There's no Allen Toussaint Appreciation thread

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Searching this (admittedly, commonly misspelled by me) name, I've only come across non-starting threads about specific collections and live gigs. Southern Nights has always been classic, but I just heard Life, Love and Faith, and man oh man. So, S&D, C or D, etc.

If Assholes Could Fly This Place Would Be An Airport, Thursday, 11 December 2008 19:02 (thirteen years ago) link

my name is crap jones (PappaWheelie V), Thursday, 11 December 2008 19:04 (thirteen years ago) link

Getting to see him live a dozen times plus in a year's time has been a major high point in my concert history.
Check out 'From a Whisper to a Scream' and much of 'Life Love and Faith' and his production work on Chris Kenner's 'Land of a 1000 Dances' as good starting points, but nothing's better than Southern Nights.

forksclovetofu, Thursday, 11 December 2008 20:41 (thirteen years ago) link

four years pass...

the whole Southern Nights lp is killer!

Jamie_ATP, Tuesday, 25 December 2012 20:24 (nine years ago) link

that lee dorsey album he did is also amazing

puff puff post (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Tuesday, 25 December 2012 20:51 (nine years ago) link

The Bright Mississippi, where he explores jazz, is one of my favorite albums of the past ten years. He's been touring a lot, the live stuff I've heard is often grea (think he did an Austin City Limits too, gotta check)tSomething I posted about on Rolling Reissues 2012, still haven't heard it yet:
Well this looks like a good idea, and approved by Toussaint. From Ace, out Nov. 6 (in the States, anyway)
2. HERCULES - Boz Scaggs
3. WHAT IS SUCCESS - Bonnie Raitt
4. OCCAPELLA - Lee Dorsey
5. LET'S LIVE - Aaron Neville
7. RIDE YOUR PONY - The Meters
8. SOUL SISTER - Allen Toussaint
10. GET OUT OF MY LIFE WOMAN - Solomon Burke
11. SWEET TOUCH OF LOVE - Irma Thomas
12. SHOORAH - Frankie Miller
13. YES WE CAN CAN - The Pointer Sisters
14. FORTUNE TELLER - Benny Spellman
21. TAMPIN' - The Rhine Oaks
22. A CERTAIN GIRL - Warren Zevon
23. HOLY COW - Lee Dorsey
24. SOUTHERN NIGHTS - Glen Campbell

dow, Tuesday, 25 December 2012 22:31 (nine years ago) link

Its cover

dow, Tuesday, 25 December 2012 22:33 (nine years ago) link

He put together and led a New Orleans orchestra for Hugh Laurie. sounded pretty great from a NOLA club on PBS. Laurie's voice is quirky, but his piano fits right in. Must've been listening to Toussaint.

dow, Tuesday, 25 December 2012 22:37 (nine years ago) link

Don't know if I ever mentioned it here but a few years back my man Mr. Fine Wine had a conversation with AT in which he was told about some kind of diving- as in diving into the water- act he had been involved with at some point in his career.

Albee Thousand (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 27 December 2012 03:16 (nine years ago) link

I love his work as a solo artist (the jazz one from a couple years back is perfect), but I'm continually impressed by his ability to elevate songs by other artists. He did a concert film with Elvis Costello that's beyond obscure, but his arrangement of Chelsea is unbelievable. Great stuff.

And the horns on The Last Waltz version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down just kill.

Everything You Like Sucks, Thursday, 27 December 2012 03:59 (nine years ago) link

I really love this rather anonymous-looking CD (which shows up in used bins fairly often for cheap.) Toussaint, Earl Palmer, Dr. John, Red Tyler et al...

Rocking Disco Santa (Dan Peterson), Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:48 (nine years ago) link

he plays some great piano on that blind boys of alabama + new orleans record from a few years ago.

i have to hear that 'bright mississippi' record.

have a sandwich or ice cream sandwich (Jordan), Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:59 (nine years ago) link

bright mississippi is great, though some of it is pretty un-toussaint-y? some great showcases for his piano playing though.

tylerw, Friday, 28 December 2012 15:50 (nine years ago) link

two years pass...


The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 12:48 (six years ago) link

Heart attack at 77. Awww man. Saw him a bunch of times live in Dc or New Orleans. Will admire him a lot for the following:

In addition to playing piano, he composed scores of songs, including "Ruler of My Heart," "A Certain Girl," "Fortune Teller" and "Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)." The New Orleans-born trumpeter Al Hirt had a hit with Mr. Toussaint's instrumental composition "Java."

