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John Sinclair

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Orleans Records Story  E-mail
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Monday, 23 January 2006 11:11
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The Orleans Records Story

By John Sinclair

[1] Mighty Sam McClain: Pray  (Ditta)
[2] Dorothy Goodman: Born With The Blues  (Goodman)
[3] Guitar Slim Jr.: It's A Privilege, Baby, To Be Loved By You  (Rodney & Barry Armstrong)
[4] Danny Barker: Ham And Eggs  (D. Barker)
[5] C.P. Love: True Blue  (Love-Ditta)
[6] Willy DeVille: Jump Steady Come My Way  (DeVille)
[7] Roland Stone: Remember Me  (Mac Rebennack)
[8] Coco Robicheaux: Cottonmouth  (Robicheaux)
[9] Johnny J & The Hitmen: J-Walkin   (Johnny J)
[10] Blue Lu Barker: Bring the Greenbacks When You Call  (L. Barker)
[11] Robert Lowery: A Good Man Is Hard To Find  (Lowery)
[12] Pinstripe Brass Band: I Ate Up The Apple Tree  (D. Williams)
[13] Marva Wright: I m Not Coming Back  (Marva Wright)
[14] Little Freddie King: Mean Little Woman  (Freddie Martin)
[15] Ironing Board Sam: Chillin  Like An Ice Cube  (Sammie Moore)
[16] Tony Green: Waltz For Pud  (Green)
[17] Rockie Charles: Don t Let Me Go  (Charles Merrick)

Produced by Carlo Ditta for Orleans Records

Note: Introduction is missing @ 1-23-2006

Carlo Ditta Speaks:

I met Mighty Sam McClain in Gretna. He was working with Kerry Brown at the Absinthe Bar, and Kerry took him home to Gretna. I knew Kerry because we grew up together in Gretna. A friend and I had renovated the old Pepper Pot on Weyer Street, and we had a rehearsal studio there where Kerry used to hang around with us.

I was hanging out at Kerry's house when he brought Mighty Sam over, and I was playing some of my songs for them. He liked Pray,  which I had written one day at Barbara Hoover's club, the Beat Exchange, as a kind of reggae song when I was playing with a band called Autobop, which was sort of an avant-garde Human League. I backed up Willy DeVille at the Beat Exchange one time, on guitar, and I produced an album's worth of material on a band called the Sponges, which were like the Metairie Beatles, but it never came out.

I had some studio time coming from Richard Bird at First Take studio, and I brought Sam there to record the song.

I still hadn t heard Sam sing, and he came there in his tuxedo on his way to a gig at the Colt 38 lounge on Basin Street. I sang the song to him, and then he sang it, and, man, he blew me away.

We did three or four demos, and on the strength of those demos I went to New York City several times and then moved there to try to get them out. In the course of this I decided to invest all my savings, which amounted to $2,000, in a professional session at Knight Studios. which was a joint production between me and A.J. Loria.

I grew up with A.J. in Gretna too, and we worked on some jingles together, which I produced on my 4-track. We ended up with an office-studio at Dolce Advertising on Frenchmen Street. Our big number was Century Bank of New Orleans 100% for you, Believe it, it's true.  But we blew that because we were bringing the Sponges and other groups in there to record.

So I m shopping these demos in New York and they re sounding like shit, so A.J. tells me he can get Deacon John, Erving Charles, Bobby Williams and all these cats to go in the studio with Mighty Sam to cut real recordings of Pray  and Why,  another one of my songs. They had a horn section too, and we overdubbed Mighty Sam and Lady B.J. on the vocals.

I took these tapes to New York and mixed them there and started shopping these tapes around. While I was getting the tapes duped I met Dorothy Goodman at the duplicating place, and it turned out she had been on the same label as Mighty Sam in the 60s Bell/Amy.

Dorothy had been a Brill Building songwriter/artist working with Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Charles Koppelman and other music-biz people, and we got together to write some songs at this little 4-track demo studio I had in my apartment on Astor Place. Willy DeVille used to come by there to work on demos for his album on Atlantic.

While I was in New York my aunt in California sent me this entry form for the American Song Festival, so I entered Pray  and Why  in the inspirational music category and ended up winning Best Gospel Song , which paid $2,000. Why  was the runner-up at $50.

