Willy Deville : Rebirth in New Orleans – Beating Like a Tom Tom

If you can’t find your way follow The River.

The River.

The Mississippi River.

More than two thousand miles all the way.

Well it winds through Bemidji, St Cloud and Anoka.

St Paul, Redwing and Pepin.

On through Minneiska, La Crosse and Potosi.

Lansing, Prarie Du Chien and Galena (hats off to U S Grant)

Sabula, Moline and Oquawka.

Right by Keokuk, Kaskaskia and Hannibal (hats off to Sam Clemens)

Thebes, Cairo and Osceola.

Memphis, Greenville and Helena (hats off to Levon)

Vicksburg, Natchez and Baton Rouge.

That’s how you find your way to the Crescent City.

As it flows The River is always picking up freight.

Flotsam and Jetsom.

Ramblers, Rebels and Gamblers.

No account Losers and Aces up the sleeve sure fire Winners.

As it flows it gathers up and gathers in tall tales and stories, myths and legends, bawdy jokes, rhymes and half rhymes, drunken vows and whispered poems.

As  it flows it gathers up and gathers in melodies and rhythms and lyrics and binds them into Songs.

In a small studio in the Crescent City musicians meet and greet each other.

No ones a stranger.

They all been breathing the same air for years and years.

They know who’s good and just how good they are.

Everyone knows Fats and Dave and ‘Fess.

Mac and Earl and Plas.

Alan and Cyril and Zigaboo

The Studio don’t give them a whole lot of time but they don’t need it.

Count off … let’s roll!

We respect a real song.

More we revere them.

Let the years decide which ones get remembered.

Somewhere out there – maybe thousands of miles Up River someone will respect and revere these songs like we do.

The music gets caught on tape and they press up the vinyl.

The guys on the radio play it when they alloŵed.

In the Roadhouses and Honky Tonks the button is pressed on The Jukebox and the song blooms in the night air.

We got another one to cut now.

A true message always gets through.

Decades later a Singer sweats through another night with the monkey on his back.

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The Dreams take him back to sweet days of youth but they don’t linger there.

No, there’s jeering Demons in the hours before the Dawn and they don’t always fade away in the light.

Always. Always The Songs.

He’s made a lot of mistakes in his life.

A lot.

But, he’s always respected and revered the true songs.

The ones with heart and soul.

The ones that keep turning up in your dreams.

The ones heard on the radio and played on the Jukebox when he was starting out.

The ones you know it ain’t so easy to sing unless you can really sing.

Songs that play in your head sometimes at 33rpm, sometimes at 45, sometimes at 78- depending on what and how much medicine has been taken.

In the roaring traffics boom.

In the silence of a lonely room.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

Big blue diamonds instead of a band of gold.

Oh, I’ve been a fool my dear – a fool by heart.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

I’m loaded out of my mind.

Loaded out of my mind.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

I’ve played the game of love and lost.

Lost.

All through the night all I do is weep.

Tossing and Turning.

Tossing and Turning.

You on my mind.

You hold me and won’t let go.

Hold me and won’t let go.

The beating of my heart.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

Beating like a Tom Tom.

Beating like a Tom Tom.

Now, I know, I know, I’m so defiled in this world I’ve made.

Maybe my own Mother and Father would abandon me.

Maybe they’d be right.

Yet, maybe there’s still a power that could gather me up.

A power that would gather me up.

But, I gonna have to move to find it.

Kind of a pilgrimage.

The River – I’ll follow The River all the way.

All the way.

Got to find my way Down River.

Down River where the Songs come from.

All the way Down to the Crescent City.

Find me those guys who can really play.

They all know each other.

I need the place and their time.

The time and the place.

I need to believe again.

To believe.

Theyll know straight away if I can really Sing.

Gonna ask ‘em to play, ‘Beating Like A Tom Tom’

My heart been beating to that for a long time.

A long time.

Let’s see what kind of Mojo I can show them.

Count it off…

Freddie … make that guitar real pretty ….

‘ … Tossin’ and I’m turnin’ all in my sleep ….’

 

All Right!

Now do you believe?

Got some storefront gospel in there too by God.

I think we did right by old Ernie there guys!

Now Ernie K Doe is one thing but Little Willie John is sure another.

Ain’t a singer alive who heard Willie who didn’t get The Fever.

Willie lived inside the song.

