Saturday, June 20, 2015

Harold Battiste RIP

Another day, another death - this time Harold Battiste at the age of 83. Battiste never had a hit but he played a key role in the career of Sam Cooke and in the development of New Orleans R and B. He was also one of the first black musicians to attempt to take control of the music produced by black artists. And although he was only partially successful, he left an indelible mark throughout a long career.
A jazz saxophonist, pianist and arranger from New Orleans, he started as a jazz musician playing in clubs in
the city  but made his mark when he arranged Sam Cooke's number one 1957 hit You Send Me for the Specialty label in 1957. On the strength of that, he became Specialty's man in New Orleans where he searched for local talent. This led to the label recording Jerry Byrne's Lights Out and Art Neville's first recordings. He also had success with Joe Jones's You Talk Too Much for the Ric label and also recorded early tracks by Ernie K-Doe and Edgar Blanchard.  In 1961 he began his AFO (All For One) project which aimed to give black musicians in New Orleans control of their output. Others involved included Alvin 'Red' Tyler, Allen Toussaint and Melvin Lastie. The label had early success with Barbara George's I Know and Prince Lala's You Put The Hurt On Me, and gained national coverage through a link with Juggy Murray's Sue record label. Harold then recorded Lee Dorsey's Ya Ya with Bobby Robinson's Fury label which upset Murray. This led to him taking Barbara George away from AFO and signing her to Sue, ending the relationship with Harold.
In 1963 Harold left New Orleans for LA where he teamed up once again with Sam Cooke and headed up Sam's SAR label as well as arranging and playing piano on A Change Is Gonna Come. He replicated the 'Soul Station' idea that he had set up in New Orleans - small studios which would encourage local talent - and with Sam's backing set up a similar project in LA, which helped the development of Johnny Morisette and other SAR artists. Among those to make use of the project were Sonny Bono, who he had previously worked with at Specialty, and his new singing partner Cher, which led to Harold arranging their smash hit I Got You Babe. While in LA he produced an album for New Orleans R and B artist Jessie Hill, who had previously hit with Ooh Poo Pah Doo, for Blue Thumb, and was instrumental in Mac Rebennack's transformation to Dr John with his Gris Gris album.
Harold returned to New Orleans in the early 1990s where he became a teacher and professor of music studies at the University of New Orleans. He also administered the All For One Foundation to support modern jazz in the city. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to one of the great unsung music pioneers. RIP.


At 5:39 pm , Anonymous Pete W said...

Fine obit Nick - I'm sure there won't be a better one in any paper. I'd always mentally bracketed Harold Battiste with the late, similarly long-lived Wardell Quezergue - both highly influential New Orleans men of music, respected by their peers but unknown to the general public. RIP indeed.


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