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:
In a preview of this year’s Ponderosa Stomp, ringmaster Dr. Ike revealed on WWOZ-FM radio last night that that living embodiment of New Orleans music, Allen Toussaint, would be reprising some of the tunes from his first solo album, named “The Wild Sound of New Orleans” by “Al Tousan,” recorded in two days in February 1958. The all-instrumental album featured the song “Java,” with which New Orleans trumpet giant Al “Jumbo” Hirt made national waves. The only thing missing from Toussaint’s Stomp performance will be the cream-of-the-crop Cosimo studio players that graced his record, such as saxophonists Alvin “Red” Tyler and Nat Perrilliat, trumpeter Melvin Lastie, guitarists Justin Adams and Roy Montrell, and drummer Charles “Hungry” Williams, to name just a few.
And here’s Hirt performing “Java” on the “Ed Sullivan Show”:
Today’s Song of the Day is the musical epic that inspired young Cajun-rock revivalists Steve Riley and C.C. Adcock to form the supergroup Lil’ Band o’ Gold in the late 1990s. As regular attendees of swamp-pop elder statesman Warren Storm’s Lafayette lounge performances, the duo was captivated by the singer’s powerhouse interpretation of one song in particular: “Seven Letters,” originally done by Ben E. King of “Stand By Me” fame. Storm had originally made noise around Acadiana with the song in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s midlife of his career, releasing it on his Jin-label album “Heart and Soul,” which was produced in Nashville by Bob Hendricks and Jay Jackson (reportedly with backing by some members of country megagroup Alabama, though this is unverified). After requesting the song from Storm innumerable times, Riley and Adcock decided to form LBOG, with the masterstroke move of getting Storm singing behind the drum kit once more – a duty Storm had forsaken because he was simply tired of lugging the things around at his age.
One of Storm’s most popular vocal tour-de-forces, the version above was video-recorded at New Orleans’ Chickie Wah-Wah club in April 2010, with Storm’s drum kit up close and personal onstage and Adcock’s introduction of “This is the best song in the world right here.”
Comparing and contrasting this live version with the original studio cut above, the listener will marvel at how Storm’s voice has aged with amazing grace, mellowing like the finest Tennessee whiskey in an oaken cask, yet retaining (and even deepening) his trademark stentorian soulfulness. Storm has indeed come a long way since he cut “The Prisoner’s Song” in the late 1950s and walked into Graceland one day to witness his hero Elvis Presley sitting at a piano and launching into the young Cajun’s hit in a Kingly tip of the hat.
Lil’ Band o’ Gold’s studio version of “Seven Letters” also is well-worth a listen, kicking it up a notch with Richard Comeaux’s wailing pedal-steel guitar, soaring like Evangeline’s ghost across the wind-swept Cajun prairie.
Don’t miss Warren Storm at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp – singing and bashing away at the drums in his unique style that is inspired by not only New Orleans’ Earl Palmer but also Cosimo session drummer Charles “Hungry” Williams. For more about Storm’s musical dalliances with the likes of Lily Allen, Robert Plant, and Elvis Costello, click here.
The ashes of “Last Chance” singer Allen Collay made their long journey home to The Max lounge in Metry one Sunday afternoon in 2010, housed in a silver urn etched with a piano’s image, set onstage next to an unopened bottle of his beloved Heineken beer. Collay died – appropriately enough for a New Orleans R&B legend – on Fat Tuesday but – unlike kindred spirit Antoinette K-Doe a year earlier – 800 miles north in illness-imposed exile.
Numerous former bandmates of the soulful St. Bernard Parish singer-pianist turned out to pay tribute at the Woodlawn Avenue lounge, site of Collay’s last musical stand before deteriorating health forced his move to the remote town of Mexico, Mo., in 2000. Joining in the festivities — which served as the jazz funeral Collay always wanted — were legions of admirers who could probably remember Collay from any number of contexts: his childhood Sunday-afternoon singing stints in the 1950s with Dixieland clarinetist Tony Almerico’s band at the Parisian Room; his 1959 smash tearjerker, “Last Chance”; his 1980s flirtation with stardom as a member of gold-record country-rock supergroup Atlanta; and his eventual return home to Louisiana after decades of exile, where he mesmerized nightclub crowds from the French Quarter (in spots such as Jaeger’s House of Seafood and the Al Hirt-owned Jelly Roll’s) to Metairie (at the original Chalet, later replaced by Mo’s Chalet after a fire).
