March 03, 2014

Carnival Seasoning 2014, Part 2 ...and

With Mardi Gras Day fast approaching, allow me to add some last minute tunes to your dance card. The HOTG Radio webcast is on what we hope to be a temporary hiatus, as reported earlier. So, the offerings on this post and Part 1 [scroll down], will have to suffice for my holiday selections this year; but, once again, let me remind you to lock in to WWOZ’s 24/7 webcast direct from the source, the City That Care Forgot, to help fulfill your partying needs. 

“Red Dress”
Chosen Few Brass Band, Syla AL-349, 1985/86

I featured the mighty fine “Mardi Gras Iko/Food Stamp Blues” from this rare LP last year. You can read more about the members and origins of this influential, but relatively short-lived brass ensemble on that post.

I’ll just note that, although the title of this tune is shown as “Red Dress”, it is no doubt a juiced-up instrumental rendering of Tommy Tucker’s 1964 R&B hit on Checker Records, “Hi-Heel Sneakers”. The Chosen Few’s chosen title is derived from the first line of the original, “Put on your red dress, baby, ‘cause we’re goin’ out tonight.”

Whether or not your footwear is that snazzy, this rendition should make for some high stepping second-lining, whether curbside on the city streets as the parades pass by, or anywhere else on the planet you may find yourself.

“New Suit” (Wilson Turbinton)
Wild Magnolias, Treehouse Records 801A, 1975

As promised, here’s the top side of the single featured in Part 1, released in New Orleans for fans of the local Mardi Gras Indian, and Willie Tee’s funk, of course. The tunes would have been heard primarily on neighborhood jukeboxes and home turntables, as I doubt there was much commercial radio airplay, even in New Orleans. Then again, Tulane University’s non-commercial station, WTUL, was broadcasting at least to the campus neighborhood by that point (WWOZ wouldn’t fire up until 1980), so there is a good chance they got down on this record, too.

Written by Wilson Turbinton, a/k/a Willie Tee, who served as bandleader, writer/co-writer, and arranger for the Wild Magnolias’ recording projects, “New Suit” refers to the magnificent costume decorated with feathers, rhinestones, and beads in unique configurations that each member of the Indian gangs makes annually to wear for their runs on Mardi Gras day, as well as around St. Joseph’s Day a few weeks later. They are intricate, painstaking works of art that involve easily hundreds of hours each, all for the goal of having the most impressive displays of all, and acknowledgement of being “prettiest”. For more about the tradition, read here.

“The Rubber Band” (Traci Borges)
Eddie Bo & the Soulfinders, Knight 303-3, 1970-ish

“Rubber Band, part 2” [303-4]

[Revised 3/31/2014]
I wanted to get in a funky dance record, something that’s not heard too much. So what better than this hard to find, two-part Eddie Bo single from around/about the early 1970s. I assume that The Rubber Band was a dance going around New Orleans at the time, since the Meters did “Stretch Your Rubber Band” for Josie (#1026), which states “People all over the land, there’s a new dance called The Rubber Band....”. They had a brief national hit with it, just breaking into the top 50 on the R&B chart for several weeks early in 1971; and I’m sure the song was even more popular at home.

Conceivably, Bo’s recording of “The Rubber Band”, was a created in an attempt to catch the Meter’s wave and/or the dance’s fleeting appeal, and cash in; but the scarcity of this 45 and lack of information about it suggest that was not the case. Traci Borges, owner and operator of Knight Records and Knight Recording Studio in suburban Metairie, LA just west of NOLA, where the song was cut, was credited as writer and producer. Bo no doubt arranged the session, though, as it has plenty of the musical quirks and high funk factor his fans revere him for.

Though I don’t know who comprised the Soulfinders, their captured poly-rhythmic synergy is priceless. The track sounds like the Meters and some of James Brown’s band took magic mushrooms and jammed together with a harmonica playing hippie who wandered in. It all worked out surprisingly well, with the loose-but-tight, broken-up drumming gainfully guiding the groove. Since Bo had recorded several of his productions for the Scram label, including “Hook & Sling”, at Knight a year of two earlier, he may have used some of the same players, including master beat generator, James Black, in particular.

Though “[The] Rubber Band” did not directly address the dance itself, Bo would revisit the theme again as a title for one of his own productions, “Shelly’s Rubber Band”, that came out in 1971 on the House Of The Fox label, attributed to Curley Moore (and the Kool Ones).

[Note: Bob McGrath's second editon (2006) of The R&B Indies lists another Bo single with the Soullfinders on Knight, “Sweeter Than Mine” / “Afro Bush”, also numbered 303; but, that discography seems to be the only mention of it. Since reading that, I have found no hard evidence of the record's existence. So, I asked Bob about it. He does not recall where the information might have come from and now considers it an error. Even the experts can make a mistake from time to time, let alone us rank amateurs.

On a related tangent, after bringing up that alleged other Bo 45 on Knight in the earlier version of this post, my friend and consultant, Jon Tyler of the NevilleTracks blog, wrote in the comments that he had found evidence of a New Orleans single with the same song titles, but by another group, E. Gaunichaux & the Skeptics! It appears to have been a one-off possibly releasd on the band's own imprint, E.M.G. Mollatic Records. A label shot of it at Discogs shows that it was cut at Rosemont Studio in N.O and produced by one E. Lepage. Jon has a Youtube link for the audio of the A-side, "Afro Bush", in his comment. Listen for yourself; but it sounds pretty much like a young garage band to me. As unusual as the nomenclature may be on that record, I see no connection to Eddie Bo in any of it. I don't know how those titles got transposed to the Indies under Bo's name, though. If any of E. Gaunichaux & the Skeptics are out there, please report in and enlighten us.....]

