Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Certain Girl, Ernie K-Doe via Allen Toussaint (1962)

"Ten seconds like that can keep you going for a week." - Nick Hasted, reviewing Allen Toussaint's piano stylings for London's The Independent, in 2008

This blog is now more than two years old and one of its unending joys is the way it gives me a forum to share the research I've done about the songs and artists I knew growing up - but in many ways didn't know at all. 

An added benefit of being in research mode pretty much constantly is that I learn about the songs and artists of that time about which I didn't have even a glimmer of a clue. And because it's my blog and I can do whatever I want, more and more I'm writing about those songs and artists too even though I'm only really discovering them decades after the fact.

Thus today's post on Allen Toussaint.  A few weeks back Elvis Costello's Spectacle show on the Sundance Channel brought me an embarrassment of riches.  I was jazzed to see it because the insanely talented Richard Thompson was a featured guest.  I had the privilege of seeing him last summer in Kent, Ohio, after having won tickets through Twitter, of all things, from the online portal Folk Alley.  I said then and still say: I am a fan for life.  And his Spectacle appearance didn't disappoint.

But among the other guests on the same program was Allen Toussaint.  I recognized Toussaint's name, but did not associate him with anything in particular.  Talk about a gap in my musical education.  An abyss, really, of Grand Canyonesque proportions.  And with the awareness of that gap has come a fixation with learning everything I can about this elegant man who is a giant in the music industry not only in his native New Orleans but also just about everywhere else you can think of.   

Listening to my Alvin Toussaint 'radio station' on Pandora, I'm finding the breadth of his output staggering, both on his own and for others. To list even a fraction of it here would take up too much space. On Spectacle he related how The Band sought him out - in New Orleans, via a sheriff's deputy - because they wanted him specifically to contribute the horn charts for their live album Rock of Ages. (Check out old friends Toussaint and Levon Helm kicking it at the end of the hilarious A Certain Girl - I'm afraid I have resorted to mainlining this every day!)  He also produced and wrote for Lee Dorsey, whose Working in A Coal Mine and Ride Your Pony were always favorites of mine - they were so original for the time.

A Certain Girl was first recorded in 1962 by Ernie K-Doe, a New Orleans artist unknown to me although I'd heard his work. (If you know the quirky Mother-in-Law, you know Ernie K-Doe.)  Composed by none other than Toussaint using the pseudonym Naomi Neville, his mother's maiden name, Ernie K-Doe's version was a regional hit that didn't sell well outside the South.  But some people were aware of it - the result being a Yardbirds cover on the b-side of their first single I Wish You Could (with a bizarro Eric Clapton solo), and Warren Zevon vamping it up on his Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School album.  

But this popular fare is really only the tip of the iceberg for Toussaint, a protege of Professor Longhair whose history of producing, arranging, composing and performing in myriad genres goes on for days. Get to know him while he's still around, if you haven't already. And thank you, Elvis Costello.


Chuck Johnston said...

He just released a jazz album, The Bright Mississippi, with a small combo. Limited horns, only one vocal. Nice, but I miss the raucous energy of older stuff.
Thanks, Wendy!

Holly A Hughes said...

I was at the taping for that Spectacle show -- being a pretty far gone Nick Lowe addict -- and I had the same gob-smacked reaction to Allen Toussaint. I first saw him, actually, playing at one of those all-star Katrina benefits a few years ago, and I was astounded that such an amazing artist could have been so off my radar. The sheer elegance of his piano playing blew everybody else off the stage.