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:
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.
Frogman Henry leads a Ponderosa Stomp Revue this Wednesday that also features Jean "Mr. Big Stuff" Knight, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, Bobby Allen, and Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal.
This is a rare local appearance by Frogman, 74, but the pairing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sponsorship couldn’t be more appropriate. After all, as Frogman tells it, he learned at least some of his musical chops from several legendary Louisiana inductees, such as:
Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair: “I used to sneak into the Pepper Pot (in nearby Gretna) to see Professor Longhair. It was just him and a drummer, but it sounded like a whole band in there. When I played talent shows at school, I played his numbers and dressed just like him with tails and a long Indian wig.” [“The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues” by Jeff Hannusch]
Antoine “Fats” Domino: “Fats was my inspiration. When I sat down at the piano, I tried to play everything he did. As far as I’m concerned, Fats is the real king of rock and roll.”
Dave Bartholomew: Frogman’s first brush with Bartholomew – Fats’ producer, bandleader, and co-writer – was during his stint with Bobby Mitchell’s Toppers, with whom Frogman got his start, eventually recording several Imperial sides with the group. According to Hannusch, “the Toppers auditioned for Imperial’s Dave Bartholomew, who thought the teenagers had potential. Henry played trombone on the group’s first session but eventually got fired because he missed a gig in order to attend his own shotgun wedding.”
Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, backed by guitarist Irving Bannister at Stomp 2004, is singing this Wednesday at a Stomp Revue sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The split from Mitchell and the Toppers proved to be fateful. After high school, Frogman began working as a pianist at local West Bank clubs, and it was at the legendary Joy Lounge at Fourth Street and Huey P. Long Avenue in Gretna where Henry was inspired to write his most famous song, “Ain’t Got No Home” – and thus the Frogman was born. According to a 1999 Times-Picayune profile by Bill Grady:
Henry conceived the tune in a rare moment of annoyance while playing the Joy Lounge in Gretna in 1956. The bandleader, Eddie Smith, wouldn’t let the musicians quit until the place emptied of customers, and Clarence was bushed. “I was trying to tell the people to go home, so I hit a riff on the piano and I start singing, ‘Woo-woo-oo-oo-oo, ain’t got no home,’” Henry said. “I got my nickname from a disc jockey at WJMR, Poppa Stoppa. People were requesting the song. They’d say, ‘Play the frog song by the frog man!’ So Poppa Stoppa said, ‘From now on, you Frogman.’”
Recorded for the Chess label by New Orleans bandleader Paul Gayten and powered by key Domino sidemen Lee Allen and Walter “Papoose” Nelson, the song climbed to #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and took Frogman to auditoriums all over the country, including the Apollo. Over the years it has sold more than 8 million copies, having been featured in films such as “Diner” and “The Lost Boys” and – more infamously – as theme music on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Other standout songs include “Lonely Tramp,”“I’m in Love,” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” which features piano by another Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Allen Toussaint.
Guitarist Paul "Lil Buck" Sinegal, seen here in 2002 with the late Nat Jolivette at the Circle Bar, leads the band at this Wednesday's Stomp Revue also featuring Jean Knight and Bobby Allen.
But the music didn’t stop with “Ain’t Got No Home.” With an assist from Louisiana songwriting legend and Chess labelmate Bobby Charles, Frogman scored his biggest hit with “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do,” which reached #4 on the national pop chart and has gone on to be featured in numerous films, including “Forrest Gump.” No less an authority than sex goddess/actress Elizabeth Hurley called “But I Do,” which appeared in the Hugh Grant-James Caan film “Mickey Blue Eyes,” “one of the most heavenly songs ever recorded.”
Seen here in 2004, Frogman Henry will be performing this Wednesday at the Howlin' Wolf for a Ponderosa Stomp Revue sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Oddy enough, this wasn’t Frogman’s only association with Cajun music legends. According to Hannusch, after leaving Chess, Frogman joined forces with the notorious producer Huey Meaux of Winnie, Texas, recording “five great singles for Meaux that were leased to Parrot Records including the classic ‘Cajun Honey.’” Frogman also interpreted material supplied by another swamp-pop songwriter of Bobby Charles’ caliber whose ditties Domino also had waxed: “There was a guy out of Biloxi, Jimmy Donley, that wrote great country songs. He used to write and record for Huey so there were a lot of his songs around. He wrote ‘Think It Over,’ which was one of my favorite tunes.” In recent years, this writer has heard Frogman refer to his own music as “swamp pop” – no doubt because his repertoire has never gone out of style in the dance-crazed, more rural areas of southernmost Louisiana, whose musicians in cross-fertilizing fashion crafted their own New Orleans-inspired swamp-pop tunes, fueled as they were by the sounds of Crescent City-style R&B emanating from the city’s radio stations.
