Diamond Joe - The ABC Song
Greetings all. And a happy Monday it is. My convalescence has been for all intents and purposes, completed, and I find myself as far back in the saddle as I’ll ever be. Those that follow my ramblings, here, and earlier at the Funky16Corners web zine know that I have a deep and abiding love for the music of New Orleans that approaches the level of obsession. Deep within that larger area of interest, lie several smaller obsessions, usually with individual artists that I’ve devoted time to collecting their records and what little information I can about their histories. Diamond Joe Maryland is just such an artist. Of the seven 45s that he recorded between 1961 and 1968, three of them are among my all time favorites – in any genre. In that brief period, he worked exclusively with Allen Toussaint, on the Minit, Instant, Sansu and Deesu labels, and as far as I’ve been able to tell made very little noise outside of New Orleans. This is of course a damn shame, as some of his records are of such a high quality as to be considered among the best made in NOLA or anywhere else for that matter) in the 60’s. His last 45 for Minit, 1963’s ‘Help Yourself’ b/w ‘Fair Play’ is an absolutely transcendant thing of beauty that I posted here last year. Suffice to say that it is one of Toussaint’s best early sides and features nuanced and powerful vocals by Diamond Joe. His last of three 45s for Sansu, 1967’s ‘Gossip Gossip’ b/w ‘Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ is one of the two or three finest records ever to appear on the label – and that’s saying a lot – and should have been a much bigger hit (God only knows why it wasn’t). ‘Gossip Gossip’ ranks among Toussaint’s best raw soul tunes, and Diamond Joe’s performance is nothing short of remarkable. It’s one of those records that I’ve played for people and almost universally get the reaction of “Why haven’t I heard this record?”. The following year, Diamond Joe made his last 45, after which he would fade into the background, never to record again. The A-side of that last 45, ‘The ABC Song’ is today’s selection. I find it odd that ‘The ABC Song’ isn’t better known, at least these days when the resurgence in interest regarding New Orleans funk continues unabated. It hasn’t been reissued, and is not well known outside of New Orleans fanatics like myself. This may have something to do with the fact that Diamond Joe is known amongst collectors mainly as a singer of R&B and soul, and that his final 45 came out on the later Deesu label, which was not particularly well distributed, produced no hits and as a result is fairly hard to find. That is not to say that it didn’t bring the heat anyway, as three of Eldridge Holmes best 45s were released on that particular imprint, including the brilliant ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and Holmes’ own “lost” funk gem, “The Book” (written by Leo Nocentelli, and without doubt a future post in this space). Opening with a horn fanfare and some funky guitar, the band (who I’m pretty sure – despite all suspicions surrounding late period Toussaint funk sessions - are NOT the Meters) sets the groove as Diamond Joe drops in with the first verse. Things are decidedly rough, with a sound not unlike Larry Darnell’s Instant classic ‘Son of a Son of a Slave’. The drums are super hard, and Diamond Joe’s vocals get rougher as the song progresses, especially as he’s joined by the backing vocals. The band rolls along like one of those busted looking, old-timey muscle cars that looks beat but still has twice as much iron under the hood as anything else on the road. I guess if you’re never going to make another record, leaving a killer like this as evidence of your greatness isn’t a bad way to go. Sadly (very), the last I heard Diamond Joe was currently homeless. With the exception of his first 45 ‘Moanin’ & Screamin’ (which was on a UK ‘Minit/Instant’ comp), and most of his Sansu sides (which appear on the Sundazed ‘Get Low Down’ set), the rest of his work has never been reissued. I’ve never even heard his Instant 45 (if you’ve got a copy I’d love to hear from you).