Naomi Neville = Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint was the headlining act for the 2009 Silver Spring Jazz Festival.  At that time, the festival venue was the parking lot behind the facade of the old JC Penney building, just prior to its conversion (using millions of taxpayer dollars) into the LiveNation concert facility that would be branded (cynically) as “The Fillmore.”

Thanks to Silver Spring Neighborhoods Blog for the great photo!

Allen Toussaint @ 2009 Jazz FestivalTaking in Toussaint’s performance in 2009, I was struck by how all-encompassing his music is, the totality of its sweep:  jazz, blues, New Orleans second line, gospel, funk, pop, country, and even a big of ragtime thrown in for good measure.

Funny to recall that, even as an obsessed teenage fan of The Who, I would inadvertently make Allen Toussaint’s acquaintance via The Who’s live arrangement of “Fortune Teller” from a bootleg album of their April, 1968 performance at New York City’s Fillmore East.

Toussaint’s recent passing is an enormous loss, and his legacy – as Atlantic Monthly noted – is “unassailable.”  Fortunately, for humankind, Toussaint has left a vast treasure chest.  But rather than unscroll a long list of song titles that attest to Toussaint’s impressive handiwork as a songwriter, musician and producer, I thought it might be better to simply hit you with one good song at a time – such as 1965‘s infectious “The Word Game” by Benny Spellman:

“The Word Game”      Benny Spellman     1965

Toussaint’s playful take on Shirley Ellis‘s near-number one hit at the time, “The Name Game” is ripe (as this YouTube clip’s paltry numbers show) for rediscovery.   The “B” Side blog tells us that the song “bubbled under the Hot 100 for awhile” but never really charted, despite the endorsements of such influential disc jockeys as Johnny Bee (WBOK, New Orleans) and Chuck Cunningham (WLOU, Louisville).  As Home of the Groove explains it:

“It has been reported that ‘The Word Game’ did alright around New Orleans; and maybe it could possibly have sparked a flash of oppositional game-song fever across the land, except for a major monkey wrench.  While Atlantic agreed to release this single, it doesn’t seem they did much more than test-market it as a promo (as seen in the [image below] – you rarely run across a stock copy), and took no pains to promote it – that is, pay anybody elsewhere to play it.  That’s too bad, not because “The Word Game” really deserved to be a hit, but because it kept DJs from paying enough attention to flip the record over and discover the side that should have gotten the attention [i.e., ‘I Feel Good’].”

    Originally issued on New Orleans’ indie, Alon and then picked up by Atlantic

Benny Spellman 45-bBenny Spellman 45-a

“The Word Game” is one of dozens of songs penned by Toussaint using his mother’s name, Naomi Neville.

Who could, of course, forget Dylan’s producer, Bob Johnston, mangling “The Name Game” to great comical effect the following year?

Bob Johnston’s Moldy Goldies

Bob Johnston – who famously produced Dylan‘s Highway 65 Revisited & Blonde on Blonde and Johnny Cash‘s Folsom Prison, among many other classic albums – left us last August.  How startling to discover that Johnston used Nashville’s finest session musicians in 1966 to record a “dazzling anti-masterpiece” (as notes AllMusic’s Mark Deming) that delighted in “punking” the pop radio hits of the day – a Columbia release with the comically bloated title, Moldy Goldies: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston And His Mystic Knights Band And Street Singers Attack The Hits.

Sean Wilentz, in Bob Dylan in America, would deem it “one of the most obscure rock albums of the 1960s.”   Nashville Cream, in a 2012 interview with Johnston, would describe the album as, “superbly demented.”

Check out the vaguely Sgt.Pepper-inspired album cover:

Bob Johnston LPAnd yet this album was released in 1966 – prior to Pepper!

Listen as Bob and the boys deconstruct Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game” to hilarious effect (this will require, unfortunately, that you manually drag the “progress bar” all the way to the 25:35 point — very last song on the album).  Try not to laugh when Johnston starts to lose it:

Bob Johnston’s entire ‘Moldy goldies/Colonel Jubilation’ album

Leader: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston
Bass: Henry “Big Irish” Strzelecki
Drums:  Kenneth “Sledgehammer” Buttrey
Tambourine:  Durl Glin, Kenneth “Sledgehammer” Buttrey
Guitar:  Charlie “Bugs” McCoy, One-Finger Mac Gayden
Upright Piano:  Hargus “Pig” Robbins
Player Piano:  Jerry Smith
Harmonica:  Charlie “Bugs” McCoy, Henry “Big Irish” Strzelecki
Trombone:  Wayne “Tailgate” Butler
Trumpet:  Charlie “Bugs” McCoy*, “Taps” Tidwell
Violin:  Brenton “Ping-Pong” Banks
Vocals:  Durl Glin, Princess La Mar Fike, Mortuary Thomasson, Tommy “Mole” Hill
Vocals:  [Swamp Women] – Incomparable R. Lean, Luscious Norma Jean Owen
Producer:  Bob Johnston
Engineer:  Mortuary Thomasson

“B-A Bay” vs. “The Name Game”: Tongue Twister Showdown

I remember being a bit intimidated when I first heard “The Name Game” – Shirley Ellis’s big tongue twister of a hit – half fearing I would never be able to break the code behind the rhyming game (fortunately, with persistence, I one day did).  “The Name Game,” it is worth noting, was released three separate times on 45:  in 1964, 1966 and 1973.

Name Game - Shirley Ellis LP

How intriguing then to discover another tongue twister – “B-A Bay” from The Limeliters –   that is just as fun and challenging and whimsical … and yet a relative unknown in the collective pop consciousness as represented on the information superhighway:

B-A Bay – The Limeliters

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”B-A Bay” by The Limeliters.]

This song was issued on an album – Through Children’s Eyes: Little-Folk Songs for Adults – that was originally performed live and recorded in December 1961 in Berkeley, California.

Would you be surprised to learn that The Limeliters derived the song’s inspiration directly from The Three Stooges?