Allen Toussaint

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Allen Toussaint
Toussaint performing in Hollywood, Florida in February 2007
Background information
Born (1938-01-14) 14 January 1938 (age 76)
Gert Town, Louisiana, U.S.
Origin New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Genres R&B, soul, jazz, blues
Occupations Musician, composer, arranger, record producer
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1958–present
Labels RCA Victor, Sceptor, Minit, Instant, Reprise, Warner Bros., Nonesuch, Elektra, Rounder
Associated acts Merry Clayton
Venetta Fields
Dr. John
The Meters
Irma Thomas
Joan Harmon
Deborah Paul
Sharon Neborn
John Mayall
Etta James
Bonnie Raitt
Rosemary Butler
Elvis Costello
Paul McCartney
The Band

Allen Toussaint (/ˈtsnt/; born January 14, 1938) is an American musician, composer, record producer, and influential figure in New Orleans R&B.

Many of Toussaint's songs have become familiar through versions by other musicians, including "Working in the Coalmine", "Ride Your Pony", "Fortune Teller", "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)", "Southern Nights," "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky", "I'll Take a Melody", "Get Out of My Life, Woman", and "Mother-in-Law".


Early life and career[edit]

Toussaint grew up in a shotgun house in the New Orleans neighborhood of Gert Town, where his mother welcomed and fed all manner of musicians as they practiced and recorded with her son. After a lucky break at age 17 in which he stood in for Huey Smith at a performance with Earl King's band in Prichard, Alabama,[1] Toussaint was introduced to a group of local musicians who performed regularly at a night club on LaSalle street Uptown; they were known as the Dew Drop Set.[2] He initially recorded for RCA Victor as Al Tousan and recorded an album of instrumentals, including the song "Java", which became a #1 hit for Al Hirt (also on RCA) in 1964.[3]

In his early years Toussaint worked mainly for Joe Banashak's Minit Records and Instant Records, but after Minit was sold to its distributor, he teamed up with Marshall Sehorn, starting their own record label variously known as Tou-Sea, Sansu, Deesu or Kansu. In 1973 Toussaint and Sehorn created the Sea-Saint recording studio in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans.[4]

Success in the 1960s and 1970s[edit]

In the early 1960s he wrote and produced a string of hits for New Orleans R&B artists such as Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville, The Showmen, and Lee Dorsey. Some of his songs from this period were published under the pseudonym "Naomi Neville" (his mother's maiden name, which he used to circumvent an earlier publishing contract), such as "Ruler of My Heart", recorded by Irma Thomas. This song was subsequently recorded by Otis Redding under the title "Pain in My Heart", and by The Rolling Stones on their second album. In 1964, "A Certain Girl" (originally by Ernie K-Doe) was the B-side of the first single release by The Yardbirds; the song was released again in 1980 by Warren Zevon. A two-sided 1962 hit by Benny Spellman comprised "Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)," later covered by The O'Jays, Ringo Starr, and Alex Chilton, and the simple but effective "Fortune Teller", which was covered by many 1960s rock groups including The Rolling Stones, The Nashville Teens, The Who, The Hollies, ex-Searchers founder member Tony Jackson and more recently (2007) by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on Raising Sand. A significant early influence was the second-line piano style of Professor Longhair.

Toussaint's piano and arrangements show up on hundreds of records during the early 1960s on records by Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, and scores of other artists.

Starting in the 1970s, he switched gears to a funkier sound, writing and producing for The Meters, Dr John, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians tribe. He also began to work with non-New Orleans artists such as B.J. Thomas,[5] Robert Palmer, Willy DeVille, Sandy Denny, Elkie Brooks, Solomon Burke, Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller[6] and southern rocker Mylon LeFevre. He arranged horn music for The Band's 1971 album Cahoots, plus Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz film, in conjunction with arranging horn parts for their concert repertoire. Boz Scaggs recorded Toussaint's "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" on his 1976 album Silk Degrees, which reached #2 on the U.S. pop albums chart. In 1976 he also collaborated with John Mayall on the album Notice to Appear.