In the 1970s, he embarked on a solo career, which reached a high point with the release of his "Southern Nights" album; the title song became a hit not only for him but also for Glen Campbell.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 14:09 (six years ago) link

RIP. Randomly walking past his childhood home was a highlight of my last trip to New Orleans. Will listen to Bright Mississippi and my Minit Records Comp tonight in tribute.

mizzell, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 14:35 (six years ago) link


this dude made/abetted enough good music for a few dozen lifetimes. he'd be immortal just for those lee dorsey singles and LPs IMO.

wizzz! (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 14:44 (six years ago) link

rip, that white sock and sandal combo would have looked crazy on anyone else.

adam, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 14:49 (six years ago) link

"What I've learned from playing music is that it's the best profession in the world. There's always somewhere else to go. There are many new songs being written now, as we speak, with all the millions of songs that have been written, whatever the genre. You're gonna hear them tomorrow or the next day. And none of it is harmful to anyone. That is magic."

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 15:18 (six years ago) link

Fuck! Last Monday I read the chapter in Elvis C's memoir about collaborating with Toussaint after Katrina. I know several hits and Southern Nights but made a note to check more out. What's a good start/com?

The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 15:24 (six years ago) link

this one is out of print, but it's on spotify:
a good amount of his prime 70s material... was listening to it this morning. totally great.

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 15:32 (six years ago) link

I wanted to post his killer piano playing on 'Down by the Riverside' from that Blind Boys of Alabama album, but it got taken off Youtube.

expertly crafted referential display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 15:43 (six years ago) link

Fuck! Last Monday I read the chapter in Elvis C's memoir about collaborating with Toussaint after Katrina. I know several hits and Southern Nights but made a note to check more out. What's a good start/com?

― The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, November 10, 2015 9:24 AM (53 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

was gonna say you might want to start with a good lee dorsey compilation or any lee dorsey album 1966-1970. toussaint's proper solo albums are just a small part of his body of work, most of which involves writing/producing for other folks.

wizzz! (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:19 (six years ago) link

there's also an "allen toussaint songbook" on ace records that is 100% gold.

wizzz! (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:19 (six years ago) link

Yeah. Of his own albums (that I've heard), The Bright Mississippi is amaazing: finally ventures into jazz, with crew incl. Marc Ribot, and it fits/extends his approach very well. Toussaint x Monk=something else. Like they'd been waiting for each other.

dow, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:28 (six years ago) link

yeah, loved the bright mississippi!

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:35 (six years ago) link

this show from right around that album's release is great:

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:36 (six years ago) link

RIP, one of the most magnificent piano players I've ever had the pleasure of seeing perform

thom yorke state of mind (voodoo chili), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:38 (six years ago) link

forgot about that record, ty. great band.

expertly crafted referential display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:40 (six years ago) link

Also, I've been told that Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet is a good collection of his early productions, mostly if not all singles, I think. His work with Aaron Neville is well-represented on the collection My Greatest Gift, also the original Aaron releases Make Me Strong and maybe I Know I've Been Changed, if you don't mind gospel. If you don't mind Dr. John, his AT-produced Desitively Bonnarroo sounds pretty cool, though not always best choices of material. Leave us not forget the Toussaint-arranged horns on The Band's Rock of Ages (they should have done more like that), and for that matter, he assembled, arranged and conducted a casually killer ensemble live with pianist-vocalist-actor Hugh Laurie on PBS (Laurie held his own, impressively enough). Never knew where AT would pop up, frequently as the saving grace, collectors tell me.

dow, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:54 (six years ago) link

Oh yeah, and The Wild Tchoupitoulas!

dow, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:56 (six years ago) link

I've been told that Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet is a good collection of his early productions, mostly if not all singles,

Great set, and mindboggling that it was all done in '61-2. He could have simply disappeared right after that and still gone down as one of the greats.


Love, Wilco (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 16:59 (six years ago) link

yeah just looking it over this morning, it really is an incredible body of work... like Ellington or something.

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 17:04 (six years ago) link

Love, Wilco (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 17:09 (six years ago) link

ha, toussaint's contribution to that one is fine, but i've always found the song itself kind of a drag. might just be the chorus.
his stuff on rock of ages and the last waltz is great.

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 17:12 (six years ago) link

i've never liked that song either.

expertly crafted referential display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 17:19 (six years ago) link

ah, man. when i started working in music clubs, one of the first artists i got to spend time with and got to know as a person and an artist and as an industry for all the people he helped support and all that he did was Touss. we were where he went after katrina, where he started playing with elvis and where he made the transition to being a regular touring artist. he would do a regular brunch set that i probably saw three dozen times. his repertoire would vary but the casual excellence of his performance did not. i'll always remember the light purple halo of his hair, his socks and sandals, his gentle ease, his soft and friendly southern drawl, his genuine cool. he wouldn't have been able to pick me out of lineup but i loved this guy and he left a hell of a legacy.

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 17:34 (six years ago) link

didn't toussaint write the horn starts for the "rock of ages" live album? or am i misremembering?

wizzz! (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 18:11 (six years ago) link

yeah he did the charts for both rock of ages and last waltz

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 18:13 (six years ago) link

There's a story that he wrote the charts from a cassette someone in the Band had given him. At the first rehearsal, everyone suddenly realized that the horns were a half-step off -- the cassette Toussaint used to write the charts ran fast. Everyone in the Band was like, "oh, no problem, we'll adjust." Allen was amazed at how easily they played everything in a different key without thinking about it.

