'Fresh Air' Remembers Hit Songwriter, Pianist And Producer Allen Toussaint
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Allen Toussaint, the influential producer, songwriter, pianist and singer, died Monday at the age of 77. He suffered a heart attack while on tour in Spain. Toussaint was a central figure in the New Orleans rhythm and blues scene during the '50s and '60s as R-and-B shaped the sound of early rock 'n' roll. At the beginning of his career, he was the chief songwriter, producer, arranger and pianist for Minute Records, which was the most important New Orleans record company of the period. We have Toussaint to thank for a number of hits which he wrote and produced. Here are some of his best-known.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER-IN-LAW")
ERNIE K-DOE: (Singing) Mother-in-law, mother-in-law, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. The worst person I know - mother-in-law, mother-in-law.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIPSTICK TRACES")
BENNY SPELLMAN: (Singing) Lipstick traces on a cigarette, every memory lingers with me yet. I've got it bad like I told you before. I'm so in love with you. Don't leave me no more. Won't you come on...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YES WE CAN")
THE POINTER SISTERS: (Singing) I know we can make it. I know that we can. I know darn well we can work it out. Oh, yes we can, I know we can, can. Yes we can can, why can't we. If we want it, yes we can, can. I know we can make it work. I know we can make it if we try. Oh, yes we can, I know we can, can. Yes, we can, can.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHIPPED CREAM")
HERB ALPERT: (Playing trumpet).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORKING IN THE COAL MINE")
LEE DORSEY: (Singing) Working in the coal mine. Going on down, down. Working in the coal mine - oops, about to slip down. Working in the...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S RAINING")
IRMA THOMAS: (Singing) Drip, drop, drip, drop, drip, drop. It's raining so hard. Look like it's going to rain all night. And this is the time I'd love to be holding you tight. I guess I'll have to accept the fact that you're not here. I wish tonight would hurry up and end, my dear. It's raining so hard.
DAVIES: That's Irma Thomas singing, "It's Raining." "Working In The Coal Mine" was an international hit for Lee Dorsey. Herb Alpert's recording of "Whipped Cream" introduced the bachelors to the bachelorette on "The Dating Game." "Yes We Can Can" was a hit for the Pointer Sisters. Benny Spellman sang "Lipstick Traces." And we started that medley with Ernie K-Doe's no. 1 hit record, "Mother-In-Law."
Over the years, Allen Toussaint worked with a host of legendary musicians, including Fats Domino, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, The Band and Paul McCartney. He was a native of New Orleans and had to abandon his home there after Hurricane Katrina. But he returned to team with Elvis Costello on the first major recording session after Katrina. The resulting album, "The River In Reverse," earned a Grammy nomination for best pop album.
We're remembering Allen Toussaint today with two interviews he recorded with Terry, both in 1988. They began with his recording debut back in 1957, playing the piano in the style of Fats Domino for one of Domino's own recordings, "I Want You To Know."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT YOU TO KNOW")
FATS DOMINO: (Singing) I want you to know I love her so well and I love her so much, I can never, never tell. Oh, boy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, boy.
ALLEN TOUSSAINT: That was popular during that time to play like other people. I hadn't established who I really was yet so if they wanted someone who would play like others, like Ray Charles or Fats Domino, they could very well call me and know they would get what they were looking for. And Fats Domino was out of the country, and Dave Bartholomew, who was his producer and writer on many songs, called me in to play like him, like Fats Domino would play on a song called, "I Want You To Know" and another called, "Something About A Little School Girl." And I went in and played, and that was sort of a milestone in my early getting started.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
When you filled in for Fats Domino, was that supposed to be a big secret? Was - were you supposed to not tell anyone that that was actually you playing on his record?
TOUSSAINT: Oh no, that was never mentioned. But no one really got to know that in the public generally because that kind of information isn't usually publicized. But it never was hush-hush among the musical community. The guys around knew, and it was kind of fun.
GROSS: You also, early in your career, toured with Shirley and Lee, who did "Let The Good Times Roll."
GROSS: Now, what was it like to be a teenager on the road with a band like that?
