Allen Toussaint, songwriter, musician and producer of pop hits, dies at 77

11 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 essential recordings by Allen Toussaint.

The piano master, known for jazz, R&B and blues and who wrote hits such as “Working in a Coalmine” and produced Patti LaBelle’s famous cover of “Lady Marmalade”, died of a heart attack on Monday evening after giving a concert at the Spanish capital’s Teatro Lara, hospital officials said. NEW ORLEANS — The songs of New Orleans musical legend Allen Toussaint have been described as beautiful stories set to music or a handcrafted suit tailored for a specific person.“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. Fans posted videos of Toussaint’s final performance on YouTube, while the English singer and songwriter Billy Bragg said on Twitter: “The man was a genius.” Toussaint, who began performing in his teens, collaborated with a wide range of artists, including John Mayall, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Lee Dorsey, Paul McCartney and The Band. If the occasion called for it, he could even fashion writer’s block into verse. “Well, how do you write a song?” he offered, playfully. “Do you make it short?

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. Maybe you heard Al Hirt play “Java” or the Rolling Stones cover “Fortune Teller.” Herb Alpert doing “Whipped Cream” or the Pointer Sister and “Yes We Can.” Or LaBelle performing “Lady Marmalade” or Bonnie Raitt on “What Do You Want the Boy to Do?” Or the Hues Corporation or Three Dog Night doing “Freedom for the Stallion.” Surely he was the only songwriter to have his work performed by both Warren Zevon (“A Certain Girl”) and Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”).

In addition to writing a string of hits, including “Southern Nights” and “Fortune Teller”, Toussaint also campaigned and raised funds to help New Orleans recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And both Ernie K-Doe and Alex Chilton jumped on “A Certain Girl.” And everybody did “Get Out of My Life, Woman” and “Workin’ in a Coal Mine.” Even if you didn’t like pop, you couldn’t avoid Toussaint’s music, whose earworm tunes were so irresistible to Madison Avenue that Toussaint melodies have scored commercials for six decades, as recently as a 2008 Axe deodorant commercial (“Sweet Touch of Your Love”). President Obama praised Toussaint’s efforts in 2013 when the musician was awarded the American National Medal of Arts, saying: “After his hometown was battered by Katrina and Allen was forced to evacuate, he did something even more important for his city, he went back and since then Allen has devoted his musical talent to lifting up and building up a city.” Toussaint said in an autobiographical item on his website that he began playing the piano when he was about six years old when an old upright piano was brought into the family home for his sister, who quickly gave it up. “Our upright wasn’t much of a piano — it was a half-step flat the entire time we owned it — but that piano was everything to me.

Toussaint, a superlative songwriter, producer, pianist and arranger (and a fine singer, too), was a New Orleans native who helped spread the music-rich city’s inimitable sound across the world. 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. He also helped that sound evolve. “His greatest contribution was in not allowing the city’s old-school R&B traditions to die out but by keeping pace with developments in the rapidly evolving worlds of soul and funk,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Toussaint in 1998. Toussaint performed there so often — frequently as a headliner — that Davis said he referred to it as his “annual concert.” Toussaint was born in New Orleans’ Gert Town, a working-class neighbourhood 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. 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.

He said he became deeply involved in playing when he heard New Orleans blues singer and piano player Professor Longhair, and with the radio near the piano, began playing everything he heard. Gwen Thompkins, host of the program Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans, says his death is resonating especially hard there, in the master’s hometown. “The news came overnight, so people woke up to what they thought was a really bad dream: That Allen Toussaint has died, that he died away from his beloved New Orleans, that we are not going to see him again, is a very, very distressing notion for us. He was also, for what it’s worth, a perfect gentleman, soft-spoken, thoughtful, and articulate, though never one to suffer fools gladly, or at all for that matter. Toussaint died on Monday after being taken to the Madrid hospital Fundacion Jimenez Diaz shortly after his performance on Monday night, officials said.

John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and the Meters’ “Cissy Strut“) — and for their cover versions of his songs, written under both his own name and a pseudonym, Naomi Neville. “I prefer writing for [other] artists than writing for myself,” he once told CBS affiliate WWL. “I get more inspiration from artists, from other people, than I do myself.” On Instagram on Tuesday, Roots drummer Questlove wrote of Toussaint: “This dude wrote some of your favorite music & you just didn’t know it,” on Instagram. “He effected SO many genres. He had played in Bilbao on Sunday and was next scheduled to perform in Antwerp, Belgium, on Nov. 12 as part of his tour Evening with the Allen Toussaint Trio.

His songs will be cherished by people like me who will have fond memories of Allen forever.” Bonnie Raitt said in a statement: “I’m so deeply saddened to hear of the loss of my dear friend, Allen Toussaint. Perhaps the only thing that can ease the sting of that death is the knowledge that Toussaint was one of those rare great men who got what was coming to him: a lovely last act on life’s stage. There he worked with a succession of musicians including Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Patti LaBelle, Cocker and Elvis Costello. “Allen was a gentle giant!

The knock on Toussaint—and even this always sounded like people thinking that they couldn’t say nice things about him all the time—was that he was not the best performer of his own material. But soon, there were artists who were coming from everywhere who wanted to work with him,” Thompkins says. “He clearly believed that New Orleans had something to say to the world. And he was right, because everyone came running to perform with him, to ask him for a song, to ask him to arrange for them, to ask him to produce their material.” “I mean, this was a man who drove a Rolls Royce, who sometimes went out to dinner wearing a huge diamond-encrusted medallion, who had all of the accoutrements of material success — but who was always looking for an opportunity to help a stranger,” she says. “And so, while we’re all going to be listening to his music forever, I think we’re also going to remember what a deeply human person Allen Toussaint was.” Before long he had eased into his last permanent role as the city’s musical ambassador, touring the world, sometimes with a band but just as often alone, and he held audiences in thrall all by his lonesome. The song Southern Nights, which Toussaint wrote and performed, was later covered by country star Glen Campbell and hip-hop artists in the ’80s and ’90s often sampled from his songs.

I mean, how insane is it that the same guy can pen “Soul Sister,” “On Your Way Down,” “Southern Nights,” and “Victims of the Darkness”? But if I persuade you of nothing else, and here’s me down on my knees, have a listen to Yes We Can, which is nominally a Lee Dorsey album, but given the musical mind meld that went on between Dorsey and Toussaint, no album ever warranted a double credit more. Irma Thomas said Toussaint didn’t do much touring before Katrina but after the storm he felt he needed to tour and bring attention to the city and its music. Just knowing that one of the two men most responsible for this record still walked the earth was enough to make me smile against anything the day could bring.

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