“Bon Ton Roule” (C. Garlow)
Ronnie Barron, from Bon Ton Roulette, Takoma ST-72819, 1985

Finally, as Mardi Gras day is just hours away, here’s a South Louisiana R&B classic covered by Ronnie Barron on a great LP that came out almost 30 years ago. For details on Ronnie’s impressive, but mostly unheralded career in music, see my post on him from 2005 [I really need to get back to him with a big post - it’s been too long.]

Clarence Garlow recorded his original tune, “Bon Ton Roula”, which had an irresistible rhumba-esque groove and some cryptic turns of phrase, in 1949 for the Macy’s label in Houston, Texas. Released in 1950, it was a Top Ten hit on the R&B charts, and has been covered numerous times over the years. Of course, the title is a variant of the oft repeated phrase in South Louisiana French, “Laissez le bons temps rouler”, “Let the good times roll”, that sums up the party-down spirit of Mardi Gras and the region’s perpetually festive social life in general.

Ronnie’s version of the tune is bad-ass, singing in his lower register and rolling the piano keys backed up by some equally fine players: Harry Ravain, drums; Larry Taylor, bass; Al Johnson, rhythm guitar; with Lee Allen and Plas Johnson on tenor sax, and Jerry Jumonville on baritone sax. It should make a worthy addition to your Under The influence of Carnival playlist. Enjoy.....and

         M A R D I 

                                  G R A S 

                          2 0 1 4

                                                          Y' A L L

                                                                       ! ! !

Photos by Dan Phillips, from 2014 Krewe du Vieux and Krewe Delusion parades, plus 2013 Super Sunday.

To see more parade shots, click here

February 22, 2014

Listen Up And Soon…….HOTG Radio Is Going Away

The separate but affiliated webcast known more or less as Home of the Groove Internet Radio has been streaming music from my archives for going on 7 years via LoudCity, a service provider who made the “station” available to online listeners and paid licensing fees/royalties for the music to the proper authorities. Recently, LoudCity, which has assisted many small webcasters since early this century, announced that it would cease operations by the end of February, if not before. So, while the stream is still up today, in a matter of hours or days, it will be gone. Catch it while you can. I can’t say for sure at this point if it will be back.

While certainly affiliated with this blog, the webcast was originally set up by an old friend of mine out West as an experiment. When he told me what he was doing and asked what I thought about using the audio tracks from my blog posts as the core programming, I immediately signed on to the project. From jump, my cohort, Larry, has administered the streaming technicalities, and instigated the accompanying website to display the full blog posts or photos associated with the songs as they go by. I’ve simply provided the musical content for the stream, continually updating the playlist with recently featured blog numbers, plus other choice tidbits out of my vinyl and digital collections. We amassed nearly 40 hours of content over the years.

At least in the short term, there is no Plan B* for HOTG Radio. Unfortunately, Larry is currently in the midst of a serious health crisis. His recovery is top priority right now. So, let’s just say the webcast is going on hiatus and hope we can find a way to get it back online once he is up to it. I’ll let y’all know of any status change, since, knocking wood, this blog will go on in its usual unpredictable fits and starts.

I want to thank everyone who has supported the station over the years with donations and other encouragement. Wish we could have made it through Mardi Gras, again. But, hey, if you don’t already do so, connect with WWOZ’s online broadcasts from New Orleans. You can also find some choice obscurities from these parts (a few I which I don’t even have) on Mr. Fine Wine’s great weekly WFMU show, Downtown Soulville, and archives. Of course, there are other great New Orleans-related broadcasts going on around the web as well. Search away

Be of good cheer and hang in, I’ve got more Mardi Gras-inspired tunage coming soon to this location.

*If you have any suggestions for a viable webcasting option, email me at the address on the sidebar, or leave a comment.

February 09, 2014


With Twelfth Night and the Epiphany already in the rear-view; festivities are kickin’ in for the Crescent City Carnival season (January 6 to Mardi Gras Day, March 4 this year),. By now, King Cake Baby has made the scene at countless parties, with many more to go. In less than a week, the first parades will roll, featuring the ever-insightful and impolitic Krewe du Vieux on the streets of the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter with fellow wayward travelers, Krewe Delusion, nipping at their heels.

As is my own tradition around here (going on 10 years!!!), I’m throwing down some Mardi Gras flavored music along with commentary for those seeking context with your booty shaking. The first song goes way back to the early days of New Orleans R&B.


Remarkably, smack in the middle of the 20th century at the turn of the decade, two of the greatest Mardi Gras songs appeared in tandem, written and performed separately by two highly influential New Orleans R&B artists.

