This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Allen Toussaint may be the best unknown songwriter of the last 70 years. Most of you will know these songs, but perhaps not realise that they were all written by him.
Besides being a songwriter, Allen was also a superb New Orleans pianist – that’s really a tautology as every New Orleans pianist is superb. He was also an arranger of note as well as a record producer and occasional performer himself.
He was characteristically modest about his talents, but he really didn’t need to be.
Allen produced most of the great New Orleans records, including those of The Meters, Dr John and all the ones mentioned below. He was also in demand by rock and pop musicians, such as Elvis Costello, Boz Scaggs, Robert Palmer, B.J. Thomas, Willie DeVille and many more.
Allen performed regularly at local haunts around the city as well as more formal concerts further afield.
He died in Spain in 2015 after performing a concert there. He was 77.
Coincidentally, CHRIS KENNER was born in Kenner, Louisiana.
It’s not just a town full of Kenners, it’s quite large (for Louisiana). He started singing gospel music in a choir and then worked as a longshoreman. Upon relocating to New Orleans, Chris encountered Allen and they formed a bit of a songwriting partnership.
One of the songs they wrote together is I Like It Like That, that Chris took to the pointy end of the charts.
There are several performers with whom Allen had a long association, one of whom is LEE DORSEY.
In spite of having several hits over the years, all written and produced by Allen, Lee didn’t give up his day job of running his own auto repair business. Of course, he took time off now and then to tour and record, but he always had that to fall back on.
One of his biggest songs was Working in the Coal Mine.
And now for something completely different from all the rest of today’s music. Here is AL HIRT.
Not completely different, Al was born and bred in New Orleans, as is the case of a lot of the musos today. It’s really that he is an instrumentalist and doesn’t sing on records, at least not on this one.
Oh, one day when he was having lunch with Ennis Marsalis (Miles Davis was there too) he gave the really young Wynton his first trumpet. This is Al’s biggest hit, Java.
ERNIE K-DOE began his recording career under his birth name of Earnest Kador.
He met with little success until he changed his name. I don’t know if that was the reason, but he certainly hit the charts with his nom de plume (nom de recording, perhaps).
One of the songs that became a hit with his new name is Mother-In-Law, a song that Allen’s mother-in-law was none too happy about. That is, until the royalty cheques started rolling in and she changed her mind completely.
A few performers have tackled the song Play Something Sweet, the pick of the bunch is MARIA MULDAUR.
It was on her second solo album, “Waitress in a Donut Shop”, a terrific album, only overshadowed by her first. Three Dog Night had a hit with the song and others, notably Levon Helm and Allen himself, have recorded good versions. No one beats Maria’s though.
BENNY SPELLMAN was the first (but far from the last) to record the song, Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette). It’s a staple for soul, country, blues and even pop performers.
Benny later was first cab off the rank with another much-covered song of Allen's, Fortune Teller (not included today). Benny later retired from the music biz and worked in the beer industry. I won't say a word.
Allen had a long association with THE BAND.
He did the horn arrangements for the concerts they gave in New York at New Year’s 1971 into 1972 that were recorded and released as the double album “Rock of Ages”. Most notably he arranged the music for their final concert known as “The Last Waltz”.
Some of the songs on “Cahoots” were arranged by him and The Band performed his song Holy Cow on “Moondog Matinee”. The song was first recorded by Lee Dorsey.
I don’t feature MILLIE JACKSON nearly enough.
I think it’s because many of her songs run into others making them double or triple songs (or more on some of her live albums). It’s often hard to split them and make them sound okay. That happened with the song today, but fortunately she recorded it several times so there is a standalone version.
The song is If You're Not Back in Love by Monday. Incidentally, she’s not related to the family of musicians with the same surname.
Allen’s music is not restricted to soul and R&B performers. His influence covers most styles of music. I’ve mentioned several alternate versions of some of the songs I’ve included, and here’s one well away from the others, GLEN CAMPBELL.
Glen heard Allen’s version of the song Southern Nights and it struck a chord with him. Allen wrote it about visiting relatives in the backwoods of Louisiana and it reminded Glen of his growing up. He took the song to the top of the charts.
IRMA THOMAS is generally known as the soul queen of New Orleans.
Although not as well known as her contemporaries Etta James and Aretha Franklin, she’s certainly their equal. Her songs have been used in films and TV series, particularly the one we have today, It's Raining.
We have ERNIE K-DOE again because I really wanted to include this song, and his was the best (and first recorded) version.
It’s a little bit silly, but I really like it. Ernie boasts of his new (or not so new, if you listen to the words) gal, but won’t tell anyone who she is. The song is A Certain Girl.
You could have guaranteed that the Neville Brothers, either as a group or individually, would be present today. I listened to all their recordings of his songs (that made for a pleasurable time) and decided to use AARON NEVILLE quite early in his career.
Okay, not all that early, it’s from 1973. However, this was before the brothers organised themselves into the great band they later became. The song in question is Hercules.
We’ve had everyone else, here’s the man himself ALLEN TOUSSAINT.
He performs Just a Kiss Away, not to be confused with the Rolling Stones’ song with a similar title.