Everything I do gotta be funky like Lee Dorsey seems as good a yardstick to measure your life by than anything else. If Irma Thomas was the Queen of New Orleans soul then Dorsey was the king. Throughout the 1960s his easy-going, confident, funny and funky records never failed to hit the spot. He is remembered for just a few of them. “Working In A Coal Mine” ? Everybody knows that one, right. You can get compilations of his best work with maybe 25 tracks and not one of them is a dud.
Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint go together like cocaine and waffles. They had hit records in the early 60s with songs that were almost nursery rhymes but they had a New Orleans beat and that’s what sold at the time. Dorsey went back to working in his garage, in the 50s he had boxed as a light-heavyweight under the name “Kid Chocolate”, when Toussaint got a deal at Amy records he called his boy and in 1965 they were making hits again. “Get Out my Life Woman” is one of them and his strutting performance of the song (you gotta have some cojones to wear that shirt !) is Lee Dorsey at the top of his game as a soul star. Stax-Volt sent their reserve backline on this tour with Sam & Dave but this is a fine thing to see.
The records stopped selling but in the Mod era UK he was still a big deal. “Coal Mine”, “Holy Cow”, “Ride Your Pony” were all big soul club and youth club dance records. They were all written, produced and played on by Allen Toussaint. His distinctive backing vocals are a feature on them all too. New Orleans was in the shadow of Memphis and Motown for a time, as soul turned into funk the loping rhythms of the city were back in the game. Toussaint had the songs and the musicians he wanted and it was Lee Dorsey who benefited from this new energy.
“Give It Up”, released in 1969, was not a hit but that says more about the market than the song. It is not a James Brown punch to the solar plexus, more a dance, jab and move, a sinuous, a benignly insidious groove. The Meters and friends slide into the pocket and…well they are the pocket. In the same year Lee Dorsey had another fine 45 for us.
“Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” is a statement record from Allen Toussaint and he lived up to his promise. I just love the way New Orleans funk hits a groove and provides a whisper of a conventional pop song but just stays in that rhythm because hey, conventional is not their way. In 1970 an LP was released. The two singles were not included but Toussaint had a collection of songs which have become classics. The title track, “Yes We Can”, was adopted by Barack Obama (not brave enough for “Funky President”) as his campaign song. “Riverboat”, “Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley”, “Who’s Gonna Help A Brother ?” and others make “Yes We Can” a milestone in funk and soul music. That it did not sell probably mattered more to Lee Dorsey, he got one more shot 8 years later with the discofied “Night People”, another worthwhile effort. Me, I don’t care if it was not a hit because I always have Lee Dorsey’s great feelgood records around to put the bounce back into my stride.