Toussaint also launched his own solo career, which peaked in the '70s with the albums From a Whisper to a Scream and Southern Nights. It was during this time that he teamed with Labelle, and produced their highly acclaimed 1975 album Nightbirds, which spawned the Number One hit, "Lady Marmalade". The same year, Toussaint collaborated with Paul McCartney and Wings for their hit album Venus and Mars. Two years later, Glen Campbell covered Toussaint's "Southern Nights" and carried the song to Number One on the Pop, Country and Adult-Contemporary Charts. Along with many of his contemporaries, Toussaint found that interest in his compositions was rekindled when his work began to be sampled by hip hop artists in the 1980s and 1990s.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and, in 2009, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. On May 9, 2011 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.


Allen Toussaint performing in Stockholm 2009

Contrary to rumors at the time, Toussaint did not take refuge at the Louisiana Superdome in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Instead, Toussaint weathered the storm in the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel. After the hurricane Toussaint left New Orleans for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and eventually settled in New York City. His first television appearance after the hurricane was on the September 7, 2005 episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, sitting in with Paul Shaffer and his CBS Orchestra. Toussaint performed regularly at Joe's Pub in New York City through 2009.

The River in Reverse, Toussaint's collaborative album with Elvis Costello, was released on 29 May 2006 in the UK on the Verve label, by Universal Classics and Jazz UCJ. It was recorded in Hollywood and, notably, in Toussaint's native New Orleans as the first major studio session to take place after Hurricane Katrina.[7]

In 2007, Toussaint performed a duet with Paul McCartney of a song by fellow New Orleans musician and resident Fats Domino, "I Want to Walk You Home", as their contribution to Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard).[8]

In 2008, Toussaint's song "Sweet Touch of Love" was used in a deodorant commercial for the Axe (Lynx) brand. The commercial won a Gold Lion at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. In February 2008, Toussaint appeared on Le Show, the Harry Shearer show broadcast on NPR via KCRW.

Toussaint appeared in London in August 2008, where he performed a gig at The Roundhouse. In October 2008 he performed at Festival New Orleans at The O2 alongside acts such as Dr. John and Buckwheat Zydeco.[9] Sponsored by Quint Davis of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Philip Anschutz, the event was intended to promote New Orleans music and culture and to revive the once-lucrative tourist trade that had been almost completely lost following the flooding of Hurricane Katrina.[9] After his second performance at the festival, Toussaint appeared alongside then-Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, Mitch Landrieu. The following day, he performed again in London at the NFL Tailgate Party.

Toussaint performed a taping for the popular PBS series Austin City Limits on June 30, 2009 as part of the show's 35th anniversary season. He played instrumentals from his most recent album, "The Bright Mississippi", as well as many songs from his back catalog. He performed with Levon Helm and his band on Imus in the Morning on October 9, 2009. In December 2009, he was featured on Elvis Costello's Spectacle program on the Sundance Channel, singing "A Certain Girl". Toussaint appeared on Eric Clapton's 2010 album, Clapton, in two Fats Waller covers, "My Very Good Friend the Milkman" and "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful".

Toussaint is a musical mentor to Swedish-born New Orleans songwriter and performer Theresa Andersson.[10]




  • The Wild Sound of New Orleans (1958)
  • From a Whisper to a Scream (1970)
  • Toussaint (1971)
  • Life, Love and Faith (1972)
  • Southern Nights (1975)
  • Motion (1978)
  • I Love A Carnival Ball, Mr Mardi Gras Starring Allen Toussaint (1987)
  • The Allen Toussaint Collection (1991)
  • The Wild Sound of New Orleans: The Complete 'Tousan' Sessions (1994)
  • Connected (1996)
  • A New Orleans Christmas (1997)
  • A Taste Of New Orleans (1999)
  • Finger Poppin' & Stompin' Feet (2002)
  • Allen Toussaint's Jazzity Project: Going Places (2004)
  • The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (2005)
  • I Believe To My Soul (2005)
  • The River in Reverse, with Elvis Costello (2006)
  • The Bright Mississippi (2009)
  • Songbook (2013)

Other contributions[edit]