It was at the Chalet in particular that Collay’s music had burned into the brain cells of many a local music lover. Hang out long enough at any Metairie watering hole catering to the older crowd and soon one gray-haired sentimentalist or another will start rhapsodizing about Collay’s sizzling sets at the Chalet’s late-night jam sessions. The line of brass players and other walk-ons would be stretched out the door waiting for a chance to join Collay and his R&B runnin’ pardners, like Roland “Stone” LeBlanc, Bobby Lonero, and Roy “Big Daddy” Wagner.
A cousin of swamp-pop legend Joe “Barry” Barrios, Collay was born Allen Callais in 1943 and grew up “down the road” from New Orleans in Violet. Starting out as a guitarist, he formed the Satellites, which cut his most well-known song, the teenage lover’s lament “Last Chance,” at Cosimo’s studio in 1959. Released on Sho-Biz records, the single hit #82 on the national pop charts, backed by the guitar-driven “Little Girl Next Door,” which writer Michael Hurtt calls “a raving rocker that has since become a cult classic on the underground rockabilly scene.”
According to New Orleans pianist Al Farrell of the Midnight Streetcar band, “Last Chance” was recorded on a particularly memorable night in Louisiana history: Halloween 1959. Collay had just split with the Satellites to enlist with Farrell’s Counts and was due to join them at a club that night. But before he could make that gig, he had a song to wax – a job he had promised to the Satellites. After the session, when Collay finally showed up to play with the Counts, a roar exploded from the crowd. Farrell assumed the audience was excited to see Collay. In short, no: Turns out Billy Cannon had just returned his legendary punt for 89 yards against Ole Miss at Tiger Stadium, breaking seven tackles to lead #1 LSU to a 7-3 victory over the #3 Rebels and an eventual national championship – a gridiron milestone immortalized by Ponderosa Stomp favorite Jay Chevalier in his rockabilly opus “Billy Cannon.”
In all, Collay released several 45s produced by Allen Toussaint and Mac Rebennack for ShoBiz, Instant, and Ace. “Nice eight-piece arrangements,” Collay told pianist Tom McDermott in a 1997 profile. “I think they still hold up.”
By the 1960s, fate swept Collay to Atlanta, where he stayed for 30 years, during which time he made the self-taught switch from guitar to piano. In the ’80s he hit a career peak in joining the nine-piece band Atlanta, which he described as “country-rock with Four Freshmen-style harmonies, which got the big push … before music industry wrangling tore the band apart.” The group made two albums on MCA and scored gold records via tunes such as “Sweet Country Music,”“Atlanta Burned Again Last Night,” and “Dixie Dreaming.”
By the early 1990s Collay had returned to the New Orleans area, living for a time on a St. Bernard relative’s houseboat at Delacroix Island, and resumed playing in the place where his career had begun – only this time as a “piano professor” in the Mac Rebennack/Ronnie Barron/Skip Easterling mold.
Allen Collay tinkles the keys at Andrew Jaeger's now-defunct House of Seafood in the French Quarter
By 1997, Collay was the featured entertainer at Andrew Jaeger’s House of Seafood in the French Quarter, playing up to five nights a week in a trio with longtime Dr. John drummer Freddie Staehle and bassist Paul Walter, supplemented by sit-in visitors such as trumpeters Jack Fine and Charlie Miller, and saxophonist Jerry Jumonville. Collay’s repertoire, described by profiler McDermott, was “Ray Charles meets New Orleans, with big helpings of Brother Ray and Mac and lesser portions of James Booker, Oscar Peterson and Nat Cole.”
But Collay was in his element playing to Metairie’s “late-night” subculture at the Critic’s Choice lounge in a gig that would run weekend nights from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. A hut-like dive with its particle-board walls and high-school graduation photos adorning the back room, Critic’s Choice was a magnet for a stunning array of old-school characters who were still young enough to ramble all night long on their steady diets of nicotine, booze, and music: The toupéed Frankie from Frankie and Johnnie’s furniture store (“Go see the Special Man”); longtime Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop pianist Johnny Gordon; the trumpet-playing Irish cut-up Al McCrossen; and former flamboyant Metairie nightclub owner/singer Frankie Brent, then in the grips of a musculoskeletal disorder that seemed to have twisted his body in perpetual pain – yet he still occasionally took the mike to sing a hair-raising version of “These Arms of Mine.” Any number of musicians – whether pros or merely amateurs with one or two standards to sing – would show up to jam till the sun came up, with Collay cracking jokes or crying out “Play some Dixie!” to egg the guest soloist on.