Frogman Henry smiles as ailing swamp-pop legend Joe Barry sings in public for the last time before his death in 2004.
In 1964 Frogman had his greatest brush with fame – that is, with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Beatles, opening 18 concerts for the Fab Four, including at New Orleans’ City Park Stadium. Frogman then plied his trade on Bourbon Street, tinkling the ivories for 19 years in various clubs during a storied era when giants such as Cousin Joe, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and Frankie Ford still trod that famous musical conduit. His contributions to music have been recognized by his induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as well as the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, to name just a few.
Frogman Henry fans John, Paul, George, and Ringo clown with the New Orleans R&B legend in 1964.
One of Frogman’s later songs, ironically first recorded by British duo Chas and Dave, perfectly encapsulates the New Orleans piano tradition with goosebump-generating gusto. Pure rollicking R&B in a joyous, pounding Fats-style, “That Old Piano” tells the story of how such magical music has so often sprung from the humblest of origins, rooted in family traditions passed down from generation to generation during house parties and Saturday-night fish fries where a beat-up piano served as the centerpiece of interaction and the primary inducement for dancing. This video features Frogman performing the song live with a full band.
Though still going strong when he does gig, Frogman’s influence will now certainly live on in the music of his son, Clarence “Tadpole” Henry III, who performs R&B and soul at local clubs and festivals. Still, Ponderosa Stomp fans should come out Wednesday night to see why we think rock immortality in Cleveland should be the next stop for the Frogman, one of the treasured survivors of the golden age of New Orleans R&B. “People want to see the Frogman, but you know the Frogman wants to see the people too,” Henry once told Jeff Hannusch. So go see the Frogman, a very Special Man …
Frogman Henry smiles alongside Texas shouter Roy Head, with Stomp kingpin Dr. Ike at right.
The Ponderosa Stomp Revue, presented by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is set for June 8 (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. at the Howlin’ Wolf at 907 S. Peters St. in New Orleans.
Ex-Stax recording artist Jean "Mr. Big Stuff" Knight, whose hits also include "You Got the Papers (I Got the Man)" and "My Toot Toot," is singing at the Stomp Revue this Wednesday at New Orleans' Howlin' Wolf.
“The third night of the inaugural Lincoln Center edition of the Ponderosa Stomp — the annual spring resurrection of forgotten roots-rock and R&B heroes and heroines, founded and held in New Orleans — was an oddly formal affair, compared to the outdoor soul and rockabilly shows presented earlier in the week. ‘Everybody get on your feet/You make me nervous when you’re in your seat,’ Robert Parker sang on Sunday night in a well-preserved voice at the start of his 1966 hit ‘Barefootin’,’ one of the many Crescent City R&B classics associated with the evening’s honoree, producer-arranger-songwriter Wardell Quezergue. But sitting down is where the otherwise delighted audience at Alice Tully Hall stayed during most of the two-hour revue. In New Orleans, when a song like that is in the air, anything short of a shimmy is against the law.
But Quezergue, who turns 80 this year, deserves the lofty setting. In the Sixties and Seventies, he earned the nickname ‘The Creole Beethoven’ for his masterful blend of New Orleans rhythms and commercial wisdom in bedrock soul recordings such as Earl King’s ‘Trick Bag’ (1962), Professor Longhair”s ‘Big Chief’ (1964) and King Floyd’s ‘Groove Me’ (1970), then on mainstream collaborations with Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. At Lincoln Center, Quezergue conducted a ten-piece band from a chair as more than half a dozen of his original charges, including Dr. John, the Dixie Cups, Jean Knight and Tammy Lynn, recreated their biggest hits with him.”
And Jon Pareles covered the event for the New York Times, writing in part that, “the Dixie Cups, the New Orleans girl group, had distributed napkins before the concert, to be waved over the New Orleans second-line parade beat, and they got the audience up and dancing for ‘Iko Iko,’ which they turned into a medley of Mardi Gras songs and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ After their segment, Rosa Hawkins of the Dixie Cups turned to Mr. Quezergue and said, ‘Thanks for the hits.’”