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Jeff Moehlis: Allen Toussaint, Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Serve Up Taste of New Orleans

Allen Toussaint has left an incredible mark on music over the years.

As a songwriter, he has penned classics like "Working in the Coalmine," "Southern Nights" and "Fortune Teller." As a producer, he has brought his magic touch to noted recordings by the likes of Dr. John, The Meters and Labelle. He has also recorded several acclaimed solo albums, done horn arrangements for The Band and Paul Simon, and has worked with Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Lee Dorsey and many, many more. His honors include being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the 2012 National Medal of the Arts.

On Tuesday, Nov. 25, Toussaint and fellow New Orleans legends the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be performing at the Lobero Theatre.

Tickets are almost sold out, but click here to see if any seats open up.

Toussaint graciously took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Noozhawk about the upcoming show. The full interview, including Toussaint's reflections on working with other artists, his thoughts on various cover versions of his songs, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, is available by clicking here.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?

Allen Toussaint: I'm with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which is a delightful place to be. They come out and play about 20 to 25 minutes first, without me, then they call me and I join them and they accompany me on some of my songs for about 20 to 25 minutes. Then they leave the stage and I'm out there solo to play a while myself, then I call them back out and we finish the show off. It's very comfortable, and I hope quite entertaining. It's been going very well.

I've even written a song inspired by them, because I was so taken by them when we performed together before. They inspired me to write a song about them, and I do that song each night with them accompanying me. I love this band. It consists of great musicians and they play that music so very well. And they're quite united — they're all in the very same boat.

JM: I've been listening to music that you were involved with for a long time. I'm particularly a big fan of the couple of albums you produced for Dr. John back in the '70s. How far back do you and Dr. John go, and what brought you together for those albums?

AT: We go back as far as when we were 15 and 16 years old. We played in the studio on recordings. He was always the guitar player, and I was the pianist whenever we were together. He was a wonderful guitarist then, and he still is. Of course, even then he played the piano, but never when I was around, because I was always there to play the piano. Whenever I was around with him when we were youngsters he played the guitar. That's how far back we go.

From time to time, over the years, we'd come together. Then, when it was time for the Right Place, Wrong Time album, Jerry Wexler put us together. I thought that was so fitting and proper, because we're from the same part of New Orleans. It was so fitting and proper that I would produce him on Right Place, Wrong Time and Desitively Bonnaroo, which was the second album we did, which I like even better than the first. But the first one outsold the second one so I have to go with the winner.

JM: Dr. John has been a bit secretive about what the phrase Desitively Bonnaroo means. Are you willing to let us in on that?

AT: I do know what it means to us in our locale, but I insist on letting him be the source of information on such a metaphor. He's the master of those things, as a discipline of Professor Longhair like myself. He's always the authoritative source of information for such.

JM: You must've been incredibly busy during the '70s. Around the same time you produced the song "Lady Marmalade." How did that song come together?

AT: I did three albums with Labelle — two with the three ladies and one with just Patti, the first one being the one that "Lady Marmalade" came together on. That was actually written by Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe. That's the original song. Of course, it sounds a bit different than what we did, because it was in New Orleans and I put on my own touch.

It was a pleasure to have Labelle into the studio because they brought such theater into the laid-back city of New Orleans. It was more magic.

JM: A little bit before that, you did horn arrangements for The Band. I'm particularly curious about the Rock of Ages album, the live one. I understand that there's a story behind that involving lost luggage. Can you tell about what happened there?

AT: Oh yes, that's an accurate story. They sent the tracks to me in New Orleans, of course before horns, for me to do the arrangements.

And I did all the arrangements in New Orleans, and when I was through and arrived in Manhattan I had one more leg of the trip to get up to Bearsville, around Woodstock. Someone picked up the wrong bag in the airport, and that was the bag with my arrangements.  Whatever bag they left was exactly like the one they picked up, so it was an extremely honest mistake.

When I got to Woodstock and opened the bag, I saw all these strange clothes and strange things that had nothing to do with my music, so I had to get to work right away and start writing from scratch. And it was the right thing to do, because I felt so inspired to be writing the music that goes with that area while in that area. They gave me a cottage out in the trees, no other houses around. A cottage full of windows, and I put on a pair of pajamas and spent a couple of days writing these arrangements, and had a wonderful time.

Of course there were some challenging times as well, because my ear got infected for some reason, and I was having a real problem with that. Robbie Robertson and the guys called a doctor who was dressed like Li'l Abner and brought some very interesting medicine to put on my ear, and the next day I was just about perfect. But I had a wonderful time doing it, and it was the right thing to happen. I'm so glad that my bag was stolen, because the final arrangements were done where and what they should have been.

JM: Did the old arrangements ever find their way back to you?

AT: No they didn't. But I sure would like them to someday find their way back, but I'm sure they won't. It may have been important to me, it may have been trash to someone else, a whole lot of something that meant nothing to them. It meant as much to them as their dirty clothes meant to me.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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