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Jess Roden Solo

Jess Roden Solo  2

Jess Roden

Going solo

With The Butts Band having run its course, Jess was ready to resume work on his (by now, somewhat overdue) solo album. Equals – time to dust off those old tape boxes... as much as figure out how the rest of the record would shape up.

“I’d got other stuff written or in progress... Reason To Change and those things. And CB had picked up an album by a chap from Sheffield, Alabama – name of Swamp Dogg who he thought might be a good producer for me. So plans were being made for me to go out there to work with him.”

The Dogg’s only Island album was, itself, released early in ‘74 and Blackwell’s instincts may well have been pretty close to the button given Swamp Dogg’s reputation for edgy proto-funk (c.f. Sly Stone), lyrical absurdism (c.f. Frank Zappa) toward soul with a pop sensibility.

However, in retrospect, it might not have been an ideal match as, reminiscing during 1998, Swamp Dogg mentioned: “When I was in the ‘70’s, I was very fucking wealthy. But I was also a fucking basket case. I had a nervous breakdown, I had an identity crisis, I didn’t know who the fuck I was.”

Added to which, Swamp Dogg was high on President Nixon’s enemy of the state list – alongside the likes of Jane Fonda.

Thus, all things considered, linking the formidable Dogg and JR might not have been a musical match made in Heaven.

‘A few days later, I got a plane to New Orleans to work with Allen Toussaint and The Meters. “I don’t exactly remember why that didn’t happen, it may have had something to do with the fact that it was Christmas time and Elaine was in the advanced stages of pregnancy. Then, on February 19th 1974 Jamie our son was born. Anyway, with that plan shelved, an even tastier one was being worked out.

‘A few days later, I got a plane to New Orleans to work with Allen Toussaint and The Meters.

‘Phil Chen flew out with me – he was just passing through but when he heard I was going to work with those guys he thought it would be a good time to come and meet them too.

‘I don’t know if we actually played in New Orleans with The Butts Band but we played somewhere close by and we did actually go through New Orleans to take a look – interesting place, very nice. When we went there, while I thought it was quite touristy it had a good vibe about it – every bar playing Dixieland.

‘Allen, The Meters, Marshall Sehorn and all of the Sea-Saint Studio crew were just fantastic to me because, having just become a dad for the first time, I was a little homesick right from the start.

‘Allen sent a huge bouquet of flowers to Elaine back in England offering congratulations and promising that the entire gang would take good care of me.”

Marshall Sehorn had been a driving force in the evolution of the New Orleans R&B sound, having spearheaded hits for Lee Dorsey prior to teaming up with Allen Toussaint to co-found Sea-Saint on the city’s Clematis Avenue during the late-sixties.

The studio already had a reputation as a heady creative environment that embodied a whole new sound – as much as Stax and Motown had their own ‘sound’, so did Sea-Saint – not least due to the exemplary semi-house band that featured The Meters.

The studio was also famous for its recordings by Dr John, the Wild Tchoupitoulas (one of whose albums found its way onto Island).

Factor in The Meters (Cissy Strut also came out on Island UK) plus The Neville Brothers themselves and... this was the studio in which to work. 

“I sat with Allen and played him my songs on acoustic guitar. I’d go chunka-chunka, strum strum with Allen and he’d then disappear into his room and, a couple hours later, off we went.

‘He wrote the bass lines… the horn parts… but, in the playing, I can’t remember if he actually wrote charts or if it was just the keys written down and more longhand charts as opposed to just dots. He’d play something for, say, George and then he’d say… E-vamp, A-vamp… whatever key it was in.

‘It was, I think, as much instinctive playing as anything, as if there were guide parts but not much more.

‘In the studio with those guys (The Meters) it was… unbelievable; it was fairly functional as a studio but really good – they gave it their all. I didn’t get the feel – at all – that this was just another session for those guys.

‘Never any more than two or three takes. It just shows the remarkable ability of guys like that.”‘In any event, it was new for them too, I mean before they became the notorious Meters, they had been serious studio men, a bit like the New Orleans version of Booker T, the house band as it were. You had the same thing with James Jameson and those other guys up at Motown too…

‘Never any more than two or three takes. It just shows the remarkable ability of guys like that.”

The Meters’ history stretches back to the mid-Sixties, when Art Neville (keyboards – and already a veteran of the South’s musical community) recruited George Porter, Jr. (bass), Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste (drums) and Leo Nocentelli (guitar) to form a band that, over the years, would forge an inestimable influence on music the world over.

Revered by many as the founding fathers of funk, The Meters created their unique sound by blending New Orleans blues with dance grooves and, to this day, continue to dazzle audiences all over the world; the adjective ‘supergroup’ is far too widely utilised but, in their case, entirely apposite as they continue to exert an unparalleled influence on contemporary music.

ALLEN TOUISSANT -  “The Meters were mostly a percussion group – not percussion instruments, but they played percussively. Everything they played was heavily syncopated. Their songs were a conglomeration of firecrackers going off here, and pops there, explosions here. It was just fire.”

“So that’s how it went, Allen would disappear for a while and then return with more of the songs arranged and ready to cut.

‘We always started the sessions around Midday – we’d break for dinner around 6-7ish – usually something delicious that had been cooked up by one of the Seahorn crew – and then sort of review or dub a few bits.

‘After a week, all the tracks had been recorded. I spent a couple of days over-dubbing some vocals and then the whole thing was mixed.

‘I can’t speak for them or Allen of what they got out of working with me – but, I know I got a lot out of working with them.”

