Bobby Marchan in drag confers with Solomon Burke onstage
On its Sept. 15 kickoff, attendees at the Ponderosa Stomp‘s music conference learned about R&B legend, notorious transvestite, and pioneer rap promoter Bobby Marchan – in a panel led by Alison Fensterstock and illuminated by Marchan’s Manicure Records partner Henry “Palomino” Alexander; Q93 DJ Wild Wayne; and singer Gerri Hall of Huey “Piano” Smith’s Clowns. But before Marchan shared his consummate business acumen decades later with the rappers who founded Cash Money Records as well as chitlin-circuit stars like Sir Charles Jones and Mel Waiters, he made an impression as lead Clown vocalist, an emcee at New Orleans’ Dew Drop Inn and Club Tijuana, and later scored a #1 smash by covering the Big Jay McNeely hit “There Is Something on Your Mind” for Bobby Robinson’s Fire label. Be sure to listen to Marchan’s spoken interlude at minute 2:00 – pure tongue-lashing, sassy flamboyance infused with rap-like cadences.
Friday, Sept. 16, Stomp conference attendees will get a chance to get up close and personal with the man whose version of “There Something on Your Mind” Marchan made his own: Big Jay McNeely. From 2:45 to 3:35, Jason Hanley of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will interview McNeely. For more conference info, click here. Catch McNeely playing the Stomp on Saturday night. Full schedule is here.
“The King of the Sax Honkers,” Big Jay McNeely first topped the Billboard R&B chart in 1949 with “The Deacon’s Hop” on the Savoy label before charting once again in 1959 with the blues-drenched ballad “There Is Something on Your Mind.” Infusing his style with a frantic preacher’s intensity that paved the way toward rock ‘n’ roll, the rabble-rousing McNeely – seen at left playing on his back – became known for his outrageously flamboyant stage antics as much for his trailblazingly torrential sax blowing, recording for many labels including Federal, Vee-Jay, Imperial, Exclusive, Aladdin, and Warner Bros. McNeely played at the inaugural Stomp 10 years ago, and we are pleased to have this legendary rock ‘n’ roll madman returning this Saturday night. Don’t miss it!
Born Eddie Jones, Guitar Slim created one of the most seminal blues classics of all time in “The Things I Used to Do.” This is the B-side of that great record, both of whose sides feature Ray Charles on piano. A master showman who dyed his hair to match his suits and shoes, Guitar Slim was highly influential during the 1950s, and his colorful legacy, which touched musicians from Earl King to Frank Zappa, is well-worth another look. Come see WWOZ DJ and documetarian David Kunian lead a panel today discussing Slim’s career, with his peers and bandmates Gerri Hall, Irving Banister, and Lawrence Cotton. It runs 2:45 – 3:45 p.m. at the Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, 700 Tchoupitoulas St. For more info on the conference, click here.
The whole New Orleans R&B record scene was centred around the recording studios of Cosimo Matassa. Apart from isolated sessions in radio stations or on “field” locations, almost every R&B record made in New Orleans from the 1940s until the late 1960s was cut in his studios. Cosimo is mystified when asked why others did not try to establish another studio. “Beats the hell out of me, I don’t know,” he said. “It could be that New Orleans is just like a big small town.”
On Dec. 10, 1999, on the 50th anniversary of the recording of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man,” Matassa, Bartholomew, and Domino reunited for a ceremony at 838 N. Rampart St. to designate the site a historic landmark. The event also drew Toussaint, Ford, Ernie K-Doe, and other musicians who recorded there.
Below, watch Bartholomew (who was taught by Louis Armstrong’s trumpet teacher, Peter Davis) blow some notes along with Porgy Jones before giving a shout-out to Matassa and the many legends who made their musical bones at the hit incubator, during a ceremony in September 2010 sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which designated the site a historic Rock and Roll Landmark:
Here’s Eddie Floyd – one of the legendary Memphis label Stax’s most successful artists (as both a singer and songwriter) – doing his hit “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).” But with a career that predates his Stax days, Floyd also served in the Detroit vocal group Falcons, alongside Sir Mack Rice (also performing at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp) and Wilson Pickett. The group scored hits with “You’re So Fine” and “I Found a Love.” Signing with Stax in 1965, Floyd helped write “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)” for Pickett. Indeed, almost every Stax artist recorded Floyd’s tunes, often co-written with Steve Cropper or Booker T. Jones, including Sam & Dave (“You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me”), Rufus Thomas (“The Breakdown”), Otis Redding (“I Love You More Than Words Can Say”), and Johnnie Taylor’s “Just the One (I’ve Been Looking For).” Floyd scored his own successes as a solo artist with “Knock on Wood” and “Big Bird,” (which he reportedly wrote in a London airport while waiting for a plane back to the United States for Redding’s funeral), among others.
