April 20, 2014

Tracking The Big Q Factor, Pt 5.2: More Sansu/Sea-Saint Sessions

It’s time to get back to the Big Q thread.

My prior entry last November (Part 5.1) in this sporadic series on the career of producer/arranger Wardell Quezergue discussed his transition back to working in New Orleans around 1973, following a two year association with Malaco Studios in Jackson, MS. At the newly opened Sea-Saint recording facility operated by Sansu Enterprises, he was contracted to do arrangements on several projects, including a reunion with singer Robert Parker for sessions that resulted in a series of singles released by Island Records. You can read about ‘em and find links to earlier parts of the series in that post, too.

This go-around, I’m featuring Wardell’s work with another New Orleans “name” artist, Ernie K-Doe, who had already been on the Sansu roster for five years, plus several examples of his involvement in the making of albums for outside artists and labels. As you’ll see, these were not high profile jobs by any means, but helped pay the bills along with his similar work for other companies who needed his services. Whatever the circumstances, he always operated with consummate professionalism and imparted a sense of harmonic and rhythmic class to the proceedings.

K-Doe’s Sansu Sojourn

Ernie K-Doe signed with Sansu Enterprises in 1970, right after partners Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn changed the company name from Tou-Sea Productions, and several years before Sea-Saint was built. At the time, the principals were going through a general revamp of operations and objectives, having managed to barely survive the Dover Records debacle and its dire ramifications for the local music and recording scene. In those lean times, Sansu lost or let go most of their previous roster of singers and began to turn away from issuing singles on their in-house labels - Tou-Sea, Deesu, and Sansu - in favor of licensing more productions to outside companies with better access to the national market. Even more importantly, as the record industry became increasingly focused on the long-playing album as the main product format, Sehorn set about aligning the company with that business model.

At the time, Sansu’s remaining artists were Lee Dorsey, who had not had a significant hit for several years, the remarkable but never commercially successful Eldridge Holmes, Willie Harper (mainly a background singer), and the Meters, whose instrumental funk singles on the New York-based Josie label were hot in the charts. Sehorn had just negotiated a new deal for Dorsey with Polydor, which would result in the Yes We Can album, written and produced by Toussaint, and get the singer briefly back in the charts. Things were looking up; and it seemed a good time for K-Doe to join the team, as the prolific Toussaint had plenty of good material for him to sing.

Of course, K-Doe and Toussaint already shared a legendary connection, having made pop music history back in 1961, while working for Joe Banashak’s Minit Records. As the label’s one man A&R department, the young Toussaint established his reputation by bringing forth numerous soon to be classic hit records performed by various in-house artists, including K-Doe, whose take on “Mother-In-Law” (written under Toussaint’s nom de plume, Naomi Neville), certainly one of greatest novelty tunes of the era, rose to the top of the R&B and pop charts. He cut more than a dozen fine, less successful singles for the label up until 1963, when Toussaint was drafted and Minit was assimilated by Liberty Records; but that one big hit was to be K-Doe’s professional calling card for the rest of his life. For a fascinating and complete telling of the ultra-flamboyant performer’s story, do yourself a favor and read Ben Sandmel’s beautiful extravaganza of a book, Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans.

Following his run with Minit, K-Doe was picked up by Duke Records, the Houston-based label run by the notorious Don Robey. There were at least nine singles by K-Doe released on Duke between 1964 and 1970; but only two of the songs got into the national charts, both stalling-out shy of the Top 20. Considering that lack of commercial appeal, it is surprising that the label kept K-Doe around so long. Maybe Robey was a fan. In any case, he finally cut his losses and let the singer go as the 1960s came to an end.

That’s when Sansu brought K-Doe into the fold and put him in the studio (Jazz City, which was being run by engineer Skip Goodwin with the bankrupt Cosimo Matassa as silent partner) to work his vocal magic on a cache of Toussaint songs that had been tracked by the Meters [at least most of them, as their drummer, Zig, may not have participated on all cuts]. Sehorn then took those, along with an EK-D original, plus one by tunesmith Al Reed, and shopped the lot around as an album package for national release. In 1971, Janus Records in New York took it on, issuing the LP, Ernie K. Doe [see my earlier post]; but, despite the first rate soul-pop songwriting, excellent arrangements and performances throughout, the record was not well-received and quickly wound up in the cut-out bins when the two singles issued from it failed to get significant airplay.

In the wake of the album’s failure, K-Doe remained under contract with Sansu but did not get the opportunity to record again for several more years, well after Sea-Saint opened.

Big Q’s First And Last K-Doe Sessions

When K-Doe finally did get green-lighted to make some more singles, the sessions were arranged, if not wholly produced, by Wardell Quezergue over the span of a year or so. As far as I know, it was the only time that the two worked together on records in the course of their long careers.

The first songs issued, “Let Me Love You”/”So Good”, appeared on a 1975 Island Records single. As previously discussed, the label was also releasing 45s by Robert Parker that Big Q had arranged. Island would also put out a single by Tony Owens that Isaac Bolden produced and arranged, as well as the 1976 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival double album mentioned last time.

I recently realized while rummaging through my archives that the Sansu/Island relationship was not really about those singles, or even the JazzFest LP set - they were merely incidental. Instead, the companies first crossed paths in 1974 when Island brought Robert Palmer to Sea-Saint to record part of his debut solo LP, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, with the Meters. The company then contracted with Sansu to make albums for two funky rock groups on its roster, High Cotton and the James Montgomery Band, under the partners’ direction. Those production deals provided Sehorn with a window of opportunity to place Sansu’s local projects with the label, as well.

That brings us back to the first K-Doe/Big Q collaboration.