Collay’s local performance schedule peaked in the late 1990s with an appearance at the French Quarter Festival. Chef Jaeger also opened a supper club a block away from his restaurant and featured Collay leading a “history of New Orleans music” revue with players such as Staehle, chanteuse Ellen Smith, bassists David Lee Watson and Al Arthur, and guitarist Cranston Clements. But by then Collay’s health began to sour, dogged by diabetes and mini-strokes. The Max lounge in Metairie was the site of Collay’s final regular music residency, a weekend graveyard shift with a tight jazzy trio featuring Staehle on drums and Ray Shall on Hammond organ.
Numerous guests dropped in on Collay’s late-night sessions, but one illustrious visitor stands out in particular. His former producer, Allen Toussaint, happened to be attending an anniversary showing of Stevenson Palfi’s film “Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together” at the New Orleans Museum of Art. This writer approached Toussaint – aware that the funk master had produced Collay’s early singles – and floated Collay’s name. His eyes leapt. “Where is he playing?” Toussaint asked, looking around almost frantically to borrow a pen for directions to The Max. When I finally showed up there hours later, I heard from awed witnesses that Toussaint had indeed just left the building after checking out his former protégé’s first set.
Allen Collay with WWOZ DJ Billy Delle at Collay's 2004 benefit
The ailing Collay then moved north to Missouri with his girlfriend, and soon his health problems reached a new low when both legs had to be amputated. Collay returned to New Orleans in August 2004 for a benefit to help defray his expenses. A who’s who of New Orleans musicians showed up to take the stage at the Harahan Lions Club, led by Frankie Ford and Skip Easterling. Now gone, Collay is truly an unsung hero of New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll, and “one that got away” from the Ponderosa Stomp.
For Michael Hurtt’s Offbeat magazine profile of Allen Collay, click here.
Ponderosa Stomp fans know that the most magical sounds often emanate from the most primitive of conditions. Take, for instance, the flood of hits that flowed from the legendary 15-by-16-foot hole in the wall that comprised Cosimo Matassa’s original J&M recording studio on Rampart Street. The same with Eddie Shuler’s tiny Goldband studio, which he opened in the rear of his TV repair shop in Lake Charles. The landmark songs recorded in just those two Looziana incubators – like Antoine Domino’s “The Fat Man,” Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used to Do,” and Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love” – mesmerize listeners almost because of their technical limitations, not in spite of them.
Jivin' Gene Bourgeois
Likewise, Jivin’ Gene, aka Gene Bourgeois, of Port Arthur, Texas, began his ascent to swamp-pop immortality by singing in the toilet. Not his greatest hit, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” but rather the equally swampy “Going Out With the Tide,” later covered by another Meaux protégé, Freddy Fender (here in a duet with Tommy McLain).
“He walked in with blue jeans and bare feet and kinda like Clark Kent’s version of Superman, with horn-rimmed glasses. And he wanted me to record his rock ‘n’ roll band. I told him I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but if he wanted to bring his band in, let’s get down to it. In the KPAC studio there was an old Magnecord in mono – you never heard of stereo in those days – and two pots and a toilet in the corner of the room. And he had to sing in the toilet. I had a big old RCA ribbon mike, a diamond-shaped thing, and I hung it up on the boom and put my amplifiers in a horseshoe shape. The drums had to be way back. I thought I was gonna have to put them out in the street before it was over ‘cause it was getting too loud. I called [Ville Platte’s Jin label owner] Floyd [Soileau], saying, ‘I think this guy has potential.’”
Soileau would release “Going Out With the Tide” as Jin 109 (backed with “Up, Up, and Away”), and it became a regional hit. Bourgeois confirms the story, but with a different twist. “Yeah, I really did sing in the shitter. But it was because I was so shy, I didn’t want anyone looking at me when I sang,” he told the 30 Days Out blogger.
In a separate post, 30 Days Out writes about the sonic effects of the commode in creating the plaintive swamp-pop sound (though apparently confusing “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” with “Going Out With the Tide”):
“My favorite Gene story was about the time they recorded ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ at KPAC radio studios in Port Arthur. Gene used to get stage fright when he sang, even when the audience was only his band and a producer. So Huey stuck Gene in the men’s room along with a microphone and turned out the lights. The great echo you hear on the song came from that location – and it became a trademark of the great Texas-Meets-Louisiana swamp rock sound. Every time I think of Port Arthur, that tune begins to play in my brain: ‘Breaking up is hard to doooooooo/Making up is the thing to doooooooo.’”
