Allen Toussaint

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Allen Toussaint
AllenToussaintFreretStFestival2009DSBNOLA (cropped).jpg
Toussaint at the Freret Street Festival,
New Orleans, 2009
Background information
Also known asAl Tousan, Allen Orange, Naomi Neville, Clarence Toussaint
Born(1938-01-14)January 14, 1938
Gert Town, Louisiana, U.S.
Origin New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedNovember 10, 2015(2015-11-10) (aged 77)
Madrid, Spain
  • Musician
  • composer
  • arranger
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • piano
Years active1958–2015
Associated acts

Allen Toussaint ( /ˈtsɑːnt/ ; January 14, 1938 – November 10, 2015) was an American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer, who was an influential figure in New Orleans rhythm and blues from the 1950s to the end of the century, described as "one of popular music's great backroom figures". [1] Many musicians recorded Toussaint's compositions, including "Java", "Mother-in-Law", "I Like It Like That", "Fortune Teller", "Ride Your Pony", "Get Out of My Life, Woman", "Working in the Coal Mine", "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky", "Here Come the Girls", "Yes We Can Can", "Play Something Sweet", and "Southern Nights". He was a producer for hundreds of recordings, among the best known of which are "Right Place, Wrong Time", by his longtime friend Dr. John ("Mac" Rebennack), and "Lady Marmalade", by Labelle.

New Orleans rhythm and blues

New Orleans rhythm and blues is a style of rhythm and blues music that originated in the U.S. city of New Orleans. Most popular from 1948 to 1955, it was a direct precursor to rock and roll and strongly influenced ska. Instrumentation typically includes drums, bass, piano, horns, electric guitar, and vocals. The style is characterized by syncopated "second line" rhythms, a strong backbeat, and soulful vocals. Artists such as Roy Brown, Dave Bartholomew, and Fats Domino are representative of the New Orleans R&B sound.

Java (instrumental) single

"Java" is an instrumental adaptation from a 1958 LP of piano compositions, The Wild Sounds of New Orleans, by Tousan, also known as New Orleans producer/songwriter Allen Toussaint. As was the case of the rest of Toussaint's LP, "Java" was composed at the studio, primarily by Toussaint.

Mother-in-Law (song) 1961 song recorded by Ernie K-Doe

"Mother-in-Law" is a 1961 song recorded by Ernie K-Doe. It was a number-one hit in the U.S. on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard R&B chart. The song was written and produced by Allen Toussaint, who also played the piano solo. It was issued by Minit Records.



Early life and career

The youngest of three children, Toussaint was born in 1938 in New Orleans and grew up in a shotgun house in the Gert Town neighborhood, where his mother, Naomi Neville (whose name he later adopted pseudonymously for some of his works), welcomed and fed all manner of musicians as they practiced and recorded with her son. His father, Clarence, worked on the railway and played trumpet. [1] [2] Allen Toussaint learned piano as a child and took informal music lessons from an elderly neighbor, Ernest Pinn. [3] In his teens he played in a band, the Flamingos, with the guitarist Snooks Eaglin, [4] before dropping out of school. A significant early influence on Toussaint was the syncopated "second-line" piano style of Professor Longhair. [2]

Shotgun house

A "shotgun house" is a narrow rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than about 12 feet (3.5 m) wide, with rooms arranged one behind the other and doors at each end of the house. It was the most popular style of house in the Southern United States from the end of the American Civil War (1861–65) through the 1920s. Alternate names include "shotgun shack", "shotgun hut", "shotgun cottage", and in the case of a multihome dwelling, "shotgun apartment"; the design is similar to that of railroad apartments.

Gert Town, New Orleans Neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Gert Town is a neighborhood in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. It is the home to Xavier University of Louisiana and is a part of the Mid-City District.

Snooks Eaglin American musician

Fird Eaglin, Jr., known as Snooks Eaglin, was an American guitarist and singer based in New Orleans. In his early years he was sometimes credited under other names, including Blind Snooks Eaglin, "Lil" Snook, Ford Eaglin, Blind Guitar Ferd.

