We lost one of the greats this week: Allen Toussaint, legendary New Orleans songwriter/producer/pianist and all-around musical genius, who dropped dead of a heart attack shortly after finishing a show in Madrid.
Toussaint was not exactly a household name; he mostly stayed in the background, I think by design. But his influence on American popular music was broad and deep. He recorded with everyone from Fats Domino to Elvis Costello, Etta James to Dr. John, The Meters to Paul McCartney. All his work – with the possible exception of that Wings album – shared a common vibe; not just funky and groovy, but soulful and positive and uplifting. In short, some of the best music ever made by humans.
Many of us came to know him through his work with Lee Dorsey, which the kind of stuff you know even if you don’t know you know it. Toussaint and Dorsey recorded “Yes We Can Can,” which later became a big hit for the Pointer Sisters; “Workin’ in a Coal Mine,” which I came to know first in Devo’s cover version; and of course “Everything I Do Gonh be Funky,” famously referenced by the Beastie Boys in “Sure Shot.”
I don’t know if everything Mr. Toussaint did in his life was funky, but his average was surely among the highest out there. The world will be measurably less funky without him.
(I’ve only scratched the surface here; for a deeper dive, I recommend this article by Mike Powell.)