Meaux and Soileau then booked a recording session for Jivin’ Gene at Jay Miller’s storied studio in Crowley, La., and it was there that Gene cut the definitive version of his most famous tune, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” which hit #69 on the Billboard charts in 1959. According to Soileau:
“It was about Gene’s wife problems. We did a Fats Domino-type thing and put the record out. Right away Huey started getting airplay on it in East Texas, and I got airplay on it down in this area, and things started happening. And Bill Hall still had his eyes open, and we made a deal with him to get it in on Mercury Records. And as a result his Big Bopper Music got the publishing on the original sides and that was his compensation. And Huey managed the artist and I had the record label and the record company, so I had my compensation. We had a three-way thing going there for a while, and Mercury took on with Jivin’ Gene and did fairly well with him.”
Gene went on to do further recording for Mercury, mostly in Nashville, even redoing a version of “Going Out With the Tide” – cum violins – that made The Cash Box listings in 1960. However, somewhere in the process the “swamp” got taken out of the swamp pop. As Warren Storm, whose own Nashville recordings sound slightly castrated compared with his Louisiana-recorded oeuvre, would tell Shane Bernard in “Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues” about his Music City studio experience:
“Oh yeah. It wasn’t swamp pop. It was more pop than anything else. … It was the Nashville sound, that’s where it was. Nashville. … It was mechanical because it was the Nashville sound. All the records that came out of there, it was the same music background.”
(Apparently Nashville producers found little need to turn to the outhouse as an acoustical accoutrement, what with Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, and Chet Atkins in house at any given time.)
Bourgeois would later record for Chess, Hall-Way, and TCF-Hall into the 1960s before dropping out of music for almost 20 years and working as an insulator – reportedly even plying his trade on the Alaskan pipeline like so many other Cajuns who have found work around the globe in the petroleum industry both on- and offshore. [See author Woody Falgoux's "Rise of the Cajun Mariners."]
By the 1980s, nostalgia for the past took hold, and the accolades began to pour in. Gene was inducted in 1993 into the Louisiana Hall of Fame (Lou Gabus’ precursor to the current hall) and the Museum of the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame in 1995, and he received the Louisiana Hall of Fame Living Legend Award in June 2003.
Jivin' Gene Bourgeois sings at a 2004 benefit at Pat's in Henderson, La.
In recent years Gene has joined forces with fellow East Texan Ken Marvel, a keyboardist and singer whose working band provides able backing for Bourgeois on his semi-regular gigs. However, as a bandleader in his own right, Marvel is not content, like so many other groups, to merely recycle the golden swamp-pop oldies in letter-perfect, note-for-note renditions. Yes, he pays tribute to the masters, but on his two CDs (“Mr. Swamp Pop” and “Swamp Pop Music”) Marvel has actually written numerous well-crafted original songs with mature themes, sung with passion and earnestness. And it doesn’t hurt that he uses a crack coonass band for his recording sessions (including Warren Storm, Wayne Toups, Jon Smith, Pat Breaux, Jason Parfait, Steve Grisaffe, Tony Ardoin, and Mike Burch, among others). Be sure to catch Marvel playing around East Texas’ Golden Triangle area or else at his occasional Louisiana appearances.
No longer reliant on the porcelain gods for acoustical succor, Jivin’ Gene has reunited with Floyd Soileau’s Jin label with a new CD, “It’s Never Too Late,” recorded at David Rachou’s La Louisianne studio in Lafayette and released in 2009. Gene wrote or co-wrote nearly every cut on the 14-song CD and is backed by Warren Storm on drums and rubboard, Ken Marvel on keys, and Rick Folse (son of legendary Vin Bruce band alumnus Pott Folse) on sax, among others.
Don’t miss Jivin’ Gene at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp. To buy tickets, click here. To learn more about this swamp-pop legend, read this and this.
Jivin' Gene's 2009 release on the Jin label, featuring his original songs and drumming by Warren Storm
In a town where the question “where’d you go to high school?” is as ubiquitous as “would you like that dressed?” it is appropriate that the Crescent City has its own traditional R&B graduation song, and for thousands of New Orleanians, that anthem is Stark Whiteman’s “Graduation Day,” dripping though it is with sickly-sweet sentimentality, teenage melodrama, and high school clichés. This is the dancefloor dirge that launched 10,000 belly-rubbers for teenage lovers in the New Orleans of the 1960s.