So now I want to put it out as a record, and A.J. has started Orleans Records to issue his Mad Mad Mardi Gras  single, which had Wynton and Branford Marsalis playing on it. So I pressed up 700 45s at a little plant in Brooklyn under the Orleans label and brought them back to New Orleans for the World's Fair. This is 1984.

The other side was Dancing to the Music of Love,  which was something Sam had recorded back in the 70s, and I licensed it from Moses Dillard in Nashville. The World's Fair was a bust, and we ended up throwing about 500 copies off the stage to the audience at JazzFest, where Sam appeared that year as a guest of A.J., who was there as King Nino & the Slave Girls. I was on guitar. Mighty Sam came on and sang Pray  and tore the house down.

Somehow we managed to sell 100 copies to Japan and the other 100 copies to a guy in England named Dave Porter, which was quite encouraging. Sam had moved in with A.J. and started playing with Wayne Bennett, and Sam got an offer to come to Japan and cut a live record for Japanese release.

Meanwhile, I had moved to Los Angeles after the summer of the World's Fair to pursue my songwriting career. I hung around at the Dick Groves School of Music and played the showcases there, but nothing was happening.

I went back to New Orleans for JazzFest in 1995, met my wife there and took her back to L.A. with me. Then we moved to Nashville, where I worked for the Larry Butler Music Group. I set up and ran demo sessions for songwriters and publishers there and worked on Billy Sherrill productions with George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson and people like that.

We had recorded a couple of songs on Mighty Sam live   Backstreets  and A Change Is Gonna Come  as a demo for a gig on Bourbon Street, and when he got the offer from Japan we decided to record a couple more songs  Your Perfect Companion  and Miss B,  which had Cyril Neville on it and we issued it as Your Perfect Companion, a 12  EP with 5 songs on it.

It was released May 3, 1986, in time for JazzFest the first album on Orleans Records. I stayed in Nashville for about a year and then moved back to New Orleans after we released Your Perfect Companion. We got the album distributed by Rounder, Bayside, North Country and some other regional outfits and moved about 2,000 copies pretty quickly, which inspired us quite a bit.

Meanwhile, the 100 records by Mighty Sam we had sold in Japan led to Fumio Nagano of Vivid Sound inviting Mighty Sam and Wayne Bennett to come to Japan for a concert tour of Tokyo, Osaka and other venues. Fumio recorded their concert at the Shibua Inn in Tokyo and put it out as an LP on Vivid Sound in 1986. We ended up licensing the album in 1988 for American release as a CD titled Live In Japan with some additional tracks.

By 1987 I had moved back to New Orleans and was living in the French Quarter. I was hot to build the label and find some New Orleans rhythm and blues acts to record.

I remembered from years before when I would see this sign on Orleans Avenue saying SNAKE DANCERS TONITE  PLUS GUITAR SLIM JR. That was at Dorothy's Medallion, and finally Kerry Brown took me there one night. We met Guitar Slim Jr. and he did a set it was like watching Jimi Hendrix or maybe Buddy Guy, and I was totally jazzed.

I said, Man, this is a real blues artist, and I wanted to sign him bad. But he wanted some ridiculous sum to sign with me, like a million dollars, so I just left it alone then. But after I got back to New Orleans I looked him up again and he was much more reasonable now. I think I had to pay up the insurance bill for his car and pay up some of his back rent or something, and he was ready to record.

So we went to my friend's garage studio, called the Big Easy Studios, on Paris Avenue, and it was so hot that summer that the tape recorder would shut down because of the heat, so we d take the air conditioning vent tube and move it back to where the tape machine was so we could cool it off enough to keep going. That was really some hot blues in there that summer.

At the time I was making the Guitar Slim Jr. record I took a job at Tower Records as a provincial sales expert  to advise them on Louisiana music and turn their customers on to local records. This was before CDs took over we were still selling vinyl and I would make sure that Mighty Sam and Guitar Slim Jr.'s records got heavy airplay in the store, and that the tourists would know about them.

So I had joined NARAS and became a member, which allowed me to enter Slim's record in the traditional blues category for the Grammys, and it got a Grammy nomination in 1988. We lost out to Willie Dixon, but we got a three-page spread in People magazine (with Ronald Reagan on the cover) because Slim didn t know what a Grammy was, and when he found out, he got drunk for a month or two. Lee Atwater read the story and was becoming a fan of Orleans Records, so he arranged a jam session at Slim's home base, the Colt 38 on Basin Street, during JazzFest 1989.

