Thursday, May 29, 2008

Al Robinson - Wake Up (Imperial 5762)

Wake Up

I've been thinking a lot about Alvin Robinson lately. Yeah, I know I've written about him before, as have Dan Phillips and Larry Grogan, but I still don't think he's appreciated enough.

He never made an album, and only managed to dent the charts once, but I still consider him to be one of the great voices of R&B. I was introduced to his music by the infamous 'tape', and have been hunting for it ever since. When I found this amazing B side you're listening to now on eBay recently (after about twenty years of digging), I knew I had to share it with you. Just an awesome song, it was released in 1961 and written by George Davis, the fabled New Orleans session guitarist who would go on to play that smokin' guitar on Robert Parker's Barefootin'. Although it doesn't say so on the label, I'm guessing that the horns were arranged by Wardell Quezergue, as he was working with Dave Bartholomew at Imperial at the time (as we've seen on soul detective). This early sixties period at the label is often overlooked as it comes after Fats Domino's biggest hits, and is concurrent with the blockbusters that Allen Toussaint was churning out for what was soon to become an Imperial subsidiary, Minit. As the executive producer, Bartholomew was still making great records, even if they weren't selling the way they used to... today's selection being a case in point.

I put together a new episode of the ol' podcast here (which you used to be able to listen to on the player that was over in the sidebar before the corporate types yanked it on me) that takes a look at 'Shine' Robinson's career, and starts off with a few more Imperial sides:

His first single, 'I'm Leaving You Today' (Imperial 5727) kind of sets the tone for much of what was to follow, as his vocal similarities to Ray Charles (who was simply THE MAN in those days) tempted the record companies to jump up on the bandwagon. What sets this one apart, however, is the incredible Smokey Johnson drum work.... wild! 'I Wanna Know' (the A side of today's selection) is another Charles styled number written by Bartholomew and Pearl King (with whom he had composed some of Smiley Lewis' biggest hits like I Hear You Knocking and One Night) as was his last single for the company in 1962, 'Oh Red'.

In 1963, Robinson (now using his full first name, Alvin) hooked up with the inimitable Joe Jones, who had parlayed his one and only hit record (You Talk Too Much) into a career as a music business mover & shaker. As he told John Broven in 1975: "..I went to New York with my tape recorder. I went to two boys called Leiber and Stoller and they flipped... this was 1964 coming in, and I went down there and got The Dixie Cups, the Five Blue Jays, my entire band. James Black came with me - Smokey Johnson dropped out at the last moment. Then I had Shine... We did Chapel Of Love, Something You Got, we had three hits at one time... I did all the promotion. I was the producer, manager, the booking agent. I did all that."

Yes he did all that, sending Chapel Of Love straight to #1 Pop (there was no Billboard R&B chart in 1964!) where it would sit for three weeks, followed by Robinson's totally untouchable version of Chris Kenner's Something You Got which would spend two months in the Hot 100 that summer, making it as high as #52. One of the most New Orleans sounding, Popeye-ish records out there, it was indeed cut in New York with AFO graduate Melvin Lastie leading the horn section for Jones. The flip, a (no doubt obligatory) cover of Lieber and Stoller's Searchin', cooks right along as well.

I'm not exactly sure where this one fits in chronologically, but since it's an obvious 'answer record' to Alvin's big hit, I figured I'd put it up next. 'Whatever You Had You Ain't Got No More' uses pretty much the same horn lines, and is the only release I've ever seen on Joe's own label. The flip, 'You Brought My Heart Right Down To My Knees' is another Crescent City workout, with James Black on the drums and The Dixie Cups handling the background vocals. Robinson's really belting it out on this one!

1964 was also the year that Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller opened up their Red Bird label with George Goldner. It remains best known for 'girl group' material by The Dixie Cups and The Shangri-Las, but it was also home to what I consider to be Alvin's best record, Down Home Girl. A Joe Jones arrangement of a Lieber and Butler song, this is just about as good as it gets... every time you move like that, I have to go to Sunday Mass." Word. Backed with a killer Mike Stoller arrangement of our man Little Willie John's Fever, this 45 is simply a must have.

