Allen Toussaint – Musician’s Musician

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When Allen Toussaint died a few weeks ago, I said to myself, I know that name. I know he’s a New Orleans musician, I know he’s been around a long time, I know he’s collaborated with everybody. But I realized I didn’t know nearly enough about him. So I decided to go back and figure out what he’d been involved with and what I knew him from.

And as I already knew, he’s one of those behind-the-scenes performer, producer, songwriter, arranger guys that mean so much to music but never really become well-known.  But it turns out he had his hand in some very well-known songs that become very popular. (I love Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley,” but just discovered Toussaint wrote it).

But despite that, he did write and record some songs of his own. Did he want to be a famous recording artist and not just a backstage guy? I don’t know. Probably. Who doesn’t? Regardless, here’s a nice song he wrote (and on which he sings) that later became a minor hit for a band called the Hues Corporation (who later had a hit song called “Rock the Boat.”)

In 1972, Toussaint released a well-regarded album called, “Life, Love and Faith.” (Well-regarded now. I don’t recall it having an impact at the time but it probably wasn’t on my radar). Among others, he was backed by the Meters, a vital New Orleans band co-founded by a couple of guys who would go on to form the Neville Brothers. Of the following song, “Goin’ Down,” Allmusic says Toussaint, “turns it seriously, deeply funky,”

As mentioned, Toussaint worked as a producer or collaborator on a lot of other artists’ albums. A partial list would include: Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Robert Palmer. Paul Simon (“There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”), and The Band. He also wrote the early ’60’s classic “Mother-in-Law,” “Fortune Teller,” (which the Who and other British bands covered), and “Southern Nights,” (which Glen Campbell had a hit with).

But his biggest hit that wasn’t his hit at all was a song called “Lady Marmalade” which was actually a number one song for a band named LaBelle. (Co-written by Bob Crewe who wrote so many hits for the Four Seasons). It’s about a prostitute but Patti LaBelle swears she didn’t know what she was singing when she sang it. Nevertheless, how can you not like a Top 40 hit about screwing?  And this song is totally balls-out! (So to speak).

Toussaint died on November 10, 2015 in Madrid while on tour.  He had been scheduled to follow that up with a concert with old friend Paul Simon in New Orleans. I can’t say I know for a fact he died doing what he loved. Maybe, at 77, he just wanted to stay home and tend his garden. But I will cling to the idea that yes, he was right where he wanted to be. So, thank you Allen Toussaint for everything. RIP.



2 thoughts on “Allen Toussaint – Musician’s Musician

  1. Good one Jim. Just watched a doc on him recently. Amazing that one guy can have so much good music in him. I like all the covers of his songs but they were special when he sang them. ‘Mother in Law’ is an all time CB fave.


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