From 2016, produced for WWOZ’s Piano Night, using interviews I conducted, along with one by Ben Sandmel (with Allen Toussaint.)
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.”