Later that same year, Jerry and Mike formed yet another label, Blue Cat, which was apparently seen as their R&B outlet, and so was the imprint for Robinson's next two singles in 1965. His cover of Raymond Lewis' I'm Gonna Put Some Hurt On You outdoes the original, and is one of the best New Orleans records you're likely to find. It was produced by Jones and, interestingly, How Can I Get Over You, the Ray Charles styled number on the flip, credits old friend Wardell Quezerque as an arranger. According to Larry Grogan, his next Blue Cat single was recorded down in Sugar Town, and Robinson's searing guitar work on Let The Good Times Roll (actually a cover of Earl King's Come On) has to be heard to be believed. Quezergue is also listed as a co-writer of the B side, the northern soulish Bottom Of My Soul. By 1966, both Red Bird and Blue Cat were history, and Robinson was on his own.

I'd always heard that he went out to the west coast at this point, and hooked up with Harold Battiste, who was behind the big Sonny & Cher hits on Atco. I figured that was how Alvin's next 45 (which wasn't released until 1968) showed up on the Atlantic subsidiary. On closer inspection, though, I don't know about that. His amazing cover of Baby Don't You Do It says it was arranged by Arif Mardin and produced by Tom Dowd. The B side, Let Me Down Easy, was written by Curtis Ousley, aka King Curtis. As you may recall, this is exactly the period when Mardin, Dowd and Curtis were holed up at American Sound in Memphis cranking out so many incredible records. Although the songs are not listed in the 1968 Atlantic Session Index, the very next release (Atco 6582) is the big fat greasy slab of Memphis Soul that we featured here last year, Eighth Wonder. It seems entirely possible, then, that Alvin Robinson recorded down at 827 Thomas Street as well. Hmmm..

. By 1969, Alvin was indeed out in Los Angeles with Battiste and the rest of his expatriate New Orleans task force, doing session work whenever and wherever they could find it. Harold had some kind of deal with Mercury to release some stuff on their Pulsar subsidiary and, together with Mac Rebennack, formed HalMac productions. Empty Talk, co-written by Mac, his running partner Jessie Hill and Robinson himself, is one of those Brother Ray type Blues numbers that didn't sell much despite the sterling Harold Battiste arrangement. The absolutely amazing flip (which was one of our first posts here way back in October of 2005), Sho 'Bout To Drive Me Wild, remains one of my all-time favorite records. There was apparently one more release on Pulsar, which was credited merely to 'Shine' (which is what everybody called him). I have yet to find a copy.

He would never record again under his own name. You can read more about his post 1969 session work on the pages we talked about above. When I wrote that piece about him in 2005, I said "if you do a search for 'Alvin Robinson' at Amazon you get 'no results found'...." Well, as the digital age has progressed here, although there is still no CD compilation available of his work (and probably never will be considering the variety of labels he recorded for), there is now some four song download thing called Alvin Robinson's Fever available both on Amazon and iTunes which, inexplicably, leaves off his only chart hit...

Whatever. He is one of the coolest, most under-rated guitar players and vocalists of all time. Hope you dig the podcast.

Now, I'm off to the nineteenth annual Crawfish Fest out in the wilds of New Jersey this weekend. This year's festival hosts Allen Toussaint, Art Neville and George Porter's Funky Meters, The Radiators, Bonearama, The Lee Boys, Little Freddie King and many more. Come on out and hang with us, there's gonna be a party goin' on!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Little Willie John - You Hurt Me (King 5428)

You Hurt Me


Memorial day will mark the fortieth anniversary of Little Willie John's death. One of the true progenitors of Soul, I don't think he gets nearly enough recognition.

Born in Arkansas, he was raised in Detroit, where he and his brothers and sisters grew up singing spirituals accompanied by their mother Lillie on the guitar. The family formed a group called the United Five that began performing locally, and was soon laying them out at the Gospel programs. That wasn't enough for William Edward, though... they'd catch him climbing out his window to go sing under the street lamps. Realizing there was just no stopping him, Willie's father began entering his son in talent competitions, and by the time he turned 11, he had secured him a regular gig at the Book Cadillac Hotel downtown. He began getting noticed, and was actually hired on as a featured vocalist by Count Basie in 1951.

He also began performing with the Paul Williams Orchestra, who was still riding high on the success of their smash hit The Hucklebuck, which had spent an unheard of 14 weeks at #1 R&B in 1949. One of the most pervasive hits of the postwar R&B explosion, it developed into a bonafide 'dance craze', and was covered by just about everybody after Roy Alfred added his rather risqué (for the time) lyrics:

"Push your partner out,
Then you hunch your back,
Start a little movement in your sacroiliac,
Wiggle like an eel, waddle like a duck,
That's the way you do it when you do the Hucklebuck..."

With the 5'4", 13 year old Willie singing those words over the band's original version, the crowds went wild.