“So Good” (M. Monley)
Ernie K-Doe, Island 031, 1975

“Let Me Love You” (M. Monley)

I’m reversing the order of the songs because “So Good”, with its pronounced gospel feel was too good to be a B-side. The ever-fervent singer played off the danceable, poppin’, soul groove to good effect, making this the puller of the two, despite some hard to decipher lyrics, and worth replays.

Unfortunately, the down-tempo “Let Me Love You” proved to be an ineffective lead-off choice, having a repeated descending progression that made the song kind of one long verse, a floating fragment without much melodic direction. It lacked the structural interplay of a chorus and bridge to plant some hooks into listeners. Not only that, the lyrics, though well-sung, weren’t very engaging, either.

Beyond the running order problem, there was another factor that probably kept this record off radio playlists. Both tunes were stylistic throwbacks to the previous decade, in spirit and probably in fact. M(arie) Monley, credited as writer, had been so designated on quite a few of K-Doe’s Duke sides, too. As Sandmel discovered, she was one of the singer’s girlfriends in the 1960s, leading the biographer to believe (as do I) that the songs attributed to her were actually the singer’s own compositions, probably a ruse to dodge the taxman should the record have hit and made money. To my thinking, Monley’s credits on the Island sides confirm they were left-overs from his days with Duke and well past their pop freshness date.

Wardell took the tunes at face value, keeping the arrangements simple and straightforward, with no attempt to update the sound. Considering how little he had to work with on the A-side, we’re left to wonder who thought this was a good choice for a national release in the first place. When it inevitably tanked, Island opted-out of another try.

Within a year, though, Sansu issued two more K-Doe singles on their own reactivated namesake imprint. The new Sansu label would operate from the mid 1970s through the rest of the decade, and seems to have been intended for local consumption 45s. While Wardell’s work was not credited on any of those K-Doe sides, evidently he did do the arrangements. That lack of acknowledgement and the general low profile of the records was most certainly due to the unusual circumstances of how they came to be. As it turns out, one track on each single had been recycled from another Sea-Saint project going on at the time.

“You Got To Love Me” (Ernie K-Doe)
Ernie K-Doe, Sansu 1006, 1975

The mid-tempo A-side, “You Got To Love Me”, was a marked improvement in all respects over “Let Me Love You” on the Island single. The structure of this EK-D original was more developed, having an appealing progression and melody line, not to mention a nice rhythmic swing to it. Most outstanding musically, though, is the big league horn arrangement Big Q graced the track with - simultaneously tasteful and adventurous. Just listen to the intricate turnaround phrase the horns negotiate between the intro and verse, and choruses and verses. Im-friggin’-peccable.

Of course, leave it to K-Doe to turn the proceedings into another novelty song by incorporating the titles of popular daytime TV soap operas into his lyrics. Sandmel notes that the singer watched the soaps regularly - so that’s where he got the idea; but it really was a clever, quirky twist to add them to a love song, as many of his female audience, and even some of the men, no doubt, could relate. The fact that he also peppered the track with self-references, his patented giggles, and other ad-lbs, probably limited the potential appeal to his local fan-base, but certainly left no question about who did it.

“Stoop Down” (Marshall Sehorn)

On the flipside was a decidedly different, a spicy variation on the highly suggestive blues song, “Stoop Down Baby”, made popular by Chick Willis in 1972, which had origins (a/k/a “Drop Down Mama”) going back at least to pre-WWII blues performers. Wardell’s arrangement transformed the tune into an effective, uptown funk strut with multi-layered poly-rhythmic counterpoint highly similar to a song on the next single, as well.

“Hotcha Mama” (Paul Lenart-Larry Levine)
Ernie K-Doe, Sansu 1016, 1976

While looking up information on the writers of the equally funky “Hotcha Mama”, which was obviously in the same groove as “Stoop Down”, I suddenly realized that both songs appeared on the eponymous James Montgomery Band LP Island recorded at Sea-Saint during this period. I had not listened to it for years; and, when I pulled it out and played the tracks, I was shocked into laughter to hear that the music tracks for both were the same ones on K-Doe’s Sansu singles! The singers were different, of course, and the mixes varied a bit; but the playing was identical.

On the JMB album, both Toussaint and Sehorn were credited with production for Sansu Enterprises, and Wardell shown as arranger. For whatever reason [cheapness comes to mind], someone at Sansu {Sehorn, most likely] “borrowed” the two JMB tracks and replaced Montgomery’s vocal with K-Doe’s. I doubt that Island or the band, whose lead guitarist, Paul Lenart, co-wrote “Hotcha Mama”, were consulted. As part of the album deal with Island, Marsaint Music, the producers’ publishing company, shared rights to the music, which I guess was their general excuse to re-use the tracks; but a more honest approach would have been to re-record the songs entirely. In a further feat of misappropriation, Sehorn also implausibly took the writer’s credit for “Stoop Down” on both the JMB LP and K-Doe’s single. The lack of commercial impact for either K-Doe record resulted in no one outside the studio noticing the subterfuge, maybe until right now.

Anyway, back to the song at hand with K-Doe again secretly backed by the James Montgomery Band on one of their originals [see below]. Only the horn section, who Big Q gave somewhat more challenging charts than on “Stoop Down”, were Sansu session regulars. As you might expect, I prefer K-Doe’s takes on the appropriated JMB tracks. His supple, playful, and eminently expressive singing style combined with Wardell’s arrangements to give these standard-issue funk grooves (Sandmel deems them “generic”) the necessary personality to keep us involved.

The B-side had K-Doe doing the incongruous “(I Can’t Believe) She Gave It All To Me”, a Conway Twitty ballad that benefited from Big Q’s artful arranging (again, uncredited), with backing by the Sansu session staff, augmented by a string section. In the spirit of Ray Charles’ famously soulful renditions of country songs, K-Doe’s performance affirmed that he was well-suited for such interpretation.

