I remember the very first time I saw Allen Toussaint in person. While we did not actually meet until many years later, it is a New Orleans music memory I will never forget. It was probably the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at which I worked. The grandstand at the Fairgrounds was in the process of being rebuilt after it was destroyed by a fire in December of 1993, so all the heritage interviews and cultural exhibits were moved to tents in the parking lot. At the Heritage Stage, now renamed the Allison Miner Heritage Stage, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John were telling stories about, and performing, some of their famous compositions.
Allen was talking about Mother-in-Law, which he wrote and was one of Ernie K-Doe’s biggest hits. He told the story of how Benny Spellman, who song the iconic “Mother-in-Law” bass line in the tune, tried to convince Allen that it was a hit because of him and how well he sang his part. Benny wanted Mr. Toussaint to write a song for him so that he could be the star, just like what this song did for K-Doe. Allen then demonstrated on the piano how he basically took the same music – and most importantly that catchy bass line which in the new tune is “Don’t leave me no more” – from Mother-in-Law and changed the melody around to compose what turned out to be Benny Spellman’s biggest hit, Lipstick Traces. A couple more fun facts about his tune are that he wrote it under the pseudonym Naomi Neville – his mother’s name and one he used on several other occasions, and, to much less fascinating degree, it was recorded on my first birthday, February 2, 1962.