Allen Toussaint Biography

14 January 1938, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. This influential artist first came to prominence in the mid-50s as the touring piano player with Shirley And Lee. The duo’s producer, Dave Bartholomew, began using Toussaint on several recording sessions, including those of Smiley Lewis and, on a handful of occasions, Fats Domino. The artist’s solo debut came in 1958 with his The Wild Sound Of New Orleans album, released under the Tousan moniker. One of the tracks, ‘Java’, later became a hit single for trumpeter Al Hirt. Toussaint then joined the emergent Minit Records label as a producer. His first release, Jessie Hill’s ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo - Part II’, was a US Top 30 hit in 1960 and paved the way for similar exemplary work with Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville and Ernie K-Doe. Such artists often recorded Toussaint’s songs, several of which were credited to his ‘Naomi Neville’ pseudonym. Toussaint’s work was not restricted to one outlet and local singer Lee Dorsey recorded several ‘Neville’ compositions for the New York-based Fury label.

Drafted into the US Army in 1963, Toussaint’s career was temporarily sidelined, although he continued playing with the on-base band, the Stokes. On return from military service in 1965, he formed a partnership with fellow producer Marshall Sehorn. Lee Dorsey was again the lucky recipient of several exceptional songs, including ‘Ride Your Pony’, ‘Get Out Of My Life, Woman’ and ‘Working In The Coalmine’. Sansu, the label formed by the two entrepreneurs, was also responsible for releases by Betty Harris and the Meters, while the duo also set up their own recording studio, Sea-Saint. Toussaint’s own career continued with his self-titled 1971 album whose highlight was the excellent ‘From A Whisper To A Scream’. Life, Love And Faith (1972) was uninspired, but Southern Nights (1975) was much stronger and featured the original version of ‘What Do You Want The Girl To Do?’, later covered by Boz Scaggs and Lowell George.

Despite his inability to master a consistent solo path, Allen’s gifts as a songwriter and producer were continually in demand. The Band, Dr. John and Paul Simon are only a handful of those who called upon his talents during the 70s. Toussaint spent most of the 80s working as a composer and musical director for stage and film productions, including Stagger Lee, High Rollers Social, and Pleasure Club. His importance in New Orleans music circles was confirmed by his involvement in 1994’s Crescent City Gold project, which reunited him with many of the city’s legendary players including Dr. John, Earl Palmer, Lee Allen, and Red Tyler. In the same decade, Toussaint made a welcome return to the studio to record Connected (1996) and two albums under the Allen Toussaint & Friends banner, showcasing the range of artists on his NYNO label. The following decade he collaborated with UK singer-songwriter Elvis Costello on the 2006 recording The River In Reverse.

Toussaint’s high standing in the music industry was confirmed when he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998 in the Non-Performer category.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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