  • Al Hirt had a #1 pop chart hit with "Java" in 1964.
  • The Yardbirds recorded A Certain Girl as a "b-side" in 1964
  • Glen Campbell recorded Southern Nights in 1977 on the album Southern Nights, reaching number 1 on the U.S. Billboard's Hot 100, Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, and Hot Country Singles charts.
  • Warren Zevon recorded A Certain Girl in 1980 on the album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School
  • The Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded "Get Out of My Life, Woman" in 1966 for their album East-West.
  • The Q65 (The Hague, Netherlands) recorded "Get Out of My Life, Woman" in 1966 for their album Revolution.
  • The Leaves recorded "Get Out of My Life Woman" in 1966 for their album Hey Joe.
  • Spirit recorded "Get Out of My Life Woman" in 1972 for their albun The Original Potato Land.
  • The Kingsmen covered "Mother-In-Law" on the 1965 album The Kingsmen Volume 3 and "Get Out of My Life, Woman" and "I Like It Like That" on the 1966 album The Kingsmen On Campus.
  • Iron Butterfly recorded "Get Out of My Life, Woman" in 1967 for their album Heavy.
  • Jerry Garcia Band performed "Get Out of My Life, Woman" during the 1980s and 1990s and a live version of that song is on the Jerry Garcia Band live album of 1991.[12]
  • Jerry Garcia Band also recorded "I’ll Take a Melody" in 1976 for the album Reflections[13] and performed it regularly during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. A live version of that song is on the Pure Jerry, After Midnight live album recorded in 1980.[14]
  • The Doors' version of "Get Out Of My Life Woman" was recorded in 1967 but only released in 2008 on the CD release of Live at the Matrix.
  • Nils Landgren & Joe Sample covered "Get Out Of My Life Woman" and "With You In Mind" on the 2006 album Creole Love Song.
  • Gerry Rafferty recorded "Get Out of My Life Woman" in 1992 for his album On a Wing and a Prayer.
  • The Derek Trucks Band played "Get Out Of My Life Woman" in their 2009 tour.
  • Lee Dorsey recorded Working in the Coal Mine in 1966.
  • Devo's Working In The Coal Mine was in 1980, released on the Heavy Metal soundtrack and as a bonus track for their album New Traditionalists, both in 1981.[15]
  • Van Dyke Parks recorded "Occapella" and "Riverboat" on his 2nd album Discover America in 1972.
  • Ringo Starr recorded "Occapella" in 1974 on his album Goodnight Vienna.
  • The Beautiful South released a version of "Java" as a b-side on the 1994 single "One Last Love Song".
  • The Band recorded "Holy Cow" on their Moondog Matinee album (1973) and "You See Me" on their Jubilation album (1998).[16][17]
  • Little Feat performed "On Your Way Down" during their 1974 tour; it appears as a bonus track on the re-release of their live album, Waiting for Columbus.[18]
  • Little Feat recorded "On Your Way Down" on the album Dixie Chicken.[19]
  • The Tommy Talton Band recorded "On Your Way Down" in 2009 for the album Live Notes From Athens.
  • Bonnie Raitt recorded "What is Success" in 1974 on her Streetlights LP, and "What Do You Want the Boy to Do?" in 1975, on Home Plate.[20]
  • əkoostik hookah covered "A Certain Girl" at their Spring 2008 Hookahville festival.
  • Bo Diddley recorded "Going Down" in 1974 on his album Big Bad Bo.
  • Boz Scaggs recorded "Hello My Lover" and "Freedom for the Stallion" on his 1972 album My Time, and "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" for his 1976 album Silk Degrees.
  • Lowell George recorded "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" for his 1979 solo album Thanks, I'll Eat it Here.
  • Robert Palmer recorded "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" and "From A Whisper To A Scream" on the album Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley in 1974.
  • Robert Palmer recorded "River Boat" for the album Pressure Drop in 1975.
  • Robert Palmer recorded "Night People" for the album Double Fun in 1978.
  • Ringo Starr also recorded "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" in 1977 on his album Ringo the 4th
  • Phish has covered "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" as well as "On Your Way Down" numerous times in concert, dating as far back as 1985.[21]
  • Tishamingo has covered "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley" several shows throughout their tenure
  • The Pointer Sisters recorded "Yes We Can Can" for their 1973 debut album The Pointer Sisters, "Going Down Slowly" for their 1975 album Steppin', and "Happiness" for their 1978 album Energy.
  • Paul Weller covered "Hercules" on the 2004 album Studio 150.
  • Maria Muldaur covered "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" on her 1974 album Waitress in the Donut Shop.
  • Frankie Miller covered "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" on his 1974 album High Life and also released it as a single.
  • Three Dog Night covered "Freedom For The Stallion" on their 1972 album Seven Separate Fools.
  • Three Dog Night covered "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" on their 1974 album Hard Labor. It was also released as a highly successful single, surpassing that of Frankie Miller's version, released the same year.
  • B.J. Thomas covered "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" on his 1974 album, Longhorns & Londonbridges.
  • Helen Reddy covered "Optimism Blues" on her 1981 album Play Me Out.
  • Widespread Panic covered "On Your Way Down" in 2009 and also at their 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Performance.
  • Trombone Shorty covered "On Your Way Down" on his 2010 CD Backatown, featuring Toussaint on piano.
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss covered "Fortune Teller" on their 2007 album Raising Sand.[22]
  • The Pointer Sisters covered "Yes We Can Can" on their self-titled first album in 1973.[23]
  • The Pointer Sisters covered "Goin' Down Slowly" on their fourth album. "Steppin'" in 1975.[23]
  • The song 'I Feel Good' written under the pseudonym Naomi Neville and originally released in the US by Benny Spellman (1965), was a major hit in New Zealand for Larry's Rebels (1966) and later Citizen Band (Studio and live versions - 1978). It was recorded by Greg Anderson (Australia 1966), Chants R&B (New Zealand 1966 live recording, released 2008), The Artwoods (UK 1966 - Single on Decca by R&B band led by Art Wood, brother of Ron Wood. Members included Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple.), The Kuhtze Band (New Zealand 1987), The Gavin Burgess Band (1997 Live recording released 2012). (Source