Change was in the wind for Island too; the company had long since outgrown its operation at Basing Street and – while that remained the musical creative hub – all other aspects moved across town to St Peters Square, on the western edge of the metropolis and on the cusp of where Hammersmith meets Chiswick.
St Peters Square was laid out during the 1820’s opposite St Peter’s Church that (nowadays) flanks the Great West Road. ﷯Local builders, George and William Baird were contracted to erect the Church and the foundation stone was laid on May 16th 1827. The Square’s centerpiece is a 1.5ha public garden that has, as its own focal point, a statue of The Greek Runner by Sir William Blake Richmond (erected in 1926). The entrance to No 22 is little-altered from those times; the original stone Eagle statue sits above the front door while a pair of hound-like statues sit on the piers flanking the steps leading up to it. Originally, there were extensive gardens laid to the rear but, by the turn of the century, The Royal Chiswick Laundry Western Dying and Cleaning Works had been constructed – fronting on to British Grove, a small lane to the back of the property. The laundry closed in 1968 and, a few years later the entire premises were taken over as the administrative offices for Island; the front of the building housed sales, promotions, press and marketing with the top floor given over to business affairs. The central area – connecting the old laundry buildings and the main house – was converted to become ‘The War Room’, loosely modeled on 2nd World War situation rooms in which all of the creative departments co-existed. The rear comprised the canteen, a studio (The Fallout Shelter), a rehearsal room, video facilities, the publishing offices, the art and design department while upstairs, CB had his own office. During Island’s tenure, the building was painted white with the Island ‘sun-rising’ logo – that also adorned record releases of the time – painted onto the glass of the front door. Beides Island having its home there, the square’s notable residents have included Vanessa Redgrave, the Olympic Gold Medalist Matthew Pinsent, Sir Patrick Moore and the artist John Piper while it has also been the setting for films like The Pumpkin Eater (Peter Finch and Anne Bancroft), Silent Witness, Miss Potter (the biopic of Beatrix Potter) while episodes of Minder (Dennis Waterman and George Cole) were also filmed within the old Island HQ.
“Returning to England, I had a little time off to do some serious family bonding and then went back into Basing Street Studios to finish up the album with CB. ‘At that time, there was just so much going on. Island were going to get right behind the album and also, plans were being made to get me out on the road to promote the record when it was released. ‘My thoughts turned to Phil Chen and all the guys that I’d worked with making the album. Of course, this proved to be a non-starter because most of those guys were in constant demand one way or another. But fate intervened ‘cos a demo tape had been sent to Island A&R by a six piece band called Iguana – they were playing in a style not unlike The Crusaders.
‘I don’t know who it was in the A&R department at Island who thought it up, but... it was suggested to me and Iguana that we might like to meet up. I suspect there may have been a little reticence on their part, after all they were looking to get a record deal in their own right, but... they didn’t say no to the idea. ‘I went down to Southampton to meet them in a pub where they rehearsed. We spent the afternoon together and just chatted about what we liked etc. and, I must have played them tapes of my upcoming record. We all seemed to be getting on really well and agreed to rehearse some stuff. And, that’s exactly what we did. ‘Anyhow... CB wanted one more song to add to the album (for the American version) before release and hopefully, a single. ‘So, I went into the studio with Iguana and we cut ‘Under Suspicion’. With the album ready to be released and a tour supporting Roxy Music lined up, Jess Roden and Iguana became... The Jess Roden Band.

Jess Roden

Reason to Change

1. Reason to change (Jess Roden)

JR –Vocals

Allen Toussaint – Piano

Art Neville – Hammond Organ

Leo Nocentelli – Guitar

George Porter Jr – Bass

Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste – Drums

Horns arranged by Allen Toussaint

 

2. I’m on your side (Jess Roden)

JR – Vocals, Guitar & Percussion

Mick Weaver – Clavinet

Richard Bailey – Drums

Mick Feat – Bass

Roy Davies – Hammond Organ

Tim Renwick – Guitar Solo

Alan Sharp – Congas

Strings arranged by Harry Robinson

 

3. Feelin’ Easy (Jess Roden)

JR –Vocals

Allen Toussaint – Piano

Art Neville – Hammond Organ

Leo Nocentelli – Guitar

George Porter Jr – Bass

Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste – Drums

Cyril Neville – Congas

Horns arranged by Allen Toussaint

 

4. Sad Story (Jess Roden)

JR –Vocals

Allen Toussaint – Piano

Art Neville – Hammond Organ

Leo Nocentelli – Guitar

George Porter Jr – Bass

Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste – Drums

Horns arranged by Allen Toussaint

 

 

 

5. On Broadway (Barry Mann/ Cynthia Weil / Jerry Lieber / Mike Stoller)

JR – Vocals, Guitars & Percussion

Mick Weaver – Electric Piano

Richard Bailey – Drums

Mick Feat – Bass

Steve Gregory – Flute

Alan Sharp – Congas

Strings arranged by Harry Robinson

 

6. Ferry Cross (Jess Roden)

JR – Vocals, Drums, Guitar. Bass & Percussion

Richard Digby-Smith – Piano & Organ

 

7. Trouble in Mind (Jess Roden)

JR –Vocals

Allen Toussaint – Piano

Art Neville – Hammond Organ

Leo Nocentelli – Guitar

George Porter Jr – Bass

Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste – Drums

Cyril Neville – Congas

Horns arranged by Allen Toussaint

 

8. What the Hell (Jess Roden)

JR – Vocals & Guitars

Mick Weaver – Electric Piano

John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick – Hammond Organ

Simon Kirke – Drums

Pat Donaldson – Bass

 

 

Produced by: Chris Blackwell, Allen Toussaint and Jess Roden

Label: Island – ILPS 9286

Released: October 1974

Recorded at Olympic Studios, London; Sea Saint Studios, New Orleans and Basing Street Studios, London.

Mixed by Chris Blackwell at Basing Street.

Note: Under Suspicion (with The Jess Roden Band) was added to the US release

Cover photography: Richard Polak

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