In the Fall of ‘49 at a Treme neighborhood bar, Professor Longhair (and his Shuffling Hungarians) recorded his “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” along with other tunes for release by the Star Talent label, based in Dallas. Two known 78 rpm singles containing those sides were issued, but had to be withdrawn because the session was non-union. Fess soon re-cut the song at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Service on Rampart Street for Atlantic; and it came out in 1950, likely for Mardi Gras, with his name shown as Roy ‘Baldhead’ Byrd to capitalize on his recent Mercury hit, “Bald Head”. While the new version, which I’ll re-post at a later date, was popular in and around the city, it did not find an audience nationally.

Neither did the potent slice of Mardi Gras served up by Dave Bartholomew and his band around the same time on Imperial Records, also cut at J&M. It’s another classic of the genre, but never seems to get its due.

“Carnival Day” (D. Bartholomew)
Dave Bartholomew, originally on Imperial 5064,1950

As you can tell, this single side is a reissue of the original track which appeared on Imperial in both the 78 and 45 rpm formats, with another Bartholomew classic, “That’s How You Got Killed Before”, on the flip. Any surviving copy is very rare, indeed; and far fewer 45s were pressed back when the medium was still fairly new. I’ve yet to see one of ‘em; so the reasonably priced and fairly easy to find Mambo facsimile [probably sourced from a digital remaster], put out by Jazzman Records in the UK, nicely helps to cover the vinyl void. Bartholomew’s cool “Cat Music” on the back, which I’m not including, first appeared in 1954 on Imperial 5308.

“Carnival Day” is remarkable for many reasons, starting with the band’s performance. Earl Palmer’s elemental funk drumming, predominantly on tom-toms and kick drum laid down a polyrhythmic, Latin-flavored dance groove that drove the band’s syncopated boogie riffing. Of particular note are guitarist Ernest McLean’s proto-rock licks on the intro and Herbert Hardesty’s perfectly phrased, melodically fascinating tenor sax solo. Other musicians on the date included Frank Fields on bass, pianist Salvador Doucette, plus two more fine saxmen, Clarence Hall on tenor and Joe Harris on alto. Members of Dave’s popular stage band, the players were among the founding set of session men who would help create the hits that turned the world on to New Orleans distinctive and highly influential R&B sound.

Lyrically, Dave’s tune offers a rare early window into the African-American cultural experience of the holiday. During the intro, he gives a shout-out to a Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, even using some of the Indians’ arcane phrases. In the verses he name checks the traditional Carnival royalty of Rex & Zulu, racially separate krewes in the still divided Deep South that paraded different routes on the big day.

Bartholomew had just begun working for California-based Imperial Records in 1949, finding talent and producing sessions for the label, starting with Tommy Ridgley, Jewel King, and the young pianist/vocalist Fats Domino, who Dave and Imperial’s owner, Lew Chudd, had seen at a local club. Fat’s first record, “The Fat Man” (#5058), was a big hit for Imperial by early the next year, the first of many over more than a decade. Busy with producing sessions and touring with Fats, Dave never got to record that much as a featured artist; and what he did put out as not as strongly promoted, thus did not sell especially well. “Carnival Day”, recorded in February of 1950, was his first for the label, and certainly one of his best. Mark it down as an important link in the long chain of grooves that led to what we know as funk; but commercially it seems to have been lost in the busy shuffle of releases that year, and never got picked up as a Mardi Gras standard.

By the way, let’s not forget Joe Lutcher, originally from Lake Charles, LA, who recorded his own raucous, syncopated “Mardi Gras” out on the West Coast a year earlier for the Modern label. I featured it here back in 2007.

Carnival Day” has appeared on a number of CD compilations over the years, and can be downloaded from various sellers, it seems, who I hope offer a larger file than the scant 128k review version here. Always go with the biggest payload you can afford.


“Why Don’t Y’all Go To New Orleans” (Margie Baird)
Papa Albert French & His Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Capricorn 101, ca 1969

"Bald Headed Beulah" (Margie Baird)
featuring Blanche Thomas

I found this single at a record show last year and picked it up, even though I don’t collect much traditional jazz. For one thing, the unknown label intrigued me. Plus, ‘Papa’ French was the father of New Orleans drummer Bob French, and bassist and exceptional vocalist, George. Furthermore, B-side vocalist Blanche Thomas had cut a record for Imperial with Dave Bartholomew in the 1950s, and sang in his band for a while back then. So the record has connections.

When I bought it, I didn’t know the release date; but I’ve narrowed it down. My first clue came from the matrix numbers on it, 133-4009 and 4010, which relate it to Cosimo Matassa, who developed his own unique two-part coding system for the records he was involved in recording and/or issuing. It’s now known as the Cosimo Code through the ongoing work of John Broven, Red Kelly and other expert researchers in the field. The first part of the number was assigned to a particular client label. In this case, 133 turns out to have been a catch-all used for a large number of smaller labels. The second part is a sequential number assigned to each song recorded between 1960 and the early 1970s. While 4009 and 4010 on this record fall in the range of the year 1969, according to the Cosimo Code website, neither side is currently listed there. So, I’ll be updating them. As far as I know, this was the only release on the Capricorn label out of New Orleans, which had no ties to Phil Walden’s label of the same name that was starting up over in Georgia around this time.