TOUSSAINT: It was utterly wonderful. It was quite a learning experience. And to play with a band all of the time, just about nightly, was good for me because I wrote lots of arrangements and I got a lot of my transposition and chords ironed out. So it was quite a learning experience. And then to travel and to get around different places, especially in station wagons, as we traveled at that time, you could really see America.
GROSS: How old were you then?
TOUSSAINT: I was 18 when I first started with them.
GROSS: So you were of drinking age. You were (laughter) allowed to drink in the places that you played, if you were playing in a club.
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes. But I didn't have much time for drinking. I had to stay sane at that time. I had to take a look at America.
GROSS: Now, in 1959, when you were around 21, Minute Records opened, which became one of the most important of the New Orleans record companies. And you were the house arranger, pianist and composer. That company was really known for creating a New Orleans sound. What do you associate with that New Orleans sound? What kind of rhythms do you think of? What kind of arrangement?
TOUSSAINT: I think, in short, syncopation - the kind of syncopation that was inspired by the streets bands. By street bands, I mean second line bands that were earlier originated for funerals. In fact, it goes back longer than any of us can remember. But the syncopation, the horn licks, that sort of associate with that kind of band. And I think that was largely responsible for how the New Orleans beat turned out to be for that period.
GROSS: Now, what did you listen to growing up that made that such a natural sound for you?
TOUSSAINT: Professor Longhair, foremost for his New Orleans people. Fats Domino, of course. And I listened to everyone. However, as a young child, I thought that all pianists played everything. I mean, I thought anything on piano - any piano music, all pianists played it. So I tried a little Bach, a little Professor Longhair, a little Albert Ammons's "Boogie Woogie," some Strauss waltzes, some Liberace. I really came into my senses later to find out that you can't really do it all. But as an early child, I tried to play every kind of music that I heard. I thought everyone was doing that.
GROSS: (Laughter) And then you learned they weren't.
TOUSSAINT: Oh yes, and I learned I weren't.
GROSS: (Laughter). One of the first national hits that you had, a hit that you - a song you wrote and produced and arranged was, "Mother-In-Law," the Ernie K-Doe record. This is back in 1961. I want to play some of that record, but tell us the story behind how you wrote it.
TOUSSAINT: Well, I wrote that along with four other songs that day. During that period, all of the artists would gather in the front room of my parents' home, and I would write one song for one artist. We'd all sing it. But "Mother-In-Law" was written the same day as "T'aint It The Truth," "Wanted $10,000 Reward" and "Hello My Lover." And we had a great time with it. When I first wrote it, when Ernie K-Doe first attempted to sing it in the front room, it didn't come off nearly the way I thought it should have in my mind. So I wanted to discard that song, like I had done so many others. And Ernie K-Doe took it out of the trash can as I was writing the song for someone else and said, man, let's give this another try. And we did, and I'm so glad that he did.
GROSS: (Laughter) This is really a very big hit. Let's listen to it. This is back from 1961, Ernie K-Doe singing Allen Toussaint's song, "Mother-In-Law."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER-IN-LAW")
K-DOE: (Singing) Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. The worst person I know, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She worries me so, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. If she'd leave us alone, oh, we would have a happy home. Sent from down below, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Satan should be her name. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. To me they're about the same, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Every time I open my mouth, she steps in, tries to put me out. How could she stoop so low? Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law.
GROSS: That was you playing piano there, right?
GROSS: I think back in the early '60s, there was still a lot of payola around. And especially for a small regional company, there was pressure, I think on some of them, to pay their way into radio play. Did that - was that ever a problem for you, to get air play without participating in the corruption of the record and radio industries?
TOUSSAINT: I'm sorry to seem naive, but I really don't know because I was so involved in the music and daily writing and singing with the artists every day, all day long. I think the two gentlemen that owned the company, Larry McKinley and Joe Banashak, really kept me away from that. I never got to know that. I would hear about it from a very long distance that there was things going on - there were things going on like that. But I was always busy writing and having a great time.
GROSS: Now, that was one of the first national hits that you had. You had had regional hits before that, right?
