Johnny Adams on Rounder Records

Johnny Adams on Rounder Records
Scott Billington on Johnny Adams in the studio

I’m not sure what came first. My uncle Michael turning me onto Johnny Adams aka ‘the Tan Canary’ or the night I was playing pool at a now closed drinking establishment in the French Quarter. All I can say is ‘Good Morning Heartache’ floored me. I was admittedly lured in by the album (actually CD…) cover (shot by Rick Olivier), but there was something about Johnny Adam’s voice that captured my attention from that point forward.

Fast forward, many years later — here’s part of an interview with Scott Billington, a man greatly responsible for recording musicians who got their start as far back as the late 1950s, beautifully — that’s definitely the case with these 9 albums.

‘Freedom for the Stallion’

Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint
Irma Thomas on ‘Freedom for Stallion’, excerpted from ‘New Orleans Calling’

The city of New Orleans lost one of the best songwriters of the 20th century in November of 2015. Allen Toussaint wrote music that made people dance. His compositions are timeless and known by more people than recoginize his name. He also produced some timeless hits for others, including ‘Lady Marmalade’ by Labelle, ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ by Dr. John, and ‘Land of 1000 Dances‘ by Chris Kenner, to name but a few.

What is arguably overlooked when one considers all of this is Toussaint’s work in the realm of social justice, equality and wealth — just listen to ‘We the People’, ‘Yes we Can Can’ or ‘What is Success’ and you’ll pick up what I’m putting down.

The Soul Queen of New Orleans, vocalist Irma Thomas, worked with Allen Toussaint for many years, starting around 1961 with songs that included ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘Ruler of My Heart’ (copped by Otis Redding – ‘Pain in My Heart’) – they remained lifelong friends until Toussaint’s unexpected passing while on tour in Spain.

Here’s Irma Thomas talking about ‘Freedom for the Stallion’, a song by Toussaint (and covered by Boz Scaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Elvis Costello, among others), that unfortunately seems more relevant these days than one would wish:

“They’ve got men building fences to keep other men out
Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts.”

‘Land of 1000 Dances’

Deacon John, Chris Kenner, Allen Toussaint

‘Deacon’ John Moore is hard to categorize. Like many New Orleans musicians, he draws on everything from gospel music to R&B, funk to jump jazz. While this isn’t a story about his music, it’s definitely fitting for ‘That New Orleans’ Touch’ — as we have glimpse at the both Chris Kenner’s songwriting and Allen Toussaint as a producer, told by Deacon John.

If you don’t already know, do you yourself a favor and check him out. I’ll make a point to post some links to his work soon. Until then:

Deacon John on the writing of ‘Land of 1000 Dances’

‘A Change is Gonna Come’

Chuck Badie, Sam Cooke, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama
Chuck Badie, bass player on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading work from a project I’ve been working on for a couple years now — “That New Orleans Touch” — featuring interviews with musicians, producers and engineers about music recordings by musicians from the Crescent City.

Bass player, Chuck Badie, lives around the corner from me in the Musicians Village. He was the bass player on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” (1964), a song that maintains an anthem like status. I asked Mr. Badie about that song and what it meant to everyone recording it. However, this story turned towards a reflection of race relations over the years.

“He was riding along the highway looking at this what he seen, and he said, “Some day it is going to happen.” That is why, I wish many time, I had tears in my eyes in that room right there when Obama was elected.
I said, “Oh god, if only Martin Luther King…” [could’ve seen Obama become President]… cause I know what he went though out there cause I was out there on that highway when he was getting whipped in his head and all that. Just to get a drink of water or whatever. I was out there.”

These reflections were bittersweet, as our interview was recorded just a week before the Donald Trump was sworn into office.