Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Allen Toussaint (1938 - 2015)

Allen Toussaint was born in Gert Town, New Orleans in 1938 and grew up in a family that loved music. Clarence, his father was a railway worker who played the trumpet with a big band at weekends and his mother, Naomi, loved opera. Young Toussaint became steeped in gospel music and, inspired by Albert Ammons and Pinetop Smith, learned to play boogie-woogie on the piano.

Is was however, Professor Longhair, who would make the greatest impact on the young piano player.

Naomi was keen to develop his talent and at the age of eight sent him for piano tuition in the junior music school of Xavier University of Louisiana, Gert Town. His tuition was short because as his mother admitted to him “It’s too late the boogie-woogie’s has got you.” At 13 he and a friend, Snooks Eaglin (guitar), formed a group called the Flamingos and played at school dances. He soon progressed to playing at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, deputised for Huey “Piano” Smith, and was soon recruited by the local bandleader Dave Bartholomew. He recognised a star in the making and substituted the young Toussaint at a concert Fats Domino was unable to attend. The young piano player proved a great success and recorded his debut album in 1958, The Wild Sound of New Orleans.

In 1960 he became A&R man for the Minit label and wrote and produced Fortune Teller for Benny Spellman, Mother-in-Law for Ernie K-Doe, and It’s Raining for Irma Thomas, among many others.

"Ruler of My Heart" recorded by Irma Thomas and the song was subsequently re- recorded by Otis Redding under the title "Pain in My Heart", then later by The Rolling Stones on their second album.

Allen was drafted into the US army in 1963, but his music still remained popular and Al Hirt scored a Top 5 hit with Java; and Whipped Cream, became the title track of an album by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1964.

Back from the army, Allen formed Sea-Saint Studio with Marshall Sehorn, and reunited with Lee Dorsey. He had previously produced “Ya Ya” in 1961, but then went on to have hits with "Ride Your Pony," "Working in the Coal Mine" and "Holy Cow."

Toussaint played a pivotal role of formulating the unique style of soul, funk and R&B that became emblematic of New Orleans. He produced the early recordings of the Meters, featuring Art Neville, including Cissy Strut and Look-Ka Py Py.

The Meters became the backing band at the Sea-Saint Studio which had now become the go-to place for local musicians like Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John). In 1971 Allen produced In the Right Place which became a hit album for Dr John.

Others followed and soon Allen was producing albums for a wide range of talent including: Robert Palmer, Jess Roden, Frankie Miller. Little Feat, and Boz Scaggs, among many others.

In 1974 Toussaint arranged and produced LaBelle’s New Orleans-flavoured disco classic Lady Marmalade, and a year later he played on McCartney’s album Venus and Mars.

Despite commitment to other artists he found time for a solo career and released two successful albums in the 70s, Whisper to a Scream and Southern Nights.

Later when Glen Campbell covered "Southern Nights" it became a number one on the Pop, Country and Adult-Contemporary charts.

Allen Toussaint moved to New York after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and there collaborated with Elvis Costello on an album about the disaster called The River in Reverse (2006),

Whist exiled in New York he accepted an offer to play a regular Sunday brunch session at an East Village pub. He enjoyed it so much he started to appear at festivals and clubs around the world. He continued to perform, produce and record up until his untimely death in 2015, aged 77.

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