After a lucky break at age 17, in which he stood in for Huey "Piano" Smith at a performance with Earl King's band in Prichard, Alabama, [5] Toussaint was introduced to a group of local musicians led by Dave Bartholomew, who performed regularly at the Dew Drop Inn, a nightclub on Lasalle Street in Uptown New Orleans. [6] His first recording was in 1957 as a stand-in for Fats Domino on Domino's record "I Want You to Know", on which Toussaint played piano and Domino overdubbed his vocals. [3] His first success as a producer also came in 1957 with Lee Allen's "Walking with Mr. Lee". [1] He began performing regularly in Bartholomew's band, and he recorded with Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Lee Allen and other leading New Orleans performers. [4]

Huey Pierce Smith, known as Huey "Piano" Smith, is an American rhythm-and-blues pianist whose sound was influential in the development of rock and roll.

Earl King American songwriter and guitarist

Earl Silas Johnson IV, known as Earl King, was an American singer, guitarist, and songwriter, most active in blues music. A composer of blues standards such as "Come On" and "Big Chief", he was an important figure in New Orleans R&B.

Prichard, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Prichard is a city in Mobile County, Alabama, United States.

After being spotted as a sideman by the A&R man Danny Kessler, he initially recorded for RCA Records as Al Tousan. In early 1958 he recorded an album of instrumentals, The Wild Sound of New Orleans , with a band including Alvin "Red" Tyler (baritone sax), either Nat Perrilliat or Lee Allen (tenor sax), either Justin Adams or Roy Montrell (guitar), Frank Fields (bass), and Charles "Hungry" Williams (drums). [7] The recordings included Toussaint and Tyler's composition "Java", which first charted for Floyd Cramer in 1962 and became a number 4 pop hit for Al Hirt (also on RCA) in 1964. [8] Toussaint also recorded and co-wrote songs with Allen Orange in the early 1960s. [9]

RCA Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. It is one of Sony Music's four flagship labels, alongside RCA's former long-time rival Columbia Records, Arista Records, and Epic Records. The label has released multiple genres of music, including pop, classical, rock, hip hop, electronic, R&B, blues, jazz, and country. Its name is derived from the initials of its defunct parent company, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). It was fully acquired by Bertelsmann in 1986, making it a part of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG); however, RCA Records became a part of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a merger between BMG and Sony Music, in 2004, and was acquired by the latter in 2008, after the dissolution of Sony BMG and the restructuring of Sony Music. It is the second oldest record label in American history, after sister label Columbia Records.

Roy Montrell was an American rhythm & blues guitarist who performed on hundreds of records produced in New Orleans.

Frank Nomer Fields was an American double bass player who was involved in many R&B, rock and roll and jazz recordings made in New Orleans.

Success in the 1960s

Minit and Instant Records

In 1960, Joe Banashak, of Minit Records and later Instant Records, hired Toussaint as an A&R man and record producer. [3] [10] He also did freelance work for other labels, such as Fury. Toussaint played piano, wrote, arranged and produced a string of hits in the early and mid-1960s for New Orleans R&B artists such as Ernie K-Doe, Chris Kenner, Irma Thomas (including "It's Raining"), Art and Aaron Neville, the Showmen, and Lee Dorsey, whose first hit "Ya Ya" he produced in 1961. [1] [4]

Minit Records record label

Minit Records was an American independent record label, originally based in New Orleans and founded by Joe Banashak. After making a distribution deal with Imperial Records, the label released its biggest hit, the no. 1 "Mother-in Law" by Ernie K-Doe. A number of Allen Toussaint productions were issued on Minit, including hits by Irma Thomas such as "It's Raining". After the hits dried up, the label was sold to Imperial. Banashak also owned Instant Records, which he kept. Minit was acquired by Liberty Records in 1963 as part of its acquisition of Imperial Records. Later its records were re-issued between 1966 and 1970 by Sunset Records and the label was active during the same time period as a soul music label. The Minit catalog is currently owned by UMG, successor-in-interest to previous owner EMI.

