John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Lee Dorsey’s New Orleans Soul

His version of “Freedom For The Stallion” is one for the ages, including today.

By - Oct 24th, 2016 03:14 pm
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Lee Dorsey

Lee Dorsey

We live in confusing times. My default state is dither, and this year it’s stuck on high. I’m almost too anxious lately to conjure a song to write about. How sad is that? With Trump looming like a stalker on the national stage, can a mere song confront and forever vanquish his creepiness? Of course not. From the usual corners come the usual songs, but good intentions mingle with other impulses. Do some artists wish to be perceived as fonts of wisdom and virtue?  And maybe get paid for it? Am I cynical? On the whole I wish Randy Newman would chime in. He nailed the former president and his neo-con Rasputin with “A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country,” and laid into the cigar store Indian from Utah with classic “I’m Dreaming Of A White Country.” If songs were able to deliver fatal blows, those two would have had state funerals.

Artists play the angles and are familiar with the concept of enlightened self interest. This doesn’t make them bad — they have to make a living, too. And if their protest songs fall short of inspired, there’s still someone out there getting something from them. Falling short is mostly the rule and often it’s a case of the words outweighing the music. In those rare instances where a balance is struck, change is possible, in the hearts of those listening. It can be a balm for wounds that refuse to heal.

The best way for me to illustrate what I’m trying to get at is praising those who sidestep that whole conversation with ease and grace. Paul Cebar, with the endless shelves of music, hipped me to Lee Dorsey’s deep catalog years ago. If you start vibrating at the Dorsey frequency, you’ll experience perfect harmonic alignment and the ancient secrets of the universe will reveal themselves to you. Plus, you’ll want to dance.

Dorsey, the muse for some of Allen Toussaint’s most inspired creations, lived and worked in a time before Rolling Stone began churning out long scholarly pieces I eventually had to give up reading. Believe it or not, music existed before the lesser art of going on and on about it. What would Dorsey, the guy who sang “Sittin’ In Ya Ya”, have thought of this newly serious attitude that was taking over?

The New Orleans scene that created Dorsey and dozens of other charming one-offers was, and still is, a unique place. Threatened by hurricanes, oily sludge, bad politics and poverty, the artists there respond in the only reasonable way they can, by throwing a round-the-clock party every day of the year.

Lee Dorsey was a boxer and an auto mechanic. He may have liked both those professions more than music, but he was born to sing. He was made of music as surely as a tree is made of wood. The evidence is everywhere. In front of that big studio microphone with songs from one of America’s true masters, he delivered the goods, over and over. Let’s listen to one of his most poignant moments, “Freedom For The Stallion.”

Someday, if we’re lucky, protest songs will no longer be needed, instead, they’ll be a dim memory of a time when things were bad. For now I hope they all rise to this level. This song speaks touchingly of the never-ending struggle for equality. We want to move toward it, but progress seems to have come to a stop — it may even have reversed with Trump leading the charge. That’s why this sounds like it was written yesterday.

Freedom for the stallion
Freedom for the mare and her colt
Freedom for the baby child
Who has not grown old enough to vote.
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men,
They’ve made money “God”
It’s a doggone sin,
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

Big ship’s a-sailing, slaves all chained and bound,
Heading for a brand new land that some cat said he upped and found.
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men,
They’ve made money “God”
It’s a doggone sin.
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

Freedom for the stallion
Freedom for the mare and her colt
Freedom for the baby child
Who has not grown old enough to vote.
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
You know that when I look inside my mind
Searching for the truth I find
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

© Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint has another song called called “What Is Success?.” He experienced a lot of it in his life, but to the larger public, his name means nothing. What is success? This song certainly is. It’s music and lyrics blended perfectly and are animated by a great performer. But the successful resolution of the racial conflict and crushing poverty in this country has yet to come and only those who suffer from it will get to say when that is. Music will be part of the story, and you will too on November 8th, when you go out and vote.

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: Lee Dorsey’s New Orleans Soul”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    “They got men making laws that destroy other men” – what a great line!

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