I’ve found just one other reference to this single, in an article written in 2003 by Per Oldaeus for the Jazz Archivist, a newsletter of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University in New Orleans. In his fine overview of the career of Blanche Thomas, he mentions the record and dates it as “from the early 1970s”; but 1969 makes more sense, with Cosimo involved in the recording. The session may have been done at his newly opened Jazz City Studio which was fronted by his assistant engineer, Skip Godwin, as Cos’ humble recording and distribution empire had all come crashing down the previous year after his run-in with the IRS, taking out almost all of the local labels that relied on his services. In the wake of that, this single didn’t have a chance of finding its audience.

As the single label states, that’s ‘Papa’ French himself doing the top side vocal. He took over leadership of the Tuxedo Jazz Band in 1958, following the death of the famed Papa Celestin, who founded the group in 1910. The lyrics are rather boilerplate Board of Tourism material; and his singing no more than serviceable. But the track is upbeat and fun to hear with the band blowing in the full-tilt traditional style of the early jazz that began in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century. To this day, it’s what many people identify as New Orleans jazz, or Dixieland. Oldaeus lists the lineup of the band at the time of this recording as French/banjo, Frank Fields/bass, Louis Barbarin/drums, Jeanette Kimball/piano, Jack Willis/trumpet, ‘Cornbread’ Thomas/clarinet, and Homer Eugene/trombone.

On the other side, Blanche Thomas delivered the quirky lyrics to “Bald Headed Beulah” in her distinctive lower register. If you like her on this novelty tune, I recommend “You Ain’t So Such A Much”, the overlooked R&B rocker she cut some 15 years earlier for Imperial, which Bartholomew produced to put her in the Big Mama Thornton bag.


“The Second Line, Part 2” (Bill Synegal [sic]-H. Hines)
James Rivers, J.B.’s 136, 1978

Back in 2011, I featured the original version of this tune, done by Bill Sinigal and the Skyliners for Cosimo’s White Cliff’s label, and noted that James Rivers played sax on the session and was a regular member of the band at the time. As also stated there, Sinigal put the song together using elements from at least two earlier works. The attention grabbing intro riff had been used by trumpeter Dave Bartholomew on his 1950s recording of “Good Jax Boogie”, but was borrowed from the much earlier jazz number, “Whoopin’ Blues” The main body of the song was based on another classic jazz nugget, “Joe Avery’s Blues”, part of the standard street-parading brass band repertoire,

None of the songs, including Sinigal’s, were directly intended to be Mardi Gras music; but his caught on with the brass bands of the day and with Carnival revelers to become a standard of its own. After the shutdown of Cosimo’s operations put and end to the availability of the record in the late 1960s, producer and label owner Senator Jones, paid saxman Alvin Thomas to put a session together and re-cut it. The result was issued on Jones’ J.B.’s label in 1974. That version of “The Second Line” with the players called Stop , Inc. is still heard on Carnival playlists to this day.

By 1978, when Rivers recorded his own take on the tune for J.B.’s at Sea-Saint Studios, the song was well-known and played by all sorts of bands all over town. What he brought to the party was consummate horn blowing skill, an amalgam of his traditional and contemporary jazz and R&B influences and experience. I picked Part 2, because ¾ of it is just Rivers' energetic inventive riffing over the changes. A celebratory workout!

For more on his background, refer to my 2006 post on another of Rivers’ fine R&B/jazz fusion records for the label.


“Big Chief” (Gaines - Quezergue)
The Neville Brothers, from the Black Top LP, Neville-ization, 1984

Professor Longhair first recorded this tune, written by Earl King (under his mother’s maiden name), who also sang it, and produced/arranged by Wardell Quezergue, for the Watch label (#1900) in 1964. Since then, it has become another standard of the Carnival canon, covered by numerous artists from solo pianists to brass bands and other funksters. Longhair’s definitively intricate keyboard fingerings, extremely difficult to reproduce, make his version unbeatable; but since my radio days I’ve loved to feature other takes on the tune.

This version by the Neville Brothers comes from their first live LP, Neville-ization, on the hometown Black Top label. It was recorded at Tipitina’s on September 24, 1982 and released in 1984. Since forming the group in 1978, the Neville family had released two prior studio albums for major labels with different approaches; but neither were successful at breaking the band nationally. The live LP dispensed with that notion and simply aimed to please their strong fan base both local and developed around the country through touring. It is a fine documentation of what their live shows were like during the period, with their signature sound evident but still in its formative stages.

The core of the band, of course were the brothers, Art on keyboards and vocals, Aaron on vocals and percussion, Cyril on congas and vocals, and Charles on sax and percussion, with Aaron’s son, Ivan, also on keyboards and vocals. Backing them were drummer ‘Mean’ Willie Green, bassist Darryl Johnson, and Brian Stolz on guitar. The group had recently undergone a significant personnel shake-up that brought in Green, Johnson and Stolz to replace the previous rhythm section, a/k/a Blackmale, which included Gerald ‘Professor Shorthair’ Tillman.

Around 1981, Tillman formed the Uptown Allstars with several other members of Blackmale, plus, Ivan Neville, Willie Green, bassist/vocalist Nick Daniels. and another vocalist, Reggie Cummings.That band performed locally when the Neville Brothers weren’t gigging. But, in 1983, Ivan left both groups to go to Los Angeles to record with the band Rufus on their album, Seal In Red, and decided to stay there and pursue his career. For more on Tillman and that period, refer to the post I did last year on him.