As some Louisiana lagniappe, here’s Alex Chilton, a fellow son of Memphis and a frequent sideman at the Stomp, offering up his version of the same song, backed by Teenage Fanclub.
Wardell Quezergue chats with Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack at the Ponderosa Stomp's "Unsung Heroes" exhibit at the Louisiana Cabildo.
The legendary New Orleans arranger and bandleader Wardell Quezergue died at age 81 today at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, La. Below is his biography from the Ponderosa Stomp, which he graced so often with his genius presence:
If the greatest measure of a man’s success is a view of what the world might have been like without him, Wardell Quezergue’s presence on God’s Green Earth has to be counted as one of the music world’s greatest blessings. Like his colleagues Dave Bartholomew and Allen Toussaint, Quezergue single-handedly shaped the sound of New Orleans; his arrangements and productions of songs like Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief,” Robert Parker’s “Barefootin,’” Willie Tee’s “Teasin’ You” and the Dixie Cups’ “Ike Iko” define the very essence not only of a city’s music, but its very culture.
Unlike Bartholomew and Toussaint, Quezergue never strove for a singular sound: in 1961 he helmed the Earl King Imperial sessions that produced raw gems like “Trick Bag” and “Always A First Time,” songs that could only have developed in a city where spectacularly attired Mardi Gras Indians and renegade brass bands rule the back streets. Ten years later, his arrangements of King Floyd’s “Groove Me” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” split the difference between Memphis and New Orleans and put the sound of those cities’ crossroads—Jackson, Mississippi—on the map. Now considered as essential a stripe of southern soul as Muscle Shoals, Memphis or New Orleans, the Jackson sound existed previously in pieces, but it took the sweeping hand of “the Creole Beethoven” (as Toussaint so memorably refers Quezergue) to drive it into the charts. The fact that both hits were recorded on the same day attests to Wardell’s legendary work ethic, as well as the man’s unquestionable musical genius.
Developing his arranging style in the service using a tuning fork, Quezergue cut his teeth with Dave Bartholomew before forming the Royal Dukes Of Rhythm and Wardell and the Sultans in the late ‘50s. Waxing sides such as “The Original Popeye” (as well as producing the aforementioned Earl King sides) for Imperial, when the company divested from New Orleans, Quezergue had already made his mark with the Watch, Rip and Frisco imprints, with incredible local hits like Danny White’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and the Rouzan Sisters’ “Men of War.” In 1964 he partnered with Clinton Scott and Ulis Gaines to form Nola Records.
Hitting immediately with Robert Parker’s “Barefootin,’” under Quezergue’s watchful stewardship Nola amassed a staggering catalog of soul and R&B—from the obscure Charles “Soul” Brown to the famed Willie Tee—before its untimely demise in 1968. Along with subsidiaries like Bonatemp, Whurley-Burley and Hot Line, Quezergue kept himself busy with productions for smaller labels like A.B.S., Shagg and Mode, always using the same modus operandi: the song itself came first.
“We created songs from scratch,” Quezergue later recalled of his ‘60s apex. “The songs were really what would dictate the sound.”
In this way he differed from Bartholomew and Toussaint, whose styles often framed a song’s success. But it was this free-wheeling approach that would serve him well in Jackson during the coming decade. After the double-barrelled success of “Groove Me” and “Mr. Big Stuff,” the big boys came calling, and an avalanche of Quezergue productions surfaced on labels like Chimneyville, Atlantic and Cotillion: aside from powerful cuts by Irma Thomas, Tami Lynn, Johnny Adams and the Unemployed (a funk group headed up by Quezergue’s sons!) Wardell soon reached back to New Orleans to form his own imprints, Pelican and Movin,’ issuing such funky masterpieces as Curtis Johnson’s “Sho ‘Nuff The Real Thing” and Chuck Simmons’ “Lay It On Me.”
Despite Malaco Studio’s proven track record with Floyd and Knight, Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue,” christened with a beautiful arrangement courtesy of Wardell, was too far of a stretch for Atlantic. Faced with bankruptcy, Malaco released it themselves in 1975 and Quezergue racked up one of his biggest successes: the song hit number three on the pop charts and redefined the southern soul sound just as disco was beginning to steamroll it.
