Thursday, July 2, 2009

New Orleans R&B Kings

Among the numerous musically rich cities in the U. S. - Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles,- New Orleans, for a number of reasons, occupies a particularly special niche. Often referred to as the birthplace of Jazz, the unique demographic history of the city with immigration from Arcadia as well as the Spanish and French speaking Caribbean endow it with a melange of cultural traditions that have spawned rich and complex musical mosaic. From its Jazz and Dixieland traditions rooted in icons like Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, the music associated with its famous Mardi Gras Crew music to more contemporary R&B and funk stars like the Meters and the Neville Brothers, New Orleans has consistently produced topflight musicians whose techniques speak to a particular style associated with the city.

During the post war period, New Orleans witnessed the rise of a flourishing R&B scene rooted in the city's traditions which extend back to the early eclectic piano style of Tuts Washington and the blusier approach of Champion Jack Dupree. Washington's influence was instrumental in the evolution of the distinct piano style associated with New Orleans, popularized to mainstream audiences by the 1955 crossover hit Ain't That a Shame by the city's own Fats Domino. By the 1950's New Orleans musicians were competing with Memphis and Chicago's best for R&B chart space as its rhythm and blues recording circuit expanded on small record labels like Ace, Specialty and Imperial. Since the quantity of N.O. musicians who charted songs during the period is substantial, here is a list of some of the superb N.O. R&B artists and their tops hits, some of which are true classics which have been covered by scores of musicians.

Smiley Lewis: Smiley's classic Imperial recording of "I Hear You Knockin" charted in 1955 with Huey "Piano" Smith on keyboards, yet subsequent covers of this song by Gale Storm and later by Dave Edmunds are better known.

Earl King: King's signature piece, "Come On" is a genuine R&B guitar classic which was later covered by Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Huey "Piano" Smith Smith is known for association with Smiley Lewis, Little Richard and Earl King, and for being the composer of "Sea Cruise," made popular by Frankie Ford. Check out his classic Nola styled "Don't You Just Know It." Huey's classic is the well known and oft covered "Rockin Pneumonia."

Eddie Bo: Eddie is but another of the many piano aces from New Orleans. Check out his 1961 soulish classic "I'm Wise" . Superb.

Lloyd Price: Price had one of the very first successful crossover recordings in his 1952 smash hit Lawdy Miss Clawdy on Specialty records. It has been covered by scores of artists. Also, his 1958 Stagger Lee charted and also crossed over.

Johnny Adams: Adams comes out of a more gospel oriented tradition yet had success on the R&B charts in the late fifties with songs like "I Won't Cry," which show Doo Wop influence.

Professor Longhair: The Professor's piano style had a huge impact on Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Alan Toussaint and Dr. John. Charted with the pure Nola style hits "Tipitina" and "Big Chief" in the 1950's. Check out his unique playing here on "Big Chief" from 1963.

Dr. John: His style is rooted in the New Orleans piano of Professor Longhair and charted a hit in 1959, "Storm Warning." The Doctor helped to popularize the Nola style by combining it with rock music in the sixties. Listen to the Doctor deal on the traditional Nola song "Iko Iko."

James Booker: A veritable wizard of New Orleans piano. An early organ R&B hit was "Gonzo" from 1960. Check out Booker on this fantastic recording from Montreaux in 1978.

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