Instant Records was an American independent record label based in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, which was founded in 1961 by Joe Banashak and Irvin Smith. It was originally called Valiant Records until another Valiant Records threatened to sue and forced the label's renaming to Instant Records. The most successful artist on Instant was Chris Kenner. Several Instant recordings were distributed by Atlantic Records.

Record producer Individual who oversees and manages the recording of an artists music

A record producer or music producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer's music, which may range from recording one song to recording a lengthy concept album. A producer has many, varying roles during the recording process. They may gather musical ideas for the project, collaborate with the artists to select cover tunes or original songs by the artist/group, work with artists and help them to improve their songs, lyrics or arrangements.

The early to mid-1960s are regarded as Toussaint's most creatively successful period. [3] Notable examples of his work are Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" (written by Hill and arranged and produced by Toussaint), Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-in-Law", and Chris Kenner's "I Like It Like That". [10] [11] [12] A two-sided 1962 hit by Benny Spellman comprised "Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)" (covered by the O'Jays, Ringo Starr, and Alex Chilton) and the simple but effective "Fortune Teller" (covered by various 1960s rock groups, including the Rolling Stones, the Nashville Teens, the Who, the Hollies, the Throb, and ex-Searchers founder Tony Jackson). [10] [13] [14] "Ruler of My Heart", written under his pseudonym Naomi Neville, first recorded by Irma Thomas for the Minit label in 1963, was adapted by Otis Redding under the title "Pain in My Heart" later that year, prompting Toussaint to file a lawsuit against Redding and his record company, Stax (the claim was settled out of court, with Stax agreeing to credit Naomi Neville as the songwriter). [15] Redding's version of the song was also recorded by the Rolling Stones on their second album. [16] In 1964, "A Certain Girl" (originally by Ernie K-Doe) was the B-side of the first single release by the Yardbirds. The song was released again in 1980 by Warren Zevon, as the single from the album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School it reached 57 on Billboard's Hot 100. Mary Weiss, former lead singer of The Shangri-Las, released it as "A Certain Guy" in 2007. [17]

Jessie Hill American R&B and Louisiana blues singer and songwriter

Jessie Hill was an American R&B and Louisiana blues singer and songwriter, best remembered for the classic song "Ooh Poo Pah Doo".

"Ooh Poo Pah Doo" is a song written by and performed by Jessie Hill. It reached #3 on the U.S. R&B chart and #28 on the U.S. pop chart in 1960.

I Like It Like That (Chris Kenner song) 1965 single by The Dave Clark Five

"I Like It Like That" is a song by Chris Kenner and Allen Toussaint, first recorded by Kenner, whose version reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1961. It was kept from the No.1 spot by, Tossin' and Turnin' by Bobby Lewis. This version also went to No. 2 on the R&B singles chart. The narrator of the song invites the listener to come with him to a happening spot named "I Like It Like That".

Toussaint credited about twenty songs to his parents, Clarence and Naomi, sometimes using the pseudonym "Naomi Neville". [18] [19] These include "Fortune Teller", first recorded by Benny Spellman in 1961, "Pain In My Heart," first a hit for Otis Redding in 1963, and "Work, Work, Work", recorded by the Artwoods in 1966. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covered "Fortune Teller" on their 2007 album Raising Sand . [20]

Sansu: Soul and early New Orleans funk

Toussaint was drafted into the US Army in 1963 but continued to record when on leave. [1] After his discharge in 1965, he joined forces with Marshall Sehorn [21] to form Sansu Enterprises, which included a record label, Sansu, variously known as Tou-Sea, Deesu, or Kansu, and recorded Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, Betty Harris, and others. Dorsey had hits with several of Toussaint's songs, including "Ride Your Pony" (1965), "Working in the Coal Mine" (1966), and "Holy Cow" (1966). [4] [21] The core players of the rhythm section used on many of the Sansu recordings from the mid- to late 1960s, Art Neville and the Sounds, consisted of Art Neville on keyboards, Leo Nocentelli on guitar, George Porter Jr on bass, and Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. They later became known as the Meters. [22] Their backing can be heard in songs such as Dorsey's "Ride Your Pony" and "Working in the Coal Mine", sometimes augmented by horns, which were usually arranged by Toussaint. [23] The Toussaint-produced records of these years backed by the members of the Meters, with their increasing use of syncopation and electric instrumentation, built on the influences of Professor Longhair and others before them, but updated these strands, effectively paving the way for the development of a modern New Orleans funk sound. [22] [24]

