Song of the Week – Lights Out, Jerry Byrne

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

I had plans to go back to New Orleans – one of my favorite cities – for the French Quarter Festival in April.  But yesterday they announced that it would be postponed until October.  :^(

To help get me psyched for the Fest, I read the most important book to document the historical importance of New Orleans to the early development of R&B and Rock and Roll in the ‘50s and ’60.  Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans was written in 1974 by Brit John Broven, an authority on the subject of Louisiana music.

The book told a story about a white artist that recorded in Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans named Jerry Byrne.  I’d never heard of him, so I had to check out his most popular song – “Lights Out” (1958).

How is it that I have not heard of this song before now?  This kicks ass!!!  It has everything you could want in a rockabilly song – A wild vocal, a honking sax (played by Harold Battiste), and a killer piano solo pounded out by Art Neville (of the Neville Brothers).  As accurately summarized by Broven, it “contains all the power, energy and excitement that is the essence of rock ‘n roll.”

The track was co-written by Seth David and Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) who was Byrne’s cousin!

And the lyrics have the rebellious attitude that is essential for early rock songs.  It opens like this:

Standin’ on my front porch Grabbed her and I kissed her Boy was I surprised when I saw her little sister Lights out, lights out I’m glad now the lights were out Sister knows more about What to do when the lights go out Mother looked at me She was a-peepin’ through the window The way she looked at me Boy, I thought I was a sinner

“Lights Out” was popular regionally but never found a national audience.  How did that happen?  It shouldda been a hit!

I hope you’re as happy as I am to have discovered this classic, early rock song.  It will be on many of my playlists in the future.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Skokiaan – Kermit Ruffin, Lupita – The Iguanas, Java – Allen Toussaint, I Walk On Gilded Splinters – Dr. John

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A few weeks ago I went to New Orleans for their annual Jazz Fest. Although I’ve been to the Crescent City several times before it’s been a good 15 years since my last visit – long overdue.

I must be honest, at the Jazz Fest itself I didn’t get to hear as much local music as I had hoped. I arrived a little late each day and then focused my attention on the major acts on the big (Accura) stage where a couple of my favorites were performing – Springsteen and Arcade Fire. Both did terrific sets.

But the festival ends early (7 PM) each day and that provides ample opportunity to go out to the clubs to hear more good music. One night we went to the Rock ‘n’ Bowl where we saw Kermit Ruffin (a local legend and star on HBO’s hit series Treme) as the opening act.

Next on was another New Orleans band, The Iguanas.

The Iguanas sound like Los Lobos relocated to New Orleans, especially their emphasis on Spanish language folk songs and Latin rhythms… and that ain’t bad.

Another night we had tickets to see the Dr. John Tribute Concert. This one night only performance featured a “who’s who” of New Orleans musician royalty (Dirty Dozen Horns, Chief Monk Boudreaux, Cyril Neville, Irma Thomas) and a long list of other prominent rock & R&B stars (Warren Haynes, John Fogarty, Mavis Staples, Jimmie Vaughn, Chuck Leavell) too. (Gregg Allman and Lucinda Williams were no-shows.) Don Was acted as the musical director.

Springsteen made a surprise appearance and opened the festivities on “Right Place, Wrong Time” – the good Dr. accompanying him on piano. Allen Toussaint performed his own song of “Life”, a version of which Dr. John released on his In the Right Place album.

Here’s Toussaint’s instrumental “Java” made famous by Al Hirt with a Grammy award winning hit (#4, 1963). The Toussaint original recording comes off a very rare album from 1958 that I have a copy of called The Wild Sound of New Orleans (credited simply to Tousan).

Dr. John closed out the set, playing piano and singing on a few of his most well-known songs. My favorite was “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” from his classic Gris Gris album. Sarah Morrow did a trombone solo that was as swampy and spooky as the original Gris Gris recording here.

The concert was filmed and will come out on DVD later this year. When it does, be sure to check it out.

Enjoy… until next week.