Earl King: Come On: the Complete Imperial Recordings (Okra-Tone)
A lot of New Orleans R&B and early rock’n’roll is piano-driven. Not Earl King. Earl King was a great rock singer and a scorching guitar-player who generated a string of hits across three decades. But he was much more than that. King was one of the best songwriters in rock history–his songs were covered by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. And in a City throbbing with creative producers, King ranks behind only Alan Toussaint as New Orleans’ most innovative arranger. He stands with the other Kings (BB, Albert and Freddie) as one of the titans of R&B.
Irma Thomas: Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans (Razor and Tie)
Aretha Franklin got bored of soul and turned to opera. Thus, Irma Thomas gets my vote as the greatest female singer in R&B: innovative, often naughty and always thrilling, but she has never turned her back on the source.
Lloyd Price: Lawdy! (Specialty)
You might call Lloyd Price the black Elvis–except Price could read and write music, produced his own records, owned his own record company, could play a mean guitar and piano and had a voice that could be as sweet as Jackie Wilson’s and as tough as Howlin’ Wolf’s depending on the material. Plus, on the Specialty recordings in this collection, Price plays with one of the greatest bands in the history of rock, featuring New Orleans legend Dave Bartholomew on trumpet and Fats Domino on piano. Price belongs in the same exalted category as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Ike Turner as one of the inventors of rock’n’roll.
Bobby Marchan: There’s Something on Your Mind! (Collectibles)
Move over Little Richard, Bobby Marchan is the greatest black drag queen in the history of rock. Marchan was born in Youngstown, Ohio, but fled to the culturally more permissive New Orleans at the age of 20, fronting the “Powder Box Revue,” which played for weeks at the Dew Drop Inn, one of New Orleans’ great black clubs. That show was all camp, but there’s nothing particularly campy about his rock music. Indeed, he’s owned one of the most versatile voice in R&B, as even a cursory listen to songs like “There’s Something On My Mind”, “Booty Green”, “Chickee Wah-Wah”, “It’s Written All Over Your Face” will attest. You may have heard Marchan, even if his name doesn’t ring a bell. He’s the singer on all of Huey Smith and Clowns hits.
The Wild Tchoupitoulas: Wild Tchoupitoulas (Mango)
Meet the real Mardi Gras Indians. But be warned: they “just might stomp some rump.”
Snooks Eaglin: Country Boy Down in New Orleans (Arhoolie)
These days Snooks is known most for his idiosyncratic electric blues guitar playing. But he started out as a street singer in New Orleans, playing country blues and traditional folk songs. Back in the day, they’d probably have called him a songster, in the style of Mississippi John Hurt. It’s a long way from the archaic sounding “Possum Up a Simmon Tree” to “Rock Me Momma”, but Eaglin demostrates how they both sprang from the same delta waters.
Doug Kershaw: The Cajun Way (Collectibles)
Swamp stomp from a Cajun anarchist. “Diggy Diggy Lo?” Damn straight, whatever the hell it means.
Naked on the Floor: Naked on the Floor (Valid)
Not all New Orleans musicians play “brand New Orleans music”–and thank the HooDoo deities for that. Want proof? Here’s a collection of some of the city’s most talented young musicians, led by guitarist Jonathan Freilich, playing post-modern jazz, a little bit of swing, a little free jazz, a nod to Ennio Morricone and a dose of klezmer–produced by one of the city’s best independent labels, Valid Records.