1970s to 1990s

Toussaint continued to produce the Meters when they began releasing records under their own name in 1969. As part of a process begun at Sansu and reaching fruition in the 1970s, he developed a funkier sound, writing and producing for a host of artists, such as Dr. John (backed by the Meters, on the 1973 album In the Right Place, which contained the hit "Right Place, Wrong Time") and an album by the Wild Tchoupitoulas, a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians tribe led by "Big Chief Jolly" (George Landry) (backed by the Meters and several of his nephews, including Art and Cyril Neville of the Meters and their brothers Charles and Aaron, who later performed and recorded as the Neville Brothers). [25] [26] [27] One of his compositions, "Here Come the Girls", recorded by Ernie K-Doe in 1970, formed the basis of the Sugababes' 2008 hit "Girls". [28]

In the 1970s Toussaint began to work with artists from beyond New Orleans artists, such as B. J. Thomas, Robert Palmer, Willy DeVille, Sandy Denny, Elkie Brooks, Solomon Burke, Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller ( High Life ), and southern rocker Mylon LeFevre. [29] [30] He arranged horn music for the Band's albums Cahoots (1971) and Rock of Ages (1972) and for the documentary film The Last Waltz (1978). [31] [32] [33] Boz Scaggs recorded Toussaint's "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" on his 1976 album Silk Degrees , which reached number 2 on the U.S. pop albums chart. The song was also recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her 1975 album Home Plate and by Geoff Muldaur (1976), Lowell George (1979), Vince Gill (1993), and Elvis Costello (2005). [34] In 1976 he also collaborated with John Mayall on the album Notice to Appear. [35]

In 1973 Toussaint and Sehorn created the Sea-Saint recording studio in the Gentilly section of eastern New Orleans. [36] [37] Toussaint also began recording under his own name, contributing vocals as well as piano. His solo career peaked in the mid-1970s with the albums From a Whisper to a Scream and Southern Nights . [38] [39] During this time he teamed with Labelle and produced their acclaimed 1975 album Nightbirds , which contained the number one hit "Lady Marmalade". The same year, Toussaint collaborated with Paul McCartney and Wings for their hit album Venus and Mars and played on the song "Rock Show". Also in 1973, his "Yes We Can Can" was covered by The Pointer Sisters for their self-titled debut album; released as a single, it became both a pop and R&B hit and served as the group's introduction to popular culture. Two years later, Glen Campbell covered Toussaint's "Southern Nights" and carried the song to number one on the pop, country and adult contemporary charts. [40]

In 1987, he was the musical director of an off-Broadway show, Staggerlee, which ran for 150 performances. [3] [41] Like many of his contemporaries, Toussaint found that interest in his compositions was rekindled when his work began to be sampled by hip hop artists in the 1980s and 1990s. [42] [43]


Toussaint performing in Stockholm in 2009 AllenToussaint Stockholm20090715.jpg
Toussaint performing in Stockholm in 2009

Most of Toussaint's possessions, including his home and recording studio, Sea-Saint Studios, were lost during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. [44] [45] He initially sought shelter at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street. [44] Following the hurricane, whose aftermath left most of the city flooded, he left New Orleans for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and for several years settled in New York City. [44] [45] His first television appearance after the hurricane was on the September 7, 2005, episode of the Late Show with David Letterman , sitting in with Paul Shaffer and his CBS Orchestra. Toussaint performed regularly at Joe's Pub in New York City through 2009. [46] He eventually returned to New Orleans and lived there for the rest of his life. [47]

The River in Reverse , Toussaint's collaborative album with Elvis Costello, was released on May 29, 2006, in the UK on Verve Records by Universal Classics and Jazz UCJ. [48] It was recorded in Hollywood and at the Piety Street Studio in the Bywater section Toussaint's native New Orleans, as the first major studio session to take place after Hurricane Katrina. [49] In 2007, Toussaint performed a duet with Paul McCartney of a song by New Orleans musician and resident Fats Domino, "I Want to Walk You Home", as their contribution to Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard Records). [50]