TOUSSAINT: Right, right. But that was the first one that really made the mark. "Java" was written before that, but it didn't prove itself until after that.
DAVIES: We're remembering New Orleans songwriter and record producer Allen Toussaint on today's show with an interview recorded in 1988. Toussaint died on Monday at the age of 77. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview Terry Gross recorded in 1988 with the late Allen Toussaint, who died Monday following a performance in Madrid.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: I want to ask you about another song that you wrote, another one that was a hit. And this is, "Working In A Coal Mine," which Lee Dorsey was the first to record, another song you wrote, arranged, produced. What's the story behind this song?
TOUSSAINT: Well, Lee Dorsey has inspired many, many wonderful songs, far as I'm concerned. And I - I only can afford to call them wonderful because I know they are more a part of him than they are of me, even though I wrote the entire songs. Lee Dorsey would inspire songs that just wouldn't come from any other source, like, "Took A Little Trip To Mexico." There's no reason for that. I didn't take a little trip to Mexico or anything like that at that time. But "Working In The Coal Mine" was one that we liked when we went in to do it, but it didn't really come together in the studio as it should. And Marshall Sehorn took and put a razor to the tape - which we - which is a term for splicing the tape - and put the first part on the end and made it a complete recording, which was good for all of us because we do like the final - we did like the final product.
GROSS: So why did you write about coal mines?
TOUSSAINT: I don't know.
GROSS: It just came to you?
TOUSSAINT: That's Lee Dorsey again. When he's around and I hear his voice in my head, things come.
GROSS: Let's hear this recording, "Working In A Coal Mine," written and produced by my guest, Allen Toussaint.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORKING IN THE COAL MINE")
DORSEY: (Singing) Working in the coal mine, going on down, down. Working in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down. Working in the coal mine, going on down, down. Working in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down. Five o'clock in the morning, I'm already up and gone. Lord, I'm so tired. How long can this go on? Working in the coal mine, going on down, down. Working in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down. Working in the coal mine, going on down, down. Working in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down. 'Cause I make a little money haulin' coal by the ton, but when Saturday rolls around, I'm too tired for having fun. Too tired for having - I'm just working in a coal mine, working in the coal mine, going on down, down. Working in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down. Working in the coal mine, going on down, down. Working in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down.
GROSS: That's "Working In A Coal Mine," performed by the late Lee Dorsey, written and produced by my guest, Allen Toussaint. The group that basically became your rhythm section was The Meters, and then you also produced hits for them. And they were - The Meters, basically, was the Neville Brothers, and you had been working with singer Aaron Neville for years, I mean, close to since the beginning of your career, right?
TOUSSAINT: Well, something like that, yes. Of course, the last part - working with Aaron for many, many years, yes. When I first began writing for recordings, Aaron was there, yes. And Art Neville I recorded as a single artist also. When I first saw The Meters, they were going by the name of the Neville Sounds, which was only one Neville in them, it was Art Neville. It so happens he was the leader of the band. And The Meters was one band that he had put together like many others. And I must say that he's a natural leader because every time he's ever put a band together, it's been very special and very unique. And The Meters was no exception, of course.
GROSS: What was it about their sound that attracted you that you wanted to use in your records?
TOUSSAINT: Total syncopation popping everywhere. Every musician in The Meters - it was only four of them, but they all were playing percussion on their instruments. The guitarist was playing percussion. The bass player was playing percussion. And, of course, Art Neville was on the organ. Very percussive group. And Zig on drums was just outrageously wonderful.
GROSS: You've written some songs under the name of the Naomi Neville.
GROSS: Are you any relation to the Neville Brothers?
TOUSSAINT: We don't know. Naomi Neville is my mother's maiden name. And I used that for some good business reasons, I thought earlier. I was underage when I was with a company, and when I became of age, I was about to change companies. And until that was ironed out in the courts, I used a pseudonym, which was my mother's maiden name. I just wanted to keep a name that was in the house, in case the computer made a mistake, at least it would come to the same house.
GROSS: So you may or may not be related to the Nevilles. You don't really know. That's interesting.
TOUSSAINT: Right. Art and I usually wonder about that.
