Allen Toussaint (1938-2015) was a huge figure in New Orleans music: a producer, songwriter, arranger, musician, and sharp-dressed man. To even begin to give a sense of who he was, we need more than just one hour.
Allen Toussaint was a friend and collaborator to many great figures in New Orleans music. As a writer, producer, and arranger, he brought out the best in everyone, and was a key figure in some of the biggest hits to ever come from New Orleans. He was known and loved around the world as an ambassador of New Orleans music, but he remained a shy and private person, more comfortable working in the background as a sideman.
In this episode, the second part of a two-episode tribute, we speak with some of the people he worked closely with, including Leo Nocentelli and George Porter Jr of the Meters, Sarah Dash of Labelle, and the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas. Plus we hear from a record collector who became friends with Toussaint one night, after he just dropped by to listen to some music.
When we were planning this show, musicians who had worked with Allen jumped at the chance to be a part of it, and the interviews we conducted were all lively and entertaining. Our only regret was that this one-hour episode could only include a portion of the conversations we recorded.
Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, worked with Allen Toussaint on a number of classic singles in the 1960s, and also sang backup on many singles he produced for other singers. In person she is so friendly and charming that she puts everyone at ease immediately, and she also has an amazing memory. Her interview with us was one of the high points of all our work on New Orleans Calling, and we’re very grateful for the time she spent with us.
Guitarist Leo Nocentelli played guitar on many tracks produced by Allen Toussaint. He was a member of the legendary Meters, who individually and as a group played on a great many of Allen’s productions.
George Porter Jr was the bass player for the Meters, and likewise appeared on many of Allen’s tracks.
Sarah Dash is one of the three voices in the group Labelle, alongside Patti Labelle and Nona Hendryx. Allen produced and arranged their 1975 album Nightbirds, which included their biggest hit, “Lady Marmalade.”
And if you missed the first episode of our tribute, “Say Yes To Music,” featuring Allen Toussaint telling his story in his own words, from archived interviews, you can find it here.
TO LEARN MORE:
The KnowLouisiana.org website, produced by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, has a wealth of additional information about Allen Toussaint:
KnowLouisiana Salutes Allen Toussaint includes interviews with Toussaint you can listen to online — including a complete Ben Sandmel interview which is featured prominently in this episode of New Orleans Calling.
One Southern Night: Remembering Allen Toussaint is a beautifully written recollection of Toussaint by Brian Boyles, LEH’s Vice President of Content.
Yes He Can Can: Allen Toussaint perpetuates New Orleans’ unique musical style is a 2010 cover story for Louisiana Cultural Vistas (a magazine published by LEH), written by Kathy Finn.
Lee Dorsey – “Working in a Coal Mine” (music bed)
Lee Dorsey – Ya Ya” (music bed)
Eldridge Holmes – “The Book”
Betty Harris – “Twelve Red Roses” (music bed)
Cyril Neville – “Gossip”
The Meters – “Cardova” (music bed)
The Meters – “Live Wire” (music bed)
Dr. John – “Right Place, Wrong Time” (music bed)
Dr. John – “Let’s Make a Bettter World”
Ernie K-Doe – “Whoever is Thrilling You (is Killing Me)” (music bed)
Ernie K-Doe – “Here Come the Girls”
Eleventh Hour – “Lady Marmalade” (music bed)
Labelle – “Are You Lonely?” (music bed)
Allen Toussaint – “All of It” (music bed)
Labelle – “Lady Marmalade”
The Meters – “The Look of Love” (music bed at end of first half)
Allen Toussaint – “Moo Moo” (music bed)
Allen Toussaint – “Naomi” (music bed)
Irma Thomas – “You Can Have My Husband But Don’t Mess With My Man” (music bed)
Irma Thomas – “Cry On”
Irma Thomas – “Two Winters Long”
Irma Thomas – “I Did My Part”
Allen Toussaint – “A Blue Mood” (music bed)
Irma Thomas – “It’s Raining”
Lee Dorsey – “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further” (music bed)
Allen Toussaint – “Freedom for the Stallion”
Allen Toussaint – “Last Train”
Allen Toussaint – “Louie” (music bed)
Allen Toussaint – “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” (music bed)
NEW ORLEANS CALLING is a production of WWOZ, listener-supported community radio in the Crescent City.
George Ingmire is the host, writer, editor, interviewer, audio engineer, intrepid field recorder, and co-producer.
Dave Ankers is the producer.
Melanie Merz is the supervising producer.
National distribution managed by Russell Shelton and Carmen Connor Post.
Web support by David Stafford.
Executive Producer is WWOZ’s General Manager David Freedman.
Very special thanks to:
- The family of Allen Toussaint, especially Reggie Toussaint.
- Kevin Clark for arranging the interview with Sarah Dash.
- Julian Herzfeld and Amy Salit of WHYY in Philadelphia, for technical assistance.
- Journalist and producer Ben Sandmel, for guidance and knowledge.
- Dee Lindsey, for arranging interviews.
- WWOZ Program Director Dwayne Breashears, for getting the ball rolling.
And special thanks to Romy Mariano and Brian Boyles at Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
Special thanks to:
Sally Young and Melanie Merz for their voice talents.
New Orleans Calling volunteers Catey Boyle and Doug Marshall.
Photo courtesy WWOZ video.