Slim made one good tour, but he didn t take to the road too kindly. The only criticism really that we got was that Slim didn t write his own tunes, and that his father, the original Guitar Slim, was a great songwriter. Then I found out that Slim had a brother, Barry, who was another (illegitimate) son of Guitar Slim and was a songwriter who had written a lot of lyrics.

But he was in the Feliciana Forensic Facility in Jackson, LA the same place Buddy Bolden was sent to  for stealing cigarettes and pleading insanity to try to beat the rap. This ended him up in the hospital for the criminally insane, and Porgy Jones and I went up there to visit him.

He sang us some of his tunes, and we made a couple of phone calls and got him out in a couple of weeks. Naturally I took him and Slim into the studio and cut the song that's on the anthology, It's A Privilege, Baby, To Be Loved By You.  It was gonna be part of the second Guitar Slim Jr. album, but Slim disappeared and we never did finish the album.

During the years, whenever my family would have a birthday party or some kind of event, I would always hire Danny Barker to play there because I had become a big fan of his from hearing him at JazzFest along with his wife, Blue Lu.

We got to be real good friends, and inevitably we decided to make a solo record of Danny and his guitar. It was called Save The Bones, and it drew quite a bit of attention to Danny. We cut it direct to digital in a day or two at CRS studios in New Orleans, and we issued it on vinyl in 1988. The track on the anthology, Ham And Eggs,  written by Danny, features me on alarm clock and backing vocals.

Around this time I sold my house in the French Quarter and decided to move out west again, so my wife and I headed out to Santa Cruz, CA, where I had visited relatives since I was a child, and we lived out there a couple of blocks from the ocean.

I remembered meeting C.P. Love in New Orleans earlier, and he had moved to Sunnyvale, so I got in touch with him out there. He had had a couple of singles on Chimneyville, and we hooked up to write some songs together. Leo Nocentelli was coming up to Santa Cruz to do some gigs, so we grabbed him and George Porter Jr. and went into the Fantasy Records studios in Berkeley to cut some sides. Lenny McDaniel came up from L.A. and added some things, and we put the stuff out on a CD EP titled C.P. Love.

True Blue  is from those sessions, where we were trying to catch a real New Orleans soul vibe 20 years after the Summer of Love in the same studio where Creedence Clearwater had cut all their hits. It wasn t our most successful record, but it had some really good music on it.

In the spring of 1989 I flew back to New Orleans for JazzFest. The Danny Barker album had just been released a few months earlier, and I had the opportunity to record Danny at JazzFest with his band, the Jazz Hounds, with Blue Lu on vocals.

It was a great performance, with people second-lining in the aisles, and it ended up being their last JazzFest performance together, so I was really glad to get it on tape. It took me quite a while to get Blue Lu to approve the recording. Danny was cool with it, but Lu was a little nervous about the raspiness of her voice.

I kept listening to the tape and asking her about it, because I had fallen in love with the performance and really thought it should be released. Another cool thing about this recording is that it contains a great song written by Blue Lu that had never been recorded before, a classic risque blues called Bring the Greenbacks When You Come . Finally she agreed, and we got it out for JazzFest 1998 just before Blue Lu passed away.

While I was in Santa Cruz I was introduced to the resident Arkansas country blues man, Robert Lowery, who had moved out there in the 1950s to work on the highways. I decided to record him in a true field-recording setting, on the front porch of my house, just after the big earthquake of 1989.

The earthquake kinda rattled me, so we moved back to New Orleans again with our daughter, Sarah, who had been born just 12 days before the quake. I released the Robert Lowery sessions as Earthquake Blues, which got Quint Davis interested and led to a gig at the 1990 JazzFest and a new recording made at Chez Flames with my Santa Cruz buddy, Ice Cube Slim. This one was called A Good Man Is Hard to Find and featured Katie Webster on piano. The title track is on this anthology.

Back in New Orleans I got the word that Willy DeVille was living in town and asking after me. I showed up with my latest CDs, including my Guitar Slim Jr. Grammy nomination, and convinced him that I needed to produce a reverse-crossover roots record on him.

I played him a bunch of my old New Orleans R&B 45s, including sides by Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, Irma Thomas, Huey Smith & the Pitter Pats, Oliver Morgan, and Champion Jack Dupree, and with the help of Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Kerry Brown and a host of other local talent, we crafted an album at SeaSaint Studios titled Victory Mixture. I licensed it to my old friend, Phillippe LeBras, and he put it out in France on his new label, Sky Ranch. It sold over 100,000 units in Europe very quickly  our first gold disc.

