(BestofNewOrleans | Gambit) – The heart, soul, brain and style of New Orleans music has died. Allen Toussaint — the architect of New Orleans funk and R&B, having written, arranged and produced countless New Orleans hits, and whose fingerprints are unmistakable throughout rock ‘n’ roll history — died in the early morning on Nov. 10 following a performance in Spain, reports WWL-TV. He was 77.
With his band The Flamingos (featuring neighbor Snooks Eaglin) based out of his parents’ shotgun home in Gert Town, Toussaint played piano at gigs around town, later hanging around Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studio with Dr. John, among other familiar New Orleans artists, picking up session gigs. He dropped out of high school to pursue his songwriting career.
In the early ’60s, Toussaint was hired to play piano in place of an absent Harold Batiste at the Minit Records studios, penning priceless hits for Irma Thomas (“It’s Raining,” “Ruler of My Heart”), Ernie K-Doe (“Mother-in-Law,” “A Certain Girl”), Benny Spellman (“Fortune Teller”) and Lee Dorsey (“Ya Ya”), among others. After a brief stint in the Army, Toussaint returned with Dorsey’s hits “Ride Your Pony” and “Working in a Coal Mine,” among the first on Toussaint’s new imprint Sansu. In the early ’70s, he opened Sea-Saint studio in Gentilly.
“Most of the songs that I’ve written, if it wouldn’t have been for that artist, that song wouldn’t have been written,” he said a 2013 interview with WWL-TV.
“He was able, especially so among the writers I’ve known, to write the songs that best fit the artists,” Matassa told Alison Fensterstock in Gambit in 2007 (Matassa died in 2014). “A talented person can let you know who’s boss, what it’s all about and also get the best performance. [Toussaint would] come in with prearranged arrangements, and then adapt them based on what was going on with the musicians. He’s a perfectionist. And he kept a fresh sound that was appropriate to every performer. It was astounding how he could create a song and arrange it and wrap it around a particular performer.”
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