A quiet giant, Quezergue continues to work in New Orleans, content to do what he’s always done: unassumingly make music history. For more on Quezergue, read here.
South Louisiana is still climbing out of this stormy weather from Tropical Storm Lee (now a depression whose vestiges are churning northeastward). Today’s Song of the Day features Ponderosa Stomp performer Bobby Rush joining two fellow legends – Bobby “Blue” Bland and Johnny Taylor – on “Stormy Monday” in a tribute to Bland. Check out Rush’s blazing harmonica blast near the end of the video! Bland won’t be joining the Stomp this year, and Taylor has passed on, but Bobby Rush will be interviewed at the Ponderosa Stomp conference and also will perform at the concert. Don’t miss his chitlin’ shtick! A Louisiana native now living in Mississippi, Rush will be sitting down with blues authority Scott Barretta in a presentation titled “Chicken Heads and Bow-Legged Women” from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, as part of the Stomp’s conference showcase. As king of the chitlin’ circuit with his ribald vocals, unforgettable showmanship, bluesy guitar and harmonica, and voluptuous female dancers, Rush has been a consummate entertainer for more than 50 years with 20+ albums to his credit – and he shows no sign of stopping, whether he’s playing Carnegie Hall or a juke joint on a dusty old road off Highway 61 in the Mississippi Delta.
With Tropical Storm Lee having battered the central Gulf Coast, specifically south Louisiana, for all of Labor Day weekend, today’s Song of the Day continues the rain theme, with three versions of “Raining in My Heart” by Excello-related artists (or their sidemen) who will be appearing at this month’s 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp. First up, the Excello swamp bluesman who created the anthem, Slim Harpo. Though Harpo is now jamming in that great jukejoint in the sky, Harpo’s primary guitar players — James Johnson and Rudy Richard — are both scheduled to appear at the Stomp’s Excello reunion this year. According to musicologist John Broven in his book “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous”:
“Rainin’ in My Heart” changed everything for Slim. For a start, The Cash Box warmed to the record: “Slow moaning, earthy blues proves the artist’s meat as he takes the tune for a tuneful ride. A real weeper.” … The mesmerizing “Rainin’ in My Heart” more than justified the reviewer’s optimism. After climbing the R&B charts the record crossed over to the popular ratings and reached No. 34 on the Billboard 100 in the summer of 1961.
Warren Storm, left, with fellow swamp-pop legends, the siblings Van Broussard and Grace Broussard
Next up, a version by brother Warren Storm, who logged many an hour in Jay Miller’s legendary Crowley recording studio playing drums on records by Lazy Lester and other artists with the likes of fellow hired guns: pianists Carol Fran (appearing at the Stomp this year) and Katie Webster; bassist Bobby McBride; guitarists Guitar Gable, Al Foreman, and Pee Wee Trahan; and fiddler/bassist Rufus Thibodeaux, among others. Here is Storm’s own version of “Rainin’ in My Heart”:
And finally, here is a live 1989 version of “Rainin’ in My Heart” by Ponderosa Stomp inspiration Lazy Lester, looking as resplendent as ever in a red Dixie beer baseball cap, now a collector’s item in the wake of the landmark Tulane Avenue brewery’s decimation by Hurricane Katrina and looters galore. We still have a tear in our beer over Dixie’s relocation above the Mason-Dixon line to Wisconsin, which now brews the beverage (presumably) sans its key ingredient of muddy Mississippi River water:
With a tropical weather system churning in the Gulf of Mexico and drenching south Louisiana for the weekend, what better Song of the Day than the unofficial national anthem of the state of Louisiana, “It’s Raining,” sung by national treasure Irma Thomas and written by Allen Toussaint, who produced the song for Minit and played piano. Toussaint is making his official debut at this month’s 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp, though he has been spotted in the audience at previous Stomp-related events. The Thomas-Toussaint partnership included several other major songs, such as “Ruler of My Heart,” which was later reinterpreted by Otis Redding as “Pain In My Heart.” Imperial Records acquired Minit in 1963, and a string of successful releases followed. These included “Wish Someone Would Care” (her biggest national hit), its B-side “Break-a-Way” (later covered by Tracey Ullman among others), “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” (co-written by the young Randy Newman), and “Time Is on My Side” (a song previously recorded by Kai Winding, and later by the Rolling Stones).