TOUSSAINT: So yes, small world.
DAVIES: Allen Toussaint, speaking with Terry Gross in 1988. A few months after this interview, Toussaint returned to FRESH AIR for another conversation - this time, at the piano.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: I'm going to ask you - I'm going to start with a request (laughter) to play one of the songs - one of the first songs that was a big hit for you that you wrote, "Mother-In-Law."
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes, it was one of our very first ones.
GROSS: This was originally recorded by Ernie K-Doe.
GROSS: Would you play it for us your way?
TOUSSAINT: (Singing) The worst person I know, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She worries me so, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Every time I open my mouth, she steps in and try to put me out. How could she stoop so low, mother-in-law? Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Why, Satan could have been her name. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. To me they're about the same. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. If she'd leave us alone, we would have a happy home. Sent from down below, mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. I come home with my pay. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She asks me what I make. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She thinks her advice is a contribution, but if she would leave, that would be the solution. And don't come back no more, mother-in-law, mother-in-law.
GROSS: So how old were you when you wrote that?
TOUSSAINT: Oh, let's see. I guess 21.
GROSS: Were you married?
TOUSSAINT: Twenty-two - oh, no.
TOUSSAINT: But mother-in-law was a national joke.
GROSS: That's true, it really was at the time. Things have changed. (Laughter).
TOUSSAINT: The mother-in-laws themselves weren't natural jokes but most comedians used to use that.
GROSS: That's right.
DAVIES: The late New Orleans songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint, with Terry Gross in 1988. Toussaint died on Monday at the age of 77. We'll hear more of this performance after a break and also a review of the new film, "Brooklyn." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Today, we're remembering Alan Toussaint two died Monday at the age of 77. The producer, songwriter, pianist and singer was a central figure in the New Orleans rhythm and blues scene in the '50s and '60s as R&B shaped the sound of early rock 'n' roll. His songs include "Mother-In-Law," "Working In The Coal Mine," and "Tainted The Truth." Here's Toussaint speaking with Terry in 1988 while seated at his piano.
GROSS: You know, I think two of your influences have been Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, two of the great New Orleans musicians. Do think that - I mean, I think they can be heard in your style. Would you play something of theirs and tell us how they affected you?
TOUSSAINT: Oh yes. Well, Professor Longhair, I must say, of the local people - local meaning New Orleans and the New Orleans area - has been the strongest influence on my playing and even some of my writing - the way I construct certain things. Early Professor Longhair things like (playing piano).
When I first heard that as a child, that just knocked me out. And later on, Professor Longhair began to add things to his music like (playing piano).
Yes, he was very, very important to me.
GROSS: Was it hard to learn that when you were young?
TOUSSAINT: Not hard - it was very, very exciting. Now, once I heard it I could get involved. It was just the idea of it, how unique it was to me. It was off the beaten path of most other things that were all generally related in some fashion. But Professor Longhair didn't seem related to anyone else who was out there at the time.
GROSS: I remember one of your early recording sessions was filling in for Fats Domino 'cause his piano track hadn't been laid down yet. You really could play in Fats Domino's style, Professor Longhair's and Ray Charles' - how did to learn how to play like Fats Domino?
TOUSSAINT: Well, Fats Domino was flooding the market. He had so many recordings out. And he discovered a secret to success with triplets (playing piano).
So as a child, that was - I could immediately hear what that was. And most of his recordings had that in it, except for one, "The Fat Man," which I thought was very exciting. But he never recorded any more like that, which was a very different kind of piano. It was kind of raunchy-like, (playing piano) which was wonderful. But he never played like that again except maybe on one other tune. The rest of them was - turned out to be mostly (playing piano) like the one I want you to know that I played on.
GROSS: Right, right, right.
TOUSSAINT: Dave Bartholomew, who knew that I could play like most of the folk that were out at the time, called me in to play on a Fats Domino recording session. We were up to two tracks at that time, so we could do wonderful things. And he called me in to play like Fats would play the song, and I went in and did (playing piano).
