Allen Toussaint (/ˈtuːsɑːnt/; January 14, 1938 – November 10, 2015) was an American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer, who was an influential figure in New Orleans rhythm and blues from the 1950s to the end of the century, described as "one of popular music's great backroom figures". Many musicians recorded Toussaint's compositions, including "Java", "Mother-in-Law", "I Like It Like That", "Fortune Teller", "Ride Your Pony", "Get Out of My Life Woman", "Working in the Coal Mine", "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky", "Here Come the Girls", "Yes We Can Can", "Play Something Sweet", and "Southern Nights". He was a producer for hundreds of recordings, among the best known of which are "Right Place, Wrong Time", by his longtime friend Dr. John ("Mac" Rebennack), and "Lady Marmalade", by Labelle.
Toussaint at the Freret Street Festival,
New Orleans, 2009
|Also known as||Al Tousan, Allen Orange, Naomi Neville, Clarence Toussaint|
|Born||January 14, 1938|
Gert Town, Louisiana, U.S.
|Origin||New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.|
|Died||November 10, 2015 (aged 77) |
The youngest of three children, Toussaint was born in 1938 in New Orleans and grew up in a shotgun house in the Gert Town neighborhood, where his mother, Naomi Neville (whose name he later adopted pseudonymously for some of his works), welcomed and fed all manner of musicians as they practiced and recorded with her son. His father, Clarence, worked on the railway and played trumpet. Allen Toussaint learned piano as a child and took informal music lessons from an elderly neighbor, Ernest Pinn. In his teens he played in a band, the Flamingos, with the guitarist Snooks Eaglin, before dropping out of school. A significant early influence on Toussaint was the syncopated "second-line" piano style of Professor Longhair.
After a lucky break at age 17, in which he stood in for Huey "Piano" Smith at a performance with Earl King's band in Prichard, Alabama, Toussaint was introduced to a group of local musicians led by Dave Bartholomew, who performed regularly at the Dew Drop Inn, a nightclub on Lasalle Street in Uptown New Orleans. His first recording was in 1957 as a stand-in for Fats Domino on Domino's record "I Want You to Know", on which Toussaint played piano and Domino overdubbed his vocals. His first success as a producer also came in 1957 with Lee Allen's "Walking with Mr. Lee". He began performing regularly in Bartholomew's band, and he recorded with Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Lee Allen and other leading New Orleans performers.
After being spotted as a sideman by the A&R man Danny Kessler, he initially recorded for RCA Records as Al Tousan. In early 1958 he recorded an album of instrumentals, The Wild Sound of New Orleans, with a band including Alvin "Red" Tyler (baritone sax), either Nat Perrilliat or Lee Allen (tenor sax), either Justin Adams or Roy Montrell (guitar), Frank Fields (bass), and Charles "Hungry" Williams (drums). The recordings included Toussaint and Tyler's composition "Java", which first charted for Floyd Cramer in 1962 and became a number 4 pop hit for Al Hirt (also on RCA) in 1964. Toussaint also recorded and co-wrote songs with Allen Orange in the early 1960s.
In 1960, Joe Banashak, of Minit Records and later Instant Records, hired Toussaint as an A&R man and record producer. He also did freelance work for other labels, such as Fury. Toussaint played piano, wrote, arranged and produced a string of hits in the early and mid-1960s for New Orleans R&B artists such as Ernie K-Doe, Chris Kenner, Irma Thomas (including "It's Raining"), Art and Aaron Neville, the Showmen, and Lee Dorsey, whose first hit "Ya Ya" he produced in 1961.
The early to mid-1960s are regarded as Toussaint's most creatively successful period. Notable examples of his work are Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" (written by Hill and arranged and produced by Toussaint), Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-in-Law", and Chris Kenner's "I Like It Like That". A two-sided 1962 hit by Benny Spellman comprised "Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)" (covered by the O'Jays, Ringo Starr, and Alex Chilton) and the simple but effective "Fortune Teller" (covered by various 1960s rock groups, including the Rolling Stones, the Nashville Teens, the Who, the Hollies, the Throb, and ex-Searchers founder Tony Jackson). "Ruler of My Heart", written under his pseudonym Naomi Neville, first recorded by Irma Thomas for the Minit label in 1963, was adapted by Otis Redding under the title "Pain in My Heart" later that year, prompting Toussaint to file a lawsuit against Redding and his record company, Stax (the claim was settled out of court, with Stax agreeing to credit Naomi Neville as the songwriter). Redding's version of the song was also recorded by the Rolling Stones on their second album. In 1964, "A Certain Girl" (originally by Ernie K-Doe) was the B-side of the first single release by the Yardbirds. The song was released again in 1980 by Warren Zevon, as the single from the album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School it reached 57 on Billboard's Hot 100. Mary Weiss, former lead singer of The Shangri-Las, released it as "A Certain Guy" in 2007.
