Born Allen Richard Toussaint, 14 January, 1938, New Orleans, Louisiana
Pianist / songwriter / vocalist / arranger / producer
Allen Toussaint was the most important producer and songwriter of New Orleans R&B and rock 'n' roll of the 1960s. He produced and wrote classic, gently funky rhythm numbers and timeless ballads for Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Jessie Hill, Barbara George, Chris Kenner, The Meters, Aaron Neville, The Showmen, Benny Spellman and Irma Thomas. By 1960 the familiar riffing productions of Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino were becoming a trifle stale and a change was needed to keep New Orleans music viable. Almost single-handedly, Toussaint changed the sound of New Orleans R&B in the 1960s.
It was the piano that prompted him to take up music. Already as a child, he played every day, learning to play by ear listening to records (he mentions Professor Longhair as his greatest influence) and the radio. When he was thirteen, Toussaint joined a neighbourhood band called The Flamingoes (which also included Snooks Eaglin) and began to play at dances and socials. While still in his early teens, Toussaint began to sneak into the Dew Drop Inn, where he was discovered by Dave Bartholomew, who asked him to play on the backing track for Fats Domino's "I Want You To Know", while Fats was on the road. This was the first time Allen entered a recording studio (in October 1957) and nobody noticed that it wasn't Fats who played piano on "I Want You To Know". A few weeks later, Allen performed the role of organist and arranger on the hit "Walkin' With Mr. Lee" (# 54 pop) by sax man Lee Allen.
In February 1958 he recorded the instrumental album "The Wild Sounds of New Orleans" in just two days, for RCA. Although the LP didn't sell, one song from it, "Java" became a Top 5 hit for trumpeter Al Hirt in 1964. Toussaint was in the U.S. Army at that time. "I was walking through the barracks one day and I heard 'Java' by Al Hirt, and I didn't know he had recorded it. I told one of the guys in the barracks that there was a song that I wrote on the radio and would he turn it up a little. He said "Aww, of course, you wrote it". He didn't believe it."
In December 1959, Allen recorded more piano instrumentals, for the Seville label from New York. Like the RCA album, these were released under the name of Al Tousan. The best known of the four Seville singles is the stop-start novelty "Naomi", also released in the UK (London HLU 9291), where it was erroneously credited to "Al Pousan And His Piano" (same on the German London release). "Naomi" was covered by Floyd Cramer, who also was the first to have a hit with Java" (early 1963).
When Joe Banashak started his Minit label in August 1959, Toussaint became the creative force behind the label, as songwriter, producer, arranger and talent scout. This was what Allen really wanted. A short stint on the road with Shirley and Lee in 1957 had convinced him that touring was not for him and that he'd rather work in the studio, behind other artists. His first hit at Minit was Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" (# 28 pop, 1960), but the real breakthrough came in 1961 with big hits like "Mother-in-Law" by Ernie K-Doe, "I Like It Like That" by Chris Kenner and Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya". "Mother-in-Law" was the first # 1 ever to be recorded in New Orleans (neither Fats Domino nor Little Richard ever had a No. 1). Other classic Toussaint productions from his pre-Army period include "It Will Stand" (The Showmen), "I Know" by Barbara George (# 3 pop in 1962) and "Fortune Teller"/"Lipstick Traces" by Benny Spellman.
Returning to civilian life in early 1965, after two years of military duty, Toussaint did not feel comfortable going back to Banashak, who had sold Minit to Lew Chudd. He resumed producing Lee Dorsey (for the Amy label) and Chris Kenner (for Instant) and soon also Aaron Neville and the Meters, who would later become the Neville Brothers. In 1965- 1966 Allen was a member of the 7-piece instrumental group The Stokes and released five singles by them on his own ALON label. You could call their music easy listening, New Orleans-style. The first Stokes single, "Whipped Cream", was covered by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, who scored a # 68 hit with Toussaint's composition (one of the many songs he wrote under the maiden name of his mother, Naomi Neville).
Allen found a new partner in Marshall Sehorn, who had worked for Bobby Robinson's Fire and Fury labels. With substantial royalties coming in from Lee Dorsey's hits, Toussaint and Sehorn were able to form their own corporation, Sansu Enterprises. With Sehorn the hustling boisterous front man and Toussaint the reclusive musical genius, they established the Sansu, Kansus, Deesu and Tou-Sea labels. In 1973 they opened the ultra-modern Sea-Saint Studio in New Orleans, where many famous artists have recorded, including The Pointer Sisters, Etta James, Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Gladys Knight, Paul Simon and Dr. John (who had the biggest hit of his career with the Toussaint- produced "Right Place, Wrong Time" in 1973, # 9 pop).
Toussaint produced his second pop #1 hit in 1975, "Lady Marmalade" by LaBelle. In that same year he recorded an album for Warner Bros as a vocalist, "Southern Nights". When Glen Campbell covered the title song in 1977, it became one of the biggest international hits of that year. The 1970s were an extremely busy and successful decade for Toussaint. Even his (reluctant) career as a solo vocalist blossomed, though he never scored a national hit under his own name. The 1980s were a lot quieter, but Toussaint continues to perform in the New Orleans area until this time of writing. He formed NYNO Records in 1996 to give New Orleans music a national outlet. Allen Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (as non-performer), into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.
More info : http://www.nynorecords.com/allen.shtml
Acknowledgements : Jeff Hannusch, John Broven, Rick Coleman, Eric Olsen.
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/atoussaint.htm
Dik, June 2013
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