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 18:42 (six years ago) link

George Porter Jr. of the Meters:

Today’s news of Allen Toussaint’s passing while he was on tour in another place other then home shakes me to the core and saddens me very much. We have chosen to live a life we love and for some reason want to do it for more than the money. We do it really for the love we get from the world and the smiles on the faces of people when we play our songs. Musicians that live on the road do have some fears, that we may not get back home safe, being away from home when our family needs us or being on the road alone when sad things happen. The two people I have loved longest in my life passed away while I was not home almost a year apart. Losing my Brother and my mother when I was not home was terribly hard. Now I have once again lost someone I care about while I am sitting alone in a hotel room. I still need to get through the flights home before I can comfort my wife and grieve my friend.

Still I am going to keep doing what I do, maybe that is crazy but it is what I love. Allen would expect no less, he lived and loved this life too for the same reason, the happiness music can bring. Todays News broke my heart, it is a real shock. When I played with AT at this years Blues & BBQ I told him I needed him to help me with some music that I have run into a brick wall with, he smiled and said send it to me. I got busy and did not send it, I always thought there was time, Allen seemed so happy and healthy. So sudden it is hard to believe. Thank You Allen Toussaint for the music that you gave me a chance to play with you, as well as the music that I have come to play because of what I learned from seeing up front and close how you could get the best out of an artist. You could get them to find stuff in themselves that they didn't know was there. You inspired me in so many ways. Your talent as a musician and a producer has been a major role model in how I approach my own music and how I interact with other musicians on stage and in the studio. Allen, Your music will live on and your teaching will continue to inspire. You are a true legend and have left a legacy like no other. gpjr

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 18:45 (six years ago) link


Man this hit home. Of all the cats that I never had a 1 on 1 convo w/ to pick their brain about their music experiences: this is numero uno. I don't want y'all thinkin' "this is just some old legend that passed away" naw. This dude wrote some of your favorite music & you just didn't know it. He effected SO many genres. That's how you know how potent and effective your art is: when you quietly change the scene w/o proper acknowledgement. If someone had the right to have KWest brag swag it was this man. But his humble quiet disposition wouldn't allow such a thing. His work will now speak for itself. Just take time to peep his work w #LeeDorsey (#GetOutMyLifeWoman #RideYourPony) some of the greatest clever pop tunes crafted. Hip hop heads still salivate over all #TheMeters tunes he produced & shot new energy into the culture once sampling #JamesBrown was becoming stale (#CissyStrut #LookKaPyPy #JustKissedMyBaby #OhCalcutta) then came a slew of artists in the 70s & 80s that took his work & breathed new life into his songs: #YesWeCanCan #LadyMarmalade #WorkingInACoalmine) ---name em! His work was so powerful everyone from #PaulMccartney to #DrJohn to #EricClapton to #TheRollingStones to even #JayZ ("....dear god I wonder can you save me?"....that piano loop? #Toussaint all day) #Amerie's most banging joint? (A Toussaint production sample) at least 12 "Get Out My Life Woman" snares were like starch in hip hop's daily nutritional chart--meaning so there you barely notice it.---I can go on and on. Because his work goes on and on. You'll read better op-eds by professional journalists. Kinda hard to cram all of this hiding from trainer in the gym on iPhone. But i felt the need to write something. When I tag #LegacyGoals I mean it. Humble cat whose work spoke louder than he did. That's what we all need to learn from. Rest In Beats to the powerful #AllenToussaint

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 19:10 (six years ago) link

Great great great testimonials, incl. forks, thanks. Just now remembered that he also produced and played on LaBelle's Nightbirds, with mostly if not all NOLA musicians, incl. Meters, though not Ziggy Modeliste. AT did get around!

dow, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 19:27 (six years ago) link

man, he was supposed to be playing new york in a bit more than two weeks.
too soon, too soon.

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 19:43 (six years ago) link

marcowermanFinal note, and the chord slowly decays: Allen Toussaint in 2013 entertaining me at his house in #NOLA. Tune in later today @pritheworld to hear him muse on scraps, wishbones and feathers from around the globe, and how he had spent his life turning them into chickens. Glorious chickens

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 20:04 (six years ago) link

Fats Domino and maybe Dave Barthomew aside, Toussaint was almost certainly the city's greatest living musician - and unlike those two, he was still performing and recording. Not just that, but he was all over New Orleans up to the day he left for the European tour - like, physically present (and always brightly attired) at numerous local concerts and cultural events, often just as a spectator. I introduced myself somewhat awkwardly to him once, about a year and a half ago, thanking him for all the wonderful music he put out into the world. I hoped I'd eventually get an opportunity to interview him about his life and work but didn't make a priority of it, especially since even at 77 it looked like he'd be around for awhile longer. He had the gravity of his accumulated years but the spring in his step of someone at least 10 years younger, so it was a shock to wake up to this. You never fucking know. RIP.

