Friday, February 17, 2017

Mardi Gras Mambo - Looking at a Few Prime Mardi Gras Music Collections

This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 28th, which is still a week and a half away.  However, your friends at Friday Blues Fix want to keep our faithful readers ahead of the game, so we are taking this week's edition to recommend several great sets of Fat Tuesday-related tunes to help put a hop in your step over the remaining few days.  Just scroll down and check out these four fantastic collections of tunes.  You can thank us later.

Probably the most popular collection of Mardi Gras tunes is the Mardi Gras in New Orleans album that was released on Mardi Gras Records (what else?) about 40 years ago.  This set collects a dozen of the most popular Mardi Gras singles at the time.  The owner of the label, Warren Hildebrand, had been around New Orleans music his whole life.  His father owned All South, the city's largest wholesale record distributorship, supplying the New Orleans market with R&B 45's.  All South distributed ALL of the local singles, so Hildebrand had the brilliant idea to compile some of the best Mardi Gras singles onto this album.

For a long time, Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the ONLY collection of Carnival music available.  It's still one of the best with songs from many artists that will be familiar with New Orleans music fans......Professor Longhair's standard tunes, "Go To The Mardi Gras" and parts 1 and 2 of "Big Chief" are here, Earl King's funky "Street Parade" is, too, as are several of the funky R&B workouts from the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian group fronted by Bo Dollis, one of the most underrated R&B singers in the city.  There's also the classic "Carnival Time," by Al Johnson, the Hawketts' "Mardi Gras Mambo," and a two-part version of Stop, Inc's "Second Line."

For years, the album sold pretty well during Mardi Gras season, mainly  because it was only distributed locally for the most part.  In the early 80's, however, as more distributors came on board, it began to sell nationally much better.  I'm actually on my second first one was on cassette......and I can tell you that I pull it out every year about this time and play it several times.  It's that good and that much fun to listen to.

In 1991, Mardi Gras Records released the inevitable sequel to their fan favorite, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Volume II.  This set included eleven tracks, including several from the Meters ("Hey Pocky Away," "Mardi Gras Mambo," and "They All Asked For You").  Meters keyboardist Art Neville was one of the high school students who made up the Hawketts, so he was revisiting "Mardi Gras Mambo."  There were also classic tunes from the Dixie Cups ("Iko Iko") and Sugarboy Crawford ("Jockomo"), a trio of songs from the Olympia Brass Band, and several modern Mardi Gras songs ("If I Ever Cease To Love," by A.J. Loria, and "Dat's Mardi Gras," from Jake the Snake, and "Mardi Gras Medley," from the Mardi Gras Big Shots.

While it is a nice change from Volume I, with the addition of the brass band numbers and the Meters sides, and it is a good, enjoyable album of Carnival songs, it's not as strong a set as the first volume.  There's not a thing wrong with it, but you definitely need Volume I before you get Volume II.  Mardi Gras Records ended up becoming a pretty good label of local talent, with albums from Professor Longhair, Milton Batiste, the Olympia Brass Band, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Johnny Adams, and later ventured into the soul-blues market with albums from Peggy Scott Adams and Sir Charles Jones.  The label now has over 3,000 recordings of all kinds of Louisiana music.  Check out their site here for more information.

In the late 80's/early 90's, Rhino Records began releasing hit collections from many New Orleans groups.  Their wonderful 2-disc Neville Brothers history, Treacherous (later expanded to a third volume), remained the definitive Neville collection for a couple of decades, and they also released an awesome three-volume set of R&B favorites that spanned the 50's and 60's (now, sadly, out of print).

In 1992, Rhino released New Orleans Party Classics, a great 18-song set that includes a few tunes originally on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, plus songs from Dr. John, the Neville Brothers (in their own unit and with Mardi Gras Indian tribe, The Wild Tchoupitoulas), Huey "Piano" Smith, Allen Toussaint (the torrid instrumental "Whirlaway"), Frankie Ford, Fats Domino, and the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands.  This is a fine set to have as well, because it more or less builds on the concepts that the two Mardi Gras Records collections started.  It's really good to have the Neville Brothers play such a prominent role on this one, along with the two brass bands.  This one is fun to listen to all year long.  This one, too, inspired a sequel, which was released in 1999.

Around the same time as Rhino, Rounder Records began issuing new albums from New Orleans singers and bands.  They covered a lot of ground, embracing not only New Orleans R&B (Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas, Chuck Carbo, James Booker), but also blues (Marcia Ball, Walter "Wolfman" Washington), jazz (Alvin "Red" Tyler, Willie Tee, Tuts Washington), brass (Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands), Mardi Gras Indians (Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias), and Cajun/Zydeco (Beausoleil, Zachary Richard, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Buckwheat Zydeco), along with reissues of many classics from the 60's and 70's.

In 1992, the label compiled 18 songs into a collection called Mardi Gras Party.  This set has a little something for every music fan.....R&B, blues, Cajun/Zydeco, and jazz.  This was a really great listen for me because Rounder Records actually was the launching pad for my love of all Louisiana music.  I picked up several of these collections by Rounder in the early 90's and they led me to more music from many of these artists, who I heard for the first time on these collections.

These are only four collections of great music to celebrate the Mardi Gras season......there are many more to choose from.....maybe we'll track a few of those down during a future Mardi Gras celebration.  If I were getting started as a listener, I would pick up Mardi Gras in New Orleans first and work my way down the list, but you really can't go wrong with any of these albums.  Check them out and "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!!!!! "

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