Allen Toussaint Takes Us Down New Orleans Way
Holger Petersen summed up perfectly what had transpired Wednesday afternoon as New Orleans piano legend Allen Toussaint
was departing Convocation Hall at the University of Alberta campus.
“The stars have to be aligned perfectly to have these sorts of things happen,” said a smiling Petersen, just after Toussaint had been interviewed in Con Hall as he showed examples of New Orleans piano styles on the house grand piano.
“These kinds of events just don’t happen very often. I’d call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to sit and hear someone of Allen Toussaint’s stature talk about his life in music,” added the host of CKUA’s Natch’l Blues who, along with Lark Clark and myself, attended Toussaint’s interview session that also included a stop at the FolkwaysAlive! Interpretive centre, also located in Con Hall.
With considerable help and cooperation from management at Festival Place and the venue that was presenting Toussaint that evening, a number of faculty, staff and ethnomusicology students were treated to an interview conducted by Jonathan Kertzer, the newly appointed Director of FolkwaysAlive!, prior to the performance/interview in Con Hall.
Allen Toussaint and Jonathan Kertzer
Dapper, charming, soft-spoken but forthright, Toussaint comes across as a man who is very aware of his elevated status in culture and music, but also as a man whose personal make-up includes a considerable amount of humility.
Over the course of an hour at the cozy FolkwaysAlive! gathering Kertzer pointed Toussaint to various chapters of his career and the pianist, composer, and arranger had high praise for artists he had collaborated with over the years.
Discussing the brilliance of his hero Professor Longhair, whom he referred to as “the Bach of our Rock”, Toussaint not only discussed the unique structure and phrasing of Longhair’s keyboard work, he also presented examples of the unique and spacey lyrics and vocal cadence that was an integral part to many of Longhair’s pieces.
As the hour unfolded we heard anecdotes about the sessions Toussaint and Elvis Costello recorded in New York City following Hurricane Katrina, as well as his thoughts on the brilliance of The Meters, while singling out Art Neville and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste.
“With the Meters you just closed the studio door and let them go. When they were done, you just let them out and hope nobody got hurt.”
When commenting on his involvement with Little Feat in the seventies, Toussiant referred to Lowell George as “one of the coolest cats to have ever landed on this planet”, before recounting his touring with the band in the heyday of Warner Records, when promotional budgets were substantial.
Toussaint’s audience heard about the legendary sessions that launched Little Richard’s career, how songwriter Jimmy Webb nudged Glen Campbell to record an uptempo version of Toussaint’s Southern Nights and how well he and The Band worked together on the Rock of Ages recording for which Toussaint arranged all the horns.
That Toussaint’s Festival Place concert was a sell-out, topped off a very fruitful day and half in Edmonton and it immediately made one want to revisit the records Toussaint has released under his own name and his many great songs that have been covered by Lee Dorsey, Albert King, Rita Coolidge, Thelma Houston, Bonnie Raitt, the late Robert Palmer, Ringo Starr, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Ernie K-Doe, Boz Scaggs and so many others.
Kudos to Festival Place and FolkwaysAlive! for making the most out of Mr. Toussaint’s first trip to Edmonton.
Steve PineoSteve Pineo
has just released his first “all blues” recording and the Calgarian has been introducing audiences around the province to a batch of new tunes that were released under the title Steve Pineo's Blue Monday Trio/Hardwired for the Blues.
The title is a reference to the longtime Monday night residency that finds Pineo, bassist Kit Johnson, and drummer Kelly Kruse laying down the blues at Mikey’s Juke Joint on 10th Avenue in Calgary.
Anyone who has followed Pineo’s career knows that “the blues” are entrenched in his musical make-up and his solo albums and performances on Co-Dependents discs have included blues-basted pieces.
“I had never recorded an album that is all one genre. However this was a bit of a vain attempt to appeal to the purists,” states Pineo with an accompanying chuckle.
The guitarist, singer and songwriter made a valiant attempt to document much of the material found on the disc from the Monday night live performances but the combination of technical gremlins and takes that revealed the odd clam pushed the trio toward the studio.
In a matter of a couple of rounds of recording the band had laid down 15 beds and by the time they began sifting through the combination of live and studio takes there were no less than two dozen tunes to choose from.
The end result is a set that showcases Pineo’s guitar playing like never before. The impressive sonic sweep of Blue Monday Trio/Hardwired for the Blues sends a message that this is his nod to his favourite styles of blues guitar playing and to the champions of the blues guitar that continue to inspire him.
“For the Monday night shows I usually take a solid body guitar and a hollow body guitar to Mikey’s. One is in an Elmore James tuning and the other is in a Muddy Waters tuning. I can go to so many different textures with a trio. I can roll the tone off the hollow body and go for a more jazzy sound on some things.”
Pineo was pleased with the release party performances in Calgary and Carlson’s On MacLeod in High River and he brings Johnson and Kruse to Edmonton for a Full Moon Folk Club show on Friday October 21, with a little twist.
The trio will be augmented with a two-piece horn section that will feature Dave Babcock on tenor sax.
“The horns will be up with us for most of the night but there are a few songs like Easy Rider that will stay the way they are on the album.”
Tickets for Pineo’s Full Moon gig will be available at the door at St. Basil’s Cultural Centre and show time is 8 p.m..
Also on tap for Pineo at the end of this month is The Rockin’ Blues Extravaganza that will team him with Tim Williams and Portland’s Robbie Laws for dates in Calgary and Red Deer.
Speaking of “the blues”, does anyone put more into a performance than John Hammond
, who dropped into the province for three shows last week, two at the Engineered Theatre in Calgary and one at Festival Place in Sherwood Park.
Hammond’s set lists continue to be the greatest journeys through the acoustic country and delta blues and his takes on post World War II songs from giants like Jimmy Rogers are riveting.
Over the course of two sets at Festival Place, Hammond took his audience to the headwaters of many blues tributaries and by the time the night had come to a close his audience was drenched in the sounds of Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell, and Big Joe Williams.
That he has also added a number of fine originals to his body of work over the past decade is another bonus, as is his commitment to dotting an evening with wonderful stories about his youth and early years as a blues player.
During the show I caught, Hammond talked of his late friend Michael Bloomfield on a couple of occasions. His verbal vignette regarding Bloomfield, who at the age of 17, took his 18 year-old friend to Maxwell Street in Chicago to meet Sleepy John Estes and Furry Lewis was spellbinding.
“I’d come up from a college I was attending just south of Chicago and I was hoping to see people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf,” said Hammond. “Michael not only knew where to see these men, he was friends with all of them,” added the bluesman with an accompanying pencil-thin smile.
There were more stories about being 20 years old and pumping gas during the day in Hollywood and opening shows at night at the Ash Grove for The Staple Singers. Another found Hammond reminiscing about driving Big Joe Williams around Chicago for a week's worth of coffee house shows, where Hammond would be allowed to sit in on harp for a couple of tunes in exchange for his nightly chauffeuring skills.
In any case, one can only hope that Hammond’s wonderful memory points to a future book about his amazing half-century of playing the blues all over the world.