Archive for Charles Neville

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: The Wild Tchoupitoulas

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2011 by 30daysout

Continuing our countdown to Mardi Gras, which is this week: an album that was overlooked at the time of its release in 1976, The Wild Tchoupitoulas has nevertheless come to be considered as a landmark of New Orleans music.  Not only that – it’s a great Mardi Gras party album.

The Wild Tchoupitoulas (pronounced Choo-Pi-TOO-las) was a Thirteenth Ward street gang that put down its weapons and picked up the colorful feathery trappings of Mardi Gras Indians. A tradition dating back to the mid-19th century, the Mardi Gras Indians dressed up in a wild takeoff of Native American garb so they could get around racial segregation. When a large Caribbean population began to grow in the Crescent City that culture assimilated itself into the Mardi Gras Indian tradition.

So, we have The Wild Tchoupitoulas, formed by George Landry, a.k.a. “Chief Jolly.” He had a musical background and his Indians performed a wild call-and-response routine during Mardi Gras parades. When he was approached to possibly cut an album, Jolly recruited as a producer one of the biggest names in New Orleans music – Allen Toussaint.

And for instrumental backup, Chief Jolly didn’t have to look far: he had some nephews who played, their last name was Neville. His nephews Art and Cyril Neville played with seminal NOLA funksters the Meters, who often joined Toussaint on his hit-making projects. With the Meters in the fold, Art and Cyril invited their brother Charles, who was a jazz sideman, and little brother Aaron. Aaron Neville, with an otherworldly voice, who had regional hits like “Tell It Like It Is” and “Everybody Plays The Fool.”

The album kicks off with “Brother John,” the tale of a fallen gang brother, and instantly you can hear the intricate rhythms of the Meters and Art Neville’s sweet keyboard work.  “Meet De Boys On The Battlefront” is an Indian “battle” cry – instead of fighting, this battle is a musical one. “Indians, Here Dey Come” and “Indian Red” are also born from Chief Jolly’s street chants; it’s worth sitting through the long first part of “Indian Red” to get to that little funked-up part about five minutes, 40 seconds in.

Toussaint puts in a ringer, “Hey Pocky-A-Way,” which was a hit of sorts for the Meters in 1974. This version is a little looser than the original, and it features on background vocals the Brothers Neville harmonizing together for the first time.

When The Wild Tchoupitoulas was released it wasn’t a hit (except in New Orleans, of course) but it did inspire the Nevilles to perform together as a brother act. Hence, the Neville Brothers – and when they released their second album in 1981 (the stone classic Fiyo On The Bayou), they kicked it off with a rockin’ version of “Hey Pocky-A-Way” and dedicated it to George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry, who died in 1980.

The Neville Brothers and the Meters continue to be active, and every time one of these units takes a stage it’s a reminder that they deserve more than just about anyone else to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Forget Mardi Gras – any time of the year, this is essential American music.

MP3: “Brother John”

MP3: “Meet De Boys On The Battlefront”

MP3: “Indian Red”

The Wild Tchoupitoulas, pictured in 1976


Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: The Meters/Neville Brothers

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2010 by 30daysout

Guess everyone’s talking about New Orleans today.  So in honor of the Saints in the Super Bowl, and Mardi Gras, let’s take a brief look at two albums with virtually the same title:  Fire On The Bayou by the Meters, and Fiyo On The Bayou, by the Neville Brothers.

The Meters are, of course, one of the greatest bands ever.  That they aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the true injustices in this world, and proof positive that the people running that Hall are trend-chasing lackeys who are more interested in selling tickets to tourists rather than honoring and preserving the history of great music.  Formed in 1965, the original quartet included drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and keyboardist extraordinaire Art Neville.  They had a few R&B instrumental hits including “Cissy Strut” and “Sophisticated Cissy,” and by 1972 they were the most sought-after players in New Orleans.  Becoming the house band for Allen Toussaint’s Sansu Records, they played on hits from Dr. John (“Right Place, Wrong Time”), Labelle (“Lady Marmalade”), Ernie K-Doe and many others.

In 1974 Paul McCartney asked the Meters to play on his album Venus and Mars, then they played the album’s release party aboard the Queen Mary.  Mick Jagger was blown away by the Meters, so he invited them to tour with the Stones that year.  That leads to 1975, and the album Fire On The Bayou.  Produced by Allen Toussaint, this classic unveiled the now classic title cut as well as a new, fifth band member: little Neville brother Cyril, on vocals and percussion.  “Fire” showcases what the Meters were all about: some really tasty riffs on top of a spicy, funky little rhythm.  “Talkin’ About New Orleans” and the extended groove “Middle Of The Road” are more of the same.

But there are two cuts that stand out above the rest: “Mardi Gras Mambo” is actually a cover, the original was cut in 1953 as a country song but the next year a New Orleans band, the Hawketts, made it their own.  The Hawketts were led by then-17-year-old Art Neville, and the song became a Mardi Gras standard.  The Meters’ version substituted Neville’s keyboards for the tasty sax on the Hawketts’ record, but it rocks anyway.  And then there’s “They All Ask’d For You,” a tune with some local catchphrases and an insanely catchy melody.  The Meters claimed writing credit on it, but there’s evidence at least some part of this song has been handed down among New Orleans musicians over the years but no matter – I remember going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 1976 or so and it was everywhere.

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