In the 1970s I used to buy records at a place out on Airline Highway called Memory Lane, and one day I picked up an old Ace 45 by Roland Stone titled I Was A Fool.  I loved this record and looked for more by this artist, and I found copies of Preacher's Daughter  and Just A Moment (of Your Time). 

I really dug Roland Stone and was always curious about him, but I couldn t ever track him down. I heard that he was running a dry cleaner's over on Elysian Fields, but when I got there he had just sold the place. Finally a friend of mine, Jules Baduc, hooked me up with Roland, and we started talking about making a record.

Within a couple of months I got the word to Mac Rebennack, who had produced Roland's dates for Ace and Spinet, and he was excited about the project. We went into SeaSaint in 1990 with Mac and two other members of the original crew, Earl Stereo  Stanley and Charlie Miller, and came out with an album called Remember Me, a fantastic recording with that classic New Orleans R&B sound.

This album attracted a lot of real positive attention, including a rave review by Robert Palmer in Rolling Stone, and it kind of resuscitated Roland's performing arts career. During JazzFest 1996 we recorded him live  with a horn section and everything, cruising down the Mississippi River on a paddlewheeler. This was released in 1998 as Live on the Creole Queen.

Around this time I had the opportunity to work with local rockbilly legends Johnny J & The Hitmen. We did the session with my late friend Rennie Fletterich up on the 13th floor of the Maison Blanche building, where WSMB used to be. I brought in Wayne Bennett to play rhythm guitar on the title track, J-Walkin .  We cut half the record there and ended up finishing the album at Chez Flames on Annunciation Street, with Alex Chiton playing rhythm guitar and Ben Keith (Neil Young sideman and producer) on psycho lap steel.

While I was living in Gretna and my old friend Curtis Arceneaux (aka Coco Robicheaux) used to catch the ferry to the West Bank and I d pick him up and carry him to my little studio in my house on Amelia Street. I d known Coco for a long time, from the French Quarter and the original Tipitina s, where he d sculpted that bust of Professor Longhair.

Coco had just come back to town and wanted me to hear the songs he d been writing. This led to the recording of his first album, Spiritland. But the day after I signed him to Orleans, he broke his playing arm and couldn t start recording for almost a year.

By this time we d moved our studio and offices to Causeway Blvd. in Metairie, and we started cutting there. Again we finished and mixed it with Keith Keller at Chez Flames. Every street musician in the French Quarter lined up to overdub stuff on Coco's sessions, and the result was a very organic thing a true representation of what you might call hippie voodoo blues that could only be made here in New Orleans.

I licensed it to Phillippe LeBras, who had a distribution deal with Virgin Records France for his label, Sky Ranch, and the album was very well received in France and Germany. Coco was featured in a documentary on German and French television and got a lot of press attention, so he started going over there and playing major festivals and things like that, with a lot of articles in the European press.

We started working on a follow-up CD and came out with Louisiana Medicine Man in 1997. By then I had moved to Covington, close to the Bogue Falaya river, where my daughter Sarah and I recorded frogs croaking and other sounds of the swamps. These sounds appeared on the beginning and end of Louisiana Medicine Man, including the intro to Cottonmouth. 

While I still had my office in Metairie, I was introduced to Herbert McCarver and the Pin Stripe Brass Band. They had just finished recording an album at Southlake Studios, just around the corner from me, and they were looking for a record deal. I was blown away by their version of the old Dave Fatman  Williams song, I Ate Up The Apple Tree,  and I had always dug them because they had about the hippest second-line beat and the best singing of all the brass bands I had heard. Plus, they were the official band of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, and that cinched the deal for me.

We released their album, Your Last Chance to Dance, in 1994, and they made a guest appearance with Coco on Louisiana Medicine Man, backing him on his song, Weight of the World.  We re working on a new Pin Stripe album now, scheduled for release in 1999.

Another artist I worked with while I had my office in Metairie was Marva Wright. I produced Born with the Blues as an Orleans production for SkyRanch/Virgin Records in France. The title song was written by my New York songwriting partner, Dorothy Goodman.

