John Williams & The Tick Tocks - Do Me Like You Do Me b/w Blues Tears and Sorrow
The Great Tousan Strikes Again!
Way back in the day – two thousand and ought one – when the good people at Sundazed compiled and released the fantastic “Get Low Down – The Soul of New Orleans 65-67”, my life (and those of many others I’m sure) was changed permanently. Previous to grabbing that collection, my exposure to Allen Toussaint’s pre-Meters ouvre had been limited to the more obvious stuff (like Lee Dorsey’s hits) and the occasional rarity (like Benny Spellman’s ‘Sinner Girl’ and Curly Moore’s ‘Don’t Pity Me’) encountered on import compilations. Names like Betty Harris and Willie Harper were new to me. I’m here to tell you that from the time those two cd’s dropped through my mail slot and into the CD player, they never stopped rotating for close to a month. I was already attuned to the “sound” of New Orleans, but having the breadth of Toussaint’s mid-60’s soul legacy spread out before me was a revelation. Within a few short years singers like Diamond Joe had become obsessions of mine, and I spent a lot of time (and money) digging up original copies of the Sansu discography, as well as any other independent New Orleans label 45’s (especially Toussaint-related) I could get my hands on. So much so that there are only a few select Sansu sides that I haven’t been able to find (oh...I’ll find them..heh heh heh...). One of the more enigmatic artists on that collection was the group John Williams and the Tick Tocks. Little is known about Williams, other than that he went by the nickname ‘Scarface John’, he did time in Huey Smith's Clowns and was murdered sometime in the early 70’s (inspiring Cyril Neville’s song ‘Brother John’). They recorded two outstanding 45s for Sansu, and as far as I can tell never recorded anything else (at least under that name). The first of these two 45s (and by far the easier of the two to come by) ‘A Little Tighter’ b/w ‘Operation Heartache’ is one of the better two-siders in the Sansu catalogue. ‘A Little Tighter’ features Williams high tenor and some very cool, twangy guitar. ‘Operation Heartache’ is a slow stomper (if that makes any sense) that I prefer to the better known Lee Dorsey version. The second 45, ‘Do Me Like You Do Me’ b/w ‘Blues Tears and Sorrow’ was on my want list for a long time. The uptempo a-side has some popularity with the Northern Soulies, so competition for copies of the disc is that much more intense. I managed to score my minty copy at a decidedly reasonable price (more than $29, but less than $31...and it’s been known to go for double the price, and then some). The problem is, some Sansu 45s are incredibly easy to find, some others (Lee Calvin, Jimmy London) never (or rarely) appear for sale. Others, like Curly Moore’s ‘Don’t Pity Me’ show up on occasion but there are so many deep pocketed collectors waiting to score a copy, relative pikers like myself are left with our cheese out in the wind (unless we have $500 - $600 burning a hole in our pocket). Today’s selections fall in the frequently fluctuating middle ground, managing to be uncommon, yet not awfully expensive (another one for the “I can afford it, I just can’t find a copy” file). As I said before, ‘Do Me Like You Do Me’ is popular with the Northern crowd, which comes as no surprise when you check out it’s bright, propulsive beat. It has one of the more interesting arrangements in the Sansu catalogue, featuring a heavily reverbed organ, and something that sounds like a banjo (which I think may actually be a strange combination of stops on the organ) pumping along in the background. The drums – which open the tune – pound out a steady 4/4 beat. Williams contributes a memorable lead vocal with female singers backing him up in the verse and chorus. I’ve seen references on line to a singer named Pearl Edwards having been a member of both Huey Smith’s band and the Tick Tocks, which leads me to believe that the Tick Tocks may have been Williams’ backing singers, as opposed to the band. The flip side (which I’m going to go against tradition and post, on account of it’s so good), ‘Blues Tears and Sorrow’ is one of my favorite Toussaint ballads, placed (like another fave, ‘Tomorrow’ by the Rubaiyats) on the b-side where it was destined to languish in obscurity (a fate made painfully obvious by the obscurity of the a-sides...). Williams is in fine voice, and the (as always) finely crafted melody and arrangement prove once again what a brilliant artist Allen Toussaint is. Even his throwaway b-sides are amazing. All four John Williams and the Tick Tocks sides are available on the aforementioned 'Get Low Down' comp. On that note, I should mention that I caught the pay-per-view of the ‘Big Apple to the Big Easy’ benefit concert from Madison Square Garden last night, and it was the best $20 I’ve spent in a long time. The first segment of the show featured Allen Toussaint and his band backing a variety of artists, including Clarence Frogman Henry doing ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’, Elvis Costello doing Lee Dorsey’s ‘Yes We Can’, Lenny Kravitz covering Aaron Neville’s ‘Hercules’, Jimmy Buffet doing a nice version of Benny Spellman’s ‘Fortune Teller’ and Irma Thomas – who’s voice hasn’t lost an iota of power in 40 some years – performing ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘Time Is On My Side’. My personal favorite moment was an animated Cyril Neville performing a killer version of Professor Longhair’s ‘Big Chief’. There were also segments featuring Buckwheat Zydeco and Ry Cooder and The Rebirth and Dirty Dozen Brass Bands (featuring a spry looking Dave Bartholomew performing ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’). My mind started to wander as the “big” (read – non-NOLA) performers took the stage. Elton John sounded good, as did Jimmy Buffet (who I’m not a big fan of, but his heart’s in the right place), Bette Midler (props to Bette for the most direct and cutting political reference, which I’m sure they’re wetting their pants over at Fox News right now), John Fogerty and Simon and Garfunkel. The part I stayed up past my bedtime for kind of pissed me off. MC Ed Bradley was going on about how for the first time ever the Meters and the Neville Brothers would be performing together. Now I like the Neville’s as much as the next guy, but the Meters are – as they say – the shit, and I was psyched. So, at about 10 minutes to 12 the Neville Brothers come on and play something cool (I wasn’t familiar with the tune). Then the lights go out and the Meters come on. So I’m sitting on the couch, tapping my feet in anticipation, waiting for the opening lick from ‘Cissy Strut’ or ‘Cardova’ to come shooting out of the TV, and the Meters open up with ‘People Say’ (from the ‘Rejuvenation’ LP). “OK” says I, “They’re probably just warming up.” The guys were in rare form, and it was amazing to see them all on stage together after so long (or for the first time, as was the case with me). So they finish the song, and the Neville Brothers come back out. Fortunately they were there to augment the Meters on a smoking version of ‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ (another ‘Rejuvenation’ track), and they kicked ass. But then...that was it. Aaron Neville laid down an a capella ‘Amazing Grace’ and the next thing you know everyone was back on stage for a rousing ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and it was all over. I understand that probably 80% of the audience in the Garden had no idea who the Meters were (their bad...), but couldn’t they have done one (or two, or three, or eight) of their funky classics. Is that too much to ask??