Held it up to the light so it glowed in your mind.

Lodged deeper than a bullet in your heart.

Remember, ‘Big Blue Diamond’?

‘Blue diamonds, big blue diamonds on her finger
Instead of a little band of gold
Big diamonds, big blue diamonds tell the story
Of the love that no one man could hold’.

You got to feel that ache.

The ache for the love behind that band of gold.

The ache.

Count it off ….

 

Yeh … that’ll do it.

Lonesome in the moonlight.

Lonesome in the moonlight.

We all been there.

Looking up with a broken heart.

I was trying to sing it for Willie John in prison looking up at the moon.

Hey Mac what about that one of Alan’s about being a fool by heart?

Ah … Hello My Lover – that’s it.

‘I’ve been a fool, my dear, a fool by heart
But I’m done up in my mind

Oh … I’m gonna try my best to do what is right
I’m gonna be with you, yes I will, both day and night …’

Let’s see if we can get a second line feel here  – raise everybody up.

Gonna dance my way through this one Mac.

When this one comes on everybody gonna dance.

Count it off …

 

Ain’t no hiding why I come down here.

Don’t need to tell you guys what that Junk will do to you.

If I ain’t got as right to sing that Junker Blues – who has?

Here’s one for you Champion Jack!

We all craving for something to make the dawn easier to face.

No messing ..gonna sing this one straight … tell the story.

It’s all about the tempo.

Count it off …

‘Some people call me a Junker ….’

 

Well, ain’t that the best damn feeling!

Got to take these songs out on the road guys.

Take it to the people and show them a new side of me.

Get that Tom Tom Beating.

Get that Tom Tom Beating.

‘ … Tossin’ and I’m turnin’ all in my sleep ….’

 

 

Notes :

Willy Deville in search of musical and spiritual nourishment and respite from being, ‘Willy Deville’ in New York moved to New Orleans in 1989.

Hooking up with Carlo Ditta who owned Orleans Records they conceived the idea of a, ‘Little Record’ that would celebrate Crescent City classics whether they were hits outside New Orleans or not.

A stellar Band was assembled and the resulting record, ‘Victory Mixture’ shows a great singer mining depth after depth from these songs.

The success of the enterprise led to live shows captured on, ‘Big Easy Fantasy’.

Willy Deville could really sing and singing these songs brought out the very best in him.

Listening to him here it’s hard to imagine anyone ever singing these songs better.

P.S. Special thanks to Harvey G Cohen for reminding me of Willy’s New Orleans recordings.

I highly recommend Harvey’s book on Duke Ellington.

He can be found on Twitter @CultrHack.

P.P.S.

bienvenido a la máquina de discos a todos mis lectores en México

 

 

Marlon Brando, Eve Marie Saint & Willy Deville : Moments, Moments, Immortal Moments

Sometimes it might take just a single beat of your heart. A lightning strike seared into your memory: something really crucial has happened and whatever happens from now on it will be in the shadow of this!

Maybe it’s the first time alone together when she called you by your name and it felt like a new christening. Or the time your toddling son folded his hand into yours without thinking as he looked for stability and security on the road ahead.

Sometimes it might take years; the slowly dawning realisation, (like a photograph emerging from the darkroom) that it was that moment, that event, which seemed so trivial at the time, where a new course was set that’s led you to your current harbour.

Moments, moments, moments. Our lives in our imaginations and memories are never a complete coherent narrative but rather a silvery chain of moments: some cherished and celebrated some sharply etched with pain and sorrow.

Some where we have the starring role in the drama others where we are strictly extras in the shadows at the edge of the stage.

The older we get the more we learn that some of those moments have become our own immortal moments: the moments we will return to again and again, voluntarily or necessarily as we try to make some sense of our frequently clogged and chaotic lives.

And, when we shuffle through these moments we will find many have been supplied by our encounters with the music, films and books that have become part of the imaginative and emotional furniture of our lives.

Snatches of lyrics and melodies from favourite songs that you find yourself unexpectedly singing; scenes from films that seem to be always spooling somewhere deep in the consciousness now spotlit in front the mind’s eye, lines of poetry read decades ago that suddenly swoosh to the surface, seemingly unbidden, in response to some secret trigger.

I remember the exact moment, as a teenager, when I idly picked up a dusty book in a rundown junk shop and read these lines:

‘ Thou mastering me God!
Giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.’