Cyril handled the lead vocal on this track. His fervent singing has always been my favorite method of delivery for this song’s Mardi Gras Indian-inspired lyrics, through all his years with the family band. He also did a killer funk version with the Uptown Allstars (which he took over following Tillamn’s death in 1986), on their CD, The Fire This Time.


“[Big Chief Like Plenty Of] Fire Water” (Wild Magnolias - Wilson Turbinton)
Wild Magnolias, Treehouse 801B, 1975

It’s been many moons since I featured the 45 version of “Fire Water” by the Wild Magnolias with instrumental backing from Wilson ‘Willie Tee’ Turbinton and the Gaturs. The sessions were recorded at Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA for the second of the group’s LPs, They Call Us Wild, produced by Philippe Rault for the French Barclay label in 1975. Due to the inadequate sales of their first, The Wild Magnolias, produced by Rault and issued by Polydor in the US the previous year, They Call Us Wild was released only in Europe. So Rault and Quint ‘ Cosmic Q’ Davis conspired to put out a single from it on the one-off Treehouse label for New Orleans consumption.

Back in 1970, these groups participated in a spontaneous jam during a music festival Davis put on at Tulane University where he was a student; and hearing it switched on the proverbial lightbulb in his head. From that followed his historic production of the first known collaboration between a Mardi Gras Indian gang and funk musicians, a recording which became the Wild Magnolias’ debut single, the two-part “Handa Wanda”, on the Cresent label, with Tee, bassist George French, and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste backing the definitely wild sounding vocals and percussion.

None of the later album tracks ever quite matched that fire, but some came close; and all were heavily atmospheric, funky and fresh. Big Chief Bo Dollis’ vocal on “Fire Water” was one of his more subdued performances; but the track rumbles with tons of low end jungle funk while projecting a stutter-stepping street-strut groove perfect for heading out on the holiday. Hey la hey!

I’ll get to the A-side, “New Suit”, in the next round. Here’s hoping at least a few of these numbers will aid and abet your revelry.

January 15, 2014


This Friday from 10:00 PM to midnight Central US time, I will once again be on da radio - this time guesting with Alski, host of The Rhythm Room on the mighty mighty WWOZ in New Orleans. I'll be spinning 45s from the HOTG archives, of course, plus maybe an album cut or two somewhere in the mix.

If you want to catch it and you're not in Nola, 'OZ webcasts its programming in real time, so consult your world clocks and hit their site then [if you haven't already done so, I highly recommend you check out the station anytime]. Otherwise, a podcast of the show should be available for later listening.

I appreciate the invitation from Alski to join in the fun and look forward to movin' and groovin' on the public airwaves again.

January 04, 2014


Hey, what happened to December? Suddenly its the new year. Life is a constant stream of surprises for the short-term memory deficient geezer. I seem to recall working on a new, Xmas song, “Santa’s Just A Front For the NSA” (maybe that was a nightmare), participating in some seasonal festivities, and watching the Saints lose games played outside in any place where the temperature was under 40 degrees  Now, all is forgiven. They went to their playoff game in Philadelphia the day after a blizzard and won (anything is possible!). With Carnival season coming up fast there will soon be more reason to celebrate.

Oh, yeah, I’ve also been readying my next Big Q post to drop sometime between a few weeks from now and eternity. Place your bets. It will have more geeky revelations, so you’ll surely want to clear your schedules once it appears. But, before that, I’ve got some lagniappe leftovers that I intended to put up last month to close out 2013, before it slipped away.

In 2012, I did a feature on three organ-playing New Orleans pianists, then followed-up with another post on one of them, Ray Johnson, doing some cool, funky piano instrumentals. Sad to say, he passed away last March; so I wanted to put up few cuts that I mentioned in the earlier pieces.

James Booker was another one of those organists; and I’ve been meaning to get to several of his lesser known singles as a piano sideman and soloist. Several people over the past few years [the uptake is slow here at HOTG] have requested more from Booker. Not that I really take requests; but, if you wait long enough I’ll deliver in spite of myself.

Finally, seeing as last month was the anniversary of Booker’s birth, I thought I’d put up some overlooked sides by another December-born New Orleans icon, Professor Longhair. So, let’s dig in.

Professor Longhair On ebb

Utterly original pianist, vocalist, songwriter, former tap dancer and inveterate petty gambler, Henry Roeland ’Roy’ Byrd, a/k/a Professor Longhair, recorded for and had releases on Star Talent (in 1949, though the two singles issued were withdrawn when sanctioned by the musicians’ union), Mercury (also in 1949), Atlantic (in 1949 and 1953), Federal 1951, and Wasco (1952), prior to being recruited for the California-based ebb label in 1957.

ebb was owned by Leonora ‘Lee’ Rupe, who had recently divorced Art Rupe, head of highly successful Specialty Records, and decided to go into the independent record business herself, maybe to spite the ex and/or squander her settlement, who knows. She started the company in 1957 with Jesse Jones; and it lasted until 1959, issuing around 60 singles, only one of which was a significant hit, “Buzz Buzz Buzz” by the Hollywood Flames. For reasons obscure, ebb chose as one of their early artists Professor Longhair, whose recording career was far from hot at the time. He had one R&B hit for Mercury in 1950 and was coming off a hiatus following a stroke that had affected his playing for several years.