Like his Island outing, these two singles got no more than minor local action thanks to scant promotion, and turned out to be his final releases during a tenure with Sansu Enterprises that, surprisingly, continued until 1980, according to Sandmel. The reasons the principals at Sansu, who did not include Big Q, kept K-Doe on the hook so long, considering the spotty output and poor sales, remain unclear. But it seems no less than a disservice to the artist, who received no boost whatsoever to his public profile from the association. Lacking sufficient new material of his own to record and with nothing written by Toussaint made available for his use after the initial LP, K-Doe was marginalized by Sansu, either by design or indifference.

As a result, he was unable to get regular bookings, sending his career and personal life into an extended downward spiral. It took until the late 1980s for K-Doe to record again and begin to get his life and performing mojo back together.

Some Other Big Q Assignments

As noted earlier, beyond the less than lucrative singles market, Sansu’s bread and butter during the 1970s at Sea-Saint was contracting with various mainstream labels to record their artists there and, if possible, have Toussaint produce the albums, or parts thereof. The famous, obscure, and all shades in-between made LPs at the studio as a result. Probably the most notable of those sessions involved LaBelle’s Nightbirds LP for Epic, which generated a monster hit with the Toussaint's treatment of “Lady Marmalade”. As time went on, there was more work than Toussaint could handle, especially on the arranging front, so Wardell would be called upon to ply his talents on various projects, as needed.

To round out this episode, here are a few examples ranging from the mid-1970s into the 1980s.

High Energy

In 1975, a seasoned and already legendary blues outfit, the James Cotton Band, made this LP at Sea-Saint for the Buddah label. Production credit was shared by Toussaint and Sehorn, with Big Q handling the arrangements.

For New Orleans music fans, the album is notable for several reasons. Toussaint contributed two songs to the sessions, the bouncy “Hot ‘n Cold” and easy-going “Hard Time Blues”. Also chosen for Louisiana flavor were Bobby Charles’ “Keep Cooking Mama” and Bobby Rush’s funky get-down, “ Chicken Heads”. Wardell and Isaac Bolden also wrote two of the tracks, “Weather Report (The Weather Man Said)” and “James’ Theme”. Besides Cotton’s fine group, other session players included not only the house horn section, but several frequent contributors: Toussaint, James Booker and Big Q on keyboards, plus guitarists Steve Hughes and Teddy Royal.

I featured “Hard Time Blues” along with an overview of High Energy on a post back in 2006. So, I won’t go into much detail about it here except to point out, as I did then, that the album’s title is misleading at best, since the material and grooves never rise above mid-tempo, having a mainly laid-back, in-the-pocket funk vibe. While cool, the general lack of dynamics certainly didn’t represent what Cotton and his powerhouse band could do so well, blow some take-no-prisoners blues.

I’m sure everyone involved in the project from the record company on down shared some blame for that design flaw; but let’s hear some of what Big Q did with the material he was given.

“Hot And Cold” (Allen Toussaint)

Definitely the least laid back track of the lot, “Hot And Cold” sticks out for that catchy bounce it talks about, being neither a blues nor a funk groove, but one of Toussaint’s prototypical pop tunes. Its intricate construction of interlocking rhythmic parts, perfectly represented by Wardell’s arrangement, and the cheery, sing-along melody deserved a shot at radio play, even delivered by a gravel-voiced bluesman.

As fate would have it, Robert Parker recorded this song around the same time, as part of his Island sessions, but the track was not released until a 1980s compilation. It was certainly more in his pop wheelhouse; but James ‘Superharp’ Cotton got the release. Go figure.

Note: There are two pianos on the track. I think Toussaint is playing, rather sparingly, the acoustic, while Booker vamped it up on the electric. Also, that’s Lon Price on tenor sax solo.

“I Got A Feelin” (James Cotton)

I chose this cut both because it has Cotton’s harmonica playing on it, and Big Q’s horn arrangement is a stand-out. As an added bonus, you can hear in the background Booker percolating on the keyboard. Once again, Price served up a fine solo of his own, too.

The funk pocket on this Cotton original is more or less where the rest of the album sits, all well and good. But certainly not high energy.

Not long thereafter, another blues-based band rolled in to record, the one mentioned earlier that Ernie K-Doe got unwittingly tangled up with. As did Cotton’s group, they set aside at least some of the spontaneity and dynamics of their live performance style for a more controlled, calculated approach.

James Montgomery Band

“Hotcha Mama” (Paul Lenart-Larry Levine)

“Foot Floppin’” (James Montgomery/David Woodford)

James Montgomery, a Detroit native, formed his funky, rockin’ blues and R&B band in 1970 while attending college in Boston. After becoming one of the most in-demand groups in the Northeast, they signed with Capricorn Records in 1973, making two decent, but not strong-selling LPs before switching to Island, who brought them to Sea-Saint to record with Toussaint in charge, hoping, I’m sure, for some commercial magic to happen on this eponymous album. Apropos of where they were at, the proceedings kept to funk, soul and R&B feels; and, with Big Q arranging, they cut a mix of original material and cover tunes, including two New Orleans classics, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns’ “Don’t You Just Know It” and Willie Tee’s “Teasin’ You”, the latter, of course, first produced by Wardell.

At the risk of redundancy, I’ve got their version of “Hotcha Mama” up to demonstrate that it was the instrumental source of K-Doe’s take, and why I considered his vocal romp superior to Montgomery’s decent but rather lackluster vocal take.

The other track, “Foot Floppin’, written by Montgomery and his sax player, who takes the solo, stepped directly into the hip territory of the Average White Band, who were scoring mainstream hits at the time. As hooky and tightly coiled as it is instrumentally, the lyrics were perfunctory, making the final result no new “Barefootin’” by any means, despite Big Q’s seamlessly supportive horn arrangement.

