Michael Hosie tells us why Johnny Jenkins’s Ton-Ton Macoute is a Whiskey Preachin classic.
Thomas Jefferson Kaye
Thomas Jefferson Kaye was a bit of a prodigy. Born in North Dakota, by the age of 18 he was already in New York working for the record label Scepter as an A&R man. In next to no time he was producing and writing material for their acts The Shirelles, Judy Clay, Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson and The Kingsmen. But it was when he produced Loudon Wainwright III first release for Columbia in 1972 that his stock really rose. He then followed that up with work on the country funk fuelled Be What You Want to by Link Wray and it was around this time that Kaye moved to the sunnier climbs of California and started recording the self-titled solo album we're looking at here.
He passed over the production duties to Gary Katz dedicating himself to the writing and performing of this collection of music.
The opening number Body Song creeps in unsteadily, like a drunk with his shoes in his hands, sneaking through the door before inevitably tumbling over and collapsing in a heap on the floor while the room spins round and round. The tempo lifts with Collection Box and the sound toughens up with a groove still lazy enough for the band to dig in deep and then completely out of nowhere the strings come in. Oh yeah! The Stonesy strut of The Door Is Still Open is up next, followed by some finger picking boogie on Learning How to Fly. Although I'll Be Leaving Her Tomorrow is in serious danger of veering too far into slushy country ballad territory it is saved by some excellent vocal harmonies courtesy of Donald Fagen. His Steely Dan cohort, Walter Becker, also appears on the album and his bass playing on the next track Hole in The Shoe Blues helps create the Dr John-ish spooky-funk groove that underpins the songs repeated refrain "I read in the paper this morning that you were dead". The tune Snake in The Grass sounds like it was recently exiled from Main Street for bad behaviour while the wistful air of Thanks For Nothing is complimented by the subtle interplay of Tom Salisbury's piano dancing round the steel guitar of Bobby Black.
But if you need just one reason to track this hidden gem down then it's the albums closer Hoe Bus. Driven along by some seriously salty guitar playing from Rick Derringer, the song is a full-on embodiment of the Whiskey Preachin philosophy, all wrapped up in a five-minute mind-meld of country, soul, blues, gospel, rock and funk. There's even a middle eight detour into something akin to High Heeled Sneakers and the final few bars of the track wouldn't even sound out of place on Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin On. It's a real renaissance song from a real renaissance man who would then arguably go on to produce Gene Clark's finest recording, No Other, to be reviewed here sometime soon. But that's a whole other story.