Listen to this track by Crescent City R&B singer, radio personality, and self-styled “R&B Emporer of New Orleans” Ernie K-Doe. It’s “Mother-in-Law” his 1961 number one single that would become his signature tune.
The song was written and produced by indispensable musical renaissance man Allen Toussaint, although it was something of a throwaway tune from him almost literally. The right take on the song proved to be very elusive during the three-hour recording session. In frustration, Toussaint took the songsheet and threw it away. Luckily for Ernie K-Doe and also for Allen Toussaint, backing singer Willie Hopper fished it out of the trash and encouraged the singer to give it another shot, convinced that the song was a hit. It was.
“Mother-in-Law” scored the number one spot on the R&B charts in May of 1961 and stayed there for a week. Ernie K-Doe (born Ernest Kador, Jr.) would trade on this song for decades, singing it during live appearances until the end of his life in 2001. As much as it was signature for him, being his best chart showing by far, the song itself can be viewed as a mark of the times out of which it came, too. Read more
Listen to this track, a slab of vintage New Orleans funk by R&B architects and tight-grooved instrumental soul pioneers The Meters. It’s the classic “Cissy Strut” as taken from the band’s debut 1969 self-titled record, The Meters, overseen production-wise by Allen Toussaint. The tune was a minor hit, gaining in stature over the years as a textbook example of southern funk, laying down an interlocked groove underneath effervescent guitar and organ.
In some ways, the Meters were not unlike Booker T. & The MGs, in that they were relied upon as a label house band. The label in question was Allen Toussaint’s Sansu records. The band would work with a number of luminaries on the New Orleans scene, including Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, Earl King, Betty Harris, and others, including Allen Toussaint who would of course enjoy a solo career himself.
But, like the MGs, The Meters’ undeniable sound as an almost psychically-linked R&B unit would help them to rise above simple backing band status and into the R&B stratosphere. Well, at least this would be true critically speaking, if not in terms of fame outside of musician’s circles. Read more
Listen to this track by 88-fingered New Orleans R&B icon Huey “Piano” Smith. It’s his 1958 hit “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu”, his smash signature hit that sold over a million copies when it was released as a single, and eventually featured on the compilation LP Having a Good Time.
In the end, it’s this type of fun loving, light-spirited playing that nearly everyone associates with the sound of New Orleans R&B, and with the city itself. This song, and Smith as a musician, influenced a legion of players both contemporary of him, as well as the musical acolytes that followed him.
In the ’50s, Smith was an active songwriter, sessioner, and recording artist, knocking out a number of singles in quick succession for himself as well as for other artists including Guitar Slim, Earl King, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, and Smiley Lewis, among others. In 1957, he formed his own band, the Clowns and began a career which would finish the decade, and then into the ’60s too, with hits on the R&B charts as well as the pop charts. But, this one would be his trademark; a joyous, life-affirming thing, brimming with glee and sexiness.