Futuristic Bow Wow (thewufs), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 20:50 (six years ago) link

& wow that is awesome, forks. such a great album cover (and of course great album)

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:09 (six years ago) link

great mix from funky16 corners here:

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:10 (six years ago) link

Fats Domino and maybe Dave Barthomew aside

whoa, this inspired me to check to see how old dave bartholomew is, and dude is 94 going on 95!

wizzz! (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:11 (six years ago) link

dug up and have been listening all day to an old board tape of one of touss' '05 matinees with Elvis jumping on stage at the end for a duet on "yes we can can", really good memories

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:14 (six years ago) link

i honestly don't remember how listenable that "Tousan" album is! I should spin it. Just enjoying wandering around dude's songbook at the moment.

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:16 (six years ago) link

that funky 16 corners mix is A+

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:20 (six years ago) link

yeah, a fair amount of things i've never heard (or heard of)

tylerw, Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:21 (six years ago) link

just insane how far his reach as a musician and composer was; dude was one of the secret giants.

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:22 (six years ago) link

Anybody who's curious to get a taste of what those live Joe's Pub shows were like should give a listen to Songbook, which is up on spotify:

a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:30 (six years ago) link

just insane how far his reach as a musician and composer was; dude was one of the secret giants.

― a llove spat over a llama-keeper (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, November 10, 2015 3:22 PM (20 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

yeah... it seems like once a month i realize that some song i love was written and/or produced by allen toussaint. "oh, that one, too?"

wizzz! (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 November 2015 21:43 (six years ago) link

curmudgeon, Thursday, 12 November 2015 05:30 (six years ago) link

I love Allen Toussaint

Neb! (benbbag), Thursday, 12 November 2015 05:48 (six years ago) link

Jon Batiste on encounters w AT, initially via his father's old VHS of Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together---Toots Washington, Professor Longhair, and Toussaint---I still gotta see that! Also: "bubbly ferocity," perfect.

dow, Thursday, 12 November 2015 14:56 (six years ago) link

that funky 16 corners mix is A+

^^^ indeed!

Retro novelty punk (Dan Peterson), Thursday, 12 November 2015 17:20 (six years ago) link

yeah digging through various playlists, mixes, etc this week ... toussaint had a golden touch! just endless invention and fun.

tylerw, Thursday, 12 November 2015 17:21 (six years ago) link

I love that that mix starts with "Java" and "Whipped Cream." My dad's Al Hirt and Tijuana Brass records are my earliest musical memories, way before I knew anything about New Orleans R&B.

Retro novelty punk (Dan Peterson), Thursday, 12 November 2015 17:24 (six years ago) link

This page is dedicated to a simple proposition: rechristen Lee Circle as Allen Toussaint Circle, with an appropriate memorial. I can't think of a more fitting individual or a less divisive solution to the "monument issue." Few Orleanians have contributed so much to the city, the nation and the world. Only Louis Armstrong could approach his stature, and of course he has a park named in his honor.

curmudgeon, Friday, 13 November 2015 14:33 (six years ago) link

Excellent! And I want a postage stamp; I'll use it along with my Jimis, for true friends only.
Spotify's got a good Toussaint stash, incl. The Allen Toussaint Orchestra, with albums organized by theme, such as outer space.
Today's Fresh Air will be "highlights of past interviews with Allen Toussaint," incl. playing and singing in the studio.

dow, Friday, 13 November 2015 14:58 (six years ago) link

never heard the DeRogatis radio show before; this is a p good interview. he's so damn mellow.

skateboards are the new combover (Dr Morbius), Monday, 16 November 2015 19:15 (six years ago) link

Just noticed (too late) in my Instagram feed that the Allen Toussaint memorial service this morning (Friday) at the Orpheum Theatre was being broadcast on WWOZ out of New Orleans

curmudgeon, Friday, 20 November 2015 19:10 (six years ago) link

No announcements have been made regarding a second line.

Toussaint's family asked that donations in his memory be made to New Orleans Artists against Hunger and Homelessness, a charity co-founded by the maestro. Donations may be sent c/o Loyola University, Campus Box 12, New Orleans, LA 70118.

curmudgeon, Friday, 20 November 2015 19:36 (six years ago) link

Second line might not have been announced, but it looks like it happened after the memorial service

curmudgeon, Friday, 20 November 2015 22:31 (six years ago) link

Yo La Tengo did a beautiful version of "Ruler Of My Heart" when I saw them on Tuesday

great music recommendations here, thanks everyone

sleeve, Friday, 20 November 2015 23:58 (six years ago) link

That's the description of it, and here's the video of some of it

curmudgeon, Saturday, 21 November 2015 16:12 (six years ago) link

Second line was very, very short - maybe 5 minutes longer than what you see in that video, which ends right before they cut the body loose - that's what the sirens at the end are signaling. It moved about 15 feet in total. I was surprised, but I can only assume it was in accordance with the family's wishes. There was a repast later in the afternoon with more music.