Toussaint credited about twenty songs to his parents, Clarence and Naomi, sometimes using the pseudonym "Naomi Neville". These include "Fortune Teller", first recorded by Benny Spellman in 1961, "Pain In My Heart," first a hit for Otis Redding in 1963, and "Work, Work, Work", recorded by the Artwoods in 1966. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covered "Fortune Teller" on their 2007 album Raising Sand.
Toussaint was drafted into the US Army in 1963 but continued to record when on leave. After his discharge in 1965, he joined forces with Marshall Sehorn to form Sansu Enterprises, which included a record label, Sansu, variously known as Tou-Sea, Deesu, or Kansu, and recorded Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, Betty Harris, and others. Dorsey had hits with several of Toussaint's songs, including "Ride Your Pony" (1965), "Working in the Coal Mine" (1966), and "Holy Cow" (1966). The core players of the rhythm section used on many of the Sansu recordings from the mid- to late 1960s, Art Neville and the Sounds, consisted of Art Neville on keyboards, Leo Nocentelli on guitar, George Porter on bass, and Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. They later became known as the Meters. Their backing can be heard in songs such as Dorsey's "Ride Your Pony" and "Working in the Coal Mine", sometimes augmented by horns, which were usually arranged by Toussaint. The Toussaint-produced records of these years backed by the members of the Meters, with their increasing use of syncopation and electric instrumentation, built on the influences of Professor Longhair and others before them, but updated these strands, effectively paving the way for the development of a modern New Orleans funk sound. 
Toussaint continued to produce the Meters when they began releasing records under their own name in 1969. As part of a process begun at Sansu and reaching fruition in the 1970s, he developed a funkier sound, writing and producing for a host of artists, such as Dr. John (backed by the Meters, on the 1973 album In the Right Place, which contained the hit "Right Place, Wrong Time") and an album by the Wild Tchoupitoulas, a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians tribe led by "Big Chief Jolly" (George Landry) (backed by the Meters and several of his nephews, including Art and Cyril Neville of the Meters and their brothers Charles and Aaron, who later performed and recorded as the Neville Brothers). One of his compositions, "Here Come the Girls", recorded by Ernie K-Doe in 1970, formed the basis of the Sugababes' 2008 hit "Girls".
In the 1970s Toussaint began to work with artists from beyond New Orleans artists, such as B. J. Thomas, Robert Palmer, Willy DeVille, Sandy Denny, Elkie Brooks, Solomon Burke, Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller (High Life), and southern rocker Mylon LeFevre. He arranged horn music for the Band's albums Cahoots (1971) and Rock of Ages (1972) and for the documentary film The Last Waltz (1978). Boz Scaggs recorded Toussaint's "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" on his 1976 album Silk Degrees, which reached number 2 on the U.S. pop albums chart. The song was also recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her 1975 album Home Plate and by Geoff Muldaur (1976), Lowell George (1979), Vince Gill (1993), and Elvis Costello (2005). In 1976 he also collaborated with John Mayall on the album Notice to Appear.
In 1973 Toussaint and Sehorn created the Sea-Saint recording studio in the Gentilly section of eastern New Orleans. Toussaint also began recording under his own name, contributing vocals as well as piano. His solo career peaked in the mid-1970s with the albums From a Whisper to a Scream and Southern Nights. During this time he teamed with Labelle and produced their acclaimed 1975 album Nightbirds, which contained the number one hit "Lady Marmalade". The same year, Toussaint collaborated with Paul McCartney and Wings for their hit album Venus and Mars and played on the song "Rock Show". Also in 1973, his "Yes We Can Can" was covered by The Pointer Sisters for their self-titled debut album; released as a single, it became both a pop and R&B hit and served as the group's introduction to popular culture. Two years later, Glen Campbell covered Toussaint's "Southern Nights" and carried the song to number one on the pop, country and adult contemporary charts.
In 1987, he was the musical director of an off-Broadway show, Staggerlee, which ran for 150 performances. Like many of his contemporaries, Toussaint found that interest in his compositions was rekindled when his work began to be sampled by hip hop artists in the 1980s and 1990s.
