Legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint

Naomi Neville

Allen ToussaintSurely, I understood. For his November 1 piece, Casey Seiler, the editor of the local newspaper the Times Union, was looking to write about almost anything except the election. November 10 “marks five years since the death of Allen Toussaint, a true renaissance figure in American popular music.”

As an avid reader of liner notes, I know the musician more as a producer and songwriter of great renown than as a performer. He once said, “I always take forever to do an album, because when I do an album, I don’t plan to do another.”

Allen Toussaint worked with the legendary Meters. He produced, arranged, and/or played piano for artists such as Etta James, Albert King, Elvis Costello, and Joe Cocker. His horn arrangements for the Band, Paul Simon, and Little Feat greatly enhanced their work.

“A blessing”

Seiler interviewed Toussaint “in 2014, as a preview of his appearance at Mass MoCA… He talked about losing his home in Hurricane Katrina nine years earlier, a catastrophe that forced him to leave New Orleans and resettle for an extended period in New York City. He spoke of the collaborations and friendships he had made during his exile as ‘a blessing.’

“Near the end of our interview, I asked the 75-year-old Toussaint if new songs and compositions were still occurring to him as readily as when he was younger.

“‘Now more than ever before! I wake up in a hurry to get to the pen and page,’ he said. ‘Yes — I’m inspired because I move around more than I used to, and inspiration is every door I open, every corner I turn, every other way I turn my head to look. And I enjoy inspiration all the time; it makes life so wonderful… All the new things that happen around me — everything is a surprise.’

“I’ve interviewed a lot of people, including artists whose work has inspired me immeasurably. But I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an answer to a question that has stayed with me like Toussaint’s.”

The music

He wrote these songs, some under the name Naomi Neville (his mother’s given name)

Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) – Madeleine Peyroux
Fortune Teller – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Freedom for the Stallion – the Oak Ridge Boy
From A Whisper To A Scream – Elvis Costello

Get Out of My Life Woman -Butterfield Blues Band
Java – Al Hirt
Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette) Benny Spellman
Mother-in-Law – Ernie K-Doe

Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) – Three Dog Night
Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley – Robert Palmer
Southern Nights – Glen Campbell
What Do You Want the Girl to Do? – Lowell George,

What Is Success – Bonnie Raitt
Whipped Cream  – Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass
Working in a Coal Mine  – Devo
Yes We Can Can – The Pointer Sisters

And more

He produced or co-produced these and many, many more

Lady Marmalade – LaBelle
Ooh Poo Pah Doo  – Jessie Hill
Right Place, Wrong Time – Dr. John
Ya Ya – Lee Dorsey

In his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, his page notes, “A rare talent forged in the fires of New Orleans’ red hot music scene.

“Few people can produce, arrange, write songs or perform—Allen Toussaint did it all and then some with expertise and aplomb.”

The live album Songbook (2009) was the last one he released. He died in Madrid while touring. “A few weeks prior to his passing, Toussaint reunited with Joe Henry to cut material for a new record. Those recordings, combined with some solo 2013 sessions, were packaged as the posthumous American Tunes, released in June of 2016.”

American Tune  – Allen Toussaint