Call it a gutsy or kind of crazy move on ebb’s part; but Fess was again capable of performing and probably required minimal compensation. So, they arranged for him to record at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in the French Quarter on Governor Nicholls Street, where he cut enough original tunes for three singles. Backing him were some of the top session players in the city, all regulars at the studio: Charles ‘Hungry’ Williams on drums, bassist Frank Fields, Justin Adams on guitar, and the world famous sax attack of Lee Allen on tenor and Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler on baritone.

The first Professor Longhair 45 on ebb, “No Buts - No Maybes”/”Cry Pretty Baby” was only the label’s second issue; and promisingly it proved popular around town.

No Buts - No Maybes” (R. Byrd)
Professor Longhair, ebb 101, 1957

Fess used the same intro on this song that he used on his first and only hit, “Bald Head” (Mercury 8175), from seven years earlier, either for good luck or lack of something better. Both songs are similar, in that they are on the simpler pop side of his songwriting and playing, without the bluesy latin funk groove and complex keyboard running that define his style.

It’s easy to understand why local jukebox and radio listeners went for the upbeat “No Buts - No Maybes”. It was eminently danceable and plain head-bobbin’ fun to hear. The B-side ballad, “Cry Pretty Baby”, while decently done, put Fess more in the crooner mode, which was not his strong suit. Contrary to the hometown appeal of the top side, it didn’t fare well too far beyond the city limits; but ebb was encouraged enough to try another.

“Look What You’re Doin’ To Me (OOOH-Wee, Baby)” (R. Byrd)
Professor Longhair, ebb 106, 1957

On this A-side, you have to listen closely to hear just snatches of what Fess was doing on the piano, because it was mixed so low on the original master; but it’s still evident that he was back on his game radiatin’ the 88s. His wickedly intricate playing stands out better when Lee Allen takes his fine solo turn on this surging rock ‘n’ roll track, cut with many of the musicians who helped Little Richard make music history at the studio the previous year. Smokin’. Overlooked at the time and to this day, it’s one of Byrd’s classic sides, but it seems he rarely if ever included it in his performance repertoire.

“Misery”, the flip side, was nothing more than a new set of lyrics applied to the music of “Tipitina”, which had been another hit for him on Atlantic in 1954, at least around New Orleans and environs, and became his signature tune. He would likely have had better luck just re-cutting the original.

Speaking of redoing hits, Fess’ final ebb single featured a new version of “Bald Head”, which had been his first and only national success, with an altered title.

“Looka, No Hair” (R. Byrd)
Professor Longhair, ebb 121, 1957

Running with the same intro as on the Mercury take [also used on “No Buts - No Maybes”, as noted above], Fess took “Looka” a bit slower, which unfortunately somewhat deflated its bounce. Other than that and the title, there were a couple of other changes to the song. With no backing vocals singing “bald head” in the chorus (the only place in the song those words ever appeared), the horns took over the melodic responses. Also, after the second chorus in “Looka”, Fess added a short segment that sounds kind of like part of “No Buts”, before the final chorus closes things out right at the two minute mark. Slip-up or improvisation?

Actually, Fess’ first version of the song was called “She Ain’t Got No Hair”, one of the Star Talent sides he recorded in a Treme bar in 1949 that were pulled after the union cracked down. So, technically, the Mercury hit was a remake, too. Around 1963, he redid the tune, titled “Bald Head” once again, on a single (#6338) for the Watch label with Wardell Quezergue doing the arrangement. I’d say it beats out this ebb take in terms of quality.

Meanwhile, the more interesting offering lies on the other side.

“Baby Let Me Hold You Hand” (R. Byrd)

What we have here is an adaptation by Fess of the structure and melody of a much earlier blues song, popularized on record in 1938 by Blind Boy Fuller as “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” [another later variant was “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”]. I don’t know for sure when Fess came up with this, but assume that it was something he had played on gigs. If so, I trust he did it closer to Fuller’s version in bars, since these lyrics seem sanitized for possible airplay.

When nothing happened for this single either, Ms Rupe and her label moved on to other artists. Starting in 1958 Fess recorded for Ron Records, including “Go To The Mardi Gras”, his perennial Carnival favorite, which was a remake of “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”, previously done for both Star Talent and Atlantic. Scattered singles followed on Rip and Watch, but his career fell apart during the 1960s and was not revived until Quint Davis and Allison Kaslow rediscovered and rehabilitated him, starting with his appearance at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Ray Johnson on Mercury, Goad, and More

Ray Johnson recorded for Mercury a few years after Fess, but cut his sides in Los Angeles where he had relocated with is brother Plas, famed jazz saxophonist and session stalwart. For some more background on Ray, check out my previous posts:

Some Locally Grown Organics
More of Professor Ray’s Funk Ways

This segment is a follow-up or sorts to those. As I noted at the time, I had just scored a copy of Ray’s second Mercury single, but it turned out to have a warp that my turntable tonearm could not track. A while back, I decided to try the old trick (only recommended for short durations) of putting a coin on top of the stylus to hold it in in the groove. I don’t know why I hadn’t tried it the first time, but it worked well enough for me to get a digital transfer of the top side, which you’ll hear. If it’s too noisy for you, you can still hear the track via YouTube, too.