Most of Toussaint's possessions, including his home and recording studio, Sea-Saint Studios, were lost during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He initially sought shelter at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street. Following the hurricane, whose aftermath left most of the city flooded, he left New Orleans for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and for several years settled in New York City. His first television appearance after the hurricane was on the September 7, 2005, episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, sitting in with Paul Shaffer and his CBS Orchestra. Toussaint performed regularly at Joe's Pub in New York City through 2009. He eventually returned to New Orleans and lived there for the rest of his life.
The River in Reverse, Toussaint's collaborative album with Elvis Costello, was released on May 29, 2006, in the UK on Verve Records by Universal Classics and Jazz UCJ. It was recorded in Hollywood and at the Piety Street Studio in the Bywater section Toussaint's native New Orleans, as the first major studio session to take place after Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Toussaint performed a duet with Paul McCartney of a song by New Orleans musician and resident Fats Domino, "I Want to Walk You Home", as their contribution to Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard Records).
In 2008, Toussaint's song "Sweet Touch of Love" was used in a deodorant commercial for the Axe (Lynx) brand. The commercial won a Gold Lion at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. In February 2008, Toussaint appeared on Le Show, the Harry Shearer show broadcast on KCRW. He appeared in London in August 2008, where he performed at the Roundhouse. In October 2008 he performed at Festival New Orleans at The O2 alongside acts such as Dr. John and Buckwheat Zydeco. Sponsored by Quint Davis of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Philip Anschutz, the event was intended to promote New Orleans music and culture and to revive the once lucrative tourist trade that had been almost completely lost following the flooding that came with Hurricane Katrina. After his second performance at the festival, Toussaint appeared alongside Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu.
Toussaint performed instrumentals from his album The Bright Mississippi and many of his older songs for a taping of the PBS series Austin City Limits, which aired on January 9, 2015. In December 2009, he was featured on Elvis Costello's Spectacle program on the Sundance Channel, singing "A Certain Girl". Toussaint appeared on Eric Clapton's 2010 album, Clapton, in two Fats Waller covers, "My Very Good Friend the Milkman" and "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful".
His late-blooming career as a performer began when he accepted an offer to play a regular Sunday brunch session at an East Village pub. Interviewed in 2014 by The Guardian′s Richard Williams, Toussaint said, "I never thought of myself as a performer.... My comfort zone is behind the scenes." In 2013 he collaborated on a ballet with the choreographer Twyla Tharp. Toussaint was a musical mentor to Swedish-born New Orleans songwriter and performer Theresa Andersson.
Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. In 2016, he posthumously won the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player title at the Blues Music Awards.
Toussaint died in the early hours of November 10, 2015, in Madrid, Spain, while on tour. Following a concert at the Teatro Lara on Calle Corredera Baja de San Pablo, he had a heart attack at his hotel and was pronounced dead on his arrival at hospital. He was 77. He had been due to perform a sold-out concert at the EFG London Jazz Festival at The Barbican on November 15 with his band and Theo Croker. He was also scheduled to play with Paul Simon at a benefit concert in New Orleans on 8 December. His final recording, American Tunes, titled after the Paul Simon song, which he sings on the album, was released by Nonesuch Records on June 10, 2016.
Toussaint's one marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his two children, Clarence (better known as Reginald) and Alison, and several grandchildren. His children had managed his career in his last years.
Writing in the New York Times, Ben Sisario quoted Quint Davis, producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: "In the pantheon of New Orleans music people, from Jelly Roll Morton to Mahalia Jackson to Fats—that's the place where Allen Toussaint is in". Paul Simon said, "We were friends and colleagues for almost 40 years.... We played together at the New Orleans jazz festival. We played the benefits for Katrina relief. We were about to perform together on December 8. I was just beginning to think about it; now I'll have to think about his memorial. I am so sad."
The Daily Telegraph described Toussaint as "a master of New Orleans soul and R&B, and one of America's most successful songwriters and producers", adding that "self-effacing Toussaint played a crucial role in countless classic songs popularised by other artists". He had written so many songs, over more than five decades, that he admitted to forgetting quite a few.
None recognized before
| AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer/Engineer
"A Certain Girl" is a 1961 song by Ernie K-Doe. It was a double-sided hit as the B-side of "I Cried My Last Tear" (U.S. #69). "A Certain Girl" also charted, reaching number 71 during the fall of that year. The single was the only release from his final album.Changes (Etta James album)
Changes is the 15th studio album by Etta James, released in 1980. It was recorded at the Sea-Saint studios in New Orleans, with Allen Toussaint arranging and producing, as well as contributing several songs.Desitively Bonnaroo
Desitively Bonnaroo is a 1974 album by New Orleans rhythm and blues legend Dr. John. The album was produced by Allen Toussaint and features sizable musical support from The Meters. The album mines the territory featured on his previous album In The Right Place. This album spent eight weeks on the Billboard 200 charts, peaking at #105 on June 1, 1974.Fortune Teller (song)
"Fortune Teller" is a song written by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville and first recorded by Benny Spellman (single B-side on Minit Records 644)
It tells the story of a young man who is pleased to learn from a fortune teller that he will find love "When the next one arrives". Next day he returns, angry that nothing has happened, but falls in love with the fortune teller. They get married and are as "happy as we could be", and he gets his "fortune told for free".