I m Not Coming Back  is an outtake from the Born with the Blues sessions  never before released that features a duet finale with vocalist Mark Sterling. Marva's album was later released in the U.S. on Pointblank Records.

I remember seeing Little Freddie King at JazzFest as early as 1977, and after I was back in New Orleans in the 90s my good friend Gary Rouzan tormented me weekly to make a record with him.

Little Freddie, whose real name is Freddie Martin, had moved here from McComb, Mississippi, and was the neighborhood blues man in little joints from St. Tammany all through New Orleans. He got his name in the 1960s by imitating Freddie King so well that he would even open for King when he played in the area.

He had only recorded one album, for the local Ahura Mazda label Parker Dinkins  company but it was long out of print by now. So we brought Little Freddie into the studio in Metairie and cut Swamp Boogie. Freddie's style hadn t changed in 20 years no slick shit here, just the real low-down ghetto blues and stories from his own life like Mean Little Woman,  featured here.

For years during my life in and around New Orleans, I had the great honor and privilege of hearing and knowing the Eighth Wonder of the World, Sammie Ironing Board Sam  Moore. He's another artist who was brought to my attention by Kerry Brown, the drummer from Gretna who was my old buddy. Kerry used to play with Ironing Board Sam at Mason's Strip on Claiborne Avenue.

Sam had had a couple of singles on Atlantic in the 60s and had made a very obscure album on his own Board Records which was one of my prized, out-of-print, collectible, vinyl possessions. We had always talked about making a record together, and after lengthy negotiations with his attorney, Leonard Crooks, we reached an agreement which resulted in The Human Touch, released in 1996.

It was recorded in my garage in Covington, where we captured all the warmth and creativity of this incredible character and his hand-crafted compositions like the one featured here, Chillin  Like An Ice Cube. 

As the blues market became more and more flooded with generic product, I thought I would try to diversify and record an ethnic jazz record. I met Tony Green, a guitarist and painter who was originally from the West Bank but had been educated in Europe. He had a group called Gypsy Jazz which was heavily into the music of Django Reinhardt and worked steadily around town, so I thought he d make a great addition to the Orleans Records roster.

We recorded his album, Gypsy Jazz, in early 1996 and got great reviews in Jazz Times, Guitar Player, and other publications. Waltz For Pud  was written by Tony in honor of his friend Albert Pud  Brown, the great New Orleans reedman who had just recently passed away.

One day in 1995 I came across an ad in a local music directory for a guy who called himself the President of Soul. Rockie Charles was looking for work for his group, the Stax of Love Revue.

This ad grabbed my attention because the number listed was a West Bank exchange, and I wondered why I had never heard of him before. So I called Rockie up, introduced myself, and arranged to meet with him at his house in Harvey, where I found he was building a 40-foot fishing boat out of scrap lumber. It turned out that he wasn t only a great soul singer and songwriter but also a retired tugboat captain.

He played me some of his old 45 singles that he had made in the late 60s and early 70s on his own Soulgate label which were classic examples of southern soul and New Orleans rhythm & blues. He had also worked with Earl King on many Watch Records sessions and claimed to have taught Guitar Slim Jr. how to play guitar.

We started working together on a project showcasing his new songs called Born For You, which was released in 1996 to rave reviews in the local and national music press. He was featured in Living Blues magazine and got a lot of local airplay on WWOZ radio, which led to an appearance at JazzFest and quite a bit of club work in New Orleans and outstate Louisiana. Don t Let Me Go,  featured here, captures the sexy, slow-grind sound of this rough-hewn southern soul man.

Looking back over the last 10 or 15 years since I started with Orleans Records, I realize that it's basically just a reflection of my own life what I like to hear, people I ve run into along the way, the places I ve lived, the whole thing.

I never had any real direction except to accept whatever gravitated toward me and make the most of it as best I could. I hope to remain fortunate enough to enjoy many more of these precious experiences, and to have the ability to recognize their potential and turn them into recordings that will provide enjoyment for years to come.

What the future holds for Orleans Records is inevitable. I m proud that all our recordings remain in print, and I m working with several of our artists to help develop their careers and make new recordings with them.

Future releases will include new CDs by Dorothy Goodman, the Original Pin Stripe Brass Band, Ironing Booard Sam, Little Freddie King, and hopefully a host of other organic souls whose music you ve never heard before.

==Interviewed by John Sinclair
August 24-September 5, 1998

(c) 1998, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.