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).
We’re thrilled that Chicago blues-harmonica god Billy Boy Arnold is returning to the Ponderosa Stomp this year for its 10th anniversary. And the Stomp, of course, is named after south Louisiana’s Lazy Lester of Excello fame. Both appeared at the inaugural Stomp and both are perennial performers at the annual blowout. We love ‘em both. But who’s your favorite? And which songs are you most looking forward to hearing them do at this year’s Stomp?
Ladies and gentlemen – strictly for grins – we present to you this blues-harmonica smackdown. In this corner of the Web (below), Billy Boy Arnold performs “I Wish You Would,” accompanied by fellow Stomp favorites Henry Gray on piano and Jody Williams on guitar:
The oldest still-performing bluesman, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, passed away Monday, Aug. 29, just shy of his 96th birthday, on the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and a little less than a year after gracing the Ponderosa Stomp with his historic presence. The great bluesman worked with all the legends of the genre, from Robert Johnson and Big Joe Williams to Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf. For his Stomp bio, click here. For his New York Times bio, click here.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by McCullough Funeral and Cremation Services, 851 E. 75th St., Chicago, IL, 60619. Visitation is Thursday (Sept. 1) from 6 to 9 p.m., while private services will be Friday (Sept. 2). Call (773) 488-8900 for more information or visit his Web site.
We present to you, as Song of the Day, Honeyboy Edwards performing “Wind Howlin’ Blues.”
“GG gave me his notice. He wanted to start his own group. … An artist with the talent of a GG Shinn does not need to share the money 12 ways.” – Boogie Kings bandleader Ned Theall, recounting Shinn’s exit from the group
It was 1966 when singer-trumpeter GG Shinn split from the Boogie Kings. But his legacy with Louisiana’s longest-running rock ‘n’ roll band is so strong that his spirit never really left. His short-but-indelible stint, during which time he fueled a power-packed vocal tandem with Jerry Lacroix, is still considered the group’s apex. And that’s saying something, given the cavalcade of great singers who’ve done tours of duty within the BK ranks, like Clint West, Tommy McLain, Lil’ Alfred Babino, Duane Yates, Allen Wayne, and Gregg Martinez, to name just a few. Shinn and his monstrous vocal chops make their welcome return to this year’s 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp.
GG Shinn and Jerry LaCroix, the King Brothers
In its heyday the twin Shinn-Lacroix vocal attack drew admiration even from megastars. “The Righteous Brothers really were in awe of GG and Jerry. Bill [Medley] and Bobby [Hatfield] have made many public comments about the talent of these two guys,” Theall recalled. Dubbing themselves “the King Brothers,” Shinn and Lacroix teamed up on numerous duets like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Let It Be Me.” It was their unbridled artistry and soul that lifted the Boogie Kings – as tight and musically proficient as the musicians themselves were – from mere cover band to something loftier.
As Theall added:
“The two years that we had GG and Jerry as a team molded the sound and style of the band as we totally broke away from the old sound of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. These two guys were so strong that many of our fans think that this was the ‘original’ Boogie Kings. They made such a huge impact on our success that it simply can’t be measured. … The odd thing about them is their contrasting styles. GG has this sweet, pure, smooth voice with a dramatic high register, and Jerry has a rough, get-down-and-dirty, soulful voice. But the two of them together would make the most beautiful blend of rhythm and blues music that the Boogie Kings have ever had.”
And once a Boogie King, always a Boogie King, as evidenced by Shinn’s reappearances with the group during modern-day reunion shows. But who is GG Shinn? Quite frankly, his full story has yet to be told. But Shinn was born Aug. 25, 1939, and hails from Franklin, La., where in 1956 he formed his first band, the Flat Tops. By 1963 he was recruited into the Boogie Kings, which had been founded in 1955 in Eunice, La., by Doug Ardoin, Bert Miller, and Harris Miller. The band played everywhere around Louisiana and east Texas, gaining in notoriety particularly at the Bamboo Club in Lake Charles and the Big Oaks club in Vinton near the Texas border, the latter club drawing a young Janis Joplin as a patron.
The Boogie Kings at their peak in 1965, with Jerry LaCroix and GG Shinn.
According to Theall: “We played at the Big Oaks every weekend and the crowds were tremendous. One had to be 21 years old in Texas to purchase liquor, but in Louisiana, one only had to be 18. The club was located about a half mile from the Texas border, so the kids would come over in droves to get boozed up.”
