by Shaun Dale

In Charlie Gillett's classic study of rock history, The Sound Of The City, he identifies five regional styles as the headwaters of rock & roll - northern band music, personified by Bill Haley & the Comets; the Chicago R&B of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley; Memphis rockabilly; vocal group rock & roll, AKA doo-wop; and New Orleans dance blues. I think Gillett's analysis is pretty solid, but if there was one style of the five that was perhaps more equal than the others, I'd have to tip my hat to New Orleans.

New Orleans R&B had its own superstars, of course, and it wasn't by mistake that Fats Domino and Little Richard were chosen as part of the inaugural class for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The early importance and enduring influence of New Orleans R&B on the history of rock music can't be reduced to the work of a pair, or even a handful, of stars, though, regardless of how seminal and significant their contributions were. The rich vein of musical tradition of the Crescent City created fertile ground for a distinctive and enduring scene that was both separate from and central to the development of a national rock & roll market.

[Pictured: Lee Dorsey]

Long before Antione became Fats, or Mr. Penniman rolled into town from Macon, GA, New Orleans was known as the birthplace of jazz. While most of the legendary jazzmen made the migration north to Chicago, Kansas City and New York to achieve their greatest notoriety, what they left behind was a civic culture which retained the desire to let the bon temps roulez as one of its primary features. From the tourist clubs of the French Quarter to the back street jukes, players mining the tradition of the Storyville "professors," the proverbial whore house piano players, found plenty of work, if relatively little renown and even less money (one of the great figures of New Orleans rock, Lee Dorsey, always made his primary living as an autobody repairman, and he was reputed to be the best in town). Over time, New Orleans developed its own circle of dance bands, putting a local slant on the swing music that had swept the country in the mid-20th century. When big band jazz gave way to bebop in the post-WWII environment, dance band musicians needed a new musical direction to satisfy the audiences who came to party, not to be challenged by the latest innovation. It was the beginning of the jump blues era, and of rock & roll.

Among the New Orleans bandleaders, the most prominent figure in the development of the new R&B music that was to become rock & roll was Dave Bartholomew, a trumpeter, songwriter, bandleader and, by 1949, the New Orleans A&R man for a new Los Angeles company, Imperial Records. It was in that capacity that he booked the J&M Studios for a December date with a 20 year old heir to the piano professor tradition, Fats Domino. The song they recorded that day, "The Fat Man," was a breakout hit, climbing to the #2 spot on the R&B charts, and, perhaps more importantly, the #2 spot on the then all important Jukebox chart. Together, Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino inaugurated the modern era of New Orleans music, and staked a solid claim as the fathers of rock & roll.

While Bartholomew would record Fats Domino during three decades, with 100 sides released on Imperial, many co-written by the pair, he had a great deal more to offer than a single star. With a core of solid studio musicians drawn from his dance band and an LA label eager for more of his Crescent City magic, Bartholomew scored hits for Chris Kenner, Smiley Lewis, Bobby Mitchell, Shirley and Lee and many more. Interestingly, although he wrote many of those hits, and played on many of them, his own records never achieved similar chart success. At heart, Dave Bartholomew the performer was still a product of the big band era, and his own records lacked the energy and edge that the rock & roll kids were looking for.

[Pictured: Allen Toussaint]

If Dave Bartholomew owned the 50's, by the end of the decade it was time for a new sound, a new ear to hear it and a new producer to present it to the country. Enter Allen Toussaint, a home-grown musician and producer at the helm of a hometown label, Minit Records. With a funkier, bluesier sound that was right for the times, he redefined New Orleans R&B with a stable of performers including Ernie K-Doe, Aaron Neville, Jessie Hill and Irma Thomas, and kept New Orleans at the forefront of the development of rock in a new era.

All this is by way of introduction to four new releases from the EMI vaults that collectively make up The Crescent City Soul series. While they're individual releases, they could have as easily been compiled into a box set, and they're best considered together. The heart of the set is titled Let The Good Times Roll - 20 Of New Orleans Finest R&B Classics 1949-1966, and it contains classic cuts produced by Bartholomew and Toussaint among the work of other important New Orleans R&B studio figures like Earl Palmer and Harold Battiste. It also features the only appearance by Little Richard in the series, "Long Tall Sally," which appears courtesy of Specialty Records, the LA label that was his recording home during his most fertile period, and which, alas, has passed along to other hands over time. Still, the series would have been sadly incomplete without at least one classic performance by the Georgia Peach, and this classic from 1956 gives the whole collection a stronger claim to competition.

Next up is a collection by the master himself, The Big Beat Of Dave Bartholomew - 20 Of His Milestone New Orleans Productions 1949-1960. These cuts show off the work he did when he wasn't occupied with Fats, with only one Domino heat, "I Hear You Knocking," represented. Included are 8 of the 17 singles Bartholomew recorded for Imperial under his own name, and they'll leave you shaking your head, wondering why he never scored a hit with "Four Winds" or the Mardi Gras flavored "Shrimp And Gumbo." Also on the disc is one of Bartholomew's rare non-Imperial productions, Shirley & Lee's "I'm Gone," an R&B #2 on Aladdin in 1952 (another departure from Imperial was Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," a hit on Specialty which appears on Let The Good Times Roll). Produced in amazingly primitive conditions by today's standards and engineered for vintage jukebox systems, the sound of this music today is surprisingly satisfying.