GROSS: That's really great (laughter). My guest, if you're just joining us, is Allen Toussaint. And I should say, you know, I've always - you know, whenever I've said your name one day it would be Toussaint, one day in would be Toussaint, and so I asked you how I should really say it and you said Toussaint. But your father's side of the family used to say Toussaint.
TOUSSAINT: My father used Toussaint without a T on the end.
GROSS: It seems very common for New Orleans families to have different pronunciations of their names (laughter).
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes - Bagneris, Bagneris. Yes.
GROSS: Right, right, right, OK. I'm going to ask you to play another song of yours, a song that you wrote - yeah, maybe do another one of your early hits.
TOUSSAINT: Well, "Lipstick Traces" - the guy, Benny Spellman, that sang the base part on "Mother-In-Law" - he didn't know what it was worth at the time we were doing it, but when "Mother-In-Law" came out and sold and went to number one, let's say, Benny Spellman that sang the base part made sure that everyone within the sound of his voice got to know that he sang that part. And then he would go around - he would gig - based on he sang the low part on "Mother-In-Law." And he encouraged me...
TOUSSAINT: ...With much force to write him a song that he could use that concept. And one result of that was the song "Lipstick Traces."
(Singing) Your pretty brown eyes, your wavy hair. I won't go home no more 'cause you're not there. I've got it bad, like I told you before - I'm so in love with you, don't leave me no more. Lipstick traces on a cigarette - every memory lingers with me yet. I've got it bad, like I told you before - I'm so in love with you, don't leave me no more. Won't you come back home? Won't you come back home? 'Cause I'm crazy about you, can't do without you. won't you come back home? I've got it bad it, like I told you before - I'm so in love with you, don't leave me no more, leave me no more. Don't leave me no more, leave me no more. Mother-in-law, mother-in-law, don't leave me no more.
I guess you can see how that happened.
GROSS: (Laughter) He really owed you one after you wrote that for him.
TOUSSAINT: Oh, thank you.
GROSS: I love it when you can do both parts as you're singing - the high part and the low part.
TOUSSAINT: Ah, thank you.
DAVIES: Allen Toussaint spoke with Terry Gross in 1988. He died Monday at the age of 77. We'll hear more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And today, we're remembering producer, songwriter, pianist and singer Allen Toussaint, who died Monday. Here he is speaking with Terry, recorded in 1988.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: You know, another song you wrote that was a big hit, I guess was the early '60s, "Working In The Coal Mine."
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes.
GROSS: Lee Dorsey recorded it?
TOUSSAINT: Believe so, yes.
GROSS: Now, I remember when I interviewed you a few months back, you explained that you had never been in a coal mine when you wrote this song.
TOUSSAINT: Not only never been, I don't know anyone who's ever been in a coal mine. And I don't know why that came. Lee Dorsey was a great inspiration for me. When it was time to write for him, I would just sit back and begin to listen to the sound of his voice, and I could always hear him singing lines to songs that I hadn't written yet in my mind. And one day, while sitting on St. Philip Street in New Orleans, I heard him saying, working in a coal mine, going down, down, down. I have no idea why. And it was, like, three times faster when it came to my mind. Then we end up recording it. But he was a great inspiration. His voice sounded like a smile to me. And I wrote lots of songs for him, just loads of them.
GROSS: Which way do you play "Coal Mine," fast or slow?
TOUSSAINT: Oh, I play it somewhere a little slower than maybe he did it, yes.
GROSS: Would you do it for us?
TOUSSAINT: We'll give it a go.
(Singing) Working in the coal mine, going down, down, down. Working in the coal mine, about to slip down. Working in the coal mine, going down, down. Working in the coal mine, about to slip down - 5 o'clock in the morning, I'm already up and gone. Lord, I'm so tired. How long can this go on? Now, working in the coal mine, going down down down. Working in the coal mine about to slip down. Working in the coal mine, going down, down, down. Working in the coal mine, about to slip down. Of course, I make a little money hauling coal by the ton. But when Saturday rolls around, I'm too tired for having fun, too tired for fun. Now, working in the coal mine, going down, down. Working in the coal mine, about to slip down. Working in the coal mine, going down, down, down. Working in the coal mine, about to slip down. Lord, I'm so tired. How long can this go on?