Overall, the band and Sansu team put together some fine goovin’ and ensemble playing; but the album lacked any really stand-out moments. Again, like the James Cotton's outfit, the JMB were (and are, they still perform and record to this day), a unit best heard in their on-stage habitat. An outstanding record for them would have had to capture at least some of that edge and excitement; but, it didn’t quite happen that way at Sea-Saint.

Ice On Fire

This album by the Jamaican reggae vocal trio, the Mighty Diamonds, was tracked at Sea-Saint in 1977 for Virgin Records. Again,Toussaint and Sehorn received the production credit, while Wardell was the arranger of record; but, this time around, the studio’s staff musicians provided all the backing. I wrote an overview of the LP for a post back in 2010; so check it out, as I won’t rehash all the details here.

“Coming Through” (F. Simpson - L. Ferguson)

The work of Big Q and the band on this tune, an MD original, pretty much sums up the modus operandi on the record as a whole. As usual, his arrangements were tight and contained subtly effective interior rhythmic counterpoints; but, while the playing was professional studio grade, the reggae was a pop approximation. The sound and grooves were safe and similar, lacking that certain something that could inspire the Mighty Diamonds to shine.

The group had a prior string of hits at home and in England; but, bringing them in to record with the Sansu team, Virgin had hopes, it seems, of both breaking the trio in the US market and appealing to their fans; but that proved to be a naive miscalculation. The album was a commercial dud. Reggae music is such a vibe experience for seriously attuned fans that having “outsiders”, even great New Orleans players, do some hybrid interpretation of the genre proved unsatisfying to the group’s devotees, who refused to buy the record; and it failed to attract significant new audience, either, even among followers of New Orleans music.

Summing up the LP over 30 years later in an interview with Reggaeville, the Mighty Diamonds’ Fitzroy ‘Bunny’ Simpson, called it “a destruction” for its lack of true reggae rhythms and spirit, but acknowledged the recording team’s good intentions. He laid the blame with Virgin executives who inexplicably failed to bring along at least the killer rhythm section (Sly and Robbie) who played such an integral part on the trio’s previous hits.

Hold On To Your Dream

Actually, this final example of Wardell’s arranging jobs for outside artists, a track from the Staple Singers’ 1981 LP for 20th Century Fox, was not a Sansu production, though cut at Sea-Saint with local players, not that it showed all that much. The Staples produced the album with Englishman John Abbey; and I’m sure they wanted the esteemed Big Q especially for his skills working with strings and horns, since a number of the tracks were big, lush productions.

I’ve covered this record previously; and you can delve into more detail on that post. But I will point out again something out of the ordinary about the basic rhythm section: Sam Henry, Jr. on keyboards, George Porter, Jr. (and possibly David Barrard) on bass, guitarists Bruce MacDonald and Teddy Royal, along with Bernard Johnson on drums, and Ken Williams, percussion. Most of them were session regulars at Sea-Saint, with Johnson just coming on board; but MacDonald (a/k/a “Weasel” back then) was not. What got him into these sessions was the fact that he was a member of Porter’s popular band at the time, Joyride, which also included Henry, who was a long-time Big Q collaborator.

“Love Came Knocking” (George Jackson)

Penned by the great R&B, soul and rock songwriter, George Jackson, this was one of three stripped-down, funky numbers on the record, including another of his, “Stupid Louie”. I featured the third, “Show Off the Real You”, on that previous post.

Here, Johnson played a fairly straightforward funk strut groove reinforced by Porter’s pulsating bass lines, while Henry comped basic electric piano chords, MacDonald interjected snarky-toned guitar fills here and there, and the horns, also used sparingly, popped in and out for rhythmic emphasis. The lean, open arrangement perfectly suited this simple song and allowed Mavis Staples, backed by her sisters, to get the maximum effect from her rather low-key, smokey lead vocal.

Neither Hold On to Your Dream nor the single featuring the title song charted; and the album was quickly forgotten, along with most of the records they made after leaving the Curtom label in the mid-1970s, including three for Warner Bros and a later one for Private. But their rich legacy of gospel, soul and funk music going back to the 1950s have ensured their place in the annals of great American vocal groups. Not only that, Mavis Staples remains an astonishing soul interpreter.

The fact that most of the outside projects recorded and produced by Sansu were not commercial winners meant that, by the early 1980s, the team had lost much of the appeal it had to recording companies; and that side of their business subsided. Without some big hits coming out, a studio and producer lose their cachet over time; and even at their “Lady Marmalade” height, Toussaint and Sea-Saint did not get in the really big industry accounts, with the exception of Paul McCartney and Wings’ LP for Capitol, Venus and Mars, recorded at the studio with a little help from Toussaint and a few other local players.

As for Wardell, his work for Sansu was not all he was up to in the 1970s. As I have noted, he regularly worked for Senator Jones’ group of labels and had his own private production projects from time to time. Not only that, for a few years mid-decade he regularly travelled to Shreveport, LA to do production and arranging for a soul label, Alarm. My next installment on Big Q will cover some of those Alarm singles by artists such as Ted Taylor and Reuben Bell.

Until then, I’ll be covering more artists and grooves from the HOTG archives, so check back. . . .

I’ll leave you with a re-quote from Danny Jones, who co-engineered the Staple Singers album at Sea-Saint, on what working with Big Q was like. It’s taken from my 2007 post about the LP:

Wardell.....what can I say? One of the nicest, easy going producer/arrangers I've ever worked with. Absolutely knew what he was going after and knew how to convey it to everyone. He was always in command, but ruled with a calm politeness. Wardell was always a gentleman, a very talented gentleman. Everyone had a great deal of respect for him. I knew if I was booked on a session with Wardell it would be good session, because it always was! Wardell is one of the reasons I still miss New Orleans!