Floyd Soileau of Ville Platte’s Jin label hired the band to record their first album, titled “Clint West and the Fabulous Boogie Kings,” which included the West vocal showcase “The Twelfth of Never.” But by 1965 West split from the Boogie Kings, and Texas singer Jerry LaCroix joined. As Theall tells it: “The band’s only competition was a band called ‘Jerry and the Dominos.’ We were wiping them out so badly that Jerry gave up his band and called me for a job with the Boogie Kings. I hated for that to happen because we really admired Jerry’s band. But then again, I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with Jerry. We had 11 pieces already, but I hired him anyway because of his enormous talent.”
Recalling the first time he heard the Boogie Kings, Lacroix noted:
“It was like a freight train coming through that room! These guys had five tenor saxophones, a couple of trumpets, a Hammond B-3 organ and one of those Louisiana drummers. They were playing all of that what is now called swamp pop music back then. Fats Domino, Bobby Charles, Louisiana-style music. These guys were really super powerful. They were great. So, after our band kind of disbanded, all of my friends went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. So, I said if I can’t lick these guys I’ll join them. I called up Ned [Theall], the leader of the band, and asked him if he could use another singer. He said, ‘Come on.’ There were three lead singers and all the horn players sang like black chicks in a gospel choir. They had beautiful voices. It was just an incredible band.”
A chance encounter with Sam Montel of Baton Rouge, who had been the force behind Dale and Grace of “I’m Leaving It Up to You” and “Stop and Think It Over,” led to a recording session at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans. The resulting album, “Sam Montel Presents the Boogie Kings,” includes the key tracks that cemented Shinn’s place in the annals of Louisiana rhythm and blues. Rich with Shinn’s jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics, those songs include “The Crying Man,” “Fever,” “Funny How Times Slips Away,” “Harlem Shuffle,” and “Devil of a Girl” (the latter penned by Morgan City rockabilly swamp-popper Vince Anthony Guzzetta).
By May 1966, the Boogie Kings scored an extended gig in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and according to Theall, “this was to be the last major appearance of the GG and Jerry team.” In 2010, Shinn told the Houston Chronicle: “I left the band because I wanted a small band that could travel better. That big band, it was just too expensive to move around.” Shinn formed a group called the Roller Coasters, which released the infamous “Putt-Putt” album, whose cover featured a trumpet-blowing, suit-wearing Shinn fronting a seven-piece ensemble (including two drum kits) set up on a miniature golf course.
Below is an audio recording of Shinn playing the 1968 Port Sulphur High School prom in Plaquemines Parish during this Roller Coasters period of his career, performing dynamic versions of the Temptations’ “Get Ready” and Glenn Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.”
According to the Houston Chronicle:
In 1966, he put the Roller Coasters together and Lacroix joined him about a year later. The band was together for “two or three years,” Shinn recalled.
The Roller Coasters did shows up and down the Gulf Coast and played in Miami a lot, he said. “That was fun. Those days are gone.”
Shinn and Lacroix went separate ways. Shinn joined a jazz-rock fusion band called Chase, which produced two albums in the early 1970s. Shinn joined Chase in the middle of the recording session for the second album, “Ennea,” which was released in 1972.
As told by Theall in his inimitable style:
G.G. Shinn had replaced the lead vocalist in the Chase band. Their vocalist had split when the song “Get It On” went all the way to No. 1. Sound familiar? I knew Bill Chase personally. He was a brilliant trumpet player and a great person. I went to the first rehearsal of the band Chase. I remember it well, because Bill forgot his mouthpiece, and I loaned him mine. GG did the vocals on Chase’s second album. It was a masterpiece of an album, but it did not go anywhere. Shortly after the second album was released, Bill Chase was killed in a plane crash, and the world lost a great trumpet player and a wonderful man. Rest in peace, my brother. GG’s big opportunity was delayed by an act of fate. But he was lucky not to be in the plane with Bill.
Although the first Chase album sold nearly 400,000 copies, “Ennea” was not as well-received by the public. One likely reason was a shift away from trumpet sections. A single, “So Many People,” received some radio play, but the side-two-filling “Ennea” suite, with its tightly chorded jazz arrangements and lyrics based on Greek mythology, was less radio-friendly.
Shinn toured with Chase, even traveling to Japan, and YouTube videos of that tour capture Shinn’s overwhelming vocal power for posterity. Though Bill Chase is dead, the group’s members still perform together at reunion gigs.
