Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Willie West - Fair Child

Example
Allen Toussaint
Example
Back in 2002 I grabbed a copy of the ‘Crescent City Funk and more…’ comp on the UK Grapevine label. I addition to having a number of tracks I hadn’t heard it had been put together by Garry Cape and had liners by Jason Stirland, two cats who know what they’re talking about when it comes to old soul and funk. There were lots of NOLA rarities, and some previously unreleased cuts (including Eldridge Holmes ‘Ooh Baby’ which held special interest for me). The track on the comp that really hit me though was ‘Fair Child’ by Willie West. West was a dude with some serious history behind him, having recorded for a number of New Orleans labels through the 60’s (including Frisco and Deesu). His ‘Hello Mama’ on Deesu is a mid-60’s New Orleans classic with a great vocal by West and some of that rolling Toussaint piano. ‘Fair Child’ which I’d never heard of before was an Allen Toussaint composition /arrangement/ production and a mind blower. It featured West’s soulful vocals over a spare, haunting background, featuring bass, drums, organ and acoustic guitar. The record was like almost nothing else I’d heard from the pen/studio of Allen Toussaint (with the exception of Eldridge Holmes’ epic reading of ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ on Deesu, which seems to feature the same guitarist). The tune creeps in like a bayou fog, insinuating, building slowly with a laid back country funk. The acoustic guitar accents are really unusual and the drums manage to be crisp, restrained and funky at the same time. I instantly started to track down a copy of the record, but it proved elusive. It was like a monkey on my back for years, taunting me now and again in Ebay auctions where I wasn’t bidding high enough to bring home the bacon (or vinyl as the case may be). I eventually scored a copy from a seller after a high bidder didn’t pay up (heh, heh…). When the 45 finally dropped through the mail slot, and found its way onto my turntable, I was in for quite a surprise. About six seconds into the 45 a horn section dropped in, and then additional rhythm guitar. It was soon obvious that the mix on the 45 (at least the copy I had) was a much funkier affair than the cut on the compilation. The differences were fairly radical, and took some getting used to. The dark atmosphere of the first version (aside from the lyrics) was replaced by and large by syncopated funk and the record became a much more danceable/upbeat number with a fuller sound. I did some asking around from folks who should know, and was unable to get a definitive answer, though the consensus seems to be that what appeared on the Grapevine comp was an unissued take of the 45 (if anyone knows for sure, please let me know). There’s always the possibility that there was a local issue of the 45 with the different mix, but no one seems to know if it exists (and I can’t think of any other Toussaint/Josie product that came out locally first). Either way, both versions are worth hearing. Listen to the compilation version first, and then the 45 mix, and let me know which one you dig. ‘Fair Child’ is another irrefutable example of the genius of Allen Toussaint. It’s also an example of another absolutely brilliant record that didn’t really get any notice outside of New Orleans. I can’t really think of another musical auteur (writer / arranger/ producer/ performer) that made as many great records of consistently high quality that mainly played in a regional market. Certainly Toussaint wasn’t/isn’t hurting for money, but c’mon…The critics that get in line to build memorials to Burt Bacharach ought to spread some of that love down Louisiana way. As amazing as Bacharach was, Allen Toussaint is his equal – or superior – in every way. Like Bacharach, Toussaint seemed to “write records” more than just songs. His productions and arrangements are as much a part of his songs as what’s down on the sheet music and it’s hard to imagine many of his records reaching the levels of sophistication they do in anyone else’s hands. Unlike Bacharach, Toussaint rarely broke through to the pop mainstream and his songs, as amazing and memorable as they are do not occupy a large segment of the American musical consciousness. The time is long since past for some intrepid label to put together a comprehensive (at least five or six disk) survey of Toussaint’s work from 1960 to the mid-70’s with serious annotation and remastering. There have been smaller (no less admirable) tributes, most notable the recent RPM release ‘The Toussaint Touch’ (which includes ‘Fair Child’) and Sundazed Record’s ‘Get Low Down’ survey of his work with the Sansu and Amy/Mala labels, but neither of these really do justice to the awesome span of his career, working with nationally known artists like Lee Dorsey and stunning local singers like Diamond Joe and Wallace Johnson.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Jason Stone said...

When I first heard "Fair Child" on Mr. Finewine's WFMU program I was hooked. The ominous groove and wicked acoustic guitar licks (with or without horns)are awesome. Some rapper needs to put that groove to work!

5/11/2005 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey,

Sounds cool, cna you burn me a copy so I don't have to pay $80 for the 45?

Your Cheap Brother
C

5/11/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Jason
It seems amazing to me too that someone hasn't already looped the opening bars of 'Fair Child' (maybe they have??).
Larry

5/12/2005 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

After the initial listen, I liked the 45 version much better. The horns and additional guitar made it feel more complete. But after listens 2 through 4, I have to go with the compilation version. Swampier, foggier as you said, the vocal sits better in the sparser mix. But I'll be listening to both plenty more, that's for sure.

5/12/2005 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Will Lakeman said...

Greets,

Thanks for featuring an Allen Toussaint production - the man is criminally underrrated. I've loved his music ever since I discovered copies of 'Southern Nights' and 'Toussaint' in my stepdad's record collection, and haven't stoppped playing them since.

I totally agree that a retrospective is needed, let's hope somebody is working on one as we speak

Will

5/12/2005 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Will Lakeman said...

Greets,

Thanks for featuring an Allen Toussaint production - the man is criminally underrrated. I've loved his music ever since I discovered copies of 'Southern Nights' and 'Toussaint' in my stepdad's record collection, and haven't stoppped playing them since.

I totally agree that a retrospective is needed, let's hope somebody is working on one as we speak

Will

5/12/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Just my $.02 worth. The comp version (which is also on the Voodoo Soul CD) sounds like a demo version, with its simpler, back-in-the-mix instumentation. Maybe it was used because the 45 mix is lost or misplaced. That said, I have to agree that the 45 mix is not all that good. The guitars are pushed up in the mix too much. That and the horns cause the vocal to lose some definition and power.
Wonder what was going on. . .

5/14/2005 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Dan
A missing 45 mix would explain a lot, expecially the same "demo" mix showing up on two comps. I guess the answer lies with whoever provided the masters to the companies that issued the comps.
Curious indeed...
L

5/16/2005 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous williewest said...

This is Willie West, thanks for the props. I am still singing and released my latest CD about 2 yrs ago, "When You Tie The Knot". Check it out.
I am doing alot of festivals around the US, most recently the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival right here in New Orleans.
williebluesmanwest@hotmail.com

6/01/2005 05:21:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Willie
Thanks for checking in!
I'll look for that new CD.
Larry

6/01/2005 08:59:00 AM  

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