March 03, 2014

Carnival Seasoning 2014, Part 2 ...and

With Mardi Gras Day fast approaching, allow me to add some last minute tunes to your dance card. The HOTG Radio webcast is on what we hope to be a temporary hiatus, as reported earlier. So, the offerings on this post and Part 1 [scroll down], will have to suffice for my holiday selections this year; but, once again, let me remind you to lock in to WWOZ’s 24/7 webcast direct from the source, the City That Care Forgot, to help fulfill your partying needs. 

“Red Dress”
Chosen Few Brass Band, Syla AL-349, 1985/86

I featured the mighty fine “Mardi Gras Iko/Food Stamp Blues” from this rare LP last year. You can read more about the members and origins of this influential, but relatively short-lived brass ensemble on that post.

I’ll just note that, although the title of this tune is shown as “Red Dress”, it is no doubt a juiced-up instrumental rendering of Tommy Tucker’s 1964 R&B hit on Checker Records, “Hi-Heel Sneakers”. The Chosen Few’s chosen title is derived from the first line of the original, “Put on your red dress, baby, ‘cause we’re goin’ out tonight.”

Whether or not your footwear is that snazzy, this rendition should make for some high stepping second-lining, whether curbside on the city streets as the parades pass by, or anywhere else on the planet you may find yourself.

“New Suit” (Wilson Turbinton)
Wild Magnolias, Treehouse Records 801A, 1975

As promised, here’s the top side of the single featured in Part 1, released in New Orleans for fans of the local Mardi Gras Indian, and Willie Tee’s funk, of course. The tunes would have been heard primarily on neighborhood jukeboxes and home turntables, as I doubt there was much commercial radio airplay, even in New Orleans. Then again, Tulane University’s non-commercial station, WTUL, was broadcasting at least to the campus neighborhood by that point (WWOZ wouldn’t fire up until 1980), so there is a good chance they got down on this record, too.

Written by Wilson Turbinton, a/k/a Willie Tee, who served as bandleader, writer/co-writer, and arranger for the Wild Magnolias’ recording projects, “New Suit” refers to the magnificent costume decorated with feathers, rhinestones, and beads in unique configurations that each member of the Indian gangs makes annually to wear for their runs on Mardi Gras day, as well as around St. Joseph’s Day a few weeks later. They are intricate, painstaking works of art that involve easily hundreds of hours each, all for the goal of having the most impressive displays of all, and acknowledgement of being “prettiest”. For more about the tradition, read here.

“The Rubber Band” (Traci Borges)
Eddie Bo & the Soulfinders, Knight 303-3, 1970-ish

“Rubber Band, part 2” [303-4]

[Revised 3/31/2014]
I wanted to get in a funky dance record, something that’s not heard too much. So what better than this hard to find, two-part Eddie Bo single from around/about the early 1970s. I assume that The Rubber Band was a dance going around New Orleans at the time, since the Meters did “Stretch Your Rubber Band” for Josie (#1026), which states “People all over the land, there’s a new dance called The Rubber Band....”. They had a brief national hit with it, just breaking into the top 50 on the R&B chart for several weeks early in 1971; and I’m sure the song was even more popular at home.

Conceivably, Bo’s recording of “The Rubber Band”, was a created in an attempt to catch the Meter’s wave and/or the dance’s fleeting appeal, and cash in; but the scarcity of this 45 and lack of information about it suggest that was not the case. Traci Borges, owner and operator of Knight Records and Knight Recording Studio in suburban Metairie, LA just west of NOLA, where the song was cut, was credited as writer and producer. Bo no doubt arranged the session, though, as it has plenty of the musical quirks and high funk factor his fans revere him for.

Though I don’t know who comprised the Soulfinders, their captured poly-rhythmic synergy is priceless. The track sounds like the Meters and some of James Brown’s band took magic mushrooms and jammed together with a harmonica playing hippie who wandered in. It all worked out surprisingly well, with the loose-but-tight, broken-up drumming gainfully guiding the groove. Since Bo had recorded several of his productions for the Scram label, including “Hook & Sling”, at Knight a year of two earlier, he may have used some of the same players, including master beat generator, James Black, in particular.

Though “[The] Rubber Band” did not directly address the dance itself, Bo would revisit the theme again as a title for one of his own productions, “Shelly’s Rubber Band”, that came out in 1971 on the House Of The Fox label, attributed to Curley Moore (and the Kool Ones).

[Note: Bob McGrath's second editon (2006) of The R&B Indies lists another Bo single with the Soullfinders on Knight, “Sweeter Than Mine” / “Afro Bush”, also numbered 303; but, that discography seems to be the only mention of it. Since reading that, I have found no hard evidence of the record's existence. So, I asked Bob about it. He does not recall where the information might have come from and now considers it an error. Even the experts can make a mistake from time to time, let alone us rank amateurs.

On a related tangent, after bringing up that alleged other Bo 45 on Knight in the earlier version of this post, my friend and consultant, Jon Tyler of the NevilleTracks blog, wrote in the comments that he had found evidence of a New Orleans single with the same song titles, but by another group, E. Gaunichaux & the Skeptics! It appears to have been a one-off possibly releasd on the band's own imprint, E.M.G. Mollatic Records. A label shot of it at Discogs shows that it was cut at Rosemont Studio in N.O and produced by one E. Lepage. Jon has a Youtube link for the audio of the A-side, "Afro Bush", in his comment. Listen for yourself; but it sounds pretty much like a young garage band to me. As unusual as the nomenclature may be on that record, I see no connection to Eddie Bo in any of it. I don't know how those titles got transposed to the Indies under Bo's name, though. If any of E. Gaunichaux & the Skeptics are out there, please report in and enlighten us.....]