Futuristic Bow Wow (thewufs), Sunday, 22 November 2015 06:36 (six years ago) link

Also it's late and I'm drunk and it happened a week and a half ago but how is this guy gone, he seemed so healthy and happy and with it and he was a giant and a genuinely humble guy, WTF

Futuristic Bow Wow (thewufs), Sunday, 22 November 2015 06:48 (six years ago) link

Probably the family's wishes. Not a long second line through many neighborhoods with one or more of the city's funkiest brass bands, but a shorter and still nice one with Preservation Hall Jazz band plus I think that's Trombone Shorty sitting in. The mayor and Quint Davis (jazz fest concert organizer) are seen throughout.

curmudgeon, Sunday, 22 November 2015 19:34 (six years ago) link

five months pass...

samples here sound great:

tylerw, Monday, 2 May 2016 16:19 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

Yeah, very charming follow-up to The Bright Mississippi, his jazz venture: No Monk (or Ribot) here, but plenty Ellington, Waller, Earl Hines, Bill Evans, w NOLA sidewalk cafe ballads (flirtations as hell, but relaxed), Mardi Gras anthems (also relaxed, but mobile), and damn why don't I have any whole albums ofmusic by Louis Moreau Gottschalk?? And didn't AT do any? Maybe he did, and they'll come out eventually, but didn't need to, I guess.
Mainly piano, solo or w bass and drums, but Frisell gets in there when he should, especially the first verse of "American Tune," which AT sings like he should, if sing it he must---chirpy melancholia is basically not my thing, but they groove it without getting too (obtrusively) happy. Other unlikely feats incl. "Come Sunday," the only Ellington I don't like (too flowery and imposing), but Rhiannon Giddens pulls out the stops in her conservatory chops (usually applied with more subtlety, on her solo album and Carolina Chocolate Drops sets), actually making it bluesy, and Charles LLoyd and I guess Frisell get in there too, and it works.
And! "Southern Nights," usually "languid" live, as this intro mentions, actually kinda rocks, or anyway sways, in this case.
And these three are far from the best songs here as written.
Whole thing streaming here 'til Friday:

dow, Thursday, 9 June 2016 01:48 (five years ago) link

More than "charming"--bracing, even exhilarating at times.

dow, Thursday, 9 June 2016 01:50 (five years ago) link

Need to check this out, but am curious whether I will find the "swaying" music "exhilarating." Hope so...

curmudgeon, Thursday, 9 June 2016 14:38 (five years ago) link

I was just "pleasantly surprised" by the "swaying," but I'll take it.

dow, Friday, 10 June 2016 00:00 (five years ago) link

louis gottschalk is a fascinating dude

wizzz! (amateurist), Friday, 10 June 2016 01:21 (five years ago) link


Half Man Half Disco Mystic (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 10 June 2016 01:31 (five years ago) link



curmudgeon, Friday, 10 June 2016 14:04 (five years ago) link

three years pass...

this is a sort of insane story

After Katrina, a priceless musical archive was thought lost. It showed up in Torrance

