5 Allen Toussaint Songs You Need to Know

11 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 essential recordings by Allen Toussaint.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint, captured during a 2013 performance in his native New Orleans, died Tuesday night after a show in Madrid, Spain. Few artists have impacted New Orleans music history — and, by extension, the history of modern soul, R-B, funk and rock — as deeply as the late Allen Toussaint did over the course of his decades-spanning career.“Java,” Tousan (1958): A teenage Toussaint was already a major player on the New Orleans session scene in the ‘50s, and this piano-driven instrumental appeared on the album “The Wild Sounds of New Orleans,” where he was billed as “Tousan.” Six years later, a considerably less wild version by trumpeter Al Hirt became a huge pop hit. “Mother-in-Law,” Ernie K-Doe (1961): Toussaint, who was unmarried at the time, always heard comedians joking about their mothers in law, and wedded the tongue-in-cheek lyrics to a gospel piano riff.

Allen Toussaint, the songwriter-composer behind such hits as “Working in the Coal Mine” and “The Fortune Teller,” died Monday following a concert in Madrid, according to various news sources. Toussaint’s best-known studio work commenced during the golden age of New Orleans rhythm and blues as he lent his production skills to hits like Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Do” and “Ya Ya” by Lee Dorsey. Though Toussaint, 77, had his own rich solo career, his work entered America’s collective psyche through renditions by some of the era’s great performers.

The jocular Ernie K-Doe ramped up the comedic possibilities while Benny Spellman delivered the answering bass vocal. “Fortune Teller,” Benny Spellman (1962): Credited to “Naomi Neville,” a pseudonym for Toussaint, it was originally an obscure B-side for singer Benny Spellman. But New Orleans-based Toussaint, an unassuming man who favored natty sandles with his dapper suits, richly deserves his enshrinement, according to anyone who knew him. According to the New York Times, his daughter, Alison Toussaint-LeBeaux, confirmed his death in an email, and stated that the cause appeared to be a heart attack. The producer used the studio as an instrument, creating an aural movie with the sound of a pick ax hitting rock, while Dorsey delivered a vocal that somehow sounded both impish and world-weary. “Look-Ka Py Py,” The Meters (1969): Many of Toussaint’s ‘60s sessions included the Meters, a rhythm section on par with any in the land. John remains key to the Toussaint canon, these five tracks — as performed by Toussaint himself — serve as a solid intro to Toussaint’s overall body of work.

When the group struck out on its own, Toussaint was a natural choice to produce. “Rock of Ages,” the Band (1972): One of the Band’s career peaks was this New Year’s Eve concert, with Toussaint’s horn charts putting a looser spin on the quintet’s best songs. “Southern Nights,” Allen Toussaint (1975): Glen Campbell had a huge hit with the most personal of Toussaint songs, but the songwriter painted the more vivid dreamscape of his youth with his original performance. “The River in Reverse,” Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint (2006): In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the first major recording session in New Orleans was for this collaboration between the producer and a longtime admirer. Costello sang the lead vocals with one exception – Toussaint’s plea on “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?” “Songbook,” Allen Toussaint (2013): A career capstone, with Toussaint’s graceful vocals and masterly piano bringing out a deep personal connection to decades’ worth of timeless songs.

The piano intro alone on this shimmering, 1975 gem conveys as much about a warm breeze rustling through centuries-old oaks and magnolias as the lyrics and vocals, which juxtapose poetic imagery atop just the right amount of psychedelia. The lyric turns on an ex-lover’s old cigarette butt and the heartbreak it recalls, and within that exquisite image an entire world blossoms. “Lipstick traces on a cigarette,” sings New Orleans vocalist Benny Spellman in the most popular version. “Every memory lingers with me yet.” So rich is the metaphor that critic Greil Marcus titled his book on punk rock after Toussaint’s song. Merlis, who worked on an early tour that featured Toussaint, Little Feat and Bonnie Raitt, said he “created a compilation of quarter-inch tapes of every song I could think of that he had written or produced to introduce him to people.” That was necessary because, to reiterate, Toussaint was not that well known outside of music industry circles who were keenly aware of the gift of the man who penned songs like “Workin’ in a Coal Mine” and “Lady Marmalade.” Merlis has an even more public connection with Toussaint. Replete with between-the-cracks rhythms and a sensual, funk-soaked horn arrangement, this track off Toussaint’s seminal Life, Love and Faith album concerns itself with the fate of the folks he sings about on “Night People,” a tune he recorded a few years prior that remains a local favorite among New Orleans musicians. Later on, the O’Jays, Ringo Starr and Alex Chilton would take advantage of Toussaint’s song craft with their versions of “Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette).” In the ’70s he wrote and produced for Dr.

The New Orleanian’s most famous album, “Southern Nights” (a song later covered by Glen Campbell), was done for Warner Bros. when Merlis was at the label. Despite his famously colorful suit-sandal-sock combos and flashy cars, Toussaint remained humble throughout his career, writing songs under a pseudonym and making zero fuss when others took credit — or chart-topping spots — for his work. Toussaint was born in New Orleans’ Gert Town, a working class neighborhood where he lived in a “shotgun” house — so-called because you could stand at the front door and fire a shotgun through to the other side of the house. Originally recorded by Benny Spellman when Toussaint was the house producer for Minit Records, “Fortune Teller” was originally credited to the invented songwriter Naomi Neville and made famous by the Rolling Stones and the Who. His own solo career peaked in the decade with the albums “From a Whisper to a Scream” and “Southern Nights.” He also teamed with Patti Labelle, producing the album “Nightbirds,” resulting in the No. 1 hit “Lady Marmalade.” Glen Campbell also had a No. 1 hit when he covered Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” on the pop, country and adult-contemporary charts.

Mike Miller, owner of Wilbert’s Food & Music, lamented on missing out on a chance to have Toussaint play his club, either at its current location in the Caxton Building or in its original spot on West Sixth. “I always wanted to book him,” said Miller, whose West Sixth Street joint was known for booking Cajun-style blues and zydeco acts. “He was the quintessential New Orleans R&B/jazz piano player. It also functions as a stepping stone in his progression from songwriter to piano player to producer This lesser-known track appears on Desitively Bonnarooo, a Toussaint-produced Dr. First made popular by frequent Toussaint collaborator Ernie K-Doe, the Yardbirds’ proto-punk take inspired a generation of rockers to amplify their sound. Toussaint fans, however, would be wise to begin with this track. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again.

Few writers can cut to the bone with longing like Toussaint: “Another day as again it’s rough/I want you to love me, love me, love me, baby, ’till I get enough.” This funky 1975 take on Toussaint’s “Going Down Slowly” mixes a disco groove with words about a descent into darkness. “Holy moly, slowly going down,” sing the Pointer Sisters. One of Toussaint’s biggest hits was also one of Glen Campbell’s: “Southern Nights.” A song that rode to the top of the charts, Campbell’s version illustrates the song’s elasticity.

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