Dr John, Art Neville & Jerry Byrne create a New Orleans Classic – Lights Out!

The Immortal Jukebox A8:

Music can create, affect and sustain our moods and emotions with a power no other art form can match. I am sure in all our lives there is the song we associate, willingly or not, with the love of our life, the unrequited love and, of course, the lost love.

The songs in our personal libraries (or should I say Jukeboxes!) will evoke memories and direct experience of joy, pain, hope, loss and faith. It’s why we never tire of cueing up those records we just know will teleport us to that time, those people, those emotions.

Sometimes I wish I could live a life of contemplative seclusion. Maybe in a Carthusian abbey where I would follow the immutable rhythms of the monastic rule in search of true knowledge about myself, God, and perhaps find eventually the peace that passes understanding.

Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline would guide me through the days- calming the whirlwind of my thoughts and emotions. The music would come from the great choral tradition. If I were ever allowed to choose the soundtrack for such a life I would put the needle down on Glenn Gould’s epochal 1955 recording of J S Bach’s Goldberg Variations and The Gothic Voices sublime version of Hildegard of Bingen’s
‘A Feather On The Breath Of God’ from 1985. When listening to such divine performances Heaven does not really seem so very far away.

However, following Polonius’ advice about being true to myself I understand that the monastic life for me can only ever be a matter of a few weeks of retreat at the most. Because, while I am genuinely attracted to the life of stillness another, much bigger, part of me is inexorably drawn to dive headlong into the glorious crashing, clattering whirligig that constitutes everyday life in this crazy old world.

So, the song that is about to take its honoured place on The Immortal Jukebox, ‘Lights Out” by Jerry Byrne is not a song to still the heart and mind. Rather, it is a song to obliterate the mind and get the heart pumping way, way, above the maximum recommended rate for the entire duration of the stupendous 110 seconds or so it lasts.

Sometimes you need to forget about being sensible and about planning for tomorrow. Sometimes, you just need to drink five tequila shots in a row after you have vaulted onto the top of the bar scattering glassware all around you as you launch into a dervish dance that no one who ever witnesses it will ever forget. And, when you do feel like that I know of no song more certain to guarantee the success of your heroic enterprise than Lights Out!

Yes, Yes, Yes: I know that you will be checking into Hangover Hotel the next day and that your knees may never be the same again … But sometimes you just have to pay the price of the ticket if you want to have the experience.

Lights Out is a one off miracle by an artist, Jerry Byrne, who does not much trouble the writers of learned tomes on the history and culture of the rock era. Despite that, with the support of a team of crack New Orleans musicians, on February 8th 1958 he cut a record that will will always endure as the epitome of high octane, white lightning, crazy for the sake of craziness rock ‘n’ roll. And, believe me, crazy for the sake of craziness will never go out of style until the robots finally take over.

The song was written by New Orleans legend Mac Rebennack/Dr John who happened to be Jerry Byrne’s cousin. The ferocious, pyrotechnic piano choruses which will exhaust all but Olympic fitness dancers are provided by a youthful Art Neville later to feature prominently in the hip slinkingly wonderful bands The Neville Brothers and The Meters.

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The combination of the surging river boat rhythm laid down by Charles ‘Hungry’ Williams on drums and Frank Fields on bass combined with the driving guitars of Edgar Blanchard and Justin Adams topped off with the saxophone wails of producer Harold Batiste make for an overwhelmingly immersive experience.

I find that if you’re just listening to the record you need to hear it three or four times in a row before your appetite is slaked. As for dancing – anyone who could survive a reprise would need to check in for an ECG virtually immediately.

Jerry Byrne fully earned his place in rock ‘ n’ roll Valhalla through adding an inspired manically wild vocal to the turbo power of the musical backing. I hear a kind of aural strobe effect as the song proceeds which fixes the lyric in the memory and gives the illusion that the song lasts a lot longer than a fraction over two minutes.

On a personal note I should add that a lifetime or two ago in my college days I used to DJ for student parties. The very last record of the evening was always Lights Out which gave me the opportunity to crash onto the dance floor leaving the record decks behind as I attempted my own version of the dervish dance referred to above. There was never any chance that anyone or anything could follow, ‘Lights Out’.

Note: This post dedicated to Ian Renwick (il miglior fabbro) – my friend and confidant of four decades and more. I have lost count of the number of whiskey fuelled nights we have spent discussing the lore and legends of rock ‘n’ roll. I know no one with a deeper or more visceral understanding of the music.

29 thoughts on “Dr John, Art Neville & Jerry Byrne create a New Orleans Classic – Lights Out!

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