By Sam Sweet
Aug. 28, 2019
8:55 AM
Hurricane Katrina pushed into New Orleans early in the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, and within a few hours, the first floodwaters had crossed the doorway of Sea-Saint Studio. One by one, the three outfall canals bordering Lake Ponchartrain failed and water rushed into Gentilly, the quiet residential neighborhood where Allen Toussaint’s home and studio were located. Even as the storm moved out, the lake continued to pour itself into the city. The next day, Aug. 30, skies were blue and Sea-Saint was fully submerged.
Since 1973, the converted paint and lumber outlet had been home base for Toussaint, whose collaborations with local talent gave the city a fresh signature in the ‘60s and ‘70s and elevated the former session pianist and songwriter into the eminent maestro of New Orleans funk and soul. Sea-Saint brought us the original recording of “Lady Marmalade” by the proto-feminist R&B trio LaBelle. It served as a clubhouse for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees the Meters and the late Dr. John in their heyday. It was where an infinite cast of musicians and artists were transformed by Toussaint’s ingenuity. Homegrown talent was given access to the same lavish musical imagination that Toussaint extended to Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, who flew halfway around the world to get the local feel of that room.
Toussaint evacuated to Baton Rouge, and then to New York City, where he settled into a well-appointed apartment for the next several years. His Gentilly residence was eventually demolished; Sea-Saint was left abandoned. Toussaint’s business partner and co-owner Marshall Sehorn passed away in 2006. In a 2007 interview with Larry Appelbaum, senior music reference librarian at the Library of Congress, Toussaint was asked what became of all the master tapes in the studio. “They got wiped out,” said Toussaint in his inimitably gentle way. “Some of my own personal masters were saved — but of course there was a whole lot more in there.”
‘An amazing discovery’
Located on the border of Torrance and Gardena, the Roadium Open-Air Market is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., 363 days a year. A lifelong resident of Gardena, Mike Nishita, 56, has been coming here since he was a kid, when slasher movies were still beamed onto the big drive-in screen at night. In the 1980s, he bought rap records from Steve Yano, whose booth was the first outlet for Dr. Dre’s mixtapes. Beginning in 1991, Nishita was employed as the in-house DJ for Quincy Jones Productions, warming up crowds before tapings of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Mad TV.” He quit Hollywood in 2003 because he was having more fun buying storage auctions and canvassing swap meets. The farther out he went, the better his finds became. He worked the outlying circuit, from Golden West College in Huntington Beach to the Pico Rivera Indoor Swap Meet — but he always returned to the Roadium, which is 10 minutes from his house.
If you default on a storage unit in Los Angeles County, chances are strong that your belongings will surface beneath one of the tented stalls spread across the parking lot on Redondo Beach Boulevard. Celebrity status means nothing to the California Self-Service Storage Facility Act, which permits the lien sale of a storage unit to take place within two months of a missed payment. Over the years, Nishita has come across valuables from the foreclosed units of Waylon Jennings, ‘80s hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies, and the Motown songwriters Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Once a unit is auctioned, the purchaser has no legal obligation to the previous owner of the property — even if that owner is Suge Knight, whose clothes, shoes, photos and Death Row Records awards passed through the Roadium about 10 years ago.
With other committed Roadium pickers, Nishita parks before dawn on Monday mornings to rush sellers as soon as they start unloading the weekend’s storage buys. One Monday in January 2018, the usual crowd was thinned by a light drizzle. The Roadium vendors call Nishita “Hawaiian Mike.” He was signaled over to look at 16 boxes of tapes a vendor had just purchased at auction from a foreclosed unit in Hollywood. “You figure VHS, cassettes, who knows what,” says Nishita. He recognized some of the names written on the 7-inch-by-7-inch boxes — the Meters, Lee Dorsey, Dr. John — but assumed they were homemade copies of old albums. Prior to the widespread availability of cassettes in the 1980s, reel-to-reel tape was used as an early form of home duplication. Then he noticed the official label affixed to some of the boxes:
Sea-Saint Recording Studio, Inc.
3809 Clematis Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana, 70122
The vendor was asking $100 per box. Nishita bought all 16. On the way home, he called Mario Caldato, his best friend since their days in machine-shop class at Gardena High School in the late 1970s. They played in bands and ran a mobile DJ unit in the 1980s before Caldato met the Beastie Boys and became their in-house engineer and co-producer from 1988 to 1998. Mike’s brother, “Money Mark” Nishita, became the Beasties’ keyboardist.
All three of them convened in Gardena, where the contents of the boxes were laid out in Mike’s garage. “It was mind-boggling,” says Caldato. Seventy-five percent of the boxes were quarter-inch tapes, the high-quality but portable format that professionals used to share and test recordings prior to the 1980s. Musicians would record their parts in the studio onto a two-inch, multi-track tape machine, then create a mix onto a quarter-inch or half-inch tape that could easily be played by anyone with a reel-to-reel. “Those are the tapes you hope to find because the mix is already preserved as the musicians intended you to hear it,” says Caldato. “This is what Toussaint and the artists actually took home to listen to after they cut a track.”