Cover versions exist by The Rolling Stones, on their first live album, Got Live If You Want It!, overdubbed with screaming girls (a scream-free version is on the compilation album More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)), The Hollies, The Stellas (CBS Records, 1965), The Who (on the re-release of Live at Leeds, as well as on Live at Hull 1970 and Live at the Fillmore East 1968), The Merseybeats, Tony Jackson, The Downliners Sect, The Iguanas, Strawberry Alarm Clock (recording as Thee Sixpence), and many others, including more recently the October 2007 album Raising Sand, performed by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss and the song was recorded with a new arrangement by Tony Saxon on the 2018 album "Old Souls & Long Term Goals" (Mint 400 Records)
The song was also a hit in Australia, recorded by The Throb. It was released in February 1966 and charted in the Top 5 in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.Girls (Sugababes song)
"Girls" is a 2008 single by British girl group Sugababes. It was written by Anna McDonald and Nicole Jenkinson, and produced by Si Hulbert and Melvin Kuiters for the band's sixth studio album Catfights and Spotlights (2008), featuring an interpolation of Ernie K-Doe's record "Here Come the Girls," as written by Allen Toussaint."Girls" was released as the album's lead single on 6 October 2008 in the United Kingdom, and features remixes by Fred Falke, Dennis Christopher and Funkerman. A moderate chart success around Europe in comparison with previous single, the song peaked in the top-three in Estonia, and the United Kingdom, and reached the top-twenty in Ireland and Turkey as well as the top-fifty in several countries including Slovakia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. "Girls" is used as the one of two theme songs of Dagens Mand, the Danish version of Taken Out.Here Come the Girls (song)
"Here Come the Girls" is a song written by Allen Toussaint and originally recorded by Ernie K-Doe and released in 1970. It failed to chart at that time.
In 2007 the Boots pharmacy chain used the song for two separate television commercials (August 2007; summer 2008). This led to the song re-charting (at #43 for five weeks in the UK; and #48 in 2007 in Ireland and again at #89 for two weeks in 2008). It was this advertisement which the Sugababes heard and subsequently interpolated. After August 2008 it was the Sugababes cover which was used in the Boots advertisements.
In 2008 the Sugababes' version reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 12 in Ireland, and was certified silver by the BPI.In 2017, Trombone Shorty covered the song.High Life (Frankie Miller album)
High Life is the second album by Frankie Miller. It was produced by Allen Toussaint, who also composed seven songs on the album. "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" was released by Three Dog Night the same year as Miller's, and "Shoo Rah" was covered by Betty Wright -- and both tracks become chart hits.
Despite poor sales, the album was critically well received, although Miller was to disown it as Chrysalis Records issued the record in remixed form, without Miller's or Toussaint's knowledge or consent. The remix by Don Davis and Lou Costello remains the most widely available version of High Life; Toussaint and Miller's original mix of the album was made available on the 2011 Frankie Miller box set That's Who.Java (instrumental)
"Java" is an instrumental adaptation from a 1958 LP of piano compositions, The Wild Sounds of New Orleans, by Tousan, also known as New Orleans producer/songwriter Allen Toussaint. As was the case of the rest of Toussaint's LP, "Java" was composed at the studio, primarily by Toussaint.
The first charting version was done by Floyd Cramer in 1962. His version fell just short of the U.S. Top 40.
In 1963, trumpet player Al Hirt recorded the instrumental, and the track was the first single from his album Honey in the Horn. It was Hirt's first and biggest hit on the US pop charts, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 on March 7, 1964 and spending four weeks at number one on the easy listening chart in early 1964. The song was also featured on his greatest hits album, The Best of Al Hirt. Hirt released a live version on his 1965 album, Live at Carnegie Hall. He also recorded the song with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops for the RCA Red Seal album Pops Goes the Trumpet (Holiday for Brass) in 1964.
Hirt's recording won the Grammy Award for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with Orchestra in 1964.Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)
"Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)" is a song first recorded by New Orleans singer Benny Spellman in 1962. It was written by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville. The song became Spellman's only hit record, peaking at number 28 on the Billboard R&B chart and number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. The flip side of the single was "Fortune Teller", made famous by The Rolling Stones cover among others.
