Allen Toussaint, legend of the New Orleans R&B sound, passed away late Monday evening at the age of 77. The producer, performer, and songwriter suffered a heart attack following a concert in Madrid, Spain, as his daughter, Alison Toussaint-LeBeaux, confirmed to the New York Times.
Born in New Orleans’ Gert Town neighborhood in 1938, Toussaint taught himself piano and, in 1958, released his first record under the name Tousan. Two years later, he began working as the house producer, arranger, and songwriter for Minit Records. During his tenure there, he collaborated on tracks like Jessie HIll’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”; Benny Spellman’s “Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)”; and LeeIrma Thomas’s “Ruler of My Heart”, which later became Otis Redding’s hit “Pain in My Heart”.
Two years after his drafted service in the US Army in 1963, Toussaint returned to New Orleans and embarked on his most successful recording period. He worked with The Meters and singer Lee Dorsey, producing classics like “Get Out of My Life Woman”, “Working in a Coalmine”, and “Everything I Do Gon’ Be Funky”. Devo would later cover “Coalmine”, while artists ranging from The Doors, to Robert Plant, to Bo Diddley all delivered their own versions of Toussaint’s work.
“Java” became a hit for Al Hirt in 1964, while “Fortune Teller” was a favorite of British rock acts like The Who and The Rolling Stones. At his own Sea-Saint Studios, he would work with musicians like Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Joe Crocker, Irma Thomas, and others. It was also there where he produced Labelle’s signature and enduring hit “Lady Marmalade”.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Toussaint left New Orleans for New York City, where he’d often perform solo at Joe’s Pub on Lafayette Street. In 2006, he teamed with Elvis Costello for the collaborative album The River in Reverse in honor of The City That Care Forgot. Eventually, Toussaint returned home, where he remained a valuable and beloved fixture of the city’s great music scene. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the citation read that his lasting contribution to music “was in not allowing [New Orelans] old-school R&B traditions to die out but by keeping pace with developments in the rapidly evolving worlds of soul and funk. In addition, he brought the New Orleans sound to the national stage, and it remains a vital and ongoing part of our musical heritage to this day.”
Amazingly, footage from his final performance surfaced almost immediately after he left the stage. Below, watch Toussaint performing “Get Out of My Life Woman” and “Brickyard Blues” at Teatro Lara in Madrid.
“Get Out of My Life Woman”: