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 Live Nation concert facility that would be branded (cynically) as “The Fillmore.”
(image courtesy of Silver Spring Neighborhoods Blog)
Taking in Toussaint’s performance, 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 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 [Naomi Neville-penned] 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
“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?