According to Times-Picayune columnist Angus Lind, Stark Whiteman’s 1960 hit was “written by bass player Henry Schroeder and saxophonist Roy ‘Big Daddy’ Wagner. It gained Whiteman, a bass player and a lead singer with The Jokers, a lot of popularity. It was recorded on the White Cliffs label at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in 1959 with three female singers from Nicholls High School who never sang professionally.”
Yat cottage-industry kingpin Benny Grunch, in relating to Lind the story of the song, which inspired Grunch to record a hurricane-themed parody titled “Evacuation Day,” said “Matassa told Whiteman his song would be a hit. Whiteman asked him how he knew and the response was straight out of Yogi Berra’s playbook: ‘If it sounds like a hit record, it’s a hit record.’”
Local writer Robert Fontenot had this to say about “Graduation Day”: “Recorded by an obscure New Orleans outfit, this sad Fifties ballad was a hit in the region but never made the charts. It’s one of the best odes to the day in question, expressing a real, tangible sadness at the idea of leaving your friends behind forever.”
Indeed, let the lyrics themselves attest:
Though we all shall try, we may never meet again
(never meet again, never meet again)
School is almost over. Graduation’s near.
Though we try to hide it, we all shed a tear.
Happy days are over. School is near its end
Though we all shall try, we may never meet again.
As the school year ends, we will surely try
Try to face our friends. Try to say goodbye
Happy days are over. School is near it’s end
Though we all shall try, we may never meet again.
What will happen now is not for us to say.
We will each go on, our own and separate way.
As the years go by, time will have its say
But we will all remember graduation day.
When we stop to look back, we will surely say
The best day of our lives was graduation day.
Not to be outdone by New Orleans, the Acadiana region also has its monster graduation song, differentiating itself from “Graduation Day” by focusing on the nocturnal side of commencement with all its pseudo-majestic pomp and circumstance: “Graduation Night (As You Pass Me By),” sung by the now-legendary swamp-pop singer TK Hulin.
According to the Edsel Records/Crazy Cajun label’s liner notes to a TK CD: “Hulin was born Alton James Hulin in St. Martinville, LA on Aug. 16, 1943. At age 16 he formed the Lonely Knights, making his solo debut the following year with ‘I’m Not a Fool Anymore’; the single, issued on the LK label (a venture co-owned by Hulin’s father and local songwriter Robert Thibodeaux) became a massive hit throughout Louisiana and Texas, and was followed by other regional smashes like ‘As You Pass Me By (Graduation Night).’ According to the Acadian Museum’s bio on Hulin: “’Graduation Night’ was recorded in 1964 and sold over 150,000 copies. Each year around May, one can always hear this famous recording with the song being popular in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.”
Dave Bartholomew and Cosimo Matassa were awarded for their contributions to New Orleans music on the 60th anniversary of the historic “Fat Man” Fats Domino recording. The Louisiana State Museum and the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation held the ceremony in New Orleans on the steps of the historic Cabildo on March 6th, 2010.
Fifty-four years ago today, per Bumps Blackwell’s recommendation, Little Richard Penniman (seen above with Jet Harris, Gene Vincent and Sam Cooke) joined forces with Fats Domino’s band — which included the late Earl Palmer, drummer extraordinaire who performed at the 1st annual Ponderosa Stomp and served as Master of Ceremonies for Stomp #4 — at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studio.
Their collective goal was to lay down tracks for Art Rupe’s Specialty label. As legend has it, nothing much happened, though, until the group broke for lunch. Then, in true recording studio mythology (see Elvis’ inaugural Sun session, or the story behind Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’”), Little Richard sat down at the piano and began banging out a high voltage tune that he’d woodshedded in gay bars:
“Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it don’t fit, don’t force it
You can grease it, make it easy.”
Blackwell called in Dorothy LaBostrie to clean up the lyrics, and, after rolling tape for a record 15 minutes, one of the most iconic songs ever recorded in Orleans Parish was complete.
Mac Rebennack just happened to be standing outside J&M when the magic happened — and I got to quiz him about it 50 years later, for an article published in MOJO magazine:
“I was always hanging out there during Specialty sessions, trying to sell Art Rupe some songs. I remember telling my older sister, ‘This guy Little Richard is doing a session at the studio,’ and she replied, ‘Oh, I used to see him at Panama City.’ So Richard was already doing his thing as a solo act. He came out of those revues, where he had to really know his shit. Some people say he bummed his act from Esquerita, but to me, Eskew was more gospel sounding, and Richard was straight up hip. Sure, he sang kinda gospel but he played that ratty shit on the piano, with Earl Palmer following on the cymbals. His style was a revelation, a really good sound that could rock the house without fail.