Toussaint explained the song's origin in an interview with journalist Terry Gross of National Public Radio: "Well, 'Lipstick Traces'...the guy, Benny Spellman, that sang the bass part on "Mother-In-Law" - he didn't know what it was worth at the time we were doing it, but when "Mother-In-Law" came out and sold, and went to number one, let's say, Benny Spellman that sang the bass part made sure that everyone within the sound of his voice got to know that he sang that part. And then he would go around - he would gig - based on [the fact that] he sang the low part on "Mother-In-Law." And he encouraged me...with much force, to write him a song that he could use that concept. And one result of that was the song 'Lipstick Traces.'""Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)" was recorded in New Orleans on February 2, 1962. The background vocals were done by label mates Irma Thomas and Willie Harper.Luxury You Can Afford
Luxury You Can Afford is the seventh studio album by Joe Cocker, released in 1978 on Asylum Records, his only release for that label.Mother-in-Law (song)
"Mother-in-Law" is a 1961 song recorded by Ernie K-Doe. It was a number-one hit in the U.S. on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard R&B chart. The song was written and produced by Allen Toussaint, who also played the piano solo. It was issued by Minit Records.
After several unsuccessful takes, Toussaint balled up the composition and threw it away as he was leaving the room. One of the backup singers, Willie Harper, thought that it was such a good song that he convinced K-Doe to give it one more try.Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)
Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) is a song by Allen Toussaint that was a top 40 hit for Three Dog Night.Release (The Tension)
"Release (The Tension)" is a song recorded and released by singer Patti LaBelle as a single on the Epic label in 1980. The title track of LaBelle's fourth solo album, Released. It was written and produced by renowned New Orleans funk musician Allen Toussaint. LaBelle recorded the song in mid-range as the song produced a post-disco dance groove. The single failed to hit the Billboard Hot 100 and barely hit the R&B charts where it peaked at number 61 while it peaked at number 48 on the dance singles chart. It had some bigger success internationally reaching the top 20 on the Dutch charts. As a result of that success, LaBelle promoted the song on Dutch TV in the fall of that year.Released (Patti LaBelle album)
Released is the fourth studio solo album released by recording artist Patti LaBelle. LaBelle's final album released by Epic, she would later sign with Philadelphia International Records. The album featured the hits "I Don't Go Shopping", written by previous collaborator David Lasley and musician Peter Allen, and the title track, "Release (The Tension)", which was written by funk legend Allen Toussaint, who produced the entire album. The title track found some international success upon its release while "I Don't Go Shopping" was her first top 40 R&B charted single since 1977. Along with her frequent collaborator, James "Budd" Ellison, LaBelle lyrically co-wrote the last five songs on the album.Southern Nights (Allen Toussaint album)
Southern Nights is a 1975 R&B concept album by Allen Toussaint. Seminal to the development of New Orleans R&B, Toussaint incorporated into the album elements of funk and soul music, while, according to AllMusic, suggesting neo-psychedelia. Two singles were released in support of the album, "Country John" backed with "When the Party's Over" and "Southern Nights"—Toussaint's signature song—backed with "Out of the City". Although neither single charted for Toussaint, "Southern Nights" as later covered by Glen Campbell in 1977 reached number one in Billboard's country, pop and adult contemporary charts. Released in May 1975 by Reprise Records, the album has been subsequently reissued multiple times on both LP and CD.Southern Nights (song)
"Southern Nights" is a song written and recorded by Allen Toussaint, from his 1975 album Southern Nights, and later recorded by American country music singer Glen Campbell. It was the first single released from Campbell's 1977 album Southern Nights and reached No. 1 on three separate US charts. It was covered by the Chicago band Whitney in 2015.The River in Reverse
The River in Reverse is a 2006 collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint.
It received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album.Working in the Coal Mine
"Working in the Coal Mine" is a song with music and lyrics by the American musician and record producer Allen Toussaint. It was an international hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966, and has been recorded by other musicians including Devo in 1981.Yes We Can Can
"Yes We Can Can" is a 1973 funk song recorded by the American R&B girl group the Pointer Sisters and released on the Blue Thumb record label.
Written by Allen Toussaint, "Yes We Can" is a political song advocating unity and tolerance. The Pointer Sisters' version features intricate background vocals and Anita Pointer's lead vocal.
The song is also used in the films The Associate, Big Momma's House, Ali, Maid in Manhattan, and Sunday Driver.
(Ahmet Ertegun Award)