When a finalized master tape was shipped off to a record label or pressing plant, Sea-Saint would often keep a “safety” copy of the master on quarter-inch tape. In the event that masters are lost, discarded or decayed — an inevitable fate for the majority of American music recorded prior to the 1980s — quarter-inch copies from the studio of origin are the closest one can get to the source. For many of these recordings, the quarter-inch tapes are all that remain.
Piled in Nishita’s garage were multiple reels by the Meters, including quarter-inch master copies of their eponymous 1969 debut and their 1974 album “Rejuvenation” — two of funk’s most formative works, both frequently sampled by hip-hop producers — along with unreleased tracks and jams. There were reels of Toussaint, Dr. John and every big-timer in New Orleans R&B: Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Huey “Piano” Smith. There were reels with names prized by soul and funk collectors: Betty Harris, Willie West, Eldridge Holmes. And still dozens more containing demos or one-off recordings marked by unknown names: Laura Jacobs, Carla Baker, “Eugene.”
Among the stacks was a demo recorded by Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, dated 7/1/75. Ten songs, just voice and guitar. It sounds like Jimi Hendrix doing “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” alone in a hotel room. The world doesn’t know it exists, let alone that it’s residing in a garage in southwestern Los Angeles.
“Those are tapes I thought were destroyed or put somewhere where they’d never be found,” says Nocentelli, 73, speaking from his home in New Orleans. “What you’re telling me is an amazing discovery.” He expressed shock, confusion, delight and more than a little anger. When asked how tapes of such significance could get misplaced, he said: “You have to understand. This is a business of brutality.”
Most of the tapes were stamped with the names of Marshall Sehorn or Allen Toussaint, and several were dated and notated in Toussaint’s elegant cursive script. A smattering of boxes came from studios in other locations: Nashville, Muscle Shoals, Los Angeles. There were a handful of tapes from Cosimo Matassa’s studio, the hub for New Orleans R&B prior to Sea-Saint. A number of boxes containing folk and rock acts seemed to come from another location entirely, but the majority of the tapes came from Sea-Saint or Cosimo between 1968 and 1979. 673 reels total. Possibly 3,000 hours of music. The common thread was Allen Toussaint.
“I was looking at the names, trying to make sense of it,” says Caldato, who currently operates his own studio in Eagle Rock. “Sea-Saint and Cosimo, those are the mecca for New Orleans. How could this be? How could someone lose track of this or let it go?”
‘There’s no “Lady Marmalade”’
“Let me ask you something,” says Bill Valenziano over the phone, in a thick but amiable Chicago accent. “Is this really newsworthy?”
Now 80, Valenziano lives in Ventura County and has been active in the music business since the 1960s. He worked in marketing for Capitol, Island and Arista, before starting his own company that acquired and licensed music previously owned by other labels. “I have a small catalog of what I purchased over the years from 1980 to 2005,” says Valenziano. “Mostly Gulf Coast music. I have some valuable rights, which I maintain and use for licensing purposes. And I have a lot of not-so-valuable rights.”
Valenziano says he purchased Sea-Saint from Toussaint and Sehorn in 1995, when the studio’s business had slowed and Toussaint and Sehorn were beginning to dissolve their partnership. After the Katrina floodwaters receded, Valenziano sent Roger Branch — an engineer who helped manage the studio — to retrieve tapes from the building. “A lot of them weren’t in great shape to begin with and then they were living underwater for a while,” says Branch, who hauled thousands of soaked and corroded tapes to a dumpster. He estimates that less than 25% of Sea-Saint’s total tape archive was salvaged. Most of what was recovered came from the second story, in a room adjacent to Toussaint’s office, which stayed dry during the flood.
Valenziano moved the surviving tapes to California, where he put them into storage. A portion of those tapes were relocated by an unnamed third party to a second storage facility. That unit foreclosed; the Roadium vendor won the unit at auction; a few days later, Nishita bought them directly off the vendor’s truck.
The tapes Nishita purchased represent only a portion of Sea-Saint’s last remains. The rest are still in Bill Valenziano’s storage unit in Ventura County, where he has tired of paying to store tapes he says number “in the low thousands.”
“There are no more fabulous recordings by Paul McCartney,” says Valenziano. “There’s no ‘Lady Marmalade.’ I had checked in my head that 2020 would be the year that I deal with this. And if I can’t find a new owner ... do you have time to have a bonfire at the beach?”
‘Like my dad said, “It’s only stuff” ’
“These are some of the founding documents of New Orleans funk,” says Keith Spera, a veteran New Orleans journalist who writes for the Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate. “These tapes were part of that incredibly rich creative period that laid the groundwork for a lot of New Orleans music that followed, and by extension, impacted decades of popular music to come.”
Matt Sullivan (Light in the Attic Records) and Eothen “Egon” Alapatt (Now Again Records) were two of the early visitors to Mike’s garage. Both specialize in re-releasing rare and overlooked music from the past, and both expressed interest in partnering to archive and release the music. Both also acknowledged that the legalities surrounding the tapes were prohibitive.
Every song in the collection represents a jigsaw puzzle with pieces owned by separate entities. A label might own the sound recording rights, while an individual owns the publishing rights, and a third party owns the actual tape on which the song was recorded. Sullivan says an upcoming Light In the Attic compilation covering soul music from Memphis between 1977 and 1987 has already taken nine years and counting. “The biggest travesty,” says Alapatt, “would be if the Toussaint tapes get locked up in litigation and no one ever gets to hear the music.”
Earlier this month, a five-song reel-to-reel tape by an obscure soul group called the Decisions sold on Ebay for $1800, not including rights to the music. Alapatt estimates an original Meters reel on its own might sell to a collector for $10,000 to $15,000. As much as a specific tape might be of interest to various parties, the value of the Sea-Saint tapes becomes more singular when taken as a whole; the tapes encompass a cross section of activity inside a great American musical culture during one of its golden periods.
Clarence “Reginald” Toussaint — who served as an in-house engineer at Sea-Saint and currently oversees his father’s estate alongside his sister, Alison Toussaint-Lebeaux — says he would like to see the tapes returned to each individual performer. “Those musicians are the only people who can do anything with the music,” he says. “Without them, all you have is a tape to play in your house.”
Sea-Saint may represent the single biggest loss of cultural artifacts during Katrina, but that loss was widely unreported, in part because Allen Toussaint didn’t raise a fuss over the tapes. “Like my dad said, ‘It’s only stuff,’” says Reginald, 57. “Some people lost so much more than us because people lost lives.” Tapes were just tapes. To Allen, that was the beauty of music — as long as you were breathing, you could always get up tomorrow and make more.
In the years following the flood, Toussaint experienced a career renaissance. He liked to say that he “lived and worked in New Orleans until a booking agent named Katrina put me on the road.” After decades in which he spent almost every day inside Sea-Saint, he began touring extensively for the first time and released three solo albums, including a full-length collaboration with Elvis Costello. He died on Nov. 10, 2015, the night after performing a concert in Madrid.
Both Sullivan and Alapatt would like to see the collection go to an institution that will properly store, archive and make the material accessible to the public while also leaving open the possibility for partnerships to commercially release specific works. Before an institution steps in, the tapes would have to be properly cataloged and appraised — a delicate and time-consuming process that Nishita can’t afford to undertake alone.
Last year, Nishita was contacted about the possibility of selling the entire collection to a producer/engineer who works for one of the world’s most successful rappers. From their perspective, the archive is an untapped mine of exclusive drum sounds and samples from one of the greatest funk producers of all time. (Toussaint has a claim to being one of the most sampled musicians in the history of hip-hop, second only, perhaps, to James Brown.) The number that was floated was $250,000, but Nishita let it pass. From the beginning, his intention has been to resell the collection as a whole to an entity with an interest in letting it be heard in full.
“I hope that one day I won’t have to talk about music,” Toussaint said in a 1974 profile for the Real Paper, a Boston alt-weekly. He was interviewed in his office upstairs at Sea-Saint, where his desk was piled high with sheet music, tapes and reel-to-reel machines. “I would like to think that the music would be able to say it all for me.”
In Los Angeles, on a flat, lawn-lined street just west of the 110/405 interchange, Nishita sits in his garage in a surf T-shirt and flip-flops. He strings a tape onto an old Technics reel-to-reel player connected to a miniature Boss MG-10 amplifier. Even through the rudimentary rig, the music snaps to life. A stuttering, marching-band horn line morphs into a fat-bellied groove and the unmistakably easygoing voice of Allen Toussaint. This is “Black Samson,” Toussaint’s unreleased 1974 soundtrack to the blaxploitation film of the same name. The music is in a class with Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man.” Reginald Toussaint confirmed that the only existing copy is currently in Nishita’s garage.
“There’s some stuff we didn’t know was missing until years later, when you’re looking for it and realize it’s not there,” he says. “A lot of people in New Orleans are still just discovering everything that was lost.”