The opening lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ epochal poem, ‘The Wreck Of The Deutschland’. Rooted to the spot I read the further twenty or so stanzas with my head and heart ablaze. I was aware of taking in only a fraction of the meaning and technique of the poem but I was absolutely sure that this was poetry of the highest order and that sounding its depths would be the work of a lifetime.

I had made an emotional and spiritual connection that could never be undone and Poetry with that capital P was now a territory open for me, necessary for me, to explore. Strangely enough this was also the moment when I also glimpsed a future in which I might write poetry myself.

Similar thrilling encounters with literature, music and film now form a personal rosary of treasure in my life. I want to share just two more with you here today (I think I sense a series coming on!).

Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint as Terry and Edie in a duet scene from, ‘On The Waterfront’ from 1954 in pristine monochrome with wonderful cinematography by Boris Kaufman.

This scene played with such truthfulness, tenderness and delicacy by both actors struck me very forcefully at the moment when first viewed and it has continued to bloom in my memory and imagination.

If asked to give testimony for Marlon Brando as the greatest film actor of his time I would, of course, cite his thrilling physical presence and ability to dominate and take possession of the screen with special reference to, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.

But, it is this scene that would win the argument for me. Brando here hits a peak of American naturalistic acting using the method techniques he had learned but without being imprisoned by them.

In this scene with humour, pathos and dignity and without a shred of affectation or disrespect he incarnates Terry as a living, breathing man who wins our sympathy, as fellow human strugglers, trying stumblingly to articulate our feelings both to ourselves and to those we love and those we yearn to love us.

Watch the way his body language evolves through the scene as he realises Edie is intrigued by him and interested in him for himself. The way he picks up, plays with and finally wears her dropped glove (seemingly improvised) should be required viewing in every drama school.

Astonishingly, this was Eve Marie Saint’s film debut. The camera obviously loved her at first sight. As Edie she is a luminous quiet presence whose watchful stillness, intelligence and sensitivity makes it inevitable that Terry will fall for her and fall hard.

She understatedly lets Edie’s dawning love for Terry emerge as something as natural as drawing breath. She believably illuminates Edie as a young woman with steel in her character as well as beauty and charm.

Acting with Brando, even for someone with her accomplished background on stage, must have been an intimidating challenge but there can be no doubt that Eve Marie Saint matched and balanced him through every frame of celluloid on show here.

At some heartbreaking level we understand that these fleeting moments of intimacy shared in this scene by characters afflicted by doubt and bruised souls will be moments they will both need to recall in the painfully tempestuous times ahead.

Maybe it’s an eternal truth as Dylan wrote that, ‘Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain’. Few scenes in cinema history bring out the truth of this statement with more clarity.

Mink Deville, led by Willy Deville a pompadoured and preening singer (finger on the eyebrow and left hand on the hip!) who showed himself throughout a roller coaster personal and professional life to be a supreme rhythm and blues and soul song stylist.

He had rasp and romance, swagger and sensitivity as well as presence and power in his vocal arsenal. I recall the moment of seeing him for the first time on the British flagship chart music programme, ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1977 and jumping out of my chair to applaud this performance of the signature tune of his early career, ‘Spanish Stroll’.

 

Willy added sass, instrumental colour and wasted seventies urban elegance to the magic and mystery of doo-wop and Brill Building vocal group harmonies to create a wonderful record that creates its own bright shining world every time you hear it.

His wonderfully liquid self regarding, shooting cuffs vocal is all strutting Latin braggadocio anchored in his assured rhythmic poise. Special praise is due to the mellifluous backing vocalists who wonderfully evoke the steam heat of a New York night on a tenement stoop as they support Willy’s imperious lead role.

I love the ringing tones of the guitars, the Spanish flourishes, the proto rap intervention by bassist Ruben Siguenza, the tempo changes and the dreamlike woozy character of the whole song. Most of all, most of all, I love and keep returning to the moment when Willy sings the line:

‘Make a paper boat, light it and send it, send it out now.’

Especially those last three words. Anyone who can make the heart leap with three simple words is an artist to cherish and revere.

I’ll write a full tribute to this great late lamented talent in due course but in the meantime trawl Youtube for a series of magnificent vocal performances and load up your shopping cart with his albums. You won’t regret it.

Adios Amigo, adios.

Moments, moments, Immortal moments.