Born: January 14, 1938 Primary Instrument: Piano
Allen Toussaint (born January 14, 1938) is an American musician, songwriter and record producer and one of the most influential figures in New Orleans R&B. Many of Toussaint's songs have become familiar through their numerous cover versions, including Working in the Coalmine, Ride Your Pony, Brickyard Blues, Get Out My Life Woman, and Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky.
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 (Ruler of My Heart, recorded by Irma Thomas, is one example; the song would go on to be recorded by Otis Redding under the title Pain in My Heart.)
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 Robert Palmer, Elkie Brooks, Solomon Burke, and Scottish Soul singer, Frankie Miller. He arranged horn music for The Band's 1971 album Cahoots, and arranged horn parts for their concert repertoire.
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 Nightbirds album from 1975, that spawned the Number One Hit, Lady Marmalade 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.
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 Allen. His friends often performed at a night club called The Dew Drop, located on LaSalle street Uptown. This group of local musicians were known as the Dew Drop Set.
In his early years Toussaint worked mainly for Joe Banashak's Minit label, but after that label was sold to its distributor, he teamed up with Marshall Sehorn, starting their own record label variously known as Tou-Sea, Deesu or Kansu. In 1973 Toussaint and Sehorn created the Sea- Saint recording studio in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans.
Despite rumours at the time, Toussaint did not take refuge at the Louisiana Superdome in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Instead, Toussaint weathered out 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, where he is currently living while his house is rebuilt. 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 now performs each month at Joe's Pub in New York City.
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. The press release for the album says it was recorded in Toussaint's native New Orleans and Hollywood.
Nonesuch Records released “The Bright Mississippi,” Allen Toussaint’s first solo album in more than a decade, on April 21, 2009. Produced by friend and frequent collaborator Joe Henry, the record includes songs by jazz greats such as Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn. Toussaint and Henry created a band of highly regarded musicians for the sessions: clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and percussionist Jay Bellerose. Additionally, pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman each join Toussaint for a track.