“Boogie The Blues” (Ray Johnson)
Ray Johnson, Mercury 70231, 1953

Ray did his Mercury sessions with Plas leading the horn section; but, on this A-side from the second single, it was really his turn to shine on the solo, displaying a piano attack heavy on the Professor Longhair influence which extended to the song’s calypso boogie groove, as well. On the other hand, Ray’s smooth vocal style owed far more to Charles Brown and maybe Nat Cole than to Fess’ raw, let-it-rip delivery. So the track had a split-personality of West Coast and New Orleans sounds. Not so the other side, “Smilin’ Blues”, which was all West Coast downtempo cool.

Ray only had two releases on Mercury. The earlier one, “House Of Blues”/”I’ll Never Let You Go” (#70203), featured a slow blues in the Charles Brown mode coupled with a jump number. Neither record seems to have done particularly well, as he was not asked to make any more.

Next is a track that came before the brothers’ move out West, when they were still playing around New Orleans in their own hot group, the Johnson Brothers Combo. They recorded a number of tracks for the Deluxe/Regal labels in 1949, resulting in four issued singles, “Our Boogie”/”Worried All The Time” (DeLuxe 3227) as the Johnson Brothers Trio, “”No Good Man Of Mine”/”Jump and Shout” (DeLuxe 3303) and “Blues At First Sight”/”Spare Time Papa” (#3305), both featuring vocalist Erline Harris, plus “Jump and Shout” reissued on Regal 3233 with “I Never Miss My Baby” credited to Harris and the Johnson Brothers Combo.

At least one track featuring Ray on lead vocal did not come out at the time, and was finally compiled in 1986 on the Jump ‘n Shout LP with some of the group’s single sides and cuts by other Deluxe/Regal artists recorded in New Orleans around the same time.

“Mellow Woman Blues”

While the album does not identify him, Ray definitely was the singer on this track, and also played piano in a supporting role, with Plas and the great, well-arranged horn section grabbing the instrumental attention. Ray’s early assimilation of West Coast R&B is evident and makes his later decision to seek his fortune there quite understandable - though you have to wonder what would have happened if he had stuck around to work with Dave Bartholomew and the fine studio cats at home.

I mentioned in my September, 2012 post on Ray that I had discovered a limited edition, self-produced LP, The Birth Of A Scene, his trio made around the mid-1960s. As far as I know, it was his only album on vinyl. He also released a CD on his own in 2000.

The title of the record refers to the long-running weekly gig Ray and this group had at a hotel lounge, the Cellar Club, in Long Beach, CA. Probably only sold at his gigs, it was a sampler of the material the band played at the club, mostly jazz covers tunes, but with two originals, “The Cellar Waltz”, and this self-descriptive tune.

“The Funk Story”
from The Birth Of A Scene, Goad 1001, 196?

If you heard and/or are familiar with the tunes I featured in that previous piece on Ray’s ultra hip piano 45s on the Loma and In-Arts labels later in the decade, you can certainly see how his approach on this cut presaged what he did on “Sherry’s Party” and “Funky Way”. Rather than dazzling technique, Ray’s focus here is his rhythmic attack, working off and around the beat - after all, it’s “The Funk Story”. Recall that these were the days when funk was not common parlance, except in the realm of musicians in the know. Ray certainly had been exposed to and absorbed his share of the organic funk of New Orleans before he left.

James Booker’s Pianistics on Duke, Date and Jamil

For more background on James Carroll Booker, III’s association with Don Robey’s Peacock and Duke labels, refer back to that July 22, 2012 post. As discussed there, not only did he do some classic organ instrumentals for Peacock in the early 1960s, he also worked as an occasional sideman at the Houston studio. There he played on Memphis drummer Earl Forest’s final two singles for the label - organ on three of the tracks, and piano for the second B-side.

“The Crown” (Forest-Malone)
Earl Forest, Duke 363, 1962

This rocking little instrumental sounds to me like a break song that a band would play at the end of a set with some improvised solos before the leader would come on mike to say they were taking a “pause for the cause”. Though the horns were prominent on the raucous intro and first quarter of the song, the rest of the soloing is pretty much Booker let loose on piano. I’ve no doubt it’s him, considering the energetic attack, intricate runs and rhythmic comping. There is one short organ break along the way, but it is so perfunctory that I think there was someone else playing it, rather than Booker having overdubbed it.

The track was certainly just intended to be filler for the back side of the 45 and was probably done in one take with not much attention paid to instrument levels, etc. Nobody bothered to figure out an ending, either, or even bothered to fade it out. Still, I love this sloppy track for its spontaneous energy. Even though the piano was not quite loud enough, the take still offers an excellent window into Booker’s playing.

Another record with Booker in a supporting role that I’ve mentioned before but haven’t featured is one that not many people seem to know he was on. It’s from a session he did with the Coasters in NYC on November 18, 1966.

Earlier that year, partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller “sold” Redbird Records and its affiliated labels, which they had started in 1964, to business partner George Goldner for $1.00, supposedly because Goldner had borrowed too much money from the Mafia, who were calling in the debt. Preferring the creative side of record making to such business challenges, they returned to what they did best, working as an independent production and songwriting team. One of their first projects was for the Coasters, the singing group they had worked with extensively in the 1950s and early 1960s for Atlantic’s Atco label, writing and producing loads of hit records. For their reunion, the team ran several sessions on the group in New York City over the course of a year that resulted in three singles released on the Date label, a division of Columbia Records.