Richard was a totally original cat – everything about him was off the hook. He was a little flamboyant, sure, but it went with that turf. Seeing him and Eskew hanging out wearing men’s suits, topped off with lipstick, that high hair, and women’s shades, would catch people off guard – they’d give them the once over two or three times, even though in New Orleans, we were used to the drag queen revues and traditions like that.
This is what made Richard special: As Fats Domino told me, ‘I couldn’t tell you what’s the difference between rock and roll and R&B.’ But Richard changed something in the New Orleans groove. Instead of a shuffle, he could play that eighth note thing on the piano, which set him apart from the rest of us. He used it from that first record on, and a lot of other people started using that shit. They still use it in rock and roll today.”
As Cosimo explained to writer Todd Mouton in the pages of Offbeat a while back, “If you transmit an emotion to the listener, it’s a good record. It’s gonna be a successful record. Now, having said that, how you measure it, I don’t know. How you predict it, I have not a clue. Because it happens, and everybody’s aware of it, you know, it’s fundamental. And yet totally evasive.”
Rebennack: “Back then, though, we didn’t really appreciate it. Everybody in New Orleans had so much to do, so many sessions to play on, that Tutti Frutti was just a little chunk of their lives. They didn’t have time to think much about it. I remember someone asking Red Tyler and Earl Palmer, ‘What do you remember about playing on it?’ and they both said, without batting an eye, ‘Very little.’”
Of course, like any million-selling single, there’s been an argument over the songwriting credits ever since.
LaBostrie, from Jeff Hannusch’s I Hear You Knocking: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues:
“Little Richard didn’t write none ‘Tutti Fruitti.’ I’ll tell you exactly how I came to write that. I used to live on Galvez Street and my girlfriend and I liked to go down to the drug store and buy ice cream. One day we went in and saw this new flavor, Tutti Fruitti. Right away I thought, ‘Boy, that’s a great idea for a song.’ So I kept it in the back of my mind until I got to the studio that day. I also wrote the flip side of ‘Tutti Fruitti,’ ‘I’m Just a Lonely Guy,’ and a spiritual, ‘Blessed Mother,’ all in the same day.”
Blackwell, quoted in Charles White’s biography of Little Richard:
“I Knew that the lyrics were too lewd and suggestive to record. It would never have got played on air. So I got hold of Dorothy La Bostrie, who had come over to see how the recording of her song [I'm Just A Lonely Guy?] was going. I brought her to the Dew Drop. I said to her: ‘Look. You come and write some lyrics to this, ’cause I can’t use the lyrics Richard’s got.’ Richard turned to face the wall and sang the song two ot three times and Dorothy listened. Break time was over, and we went back to the studio to finish the session, leaving Dorothy to write the words. Fifteen minutes before the session was to end, the chick comes in and puts these little trite lyrics in front of me.”
And Penniman himself, again from White’s book:
“I’d been singing ‘Tutti Frutti’ for years, but it never struck me as a song you’d record. I didn’t go to New Orleans to record no ‘Tutti Frutti.’ Sure, it used to crack the crowds up when I sang it in the clubs, with those risqué lyrics. But I never thought it would be a hit, even with the lyrics cleaned up.”
I’ll let Mac close it out:
“Of course, the idea for Tutti Frutti was probably already floating around New Orleans. I bet Richard heard something like it from Eddie Bo. Considering who actually wrote this sucker – Dorothy LaBostrie, who wrote Johnny Adams’ and Irma Thomas’ first hit records – I’m sure the song came straight up out of the dozens. ‘A gal named Sue/She knows just what to do’ – that shit was nasty! Some New Orleans songs, like Tee-Nah-Nah, are Creole. You know, your tee-nah-nah is your ass cheeks, and your tee-nah-noo is your asshole. But Tutti Frutti isn’t Creole, and I don’t think it went with the ice cream flavor. You know what a fruit is, right? I think it had more to do with that shit. But did you ever hear Pat fucking Boone singing that crap? I don’t know if he got it and fucked it up, or if he didn’t get it, and fucked it up. Either way, it was pretty fucked up, but we didn’t pay no attention to that crap!”