Sunday, June 21, 2015

Harold Battiste, composer, producer, dies


Harold Battiste, the prolific New Orleans jazz musician whose work as a composer, producer and arranger helped shape the careers of Sonny and Cher, Sam Cooke, Dr. John and dozens of others, died Friday. He was 83.
Friends and family posted news of Battiste's death after a lengthy illness.
As a producer and arranger, Battiste was the man behind a string of number one hits by artists locally and nationally, including Barbara George's "I Know (You Don t Love Me No More)", Joe Jones' "You Talk Too Much," Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me."
After moving to Los Angeles in the 1970s (where he spent 30 years in the music industry), he also shaped the early careers of Sonny and Cher, the singing duo with whom he worked for 15 years, earning them six gold records. Battiste also acted as musical director on their television series. He also made the arrangement and led the band for "I Got You Babe," the No. 1, million-selling song that made Sonny and Cher a hit recording act in the summer of 1965.
"Sonny wouldn't do anything without me," Battiste told The Advocate music writer John Wirt in a 2010 interview. "Sonny knew what I could do better than I knew. He told me, 'Man, you're better than most of these cats out here!' But I didn't know that anything that I did had that much value. I got $125 for 'I Got You Babe.' That's all."
According to Wirt, Battiste didn't reap big financial rewards from Sonny and Cher, but his work with the duo did mean he could fulfill his highest priority, supporting his family. He also genuinely liked Bono, Wirt wrote.
"He was a beautiful cat," Battiste said. "And he just wouldn't let me go. I didn't want to do that television show. But Sonny said, 'Look, Harold. Come and just do three shows.' 'OK, I'll try it.' And the producer really liked the music that I wrote and the opening show was wonderful. I said, 'Well, this is interesting, so I'm going to stick it out.' "
In addition to the artists above, Battiste's dozens of credits include the O'Jays, the Fifth Dimension's Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, New Orleans' Art Neville, Larry Williams, Lee Dorsey, Eddie Bo, King Floyd and Willie Tee.
Battiste also played a key role in helping New Orleans music icon Mac Rebennack develop his Dr. John stage persona in the 1960s and 1970s, producing the singer/pianist's early albums.
"His mama called me when he was on his way out to California. She said, 'Look out for him, because he can't come back to New Orleans.' But I had known him since he was a youngster. He came to me when I was still working with Specialty Records in New Orleans, about 15, 16 years old, when he was a clean-cut little Catholic boy," Battiste said in the 2010 interview.
Battiste worked with the bevy of New Orleans musicians who were in Los Angeles at the time to help craft the "Dr. John" persona, based on a character conjured from voodoo legend.
"That was the key to when I did the Dr. John thing," Battiste explained. "I just had to get a bunch of New Orleans people. I knew that we would make the vibe that we wanted." Dr. John the Night Tripper made his well-received debut in February 1968 with the mystically joyful Gris-Gris. Battiste arranged and produced more Dr. John projects, 1969's Babylon and 1972's landmark homage to New Orleans rhythm-and-blues, Gumbo.
A native of New Orleans and graduate of Dillard University, Battiste also worked early on as a teacher in the public school system. Later, as a music educator he also helped establish the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans (alongside Marsalis) and can count among his proteges the Marsalis children (Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason) as well as Nicholas Payton, Victor Goines and others. Battiste also lectured on jazz studies at UNO and established the AFO Foundation to help preserve and document the heritage of New Orleans music.
Battiste was the subject of a 2010 memoir co-written by Karen Celestan and published by The Historic New Orleans Collection, titled "Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man."
"I worked on it about eight years, man," he said in The Advocate interview. "But I never thought anybody would publish it!"
Battiste said he felt overwhelmed upon seeing the book for the first time.
"It brought tears to my eyes," he said in the music studio in his small New Orleans apartment. "Seeing myself like that, in a book, I realized I didn't know who I was. It was that profound to me. I said, 'Did I really do all that?'"

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