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Allen Toussaint Biography

Home > Music > T > Toussaint, Allen > Biography

Born: 1938/01/14
Birth Place: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Years Active: 1955-present
Genres: Rhythm & Blues

Allen Toussaint was born on January 14, 1938 in New Orleans and is a musician, composer, record producer, and a prominent figure in the R&B music scene of his home town. Toussaint's most well-known songs include: “Working in the Coalmine,” “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues),” “Southern Nights,” “I'll Take a Melody” and “Mother-in-Law.” Toussaint grew up immersed in the rich musical culture of New Orleans and was surrounded by musicians in his home throughout his childhood. When Toussaint was 17 years old, his big musical break came, when he stood in for Huey Smith of Earl King's band. As a result, Toussaint was invited to play with the local group, Dew Drop, who would perform regularly at local clubs in the French quarter. Toussaint was signed to RCA Victor as Al Tousan in the 1960s and recorded an album of instrumentals, which including the song “Java” that became a hit for Al Hirt. Toussaint's music was significantly influenced by the piano style of Professor Longhair. Toussaint went on to write for other artists, of notes were: Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville, The Showmen, and Lee Dorsey. Toussaint also recorded for Minit Records and Instant Records, before starting his own record label, “Tou-Sea” with Marshall Sehorn.

By 1973 Toussaint and Sehorn's thriving record label expanded; they created the Sea-Saint recording studio in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. Some of Toussaint's songs were published under the pseudonym “Naomi Neville,” such as “Ruler of My Heart,” which became an Otis Redding hit re-titled, “Pain in My Heart.” Many of Toussaint's songs have been covered by other artists, such as, “A Certain Girl,” by Ernie K-Doe, The Yardbirds, and Warren Zevon in 1980. “Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette),” was covered by The O'Jays, Ringo Starr, and Alex Chilton; and “Fortune Teller” by The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. As the 1970s emerged, Toussaint's musical style began to gravitate towards funk; he began writing and producing for Dr John, the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians tribe, Robert Palmer, Willy DeVille, Solomon Burke, Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller, Mylon LeFevre. Boz Scaggs recorded Toussaint's “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” on his 1976 album, “Silk Degrees,” which peaked at#2 on Billboard's Pop Album Chart. That same year saw a collaboration with John Mayall on the album, “Notice to Appear.”

Toussaint's solo career peaked in the 1970s with the albums: “From a Whisper to a Scream” (1970) and “Southern Nights” (1975). 1975 also spawned the highly successful, “Nightbirds” that Toussaint produced for the group, Labelle; spawning the #1 hit single, “Lady Marmalade.” That same year also saw Toussaint collaborate with Paul McCartney and Wings for the album, “Venus and Mars.” In 2005, Toussaint relocated to New York City due to Hurricane Katrina. While in New York he performed regularly at Joe's Pub. 2008 saw Toussaint performing back in his home town of New Orleans at The O2 alongside acts such as Dr. John and Buckwheat Zydeco. 2009 saw a collaborative album with Elvis Costello for the Verve label and a recording for the PBS show, “Austin City Limits.” 2010 saw Toussaint working with Eric Clapton on his album, “Clapton” on the two Fats Waller covers: “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” and “When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful.” Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998; into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009; and into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.