“Bon Ton Roule” (C. Garlow)
Ronnie Barron, from Bon Ton Roulette, Takoma ST-72819, 1985

Finally, as Mardi Gras day is just hours away, here’s a South Louisiana R&B classic covered by Ronnie Barron on a great LP that came out almost 30 years ago. For details on Ronnie’s impressive, but mostly unheralded career in music, see my post on him from 2005 [I really need to get back to him with a big post - it’s been too long.]

Clarence Garlow recorded his original tune, “Bon Ton Roula”, which had an irresistible rhumba-esque groove and some cryptic turns of phrase, in 1949 for the Macy’s label in Houston, Texas. Released in 1950, it was a Top Ten hit on the R&B charts, and has been covered numerous times over the years. Of course, the title is a variant of the oft repeated phrase in South Louisiana French, “Laissez le bons temps rouler”, “Let the good times roll”, that sums up the party-down spirit of Mardi Gras and the region’s perpetually festive social life in general.

Ronnie’s version of the tune is bad-ass, singing in his lower register and rolling the piano keys backed up by some equally fine players: Harry Ravain, drums; Larry Taylor, bass; Al Johnson, rhythm guitar; with Lee Allen and Plas Johnson on tenor sax, and Jerry Jumonville on baritone sax. It should make a worthy addition to your Under The influence of Carnival playlist. Enjoy.....and

         M A R D I 

                                  G R A S 

                          2 0 1 4

                                                          Y' A L L

                                                                       ! ! !

Photos by Dan Phillips, from 2014 Krewe du Vieux and Krewe Delusion parades, plus 2013 Super Sunday.

To see more parade shots, click here

February 22, 2014

Listen Up And Soon…….HOTG Radio Is Going Away

The separate but affiliated webcast known more or less as Home of the Groove Internet Radio has been streaming music from my archives for going on 7 years via LoudCity, a service provider who made the “station” available to online listeners and paid licensing fees/royalties for the music to the proper authorities. Recently, LoudCity, which has assisted many small webcasters since early this century, announced that it would cease operations by the end of February, if not before. So, while the stream is still up today, in a matter of hours or days, it will be gone. Catch it while you can. I can’t say for sure at this point if it will be back.

While certainly affiliated with this blog, the webcast was originally set up by an old friend of mine out West as an experiment. When he told me what he was doing and asked what I thought about using the audio tracks from my blog posts as the core programming, I immediately signed on to the project. From jump, my cohort, Larry, has administered the streaming technicalities, and instigated the accompanying hotg.org website to display the full blog posts or photos associated with the songs as they go by. I’ve simply provided the musical content for the stream, continually updating the playlist with recently featured blog numbers, plus other choice tidbits out of my vinyl and digital collections. We amassed nearly 40 hours of content over the years.

At least in the short term, there is no Plan B* for HOTG Radio. Unfortunately, Larry is currently in the midst of a serious health crisis. His recovery is top priority right now. So, let’s just say the webcast is going on hiatus and hope we can find a way to get it back online once he is up to it. I’ll let y’all know of any status change, since, knocking wood, this blog will go on in its usual unpredictable fits and starts.

I want to thank everyone who has supported the station over the years with donations and other encouragement. Wish we could have made it through Mardi Gras, again. But, hey, if you don’t already do so, connect with WWOZ’s online broadcasts from New Orleans. You can also find some choice obscurities from these parts (a few I which I don’t even have) on Mr. Fine Wine’s great weekly WFMU show, Downtown Soulville, and archives. Of course, there are other great New Orleans-related broadcasts going on around the web as well. Search away

Be of good cheer and hang in, I’ve got more Mardi Gras-inspired tunage coming soon to this location.

*If you have any suggestions for a viable webcasting option, email me at the address on the sidebar, or leave a comment.

February 09, 2014


With Twelfth Night and the Epiphany already in the rear-view; festivities are kickin’ in for the Crescent City Carnival season (January 6 to Mardi Gras Day, March 4 this year),. By now, King Cake Baby has made the scene at countless parties, with many more to go. In less than a week, the first parades will roll, featuring the ever-insightful and impolitic Krewe du Vieux on the streets of the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter with fellow wayward travelers, Krewe Delusion, nipping at their heels.

As is my own tradition around here (going on 10 years!!!), I’m throwing down some Mardi Gras flavored music along with commentary for those seeking context with your booty shaking. The first song goes way back to the early days of New Orleans R&B.


Remarkably, smack in the middle of the 20th century at the turn of the decade, two of the greatest Mardi Gras songs appeared in tandem, written and performed separately by two highly influential New Orleans R&B artists.

In the Fall of ‘49 at a Treme neighborhood bar, Professor Longhair (and his Shuffling Hungarians) recorded his “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” along with other tunes for release by the Star Talent label, based in Dallas. Two known 78 rpm singles containing those sides were issued, but had to be withdrawn because the session was non-union. Fess soon re-cut the song at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Service on Rampart Street for Atlantic; and it came out in 1950, likely for Mardi Gras, with his name shown as Roy ‘Baldhead’ Byrd to capitalize on his recent Mercury hit, “Bald Head”. While the new version, which I’ll re-post at a later date, was popular in and around the city, it did not find an audience nationally.

Neither did the potent slice of Mardi Gras served up by Dave Bartholomew and his band around the same time on Imperial Records, also cut at J&M. It’s another classic of the genre, but never seems to get its due.

“Carnival Day” (D. Bartholomew)
Dave Bartholomew, originally on Imperial 5064,1950

As you can tell, this single side is a reissue of the original track which appeared on Imperial in both the 78 and 45 rpm formats, with another Bartholomew classic, “That’s How You Got Killed Before”, on the flip. Any surviving copy is very rare, indeed; and far fewer 45s were pressed back when the medium was still fairly new. I’ve yet to see one of ‘em; so the reasonably priced and fairly easy to find Mambo facsimile [probably sourced from a digital remaster], put out by Jazzman Records in the UK, nicely helps to cover the vinyl void. Bartholomew’s cool “Cat Music” on the back, which I’m not including, first appeared in 1954 on Imperial 5308.