Taking a step forward chronologically, and arguably musically, brings us to Finger Poppin' And Stompin' Feet - 20 Classic Allen Toussaint Productions For Minit Records 1960-1962. As the producer, house pianist/bandleader and songwriter for the fledgling New Orleans-based Minit Records, the young Toussaint (he was in his early 20s when these recordings were made) accomplished a number of firsts. Among them were the first hit on the label (Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo"), the first #1 Pop side ever recorded in New Orleans (Ernie K-Doe's "Mother In Law") and the first chart hit (#21 R&B) for Aaron Neville. Those are here, along with gems from Irma Thomas, The Showmen and others.

The fourth disc of the series, and in many ways its crowning glory, is The Fats Domino Jukebox - 20 Greatest Hits The Way You Originally Heard Them. From 1945 to 1957, the most important R&B chart was the Billboard Most Played Juke Box R&B listing. A national hit would fill as many as 100,000 machines, and if it was frequently played, the 1/4 pound tonearms would grind through a disc in about 100 plays, guaranteeing regular re-orders. From his first release, "The Fat Man," (#2 Jukebox in 1950) to the double-sided jukebox hit "Valley Of Tears" b/w "It's You I Love," (#3 Jukebox in 1957), Fats was the king of the coin operated record players, with five #1 Jukebox hits among the tracks included here. In fact, the five, "Ain't That A Shame," "I'm In Love Again," "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday," and "I'm Walkin'' were all #1 Jukebox, #1 R&B and top ten Pop hits ("Blueberry Hill" was his greatest pop chart hit, rising to #2). Nearly half of the songs on the disc were released too late for the Jukebox charts, or there would doubtless have been a few more #1s to talk about, but every one of the 20 tracks was a bona fide R&B and/or Pop hit.

Between the four discs in the Crescent City Soul Series (there's a separate box set containing all 100 of Fats Domino's Imperial sides) there's a nearly complete history of New Orleans R&B. The only essential addition would be a greatest hits collection of Little Richard, which is easily found. Many of the tracks are songs you already know by heart, even if you haven't heard these versions. They're among the most beloved and covered cuts in the history of rock & roll, the quintessential party songs from the quintessential party town. Listen to them and tell me - if Charlie Gillett's right about the five roots of rock, doesn't the fifth assigned to New Orleans make up about fifty percent?

Track Lists:

Let The Good Times Roll: Let The Good Times Roll/Shirley & Lee * Mardi Gras In New Orleans/ Professor Longhair * Lawdy Miss Clawdy/Lloyd Price * I Didn't Want To Do It/The Spiders * I Hear You Knocking/Smiley Lewis * Stack A Lee (Part 1)/Archibald * New Bon-Ton Roula/Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow * Ya Ya/Lee Dorsey * Long Tall Sally/Little Richard * I'm Wise/Ruth Durand * Let The Four Winds Blow/Roy Brown * Feel So Good/Shirley & Lee * Trick Bag/Earl King * I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)/Barbara George * She Put The Hurt On Me/Prince La La * You're The One/The Spiders * Real Man/Ernie K-Doe * Tell It Like It Is/Aaron Neville * Come On (Parts 1&2)/Earl King * Chicken Shack Boogie/Amos Milburn

The Big Beat Of Dave Bartholomew: Sick And Tired/Chris Kenner * The Monkey/Dave Bartholomew * Blue Monday/Smiley Lewis * Four Winds/Dave Bartholomew * I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday/Bobby Mitchell * Country Boy Goes Home/Dave Bartholomew * I Hear You Knocking/Fats Domino * Shrimp And Gumbo/Dave Bartholomew * Toy Bell/The Bees * Witchcraft/The Spiders * I'm Gone/Shirley And Lee * Would You/Dave Bartholomew * 3x7=21/Jewel King * Someday You'll Want Me/Smiley Lewis * Great Big Eyes (Those Little Reds)/Archibald * That's How You Got Killed Before/Dave Bartholomew * One Night/Smiley Lewis * Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear/Dave Bartholomew * Shrewsbury Blues/Tommy Ridgley * Country Gal/Dave Bartholomew

Finger Poppin' And Stompin' Feet: It Will Stand/The Showmen * Mother-In-Law/Ernie K-Doe * Over You/Aaron Neville * Heavenly Baby/Allen & Allen * Ooh Poo Pah Doo (Part 1)/Jessie Hill * Tain't It The Truth/Ernie K-Doe * Cry On/Irma Thomas * True Love Never Dies/Allen Orange * Let's Live/Aaron Neville * Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta/Ernie K-Doe * Whip It On Me/Jessie Hill * Fortune Teller/Benny Spellman * I Cried My Last Tear/Ernie K-Doe * Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)/Benny Spellman * Always Naggin' (Grumblin' Fussin' Nag Nag)/The Del Royals * It's Raining/Irma Thomas * A Certain Girl/Ernie K-Doe * 39-21-46/The Showmen * Ruler Of My Heart/Irma Thomas * Ooh Poo Pah Doo (Part 2)/Jessie Hill

The Fats Domino Jukebox: The Fat Man * Goin' Home * Going To The River * Ain't That A Shame * All By Myself * Poor Me * I'm In Love Again * Blueberry Hill * Blue Monday * I'm Walkin' * It's You I Love * Valley Of Tears * Whole Lotta Loving * I Want To Walk You Home * I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday * Be My Guest * Walking To New Orleans * My Girl Josephine * Let The Four Winds Blow * Jambalaya (On The Bayou)

(C) 2002 - Shaun Dale