A truly epic second line laid rest today to one of New Orleans’ most favored sons, the legendary Allen Toussaint. Toussaint passed away on November 10th, perhaps fittingly after performing earlier in the night in Spain. I don’t know if there is any way possible to fully quantify the effect Allen Toussaint had on the music of New Orleans. In all honesty, it’s quite possible that the only other figure that even comes close to rivaling Toussaint’s influence is Louis Armstrong. If you’re a fan of New Orleans soul and funk, chances are your favorite songs have Toussaint’s fingerprints all over them, whether directly as a musician, songwriter or arranger, or just in the influence he had on virtually all of the musicians, songwriters and arrangers of the 1960s and 1970s when he was truly in the pocket and recording with essentially everyone, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K. Doe, The Meters, The Neville Bros., Betty Harris, Irma Thomas and on and on and on and on. You could have successful soul/northern soul nights just based off of tracks from Toussaint’s catalog and no one would ever tire of hearing them. The ones below are just my personal favorites.
Lee Dorsey – A Lover Was Born
Without a doubt, one of my absolute favorite songs of all-time and absolutely my single favorite thing to dance to. If you ever want to see me completely lost my shit…drop the needle on this record. Lee Dorsey, backed up by the Meters, with Allen Toussaint at the controls…it does not get any better than this right here!
Lee Dorsey & Betty Harris – Take Care Of Our Love
As big fan of Southern deep soul, there had to be one of those slow burning songs on this list. This duet between Dorsey and Betty Harris, where each pledges to remain true to the other while they are physically apart, hits me deep deep down in my heart. As with so much music out of New Orleans, much of the appeal is in the delivery of choice lines like “And don’t let no sweet talking joker, come and confuse what’s going on between you and I.”
Betty Harris – I’m Gonna Get You
One of the things I found myself appreciating at a recent Allen Toussaint tribute put on by Miles and Clifton of Funky Sole, was the great diversity of sounds in the catalog of tracks. Though Toussaint’s hands were all over many tracks in the 60s, there wasn’t a single signature sound or rhythm that is associated with the tracks. They all sound distinctive and have a special sound of their own, even as the elements they’re drawn from are so clearly recognizable as being from New Orleans. “I’m Gonna Get You” starts off as if it might be a version of Toussaint’s “Get Out My Life Woman,” (and when you compare the two, it’s possible that the songs were related, though they don’t quite seem to an answer/response kind of thing), but the use of the horns, the background vocals and Harris’ impassioned phrasing might make you forget that “Woman” even exists. Such is the power of Mr. Toussaint.
The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can, Can
This was originally recorded with Lee Dorsey, and that version is fine and dandy, but I’ve always favored the Pointer Sisters version of the “Yes We Can, Can.” Something about the mix of all those women’s vocals just gives the song and even greater sense of uplift than the original, and elevates this song above other inspirational soul songs of the period.
Lee Dorsey – Four Corners
As much as I love dancing to “A Lover Was Born” the pure insanity of “Four Corners” comes a close second. As I get older, I have a suspicion that one day someone will play these songs back-to-back and I’ll have a heart attack right there on the dance floor from the excitement. I don’t know who is ultimately responsible for that “Now give me that shaker-maker” line that Dorsey throws out just before the drum break, but I like to think that it came about as this thing was being recorded. I would have loved to have been in the studio when this song was cut, because it sounds like one of the best parties ever committed to vinyl and LORD those drums…thank you Allen Toussaint for bringing this band together and blessing us with one of the most dynamic songs of all time, in addition to all the other gifts you gave us. For this and all of those, we are so very thankful you were in our world and we’ll make sure that future generations know your name and know your songs.