In 2008, Toussaint's song "Sweet Touch of Love" was used in a deodorant commercial for the Axe (Lynx) brand. The commercial won a Gold Lion at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. In February 2008, Toussaint appeared on Le Show , the Harry Shearer show broadcast on KCRW. He appeared in London in August 2008, where he performed at the Roundhouse. [51] In October 2008 he performed at Festival New Orleans at The O2 alongside acts such as Dr. John and Buckwheat Zydeco. [52] Sponsored by Quint Davis of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Philip Anschutz, the event was intended to promote New Orleans music and culture and to revive the once lucrative tourist trade that had been almost completely lost following the flooding that came with Hurricane Katrina. [52] After his second performance at the festival, Toussaint appeared alongside Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu. [53]

Toussaint performed instrumentals from his album The Bright Mississippi and many of his older songs for a taping of the PBS series Austin City Limits , which aired on January 9, 2015. [54] [55] In December 2009, he was featured on Elvis Costello's Spectacle program on the Sundance Channel, [56] singing "A Certain Girl". [57] Toussaint appeared on Eric Clapton's 2010 album, Clapton , in two Fats Waller covers, "My Very Good Friend the Milkman" and "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful". [58]

His late-blooming career as a performer began when he accepted an offer to play a regular Sunday brunch session at an East Village pub. Interviewed in 2014 by The Guardian ′s Richard Williams, Toussaint said, "I never thought of myself as a performer.... My comfort zone is behind the scenes." In 2013 he collaborated on a ballet with the choreographer Twyla Tharp. [1] Toussaint was a musical mentor to Swedish-born New Orleans songwriter and performer Theresa Andersson. [59]


Allen Toussaint receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2013 Toussant Obama Medal 2013.jpg
Allen Toussaint receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2013

Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. [60] In 2016, he posthumously won the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player title at the Blues Music Awards. [61]


Toussaint died in the early hours of November 10, 2015, in Madrid, Spain, while on tour. Following a concert at the Teatro Lara on Calle Corredera Baja de San Pablo, he had a heart attack at his hotel and was pronounced dead on his arrival at hospital. [62] He was 77. He had been due to perform a sold-out concert at the EFG London Jazz Festival at The Barbican on November 15 with his band and Theo Croker. He was also scheduled to play with Paul Simon at a benefit concert in New Orleans on 8 December. [2] His final recording, American Tunes , titled after the Paul Simon song, which he sings on the album, was released by Nonesuch Records on June 10, 2016. [63]

Toussaint's one marriage ended in divorce. [2] He is survived by his two children, Clarence (better known as Reginald) and Alison, and several grandchildren. His children had managed his career in his last years. [64] [47]

Writing in the New York Times , Ben Sisario quoted Quint Davis, producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: "In the pantheon of New Orleans music people, from Jelly Roll Morton to Mahalia Jackson to Fats—that's the place where Allen Toussaint is in". Paul Simon said, "We were friends and colleagues for almost 40 years.... We played together at the New Orleans jazz festival. We played the benefits for Katrina relief. We were about to perform together on December 8. I was just beginning to think about it; now I'll have to think about his memorial. I am so sad." [47]

The Daily Telegraph described Toussaint as "a master of New Orleans soul and R&B, and one of America's most successful songwriters and producers", adding that "self-effacing Toussaint played a crucial role in countless classic songs popularised by other artists". He had written so many songs, over more than five decades, that he admitted to forgetting quite a few. [2]


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"All These Things" is a 1962 single written by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym of "Naomi Neville". While previously recorded by Art Neville and Lee Tillman, the biggest chart hit version was performed by Joe Stampley. "All These Things" was Stampley's third number one on the country chart. The single stayed at number one for a single week and spent a total of thirteen weeks on the chart.

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None recognized before
AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer/Engineer
Succeeded by
Jim Dickinson