp down honky tonk piano player before he went into the missionary thing. My mother, she was always religiously orientated.”
“Singing came quite easy, ‘cause I used to sing in church when I was about six.” In addition to singing with friends while he was in high school, Earl was putting together some of his own songs, most notably Big Chief, the nickname of his mother, which was later recorded by Professor Longhair. The true start of his career came at age nineteen when he met Huey Smith, who was then pianist for the band of Guitar Slim. Earl and Slim got along well (“Guitar Slim was the performingest man I’ve ever seen. He inspired me to contemplate a marriage between a song and its solo.”), so, on June 1st 1953, they went together on 4 tracks each as both made their recording debuts for the Savoy label. Two of Earl’s songs were released under his real name, Earl Johnson.
Some months later, Huey was in a three piece band with drummer Willie “Red Top” Nettles and altoist Lawrence Sutton, and they added Earl as vocalist. As he was also a guitarist, Huey recommended Earl take up the instrument. “Most people don’t know he plays guitar. See, he could play like Slim, when Huey plays guitar, he plays exactly like Slim. He knew I had an ear, enough to know how to deal with chords.” In 1954, as Slim was riding the crest of his #1 R&B hit The Things That I Used To Do, he was sidelined by an auto accident and Earl had to cover his touring gigs representing himself as Slim.
Earl got a release from Savoy and signed with Specialty Records. The first release, A Mother’s Love, was supposed to come out as by King Earl, but somehow the names got transposed and he was from that moment forward Earl King. Earl put out three more singles for the label, but because his style was too similar to Guitar Slim’s, now also under contract to the record company, they gave him his release. Earl soon moved to Ace Records which was recently begun by the agent who signed him to Specialty, Johnny Vincent.
Earl’s first 45 with the new company, Those Lonely, Lonely Nights, was released in August of 1955 and the session included Smith and drummer Joe Dyson’s band. The ninth single for Ace, it was highly popular in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi and could have gone higher than #7 on the Billboard R&B chart had Johnny “Guitar” Watson not quickly covered it for RPM Records.
Our first Earl King set begins with two tunes he performed at the Jazz and Heritage concerts the same year (1976) as what we heard from Toussaint, the rest coming from the CD Earl’s Pearls, The Very Best of Earl King (1955-1960), and he wrote or co-wrote its entire contents, a talent Vincent was well aware of. “Earl was just a bitch of a writer. That’s what impressed me about him. He was one of the best young writers in New Orleans. Basically, I thought Earl was a real good act, too. He was a good lookin’ guy who had a lot of stage presence. When he played those dances down in Crowley, Lafayette and Opelousas, the girls used to swoon right in the aisles.”
As the CD titles implies, Earl’s sessions for Ace went from 1955 into 1960, when he began recording for Imperial in October and continued there until November 1962. After the initial success with Ace, nothing sold more than 5,000 copies and Earl was growing frustrated. After a 1959 tour with Sam Cooke, Dakota Staton, and Dave Bartholomew’s band, Dave approached Earl in 1960 regarding Come On, a song King used as his show opener. (I prefer it here as the set closer.) “He said, ‘Earl, that song you did on the show … that yours?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ Then Dave said, ‘Did you record it yet?’ I told him I did a demo of the song, but it hadn’t come out. He wanted to know if I had a contract at the time. I never signed my option because I was stagnating there, so I was free. Dave paid me an advance and we went into the studio to record it. We also did Slim’s The Things I Used to Do.” With high expectations for the two-sided single, Bartholomew contacted Imperial’s owner in Los Angeles. “I wrote to Lew Chudd and asked him about promoting the record. He wrote back and said; ‘We don’t promote anything until it gets in the charts.’ I wrote back saying, ‘If it gets in the charts, it’s already on the way up. Ain’t too much more promoting you need to do.’”
From a 1983 interview, “Joining Imperial really gave me a chance to go in a different, creative direction. It was a real eye-opener working for Dave Bartholomew. He had an open ear to production and he listened to suggestions. We began to use different musicians in the studio. Even though rhythms were changing then, Dave knew how to do things that were appealing, and not too far out in left field. It was a real learning experience.” Bartholomew, Imperial’s main man in New Orleans, felt similarly. “I really enjoyed working with Earl. He was a hard worker, had a lot of ideas, and good suggestions that were valuable. He was talented. I had a lot of respect for him.”
The sixties were the height of Earl’s success, not only with his own releases of Come On and Trick Bag but, along with Bartholomew, he wrote a couple of songs for Smiley Lewis. From 1955, I Hear You Knocking is a classic tune covered by many artists including Dave Edmunds while 1958’s One Night was grabbed up by Elvis Presley and run to the top of the charts before Smiley’s version had any chance for impact.
NOTE: These songs seem to predate Earl’s time with Imperial, so was Bartholomew already his writing partner?
After Imperial shut its doors in 1963 was when Earl devoted all his time to songwriting and producing for the local labels, which did little to enhance his name recognition or his recording career. In the mid-60s Earl did a session for Motown and three of the tracks eventually were put out on the 1996 album Motown’s Blue Evolution. Atlantic taped a 1972 session backed up by Allen Toussaint and the Meters which met a similar fate. Toussaint released the title track as a single on his Kansu label, but the rest of the Street Parade album did not reach the record bins until Charlie Records finally released it in the UK in 1982. His album That Good Old New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll came out on Sonet in 1977.
Black Top would record three albums, beginning with 1986’s Glazed where Earl was backed up by Roomful of Blues, then in 1990 Sexual Telepathy with some of the tracks utilizing Snooks Eaglin or Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, and finally A Hard River to Cross in 1993.
While touring in New Zealand in 2001 he was hospitalized, but by the end of the year he was playing on a Japanese tour. He continued to play locally until complications from diabetes took his life a week before the 2003 Jazz and Heritage Festival, so many of his musician friends were home to attend the funeral.
*************************Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word. I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access. If you go to our website at KKUP.org you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE. By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile. I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed. As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time. I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening. (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.) Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada. Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
Sweet Touch of Liberty
Freedom of the Stallion
Everyone Calls Me CrazyCome On Home
Hungry Man Blues
Stomp Down Zydeco
Bye Bye Little Momma
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas
Mama and PapaTrick Bag
You Can Get Your Gun
I’m Packing Up
Those Lonely, Lonely Nights
Take You Back Home
Is Everything Alright
Those Lonely, Lonely Feelings
You Can Fly
Everybody’s Carried Away
Po’ Boy Walk
Hey BebeSteady Rock
You Got Me Walkin’ the Floor
Big Fat Mama
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas
Don’t You Lose ItCome Along with Me
The Things That I Used to Do
Love Me Now
Come On (Parts I & II)
Your Mama Don’t KnowEverybody’s Gotta Start Somewhere
Ain’t Gonna Cry No More
You Got Me Baby Now You Don’t
In the Same Old Way
Mardi Gras Zydeco
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas
A Lazy Day
(Back Home Again in) Indiana