Allen Toussaint

If all Allen Toussaint had been in music history was the Apollo to James Booker's Dionysus in the pantheon of New Orleans piano professors, that would have been enough for the ages. Instead, the keyboard virtuoso who once laid down tracks for a touring Fats Domino's records has proven himself to be a true renaissance man of rock 'n' roll, funk, and R&B: singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, studio owner.

Toussaint's 1958 debut album, "The Wild Sounds of New Orleans," provided hit material for trumpet king Al Hirt ("Java") and Herb Albert ("Whipped Cream"). Taking over as local production chief for Joe Banashak's Minit Records in the early '60s, Toussaint's sessions with Ernie K-Doe ("Mother-in-Law"), Irma Thomas ("Ruler of My Heart"), Benny Spellman ("Lipstick Traces"), Aaron Neville ("Reality"), Jessie Hill, and Chris Kenner produced a musical canon that helped define New Orleans R&B and established Toussaint as Dave Bartholomew's successor as top studio kingmaker. By the late '60s Toussaint began writing and producing an astounding body of infectious hits for body-and-fender man Lee Dorsey, often using the Meters as backing musicians: "Ride Your Pony," "Working in a Coal Mine," "Holy Cow," "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," and "Sneaking Sally through the Alley" (famously covered by Robert Palmer). His partnership with Marshall Sehorn produced a slew of notable local songs by artists such as Betty Harris, Curley Moore, and Willie West. The establishment of Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans brought in a succession of stars to work with Toussaint and his Midas touch: Paul McCartney and Wings, the Pointer Sisters ("Yes We Can"), Patti Labelle ("Lady Marmalade"), Joe Cocker, ZZ Hill, King Biscuit Boy, Gladys Knight, and Etta James, among others. The Band hired him to arrange "Life Is a Carnival," and his song "Southern Nights" became a monster hit for Glen Campbell. Establishing the NYNO label in the 1990s, Toussaint recorded numerous local artists deserving wider recogition: Wallace Johnson, Larry Hamilton, Oliver "Who Shot the La-La" Morgan, Raymond Myles, Amadee Castenell (of Chocolate Milk fame), Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal, James Andrews, and others. Elvis Costello is the latest megastar to recognize Toussaint's talents as a songwriter, calling upon him to collaborate on the Brit popster's 2006 album The River in Reverse.

All these things – and many more accolades too numerous to be listed here – explain why Allen Toussaint has been canonized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, among other honors, and why his appearance at the Ponderosa Stomp is a must-see event.

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