Syd Nathan, the head of King Records in Cincinatti, had passed on signing the young Willie when he was recommended to him by Johnny Otis back in 1951 (he had signed Hank Ballard instead). After an audition at King's offices in New York in early 1955, Nathan was quick to offer the young sensation a contract. It soon paid off, as he took a song Titus Turner wrote and produced on him all the way to #5 R&B that summer. The rockin' All Around The World spent four months on the charts, and Willie was out on the road as a headliner for the label before his eighteenth birthday.

In September of 1955, John cut what I consider to be the first true 'soul' record at Beltone Studios in New York City. Written by his brother Mertis, Need Your Love So Bad featured the great Mickey Baker on guitar, and still slays me every time I hear it. When it was released in January of 1956, it would hit the top five as well, and Willie was in demand as one of the top R&B acts in the country. Nathan sent him out on the road that spring with another act he had just signed to his Federal subsidiary opening up for him, The Famous Flames, whose single of Please, Please, Please was following John's up the charts.

After one more top ten entry, Willie busted things wide open with the release of Fever in May of 1956. Written by 'Bumps' Blackwell and Eddie Cooley, it's one of those elemental songs that will live on forever. It went straight to number one, and spent over six months on the charts. Significantly, it also crossed over into the Pop top 40, and paved the way for Peggy Lee's top ten cover a few years later. With R&B giving way to Rock & Roll, and more and more white teenagers tuned into black music, the teenaged Willie was more popular than ever. He was constantly on tour in those days and, as his sister Mabel said back then; "If you get into it so young, you don't have a complete childhood. That's what happened to Willie... he's a little boy doing all the things that little kids do."

In her awesome book, Rage To Survive, Etta James talks a little bit about Little Willie and life out there on the road: "Willie and I were the same age... he was a Scorpio, moody and deep, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, just like his crazy daddy, who sometimes came on the road as a chaperone... Another instance of someone getting in the business too early, Willie never did grow up. He sang with the pain and real-life experience of an adult... without ever becoming an adult himself. He played from the moment he woke up until the time he fell asleep. He'd spill lemonade over your head, pick your dress up over your head, stick his finger in your booty. Willie would do anything for a laugh. This was the time of his biggest hit, 'Fever', and man, he was feeling his oats. He was wild with his drugs..."

As far as the image Syd Nathan was selling to the public, however, he was just a romantic clean-cut kid, and they seemed to eat it up. The B Side of Fever also went top ten on its own, and the follow-up, a remake of Billy Ward and The Dominoes first hit, Do Something For Me, made it to #15 in the fall of 1956. Amazingly, a song that is now considered one of his absolute best, Suffering With The Blues, was released as the B side of his next King 45, I've Been Around, neither side of which dented the charts... nor did the single after that, or any of the five King issued on him in 1957. Something was definitely up.

Somewhere around in here, Willie apparently fell in love, and married a dancer he had met at The Apollo Theatre. They soon had a couple of kids, and he began bringing the family on tour with him. In the Spring of 1958, he hired Little Richard's ultra-tight Upsetters away from Dee Clark, and was carrying his own band with him as well. Now managed by Detroit's Harry Balk, he would hit the top twenty on the Pop charts that spring with Talk To Me, Talk To Me and was back in the limelight, which is just where Syd Nathan wanted him to be.

King, I believe, began to consciously tailor the choice of Willie's material to the white market at this point, placing six more singles in the Hot 100 over the next two years, culminating with his biggest pop hit, the insipid Sleep in 1960, which made it all the way to #13. Much like Sam Cooke, whom he had known since his days on the Gospel circuit with the United Five, much of his early sixties output is overproduced, and bears little resemblance to the reality of his scorching live performances. In Showtime At The Apollo, house manager Bobby Schiffman is quoted as saying; "Willie John, in my opinion, was the best male singer I ever heard. He used to send chills up and down my spine, and I never met another singer with that kind of emotion and feeling in his songs. He was incredible...”

At the place where soul meets the blues, Little Willie John tells the truth. I mean, just listen to this great record we have here today... can't you just feel it? Co-written once again by his brother Mertis, it was the flip of the Cooke-esque Walk Slow, another syrupy, string-laden piece of fluff that broke into the Pop top 50 in early 1961. It's hard to believe that something this good could be hiding on the other side of that record. According to the liner notes of the Charly compilation Grits and Soul, it was cut in Cincinatti in October of 1960. The session details go on to say that the guitarist is 'possibly' Cal Green, who had been The Midnighters 'axeman' since 1954, but I don't know about that. In the 'All' Music Guide article about Cal, it says "A 1959 marijuana bust sent Green to a Texas slammer for 21 months, but he briefly rejoined the Midnighters in 1962." So, I guess it wasn't him... anybody out there have any ideas? I think it's just killer, man.

