Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Al Johnson - Carnival Time

Today is Ash Wednesday, according to the Christian calendar, which means that the madness of Carnival season in New Orleans ended (more or less) at midnight last night, Central Standard Time. So, of course, last night I had to play Al Johnson's joyous Mardi Gras anthem, "Carnival Time." This 1960 recording was Johnson's only real hit, and it was only a local hit, but it was enough to establish his career. "Carnival Time" has become a Mardi Gras standard, and is, in effect, a hit again every year - so much so that its writer and singer is usually referred to as Al "Carnival Time" Johnson.

Johnson's catchy little tune has two extra beats leading into every chorus ("...all because it's Carnival Time..."), an anomaly that perturbed some of the studio musicians when it was recorded in Cosimo Matassa's famous studio on Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. It was finally bassist Placide Adams who insisted to the other musicians that Johnson should have the meter and the phrasing like he wanted it. For the record, the other musicians are are Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John) on piano, Edgar Blanchard on guitar, drummer Walter Lastie, and James Rivers, Lee Allen, and Robert Parker on saxophones. (Rivers plays the tenor sax solo.) For reasons I don't know, "Carnival Time" (and its flip side, "Good Lookin'") was issued on both Ric and its sister label, Ron, with the same catalog number; I think the Ric issue came first. 

I have to relate a wonderful New Orleans memory. In 2002, I visited Mid-City Bowling Lanes (aka the Rock 'n' Bowl) with a friend to hear some Crescent City R & B. The band was co-led by Eddie Bo and Snooks Eaglin, and they were great. But much to my surprise, halfway through the evening Oliver Morgan was brought onstage - he did three songs, ending with his hit, "Who Shot the La La." Then Al Johnson came out, and also did three songs, ending of course with "Carnival TIme." All the locals in the audience knew all the words and sang along. It was a great evening.

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