Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Passings: Allen Toussaint (1938 - 2015)

Legendary New Orleans singer, songwriter and musician Allen Toussaint died on Tuesday in Madrid, Spain at the age of 77.

Toussaint was touring Europe and had played Madrid's Lara Theatre on Monday night. Emergency workers were called to his hotel room where he was revived; however, he stopped breathing on the way to the hospital.

Self taught on the piano, Toussaint got his first break at the age of 17 when he sat in for Huey "Piano" Smith in Earl King's band during a performance in Prichard, AL. Throughout his career, he acknowledged Professor Longhair as his main influence in everything he did in music.

Toussaint recorded for a number of labels including Minit, Instant and RCA. It was on the latter that he released his first album as Al Tousan, an instrumental set that included the song Java, co-written with Alvin Tyler and Freddy Friday. The song would go on to become a major hit for Al Hirt.

Although he did record his own work, his main success came during the 60's as a songwriter and studio musician. Among his many songs:

  • Mother-in-Law (Ernie K. Doe / 1961 / #1 Pop / #1 R&B)
  • I Like It Like That (Chris Kenner / 1961 / #2 Pop / #2 R&B // Dave Clark Five / 1965 / #7 Pop)
  • Fortune Teller (Benny Spellman / 1961 // Robert Plant & Alison Krauss / 2007)
  • Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette) (Benny Spellman / 1962 / #80 Pop / #28 R&B // O'Jays / 1965 / #48 Pop / #28 R&B)
  • Pain in My Heart (Otis Redding / 1963 / #61 Pop / #12 R&B)
  • Java (Al Hirt / 1964 / #4 Pop / #1 Adult Contemporary)
  • Whipped Cream (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass / 1965 / #68 Pop / #13 Adult Contemporary)
  • Ride Your Pony (Lee Dorsey / 1965 / #28 Pop / #7 R&B)
  • Get Out of My Life, Woman (Lee Dorsey / 1966 / #44 Pop / #5 R&B)
  • Working in a Coal Mine (Lee Dorsey / 1966 / #8 Pop / #5 R&B)
  • Freedom For the Stallion (Hues Corporation / 1973 / #63 Pop / #9 Adult Contemporary)
  • Yes We Can Can (Pointer Sisters / 1973 / #11 Pop / #12 R&B)
  • Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) (Three Dog Night / #33 Pop)
  • Southern Nights (Glen Campbell / 1977 / #1 Pop / #1 Adult Contemporary / #1 Country)
  • We Got It (IMx / 1995 / #37 Pop / #11 R&B)
During the 60's, he recorded with the likes of Lee Dorsey and Chris Kenner while, in the 70's, he moved to a more funky sound with the Meters and Dr. John among others. As an arranger, he worked with the Band on the album Cahoots and their The Last Waltz concert and film.

Toussaint also produced numerous albums for New Orleans based artists at his studio, Sea-Saint where Paul McCartney and Wings recorded their album Venus and Mars. Working with artists like Lee Dorsey, the Meters and Dr. John, he would branch out in the 70's outside of NOLA working with artists like Labelle on their album Nightbirds and the smash single Lady Marmalade.

Allen's recording career took off during the 70's with albums like From a Whisper to a Scream (1970) and Southern Nights (1975). In 1994, he joined NOLA musicians Earl Palmer, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Dr. John and Edward Frank to record as Crescent City Gold on the album The Ultimate Session

Toussaint's career grew to, maybe, it's greatest height over the last two decades as he recorded with numerous artists from Eric Clapton to Elvis Costello and saw much of his early music sampled on Hip-Hop recordings. In 2005, he was flooded out of his home and studio by Hurricane Katrina, relocating to New York City where he became even more in demand both in the studio and as a live performer. 

Among Toussaint's many honors was induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. He has also received the National Medal of Arts.