Willie would chart five more times in 1961 with truly MOR standards like Flamingo and The Very Thought Of You, but by the following year, he couldn't buy a hit. The song selection seemed to get even worse, with numbers like Bo-Da-Ley Dino-Ley and Katanga failing to connect with the public. As his star seemed to fade, his behavior became more and more erratic, and he took to carrying both a knife and a pistol to protect himself from his imaginary demons. His drinking and drug use increased, and you just never knew what was going to happen. In late 1963, King chose not to renew his contract, but kept releasing records they had 'in the can'.

In August of 1964, Little Willie was arrested for attacking a man in a Miami club with a broken bottle. On the lam after apparently jumping bail, he left to play a few gigs in the Pacific Northwest. On Saturday, October 17th, John was 'already way drunk' on stage for his gig at a Seattle show bar called the Magic Inn, then left to continue the party at Birdland. By Sunday morning he found himself at an 'illicit after hours den', and in the middle of a fight. When a 6'2" ex-con named Kenneth Roundtree punched him in the face, Willie stabbed him. Roundtree died on the spot.

At his trial in January of 1965, his lawyers succeeded in getting the resulting murder charge dropped to voluntary manslaughter, but he was still sentenced to ten years at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary. After exhausting all his appeals, he entered the big house in February of 1966. One can only imagine the horrors he underwent inside. In those Charly liner notes, Bill Millar wrote; "In 1967 James Brown and his manager Ben Bart visited Willie in prison. They found a seriously ill man confined to a wheelchair 'I don't think I'm going to get out of here,' he told them."

He was right.

After contracting pneumonia, John was left to rot in a 'maximum security isolation room' where he died of a supposed heart attack on May 26, 1968. He was thirty years old.

Brown would release the classic Thinking About Little Willie John and A Few Nice Things later that year as a tribute to his friend who, he said, had died of a broken heart. He told Gerri Hirshey: "I don't understand why people miss Sam Cooke so, and not Little Willie John... I don't deny Sam was great, no, ma'am. I guess Willie John never made it to the Copa. People forget where you been, and get it stuck in their minds where you ain't been."

I hear that.

Hey everybody, I've been contacted by Willie's son Kevin, who runs an excellent MySpace tribute page about his Father. The photos of Willie that I used in this post came from his site, and remain the copyrighted property of Kevin and the family, and shouldn't be used without his permission. According to his site:

"...there will finally be a biography of Little Willie John, a no-holds-barred account of his triumphs and tragedies written by author and journalist Susan Whitall ('Women of Motown') with the help of Kevin John, Willie’s oldest son.

The book will include never-before seen photos of Willie and his family; and for the first time, the details of his life with wife Darlynn, the beautiful Apollo Theater dancer he married in 1957, and his two sons Kevin and Keith, both of whom inherited his vocal talents (Keith sings backup for Stevie Wonder, to this day)."

Can't wait! Thank you, Kevin!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Oscar Toney, Jr. - A Love That Never Grows Cold (Bell 699)

A Love That Never Grows Cold

Some things in life are worth waiting for.

As you may recall, we talked last November about Oscar Toney, Jr., and the great records he made with Papa Don Schroeder. Records that played a major role in the development of American Sound in Memphis. In subsequent conversations with Papa Don, he told me that he had some great photos laying around somewhere, and that he would send them along to me as soon as he found them. Only he couldn't find them. He tore the house apart, bugged his wife... basically went nuts looking for them, to no avail. Anyway, a few weeks ago, I got this email from him:

"Well, I guess you think I dropped off the planet and my promise to send you some pictures would not happen. You will not believe how hard my wife searched for this box of memorabilia. I got so frustrated I said a little prayer and last week I had a flashback. I had given it all to a local video producer who wanted to do a documentary on my "other life". When I went through the big C ordeal, I was not able to help him fill in the blanks and it all got put on the back burner. Anyway, I have some pictures... I will get Laser Images, a customer of my radio station, to make you some copies..."

They showed up in my 'inbox' while I was down in New Orleans, and they're just so very, very cool that I wanted to share them with all of you. These priceless images were shot at American in 1967 and, of course, remain the property of Papa Don, and so shouldn't be used without his permission...