According to Claus Rohnisch’s thorough, informative The Coasters - Session Discography, songs on the group’s first Date single (#1552) were cut at A&R Studios with Booker on keyboards, Melvin Lastie and Ernie Royal on trumpets, trombonist Benny Powell, Thomas Palmer on guitar, bassist Jesse ‘Preacher’ Fairman, George Devens on vibes or percussion, and drummer Charles ‘Honeyman’ Otis.

“Soul Pad” (J. Leiber - M. Stoller)
The Coasters, Date 1552, 1967

Booker was in good company, as at least three of the players, Lastie, Powell, and Otis, were top notch New Orleans cats. As a matter of fact, he probably got the date on Date through Lastie, who was a regular on the NYC scene, working on sessions for King Curtis among other notables.

On the oh so lyrically quirky “Soul Pad”, hiply arranged by Mike Stoller, Booker played piano, organ, and maybe even an electric piano. His frequently clever contributions were mixed fairly low; but at the end he had a chance for some frantic, finger-flying fun. Even beyond his playing, Booker was a perfect fit for the outre vibe of this hilarious song, being a character right out of some 60s psychedelic soul pad himself [I should know, I hung out in plenty of ‘em!]. I loved the song before I knew he was on it, and finding out made it sweeter.

“Down Home Girl”
(J. Leiber - A. Butler)

In 1964, Leiber and Stoller produced the original version of this song with Alvin Robinson (a/k/a ‘Shine’) on lead vocal for their new Red Bird label. New Orleans songwriter, music promoter and bandleader Joe Jones was in New York managing artists and had gotten Robinson signed to Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger Records which scored a minor hit with his version of “Something You Got”. The producers soon set up Red Bird and signed another Jones act from back home, the Dixie Cups, keeping Shine on board to cut the gritty and somewhat sexually suggestive “Down Home Girl”, which had a strutting arrangement by Jones himself; but to everyone’s surprise, it was not a hit. The next year, the Rolling Stones faithfully covered the song on their Rolling Stones #2 LP in England and earned it a lot more attention.

I bring this up because Robinson’s recording of the song had obvious New Orleans connections and references, but the Coasters’ version was altered with almost completely different verses. While the first verse mirrors the original, the remainder are rewrites, removing talk about the perceived hotness of the girl in questions, the Catholic church, and, indeed, New Orleans. What’s up with dat? I have no idea. Maybe the producers/writers wanted to give the Coasters less, um, specific lyrics in hopes of getting more airplay.

Stoller’s arrangement took the groove at a slower pace. Where the original had a whiff of bump and grind strip-club feel to go with the thrust of the lyrics, the Coasters track had a less edgy rhythm suitable for the toned-down wording. It was a different approach,, for sure. Booker didn’t have much to do on the track. Playing what sounds like a tack piano, he came in on the second verse doing a repeating figure pretty much for the rest of the tune, except for some flourishes on the turnarounds. Instead, the horns and their well-written charts are what stand out musically. But ultimately the group vocals carried the day, making this track memorable, if not sellable.

Finally, I bring you certainly the rarest record of the lot [beating out even the Ray Johnson LP], recorded, as the label indicates, at Virtue Studios, in Philadelphia, PA. I failed to dig up any further revealing facts about it. Anybody?

“Dan’s Dilemma”
James Carroll Booker, ‘The Black Liberace’, Jamil Records 9172-D

“On The Sunny Side of the Street”

One thing I do know is that “Dan’s Dilemma” is actually Booker’s song, “Pop’s Dilemma”, but I have no idea why he retitled it, unless he somehow knew that doing so would cause me to do mental contortions years later. I’m going to discount that theory….for now.

If I had to guess, which is actually what I have to do, I’d say that this was Booker circa mid- to late 1970s. Both of these songs appeared on his famed 1976 LP for Island Records, Junco Partner and were part of his live repertoire. The Jamil takes are every bit as well-played as those tracks, but are shorter versions and not as well-recorded..[Update: A kind but anonymous commenter has found that JCB3 did an extended stint at a coctail lounge in a suburb of Philadelphia around 1972. See the comments to this post for sources. Why and how he got the gig are unknown, but the Musical Gumbo book cited suggests that he was laying low while trying to get past his long-term addiction to opiates. That would explain why and when he was in the area and provide the opportunity to record at Virtue. Appreciate the tip!]

I can imagine several scenarios for the making of this record. Someone might have paid Booker needed quick cash to cut these tracks when he was in Philly. Or, since it shows a more full (but lacking the "III") version of his name plus the promotional appellation 'The Black Liberace', he may have paid to have a box of records made to use to get gigs (or sell at gigs, as anon points out) when he was out on one of his off-the-radar tours. I can’t find any references to Jamil Records as a going concern; so I figure it was a one-off label set up for that short run of the 45s. Whatever the case, there don’t seem to be many around. The one I bought a few years ago (cheap!) was the first I’d seen. There was one auctioned off on Ebay, autographed (and not at all cheap!), last summer. Let me hear, if you know more.

Well, that’s all for now. Like I said, I’ll be back in a vague amount of time with more, some sort of Mardi Gras music for sure, plus the promised next Big Q series segment. So, plan a return visit, if the spirit moves you. Happy 2014!