Monday, May 09, 2011

Let's Hear the Lass

The fame of New Orleans as a creative hub for r&b and soul music is commonly buried under the legacies, seemingly more important and lasting, of Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Philadelphia or even Cincinnati and New York. And while New Orleans's heritage of big band sound, jazz and cajun is widely celebrated, all other styles of music created in the Crescent City have been underrated or outright forgotten. Well, that is a mistake. Everybody who wants to correct this picture can easily go for John Broven's classical study Walking to New Orleans: The Story of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues (1974, the US-edition was published under the title Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans). And then we have, from recent years, the book by Jeff Hannusch (The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm And Blues, Ville Platte 2001) and Rick Coleman's biography of Fats Domino (Blue Monday. Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll, Cambridge, Mass. 2006). There is therefore no problem in re-evaluating the historical importance of New Orleans for r&b or soul.

Minit LP # 0004 (1963)
A good introduction to the musical richness of the town during the early 1960s offers the Minit LP »New Orleans: Home of the Blues, Volume 2« (Minit LP 0004, 1963). It contains songs by Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, The Showmen and Irma Thomas. Nothwithstanding the somewhat misleading title as good as all songs on this LP clearly belong to the r&b or early southern soul tradition, though they are more or less strongly influenced by the peculiar New Orleans sound. And that's what makes this LP so interesting.

Six of the twelve songs on this LP are by Irma Thomas. Indeed, this LP has been called, with some justification, the »first album« of Irma Thomas (her actual solo albums were released only later on the Imperial label). Irma Thomas is renowned as the true »Soul-Queen of New Orleans« to the present day, and she was the most successful r&b singer active in and around New Orleans in the 1960s. (See also Grace Lichtenstein's / Laura Dankner's Musical Gumbo: The Music Of New Orleans, New York 1993, p. 172-191.) Between 1960 and 1966 she recorded for Ron, Minit, Bandy and Imperial, all labels closely connected to the Crescent City or even based there. In 1967 she moved on to Chess Records (Chicago). Irma Thomas's most famous hits were (and still are) »Ruler Of My Heart« (1963), »Wish Someone Would Care«, »Break-a-way« and »Time Is On My Side« (all from 1964). On this blog, you could already hear her song »It's Raining«.

The two songs you can listen to in the following are from the Minit LP # 0004. At the same time, they were released as A- and B-side of her third Minit-single (# 642) in January 1962. The first song, »I Done Got Over It«, had already been a hit in 1961 for Ernie K-Doe (civic name Ernest Kador Jr.) who also wrote the song. The second song, »Gone« was written, according to the information on the disc label, by a certain »N. Neville«, that is »Naomi Neville«, and this again was the songwriter's pseudonym of Allen Toussaint but actually the maiden name of his mother. Both songs resemble each other somewhat and say »New Orleans!« with every note you hear. This becomes particularly evident from the rhythm as well as from the accompanying piano which not a little reminds of the style of Fats Domino and his famous »triplets«. Ernie K-Doe and Allen Toussaint were the masterminds behind this particular »New Orleans-Soul« and those mainly responsible for the recordings at Minit Records.

That »I Done Got Over It« is a »gospelish tune« as a critic remarked in Billboard (February 3, 1962, p. 28) seems very far-fetched to me. Equally questionable is his verdict that the backing is »a bit old-fashioned«. But this can still be tolerated. However, the same critic's verdict concerning Irma's song »Gone« basically shows that the guy either wrote his first review that day or that he had a strong dislike of everything coming out of New Orleans: »Lass sells a slow tempo ballad with warmth, aided a bit by the group and combo. Lass is better than the material.« Well. Let's better listen to the »lass«:

Irma Thomas: »I Done Got Over It« / »Gone« from the Minit LP # 0004 (1963):

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