RIP: Allen Toussaint

Posted November 11, 2015 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Crescent City jazz and R&B giant passes away at age of 77

Legendary New Orleans native and groundbreaking musician Allen Toussaint has died at the age of 77. He passed away after performing Monday in Madrid, Spain while on tour in Europe.

Hailed as a giant symbol in the New Orleans jazz and R&B community, Toussaint – a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – laid down the powerful groundwork for the now-thriving New Orleans music community, with a resume stretching back to the 1950s. His contributions on records for Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, the Meters, Joe Cocker and hundreds more. Many of Toussaint’s familiar compositions included “Ruler of My Heart,” “Working in the Coal Mine,” “Ride Your Pony,” “Fortune Teller,” “Southern Nights,” “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley” and “Mother-in-Law.” His influence has stretched over to rock, where a plethora of rock talent ranging from The Rolling Stones to The Who, from Jerry Garcia to Robert Palmer, from The Doors to Ringo Starr have all documented his work in some fashion.

Plenty of his greatest musical assignments are adorned by music lovers for putting artists on the map. First up, in 1973, a tune by Toussaint made up of a cool blend of jazz and funk made its way into the setlist of the Pointer Sisters’ debut disc on the Blue Thumb label. With David Rubinson handling the production, the Pointer Sisters splashed big on the scene, jumping to number eleven on the pop charts and number twelve on the soul side. Through the power of the inspirational single, the album was quickly certified gold by the RIAA. The Pointers also recorded several other compositions penned by Toussaint during the ‘70’s, including “Going Down Slowly” and “Happiness.”

Other memorable tracks followed: On Boz Scaggs’ legendary Silk Degrees disc, a set that featured “Lowdown,” “Georgia” and “Lido Shuffle,” Toussaint’s “What Do You Want the Girl to Do” made the set. There was also “Southern Nights,” a 1975 song that first made it on Toussaint’s album bearing the same name, which became a huge hit for Glen Campbell in 1977. The song shot to number one on the Hot 100, Hot Adult Contemporary and Hot Country Singles chart.

As a solo artist in the early ‘70s, Toussaint helped helm LaBelle’s breakthrough record. Considered a transformative moment in the funk-rock-soul trio’s career, Nightbirds – a disc solely produced by Toussaint – was primed by the number one pop hit “Lady Marmalade.” The song, penned by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, became a pop culture phenomenon, thanks to its French sex calls (“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir”). Making up its musical background included Toussaint on keys along with members of the Meters (Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr., Art Neville).

Later in life, Toussaint remained active as a solo recording artist throughout much of the 1990’s and even recorded The River in Reverse, a Grammy-nominated joint collaboration album with Elvis Costello. He also remained very visible touring along with the Perservation Hall Jazz Band. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Toussaint with the National Medal of Arts. After Hurricane Katrina, Toussaint helped to revive the struggling music scene by serving as an educational ambassador. His involvement in Festival New Orleans at the O2 alongside Dr. John helped raise awareness for the tourism economy of New Orleans. His last studio album, 2013’s Songbook, was a live recording session at Joe’s Pub in New York that allowed him to play a number of his hit songs in a warm, intimate setting.

Toussaint is survived by his two children, Clarence and Alison, and by several grandchildren.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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