Check these out:

Left to right, that's Don Crews, Reggie Young, Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman, Bobby Emmons, Oscar Toney, Jr., Papa Don and Chips Moman.

You gotta love this one! Chips and Papa D. playing poker on Oscar's belly... somehow, I don't think Toney stood a chance in this game! When you think of the fact that it was during one such game (with Dan Penn playing the part of Oscar) that Dark End Of The Street was born a few months earlier, it just makes it all that much more historically significant (or something).

Anyway, these incredible private glimpses into the day to day life at American, just as it was beginning to get off the ground, have been hiding out all these years. Thank You Papa Don for sharing them with all of us! You da man!

Now, as far as this great selection we have here today, it was released as a B side twice, on Bell 699, Without Love There Is Nothing, and again as the flip of Bell 714, Never Get Enough Of Your Love. Written by Toney himself, it doesn't get much 'deeper' than this, folks. I'm not sure, though, if it was cut at American... that doesn't really sound like Reggie Young on the guitar to me, I don't know. I got in touch with Papa, and asked him if perhaps it was cut at Fame, or at his own studio in Pensacola with Moses Dillard. Here's what he had to say:

"I don't remember cutting Oscar anywhere but Memphis, at American. I never went back to Fame after I left to cut Shake A Tail Feather and For Your Precious Love, but I might have cut that at my studio. I just don't remember. Can you imagine how many sides I produced in all those years? Ha!"

Yes, Pops, I can imagine! Thanks again for everything.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Lazy Lester - Pondarosa Stomp (Excello 2277)

Pondarosa Stomp

So, like, how was it?

In a word, incredible. You have to give these Mystic Knights credit... there really is no one else out there who quite does what it is they do. This year's addition of the first annual 'music conference' just made things that much cooler, and afforded us the opportunity to get 'up close and personal' with the people behind this great music that we all love. Where else could you see Peter Guralnick interview Harold Battiste (twice)?

...or John Broven and Jim O'Neal talking with Joe Bihari? Or Rick Coleman and Cosimo Matassa? How about Matt Weingarden and the Mighty Hannibal? Not to mention folks like Tammi Lynn, Mary Weiss, Johnnie Allen, Syl Johnson, Travis Wammack, Sonny Burgess, or our man Lazy Lester... truly an impressive roster of talented people that were kind enough to share their remarkable stories with all of us. For a guy like me, who does what I do, it was a priceless opportunity to learn about the music from the people who helped create it. I took a lot of notes (yes, I am a pocket-protected record geek, I guess).

My favorite panel, though, was the New Orleans Drum Summit, which was moderated by WWOZ's David Kunian, and featured Zigaboo Modeliste, Bob French and Smokey Johnson. A 'drummer's town', these three men offered a glimpse into the good-natured rivalry that still exists down there today. It was so very cool listening to Smokey Johnson (who is now confined to a wheelchair) talk about his days as the King of New Orleans drummers. Shannon Powell (who, in my opinion, is the best stick man out there doin' it today) held a tribute to Smokey at Preservation Hall a few nights later, and it just brought the house down, man.

I would gladly have made the trip just for the conference, but there was, of course, the ol' Stomp itself. Back up to two days (in addition to the 'Revue' the Knights put together for the Blues Tent during the first weekend of Jazz Fest), it's something that has to be seen to be believed. Led by the man who gave the event its name (as evidenced by today's rocking selection), the ambassador of Louisiana Swamp Blues himself Lazy Lester, the Stomp has expanded to include over fifty acts on three different stages. There is simply no way to experience it all, but here's a few of the highlights I managed to see (along with some pictures taken with my crappy digital camera):

Ultimately, it's all about great rhythm sections backing up great performers. Lil' Buck Sinegal (who positively kicked butt at Jazz Fest as well) and Stanley 'Buckwheat' Dural anchor the Topcats, who once again brought their bayou drenched beat to sets by Lester and B Side favorite Barbara Lynn. I can't say enough about how awesome Barbara continues to be. Her stripped down set out on the patio with Buck and Lester was worth the price of admission alone. She's got a good thing goin'!

Wardell Quezergue and his Rhythm & Blues Revue were back again this year, with Tony Owens once again just slaying the crowd on Confessin' A Feeling, and Jean Knight swaggering through the obligatory version of Mr. Big Stuff. AFO compadres Tammi Lynn and Mac Rebennack made the scene as well, with Mac playing Wardell's arrangements of his early pre-Dr. John material like Storm Warning and Bad Neighborhood, songs that haven't seen the light of day for almost fifty years! With Stomp stalwart Herbert Hardesty on the sax and Zigaboo back there on the drums, it was a rocking celebration of all things New Orleans.