GROSS: That sounds great. When you wrote a song for someone like Lee Dorsey, would you play it for him to teach him how it went, show him how it went?
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes. I would play it and sing it with him. And the other artists that were recording at the same time, usually, they would be right in the room. And when I would write a song like that, they would sing the background to it. So we heard the finished product just about except for the instruments, yes.
GROSS: So you mean the first time everybody would run through it would be in the recording studio?
TOUSSAINT: Oh, no...
GROSS: Oh, this was...
TOUSSAINT: This was in my parents' front room, where we did all of the writing and recording. All of the artists used to gather together in this front room at one time. And we'd spend the day there - Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Lee Dorsey, when he came along with us, Irma Thomas. And when I'd write a song for Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe and Benny Spellman would sing background for a while until he'd get it down. Then I would write one for maybe Ernie K-Doe and Benny Spellman and Irma Thomas would sing background, and we just had a party all the time.
GROSS: What song do you want to play next? Another one of yours.
TOUSSAINT: How about a song I wrote for brother Art Neville?
GROSS: And you've been working with him for years.
TOUSSAINT: Yes. However, I wrote for Aaron Neville first. He was one of the guys in the front room that would sing back and forth with the others. And it was years later that I wrote for Art Neville also. And this song was one that I wrote for Art Neville.
(Singing) The touch of your lips next to mine get me excited, make me feel fine. The touch of your hand, your sweet hello. The fire inside you when you're holding me close. Your love so warm and tender. The thrill is so, so divine. It is all these things, all these things that make you mine. If you would leave, why, I surely would die. Once you were 10 minutes late, and I started to cry. I've got it bad, but it's all right as long you're here every night. Your love so warm and tender. The thrill is so, so divine. It is all these things, all these things that make you mine.
GROSS: Did Art Neville record it?
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes, he did. Yes.
GROSS: And I think someone else - you were telling me earlier that a country singer recorded it also?
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes. Later on, in fact, I went to BMI in Nashville and picked up my country award. It was wonderful.
GROSS: Oh, no, that's great. (Laughter). I'm going to ask you to do another song. You know, I've been listening to a lot of Irma Thomas lately. She has a new record out. And you wrote some of her early songs and you wrote a song she sings on her new record, as a matter of fact. I'm going to ask you to sing one of her earlier songs that you wrote for her, called, "It's Raining." Would you do that?
TOUSSAINT: (Singing) It's raining so hard. Looks like it's going to rain all night. And this is the time I'd love to be holding you tight. I guess I'll have to accept the fact that you're not here. I wish this rain would hurry up and end, my dear. I've got the blues so bad, I can hardly catch my breath. And the harder it rains, the worse it gets. This is the time I'd love to be holding you tight, but I guess I'll just go crazy tonight.
GROSS: Is there a story behind writing this song?
TOUSSAINT: Well, with Irma, again, she was sitting right there that day, and it was raining. And Irma was a great inspiration for me. I could write for her all day long and sometimes I did.
TOUSSAINT: And she was sitting there and it was raining, and I could see the rain hitting on the window pane. And it was just perfect, yes.
GROSS: Well, it has really been such a pleasure to hear you play and sing. Thank you so much for joining us.
TOUSSAINT: My pleasure.
GROSS: Thank you very, very much.
DAVIES: Allen Toussaint, speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1988. Toussaint died Monday while on tour in Spain. He was 77. Here he is recorded in 2009 in what became a regular engagement at Joe's Pub in New York City.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITH YOU IN MIND")
TOUSSAINT: (Singing) With you in mind, things just ain't bad as they seem. With you in mind, why, I can build my wildest dream. With you in mind, I can do anything. I know I can with you in mind. Honey, with you in mind. With you in mind, I went out looking for the best. With you in mind, 'cause you deserve nothing less. With you in mind, I've done so many things that love can bring, with you in mind. Honey, with you in mind. It's like the flower drinking from the falling rain, the same rain that could wash it away. Instead, it gives it strength and gives it water, and before you know, another day.
DAVIES: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new film, "Brooklyn." This is FRESH AIR.
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