  1. ^ "Allen Toussaint". NYNO Records. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  2. ^ Alison Fensterstock, "On Top of the Charts: Allen Toussaint is as sharp and prolific as ever", Gambit Weekly (New Orleans), May 1, 2007, pg. 23 (archives online at
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-104-7. 
  4. ^ Alison Fensterstock, op. cit.
  5. ^ See Longhorns & Londonbridges.
  6. ^ See High Life.
  7. ^ "Stemming the Tide", New Orleans Gambit Weekly by Alison Fensterstock, Cynthia Joyce and David Lee Simmons. April 25, 2006. Retrieved January 25, 2008
  8. ^ Fats Domino "Alive and Kicking" by William Vitka. February 25, 2006. Domino's experiences during Hurricane Katrina were similar to Toussaint's. Domino's house was flooded to the roof and he was initially feared dead. (The title of the tribute album is with reference to Domino returning to his New Orleans home.)]
  9. ^ a b Massarik, Jack (2008-10-27). "The Saints Come Marching in at O2 jazz festival". Evening Standard. 
  10. ^ Spera, Keith (2012-05-01). "Letting life flow in: Songwriter Theresa Andersson's expanding roles with music and motherhood lead her to a better place". Times-Picayune (Saint Tammany Edition). pp. C1–C2. Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  11. ^ Music Conversation: Allen Toussaint & Larry Appelbaum. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  12. ^ Jerry Garcia Band: Jerry Garcia Band: Music
  13. ^ Reflections: Jerry Garcia: Music
  14. ^ After Midnight: Kean College, 2/28/80: Jerry Garcia Band: Music
  15. ^ New Traditionalists: Devo: Music
  16. ^ Moondog Matinee: Band: Music
  17. ^ Jubilation: Band: Music
  18. ^ Waiting for Columbus: Little Feat: Music
  19. ^ Dixie Chicken: Little Feat: Music
  20. ^ The Bonnie Raitt Collection: Bonnie Raitt: Music
  21. ^ Phish: Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley
  22. ^ Notes about Raising Sand on
  23. ^ a b The Pointer Sisters

External links[edit]

None recognized before
AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer/Engineer
Succeeded by
Jim Dickinson