“Carnival Day” is remarkable for many reasons, starting with the band’s performance. Earl Palmer’s elemental funk drumming, predominantly on tom-toms and kick drum laid down a polyrhythmic, Latin-flavored dance groove that drove the band’s syncopated boogie riffing. Of particular note are guitarist Ernest McLean’s proto-rock licks on the intro and Herbert Hardesty’s perfectly phrased, melodically fascinating tenor sax solo. Other musicians on the date included Frank Fields on bass, pianist Salvador Doucette, plus two more fine saxmen, Clarence Hall on tenor and Joe Harris on alto. Members of Dave’s popular stage band, the players were among the founding set of session men who would help create the hits that turned the world on to New Orleans distinctive and highly influential R&B sound.

Lyrically, Dave’s tune offers a rare early window into the African-American cultural experience of the holiday. During the intro, he gives a shout-out to a Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, even using some of the Indians’ arcane phrases. In the verses he name checks the traditional Carnival royalty of Rex & Zulu, racially separate krewes in the still divided Deep South that paraded different routes on the big day.

Bartholomew had just begun working for California-based Imperial Records in 1949, finding talent and producing sessions for the label, starting with Tommy Ridgley, Jewel King, and the young pianist/vocalist Fats Domino, who Dave and Imperial’s owner, Lew Chudd, had seen at a local club. Fat’s first record, “The Fat Man” (#5058), was a big hit for Imperial by early the next year, the first of many over more than a decade. Busy with producing sessions and touring with Fats, Dave never got to record that much as a featured artist; and what he did put out as not as strongly promoted, thus did not sell especially well. “Carnival Day”, recorded in February of 1950, was his first for the label, and certainly one of his best. Mark it down as an important link in the long chain of grooves that led to what we know as funk; but commercially it seems to have been lost in the busy shuffle of releases that year, and never got picked up as a Mardi Gras standard.

By the way, let’s not forget Joe Lutcher, originally from Lake Charles, LA, who recorded his own raucous, syncopated “Mardi Gras” out on the West Coast a year earlier for the Modern label. I featured it here back in 2007.

Carnival Day” has appeared on a number of CD compilations over the years, and can be downloaded from various sellers, it seems, who I hope offer a larger file than the scant 128k review version here. Always go with the biggest payload you can afford.


“Why Don’t Y’all Go To New Orleans” (Margie Baird)
Papa Albert French & His Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Capricorn 101, ca 1969

"Bald Headed Beulah" (Margie Baird)
featuring Blanche Thomas

I found this single at a record show last year and picked it up, even though I don’t collect much traditional jazz. For one thing, the unknown label intrigued me. Plus, ‘Papa’ French was the father of New Orleans drummer Bob French, and bassist and exceptional vocalist, George. Furthermore, B-side vocalist Blanche Thomas had cut a record for Imperial with Dave Bartholomew in the 1950s, and sang in his band for a while back then. So the record has connections.

When I bought it, I didn’t know the release date; but I’ve narrowed it down. My first clue came from the matrix numbers on it, 133-4009 and 4010, which relate it to Cosimo Matassa, who developed his own unique two-part coding system for the records he was involved in recording and/or issuing. It’s now known as the Cosimo Code through the ongoing work of John Broven, Red Kelly and other expert researchers in the field. The first part of the number was assigned to a particular client label. In this case, 133 turns out to have been a catch-all used for a large number of smaller labels. The second part is a sequential number assigned to each song recorded between 1960 and the early 1970s. While 4009 and 4010 on this record fall in the range of the year 1969, according to the Cosimo Code website, neither side is currently listed there. So, I’ll be updating them. As far as I know, this was the only release on the Capricorn label out of New Orleans, which had no ties to Phil Walden’s label of the same name that was starting up over in Georgia around this time.

I’ve found just one other reference to this single, in an article written in 2003 by Per Oldaeus for the Jazz Archivist, a newsletter of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University in New Orleans. In his fine overview of the career of Blanche Thomas, he mentions the record and dates it as “from the early 1970s”; but 1969 makes more sense, with Cosimo involved in the recording. The session may have been done at his newly opened Jazz City Studio which was fronted by his assistant engineer, Skip Godwin, as Cos’ humble recording and distribution empire had all come crashing down the previous year after his run-in with the IRS, taking out almost all of the local labels that relied on his services. In the wake of that, this single didn’t have a chance of finding its audience.

As the single label states, that’s ‘Papa’ French himself doing the top side vocal. He took over leadership of the Tuxedo Jazz Band in 1958, following the death of the famed Papa Celestin, who founded the group in 1910. The lyrics are rather boilerplate Board of Tourism material; and his singing no more than serviceable. But the track is upbeat and fun to hear with the band blowing in the full-tilt traditional style of the early jazz that began in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century. To this day, it’s what many people identify as New Orleans jazz, or Dixieland. Oldaeus lists the lineup of the band at the time of this recording as French/banjo, Frank Fields/bass, Louis Barbarin/drums, Jeanette Kimball/piano, Jack Willis/trumpet, ‘Cornbread’ Thomas/clarinet, and Homer Eugene/trombone.

On the other side, Blanche Thomas delivered the quirky lyrics to “Bald Headed Beulah” in her distinctive lower register. If you like her on this novelty tune, I recommend “You Ain’t So Such A Much”, the overlooked R&B rocker she cut some 15 years earlier for Imperial, which Bartholomew produced to put her in the Big Mama Thornton bag.