According to the Houston Chronicle: “Shinn formed a band called T.S.C. Trucking Company and spent time in Las Vegas. That band lasted for about 15 years.” According to guitarist Gerry Mouton’s Web site bio: “While Gerry was with G.G., they played all over the country. Beaumont, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Little Rock, Panama City, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Iowa City, Denver, Aspen, Monroe, Jackson, Biloxi, Ruston, Joplin and more places than Gerry can remember.” The band likely also included Boogie King/White Trash sax player Jon Smith and future Toto singer Bobby Kimball at one time or another. Shinn also has played with Luther Kent, who said of GG: “Always loved singing with GG. We did a few gigs with the Chicken Hawks, also with the Boogie Kings. GG is one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever heard!!!!!!!”
Shinn “returned to Louisiana in 1986 and opened up a nightclub in Lake Charles,” according to the Chronicle. “He got married and moved north to Monroe, when he opened another club. Now he has a club in Alexandria, which coincidentally is the town where Lacroix was born.”
In 1992, Shinn formed a veritable supergroup with fellow Louisiana legends John Fred Gourrier of “Judy in Disguise” fame and country-music artist Joe Stampley, a north Louisianian whose 1960s group the Uniques scored a regional hit with a cover of the Allen Toussaint composition “All These Things” and landed on “American Bandstand.” Performing as the Louisiana Boys, the trio also recorded a 1997 album of the same name, produced by Howard Cowart, who played the famous bass line on “Judy in Disguise.”
In 2000, Shinn released a great album on Gary Edwards’ Sound of New Orleans label, titled “You Can Never Keep a Good Man Down.” Shinn is joined by an all-star cast of Crescent City R&B masters, including drummer Harry Ravain (a former latter-day Boogie King), pianist Al Farrell, guitarist Allen Poche, and tenor saxist Jerry Jumonville. Standout tracks include the title song as well as a version of “Two Steps From the Blues” that’s a dead ringer for Bobby “Blue” Bland, and a scorching rendition of Danny White’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (with blazing guitar work from Poche).
If you’re ever in Alexandria, GG’s nightclub is the hottest spot in town, though one gets the impression that most patrons have little to no idea of the owner’s musical pedigree. Just make sure the legend is performing on the night you go. The club also brings in acts like Cajun accordionist Wayne Toups, soul icon Percy Sledge, swamp-pop singers like Warren Storm and TK Hulin, and country and cover bands, though the focus of the mostly under-40 crowd seems to be on dancing to the DJ’s tunes. While you’re there, pick up a copy of GG’s “Christmas with GG Shinn” CD, in which Shinn breathes brand-new soul into those sometimes-tired holiday standards. You can also catch GG singing around the state and in Texas at festivals and clubs, where he often team ups with TK Hulin to re-create the electric duets of his “King Brothers” days. With Boogie Kings bandleader Ned Theall having died in 2010 after a final Boogie Kings CD that included GG on several tracks, that band’s future is up in the air, though original founder Doug Ardoin is now fronting a new lineup. What’s not up in the air is that GG Shinn remains one of Louisiana’s most powerful singers. If you have any doubts about what blue-eyed soul is all about, catch him at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp. GG will school you.
Blind pianist/singer Bobby Powell of Baton Rouge left gospel music in the 1960s to test out his R&B chops, signing with Whit Records, for whom he recorded “What Are You Trying to Do to Me” b/w “Red Sails in the Sunset,” which Jewel released nationally. His second single, a version of “C.C. Rider” b/w “That Little Girl of Mine,” topped the national R&B charts in 1965. His third single — “Do Something for Yourself” b/w “It’s Getting Late in the Evening” — made it to #21 on the charts. Had Powell not switched back to gospel music, he would be perfect for the Ponderosa Stomp. Let’s hold out a candle that both he and Huey “Piano” Smith both might be coaxed to appear one day – with the latter fantasy booking qualifying as the musical coup of this new century. Above is Powell doing the B-side on Hoss Allen’s “!!!!The Beat” show.
Fellow Red Stick resident Raful Neal, a harmonica wizard and patriarch of the Neal blues clan whose first band featured a young Buddy Guy, did a version of his own for La Louisianne label in 1969. Check out his interpretation below. Though Neal died several years ago, his legacy lives on in the music of his sons – Kenny Neal, Lil’ Ray Neal, and others – not to mention those he played with, including Slim Harpo band alumni James Johnson and Rudy Richard, who are both scheduled for the 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp next month. And of course, Lazy Lester.