Next out of the box were the ultra-tight Bo-Keys featuring 'Shaft' guitarist Skip Pitts and original Bar-Kay Ben Cauley. After a smoking set of their own, they brought a touch of Memphis to Betty Harris tunes like Cry To Me and There's A Break In The Road (if you can picture that). She was just stunning, and sounds every bit as good as she ever did. Fellow Memphian William Bell brought the Keys to the next level, and his heartfelt rendition of I Forgot To Be Your Lover just took me out, man. Things got a little blurry for me after that the first night... all I can tell you is I didn't make the 2:05 AM Travis Wammack performance.

The next night brought more Memphis Soul with the full Hi Rhythm section, including the Reverend Charles Hodges back on the organ and Willie Mitchell's stepson Archie Turner on the piano. Their own featured vocalist, the sublime Percy Wiggins, led the band through an unbelievable array of Hi hits, hitting some of Reverend Al's spots better than he himself has done in years. When our man Syl Johnson came out and joined them for songs like Any Way The Wind Blows and Take Me To The River, the crowd went wild.

One of the most anticipated moments of this year's Stomp, however, was the return of James 'Sugarboy' Crawford to the stage. The man who first committed the street language of the Mardi-Gras Indians to vinyl with Jockomo in 1954, Sugarboy was an immensely popular R&B star until he was savagely beaten by a racist cop in northern Louisiana in 1963. He was paralyzed for over a year, and it took him years to fully recover. When he did, he dedicated himself to the Lord, and vowed to sing only in Church. Accompanied by his super-talented grandson, Davell (who may just be the best piano player I have ever seen), his wonderfully sonorous voice brought Church to the House of Blues, as he sang a selection of traditional spirituals that was a joy to behold.

Backed by The Haunted Hearts, Georgia's own The Mighty Hannibal showed everybody just how mighty he remains. Although now blind, he's still got it goin' on! Never a stranger to social commentary, his fabled Hymn No. 5 is, sadly, as relevant today as it was when the Viet Cong played it on the radio to de-moralize the troops back in the sixties. A staunch Obama supporter, he led the crowd through his latest composition, which celebrates his candidacy as the logical culmination of the Civil Rights Movement. Yes We Can!

Our pal John Ciba and his partner Derek Evers brought the red hot Wiley and the Checkmates to town to serve as the rhythm section for their own traveling circus of soul, aka the Rabbit Factory Revue. After Wiley got done ripping it up (which I unfortunately missed as he was on at the same time as Hannibal), legendary Georgia Soul man Hermon Hitson took the stage and blew everybody away. Although I had heard Hermon's records, I had no idea he was such a guitar player! Very cool, indeed.

Ralph 'Soul' Jackson, who wasn't too happy with his slot last year as the opening act of an abbreviated Stomp, redeemed himself this time around with an absolutely killer set that worked the crowd into a frenzy. The addition of Alex Chilton on rhythm guitar helped lift things just a little bit higher, as songs like Set Me Free and Sunshine Of Your Love just rocked the house. Ralph's incredible pony tail wig is definitely one of the coolest artifacts of soul, man!

Next up was elder statesman of Gospel and Soul Roscoe Robinson, who showed no signs of slowing down. Robinson's voice never ceases to amaze me, and hearing him sing hits like That's Enough and How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand) is truly a rare gift. As if that wasn't enough, The Checkmates pressed on, backing Eddie Bo and Irving Bannister in a set that didn't start till after midnight... do the Popeye, children! After a tip of the hat to ? and the Mysterians on the way out, I was done. Unreal.

The next day was my fifteenth anniversary, and the bride and I took in the second weekend of Jazz Fest, which is a whole other story in and of itself. Despite the mud, a good time was had by all. Betty Lavette set the Blues Tent on fire, while Aaron Neville's homecoming Gospel Soul performance burst the neighboring Gospel Tent at its seams. Older brother Art sang solo gems like Zing-Zing and Cha-Dooky-Doo for the first time in years on the main stage, while our old friends the Williams (aka the first family of Zydeco) opened and closed the day's festivities on Saturday... and that only scratches the surface.

Although there are still a mountain of problems in this town, New Orleans remains one of the greatest places on earth to hear real music, especially this time of year. When we walked into the Mother-In-Law Lounge on Friday night and found Little Freddie King and Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson playing unannounced, for free, we knew that this is still one special place.

God Bless New Orleans.