Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trash talk

By Wayne Shelor

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I'm gonna tell you a tale this Sunday morning -- and every word's the gospel truth -- about a peculiar song from 1961 that the singer pulled out of the trash can and turned into the top song on the charts. Perhaps the most interesting part of the tale is that this song was largely responsible for introducing church music to the rock 'n’ roll masses.

Ernest Kador, who performed as Ernie K-Doe, was signed to Minit Records, a small label whose artists and repertoire man was Allen Toussaint, a songwriter, session piano player and producer who later found lasting fame as a performer.

Ernie was hanging out at Toussaint's New Orlean’s house one day when he found a funky song in the trash can; it was an unflattering song about the proverbial problems with "the worst person I know," as the lyric described a man's wife's mother.

Ernie wanted to record the song, so he and Toussaint went into the studio where Toussaint built the song along a praiseworthy spine of gospel-structured piano, and the bass-throated Benny Spellman added the great "mother-in-law" lyrical hook.

For reasons inexplicable, the nation's too-young-to-be-married teenagers bought the song in record numbers, making "Mother-in-Law" the Number One song in America the third week of May 1961. But it would be a mistake to dismiss this song as a curiosity or a novelty: Listen to the simple piano break … those 16 bars changed the way a lot of music was made.

It may not seem very special today, but in 1961 Toussaint's distinctive New Orleans-style gospel piano progression caught the ear of musicians and fans alike, and it was the precursor to similar piano signatures in songs throughout the '60s. Just ask Detroit’s Little Stevie Wonder ... or anyone who recorded in Memphis, Muscle Shoals or Macon.

So you see, this "Mother-in-Law" -- like so many others -- changed the way things were done.


  1. Love this piece, very inspirational. MR - Hot Latina

  2. Missed you yesterday, but heard you were doing a kind and generous thing for another. Where can we hear this track?!