Οὖτις, Thursday, 29 August 2019 16:54 (two years ago) link

ugh sorry for terrible formatting

Οὖτις, Thursday, 29 August 2019 16:54 (two years ago) link

thanks for sharing !

budo jeru, Thursday, 29 August 2019 17:13 (two years ago) link

Terrible formatting but amazing story, thanks for posting!

confusementalism (Dan Peterson), Thursday, 29 August 2019 17:18 (two years ago) link

Wow, that’s wild. Hope some of that can be released someday

curmudgeon, Thursday, 29 August 2019 17:46 (two years ago) link

just adding that The Bright Mississippi is a bloody great album.

calzino, Friday, 30 August 2019 09:20 (two years ago) link

I wanna hear from that stuff in LA (x-post) well lots of it :

Among the stacks was a demo recorded by Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, dated 7/1/75. Ten songs, just voice and guitar. It sounds like Jimi Hendrix doing “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” alone in a hotel room. The world doesn’t know it exists, let alone that it’s residing in a garage in southwestern Los Angeles.

This is “Black Samson,” Toussaint’s unreleased 1974 soundtrack to the blaxploitation film of the same name. The music is in a class with Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man.” Reginald Toussaint confirmed that the only existing copy is currently in Nishita’s garage.

curmudgeon, Saturday, 31 August 2019 04:53 (two years ago) link

two years pass...

Heck yeah.

The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday evening to rename Robert E. Lee Boulevard for Allen Toussaint.

Wow that’s awesome.

I recently discovered how many cover versions there are of one of my all-time favorite songs (by any artist) — “What Do You Want the Girl To Do?” I listened to most of them; they’re all good, but nothing beats the original (IMO).

i woke up alarmed (morrisp), Monday, 10 January 2022 03:32 (one week ago) link

I have to listen to Toussaint's again. I probably hear Boz Scaggs and Bonnie Raitt's version of that song more than anyone else's.

xp And very happy about that news. Back in 2010, Toussaint played a FREE show at Prospect Park and I'm very glad I went - I even snagged a seat very close to the stage. Good crowd, but it didn't fill up completely - I remember having brunch with some friends including one music major and inviting them along, but they all passed. Guy's a f-ing legend but he still felt underappreciated in his lifetime.

birdistheword, Monday, 10 January 2022 04:01 (one week ago) link

I had missed Bonnie's version! That's a really nice one (though the gender switch is hard to mentally adjust to)

i woke up alarmed (morrisp), Monday, 10 January 2022 05:16 (one week ago) link

nearly a half century old and this shit still slaps

i cannot help if you made yourself not funny (forksclovetofu), Monday, 10 January 2022 05:53 (one week ago) link

Amazing songwriter, pianist etc., so glad the Boulevard is renamed after him

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 11 January 2022 05:27 (one week ago) link

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