Deacon John,
Deacon John's Jump Blues
(Vetter, 2003)

Big swing bands were the musical stars of the 1940s but faded fast in the next decade. It was expensive to bus 16 or 17 musicians from one gig to the next, and the singers were becoming the main attraction anyway. So the groups backing the singers got smaller and, in New Orleans especially, swing began to mix with R&B in a style known as "jump blues." New Orleans-born Louis Prima was its best-known exponent. Cyril Vetter calls the style a clear predecessor of rock 'n' roll and has co-produced an album to support the idea.

In his notes Vetter reminds us that Ray Charles, Little Richard and Fats Domino made many of their early recordings in the Big Easy. They were influenced by jump-blues performers and great New Orleans pianists such as Professor Longhair. The Crescent City should be getting almost as much credit for rock 'n' roll as it does for jazz.

Deacon John Moore has been performing for over 40 years. Though little of his work as a leader has been recorded, he's appeared as a guitarist on hits such as Lee Dorsey's "Workin' in a Coal Mine" and Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is." He's in the rhythm section here, but also the lead singer on most tracks.

The supporting cast is a terrific cross-section of New Orleans at its best. I'll never get enough of the Professor-Longhair piano style and here we have Davell Crawford, an impressive younger player, Allen Toussaint, Henry Butler and Dr. John! Amadee Castenell on tenor sax is another standout. Wardel Quezergue did the arrangements. Most are for a group closer to a big band in size than those used in the original recordings. The added resources are a definite plus. Quezergue's charts are intelligent and good natured. They swing in a sassy way entirely true to the style.

Deacon John's love and understanding of the music come across in his enthusiasm and rhythmic phrasing. Though he is a better guitarist than singer, his vocals are a particular delight on "I Didn't Want to Do It" (originally by the Spiders), "Someday" (Fats Domino) and "Losing Battle" (Johnny Adams). He's joined by Teedy Boutte in "Let the Good Times Roll." Teedy sings solo in a fine version of "Piece of My Heart." She ties it back to the original by New Orlean's Erma Franklin rather than the better-known cover by Janis Joplin. It runs in the family. Teedy's brother John Boutte is another outstanding New Orleans entertainer. (For a special treat, catch him at the annual jazz festival at the Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinac Island.)

Dr. John gets the spotlight for all too short a turn in "Tipitina." (Not to worry though, he's just released his best album in years, N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda.) The Doctor gets a run for his money when pianist Davell Crawford closes the Deacon Jones album with a solo on "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." It's a delightful reprise of the vocal version on an earlier track and an appropriate conclusion to this labor of love.

Deacon John's Jump Blues manages to remember and honor a different time without taking itself too seriously. For those interested, the studio program is reproduced in a public-concert version on a DVD that includes additional material. I prefer the CD, but others will enjoy the enthusiastic audience captured on DVD. Either way, this is highly entertaining and strongly recommended music.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 20 November 2004

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