“The Second Line, Part 2” (Bill Synegal [sic]-H. Hines)
James Rivers, J.B.’s 136, 1978

Back in 2011, I featured the original version of this tune, done by Bill Sinigal and the Skyliners for Cosimo’s White Cliff’s label, and noted that James Rivers played sax on the session and was a regular member of the band at the time. As also stated there, Sinigal put the song together using elements from at least two earlier works. The attention grabbing intro riff had been used by trumpeter Dave Bartholomew on his 1950s recording of “Good Jax Boogie”, but was borrowed from the much earlier jazz number, “Whoopin’ Blues” The main body of the song was based on another classic jazz nugget, “Joe Avery’s Blues”, part of the standard street-parading brass band repertoire,

None of the songs, including Sinigal’s, were directly intended to be Mardi Gras music; but his caught on with the brass bands of the day and with Carnival revelers to become a standard of its own. After the shutdown of Cosimo’s operations put and end to the availability of the record in the late 1960s, producer and label owner Senator Jones, paid saxman Alvin Thomas to put a session together and re-cut it. The result was issued on Jones’ J.B.’s label in 1974. That version of “The Second Line” with the players called Stop , Inc. is still heard on Carnival playlists to this day.

By 1978, when Rivers recorded his own take on the tune for J.B.’s at Sea-Saint Studios, the song was well-known and played by all sorts of bands all over town. What he brought to the party was consummate horn blowing skill, an amalgam of his traditional and contemporary jazz and R&B influences and experience. I picked Part 2, because ¾ of it is just Rivers' energetic inventive riffing over the changes. A celebratory workout!

For more on his background, refer to my 2006 post on another of Rivers’ fine R&B/jazz fusion records for the label.


“Big Chief” (Gaines - Quezergue)
The Neville Brothers, from the Black Top LP, Neville-ization, 1984

Professor Longhair first recorded this tune, written by Earl King (under his mother’s maiden name), who also sang it, and produced/arranged by Wardell Quezergue, for the Watch label (#1900) in 1964. Since then, it has become another standard of the Carnival canon, covered by numerous artists from solo pianists to brass bands and other funksters. Longhair’s definitively intricate keyboard fingerings, extremely difficult to reproduce, make his version unbeatable; but since my radio days I’ve loved to feature other takes on the tune.

This version by the Neville Brothers comes from their first live LP, Neville-ization, on the hometown Black Top label. It was recorded at Tipitina’s on September 24, 1982 and released in 1984. Since forming the group in 1978, the Neville family had released two prior studio albums for major labels with different approaches; but neither were successful at breaking the band nationally. The live LP dispensed with that notion and simply aimed to please their strong fan base both local and developed around the country through touring. It is a fine documentation of what their live shows were like during the period, with their signature sound evident but still in its formative stages.

The core of the band, of course were the brothers, Art on keyboards and vocals, Aaron on vocals and percussion, Cyril on congas and vocals, and Charles on sax and percussion, with Aaron’s son, Ivan, also on keyboards and vocals. Backing them were drummer ‘Mean’ Willie Green, bassist Darryl Johnson, and Brian Stolz on guitar. The group had recently undergone a significant personnel shake-up that brought in Green, Johnson and Stolz to replace the previous rhythm section, a/k/a Blackmale, which included Gerald ‘Professor Shorthair’ Tillman.

Around 1981, Tillman formed the Uptown Allstars with several other members of Blackmale, plus, Ivan Neville, Willie Green, bassist/vocalist Nick Daniels. and another vocalist, Reggie Cummings.That band performed locally when the Neville Brothers weren’t gigging. But, in 1983, Ivan left both groups to go to Los Angeles to record with the band Rufus on their album, Seal In Red, and decided to stay there and pursue his career. For more on Tillman and that period, refer to the post I did last year on him.

Cyril handled the lead vocal on this track. His fervent singing has always been my favorite method of delivery for this song’s Mardi Gras Indian-inspired lyrics, through all his years with the family band. He also did a killer funk version with the Uptown Allstars (which he took over following Tillamn’s death in 1986), on their CD, The Fire This Time.


“[Big Chief Like Plenty Of] Fire Water” (Wild Magnolias - Wilson Turbinton)
Wild Magnolias, Treehouse 801B, 1975

It’s been many moons since I featured the 45 version of “Fire Water” by the Wild Magnolias with instrumental backing from Wilson ‘Willie Tee’ Turbinton and the Gaturs. The sessions were recorded at Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA for the second of the group’s LPs, They Call Us Wild, produced by Philippe Rault for the French Barclay label in 1975. Due to the inadequate sales of their first, The Wild Magnolias, produced by Rault and issued by Polydor in the US the previous year, They Call Us Wild was released only in Europe. So Rault and Quint ‘ Cosmic Q’ Davis conspired to put out a single from it on the one-off Treehouse label for New Orleans consumption.

Back in 1970, these groups participated in a spontaneous jam during a music festival Davis put on at Tulane University where he was a student; and hearing it switched on the proverbial lightbulb in his head. From that followed his historic production of the first known collaboration between a Mardi Gras Indian gang and funk musicians, a recording which became the Wild Magnolias’ debut single, the two-part “Handa Wanda”, on the Cresent label, with Tee, bassist George French, and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste backing the definitely wild sounding vocals and percussion.

None of the later album tracks ever quite matched that fire, but some came close; and all were heavily atmospheric, funky and fresh. Big Chief Bo Dollis’ vocal on “Fire Water” was one of his more subdued performances; but the track rumbles with tons of low end jungle funk while projecting a stutter-stepping street-strut groove perfect for heading out on the holiday. Hey la hey!

I’ll get to the A-side, “New Suit”, in the next round. Here’s hoping at least a few of these numbers will aid and abet your revelry.